NEWARK, N.J. — Two Senators who suddenly find themselves with new roles had very different reactions to the media attention they received Thursday.
Jesse Winchester, who saw his intervew-request streak extend to a career-high three straight days, had trouble keeping the smile off his face.
Who could blame him? Thirty-three games into the season, he has gone from the injury list to the press box to the fourth line to the centre on the top unit, between Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. Winchester was solid in his debut on the job Wednesday, playing 18:55 that included a very valuable 4:29 with the team short-handed.
He didn’t have a single shot on goal, however, and his line did not produce a point. Cory Clouston said the coaching staff suspected Winchester would do a good job filling in for the injured Jason Spezza and that the line would be good 5-on-5.
“You can’t ask a whole lot more, but offensively they still need to generate, and they need to score on their chances,” said Clouston. “So we can’t ask for much more (from Winchester), but we will. We need him to score a little bit as well.”
Winchester hasn’t had so many reporters around his dressing room stall since he came to camp as a rookie 16 months ago and was immediately placed on a line with Spezza and Dany Heatley. So what’s new since those days?
“I know more of what I have to do to be a better player,” said Winchester. “I came in pretty green last year, not ever having skated with guys in the NHL, so I always love to learn and I’m still learning. Hopefully I can keep improving.”
Winchester was gleaming with the knowledge that he played a significant role in a big win over a division leader.
“It was great to come out on top, especially against a rival like that,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t get on the scoreboard, but we did generate a lot of chances. I’ve got to keep it within my game, being physical, smart defensively, making plays from down low. Hopefully, (tonight) we’ll get on the board.”
Chris Campoli also had to be content with his pro debut as a forward, although he made it clear he’d rather remain a blueliner. Campoli saw 7:26 of ice time, mostly as a left winger. He was the team co-leader in hits with three, and set up each of linemates Ryan Shannon and Josh Hennessy with great scoring chances in the first two periods.
“At the same time they probably saved me a couple of times, that no one really saw,” Campoli said when he was asked if he had a word with the pair about finishing. “So I don’t think I’m going to do too much talking just yet.”
Campoli, who hadn’t played up front since he was a kid, even took a faceoff.
“It was something where I just tried to keep it simple and go and help the team,” he said. “If that’s what they want me to do and I’m able to do it, then I’m going to go out and do it. I just want to help and go out and play hockey.
“It went well. We created a couple of chances and we didn’t give up a whole lot. Tried to play that energy, somewhat of a physical role of a fourth line. I thought we did that.”
“I was happy I was playing. I had nothing to lose, really. I was just going out there to play hockey and let my instincts as a hockey player take over.”
Could you get used to the role, he was asked.
“I prefer to play defence, considering I’ve never played forward before,” he said, like someone nervous to make a commitment. “But I guess you never know.”
POCKET HIT: LW Jarkko Ruutu was fined, but not suspended, for his hit to the head of Sabres RW Patrick Kaleta Wednesday night. Clouston called it a good hit and said Ruutu obviously didn’t target the head, but acknowledged that Ruutu did cross the line. “I would have to say it was the right call. He deserved a penalty,” said Clouston. “But I think it was also the right call not to suspend him.”
STARTING GOALIE: Clouston maintained his tradition of not naming his starting goalie, but did say Pascal Leclaire, who is almost ready to return from a broken cheekbone, would not accompany the team to New Jersey. That means Brian Elliott, who has two shutouts in his last four starts, is all but a lock to go head-to-head with Martin Brodeur Friday night. Even Mike Brodeur figures that. When the Binghamton callup was asked if he expected to make his first NHL start against New Jersey Friday, he smiled and said, “It’s doubtful, after that last one.” He was referring to Elliott’s 22-save shutout of the Sabres.