Sens' rookie steps up

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- The change in the Senators' depth chart -- a move that turned from gradual to something a little more official yesterday -- could be a sign of things to come.

Or, rather, of things to go.

Rookie Andrej Meszaros has formally replaced Anton Volchenkov in Ottawa's Top 2 defensive pairings, assistant coach John Paddock informed both players in not so many words during yesterday's practice.

Neither player could have been too surprised as Meszaros received more ice time than Volchenkov in 3-of-4 games heading into the Olympic break. The Slovak has regularly worked a greater number of minutes than the third-year Russian during the last several weeks, after that was the case just once the first 18 times both players were in the lineup.

But yesterday, Meszaros was served notice that he will line up as Wade Redden's regular partner when the Senators resume their pursuit of excellence tonight against the Penguins.

Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips continue as the Senators top pairing.

"I look forward to being one of the top four 'D', if that's what I will be," said Meszaros, who gained confidence while working well with Chara for Slovakia at the Olympics. "Coach is giving me the opportunity to play with Reds, and I think I just have to play good, show them I can be there."

While Meszaros has become an effective power-play point man, Volchenkov will continue as a penalty killer, while taking his regular shift with Brian Pothier.

"I don't know if it's a big deal," said Volchenkov, who proudly and efficiently represented Russia in Turin. "Maybe this is better for the team. We'll see."

FLIPPING SIDES

Explaining the juggling, coach Bryan Murray said Meszaros gets back to his end quicker than Volchenkov. The move also allows Volchenkov, a left-handed shot who was playing right defence, to flip sides so he doesn't have to backhand pucks out along the boards.

"We're trying to get Anton to play the left side a little more so he plays to his strength," said Murray. "This also gives us a physical presence with Brian."

It's also being viewed by some of us as a sign that Volchenkov will become trade fodder if GM John Muckler has to stray from his plan and deal a player off his roster in order to upgrade.

The Senators are going to make a move before the March 9 trade deadline, be sure of that. And while Muckler doesn't want to subtract from his current collection, he may find he has no choice.

There was an indication something might be going down yesterday, when Muckler appeared from his office and called Murray over to the boards for a multi-minute conversation during practice.

For anything other than his opinion on a potential deal that was being discussed right then, you'd think Muckler could have waited until later to talk to his coach.

Meanwhile, Muckler was not making himself available to the media yesterday -- he'll answer questions he wants to answer from the press Friday -- but with eight days left to pull the trigger, he has to be narrowing his list of targets. And don't be surprised that to get what he wants, he might have to deal a Russian bear in return.


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