Singing the praises of some overlooked Sens

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

The phrase, "unsung heroes" is a cliche I'm not fond of, and would never use it to reference any member of the Senators.

"Unsung" would suggest that they aren't talked about, and in these last few days before the playoffs begin, there is little else to do but talk ... about everyone.

However, levels of stardom exist within every team's dressing room, including Ottawa's. Some are relegated to elite distinction within the media, and others maintain more of a low-key status. After all, not everyone can be a Daniel Alfredsson or Dany Heatley.

And so, as the regular season finally comes to a close, it seems like a good time to salute some of those players that occasionally remain outside of the spotlight.

- Chris Kelly: Surely the majority of the media didn't know what to make of Kelly at the beginning of the season -- he wasn't necessarily expected to make the team, and it showed. But Kelly has made his presence known with great forechecking, speed and a diligent work ethic at both ends of the ice. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by coach Bryan Murray, who has allowed the rookie to play with the team's star lines on occasion -- basically the equivalent of getting the call to be Matt Leinart's wingman at a USC co-ed party. Kelly has made good on the opportunities given, contributing 30 points and a +21 rating to the Senators this season.

- Peter Schaefer: Schaefer is having a career season (20 goals and 30 assists), but the speculation remains that this may be his last year in Ottawa, due to pressing salary demands elsewhere on the team. Schaefer's contributions may press owner Eugene Melnyk to have one more look in his couch cushions for some spare change. The 28-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, with a current salary of $988,000 (all terms US). Left wing has often been a position of concern in Ottawa, but Schaefer helps to fill the gap. He regularly takes up residence along the boards, proving to be a worthy adversary for important puck battles. His speed has led to four short-handed goals for the Senators, helping to create one of the NHL's most effective penalty-killing squads.

- Chris Phillips: The 28-year-old defenceman is a lifetime Senator, a face of the community, and has spawned a drinking game created by yours truly. (Seriously -- if Chris is doing an interview, take a drink for every time he utters the words, "you know." Please relinquish your car keys and the prep the hangover remedies before attempting this. Enjoy.) In spite of his lengthy resume with Ottawa, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. It's easy to do, with other blueliners attracting attention -- Andrej Meszaros' rookie season has been a regular media story, as well as the future contracts of Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden. As your classic stay-at-home defenceman, Phillips will automatically maintain a lower profile throughout the regular season. But once the post-season arrives, Phillips often becomes one of the most important and celebrated contributors to the team's efforts. Unobservant fans may forget about him while he continues to recuperate from his knee injury, but they'd definitely miss him if he ended up as an absentee from the Sens' playoff run.

Not every player is going to garner the attention of an offensive star, but the Senators are lucky to have some players outside of the spotlight, making a legitimate difference in their efforts to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa.

PROTECTING THE SWING?: Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a "lower-body injury" early last week, but it wasn't enough to keep him out of the lineup against the Rangers on Thursday. So what's up with the secrecy? The last time I checked, the Penguins were well out of the playoff race, which is usually the time when these vague descriptions are invoked. Are we protecting golf swings now?

PINNING YOUR HOPES ON MATH: One of Florida's "Keys to the Game" during A-Channel's broadcast of the Panthers-Sens game was, "Pin their ears back." I kept waiting for cameras to show a shot of Jacques Martin behind the bench, but I guess I was expecting too much. During the same game, Dean Brown commented on Panthers defenceman Sean Hill. Brown took exception to Hill's questionable play, saying that "(Hill) gets away with two-thirds of it, half of the time." This calculates to just over one-third and unexpected confusion.

ERINNICKS@YAHOO.CA


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