Senators shuffle lines after miserable debut

 

After just one game, the Ottawa Senators are shuffling the deck.

 
 
 
 
 

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After just one game, the Ottawa Senators are shuffling the deck.

When the Senators stepped onto the ice this morning, a little more than 12 hours after a 5-2 season-opening loss to the New York Rangers, it was with revamped lines.

In a major shift, Mike Fisher found himself back at centre between Alex Kovalev and Nick Foligno, and Peter Regin found himself between Jonathan Cheechoo and Chris Neil. A minor shift had Chris Kelly between Shean Donovan and Jarkko Ruutu. Donovan didn’t play against the Rangers.

Only one line stayed the same: Jason Spezza was still between Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek.

The line shuffling was partially prompted by the absence of Ryan Shannon. He got shook up in the game against the Rangers and is thought to have a concussion. He’s questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Leafs.

The changes come after the Senators’ miserable 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

Daniel Alfredsson has been Erik Karlsson’s host and mentor through training camp, but the Ottawa captain said he didn’t try to say anything to calm the 19-year-old defenceman before his first game in the NHL.

Alfredsson still remembers his first game. It was on Oct. 7, 1995, at the Civic Centre against the Buffalo Sabres. Alfredsson was nervous.

“Oh, yes, of course I was,” he said on Saturday.

“You can’t get away from the jitters and you should have them, and I’m sure I’ll have some (Saturday night), as well. That’s part of it. It’s a big moment in your career.

Alfredsson handled it pretty well in 1995.

He played all 82 games, led the Senators in scoring (while Alexei Yashin held out for half the season), and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

So Alfredsson thought that Karlsson, the only player in Ottawa’s opening lineup that hadn’t played a NHL game, would be similarly OK.

“He knows how he’s going to play,” said Alfredsson, who got his first goal of the season and the 356th of his career in the second period.

“He’s just going to go out there and play hard and enjoy.

“Coming from Sweden and making his way in the NHL is a big step, but he deserves it because he’s played good enough.

“This is just another chapter for him and one he’ll remember forever.”

After the morning skate, coach Cory Clouston said only one thing to Karlsson, something Karlsson figures to be hearing for the next seven or eight months: Keep it simple.

“We want him to use his skill, we want him to find that first outlet pass, execute on the power play, and just be responsible defensively,” said Clouston.

“His strengths are his skating, his vision and intelligence. In the defensive zone he gets into trouble when he tries to gamble.”

Clouston knows he has to be patient, as he has to be with Peter Regin and Matt Carkner, who are technically also rookies while having already played some NHL games.

At the same time, Clouston is in the business of winning not of being charitable to a young player. But Clouston made it clear that Karlsson is in the lineup because he can help the team win now.

“We still feel he’s the right guy at this particular time,” said Clouston.

“He’s definitely in our top six no matter what age however you slice it. But we’re just looking at one game now. We’re not trying to put pressure on any one individual.”

Easier said than done.

For all the promise that has been seen in them, and all the kind words that have been written about them, the Senators came to this game desperately in need of win.

Let’s not forget that they ended last season with two losses and limped through training camp with only two wins in six camps.

Now, if you want to be cruel, or even just a bit pointed, you could say that the Senators have now won just two of their last nine games.

Brandon Dubinsky had two goals for the Rangers, one into an open net, while former Senator Vaclav Prospal, Marian Gaborik, and Michael Del Zotto had one each. The Rangers who had 34 shots on Pascal Leclaire. As he’s called here, King Henrik Lundqvist also faced 34 shots.

Karlsson knew he’d be nervous but felt confident.

“I’ve played some important games in my career, though I’m only 19,” he said. “Of course it helps me a lot that I’ve done that, but it’s a way different game here than I’ve played before.”

Carkner also conceded to nervousness, but a little less, since he’s 28 and has played a couple of games - two - in the NHL. He had thought about about bringing his parents, Kathy and Dennis, to New York to celebrate their 36th anniversary but he didn’t find out for sure that he’d be playing until Saturday morning. So they stayed home watched their son on TV.

“It’s not like I have a ton of experience, but I have been playing hockey a long time, so I’m trying to control those nerves and put them to good use,” said Carkner.

So how did the new faces do? Reviews were mixed.

Karlsson, who was mostly OK and sometimes even better than that, won’t like the video of New York’s second goal.

Karlsson took a bad gamble in the neutral zone when he lunged at a pass going to Dunbinsky. He missed and Dubinsky was off, ultimately beating Leclaire to the far side from the left circle. That’s a rookie mistake but the replay will be around all season now.

Carkner more than held his own, in the game and in a late fight with Donald Brashear, but the defence as a whole has to start giving Leclaire a little more help.

In his first real game back in 10 months, Leclaire was excellent, particularly in the first when the Rangers had three power plays. But he could only handle so many two-on-ones, or outright breakaways.

Peter Regin, who scored Ottawa’s second goal with just 5.6 seconds left in the game, might have been the better of the three rookies. He used his speed, was on the puck, and made plays.

However, heading into Toronto for a game on Tuesday night, the rookie are the least of Ottawa’s problems.

As Clouston said after the game, the leadership is not supposed to come from the bottom up.

“It’s supposed to come from the top down,” he said.

 
 
 
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