Sens GM's focus on blue line

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:08 AM ET

Stepping on the ice for practice less than eight hours after stepping off a plane from Vancouver, a bleary-eyed, bronze-medal owning Jarkko Ruutu represented the last of the stragglers to return from the Olympic break Monday.

“It feels like ... your team,” coach Cory Clouston said in describing the atmosphere created by the up-tempo, one-hour and two days before the NHL trade deadline.

And for the most part, a pretty good-looking team it is.

Few if any have more balance up front than the Senators. Against the Rangers, Clouston is expected to start Jason Spezza between Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher between Matt Cullen and Alex Kovalev, Chris Kelly between Ruutu and Chris Neil, and Jesse Winchester between Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon.

Each combination can produce offence plus play some defence, and Nick Foligno will give Clouston one of those “good problems” coaches like to have when he returns from a broken leg in a few weeks.

Ottawa’s goalies lack the experience of playing in post-season and they present the team’s biggest question mark, but there’s nothing that will be done to improve at the position before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

But GM Bryan Murray is going to have to add at least one defenceman in setting his roster for the stretch drive.

Nashville’s Dan Hamhuis appears to be the jewel of the rent-a-blueliners currently headed for unrestricted free agency July 1, with Minnesota’s Marek Zidlicky being another strong option. But both the Predators and Wild are among the teams fighting it out for a playoff spot in the West, so it’s conceivable neither one of those two will be moved. Besides, Murray says he’s content to add D-men that won’t challenge Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson for Top 4 minutes, so it appears he’s already conceded his spot in the race for Hamhuis and Zidlicky, if there actually is one.

The betting from this corner — Aaron Ward and/or Kurtis Foster will be Senators come Wednesday.

Golden moments

Even Americans Matt Cullen and Ryan Shannon had no complaints with the way Sunday’s Olympic gold-medal game between Canada and the U.S. turned out.

“It was such a good day for hockey, you couldn’t ask for a better game,” said Cullen. “It was just so fun to watch ... you kind of got caught up in just loving the game and enjoying what a high level they’re playing at. As a U.S. guy, you’d sure like to see the U.S. win, but for them to go into overtime and make it such a good game and to see how fired up the Canadians were, it was pretty cool.” Said Shannon: “Between the world junior outcome and that performance, I think it was a big step for USA Hockey. I think it’s just great for hockey in general.”

Clouston also enjoyed the game.

“You watch it differently as a fan,” he said. “Coaching basically has wrecked your entertainment value from hockey. You start to analyze what each team is doing, you take notes and you look at it differently ... but the fan in you, as being a Canadian, crept out every once in awhile. When (Zach Parise) scored the goal to tie it up, I wasn’t very happy, obviously, but both teams played outstanding. I thought it was one of the best games I’d seen in a long time.”

A-Trains stalled

Contract talks with D Anton Volchenkov are at a standstill, Senators GM Bryan Murray told The Team 1200 Monday. Prior to the break, Murray made an offer that would keep the Russian D-man in Ottawa rather than allow him to test the unrestricted free-agent market July 1. “The response I’m getting is not what I like,” Murray said. He also conceded the Senators might consider trading Volchenkov rather than lose him for nothing, but that scenario seems unlikely.

By the numbers

W Jonathan Cheechoo has three goals and one assist in five games with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. Murray is hopeful Cheechoo will continue rediscovering his touch and play a key role for Ottawa in the playoffs ... The Senators have lost 2-of-3 games against the Rangers this season, by a 5-2 score Oct 3. in New York and in a 2-1 shootout Nov. 14 in Ottawa. They beat New York 2-0 at Madison Square Garden Jan. 14 ... As of Monday afternoon, there were fewer than 2,500 tickets remaining for the Rangers game, the seventh-last home tilt on Ottawa’s regular-season schedule.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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