NEW YORK -- Is Chris Phillips having an all-star season?
Captain Daniel Alfredsson sure thinks so and he believes the Senators blueliner should be part of the festivities Jan. 23-24 in Dallas.
Asked yesterday by the Sun who he'd select to go to the all-star game, Alfredsson didn't blink when he said goalie Ray Emery, winger Dany Heatley and Phillips should all be top candidates.
"Geez, I'm going to have to buy him dinner," said Phillips.
The rest of the Eastern and Western Conference rosters will be announced tomorrow on CBC's Hockey Day in Canada. It's expected Heatley, who is among the NHL leaders in points, will be selected, while Emery is probably in a tough battle with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Montreal's Cristobal Huet. Buffalo's Ryan Miller was voted the starter by the fans.
Emery, nonetheless, has a big backer in Alfredsson.
"Emery has been real consistent for us," said Alfredsson. "He's really gotten into his own. Last year, he was up and down, but he's really helped us this year to turn our season around."
Phillips, who has played an average of 21:48 per game and has been pitted against most of the top lines in the league, probably won't get a sniff.
"Phillips has been holding the defence together with his play," said Alfredsson. "He's really relishing taking the responsibility without (former Senator Zdeno) Chara here and he's taken a big role. He's done an unbelievable job."
Alfredsson, however, knows fans probably don't want to see a player like Phillips.
"Fans don't go to see a guy because he's really good pinching down in the corner," said Alfredsson. "It's more on a team that you recognize that. I don't think the fans in Dallas would enjoy that. I would think they'd rather see a guy like (Nik) Lidstrom make a great pass or get involved in the rush. I don't think there's too much room for that kind of player, but to us we know how valuable they are."
"I firmly believe this is a game to showcase the talented players," said Phillips. "If you start picking a top defensive defenceman, then are you opening another can of worms for other role players? Maybe then you should bring the top fighter as well."
Coach Bryan Murray said there's no question Heatley should be there.
"I don't know whether he'll be selected by the NHL or not, but the way he's playing, without a doubt, I can't imagine there are many other forwards who are doing more than him," said Murray. "If you are looking at the last 10 or 20 games -- and even before that he was a prime player for us -- he's just gotten better."
VOLCHENKOV HURTING: The Senators were without D Anton Volchenkov against the Rangers last night. He left the ice only two minutes into yesterday's morning skate because of discomfort in his ankle after blocking a shot against the Bruins in Tuesday's 5-2 victory. "That's what happens. It was a point-blank shot by Glen Murray and it stung him pretty well," said Murray. "We had it checked out and I knew he had a little bit of soreness, but he didn't put his skate on (Wednesday) and that was part of it. He's sore and he's having a tough time skating with flexibility. But he's a pretty tough kid. If he can play, he will."
VERMETTE BACK: Ottawa C Antoine Vermette returned after missing five games with a hip injury. "It's good. It's been steady and it hasn't gotten worse," said Vermette. "I've been getting better the last couple of days. I skated hard with (assistant coach) John Paddock (Wednesday) and I pushed a bit. It was fine. It wasn't worse." Murray said Vermette is going to have to get used to playing some left wing. "He may have to play left wing more than centre until we get somewhat healthy, if that ever happens, and then we'll have another grouping," said Murray. "But he's still going to play pretty close to the minutes he played before."