A-Train is back, right on time

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

The Senators are taking the A-Train to Buffalo.

Coach John Paddock confirmed yesterday that stalwart defenceman Anton "A-Train" Volchenkov will play in tomorrow's game vs. the Sabres.

Volchenkov has missed 15 games with a broken right index finger he suffered doing what he does best -- blocking a shot in a 6-5 loss to Nashville Nov. 29.

Despite the pain, despite the five weeks of solitude and despite the grueling workouts injured players must endure under strength and conditioning coach Randy Lee, the thick Russian will continue to risk life and limb by throwing himself in front of shots.

"It's still a little sore, but I'm going to play," said Volchenkov, the 2006-07 NHL leader in blocked shots who was first in the category again, with 96, at the time of an interruption that has bumped him into a tie for fifth.

"I'll block shots every game. There will be no big change in my game."

The Senators won 16-of-23 before the game when Volchenkov got hurt, allowing 56 goals, an average of 2.4 per game. In 15 starts without Volchenkov, they won nine and gave up 48 goals, an average of 3.2 per outing.

That's a 33% jump.

"It's definitely fun to see him coming back," said goalie Martin Gerber. "If he's on, and you see him go to block a shot, you know it's going to be blocked. He usually doesn't miss when he's on."

'BIG CORNERSTONE'

The Senators have lost their last two games, both to the Washington Capitals, who are improving but are still a lower-echelon team. In the process, the club gave up 14 goals (two were empty-netters).

"That's what we've got to improve," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "(Volchenkov) is a big cornerstone of our defence. It's great that he's coming back."

Paddock says the main problem in Tuesday's 6-3 loss was that his forwards didn't match the urgency exhibited by the Caps forwards, but then cringed as coaches do at the thought of surrendering more than a dozen in two games.

"If you don't play good defence, you're not going to win," said Paddock. "We were really good defensively (in recent wins) against Buffalo and the Islanders and the Rangers. It's just a matter of commitment to do it shift after shift. Be on the defensive side of the puck and not take unnecessary chances."

Tuesday's game plan included having Mike Fisher shadow Alex Ovechkin, but it was abandoned after the Capitals seized momentum with two 4-on-4 goals 35 seconds apart.

Paddock said the Senators would have been better off if Caps winger Alexander Semin wouldn't have taken the retaliation penalty on Chris Phillips that left both teams a player short. The worst thing that would have happened then is the Caps score once on the power play, he noted.

Paddock doubts he'll be utilizing Fisher's fast skates and strength in future 1-on-1 matchups against some of the league's superstars.

"In my three years here, we've never had a checking line, or we've never assigned anybody (to shadow another player)," said Paddock. "It's not that we don't believe in it at times, it's just that we want to be an attacking team. I don't think we have the lineup to assign somebody or a checking line, at this stage."

They do have a spot warm for Volchenkov, however. It'll be right beside Phillips on what is one of the NHL's best shutdown tandems.

"I think it settles down some of the running around we've had in our zone," Paddock said of Volchenkov's return. "But what has always impressed me most the last two or three years with him is his effectiveness without taking penalties. He seems to have that knack and strength to stick check, and get his stick over top, and control guys in the corners, without taking penalty.

"It stabilizes our situation."


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