NEW YORK -- Anton Volchenkov wore a big, gap-toothed smile yesterday as he plopped down on a couch in the lobby of the Senators' hotel.
The Ottawa defenceman should take every opportunity he can to take a load off those legs.
They're black and blue as he continues to be one of the NHL's most prolific shot blockers. He got in the way of another four against the Sabres on Wednesday night, giving him 62 on the season, good for second in the NHL.
Atlanta's Andy Sutton leads with 79.
"That's hockey, blocking shots," said Volchenkov. "It's good for the team and for me."
The 24-year-old, now in his fourth season, just might be playing the best hockey of his young career. That comes as a relief to Senators coach Bryan Murray, who saw Volchenkov's play regress last season.
"He wasn't as good as we thought he was going to be (last year). There was a time where I thought he would end up being our sixth defenceman and that's not the case anymore," said Murray. "He's right up in the pack and can probably play in the top four now, just because of his defensive ability and his physical presence. We're not a big hockey team as it is and having a guy like that is very important."
In the absence of Wade Redden, out right now with a groin injury, Volchenkov played 24 minutes and 39 seconds Wednesday night, second only to Chris Phillips' 26:05.
"I'm staying at home, just trying to help the goalie and block shots," said Volchenkov.
Maybe, for Christmas or something, the Senators could get him an ice machine for his house.
"AS SELECTED BY...": Senators GM John Muckler loved the way G Ray Emery played Wednesday night. "The thing I liked was the way he competed," said Muckler. "I thought he should have been a star. Only in Buffalo do they pick two players from the losing club as stars." The three stars in the Senators' 4-2 win were Ottawa's Peter Schaefer and Buffalo's Brian Campbell and Thomas Vanek.
THE RAYZOR'S EDGE: Everybody kind of tippy-toes around the topic, but the Senators looked like a more confident team with Emery replacing struggling Martin Gerber in goal. "Getting Ray back in the net and have him playing the way he did reinforces to the players we're very competitive," said Murray. "Now we have to carry on with it."
MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SUBMARINE CAPTAIN: The Senators were holding their breath Wednesday as they nursed a 3-2 lead through a tripping minor in the last two minutes to Jason Spezza, who stuck out his foot on Buffalo's Derek Roy. "I was a bit worried in the box, but I thought it was a bit of a dive by Roy. We took four (penalties) on him. He's got a reputation for being a bit of a diver," said Spezza. Ya think?
MAKING A POINT: Murray will use W Dany Heatley on the point on the power play again tonight after trying it against the Sabres. "He shoots the puck a ton. As he plays there a couple of games I think he'll get a little better at getting the puck through traffic. I thought a couple of times (Wednesday) night he tried to shoot it through people," said Murray. "Where we had him, on the power play down low, he didn't seem to be getting the puck for the one-timers that he thrives on. The way we set up our power play now, he should get some shooting chances."
NO FLAMINGOES: While Murray is happy with Volchenkov's willingness to block shots, he'd like to see a little more self-sacrifice from his forwards. The Sabres forwards did it for their club. "The difference is I think their forwards had 14 blocked shots and we had two (from) forwards. That's a big difference. Getting in the shooting lane, taking away chances, they did a heck of a job in the second and on a couple of our power plays. We're trying to encourage our guys to do that a little more often." Maybe a little rendition of John Mellencamp's Hurts So Good would get them in the mood.