Neil a big hit around NHL

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

"Any time I hit, I hit to hurt."

Those words came from the slightly grinning, two teeth- less mouth of Chris Neil yesterday morning, after it was brought to his attention that his thunderous bodycheck on Toni Lydman the night before was captured on the highlight reels.

"It was a hit," Neil shrugged. "It was all right. I caught him with his head down."

He's done that a lot this season. Entering last night's game against the Habs, Neil was still high atop the NHL's hit list with 219, a cushion of 35 on next-in-line Erik Cole. He added to the number in a rambunctious tilt with Montreal that saw a lot of guys throw their weight around. One of Neil's hits -- in the second period on Alexander Perezhogin -- he not only hurt the Habs winger but also himself.

But it was a hit Neil avoided that set up the first Ottawa goal. He dodged a hard-charging Aaron Downey, who went tumbling into the boards, then skated up the ice to set Chris Phillips up for a blast that went through Cristobal Huet's glove.

Neil was back in front of the net more often than he has been on the power play, where he had a particularly lively feud going with Mike Komisarek in the second.

Not only was he hurting Habs, but also their chances to stay ahead of Ottawa in the standings.

STARTS AND STOPS: Speaking of unsung heroes, D Anton Volchenkov was at his shot-blocking best during a 5-on-3 early in the second, when the Senators were up 2-0. The rebound from a second big blast he managed to get in front of went out of the zone and down the ice, setting up Ottawa for an odd-man rush ... Senators coach Bryan Murray, who admits to spending much spare time with a doodle pad, was a tad testy when asked after yesterday's morning skate if he was going to try different lines against the Habs. "Just come to the game," he told a reporter. "If you get a chance to come to the game, you'll see the line combinations." Sure enough, Murray threw a whole new look at Montreal ... He also did a fair amount of juggling as the game went on ... The list on the wall showed only one scout was scheduled to be in the press box last night - Edmonton's Mike Abbamont. The Oilers have players the Senators could use.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...: The Habs were off their game yesterday, if you're talking about the game of "keep it up" teams play with a soccer ball to limber up before going on the ice. Around 6 p.m. a player had to be hoisted up to get a ball down off a corridor light fixture. Before the morning skate, they took turns jumping up to get a sneaker that found its way up on another ceiling hanging ... Peter Schaefer took a beating in the second period, first being bashed from behind into the boards by Janne Niinimaa, then getting worked over a little later in front of the net by Sheldon Souray and Mike Johnson. That second attack wouldn't have been too painful, however, as he ended it by converting a nice Daniel Alfredsson pass for Ottawa's third goal ... News that the Senators have renewed their AHL affiliation with Binghamton for five years hit home for D Christoph Schubert, who played there with the Baby Sens for three seasons. "There's not much to do there for young people, so you can really focus on your hockey," said Schubert, who said he still has friends in the small, upper-New York State town. "My girlfriend is from there," he added, with a laugh. "I saved her."

BETWEEN PERIODS: As The Team 1200's Steve "Plum" Lloyd was saying on the pre-game show, Ottawa fans have long been crying for the return of Gary Roberts to the nation's capital. And with good reason. He'd help the Senators, starting with the attitude around Scotiabank Place. See, Roberts has always had the necessary dose of feistiness. Toward foe or friend or whatever else got in his way. In a book you'll want to purchase being penned by some fine local sportswriters on the 40 years of 67's hockey, there is an example of this from the 1985-86 season. Winners only five times in their first 20 games, the 67's were really hearing it from the fans at the Civic Centre one night. Particularly targeted was Roberts, who finally decided it was time to fire back. "You expect something like that on the road, you shouldn't have to take it at home," he said afterward. "It got so I couldn't take it. I told off one guy behind the bench. He's after me every game. I'd like to see him come down out of the seats and see me some time." Roberts may be older and wiser, but we're betting he'd be able to quiet some of those annoying Habs fans that manage to find their way into Scotiabank Place.

BOTTOM SHELF STUFF: You can learn all sorts of stuff at a Senators morning skate. Yesterday, for instance, we learned that CJOH's Terry Marcotte does an outstanding impersonation of former Grand Prix Wrestling star Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon. It'd be a great way for him to sign off his sportscasts, too ... Guillaume Latendresse might have been the first guy you've seen score on a penalty shot while wearing gauze up a nostril to stop the bleeding that was created by the stick work leading to his penalty shot.


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