Trust a must for defence partners

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

A year ago, the Senators were a mess.

They were in a stretch in which they would win only one of eight games, were 6-9-1 through 16 games (compared to 14-2 this year) and were engulfed in rumours GM John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray would pay with their jobs.

A large part of the club's troubles could be pinned on their defensive play. Goaltender Martin Gerber wasn't good, but he wasn't getting much help from a defensive corps that was struggling to cope with the loss of defenceman Zdeno Chara, who had signed as a free agent with the Bruins.

The Senators were struggling to find defensive pairings that would work.

"We searched from A-Z," Senators coach John Paddock remembered yesterday, creating a pun in reference to Chara. "We just couldn't find the right combos."

The Senators tried newcomer Joe Corvo with Wade Redden and with Chris Phillips, who had been Chara's partner.

They had tried Anton Volchenkov with Redden.

The Senators didn't know which side Corvo preferred or that he hadn't killed penalties in Los Angeles.

Things finally clicked when Phillips and Volchenkov found some karma together and were on their way to becoming the league's premier shutdown duo.

Meszaros and Redden struggled through most of the year, but both have come back strong this season, giving the Senators two premier pairs.

Finding the chemistry between defence partners is a hard thing to pin down. Sometimes a stay-at-home guy works well with a rusher. That's the way the Devils structured their blue line in the years they contended for and won Stanley Cups. They had offensive guys like Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski with tough guys like Colin White, Scott Stevens or Ken Daneyko.

Sometimes two defensive types -- like Phillips and Volchenkov -- click.

IN BETTER SHAPE

Meszaros, 22, and in his third season, has benefited from a few factors for his improved play this season. Paddock noted yesterday that Meszaros showed up in better shape (he's playing about 3 lbs. lighter than last year) and the familiarity with Redden has given him a running start this year.

"It's important to talk out there and help each other out, that's the main thing," said Meszaros. "It's all about help and he's a more experienced defenceman than I am. He's helping me a lot."

Veteran Senators defenceman Luke Richardson has been through his share of partners on the ice through his 20 years in the league.

The pairing that worked best for him?

With Dan McGillis of Hawkesbury.

They played together with the Oilers and then wound up playing together again with the Flyers.

They're still great friends.

"We were roommates. I think that helps, too. You talk a lot and prepare for the next game on the road. We liked the same restaurants and we liked to go out and have a few beers and relax," said Richardson.

Redden and Meszaros talk before every faceoff to make sure they are on the same page. If one winds up with the puck, will it be a "D-to-D" pass? A reverse?

Richardson knew McGillis' tendencies.

"I'd whisper in his hear, 'it's not the time to rush the puck. We're winning 3-2. We're staying back,' " said Richardson.

Who knows why two players click?

"It's a good question," said Paddock.

The Senators seem to have the answer now.

"The pairing is all about trust," said Meszaros. "I'm glad Wade trusts me and I trust him a lot."

HEAR AND THERE: After G Ray Emery tweaked his back playing baseball on Sunday, Paddock said he's starting Martin Gerber tomorrow night against the Sabres.

"(Gerber's) too hot right now not to," said Paddock. He said Emery "feels a lot better."

It sounds like Emery will be limited to DH status.


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