For Sens, it's crispness time

Jason Spezza works on puck control during the Senators practice Tuesday at the Corel Centre....

Jason Spezza works on puck control during the Senators practice Tuesday at the Corel Centre. (Ottawa Sun/Tony Caldwell)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

It seems like a pretty simple thing. Pass the puck. Receive the puck. Shoot the puck.

Simple, but it doesn't just happen, no matter how easy the Senators have made it look this season. They went into last night's action with 64 goals -- tops in the NHL -- despite having played three games fewer than their closest pursuer in that department.

When fans come out of their seats at the Corel Centre after a Senators goal, they've seen a few seconds of slick puck handling.

That few seconds is the result of countless repetitions in practice.

Passing and handling the puck receive a great deal of emphasis from Senators coach Bryan Murray, who's brought his own priorities to the table.

It would seem like a mundane thing, asking as skilled a group as this year's edition of the Senators to work on such a fundamental thing, kind of like getting fish to practice swimming.

But that was the focus in preparation for tomorrow night's game against the Bruins in Boston (7 p.m., A-Channel).

"He wants it to be crisp," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "Everybody traps against us now. What's the best way to beat the trap? A 'D' to 'D' pass and then up to the winger. You need to be able to make three or four good passes to break the trap.

"We want to have puck possession as much as possible. We don't want to dump it in unless we have to. It's repetition. Repetition is the best way to get good at anything."

WHIRLING BODIES

A Senators practice is whirling bodies in multi-coloured sweaters, pucks hurtling from stick-to-stick, two, sometimes three pucks skimming the ice.

Murray stopped practice yesterday because he didn't like the execution.

"I asked them, 'Do you see what we're trying to do today? Do you understand what this practice is all about? It's puck skills and moving the puck.'

"Repetition, as boring as it might be on occasion, is what develops certain skills."

As skilled a bunch as this year's edition of the Senators might be, they can still improve their skills, said Murray.

"We do have a good group. Most of the teams I've had could make and receive passes, but maybe they couldn't score as well," said Murray. "You have to develop that.

"I think the young players will very definitely improve. Some of the veterans are good (at moving the puck), but the young guys can really benefit, watching, playing and repeating."

Murray said even players like Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, 32 next month, can improve.

"It used to be at 26 or 27 players hit their peak," said Murray. "After that you couldn't get much better. Now I'd say it's 25-40. Players are playing so much longer. If they look after themselves, they can probably improve. You look at guys like Alfie and (Brendan) Shanahan. They don't tail off until they decide they don't want to play anymore."

PRAISE FOR ALFIE: Alfredsson is in some pretty good company.

Murray showered praise on his captain yesterday, putting him in the same class as captains Murray has had with other teams like Paul Kariya (Anaheim), Rod Langway (Washington), Scott Mellanby (Florida) and Steve Yzerman (Detroit). "Those are real good people. You recognize the names and they've had great careers. He fits in that group, the type of person he is," said Murray. But that doesn't mean Murray won't admonish Alfredsson when necessary. "I told him if he wants to fool around with the puck between drills, he should come here early and do all the fooling around he wants."

AROUND THE RINK: Senators G Dominik Hasek has kept his old equipment around. If he gets the call to play for the Czech Republic at the Winter Olympics, he said he'll definitely use the older, bigger stuff, as permitted by Olympic rules ... Murray said Alfredsson, tied for the NHL scoring lead and the offensive player of the week, had a bit of a tight knee yesterday. "He went for a run (Monday) afternoon," said Murray, shaking his head. "He practises, lifts weights, then he goes for a run? What the heck is going on?" Alfredsson said his running was after his son, Hugo ... The Senators are a tale of two teams when it comes to special teams. Their power play is second in the league at home, but 22nd on the road. Their penalty killing is reversed: 23rd at home, but fourth on the road. Go figure ... Ottawa is the only team not to have a minus player in the plus-minus stats.


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