Carvel marvels at blue line

Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery makes a glove save during practice at the Bell Sensplex on...

Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery makes a glove save during practice at the Bell Sensplex on Thursday. (Sun Media/Errol McGihon)

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

At the end of any debate, it matters very little whether it's Ray Emery, Martin Gerber or team doctor Don Chow between the pipes.

When the Senators play defence like they can and are, they're usually going to like the results.

In jumping out to an 8-1 start, Ottawa has quietly surrendered a paltry 18 goals. The two-against-per-game average is tied with Philadelphia's as lowest in the East and just behind the pace set by the Wild, which headed into last night having given up only 16 goals in nine games.

Gerber, at 6-1, is among the league leaders in victories as well as save percentage and goals-against average. Despite allowing just one goal, Emery showed obvious signs of rust in winning his season debut last Saturday, after which he credited teammates for playing so well defensively.

"They kept things to the outside and allowed me to get comfortable," he said.

It's not yet known who will tend the Ottawa's net tomorrow in New Jersey, when the Senators have another long break rudely interrupted by a game against the Devils -- other than it won't be Chow, whose numbers in charity and old-timer outings this season are currently unavailable.

But, as the Senators will tell you, right now it doesn't matter who gets the call.

"A big part of our success last year was defensively, how well we played as a team," assistant coach Greg Carvel said after yesterday's practice at the Bell Sensplex. "We recognized that as a team, and came into training camp and wanted to build off that. I think we've done that.

"Our top four defencemen are as good as any four in the league. We know we're real fortunate to have that type of situation. All six guys are really committed to playing the system that we have.

"On top of that, our forwards really buy into the system, too. Our forwards work real hard to make our (defencemen's) game more simple, and all that makes our goalie's game as simple as possible.

"You guys can question who the goalie is going to be, and I don't even know who it is for (tomorrow), but if our forwards and 'D' are playing the way we want to, our goalie is going to look good either way."

The blue line brigade has stood tall without a lot of publicity. The top pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov is already in full shutdown mode, with "The Big Rig" second among NHL plus-minus leaders at plus-9 and his Russian, shot-blocking partner not far behind at plus-5.

The 5-6 pairing consists of veteran Luke Richardson, who is eating up just under 10 minutes of ice time per game while throwing the occasional knockout punch, and Joe Corvo, who also has power-play duties.

Meanwhile, drawing kudos from the coaching staff of late is the No. 3 and 4 guys, Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros. They have six and five points, respectively, while hovering around the 'even' plus-minus mark. They're also better in their own zone than they were a year ago.

"We've been talking about Wade recently ... he's been injury-free for the most part, his back is bothering him a little but he hasn't had the groin problems that he had last year," said Carvel. "I think we've really tried, for our defence, to manage our practices a little so our 'D' really have to work on their conditioning and footspeed ... so when Wade's in shape and he's battling, that's when he's playing his best. "


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