Kids are all right with Sens coach

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The best is yet to come.

That's the way Senators coach Bryan Murray is feeling about his club these days as the kids in the lineup continue to improve and the players have embraced being more responsible defensively.

"I was looking at our roster after the trade deadline and it's quite a young team," said Murray yesterday as his players had an off-ice workout nearby in a ballroom at their downtown hotel.

"There's been a fair improvement (in the young players) from training camp. All they've done is get good over the the course of the year. The rest of this year and into next, I think you're going to see growth in their play.

"I think they're very respectful and I think this group buys in fairly quickly. Everyone understands you have to be able to play in your end of the rink at this time of year."

Murray has been able to lean more and more on young forwards Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly, in particular.

They are the team's most effective penalty-killing duo. The Atlanta Thrashers were 1-for-5 on the power play Friday night and got their only goal on the power play when Kelly was in the box.

"That was the only time I didn't start them (killing a penalty). They are really doing a job," said Murray. "Being in the underdog role might be to their benefit."

Vermette has been Murray's swingman, playing all the forward positions as needed. Friday night against Atlanta he was on the right side with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

"You've got to like a kid like that because he is able to do those things and he's so versatile for you," said Murray. "He becomes a very important part of what happens on the hockey team."

CONTRACT CONCERNS: Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara admitted yesterday his contract status has been on his mind a bit. He is poised to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. "It's not something you can totally block out," he said. "It's not like it really has to get done. I'm sure it will take care of itself. I have to play well and be ready for the playoffs. That's the most important thing because I think this team can go all the way."

ARNASON FITTING IN: Murray said he liked the looks of newcomer Tyler Arnason in his debut Friday night and will likely keep him with Bryan Smolinski on the left side and Daniel Alfredsson on the right. Arnason forced a turnover that led to Ottawa's first goal and set up Smolinski for the third goal in their 3-1 win.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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