Jump back in Sens' game

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

An important component has returned to the Senators' dressing room: Confidence.

After reaching the .500 mark at Scotiabank Place with a 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, the Senators head into back-to-back weekend games against the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers with a jump in their step.

And why not?

The Senators have won five of their last six games -- the only loss came in overtime, 3-2 to Atlanta last Monday -- and they've climbed back into playoff race in the Eastern Conference after passing the midway point of the schedule with the Buffalo game.

The keys? Wingers Dany Heatley (3-6-9, +5) and Daniel Alfredsson (4-4-8, +2), and defencemen Wade Redden (1-4-5, +1) and Chris Phillips (2-2-4, +5) have all stepped up in the last six games to provide the club with an offensive punch.

''If a team is going to make a turn and be a good hockey team, your guys who you expect to be good players have to be on a nightly basis,'' Senators coach Bryan Murray said yesterday. ''Whether it be getting production as Dany Heatley did the other night or just play hard and be an example, have the puck and do the right thing.

ALFIE PRODUCES

''Alfredsson, to me, every night has been really good since he came back. Guys that make money or are recognized as stars in the league and play at a certain level, those are the people you look at. We do as a coaching staff. The players make a judgment in the room and obviously you people do.''

BACK IN THE NET: Murray hadn't made a final decision yesterday, but it's expected G Martin Gerber will start tomorrow against the Flyers.

Gerber hasn't played a home game since a 6-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 13, but Murray said he's got to get the veteran more playing time in the second half of the season.

HARD TIME

''He has to get in the net at some point a little more often,'' said Murray. ''To be fair, he was like a lot of our club early on, there were holes in his game. The unfortunate part about a goaltender is there can't be a hole in your game. If there is, it can really come back to kick you and it kicked him pretty hard.

''It affected his confidence, no question about it. The expectations by (Gerber) himself were that he would come in and be solid. He had a hard time getting there. We've got to get him in. We've got to get him in to play a few games in a row, but Ray Emery is not making it easy for him.''

Gerber too hopes to play more in the second half.

''I want to get back to playing the way I am capable of playing and getting more playing time,'' he said. ''(The first half) wasn't the way I wanted it and it didn't go the way the team wanted it either. Things just didn't seem to fall in the right place.''

NOT READY: Senators C Antoine Vermette tried to take part in practice yesterday, but didn't stay on the ice long.

Vermette, troubled by a hip injury that has forced him to miss two games, isn't going to play today against New Jersey or tomorrow vs. Philly.

If lucky, he'll return Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, but that might still be too optimistic.

''The things I was doing earlier seemed pretty good so I thought I would give it a try in practice,'' said Vermette. ''I just wanted to see how it would react. Unfortunately, I am not at this level yet. I've got to stay positive and I hope to get back as soon as possible.''

'TOO OPTIMISTIC'

Vermette said he still doesn't expect to be out long.

''I might have been too optimistic when I first got the MRI. It's still an injury,'' he said. ''I have my good days and my bad days and hopefully I am able to get back soon. We'll see how it reacts in the next couple of days. I want to get back in there.''

The Senators are expected to recall centre Josh Hennessy from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton this morning to play in the weekend games.


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