Sens' success is in the details

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

The Senators' big picture, which in November looked like Edvard Munch's The Scream, looks considerably better as the calendar turns to February today.

Fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The second-best offensive team and the second-best defensive team in the conference.

All after a 6-10-1 start.

The big picture is made up of those little pixels, the details.

In the NHL, you do sweat the small stuff.

That will be the message from here through the playoffs from Senators coach Bryan Murray.

"We're really paying attention to details more and more," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We had no choice when we were shorthanded (because of injuries), but after seeing the success we've had, we want to build on that."

Alfredsson's point is well made.

With either or both top centres Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher out of the lineup with knee injuries, the Senators went 12-3-1. In that 16-game segment, they surrendered just 32 goals so they've shown they can play defence.

That will continue to be the focus.

The Senators enjoyed a day off yesterday as they start a stretch in which they will play just one game in the next week.

That means Murray and his staff will have a luxury not afforded often during the regular season and that's a few days of quality practice time to work on those details.

The month of February, in fact, shapes up pretty well in that regard for the Senators as they have just 10 games in the next four weeks.

The grind of the regular season (the Senators are coming off playing three games in four nights) and the need for rest often means practice time is sacrificed.

Murray has even started making most of the club's morning skates on game days optional.

CHANCE TO FOCUS

So the relatively light schedule coming up will give Murray the time to reinforce the need to continue to improve defensively.

"Play in our end is the priority," said Murray. "We don't want to give up the number of chances we did (Tuesday) night (against Washington). Your defensive zone play is the area that's really critical at this time of year and into the playoffs."

Not that the Senators have been slouches defensively. They went into last night's games in 10th place in the league in goals against average (2.72) and have the second-best GAA in the Eastern Conference behind the league-leading Devils (2.24).

"I call it discipline. It's not turning the puck over in the neutral zone. We did a pretty good job in the third (against Washington). You just can't turn it over because everybody counters so well now," said Murray.

Some of those details were left wanting in Monday night's 3-1 loss to the Canadiens.

"We were careless for about four shifts early in the second period," he said. "They didn't score, but it changed the whole tempo of the game. It's all about trying to do too much."

Like trying to beat the trap with home-run passes or not putting the puck in places where a teammate can be the first one there.

The other thing Murray will have to do over the next little while is settle on his line combinations. With the Senators enjoying that day off yesterday, Murray said he might spend the morning with his pad of paper, doodling the possibilities.

Fisher returned to the lineup Tuesday night and played with Spezza and Peter Schaefer and Murray said he was pleased with that combination.

The Dany Heatley-Chris Kelly-Alfredsson trio showed better, though Kelly is now without a point in six games. Both Heatley (on the power play) and Alfredsson scored against the Caps.

Antoine Vermette played the wing with Mike Comrie in the middle and Chris Neil on the right side and the fourth line saw Dean McAmmond between Patrick Eaves and Christoph Schubert.

The scratches against the Caps were Denis Hamel and Brian McGrattan. Carrying two extra players isn't going to last for long with Hamel being the candidate to go on waivers for assignment to Binghamton of the AHL.

HEAR AND THERE: Since coming back from a hip injury, Alfredsson now has 11 goals and 15 assists in his last 18 games ... Murray has been able to spread the workload around among his top four on the blue line. Against the Caps, Chris Phillips led with 24 minutes and four seconds, followed by Wade Redden (23:24), Anton Volchenkov (22:22), Andrej Meszaros (21:54). Joe Corvo (14:13) and Tom Preissing (12:35) didn't see any work on the penalty kill ... Though Kelly isn't racking up the points, he had a great night in the faceoff circle, going 12-5 against the Caps ... Somebody is going to ask, so here it is: With Tuesday night's win, the Senators are now 6-12 in one-goal games this season and their .333 winning percentage in those games ranks 27th in the league.


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