A-Train checks back in

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Chris Phillips was explaining how it's tougher for his blue-line buddy, Anton Volchenkov, to throw the bone-rattling checks that were the trademark of his early days as a Senator.

Phillips' logic was sound. Opponents know what No. 24 is all about. They keep their head up extra high when he's on the ice. They dish the puck or dump it in rather than risk a severe bruising.

So how is it that the A-Train’s Big Hit List — which already included Viktor Stalberg, John Tavares and Zach Bogosian — grew to include another future star when Volchenkov made a Victor Hedman dent in the side boards at Scotiabank Place Thursday night?

“They haven’t got the memo,” Phillips explained the foibles of the younger set. “They do now.”

Indeed, six games into his contract year, Volchenkov has looked like a modern-day Scott Stevens. If that statement can be made through 76, the Senators will be headed to the playoffs and he’ll have provided his agent some serious bargaining chips for a raise on his $3.2-million US salary.

The Senators will likely try to lock up Volchenkov with a long-term deal before that, however.

Along with the jarring of Hedman, Volchenkov was his usual steady self defensively. On one particular outstanding play, he dove to knock the stick from Steve Stamkos on a breakaway, then deflected the puck into the stands when Stamkos was poised to fire off a pass at the Ottawa net.

“It was textbook him,” Phillips said of his partner’s game.

“The atmosphere is good on this team,” Volchenkov said when asked to explain his early season success. “It feels good. I like playing with this team.”

Needless to say, the team likes playing with him, too.

Makes you go hmmm...

Phillips deserves credit for dropping the gloves with former 67’s captain Zenon Konopka, who already had seven fights (including three in the pre-season) on the heels of his 23 (including 18 in the AHL) as a newcomer to the Tampa organization in 2008-09. It was just the fourth fight of Phillips’ career, and the first since he squared off with Jeff Halpern on Nov. 29, 2002. “Basically we’re just staying together,” Phillips said, explaining he jumped at Konopka when the latter went after Volchenkov. “He wanted to go, so it happened.” ... Alex Kovalev’s goal at 4:25 of the first was the first test of Tampa ’tender Mike Smith by the Senators, who were being outshot 4-0. But it wasn’t solely responsible for turning the momentum. On its next shift, the Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Jonathan Cheechoo line had five shots ... A glance at the Tampa roster suggests a solid ‘D’ to go along with a nice blend of stars, veterans and grinders, and that should give it a good shot at making the playoffs. And then Smith allows the goals he did to Alex Picard and Nick Foligno, and you can see the problem.

Starts and stops

More than 20 caps found their way to the ice in celebration of Michalek’s third goal. Once again, arena staff were too quick to collect the souvenirs of a home team hat trick. Let ’em all land and the fans bask in their contributions ... Jason Spezza had two assists on the goal. He made the sweet pass to set it up then went after the puck for Michalek ... The Senators are better clearly better a man short than with a man advantage. In the two minutes following the game’s first penalty, to Kovalev, they outshot the Bolts 4-0 (including two Chris Kelly had on a breakaway) and outscored them 1-0 ... Erik Karlsson was caught up ice in the 2-on-1 that accounted for Tampa’s goal... Pascal Leclaire caught the attention of those worried about his health when he was slow to get up after a scramble, then was later seen testing his ankle.

Between periods

There seems to be some dispute as to who the “Big Country” nickname should go to in the Senators' dressing room. That’s what Chris Campoli calls Chris Neil. It’s also the handle Cheapseats has given Matt Carkner, who is not only the biggest Senator but also from the country. “Me and Neiler are gonna have to throw them down for the Big Country title,” Carkner joked in the Senators dressing room yesterday morning. No need. Cheaps overrules Campoli ... Carkner exacted some violent revenge, not for the hit on Dean McAmmond last season, but for the punches Steve Downie threw at Volchenkov at the end of the second period. “Big Country thought he’d take care of business,” smiled Carkner, who gave the smaller Downie a third-period beating. He was more serious when he said Downie tried to gouge his eyes when Carkner had him pinned on the ice at the end of the fight. When it was pointed out that Downie appeared to try and kick him, Carkner confirmed that’s what had happened and called Downie a “dirty little player” who he was just trying to send a message. Said Carkner: “I told him, 'Don’t kick me bud or it’ll get real nasty.’ ”

Just saying

Fans cheered the out-of-town update showing Washington ahead of San Jose 4-1. But aren’t the Caps in Ottawa’s conference? That reaction couldn’t have anything to do with Dany Heatley, could it? Remember him? He’s all the Senators had to give up to get Michalek.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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