Working-class 'hero'

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

Daniel Alfredsson allowed himself a small laugh.

Much was being made of his "speech" to his teammates after the first period of Saturday's game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Chris Neil, who scored the winner after Alfredsson had tied the game with five minutes to go in the third period, went on Hockey Night in Canada and talked about it. He blinked into the bright lights and told Greg Millen and the rest of Canada about Alfredsson's talk and how Alfredsson was "the best captain in the NHL."

"Now I'm the hero, eh?" chuckled Alfredsson.

Uh, yeah.

It's been that way for a while, since Alfredsson went into last year's playoffs with a choker label hung on him by a U.S. publication and turned in his best post-season performance, becoming perhaps the biggest reason the Senators made it to the Stanley Cup final for the first time.

It is a treat seeing a player who will soon be 35 continue to improve, to grow as a leader -- and perhaps the biggest compliment this game can give a player -- never taking a shift off while he does it.

His little talk Saturday afternoon after the feisty young Habs had taken a 1-0 lead was really the same talk he had with himself not too long ago.

"I'm wasn't yelling or screaming. I thought we were -- I don't like talking about myself -- I just said we didn't play smart. They got off to a great start and we tried to get it back right away and we were running around.

" 'Settle down and get back to playing our game.' Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I don't think it was a big speech or anything."

In an interesting self-observation a couple of minutes later, as we talked about Alfredsson playing the best hockey of his career at a time when many other players begin to wane, Alfredsson said he used to be his own worst critic, but had eased up.

The philosophy he had come to adopt for himself was the message he gave his teammates Saturday.

'I'M SMARTER NOW'

"I might look back at a game and I might have played well, but I misread that play or I did that wrong," said Alfredsson. "Where I've gotten better is I used to take that too hard, then try and make it up and try to do too much. I'm smarter now about how I play the game and that allows me to be more effective."

That's what he told his teammates: Don't try and get it all back at once. Senators coach John Paddock has picked up where Bryan Murray left off, using a style that lets players like Alfredsson play to their strengths.

Paddock knows what he's got. He used both Alfredsson and winger Dany Heatley in excess of 26 minutes Saturday -- season highs for both of them. Alfredsson has flourished under Murray and now Paddock after it looked like he was constrained and lacking the same enthusiasm in the final years of the Jacques Martin regime.

At that point, Alfredsson's detractors were growing. The years of losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs tainted all with the Senators.

"Going into the playoffs last year, I wasn't worried. A lot of people questioned me before," said Alfredsson. "I felt confident because I had played consistently for a while. It's not like I think it's going to disappear ... I feel confident out there I feel physically fine. I feel strong and I'm fortunate to get a lot of minutes and play with good players. I'm given an opportunity to be effective."

Alfredsson is attacking the game -- all aspects of it -- with confidence.

At the essence of the game at the NHL level is winning battles. Is there a player who wins more of them than the Senators captain?

"I love scoring goals, but I love the battles," he said. "I had a couple of battles with (big Montreal defenceman Mike) Komisarek (Saturday). "That's what you look forward to, winning the battles. 'I'm not going to let that guy beat me.' That's what drives me."

The Senators can enjoy going along for the ride. 


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