It's just SO frustrating

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

At least the Senators can keep a smile after stubbing their toes.

"I was wondering why I was winning all the shootouts in practice," coach Bryan Murray said after watching his team extend its streak of futility in that department to Oh-fer-16 in last night's 3-2 loss to the Devils.

"Now I understand."

Is there cause for hand-wringing over the string of six shootout losses in a row?

"We only have 11 games left," Murray said. "We're okay. We'll survive. They won't use them to decide games in the playoffs, from what I understand."

SAME AULD THING

Good thing. The Senators haven't scored in a shootout since Daniel Alfredsson beat Alex Auld in Vancouver on Dec. 9.

Since then, the captain has scored 18 times in regulation, but blown five straight shootout tries.

"It's a frustrating way to lose a game," said Alfredsson. "Maybe we should put three defencemen out there next time. You could put Joe Schmo out there and he'd do better."

A quick Internet search found no hockey playing-Joe Schmos or anything really closer than John Smolens, who suited up for Boston College in the 1969-70 season. His stats were unavailable.

Maybe former Eagle Patrick Eaves knows his whereabouts.

Starts and Stops:

With Leafs Nation about to be silenced for the season, there's still the occasional spot that opens on an Ottawa bandwagon that's been remarkably full in 2005-06. But only the occasional one. Last night's attendance of 18,668 ended a string of 23 consecutive sellouts at The Bank. At the most recent count, 1,500 tickets were still available for tomorrow night's game against the New York Rangers, but they'll most certainly be snapped up by the Sens Army (can't you just see the t-shirts now?), faithful legions who have poured through the gates 664,642 strong through 34 games ... For all the great passes he has made this season, it's hard to remember any better than Jason Spezza's feed to Brian Pothier, whose point shot was deflected by Dany Heatley to tie last night's game with 30.5 seconds in the third period.

Between Periods:

To see what's wrong with the Devils this season is to get a glimpse of the Senators future should they lose Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden to free agency. It's not pretty. Even the great Martin Brodeur has looked merely good behind a blue line that no longer has Scott Stevens (retirement) and Scott Niedermayer (free agency). Before last night's game, his goals-against average (2.68) and save percentage (.906) were the worst they've been at the end of a season since 1994-95. "It'll never be the same," Brodeur said yesterday morning, when asked about life as a Devil minus the two Scotts. "You can't replace those guys. The guys on our defence have to go out and play to their capabilities ... it takes time to adjust." ... Playing a respectable 12:57 for the Senators last night was Filip Novak, who nobody around here knew much about until he was recalled from Binghamton last week to replace the injured Anton Volchenkov. "He's a kid I didn't know much about," said Murray. "I think he's a clever player ... like everybody, you wish he was 6-foot-2 and could do that." Novak, who's listed at 6-foot, 203 lbs., was a second-round pick (64th overall) of the Rangers in 2000 who missed a season of hockey (2003-04) with an ankle injury, then had what he called a "bad" 2004-05. In 63 games with the Baby Sens this season, he has eight goals and 44 assists. As for the two extra inches the Senators wish he had, Novak says his size doesn't have to be an issue. "For me, the big thing is to be in good position," said the 23-year-old Czech, who missed a chance to end last night's game in overtime when he couldn't get a handle on the puck when presented with an open net during a 2-on-1 with Antoine Vermette. "To put my stick in between somebody's skates and push them to the wall, it doesn't matter how big you are. If you're not big, you've got to be smart."

Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

Filming a commercial in the Scotiabank Place parking lot the other day were Chris Phillips, Brian McGrattan and Vermette. The product -- a $200,000 Ford GT that packs 550 horsepower. The problem? All three players are well over 5-foot-9, which looks to be about the size a guy would have to be to fit in the sporty little racer ... Retirement fits Stevens well, apparently. The former Devils captain has been helping out at the team's practices since the New Year. "I think he's bigger than when he played," Brodeur said. But then, who isn't? "No, he's in good shape," Brodeur insisted. "Not hockey shape, body-building shape."


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