Suddenly, Sens are special

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The Senators used to post how they ranked in the league with their special teams.

"We're a little superstitious. This year we don't do that," said Senators assistant coach Greg Carvel, whose large responsibility is penalty killing.

Hey, whatever works.

The news would be good lately as the Senators went into last night's game with a penalty-killing unit that had killed an incredible 32 of its last 33 short-handed situations.

The only power-play goal they had given up in the stretch was the 5-on-3 goal scored by Toronto's Darcy Tucker Saturday night in the Leafs' 4-3 overtime win.

After a slow start, the Senators have moved up to third at home in penalty killing, 20th on the road and seventh overall. They sit at 84.8% efficiency right now.

Your goaltender is always your best penalty killer, but there's no question the emergence of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov as a premier shutdown duo has been an important development.

"They're the key," said Carvel.

The Senators have also been shifting Christoph Schubert back from forward whenever a defenceman gets a penalty.

That's what happened when Volchenkov was called for interference in the first period last night against the Rangers. Schubert dropped back and helped kill the penalty (which had its close calls, including New York's Martin Straka hitting the outside of the post).

The Senators can now also call on three penalty-killing duos up front: Mike Fisher/Peter Schaefer; Antoine Vermette/Chris Kelly and Daniel Alfredsson/Dean McAmmond.

"We haven't had that kind of stability before. It's been a two-year process," said Carvel. "We've established a foundation now and we still tweak it and make adjustments, but at this time of year, every team is doing the same thing, get the puck to the top (point) and jam the net. At the beginning of the year teams were making the pass to the goal line and trying a lot of backdoor stuff."

The Senators are also dangerous shorthanded, having scored 15 goals while at least a man down, second-best in the league behind the Montreal Canadiens (17).

"We use mostly first and second-line players and (Kelly) is the smartest player on the team," said Carvel. "He's our best penalty killer."

Kelly credited Alfredsson.

"I like to watch Alfie a lot, the way he reads the game," he said. "You can see it when he's killing 5-on-3's. He goes right at them and doesn't let them set up.

"Knowing the game, reading the game, you watch guys like that and it makes us a better unit."

HEAR AND THERE: It wouldn't be a game at MSG without a "Potvin sucks!" chant. It seems to come from nowhere, but some guy sets it up by whistling, I keenly observed.

REVELATIONS: I don't know about you, but maybe, when the puck is right there in front of the Ottawa net, I think somebody on the Senators defence might want to take the body now and then.

SPECULATIONS: If you have to be on the road, there are better ways to spend a Monday night in NYC than listening to a string of great blues performers at B.B. King's on Times Square. I just can't think of any right now ... Ottawa's Mike Comrie is playing with a little more jam. He just battled to take a puck away from Rangers D Paul Mara...F Oleg Saprykin didn't get a chance to battle last night. He was a healthy scratch last night with Patrick Eaves drawing into the lineup.

A FREE FLEECE AND A SALARY CAP, PLEASE: There are some players who probably care less about what's going on their union than some fans do. With Ted Saskin on paid vacation, who's running the union? "Maybe the lady who runs the gift room," Leafs forward Mike Peca told reporters in Toronto. "That's the person the guys go see the most, anyway, to get the free stuff."

PARTING SHOT: Things you just don't see anywhere but Times Square: The world famous "Naked Cowboy," strumming his guitar ("Like a naked cowboy," sung to the tune of Rhinestone Cowboy, wearing only a white cowboy hat, white briefs, white cowboy boots and tattoos. You can buy stuff at nakedcowboy.com -- from $15 underwear to $800 hand-painted guitars ... Now my buddy Sleepy Sly St-Laurent just told me there's a Naked Cowgirl. Seems to me that might have been more interesting. Round 'em up!


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