Gang's almost back

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

The thin Senators are a shadow of the team they used to be these days.

But after yesterday's events at Scotiabank Place, their heavyweights on defence look close -- or at least closer -- to returning.

Goaltender Dominik Hasek practised with his teammates in full equipment for the first time since straining his adductor muscle almost two months ago at the Olympics.

He stuck around for 10 minutes and took shots, but wouldn't speak to the media afterwards.

Hasek was expected to accompany the team to Montreal yesterday afternoon for tonight's meeting with the Canadiens and is expected to take more shots at the morning skate today.

"Now it's a matter of getting a full practice in, hopefully at some point this week," said Senators coach Bryan Murray.

Stopper defenceman Zdeno Chara took part in the full 35-minute workout and tested his healing right hand, handling the puck and taking shots.

He said he's felt improvement the last couple of days and based on the workload he's taken on, his return appears imminent.

"He's coming on the trip. He went full practice. He doesn't shoot the puck real well, but he hits the net now, slowing it down a little bit," joked Murray. "I don't know if he'll be available (for tonight), but he's getting close, I think."

Chara said he wouldn't be ready for tonight's game.

Defenceman Chris Phillips, curing a strained knee ligament, also skated before practice yesterday along with Chara and strength and conditioning coach Randy Lee.

With Wade Redden still at home in Saskatchewan on personal leave, the absence of the Big Three has become increasingly evident the last few games.

Chara, Redden and Phillips were there to mop up other people's mistakes and without them around, the kitchen has become a mess.

The Senators are going through their worst defensive stretch of the season with 20 goals allowed in the last four games, 10 of them on the power play.

The Senators have lost three games in a row for the first time this season.

The turnovers that went more or less unnoticed earlier this season are now winding up the back of the Senators' net.

"Earlier in the year, you make that turnover, you have Chara or Phillips in the lineup, it's a 3-on-2 and it's defended pretty well," said Murray.

"Now it's defended not quite as well, but that's just normal. It's what happens. It's why certain guys in the league are all-stars in the league and other guys aren't."

Senators centre Jason Spezza is singled out for his turnovers -- and he does commit some doozies -- but he had just one of the 15 giveaways recorded against the Senators in Saturday night's 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

"When you're down 5-2, you're trying to make something happen," he said. "A lot of it is the situation. Our problem is we've been down in games, chasing and making mistakes.

"We definitely know we've got to tighten things up, but it's more important to limit those turnovers when we do have the lead."

It was suggested to Murray that maybe the time has come to sit some guys down if they insist on turning the puck over.

BENCHINGS NEEDED?

"I've talked to certain guys and shown them clips ... You talk about (turnovers) and talk about it," said Murray. "I guess the thing you do is bench a guy or take him out of the lineup, but I'm not sure that in some cases that achieves what you want it to achieve."

The Senators are now tied with the Calgary Flames at 194 goals allowed in the fight for the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular-season goals against average.

"I couldn't care less," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson of that type of team honour. "It'd be nice and something to be proud of, but for us it's all about the playoffs."

Yes, it is, and it's looking like the old gang will be back together when they start.


Videos

Photos