When push comes to shove, Winchester delivers

DON BRENNAN

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

For likable Senators' rookie Jesse Winchester, yesterday couldn't have started any worse.

Fact is, it almost couldn't start at all.

Because he's your average guy and not Felix Unger, the futon Winchester had out for a visiting buddy last weekend never got put away. Instead, it was propped up against the wall outside his bedroom -- until Friday night, when it fell against his door. Winchester's bedroom door isn't like most. He doesn't pull it open, he pushes it. Except yesterday, when he couldn't open it at all.

"I called the house line from my cell four times," Winchester said, shaking his head and chuckling after the morning skate in preparation for last night's meeting with the Montreal Canadiens. "Nobody answered. They thought it was telemarketers."

So Winchester tried the cell of his roommate's fiancee.

"Are you at the house?" he asked her.

"Yeah," she said.

"Good," he replied. "I need some help."

Winchester, who would go through a wall for a coach, would've busted down the door to get to practice. He would have had to, because the window in his room isn't big enough to squeeze through. Instead, he would later throw his body at Brian Elliott. Not on purpose, of course, but Winchester did crash into the new goalie in town while driving to the net during a drill.

Elliott, who has given Ottawa fans reason for hope, was slow to get up.

Were you a little worried, Jesse?

"Well, obviously," he said. "He's the starting goalie ..."

Winchester calls himself "accident prone."

For another example, he cites the ankle injury he suffered last season. Before a game. In the hallway. While loosening up with knee-high leg stretches. Apparently, the janitor had just been by a few minutes earlier. Winchester slipped and fell hard into the wall, feet first.

Because his team needed him and NHL scouts were watching closely, he played through the pain of bone chips.

"It wasn't pleasant," said Winchester.

Not sure what the rest of the pre-nightfall part of yesterday held for Winchester, whether he lost control of a grocery cart that ran over an old lady or stumbled into any other type of misfortune.

I do know that, against the Habs, he made fewer mistakes than most, or all, of Ottawa's more seasoned veterans. He also outsmarted two defenders along the boards in doing the legwork for Chris Kelly's first-period goal, and early in the third hustled hard to thwart a breakaway attempt by Andrei Kostitsyn by chopping the winger down (and getting away with it), keeping his teammates in the game.

The Senators are also lucky he didn't hurt Elliott when he wrecked him during the morning skate. Except for a soft Tom Kostopoulos third-period goal, if it wasn't for the new goalie in town, the Senators would have been put out of their misery very early in this one.

"Take the one goal out of the equation," coach Craig Hartsburg said when asked about Elliott's play, "and he was outstanding. He gave us a chance to be in the game."

STARTS AND STOPS

Good to have Bob Cole making an SBP appearance and calling the play behind us in the CBC booth again. According to industry insiders who listen closely, Cole, who has had his workload cut back this season, is sounding better than he has in at least five years. He's still the best in the business. Bob is still pretty good with the one-liners, too. When the service elevator waited for him after the game and one member of the press introduced his arrival, another jokingly said, "Bob Cole? Never heard of him." Without missing a beat, Cole glanced up and cracked, "That's okay. I never heard of you, either." ... Biggest difference between Martin Gerber and Brian Elliott we've seen so far? Elliott has a great glove hand (as evidence, see replays of saves off Guillaume Latendresse, Tomas Plekanec, Robert Lang) while Gerber looked like he was trying to catch the puck with an oven mitt ... Sounded like just another night in Montreal, as for the most part, Habs fans outworked Senators fans once again ... Booing a little boy named Jason, who predicted a 3-2 Senators victory on the video scoreboard before the game, was a little much, however. But then, what do you expect from visiting Habs fans? Class? Ha ... Jason Smith was having what might have been his best game as a Senator, delivering pancakes to Habs at a regular rate, until giving the puck away in the neutral zone on the Kostopoulous goal.

BETWEEN PERIODS

Free of charge come these short and sweet reviews by Chris "Siskel" Kelly of some flicks currently in the theatres. 1) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "Good story, a little long," says Kelly. How long? "If there was a book, the movie seemed longer than the book, if that's possible." Gran Torino: "If you're a Clint Eastwood fan, you'll like it." Yes Man: "It's funny, but you've got to go with Dono (Shean Donovan). His laugh is pretty contagious. Even Dean (McAmmond) smiled." ... Good that Jason Spezza's stick broke just before his shootout attempt, rather than during it. Wait, made no difference ... Guess Elliott hasn't faced anyone like Alex Kovalev in AHL shootouts, eh? .... No business. That's what the Senators had being in this game. No business.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...

Because he owns a shot like that is why people outside of Ottawa find it hard to believe that was just Mike Fisher's fifth goal of the season ... Liked the clever line from Team 1200 morning man Steve Warne, regarding Gerber's voluntary conditioning stint in Binghamton. "He's getting conditioned to not being in the NHL anymore," said Warne ... Daniel Alfredsson fell down twice, untouched, on one third-period shift. There was either something wrong with his skates or his feet ... It's about that coat Don Cherry wore on Coach's Corner last night. Did he get caught in the crossfire of a mustard and ketchup fight?

THE BOTTOM LINE

Welcome back, Dany Heatley. And how was your Christmas?


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