COLUMBUS - To kick off ‘11, words of optimism from 11.
“It is a big fight. We know that,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said of his team’s playoff chances while working on a stick in the visitors dressing room at Nationwide Arena Friday morning. “You can’t say we’re in a good spot. We need to get on a roll to gain ground.
“It’s tough to do in today’s game, where there’s a lot of overtime games (and both teams get at least one point). But we believe. You have to go back three years, we were able to come back, with some injuries as well, and fight our way in.
Somebody start printing the t-shirts.
For those with a short memory, Alfredsson is referring to a 2007-08 season that saw the Senators squeak into the playoffs with 94 points, two more than ninth place Carolina. (Heading into Friday night, they were facing the prospect of having to finish with the equivalent of a 29-15 record to match that total. That would be some playin’, wouldn’t it?).
That season, the Senators had to do without their top three players - Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley - for a combined 29 games.
Notice how the numbers line up? The 29s? How about those 11s?
Shouldn’t 2011 be Alfredsson’s year?
“Hopefully,” he said.
He's already lining the karma up, scoring the tying goal Friday with 1:11 on the clock in the third period.
Not that he believes in such stuff.
“I’m not superstitious,” Alfredsson reminded.
Nor does he buy into the theory that a new year will make any difference to the team’s fortunes. Not by itself, anyway.
“I usually don’t do new year’s resolutions. I haven’t in the past,” Alfredsson said when asked what the changing of calendars means to him, personally. “Hopefully, we can get get on a roll and win games more consistently than we have. Put ourselves in a playoff position. That’s what we’re working to. I don’t know if the new year changes anything. I don’t think so. But that’s what we’re working to.”
Despite the long odds they seem to face, Alfredsson thinks the Senators still have a shot at doing something this season.
“It hasn’t been shaken,” he said of his faith. “I still believe in what we can do. It’s not a matter of disbelieving. We see how well we can play at times. It just seems like we just need to get some confidence and get some wins. Because sometimes we’re a little bit passive, kind of protecting, instead of keep going at teams. That has to do with confidence. You’ve got to put yourself in a position nd come out on top. That’s how you put yourself through that.
“But the belief in the group is strong. And it’s pro sports. you come to work, you try to improve every day and get better. You never give up.”
Nor should you, Senators fans. At least not yet. But the time is coming.
STARTS AND STOPS: The magic of Rick Nash led to a Matt Carkner holding penalty in the second, then again when he scored his team’s third goal on a sharp angle shot ... With Alfredsson serving a first period high-sticking penalty, the Senators had two 2-on-1 breaks and failed to get a shot on goal with either. As soon as he stepped out, they had a 3-on-2 and again, no shot ... Brian Lee was very un-Filip Kuba like when he hit Derek MacKenzie (drawing an interference penalty, but hey, he hit somebody) then dropped his gloves to fight Columbus tough guy Derek Dorsett, who took exception to the hit ... Jesse Winchester would get at least some votes - if not the most - as Ottawa’s best forward the last two games.
BETWEEN PERIODS: In 33 games for Binghamton, Jim O’Brien already has four more goals, four more assists and eight more points than he did in 76 games as an AHL rookie last season. He and the Senators say the improvement has everything to do with the conditioning program he was on over the summer. “Last year was definitely a learning experience for me,” said O’Brien, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder the Senators selected in the first round (29th overall) in the 2007 entry draft. “Strength-wise, I don’t think I was there.” Also key was O’Brien’s ability to keep the faith while others around him (Senators management) thought he was going to be a first-round bust. “You’ve just got to believe in yourself,” said O’Brien. “Even when it’s not going good, you have to know things will get better.” ... O’Brien becomes the sixth player in Senators history to wear No. 42. The others, in order: Denny Lambert, Derek Armtrong, Julien Vauclair, Tomas Malec and Tom Preissing ...
THINGS I THINK I THINK: Blue Jackets teammates Antoine Vermettte and Derick Brassard could pass as brothers. Not only do they look alike, but they also have Ottawa connections, as Brassard is from Hull and Vermette, of course, is a former Senator. Brassard is friends with the player the Senators acquired for Vermette - Pascal Leclaire. In fact, he bought Leclaire’s Columbus house from him. Did he give you a good deal, Derick. “Ahhhhhh...yeah,” said Brassard. Wonder if that reads as unconvincing as it sounded ... If you ever find yourself in downtown Columbus, do yourself a favor and go to the Tip Top restaurant for a pot roast sandwich. Very tasty ... O’Brien has Mike Ricci hair ...
POINT BLANK: Kuba makes $500,000 less and has only one more season on his contract, but I’d still trade him straight up for Mike Commodore, whose far-too-rich deal doesn’t expire until the summer of 2013. At least Commodore, who has been a healthy scratch by Columbus coach Scott Arniel for six of the past seven games, brings something to the table (toughness) when he does play ... Blue Jackets mascot “Stinger” descends from the rafters of Nationwide Arena before a game just like Whatshisface used to do at Scotiabank Place ... If you ever find yourself at Nationwide Arena, brace yourself for the sound of a cannon going off at the start of the game and after every Blue Jackets goal. If you don’t, it’ll scare the crap out of you ... It was a 1-0 loss at Nationwide Arena two seasons ago that led to Craig Hartsburg’s firing as Senators coach. The Senators dropped one more game before Hartsburg was canned, but Eugene Melnyk and Bryan Murray did not at all like the way they played in Columbus. That Blue Jackets defenceman Jan Hejda said Jason Spezza looked like he wasn’t trying that night made it an even tougher pill to swallow.
C’MON MAN!: Making a “10 or 11 hour” drive for O’Brien’s NHL debut were his dad Pete, his brothers Tom and Joe, his sister Mary and his cousin, Steve. Clearly, there are no baby names books in Maplewood, Minn ... Sammy Pahlsson was on the Anaheim team that stymied the Senators in the Stanley Cup finals, and one of his memories had to be watching Chris Phillips step out from behind the Ottawa net only to lose the puck into goalie Ray Emery’s skates for what amounted to an own-goal. Pahlsson, now a jacket, must have thought he was experiencing some form of deja vu when Phillips lost the puck again, this time leading to Pahlsson’s third goal of the season.