There are still many questions to be answered when it comes to right wing on the Senators' two top lines -- like who's going to be on them -- but last night it looks like the third-line job will be in capable hands.
Senators grinding winger Chris Neil scored a pair of goals by going to the net last night in the Senators' 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place in front of 17,038 fans, pushing Ottawa's pre-season record to 2-1.
Having Neil resurrect his scoring touch would be a welcome development for a Senators team which has been looking for more scoring from deeper in the lineup.
Neil had a career-best 16 goals three years ago coming out of the lockout, but saw his output drop to 12 two years ago and just six last year.
"I'm not really concerned (with how many I score). We want to win. If I'm going out and playing physical, that's how I'm effective," said Neil, who was named the game's first star. "I don't expect to score 50, but if I can score 10-20, I'm helping out. That's something I feel I'm capable of doing."
Last night he poked home a loose puck in the crease on the power play late in the first to salvage an opening 20 minutes that saw the Senators outshoot the Flyers 15-1, but wind up tied 1-1.
After rookie Jesse Winchester gave the Senators the lead with the only goal of the second, Neil scored on a nice deflection of defenceman Filip Kuba's shot to make it 3-1 at 8:07 of the third.
Neil capped off his night by going toe-to-toe with Flyers winger Arron Asham at centre ice.
That's what you call a good night's work.
Another was had by Winchester, the rookie being giving a tremendous shot on the first line. The 24-year-old, who scored only eight goals in 40 games with Colgate University last year, gave the Senators' coaching staff reason to continue the experiment. His shot along the goal line found its way into the net and he had another great scoring chance in the third while killing a penalty when he took a feed from Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson -- making his pre-season debut -- but was stopped by Philly goaltender J.S. Aubin.
"Every day is a building block right now. So far, so good," said Winchester. "I have to keep working hard and listening to what the coaches say. So far I'm having a ball."
It's a long shot to expect Winchester to be able to play alongside the likes of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley on a consistent basis. It will be interesting to see how Winchester's play holds up as we get closer to the start of the regular season and the lineups begin to feature more NHLers, but three games in, like he said, so far, so good.
"He keeps getting better with each game," Senators coach Craig Hartsburg said of Winchester. "He does a lot of the little things right which coaches love, working, getting to loose pucks."
The Senators have back-to-back games with the Canadiens starting tomorrow night in Montreal and back here Saturday night before they depart for Sweden on Sunday night, where they will complete camp and open the regular season with a pair of games against the Penguins in Stockholm Oct. 4-5.
In other developments last night, Ottawa native Brendan Bell didn't do himself any favours in his battle for a spot on the blue line, turning the puck over on a long attempted pass from deep in his zone toward the red line during a line change that led to the Flyers' goal on their only shot of the first period.
Bell didn't get any help from Senators goaltender Martin Gerber. Sporting his new Darth Vader-themed mask, Gerber watched former Kanata Valley Laser Darroll Powe intercept the pass just outside the blue line and then hammer home a shot from the top of the left-wing circle that was considerably inside the the far post at 7:03 of the first. Gerber played his first full game of the pre-season, but didn't get a lot of work as the Senators outshot the Flyers 34-11.
Hartsburg, while allowing the Flyers were playing with far from their best lineup, said he was encouraged by the Senators' overall team play.
"I like the way we competed and the structure we played with," he said. "We had the mindset to compete the right way."