Neil's in the swing of things

DON BRENNAN

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Usually it's the fans who are banging their hands on the glass during an NHL fight.

On Saturday, it was Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka.

Replays of the first-period scrap coach Craig Hartsburg said energized the Senators in an eventual 2-0 win over Tampa Bay show that a priest sitting in a front row seat didn't even flinch when a Neil left hook slammed loudly into the plexiglass beside him.

Remarkably, Neil didn't drop to his knees ... in pain.

"I was just trying to go for the knockout punch and he moved just enough for me to miss," Neil said yesterday. "So my hands are a little sore but I'm just glad nothing broke.

"I think he hit the glass once too. It was before I did but I don't think it was as hard."

After a binge of five in his last six games, Neil now has eight fights this season.

"I don't really have an option lately. It's just the way the games have went," said Neil. "In the Chicago game (on Dec. 10) I ended up fighting a guy who doesn't really even fight (Troy Brouwer) because I hit one of their skilled players (Patrick Kane). Last game against Tampa the guy comes right after me.

"They look down the list of our team, and I'm the guy who's there so it's every night. I could have fought every night if I wanted to."

Asked if he feels a sense of obligation to fight Konopka -- who's trying to establish roots in Tampa while on recall from the minors -- Neil said no.

"I don't really feel obliged to do anything," he said. "We've been struggling as a team, as a group, and I'm trying to get the guys fired up. That's part of the battle, and it was one of those games we needed a little spark."

The Senators have not had contract discussions with Neil, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July. He could be a hot commodity on the open market, but Neil also has a sense of loyalty to the team that drafted him back in 1998.

"We can't really do anything until Jan. 1, and then we'll talk to him," said GM Bryan Murray. "I don't know what his interest is, but obviously he's been here, and a good player for us, and we like what he does and we'll talk to him."

For what he does, can the Senators afford to lose Neil? For what he will cost, can they afford to keep him?

"It depends on what he's asking for and what his interest is in staying in Ottawa. I think everybody knows fairly close to what the market will be and it's a matter of if we can get there or not."

ANOTHER FIGHT: Former Senators enforcer has Brian McGrattan has voluntarily entered Stage No. 1 of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program of the NHL and the NHLPA. "I think it's good for him to recognize he needs to get help, and we're all supporting him and wish him the best of luck," Jason Spezza said of his good friend yesterday. "Not being around him it's hard to see how things got but I think it's a good thing for him." ... Brendan Bell, a healthy scratch for the Washington game Friday, has been elevated to the Senators' first power-play unit. He'll line up across the point from Filip Kuba, while Dany Heatley, Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are up front. "Yeah, I think so," Bell said when asked if a game in the press box helped him. "I got a chance to watch from up high, and it wasn't an ideal game to watch but you get a perspective. Maybe you have an extra second or maybe you have a little more time to think to make a play to be a little more creative." The second unit has Mike Fisher and Alexandre Picard as the point men, with Antoine Vermette between Nick Foligno and Ilya Zubov, who was again recalled from Binghamton on Friday. With the Baby Sens, Zubov has 10 goals and 15 assists in 21 games this season. "Obviously I'm a forward I have to score to make points," said the 21-year-old Russian. "I have to help the team be in the game ... I just have to score every game and keep making points."

Either Brian Lee or Christoph Schubert will play Anton Volchenkov (lower body) cannot go.


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