Shakeup going forward

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

If it's Tuesday, it must be Nick Foligno.

Or maybe not.

The 20-year-old winger took his turn skating with Senators stars Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley at practice yesterday as coach Craig Hartsburg made it clear he's not prone to letting his line combinations get stale.

Three games into the season and Spezza and Heatley have skated with four different wingers. They started with captain Daniel Alfredsson for the season-opening games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sweden, but he went down with a bone chip in his knee and had surgery Friday.

Next up was newcomer Jarkko Ruutu, who started with Spezza and Heatley in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Rookie Jesse Winchester, who skated on the top line through much of camp, saw a number of shifts with Spezza and Heatley in the latter part of the game.

Now it's Foligno's turn, but Hartsburg cautioned that could change again before the Senators' next game, Friday night at Scotiabank Place against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"There's lots of questions about lines, that's great, the interest ... for me, it's not a big deal to change lines around. In the old days there was a line and it would stay together for 10, 12 years. Now it's 10 minutes in a game," said Hartsburg.

"That's the way the game has changed, which is good. It makes players more versatile. You want them to be able to play different roles in different situations.

"You've got to get them to understand it's a team, you should be able to play with different players every night. If everybody stuck with 'I have to play with this guy or I can't play', you know what? You don't end up having a lot of success."

COULDN'T MATCH WINGS

Playing without Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley showed they've got a ways to go to match the class of the Stanley Cup champion Wings. Detroit centre Pavel Datsyuk showed why he's one of the top two-way players in the league.

In that matchup, Spezza was -2, had four giveaways and won just 8-of-22 faceoffs. Heatley assisted on Alexandre Picard's power-play goal, but was held to just one shot on goal.

Shaking up the lines is one way to try to change momentum. Injuries are going to happen. Slumps are going to happen. There have to be options and finding a good match for Spezza and Heatley shouldn't be hard, said Hartsburg.

"Don't look at this as being critical, but at some point, you should be able to put anybody there," he said.

"Spezza and Heatley are top players. You should be able to put anybody there and those two should be able to help them be better players. They should be able to take a player like Foligno or whoever it is and say, 'Okay, you fit in here no problem. Here's what we need you to do and here's what you bring to our line and it should work.' Good players make other people around them better."

SENS' BEST PLAYER

Foligno scored a goal on a great individual effort Saturday night and the Senators' top pick in the 2006 draft (28th overall) has impressed Hartsburg with his work on the wing.

"Nick's been a really good player for us through camp when he's been on the wing. To me, the games he played left wing near the end of camp, he was our best player in the game. We want to give him a chance to play there (with Spezza and Heatley)," said Hartsburg, before adding: "It could change tomorrow."

Foligno said he wasn't intimidated skating with Spezza and Heatley.

"No, not at all. It's exciting," he said. "They're great players and it's not hard to play with them. You just have to make sure you're doing the things you need to do to help them and help yourself. It's just a matter of going out and working hard and it starts in practice.

"I want to be more consistent. That's the biggest thing every player strives for. It's just a matter of making sure you're coming to the rink ready every day."

Ready to play with anybody.


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