Senators chill out

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

From sunshine to snowbanks, the Senators revelled in the comforts of home-sweet-Hockey Country yesterday.

Of course, it helped considerably that they were also basking in the afterglow of consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 10 and 15 beatings of Montreal and Buffalo.

"No doubt that, in the middle of it and towards the end, we talked a lot about losing for a long time," Chris "Big Rig" Phillips said of the seven-game slump that finally ended with a win over Florida and Friday's follow-up 4-2 victory in Dallas. "Then you look, and you see you're still at the top (of the conference standings), and that after the road trip (claiming five of six points) we gained even more ground.

"We definitely put ourselves in good position at the start of the season, but we can't just sit on that either."

And so it was that, after Saturday's day off, the Senators had some extra bounce in their step during yesterday's return to the rink. Oh yeah, the venue had something to do with it as well.

For the first time, they practised at the Kinburn Sensplex in West Carleton, about 15 minutes from Scotiabank Place.

An estimated crowd of 331 attended the open workout.

"That's sweat, ladies and gentlemen," centre Dean McAmmond joked as he held up an undershirt upon returning to the team dressing room at The Bank afterwards. "For the first hour, the only thing that was sweating was my nose. It was chilly in there."

McAmmond and his teammates didn't mind the conditions, though. Not at all.

"What I find at these rinks is the ice quality is better than ours," said Antoine Vermette, who was flying on the American Airlines Center surface in Dallas, scoring a goal and an assist in what his coach called "one of his better, if not his best" game of the season. "It's always nice to have a practice with the fans there. I hope the kids enjoyed that."

Sens coach John Paddock had similar sentiments.

"I thought it was great," he said. "The ice was good, it was a great atmosphere. I wish we could do it a little more often."

The Senators get to spend another day off the blades but will be out among adoring fans again this afternoon, as they make the annual team Christmas visit to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

PLAYERS 'FORTUNATE'

"It opens up your eyes a bit ... a reminder of how fortunate we are," Mike Fisher, who also broke out of a personal slump with goals in each of the last two games, said of the trip to CHEO. "Going in, we get a lot more out of it. It puts things in perspective. We enjoy doing it, seeing the kids."

Fisher, who had gone 14 games without a goal going into the meeting with the Panthers, said it was nice to get back on the score sheet. He refused to blame a lingering groin problem for his lack of production.

"It's the same as it's been all year, so that's no excuse," said Fisher. "Slumps happen. Everyone goes through them."

Vermette knows of what his pal speaks. With the goal in Dallas, he now has two in his last 15 games and just five this season.

"It seems I was in the right spot at the right moment," Vermette said of his highlight reel goal Friday. "I had a chance to skate, and it seems I had that jump.

"(The win) was something we needed as a team."

As is the solid goaltending they're getting out of Ray Emery. Emery faced only one shot in the second period Friday, but the bottom line is he has now allowed fewer goals than the guy at the other end of the rink for two in a row.

Paddock said it's too early to say what his rotation plans are for this week's games in Carolina (Wednesday) and Pittsburgh (Thursday). While it would appear logical for him to go back to Emery, Paddock could choose to let Martin Gerber try to get his game back on track in his old Carolina stomping grounds.

As for what appeared to be his team reverting to its former solid defensive game, Paddock said: "Too much is made out of how we're playing in our zone. We're giving up too many goals, but some teams put a lot of pressure on you in your end and some wait until you take it into the neutral zone before they attack, they get a goal and then just sit back.

"In the second period (against Dallas) we forechecked aggressively with two guys as well as we have all year."


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