Neil tries a new Hab-it

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Chris Neil lined up with the big boys yesterday morning.

And he's there to stay ... for now, at least.

As the Senators went through their paces yesterday at the Bell Sensplex before making the bus ride here, Neil skated on the No. 1 line with winger Dany Heatley and centre Jason Spezza.

That's likely where Neil will start tonight as the Senators prepare to finish off a home-and-home series with the Canadiens at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC).

Ottawa won 4-1 on Thursday at Scotiabank Place.

"I just have to go out there and get the job done," said Neil. "I know what I have do. I have to go the front of the net, I have to fight for loose pucks and I have to try to create traffic. I have to finish my checks as well.

"My job is pretty simple. I try to do it the best I can. I know my role. It's nice to get a chance to play with these guys. You just hope that it works out and I hope we're able to keep it going here for a little while."

Finding somebody to play on the right side of Spezza and Heatley has been a work in progress for coach Bryan Murray. Neil is the latest in a long line of players who've been given the opportunity.

Though Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson started the 2005-06 season with the dynamic duo, they really haven't been together as a unit since December 2005. Since then, Martin Havlat, Patrick Eaves and Chris Kelly have all gotten the chance to take shifts on the right side. Tonight, it will be Neil's turn, but don't be surprised if centre Mike Comrie also gets the odd shift.

"We talked about other people going in front of the net, and they told me they could, but they didn't," said Murray. "Chris Neil, I know for a fact, will. Not only did he go in front of the net, but I really thought he helped retrieve pucks. Chris took on a bigger role in that area."

Spezza said he and Heatley aren't concerned about Murray shifting the third cog on their line.

"(It) has been changed so much that we're pretty much used to it," said Spezza. "Aside from the first two months of last season with (Alfredsson) there, we really haven't had anybody there for a long period of time. It doesn't really matter much. It gives the coach flexibility to reward guys or move guys around or to spark us a bit too and make us play better if we're struggling."

Murray isn't afraid to break Heatley and Spezza up, but admits he likes their chemistry on the ice.

"If they are working, they find each other," said Murray. "Without question, (Spezza) is a playmaker. He makes great passes and he needs a finisher to play with him.

"As much as I was worried about the other end of the ice, when they play together, Dany feeds off it well and keeps working at a strong level defensively."

Murray pointed out Spezza made a strong defensive play in his own end to set up the fourth goal against the Habs on Thursday night.

"He got back. This is the whole point that's hard for younger players to understand," said Murray.

"You probably get more chances if you aren't looking for the breakaway pass consistently. We know when he gets into the offensive zone, he can make things happen."


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