WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- On a night that represents a brand new beginning for the home team, the Senators will be out to drop a little reminder of how things were in the good old days.
Like, you know, earlier in October, when they used to play more frequently.
Prior to leaving for New Jersey and tonight's first game in the $375-million Prudential Center, coach John Paddock shook his head and chuckled about the short memory of some in the media. Back on the podium after a one-day break in which assistant Greg Carvel handled the gruelling questions from local reporters, Paddock also showed he learned a thing or two from Bryan Murray about dropping messages to his players in the newspapers.
"It's funny, you don't play for a week, and you watch a couple of games, on TSN, and how they love Detroit ... and Detroit has the best line in the league right now," Paddock said, a reference to the Red Wings' combination of Henrik Zetterberg-Tomas Holstrom-Pavel Datsyuk and comments apparently made by hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. "That's what everybody's saying and it's only because, well not only because ... they're good players ... but we haven't played in a week. Everybody has forgotten about (Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson-Dany Heatley) because you're out of sight, you're out of mind. We haven't played. Now Detroit has the best line in the league.
"Minnesota's the top team. That's what I heard going into (the Wild's game in) Calgary. All of a sudden, everybody's forgotten about us. We don't have the best line anymore, before that, that's all we were reading, and we don't have the best team anymore, even though our record still shows that."
Indeed, before last night's games, the Senators' 8-1 record left them tied atop the overall standings with Minnesota at 16 points, but Ottawa had also played one less game. The Wings have played one more game than the Senators as well, and while Zetterberg led the league in scoring, Datsyuk and Holmstrom had no more than any of Ottawa's big three.
HE'S NOT STUPID
"I think we have the best line ... when they play together," Paddock said, then teasingly added: "They may not play together much longer."
No, Paddock is not yet ready to balance his attack by pulling Alfredsson away from Heatley and Spezza, despite saying he'd lean that way after the hectic early schedule.
Said Paddock: "I'm not going to give you guys a chance to call me stupid by breaking them up right now, either."
He returned to the serious side to talk about what he feels is a slight on Alfredsson.
"I don't know, maybe it's just us thinking it, but I've certainly been thinking for a long time that he's been the best all-around player in the league," said Paddock. "Now (McGuire calls) Zetterberg the best all-around player in the league. Alfie likes Zetterberg as top all-around player too, but I think Alfie is."
Paddock knows full well that being the best in October pales considerably to holding that title in June, but he also wants to instil that type of mindset early.
"To be honest, we don't care who says what ... it's not like we're playing bad, we're just not playing," said Spezza. "Everything will sort itself out.
"But if you look at the record of Stanley Cup-winning teams, they started out well. That's what we talked about at training camp.
"But you want to make sure you're winning at the end of the season (going into the playoffs), too."
As for the best player debate, Alfredsson admitted he hasn't seen enough Western Conference games to offer an on-the-record opinion, but that, despite his merely human (12 points in nine games) offensive start, Sidney Crosby "is probably the player that stands out most on our side."
Continued Alfredsson: "Personally, I don't pay attention too much to what other people think. I don't get upset if we're not mentioned, or I'm not mentioned (in discussions about the best). But the pride factor does come in, and you want to be the No. 1 team."
Paddock says the time off since last Saturday's 4-1 win over Florida was well-used, not just as a bonding experience in Muskoka but also as a conditioning period for the players.
He doesn't expect rust to be a factor tonight.
"It's interesting to watch ... you think, are we still going to be in first place when we come back?" he said of the break. "Well, Philly's gone and lost a couple of games ... the only team that doesn't lose is Carolina. Besides us.
"It's hard to get those two points every game. I think what we accomplished in the first nine games is significant."