Just what Sens kneed

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Chris Neil, sweat pouring down his face after practice, couldn't wipe the toothy grin off his face.

As the Senators' rugged winger, the last one off the ice yesterday, was telling reporters he will return tomorrow for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins' only visit to Scotiabank Place this season, callup Ryan Shannon waltzed by with his bags packed to return to Binghamton.

Neil is returning to the lineup just two weeks after arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He missed six games.

"I was hoping to play (Wednesday), but we just wanted to make sure and give it an extra couple of days," said Neil. "I will be good to go. I heal pretty quick,

usually. I was thinking that when I got hurt. I wanted to get back as soon as possible. If I'm able to play, I want to play. If the last game was a playoff game, I would have played."

Neil cautioned that he's not fully healed.

"There are definitely going to be some issues with (the knee) for the next couple of weeks. There will be swelling and stuff, but I just have to take care of it after games and practices."

The Senators need Neil's energy as they head into a stretch of five games in eight days -- a stretch that will go a long way in determining whether Ottawa will contend this season.

After hosting the Penguins and Panthers (Monday), the Senators visit Chicago (Wednesday) and Washington (Friday), then return home for the Lightning next Saturday.

"(Neil's) worked hard," said coach Craig Hartsburg. "With the surgery, it was the same thing we talked about with (captain Daniel) Alfredsson -- if the swelling is minimal right after it, then you can get to work on rehab and that's what happened here.

SKATE WITH RUUTU, BASS

"It will be good to get him back to give us more of that physical energy and physical play that I would like to have more of (from the Senators).

"We'd like to have that line with him, (Jarkko) Ruutu and Cody Bass that can set a tone for our team physically."

Neil is excited to be back quickly and buoyed by the fact he was able to resume practising last Monday.

"I want to get in and help out as much as possible. You want to get back into the lineup, be back with the guys, practise with them and just be a part of it," said Neil. "You want to keep the guys motivated and I try to get them excited out there because that's my job.

"I just have to be an energy player. I've got to bring a lot of emotion and excitement. I'm always optimistic when I get hurt ... I'm fortunate to come back."

With Neil's return, there was no need to keep Shannon. He only returned Wednesday from the post-concussion syndrome that forced him to miss six games.


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