Sens have very few flaws

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:44 PM ET

OTTAWA -- The Maple Leafs will find in the Ottawa Senators a team that has earned only four points during its past four games.

In the capital, this constitutes the worst slump of the season. It's true what they say: Ottawa's sensibilities are completely out of touch with those of the rest of the country.

Despite their little skid -- a shutout loss to Dallas on Thursday night and a hammering of Colorado sandwiched between overtime losses in Edmonton and Calgary -- there is ample cause for joy.

The Senators are a league- best 22-5-2. They lead the NHL both in goals for and against and have outscored their opponents by better than a 2-1 margin.

Tonight, they return Wade Redden to the lineup after he suffered a lower body injury that Sens officials insist on referring to as a left-knee sprain. Redden missed 10 games.

Daniel Alfredsson is enjoying his best season. Same for man-mountain Zdeno Chara. Dany Heatley has scored 20 goals. Rookie defenceman Andrej Meszaros shot up the lineup when Redden went down and has been a marvel.

"Going forward you know if you need to throw him into the top four you can," coach Bryan Murray said. "He can give you 20 minutes a game and it won't be anything other than a positive."

Yes, this is exactly what the Ottawa Senators need, another brilliant young defenceman.

The Sens did lose kick-and- run artist Martin Havlat until the playoffs because of a shoulder injury. Jason Spezza's hip pointer has limited his effectiveness. Still, those are minor blights on what has been a dream season.

The unparalleled success explains why there is a reduced sense of excitement here regarding the Leafs' visit.

The Sens' 8-0 demolition of the Leafs a couple days shy of Halloween dismissed the notion that the Leafs were in Ottawa's class.

The Sens were being gracious -- "Everyone has a bad night, we expect a tough game," blah-blah-blah -- but the romp underscored how the Senators' greatest concern no longer is Toronto or anybody in the East.

This is a team that controls its own fate pretty well every night out. If the Sens take penalties and play lackadaisically, as they did against Dallas, the game can be close. It even can get away.

"If there is an area of concern, penalties are it," Redden said. "It's something we have to address and not take them."

The club sat through a video session yesterday in which Murray reviewed recent penalties the club has incurred.

But there are precious few teams that can stay with Ottawa down the homestretch. The Sens and Avalanche were tied 2-2 in Denver but Ottawa poured in four third-period goals. Ottawa has outscored opponents by nearly a 3-1 margin with 47 goals for compared to 18 against in the third.

That's why no one is too worried.

"I wouldn't call it a funk," Heatley said. "We had two tough games and we responded well in Colorado. (Thursday) night we got into some penalty trouble and that was the difference."

The difference most nights has been the brilliant Dominik Hasek. Even at 40, Hasek's 1.99 goals against average makes him the only first-stringer in the league with a sub-2.00 mark. Patrick Lalime, victimized in three Leafs playoff victories, doesn't live here anymore.

"Having the time off that he had, we thought it would take him a little bit more time to get his game in order," Murray said of Hasek. "(But) he has shown (it) from Day 1."

"I'm having a great time," Hasek said. "It's a young team and I feel younger than I am. They remind me of the Buffalo teams of the early 1990s, very hard working (but) with a bit more scoring. "


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