Sens feeling defensive

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The accolades -- and rightly so -- have been piling up for the Senators' offensive juggernaut this season.

The big guns have scored an average of almost five goals a game (two of their 75 goals are credits from shootout wins).

Overlooked in the carnage, however, is the fact the Senators have become the league's best defensive team, too.

Surprised?

Let's see.

Leading the league in goals scored.

Leading the league in goals against.

Guess which gets more headlines?

"We're the ugly stepsister," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips.

The Senators went into last night's games with a league-best 2.04 goals against average. Goaltenders Dominik Hasek and Ray Emery shared a league-best save percentage of .932 (.937 for Hasek and .917 for Emery).

SHOWING OLD FORM

Hasek, of course, has looked like his old self and Emery (4-0) has emerged as an up-and-comer Senators coach Bryan Murray can confidently call upon any time.

The defencemen -- Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros, Brian Pothier and Christoph Schubert -- haven't gotten enough credit for their play as a group.

If the Senators forwards are the guys manning the guns on the deck of the battleship, the defencemen are the guys shovelling the coal into the furnaces to move it forward.

There might not be a better bunch in the league as far as ability to move the puck goes.

"Always, I tell our defence, they are like the quarterback in football," said Murray.

"They've got to be able to make that pass and that's why we repeat so many things on a daily basis. That, combined with the ability to play back, really helps our team a lot."

BREAKING FREE

On Saturday night, the Buffalo Sabres tried to use a 1-2-2 forecheck to take away the middle of the ice. The Senators defencemen were capable of making a cross-ice pass that consistently broke forwards free.

"We consistently hit the wide man with a great pass," said Murray. "That makes all the difference in the world. That comes from the 'D' not only being able to defend, but get the puck going."

Senators centre Jason Spezza pointed out that with the club's emphasis on offence this season, they haven't spent as much time in their own zone.

Good point.

"But our defencemen don't get enough credit," he said. "They are great at making that first pass. I think Reds (Redden) is the best in the game doing that."

The Senators defencemen have done a good job adjusting to the new rules. They're good at getting the puck back and know what to do with it when they get it.

The defence will get a test tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, one of only two teams to beat the Senators so far this season (3-2, Oct. 24).

The 'Canes, powered by 21-year Eric Staal, are one of the early season's pleasant surprises with a 12-3-1 record, good for second spot in the Eastern Conference.

But they're still smarting from a 9-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night, which snapped a franchise-record nine-game winning streak.

"I'm not shocked that they've done well," said Murray. "They lost a big game. Like a lot of teams, you get very comfortable. That's all that happened to them. They were rolling along, everything was great, and they got bombed.

"It'll be a wakeup call and I expect that they'll be quite good (tonight)."


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