Sens breathe easy with Redden

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

When Wade Redden left practice early yesterday with a slight limp, there would have been some breath-holding by those in the Senators organization who didn't know why.

To their relief, it was not a recurrence of the knee problem that kept him from playing for 10 games Nov. 25-Dec. 17, but a condition coach Bryan Murray described as "skate-bite," apparently a result of laces pulled too tight. Jokes made about Redden maybe needing someone to tie his hockey boots for him from now on (his "daddy" Gord is in town if no prettier candidates are allowed in the dressing room) only came after it was clear the star defenceman would not miss any more game time with the ailment.

HAS CAPTAIN'S APPROVAL

"When he was out, you could really tell how much we missed him," captain Daniel Alfredsson said after Monday's 6-2 win over the Rangers, which saw Redden front and centre of the scoring parade with a two-goal, two-assist effort. "He's one of the best defencemen in the world, I think. He's very underrated."

Heavy praise, that global ranking, but really not too surprising given that Alfredsson believes Canada is the team to beat at the upcoming Olympics. Redden will not only wear Canuck colours but also quite likely be a key member of the power play, so it is obvious (as it is confusing to post-game talk-show callers who might be inclined to imbibe then harp on both real and imagined errant passes) that other qualified hockey people share Alfie's opinion.

In the meantime, Redden will continue pursuit of what's shaping up as the best offensive year of his nine in the NHL.

The career-best four-point night against the Rangers gives Redden four goals and five assists in his last five games. Other members of Ottawa's blue-line brigade are also warm. Zdeno Chara has five points (three goals) in the last four games, Brian Pothier has six assists in the last five games, rookie Andrej Meszaros has three goals and nine assists in the last 16 games ... but Redden has been a consistent supplier to the attack all season. He now has seven goals and 23 assists for 30 points in just 24 games, which puts well en route to the career-high 47 points he racked up in 2000-01, plus had him fifth among all NHL defenceman this season entering last night's action.

He was 13 points behind the leader, Bryan McCabe, while playing 12 fewer games, and six points behind next-in-line Lubomir Visnovsky, while playing 14 less.

"He's really been solid," Murray said of Redden's play since his return. "He looks fresh, he's passing the puck, defensively ... I would say overall it's been very, very good.

"Certainly, it's helped our power play and overall offensive game tremendously since he's been back in the lineup."

That Ottawa power play, ranked second overall in the league behind Detroit's, is clearly more efficient with Redden at quarterback. In the five games since he's been back, the Senators have scored 14 times with the man advantage, including three (on six opportunities) against the Rangers.

Along with possessing an accurate cannon, Redden is adept at getting the puck past the top man who is trying to jam the lane, whether it's by shot or pass, and that, says Murray, is the key to a successful "PP."

Five of Redden's seven goals have come with Ottawa on a power play that is operating at a 24.1% success rate and tonight faces Carolina Hurricanes penalty killers currently ranked 26th in the NHL.

"I think every night you look to get one or two (power-play goals as a team), at least," said Redden. "It's been going for us lately."

MCL NO PROBLEM

Meanwhile, Redden reports no problem with the sprained MCL that was supposed to keep him out of the lineup for one week but wound up being three, and that his knee feels good after surviving the test of three games in four nights heading into Christmas.

And while his concentration is on helping the Senators get to where they need to go this playoff season -- with the pursuit of a gold medal in Italy to be his focus for a couple of weeks in February -- others will soon be debating on how Ottawa can juggle its finances to sign Redden to a new contract next season when Chara also needs one.

"I think there's been some talk, but nothing formal," Redden said when asked about negotiations to date. "I think they might engage in some soon.

"It'll work itself out."

And the meter will keep going up with the numbers he's posting -- especially with Alfredsson helping out as his unofficial agent.


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