Who are the real Sens?

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Chris Kelly is often referred to as a "smart hockey player" by his coach.

While that is true, there are also times he is downright brilliant.

"I'd love for us to play like that for 82 games," Kelly said following a 3-1 victory at Buffalo's HSBC Arena Saturday night. "I think we'd be doing a lot better (in the standings).

"If we did that 82 times, we'd be all right."

Sitting real pretty, in fact.

But no, that is not how the Senators want to go about this 2006-007 season. Rather than cruise through the schedule en route to a first-place finish again, they instead choose to keep you guessing.

Are they to offer little resistance and get blown away by a mediocre team? Or are they going to work hard and battle with the best?

Two sides

The week past saw both Senators teams. Who knows what to expect in week present and the final three games before Christmas -- at home to the Boston Bruins (tomorrow) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) then to the road again for a Saturday matinee in Philadelphia.

"I have no idea, that's a great question," Kelly said when asked why his team doesn't play like it obviously can more often. "In (a 6-0 loss to Nashville) we weren't playing as five-man units. Guys were passing it right around us. (Saturday) we played a better system.

"We've got to have this effort on a consistent basis."

They arrived at 17-16-1 not by accident. They got here by losing three in a row, then winning three in a row, then dropping five straight, then putting together a couple of four-game victory streaks then throwing away another four in succession.

They're up and down more than your toilet seat. "Consistency in this league is tough. Every team struggles with it," said Jason Spezza, putting forth an argument that has a couple of small holes. "Depth is the key. We have it ... it's just a matter of keeping everyone healthy."

Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Schaefer did make a noticeable impact upon their return from injury Saturday, especially Alfredsson. He was back on a line with Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves and, while the unit did not score, it put together some strong shifts.

Alfredsson's 20:46 of ice time included four minutes on the power play, and he was back on the point when the Senators scored both their goals in man-advantage situations. He also played 1:32 on the penalty kill, where Schaefer contributed 1:10 of work as well. The Senators did allow one power play goal, but killed five other penalties and survived a crucial 5-on-3 for 49 seconds in the second.

"Having Alfie back was huge," said Spezza. "It took the pressure off me and (Dany Heatley)."

Both had four shots on goal -- as did their linemate, Kelly -- while Spezza scored twice and Heatley once. They are now tied for the team goals lead at 19. Other than Vermette (11), no other Senator has yet hit double digits.

"It seems if we don't get goals from (Heatley and Spezza) we have a tough time winning," said coach Bryan Murray. "We get relying on people ... we need some balance when we're on the road. The other lines played well (in Buffalo) too, but I'm sure you'll see them play better offensively when we get home."

Road weary

Playing some games at Scotiabank Place again is something the Senators want to use as a springboard that will put them above the one line that matters most -- the line that separates the top eight teams from the bottom eight in the Eastern Conference. They have 35 points, the same as the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, but before last night's games they were 11th on the ladder, based on the number of games played.

While they are only two points back of fifth-place Washington, they also lead the 12th place Bruins by just three.

The Senators have played just 13 at home compared to 21 on the road, and much of their travelling is done.

They don't have another two-game road trip until the first week of March, and 15 of their next 20 games at The Bank.

Normally, that would be considered an advantage, but thus far the Senators are 6-7 at home.

At least they appear to be less of a threat to put Pizza Pizza out of business in 2006-07. Whereas they scored 314 and gave up 211 last season, this season they are only plus-12 (111-99).

"We're kind of a sleeper team, I guess," said goalie Ray Emery, easily Ottawa's best and most consistent player so far this season. "We've had some injuries ... but we're winning differently this season. The goals are tougher to come by. We're definitely in tighter games. It's tougher. Hopefully, it pays off at playoff time."

They won't have a chance to find out unless they become a little more consistent.


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