Fisher has high hopes

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

Cast aside the notion it had something to do with a distractingly beautiful country singing superstar. The more plausible theory explaining Mike Fisher's disappointing 2008-09 season is that the popular Senator put too much pressure on himself to produce like the $6-Million Dollar Man he was.

Yet to this day, Fisher vehemently disagrees with it.

I always expect a lot of myself, the nine-year veteran said as the teams 2009-10 training camp wound down. Doesnt matter if Im making millions or whatever, it doesnt matter how much I make. You dont bring that to the rink. I dont think about that when Im skating, when Im playing. I always try to play the same way. It was just one of those years where the team struggled early, I couldnt find the net. It was an off year.

No one saw it coming, either. Sailing into the high-water area of a multi-season deal, Fisher hit a sandbar soon after leaving the docks. He didnt put his name on the scoresheet once in the first six games of the campaign. No goals, no assists, no penalties. Nothing. He didnt get his first points until Game 10. And, not long after finally getting untangled, he hit another snag. Goal-less in 19 games, from Nov. 29 to Jan. 13.

Soon after, the Senators replaced coach Craig Hartsburg with Cory Clouston.

I think our system, the way we played, was so defensive, said Fisher. I found we were always in the defensive zone. We couldnt get the puck out of our own end. Forwards were never getting pucks with speed, and thats my game. By the time we got into their end we were changing, we were so tired. That felt like the first half of the season.

When Cory came, we changed our forechecks, we changed a few things in the neutral zone. All of a sudden our D were moving the puck great, guys were getting pucks with speed and we were able to utilize our talents. Thats why we were winning.

Still, Fisher wound up with 13 goals and 19 assists, his lowest point totals since his first three years in the league when he was haunted by injury.

I think probably with the contract, and the media talking about higher expectations and whatnot, I think that really put a little bit of pressure on him, said Clouston. All we expect him to do is just go out and play his game. If he plays his game, those goals and points are going to come. But he also has to realize that we measure his value in not just goals and assists, but in leadership, work ethic, killing penalties, playing physical ... those little things to are very, very valuable.

Clouston has put at least a temporary halt on the great debate is Fisher more suited to be the teams second line centre or third-line centre by making him a winger. Alongside rookie Peter Regin, he led the team in pre-season scoring with four goals, including a hat trick against Montreal.

Fisher, Regin and Alex Kovalev are expected to start the season together on a second line that should take some pressure off the Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson unit. But to what extent? Much will depend on Fisher, a great skater with a hard shot and slick moves, but also an enigma when it comes to putting the puck in the net.

Despite his obvious talents, hes never had more than 23 goals.

Some guys, it doesnt matter what you have as far as skillset, said Clouston. Ive seen guys who dont have a great shot, arent the fastest in the world, but just score goals. They have a sense of timing around the net. They have a sense of where the puck is going to go.

I think Fishers game is a more power game. If he can just kind of utilize all his skills, going to the net, putting his stick on the ice, getting some more garbage goals, I think youre going to see his offensive output go up.

But how high? Playing for Sudbury Wolves coach Reg Higgs 11 seasons ago, Fisher had 41 goals and 106 points on a line with Taylor Pyatt and Norm Milley. Can he score 30 for Clouston and the Sens?

Im not going to put numbers on him, said Clouston. Does he have that potential? I dont know if thats realistic, but I think he can be a 20-, 25- goal scorer.

Fisher, who will make $4 million this season, believes he can have bigger totals than Clouston expects. But hes also more concerned with the number the team puts up in the win column. If ultimately that means hell be referred to as an underachiever, so be it.

I think Im offensively gifted and I think I can do that, for sure, said Fisher. I had numbers in junior, and I think Ive become a better playmaker. Im trying to be more patient with the puck ....

I dont listen to what everyone else says. I just play my game. Ill play whatever role the team needs me to. I mean that. Im not just saying it. Ill play whatever they need me to do, to win. I want to be playing as much as possible. Whatever line. I think, especially on this team, we get so focused on 1-2-3 lines. It takes everyone, doing different roles, and contributing in different ways. I try not to get caught up in all that stuff. Ive played enough years now, if you start worrying about those things you get lost in the mind games. Thats not significant.

I scored 20-some goals three years in a row, he added. Its not like all of a sudden because I make more, Im expected to score 40. I had an off-year offensively, but I know I can score. I think I can score 25-30 and be a guy that can play, all around.

At the end of last year, playing in the worlds, it was a good confidence booster, too. Ill was getting to play a lot, in different roles with different guys. I felt good about my game, and I felt good coming in to this year.

I know Ive got to bring more this year. I know I will.


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