BUFFALO -- Former pitcher Bryan Murray threw together the All Questionable Line at yesterday's morning skate.
And he tossed a changeup late in the opening period that gave his team its first goal and Ottawa's captain his 40th of the season.
When the Senators coach came up with the new combination, he did not know for sure if Mike Fisher (ankle), Tyler Arnason (head) or Daniel Alfredsson (flu) would be ready to roll for last night's game vs. the Sabres.
Fisher, who missed nine games with a sprain, declared his availability after his ankle responded to a hard skate Tuesday.
"It felt good, really good," he said after a morning spin on the ice at HSBC Arena. "It's going to be nice to get back in there."
Fisher, who played wing last night, admitted he prefers lining up at centre, his natural position. He also had no problem stepping to the left for Arnason, who was back after missing half of the last game with what was called a possible mild concussion.
"Right now, I'll play anywhere," said Fisher, who will wear a tape job on his ankle that acts like a soft cast. "I don't mind at this time of year. It's not about me."
Alfredsson's return after a one-game absence was surprising, given that he still looked lousy yesterday morning.
"Fever, headache, fatigue," he said in listing symptoms that began Sunday. "I'm feeling a lot better now. It'll be good to get a sweat going, get it out of the system. I won't be totally rid of it for a week, anyway."
With time running out in the first period of a game in which they were being outplayed, Murray had Jason Spezza on the ice with Fisher and Alfredsson. The three combined on a beautiful passing play that ended with Alfredsson whipping a hard shot past Martin Biron and sent the teams into the first intermission tied.
Spezza and Fisher got the assists, but if there could be a third, it'd have to go to Murray.
On behalf of the Ottawa sports community, we pass along condolences to Renegades receiver David Azzi, whose father passed away yesterday ... The last time he visited Buffalo, Brian McGrattan took a licking from Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters. Would there be a Round 2 last night? "I don't know and I don't care. We've got a hockey game to win and I put the team first," Peters said after the morning skate. Pressed for details of the punch he landed on McGrattan's right eye Feb. 4, a shot that put the Ottawa winger on the shelf, Peters said: "He's a brawler, man. When he turned away I knew he was hurt. But I've been on the receiving end of a few myself. I've lost my share." Sure enough, the two heavyweights squared off at centre ice last night in McGrattan's one and only shift of the first. The scrap included two particularly hard punches of note -- a big right by Peters early and what appeared to be an even bigger right by McGrattan late. Why bigger? Because it sent Peters' helmet airborne ... Thrashers Garnet Exelby and Ilya Kovalchuk were each fined $2,500 US yesterday by the NHL for fouls committed in Monday's game at Scotiabank Place. Exelby didn't get a penalty for his high hit on Arnason, while Kovalchuk was handed a two-minute slashing minor for whacking Chris Neil. "That doesn't do me any good," Neil, who had called for the Atlanta star to be suspended, said yesterday. "Unless the money is coming to me."
Things That Make You Go Hmmm:
In a recent tribute to Scott Stevens, the former Devils blue-line rock said the hardest hit he ever received in his career was from Bryan Smolinski. The Senators centre remembered the incident this week, thinking it occurred around 1994, and that Stevens had just turned around from accepting a pass when he ran into him. "It was a fluke," said Smolinski, who also recalled tough guys Randy McKay and Mike Peluso chasing him immediately afterward. "I was like, 'I'm outta here,' " he laughed ... Tip of the cap to the Lynx, not just for making it to the gate to open their 2006 season at Lynx Stadium this evening, but also for yesterday's announcement that wireless Internet will be available to media AND fans at all home games this season ... What a guy can learn on the way to a hockey game. Did you know that early yesterday morning, it was 1:02:03 (time), 04 (month), 05 (day) and 06 (year)?
The Finish Line:
One of our favourite hockey stories goes back to the 1992-93 season, when former Senator Shaun Van Allen (now a local radio personality) was trying to secure full-time employment with the Oilers. During a game against the Capitals, the young centre was chasing Kevin Hatcher when he blew a tire and crashed into the end boards, headfirst. Seeing that Van Allen was in an obvious fog, then-Oilers coach Ted Green instructed his trainer to "tell him he's Wayne Gretzky." Recalling the yarn when Arnason had his eggs scrambled by Exelby on Monday at Scotiabank Place, we immediately asked Van Allen if Senators athletic therapist Gerry Townend should tell Arnason he's Wayne Gretzky. "It doesn't work," Vanner deadpanned.