Bad ice par for the course

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

The conditions at Scotiabank Place these days are more suited for golf -- both outside and inside the building.

"I'm amazed that here in Canada, the ice was as bad as it was," Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau beefed after his team's loss to the Senators in overtime Tuesday. "It was the worst ice I've seen guys skate on in many, many moons. It was embarrassing."

Ottawa players shrugged off the complaint yesterday. Some interpreted it as an excuse for defeat, then noted that both teams played on the same surface. Some wondered if the Skate Canada competition last week had something to do with the choppy turf. Some said only four or five rinks in the NHL actually have good ice. And others heard Boudreau's comments and responded with a 'what's new?' attitude.

The ice at The Bank has been sub-par for some time.

"It was bad," said Jason Spezza. "The weather change (Tuesday) probably didn't help. But they've had a little bit of problem with the ice here.

"I don't know what's going on. Maybe the building is getting a little older. We used to have great ice here a couple of years ago, but something has changed."

Yet some Senators still couldn't pull themselves away from it following a practice the morning after Ottawa's third win in four games. A group that included Spezza, Shean Donovan, Jesse Winchester and Alexandre Picard designed and played their own golf course, using faceoff dots as the holes and their sticks and pucks as clubs and balls.

The finishing hole was the toughest.

"You had to flip the puck on top of the net," said Spezza.

Picard, for one, was not a fan of that particular rule.

Asked how the course played, Spezza noted: "We had good slow greens today."

The ice for tonight's game against the Flyers will be great -- if you consider the players are skating on fairways.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

Coach Craig Hartsburg is becoming quite a dancer while fielding the daily "who's your No. 1 goalie" question that really has an obvious answer. "Alex (Auld) has been good for us," Hartsburg said yesterday, refusing to use the term "No. 1" as he announced Auld would be making his seventh straight start tonight. "We just move forward. He's been a real good goalie. (Martin Gerber) is going to get a chance to contribute to our team here as well." That's likely to be tomorrow, when the Senators are in Carolina to face Gerber's old Hurricane teammates in the second of back-to-back games.

While the Senators' goals-against average is down to 1.45 in their last four games, the team's defence and overall play is much better. Auld is the first to admit it.

"It's obviously nice to get the minutes, and to get on a bit of a roll," he said. "It's coincided nicely for me, we're playing pretty well defensively. It's worked out well."

As for his relationship with Gerber, Auld said there's no animosity between the two.

"Gerbs is such a great guy," he said. "We've both been on both sides of this thing a lot of times in our career. You understand it's team first. I look at it, whoever is playing that night, that's the starter and that's it. It's my turn (tonight) and that's all there is to it."

TO THE DEFENCE

It seems like Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are returning to the form that made them one of the best shut-down pairings in the NHL. They were stellar in Tuesday's win, and Hartsburg thinks part of the reason is that their role is once again clearly defined. When the other team's top forwards are on the ice, they will most often be on the ice, too.

"That might be part of it," agreed Phillips. "At the start we were rolling over the lines, as a group, for that matter it always is a group, it was just our job to shut down whoever we were up against. But the last few games, they've put a little bit more responsibility on Volchie and myself. When you're given that, obviously you want to do a good job and not let your teammates down. It helps having that focus when you go out there. You have to be prepared to win every shift when you're playing dangerous guys who can hurt you."

THEN THERE'S THIS

With the team playing three games in four nights, Daniel Alfredsson skipped yesterday's practice. D Luke Richardson skated in his spot on the right wing with Mike Fisher and Jesse Winchester ... Assist-making machine Filip Kuba also contributed two hits in Tuesday's win over Washington. The large blueliner now has six on the season ... As of yesterday, 1,500 tickets were still available for tonight's game.


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