Sens can't let A-Train off tracks

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Anton Volchenkov is like the old Timex watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

He does the job just as quietly, too.

Late last month, the thick Senators defenceman was credited with seven blocked shots in a game against Carolina. It was the 15th time in the last four seasons he had put up a seven-block game. Only one other player in the entire NHL, Jay McKee of the Blues, has hit double figures in seven-block games since 2005-06. And he's only done it 10 times.

Indeed, Volchenkov's feats are worthy of more attention than they get.

Heading into the weekend, the 27-year-old Russian was tied for seventh in the NHL for most blocks, with 148. And he has missed 13 games with injuries.

Now, as the Senators are in true, do-or-die mode, Volchenkov could be on the shelf again.

He missed Friday's practice with what coach Cory Clouston called "a thousand bumps and bruises." The most troublesome of them may have been from one of his team-leading three blocked shots the night before in Boston, or it could have been the result of a tremendous collision he had with Bruins winger Michael Ryder.

Either way, Volchenkov picked up and dragged himself into Saturday's game in Pittsburgh, where his services were greatly needed against the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. He blocked one shot in the first period that clearly hurt him, but continued to play into the second before finally having to pull himself from the game.

Picking up the slack was Filip Kuba, who played more than 29 minutes in his first game back after missing three with the flu, and Chris Phillips, who logged in excess of 25 minutes and scored the game-tying goal with just over six minutes to play.

While Kuba has been rewarded for his steady season (he leads the team with a plus-9 rating) with a fat contract extension and recognition by some as the team's best defenceman, the play of Phillips and Volchenkov has been especially strong after a mediocre start to the season. Phillips has shrunk what was a completely out of character plus-minus rating with a plus-8 in his last six games, leaving him at minus-11 in 2008-09, and, along with now having exactly 200 points in his 767-game Senators career, he is also a plus-103.

Volchenkov is a plus-7 in the last five and a half games and is now minus-6 on the season.

Looking at the current roster and the status of the contracts, the Senators will have four players in the last year of their deals next season. Volchenkov, who is scheduled for a $1-million (all terms US) raise to a salary of $3.2 million in 2009-10, will still be a bargain when you look at what some of the other defencemen around the league are making.

Getting him extended will be the top priority.

In the crease

The Senators had to wonder what kind of reaction G Brian Elliott would have to the acquisition of the highly touted Pascal Leclaire at the trade deadline. So far, it's been outstanding. Since they sent W Antoine Vermette to Columbus for Leclaire, Elliott has won all five games he has played. He's also allowed just 11 goals. "Brian played very well," Clouston said after Saturday's 4-3 shootout victory over the Penguins, a game in which Elliott was brilliant in the first five minutes and again in the shootout. "He looked comfortable, he looked confident. Very poised." Seldom does Elliott have the luxury of playing with an early lead, too. The Senators have now surrendered the game's first goal four outings in a row. In the past week, they've improved their record to 6-21-4 when the opponent draws first blood. "That's been a trend," Elliott said. "We haven't come out as fast as we've wanted to, but we've been able to hold the fort a little bit."

This and that

Dany Heatley's late-game assist Saturday pulled him into a tie for the team scoring lead with Daniel Alfredsson, who had his point-scoring streak snapped at five games by the Penguins. Alfredsson was Ottawa's best player in Pittsburgh, leading the team with eight shots on goal and rattling a couple of shots off goal posts. Alfredsson is also a plus-7 in the team's last six games and is now plus-8 on the season. He, Kuba (plus-9) and Shean Donovan (plus-1) are the only Senators on the good side of even ... The Senators had yesterday off. Team president and CEO Roy Mlakar, GM Bryan Murray, D Brendan Bell and Donovan were at the Civic Centre for Brian Kilrea's last regular-season game as coach of the 67's.

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos