MONTREAL -- Late-night TV viewing was tough on Chris Neil's eyes last week.
Specifically, the parts where his friends were being bullied.
"You just want to be out there, especially the Anaheim game," the Senators' all-time penalty minutes leader said yesterday, a short time after his second on-ice workout in his recovery from torn MCL ligaments in his right knee.
"Couple of our guys get run from behind, and that's something if I'm out there, I go out and give it back to them or settle the score. I think it's one of the things we missed a little bit out there, (somebody to) wreak a little havoc. That's part of my game, I thrive playing those types of games. Playing out west, that's how a lot of those teams play. I feed off that and I like that kind of hockey. It's something where I wish I was out there every step of the way."
The Senators lost MVP winger Daniel Alfredsson in that contest against the Ducks when he was cross-checked in the back by defenceman Francois Beauchemin. While Alfredsson hopes to be back any day now, Neil is shooting for Game 79 of the schedule, April 1 against Montreal. If he can make it back for games 77 and 78, too, all the better.
Meanwhile, it's tough to gauge exactly how good the Senators are until both injured players are back. They have not had their full squad since the trade deadline. Martin Lapointe was brought in to add some grit, which is supposed to complement that provided by Neil and others. Problem is, there's a shortage of others.
Currently, Lapointe is one of only maybe three Senators forwards who can be counted on to finish each check. They need more. And they really need Neil.
When asked if fans would see a hungrier Chris Neil when he returned, he chuckled.
"You'll see a healthier Chris Neil, that's for sure," he said. "It's a long season. You get banged up through the whole season, you get bumps and bruises. (The injury) has given my body a chance to rest everything. I feel great. I wake up in the morning, and there's no aches and pains right now. The knee feels good.
"You go to the gym and get bigger and stronger where a lot of the times you can't do that during the season because it's such a tight schedule. It's an opportunity for me that I'm taking to get bigger and stronger, working my cardio, so when I come back I'm able to come in and be effective right away."
In the meantime, the Senators would be better off if a few more forwards started to do Chris Neil impersonations by finishing their checks.
The Senators are now 2-0 since Dean "Hank" McAmmond spoke to the team about his findings from the press box. For those who don't know the story, when the 16-year veteran was made a healthy scratch last Thursday in Los Angeles, coach Bryan Murray asked him to make notes on what the team needed to do better. McAmmond complied, offered up his report to Murray between periods and then obeyed another request by speaking to the players at practice the next day. "The coaches have addressed all the technical stuff we've been working on," McAmmond said yesterday. "Basically, what I said was we've wandered so far from playing our basic system we've forgotten how it feels to execute that system. Last year we executed that system so well we didn't have to think about it, it was second nature, went into the playoffs and just build on to that system." McAmmond, who was last a healthy scratch when he was the leading scorer for the St. Louis Blues ("the coach said he wanted more from me") during the 2005-06 season, isn't eager for a career behind the bench. "Not unless I have to," he said. "I'd still like to be a player."
A trip to the Bell Centre will be something different for winger Martin Lapointe, a product of Ville Ste-Pierre, Que., who has played all but three of his 17 NHL seasons in the Western Conference. "It's fun. I've got a lot of family there and they come out to the game," he said. "Obviously, I want to beat Montreal. It's great. I'm from there, 10 minutes away from downtown, I grew up watching Montreal. It's great to be back there." ... With 35 goals, Dany Heatley was asked if it's possible to get 15 more in 11 games. "Alexander Ovechkin I think has done it," said Heatley, a back-to-back 50-goal scorer. "It's really not at all on my mind. But we'll see what happens." ... Jason Spezza was still being grilled about a play Tuesday he figures should get him some Frank Selke Trophy consideration ("Just don't tell anybody I tripped over the blue line," he laughed) during which he waved his stick behind his back -- while sitting on the ice and facing away from the shooter -- to knock down a puck in midair. Any phone calls on that one, Jason? "Not really," he said. "My buddies only call me when I score. They don't care about that stuff." The guys in the room? "We got a good chuckle out of it. I'm sure it'll find its way to some video at some point."