Where's Neely when you need him?

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Hours after putting to bed a year that career-wise was very good to him, John Paddock spoke of his big aspirations for 2008.

Cam Neely big.

Paddock, who went to the Stanley Cup finals as an assistant coach in June, then returned to the NHL head-coaching ranks in July after a 13-year absence, is proving to be a solid choice as Bryan Murray's successor. The Senators are leading the Eastern Conference and trail only Detroit in the overall standings.

But are they good enough to get back to the finals? Anything less will be a tremendous disappointment.

"There's really only one goal professionally we have," Paddock said upon reflection of the year that was, referring to winning the Cup.

"It's not just me who has it. Quite a few other people. I guess that would be the way that would have made (2007) better, for sure."

Asked if he feels the Senators are better than they were last season, Paddock noted there's not much difference between the two editions, other than the 2007-08 squad has the benefit of experience.

NOT DONE 'RETOOLING'

Paddock, speaking in the lobby of Washington's historic Mayflower Hotel, also reminded that Murray is not finished "retooling" a Senators team that came up a little short and light in the final vs. Anaheim.

When it was jokingly mentioned that he might have on his wish-list a Peter Forsberg and Ray Bourque in their prime, Paddock admitted he had other ideas.

"Maybe Cam Neely, maybe some size," he said of the former Bruins winger, regarded as the consummate power forward. "Anaheim is big. We said last year after the finals -- size matters. See Joe Thornton's stats in three games against Anaheim before Christmas? Sixty-eight minutes, 35 seconds. Zero (goals), zero (assists) and zero (points). Sami Pahlsson and Chris Pronger can do that to you."

You obviously wouldn't want Thornton, then?

"He'd be all right as a second-line centre," deadpanned Paddock. "Because only one of him and (Jason Spezza) would have Sami Pahlsson on them."

A far more serious Paddock was probably tempted to let out cries for help that could be heard all the way to the Czech Republic -- where Murray is watching the World Junior Championships -- after the first period yesterday.

As good as the Senators have been, they sure started the new year off poorly.

STARTS AND STOPS: Chris Phillips clearly heard Paddock's demands that the Senators start paying more attention to Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps Phillips overheard them. On Washington's first goal, he was cheating toward Ovechkin at the side of the net and leaving unattended in front Viktor Kozlov, who easily converted Nicklas Backstrom's pass ... Donald Brashear finally accepted a Brian McGrattan invitation to fight, but their jawing at each other from the penalty boxes after lasted longer. Unfortunately, Brashear fell to the ice before their scrap really got under way ... The way Chris Neil gloved down a Christoph Schubert pass and sped in on a breakaway for his fourth goal of the season, he made Caps defenceman Jeff Schultz look like a, well, Jeff Schultz.

BETWEEN PERIODS: Numbers-wise, the Senators didn't have to recall Cody Bass from Binghamton. They did anyway. "I think from early appearances he's forcing his way into the lineup," said Paddock. "He skates well enough, he agitates, gets in on the forecheck. He just brings some things you look for as sort of a dimension to a team." ... Martin Gerber unleashed his anger when he arrived at the bench after being yanked following Washington's fourth goal. He should have been madder at his team than himself or his coach. Gerber was bad on the second goal, when he didn't realize the puck was sitting beside him after he made an easy point shot save. But the guys he goes to battle with deserted him on the others. For one thing, they made Mike Green look like the best puck-rushing defenceman since Paul Coffey ... Ray Emery was screaming at Matt Pettinger as the winger left the zone following a second-period rush with which he took the puck right into the crease, and got a piece of the goalie as he fell into the end boards.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM ...: A George-town establishment called Mr. Smith's The Friendliest Saloon in Town lived up to its name 20 minutes or so into Jan. 1. One liquored-up couple was so friendly toward each other they should have been X-rated ... As if Ottawa goalies weren't having enough trouble -- Joe "Uh Oh" Corvo almost snuck a shot by Emery while trying to send the puck around the net in the second ... Caps coach Bruce Boudreau had no problem lining up Brashear against Daniel Alfredsson, a matchup on which the Senators should have been able to capitalize. Instead, the line of Brashear, Boyd Gordon and former Senator prospect Brooks Laich managed to score against Alfredsson, Spezza and Dany Heatley. You know you're having a bad day when ... Paddock's pre-game decision was to scratch either McGrattan or a player whose identity he wouldn't divulge to the media five hours before the puck drop. The player turned out to be Randy Robitaille, whom the team said didn't play because of the flu... Paddock was asked if the Senators miss Anton Volchenkov even more when they face Ilya Kovalchuk and Ovechkin, two left-wingers he would be matched up against. "Those are two players he hasn't exactly shined against. He just hasn't over the last couple of years," said Paddock. "Volchie tends to give them too much space some times, a little too worried about their speed. We miss him for sure. He's one of the premier defensive defencemen in the game. He hasn't exactly shined against these guys, though, in my mind, individually." Not the simple "yes" that was expected.


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