Neil still has his fighting spirit

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

The surprise isn't that Chris Neil is about to return from an injury.

The surprise is that Neil, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, is about to return from an injury and is still a member of the Senators.

While the odds of Neil appearing in an Ottawa uniform again didn't seem very likely a week ago at the NHL trade deadline, he's still here and there's a strong chance he could return tomorrow against the Bruins in Boston.

After suffering a lacerated calf on Feb. 11 against the Sabres, Neil is chomping at the bit to get back and he wouldn't rule out returning tonight against the Lightning as the club closes out an eight-game homestand at Scotiabank Place.

"I'm feeling pretty good. It's coming and that's a good thing," Neil said yesterday. "I'm getting closer each day to getting back into the lineup. I haven't really thought about it. (Trainer) Gerry (Townend) asked me (yesterday) and we'll see how it is (today) and go from there.

"Hopefully, I can play (against Boston). If it's not on par (tomorrow), then Saturday (against Pittsburgh) for sure. It's nice just getting back into practice with the guys and getting the feel for everything. Getting your passing back. That's half the battle."

Neil has had only one full practice and that was yesterday at the Bell Sensplex. He took part in Monday's morning skate before the 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, but that didn't require any contact.

"We'll see how he is. He skated (Monday) and he was pushed quite a bit harder (yesterday)," said Senators coach Cory Clouston. "It wasn't just a morning skate. It was a practice with a lot of starts and stops. Each day is a wait-and-see process. We push him a little further.

"He might play as soon (as Boston), but if not, we're pretty optimistic for Saturday (against Pittsburgh). I would be very surprised (if he played tonight). I don't think it would be fair to give him one practice and throw him into the lineup. He's been out for a long period of time. He needs to get his timing and focus back. We want allow him to be effective. We want to give him a chance to have success."

The Senators have missed Neil, who wasn't dealt at the deadline because GM Bryan Murray didn't receive an offer he liked.

"He bring the element of toughness and energy," said Clouston. "He makes other teams accountable. When he's on the ice, they have to be aware of who is out there. He's the type of player that every team likes to have on the ice and maybe not necessarily play against as well."

Running on empty

While the Senators noticed that Monday's game vs. the Leafs wasn't a sellout (18,898 were on hand), C Jason Spezza made a good point. "We're two teams that are out of the playoffs, it's Monday night and the weather wasn't as good. I mean, there's a lot of factors. Obviously, we expect the normal sellouts," said Spezza. "It's reality. The economy is not as good and we're both out of the playoffs. We have to do everything we can to draw attention. We have to keep playing well and show people that we still care and that these games aren't useless." There are 1,500 tickets left for tonight's visit by the Bolts. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson noted the salary cap is tied to revenues, which means players don't like to see support slip. "We're fortunate to be a good hockey market in Canada and even in the years when we've struggled, we've had good support," said Alfredsson.

Off the glass

Senators D Filip Kuba, who missed Monday's visit by the Leafs with the flu, wasn't on the ice yesterday. He is questionable for tonight. D Christoph Schubert will suit up for the second straight game if Kuba isn't ready. LW Dany Heatley and C Mike Fisher were both given the day off to rest various bumps and bruises. Clouston said both will play tonight ... G Brian Elliott will likely make the start. He made 24 saves in the victory over the Leafs and has been in the net for three straight wins.


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