Sens rookie checks in

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Colgate University obviously produces some good listeners.

"All offensive lines, if you check them right, you can get them frustrated," Senators coach Craig Hartsburg told the media before Tuesday's game against the Capitals, a message he also relayed to his players. "Therefore, you get scoring chances.

"It should be the goal of every coach in this league to get the other team's offensive guys frustrated."

As such, Jesse Winchester scored a big one in the 2-1 overtime victory that sends the Senators into tonight's home game against the Flyers with their first .500 record (5-5-2) in weeks. Not by putting the puck in the net or even setting up a goal, but by getting under the skin of Alex Ovechkin.

A key to the win was the part played by the Daniel Alfredsson-Mike Fisher-Winchester line in shutting down the vaunted Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov unit. While Alfredsson and Fisher combined on the deciding goal, Winchester and Ovechkin had an on-going feud.

In the likelihood Ovechkin had never heard of the former Colgate Raiders playmaker before this week, he certainly knows who he is now.

"We just battled all night," Winchester said yesterday. "I think our line's job was to frustrate them. He took a few good shots at me and I just tried to let him know that I'd take it all night. Luckily we came out on top, and I was happy to get involved in that kind of thing.

"I just enjoyed it. He's obviously one of the best players in the world, and to be able to rattle him, it was pretty cool."

One second-period incident followed a skirmish that saw Winchester on the receiving end of shots from a couple of defenders. As the players skated to their benches, Ovechkin and Winchester exchanged words. When they parted ways, Ovechkin gave Winchester what appeared to be a playful cuff to the back of the head.

On their next shift, Ovechkin took an interference penalty when he nailed Winchester at centre ice.

In the third, Ovechkin waved his stick under Winchester's nose.

Winchester, who had just 51 penalty minutes in 40 NCAA games last season, also invited Ovechkin to drop the gloves. Ovechkin just laughed and reminded Winchester of his first-year status.

'WITTY' LINES

"He's pretty comical," said Winchester. "I actually enjoyed some of the lines he threw at me. They were pretty witty. You don't want to laugh on the ice, but he's a pretty solid character.

"I have the utmost respect for a guy like him. I don't think it's a one-man job ... it takes five guys to shut down a guy like that. But I'm happy to be able to play a little bit of a role in that ... hopefully we can keep going and shutting down more lines.

"We were just exchanging a few words and he tried to make me aware that I was still a rookie, but it's all part of it, and it's fun," Winchester added.

"So far, he's obviously had the better of me, in that collision, but he's just playing hard and doing what he has to do. Hopefully I can be on the better end of the hit some time."

The Fisher line, which also had success against Tampa's Vinny Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis unit Saturday, will be used in a similar role against the Flyers.

But shutting down Philly is not a simple job. Before last night's games, the Flyers led the Eastern Conference with 43 goals.

"They're a team, though, that's got three pretty balanced lines," said Hartsburg. "Every line seems to play a similar game. There's some nights where it's an obvious line you have to shut down, but you still have to respect that team has that depth."

Now separated from Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, Alfredsson is not ready to totally transform his game, from that of a goal scorer to a goal stopper.

"You want to do both," he said. "I don't want to see myself as just a shutdown guy. It's obviously a fun challenge, especially when you play someone like Ovechkin, to try and stop him and hopefully frustrate him as much as you can, but at the same time create offence. I think we did a good job in Tampa as well, on the Lecavalier line. Hopefully we can build some chemistry and be a really good line."

Alfredsson, who sits close to Winchester and beside Fisher in the new locker-room layout, tries to help the rookie on the bench.

"There's certain plays where I let him know how my thought process is," said Alfredsson. "You try not to do too much because you don't want him to think out there, you just want him to react. But there's certain spots where I like to be, especially in the offensive zone, where maybe he can look for me, and vice-versa. I think that's where me, Spezza and Heatley worked so well together. We kind of knew where everybody was.

"Hopefully (Winchester and I) can get to that point as well."


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