Senators' young 3 D coming into focus

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

In their wildest dreams, the Senators would one day have the Montreal Canadiens defence from the 1970s.

And if their "3 D" ever does resemble the reincarnation of Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard, Saturday night in Washington could be remembered as its coming out party.

Youngsters Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad and Jared Cowen each played well in a 2-1 loss to the Capitals that, after such a disgusting performance by the Senators two nights earlier, almost felt like a victory.

Karlsson saw 27:05 of ice time, which is even more impressive than his 28 minutes of work against Minnesota in that this game didn't extend into overtime. He warranted every minute.

Rundblad played his best game with the Senators, drawing an assist on the lone goal and exhibiting the offensive skills in his advertisement. He also again showed an interest in throwing his weight around, catching Nicklas Backstrom with a shoulder check that knocked his fellow Swede to the ice.

Cowen, meanwhile, had seven hits, more than double that of the next most physical player in the game.

Things started out quite differently for Rundblad and Cowen, who watched much of the first period from the bench as coach Paul MacLean mostly used just four defencemen. The plan changed when the Senators fell behind, and needed more alteration after Sergei Gonchar left the game with a bruised foot.

That put the pressure on two 21-year-olds (Karlsson and Rundblad) and 20-year-old Cowen, with Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba the only truly seasoned veterans on the blue line.

"It's easier when you get more ice time, easier to get into the game, get more confidence," said Rundblad. "I think I had just three shifts in the first period, but then Sergei went out, and of course they can't play with three D ... I think I played pretty good."

When the spotlight was on him, too.

MacLean made Brian Lee a healthy scratch for the second time this season, even though the 24-year-old's play has earned him a spot in the Top 6. Thing is, the Senators know what Lee can do. They are presently trying to determine if Rundblad is ready for the NHL.

Against the Caps, it looked like he is.

"They did a great job, the group of five," said MacLean, whose team held the vaunted Washington attack to just four shots on goal in the second period and a total of 12 the final 40 minutes. "And the forwards did a great job of helping out the defencemen. I thought they did a real good job of coming back, helping out, being on the walls and making sure we got the puck out.

"It's a great response to a very difficult game we played against Colorado (Thursday). I thought the structure, we stuck to it, we did it, right all night long. We could have got rewarded for it, but sometimes when you're a team like us, you have to lose a little bit more before things turn around and you start winning games.

"We feel if we play more like we played against Minnesota and we played (against Washington), and the third period in Detroit, and the third period in Toronto ....the only game we've really been no good in is the Colorado game," added MacLean. "We've had parts of the way we want to play in the other four games this year. So those are certainly bulding blocks for us moving forward."

The players view it similarly.

When they host the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday at Scotiabank Place, they will do so knowing that the outcome might have been different against the Caps -- currently the top team in East -- if not for a first-period Jason Spezza goal that was disallowed or a few huge saves by Tomas Vokoun, most notably off Daniel Alfredsson.

The Senators may have even escaped with at least with a point had it not been Alex Auld's first start of the season.

"It was kind of a tough play," Auld said of the Marcus Johansson game-winner off a wraparound he should have stopped. "Those plays early in the year can be tough, when you haven't seen a lot of game action. That's sort of stuff becomes second nature when you're really sharp."

Asked if the game restored the team's faith in the process, Alfredsson was enthusiastic.

"Of course it does," he said. "I think after what happened at home against Colorado, we had to have a bounce back game. And we did that, against a tough team, on the road. So that's really encouraging. It's something to build on."


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