Vermette's magic act

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

As they return to work this morning, Senators fans will surround water coolers and discuss the steadily improving fortunes of their favourite NHL team.

Eventually, they will analyze the big picture. They will talk about an eight win-in-10 game run and how it has moved their "Sennies" into a tie for the final playoff spot.

At some juncture, they will also break down Saturday's 5-2 victory over Tampa, a game that featured another Senators offensive outburst and another letdown, harmless as the latter turned out to be.

And they'll no doubt be gushing over Antoine Vermette's nifty first-period goal.

With about as much room to move as in a phone booth, Vermette put the puck back between his feet, followed it with his stick, then flipped it behind his left leg and over goalie Johan Holmqvist.

'FUN TO WATCH'

"That was pretty," Jason Spezza, who's been known to display a little imagination of his own, said of Vermette's magic. "I like those ones. They're fun to watch."

Daniel Alfredsson was equally impressed.

"It was a great move," he said, putting Vermette in select company by only remembering Sergei Samsonov and Mario Lemieux scoring like that before. "He created something out of nothing. It doesn't happen too often."

Like others, Vermette fools around with that type of stuff in practice. But that he would dare contemplate such cuteness in a game speaks volumes for his confidence level.

And damn right he should be feeling good about his play. Through 27 outings, his 11 goals are third highest on the Senators, and he has settled so comfortably into the second-line centre role alongside Alfredsson that there is no longer any need to fill that position via a trade.

"I think the biggest change of our team has been the location of the centre in the defensive zone," said coach Bryan Murray. "We've done a better job of getting deeper.

"The role is very important on our team ... there's more of an opportunity to use your wheels and (Vermette) has them, of course."

That was once again clear on Vermette's second goal vs. Tampa, when he took a Peter Schaefer feed and blew in on a breakaway to beat Lightning reliever Karri Ramo with a quick shot between the legs.

"When you play more, you get more confidence in yourself and you try to do more stuff," said Vermette, a key penalty killer who was a plus-2 and the game's first star Saturday.

ABILITY TAKES OVER

"Sometimes it doesn't work, but you know you're going back out there. There's definitely a difference ... you let your ability take over and you're not thinking about other stuff as much."

Vermette, who prefers playing centre than at wing where he has spent most of his time as a Senator, says that in just the last two games alone he's had a better feel of where to be in the defensive zone, and that has helped him to get in better position and with more energy to jump up in the play.

Meanwhile, Vermette admits that upon hearing all the talk of the Senators need for a No. 2 centre, he wanted to jump up and shout: "Hey, over here. Look over here."

"I think I can fill that role,'' he said. ''It's nice to get that chance."

After a day off, the Senators return to practice this morning. Of interest will be the status of defenceman Joe Corvo, who was hit in the face by a puck while sitting on the bench Saturday.

Corvo was kept out of the rest of the game for "precautionary measures," but appeared to be fine while seen walking out of the rink with a cut over his eye.


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