Smoke finally starting to clear

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Where there's Smoke, there's fire.

While Senators centre Bryan "Smoke" Smolinski got off to a rough start, everybody associated with the team has noticed an upswing in his game lately and veteran leadership shining through.

Smolinski will return to the Senators' lineup today against the Islanders at the Nassau County Coliseum after missing Tuesday's 5-3 victory over the Hurricanes with a shoulder injury.

"He got off to a slow start, but he's shown a real improvement," said Senators GM John Muckler. "He's doing his job and so is that whole line. He's happy in his role."

Actually, Smolinski couldn't be happier.

Playing mostly with Mike Fisher and Chris Neil through the first quarter of the season, Smolinski knows exactly what his role is under coach Bryan Murray.

While the Senators have been relying on the line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson to lead the team in scoring, the other units have started to chip in on a more consistent basis.

"We know those guys are going to put the puck in the net," said Smolinski. "It's not for me to sit here and say that we're the No. 2 line, because I don't really think in this situation that anybody can be labelled as No. 2.

"Everybody has to do their part to contribute. I know our job is to try to provide some scoring and make sure we shut down the line we're playing against. The good thing is I know exactly what Bryan Murray expects from us."

And it's showing in Smolinski's game.

"We're trying to get scoring opportunities and nullify the big line on the other team," said Smolinski. "We're just trying to play the way Bryan needs us to play.

"I feel complete. I'm understanding my role and I'm happy. It doesn't matter to me if I play eight minutes or 18 minutes, I just want to do my best every time and I like this because my role doesn't change."

SUPPORTING A FRIEND: Senators president Roy Mlakar, GM John Muckler, D Wade Redden and C Mike Fisher will attend the funeral for Neil's mother Bonnie tomorrow in Flesherton. While the whole team would like to be with the Ottawa winger, who lost his mother in a tragic car accident Tuesday near her home, that's not possible because the club hosts the Bruins tomorrow night at the Corel Centre. "I want to be there. I know this is a really difficult time for him right now," said Fisher, who was with Neil when Muckler delivered the news in Raleigh, N.C. "I've spoken with him and these have been tough times because they've had to make all the funeral arrangements (Wednesday)." It's not known when Neil will return to the lineup, but the Senators will give him as much time as he needs. "This has been a tough week for a lot of people in this organization. Chris is popular with everybody in that room and everybody will be thinking about him. That is going to be a tough day for him," said Murray. Fisher will be back in time for the game.

HAVLAT A NO GO: Senators RW Martin Havlat didn't make the trip and won't play today. He attempted to skate for five minutes yesterday morning, but his hamstring wasn't feeling right and he left the ice quickly. "I'm going to try skating with (assistant coach) Randy Lee (today) and see how that feels," said Havlat, who left in the first period vs. the Hurricanes. "Hopefully, I'll be ready for (tomorrow), but I don't know. It's going to have to make an improvement. It just doesn't feel right." The Senators recalled F Patrick Eaves from their AHL affiliate in Binghamton yesterday. He joined the club last night at their Long Island hotel.


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