Captain 'in a lot of pain'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

ATLANTA -- The Senators will ring in the New Year with Jason Spezza finally back in the lineup.

But they'll have to start 2006 without captain Daniel Alfredsson when the Senators face the Atlanta Thrashers today at Philips Arena (3 p.m., TSN).

The game will also mark winger Dany Heatley's first appearance in Atlanta since an off-season trade to the Senators.

While the Senators announced Alfredsson will miss a minimum of a week with a cracked rib he suffered in a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday, nobody knows for sure when he'll return. Coach Bryan Murray admitted yesterday Alfredsson "is going to be gone longer than we said initially."

Murray can't pinpoint an exact time frame -- that'll depend on what kind of pain Alfredsson can stand once he does return to the lineup from the injury that was suffered when he was hit by teammate Zdeno Chara's slap shot in the second period.

A telling sign Alfredsson won't be back soon is the fact he didn't make the trip here yesterday. It's possible he could join the club in Montreal on Friday, but it should be noted Boston centre Alexei Zhamnov missed 17 games at the start of the season with a cracked rib.

'DON'T KNOW HOW LONG'

"(Alfredsson) is in a lot of pain and I don't know how long he's going to be (out)," said Murray following a light workout yesterday at the Bell Sensplex.

Losing Alfredsson is a huge blow to this team on a lot of fronts. Not only is he having an MVP-type season with 25 goals and 30 assists in 36 games, he is the Senators' leader and is the first to pick up the slack when things aren't going well.

"I don't think you can replace a guy like Daniel Alfredsson," said Senators defenceman Wade Redden, who will wear the 'C' in Alfredsson's absence. "He does so much for this team and he is having such an awesome year. He's doing it all for us: Killing penalties and scoring big goals. I don't think it's up to just one guy to step up when he's gone. Everybody has to get the job done."

SPEZZA RETURNING

Fortunately, the Senators will have Spezza back in the lineup after he missed five games with a pulled chest muscle suffered Dec. 20 vs. Montreal. Spezza, who has 13 goals among his 47 points, should help boost the club's offence.

"I'm not 100%, but I feel good," said Spezza. "It's going to be good to get back in there and get playing. It was longer than I expected, I really didn't think when it happened that it was anything that was going to be that serious."

Alfredsson's departure and the return of Spezza forced Murray to reconfigure his top line during practice. Bryan Smolinski, who was one of the club's top players during Spezza's absence, was moved to the wing. He will play with Dany Heatley and Spezza, while everything else remained intact.

"Smolinski has been excellent," said Murray. "He's a versatile player and that's the good thing about him: We can put him on the wing and he can play all the positions."

Winger Peter Schaefer left practice after 20 minutes complaining of soreness, but he's feeling fine and will play.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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