The Senators were once regarded as having the best blueline in the NHL.
Now, as they prepare to open the regular season Saturday against the New
York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the defence is perhaps the team’s
biggest question mark.
While it’s been three years since Zdeno Chara bolted from the Senators to
sign with the Boston Bruins, the Senators’ decision not to re-sign him
remains the biggest reason for the club’s downturn over the past couple of
The Senators now lack a dominating presence on the blue line. There is no
Chris Pronger, no Nicklas Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer. Chara was a
game-breaker, and as the Senators try to get back to the playoffs, they will
need consistency from all six defencemen.
Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, the team’s No. 1 pairing, will be
counted on to shut down opponents’ top lines.
Most of the other blueliners — Chris Campoli, Filip Kuba, Alex Picard and
newcomer Erik Karlsson — play a puck-moving, less physical style, leading to
concerns about whether the Senators’ defence corps will be rugged enough.
“Yes, we have guys like Campoli, Picard and Karlsson who kind of play a
similar style, but I still think as a group they all bring something
different,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “I still think we have a nice
“We have a guy like Volchenkov who is still going to finish his checks, and
the way we’ve designed our system, it’s going to allow him to step up and
make some big hits. We think that Chris Phillips is a much better puck-mover
than people give him credit for. We might not have the one big name, but I
think what we have here is a nice blend. It’s part of the team concept. We
feel the group of guys can be effective.”
That’s why the club is keeping defenceman/winger Matt Carkner around to
start the season. The Senators like Carkner’s toughness, and he showed in
the pre-season he’s willing to make opponents pay the price in front of the
Phillips and Volchenkov are expected to play a more defence-first style,
while Campoli, Kuba and Karlsson will see time on the power play. However,
Clouston would like all of his blueliners to play more of an all-around
“We’re definitely going to be active, but I wouldn’t just say in the sense
that we’re going to be offensive,” said Phillips. “What I mean by that is
we’re going to be up in the neutral zone and trying to force teams to move
the puck. We want to put pressure on the guys with the puck. We don’t want
to sit back and wait for teams to come at us.”
The most exciting newcomer to watch could be Karlsson, who spent last year
playing in the Swedish elite league. Scouts have marvelled at his ability to
move the puck. He’s going to make mistakes in his own end, but he’ll be a
“I’m just going to have to stay focused on what I can do and not what I
can’t do,” said Karlsson, 19, who was selected 15th overall by the Senators
in the 2008 draft. “I’m just going to play my game. I just hope that it’s
going to work out for me.”
So do the Senators.