Fisher, Neil set tone for Sens

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

"Listen kids, there are things you can control and things you can't," a coach might have told his minor hockey team a few weeks back.

"Just because the puck isn't bouncing your way doesn't mean you can't make other contributions. WITH EFFORT. Look at Mike Fisher. Look at Chris Neil."

A number of Senators have rediscovered their offensive game in helping the team overcome a putrid start by winning seven of its last 11.

Peter Schaefer, who didn't have a single goal or assist while dealing with a nagging hip flexor in his first 10 games, has remarkably amassed 14 points in the last 11. Dany Heatley also has 14 points over that span. Jason Spezza has 12. And Daniel Alfredsson has 11.

Fisher and Neil also have 12 and 11 points, respectively, in the last 11 games. And they only had six and five, respectively, through their first 14 games.

"I think I've been playing better, points or no points," said Fisher, who unlike Neil was expected to produce significantly on the score sheet coming out of camp. "I've been skating a little better, feeling better. I've had more jump, and that's a big part of my game. If you can create stuff on the forecheck, the points are going to come."

While working with different left wingers before settling alongside Patrick Eaves, Fisher and Neil have consistently left their mark on opponents -- mostly by terrorizing defencemen on the forecheck.

Today, Neil leads the entire NHL with 88 hits. Fisher and L.A.'s Dustin Brown are tied for third, at 80.

"When you're not scoring, you can still try to make things happen by being physical," said Fisher. "It makes it hard for teams to play against us, and it ends up paying dividends. That's part of our job."

While they won't figure in the NHL scoring race, Fisher and Neil will almost certainly battle for the hitting crown over the next four months. And leading the league in just about anything has to be good, right?

"It's something, for sure," Fisher said of challenging for first in the category. "I never thought I'd be close (to the lead) at the start of the year.

"You just don't want to go out of your way to make a hit, and get yourself out of position. There's a time for it."

The goals and assists aren't going to be there for the taking every game, but the opportunity for a hit that doesn't hurt your team but does a member of the opposition will present itself a number of times over 60 minutes. Neil and Fisher don't pass them up, which not only makes them effective players but also fan favorites.

THE "A-TRAIN" SCHEDULE: D Anton Volchenkov practised full out with the team yesterday but was noticed flexing his right "lower body" after a series of stops and starts. Volchenkov, who is third in the league with 77 blocked shots, has missed two games with the injury and remains day-to-day. "He's still not 100%, but he felt quite a bit better than he did a day or two ago," Murray said in declaring Volchenkov a "game time decision" for this evening's tilt with Florida. "If he's not somewhat comfortable to play, we'll have to be cautious."

CHARGING PANTHERS: Despite their scoring struggles, the Panthers are impressing Murray. "They get their scoring chances," he said. "They go to the net as aggressively as any team we've played. Ray Emery was run into three or four times at least when we played them (last Friday)." How will the Senators counter-attack? "Run their goalie," defenceman/winger Christoph Schubert offered before realizing his lack of political correctness with the statement. "Maybe we have to be more physical in front of the net. When they're on the rush they shoot and go to the net ... maybe we have to close the gap a little more." Murray said the Senators have to continue to try and be strong in front of Emery and make sure the Panthers "recognize Ray isn't to be abused. The referees have to look after it too, though." On Florida's crease crashing, Emery said: "I didn't worry about it last game, although maybe I did get a little rattled at the end. I hope they keep doing it. Maybe I can draw a penalty." As for keeping his cool, Emery added that won't be a problem. "I wouldn't do well in a fight right now," he said with a chuckle. "My hand is still kinda messed up a bit."

AND FINALLY: Even though his new gloves are in, Emery will continue to use Martin Gerber's extra-padded trapper until he gets a chance to break his own in a little more ... Gerber scored a goal playing in a Swiss league playoff game about 10 years ago. "I didn't mean to, though," he said with a smile when asked about the rare feat. "I just tried to clear the puck and went over the guy's stick at the blue line." ... The Senators will hold their annual skills competition Feb. 4. Tickets go sale tomorrow.


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