Sens need to stir pot

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Really, do you blame the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Expecting a long playoff run and wanting to get through the first couple of weeks unscathed, they took a dive Sunday because they preferred a first-round matchup with the Senators rather than the Flyers, who they lost 5-of-8 to and took a physical drubbing from during the regular season.

Ottawa dumped them 3-of-4 times, too, but the Senators are injured and struggling and don't scare anyone.

What did Leafs coach Paul Maurice call them last week? Purse swingers?

Maurice would have never said that had only he seen Christoph Schubert yesterday. The Senators' biggest, strongest forward walked around the dressing room, minus his jersey and shoulder pads but still in his hockey pants, skates and the rest of his gear.

He was also wearing a big, floppy, pink girlie hat and serving drinks from a tray.

From nowhere did he carry a purse, or even a fancy handbag.

"Ridiculous," Schubert muttered while delivering Gatorade to teammates as the loser of Juice Boy, the shootout competition held at the end of practices. "I hit the post 12 times."

Schubert claims it was the first time this season he has lost at Juice Boy, and while he wasn't happy about it, his value to the Senators is not in a deft touch on breakaways. He has other responsibilities, or feathers in his pink hat, if you will.

With Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher out, Schubert and Antoine Vermette are the only two Ottawa players still skating that are on the first two power-play and penalty-killing units, along with taking a regular shift. In Schubert's case, his even-strength turn is as a crashing and bashing, fourth-line left winger.

In that role, he left a mark on last spring's Senators-Penguins playoff meeting.

With the series tied 1-1 and the site switched to Pittsburgh, Schubert crushed and injured defenceman Robert Scuderi with an illegal, hit-from-behind into the end boards. The Penguins were incensed and went after Schubert. They also went on to lose that game as well as the only other two in the series.

"That one hit, it was like (they were saying) 'I want to go in and hurt somebody,' " Schubert recalled. "We were there at the same time, he kind of turned away and it ended up a bad hit from behind, but I don't think I went out there to be under their skin. I just wanted to play my game. The physical part is part of it. The more physical you are against other players, everybody knows they get a little frustrated ... they can't do their perfect game. It's just part of my job."

The very banging and battering the Penguins wanted to avoid from the Flyers can serve as an equalizer in this series for the undermanned Senators. They just need to bring it. Schubert, Chris Neil, Martin Lapointe, Cody Bass, Shean Donovan, Mike Commodore and Anton Volchenkov will be key players for Ottawa.

They have to frustrate the skilled Penguins. They have to throw them off their game. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar have to be targeted. They cannot be allowed to free-wheel without concern or they will roll right over the Senators.

Crosby's got a bad RIGHT ankle? How will it stand up to a two-hander? The Senators have to find out.

The Penguins obviously wanted Ottawa over the Broadstreet Bullies. The defending Eastern Conference champs should feel a great sense of disrespect. They should be insulted -- even more so than in being referred to as purse swingers -- and they should respond in kind.

As much as they will be looking for timely goaltending and scoring, the Senators need somebody to emerge as a modern-day Bobby Clarke. Maybe hockey historian Jason Spezza can explain to his teammates what the former Flyers captain did to Russian star Valeri Kharlamov when the latter had a bad ankle in the 1972 Summit Series.

It's playoff time. Anything goes.

STARTS AND STOPS

D Wade Redden was asked about the long odds the Senators face in trying to upset the Penguins. "People win the 6/49 every day," he said ... How are the Penguins looking at playing a team that turfed them in the first round last spring? "It's payback," C Jordan Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I think every player in this dressing room wants to give it back to them for what they did to us last year."

MURRAY MUSINGS

Senators coach and GM Bryan Murray was asked the other day about the seemingly lower expectations of Ottawa fans this year. There was a touch of sarcasm in his response. "That's up to you," he said, referring to the media in general. "I don't have anything to do with that. Whatever the media writes and tells them, the fans will respond. If you guys like our team, the fans will really like our team. Because we've got great fans in Ottawa. They've just been told to kind of low key it, because the team isn't very good, but the team's pretty good. So we'll see. They'll be fine."


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