Cheapseats: Race tightens for loosey-goosey Sens

Chris Neil was cracking jokes before the game, but he was in no mood for pleasantries on the ice...

Chris Neil was cracking jokes before the game, but he was in no mood for pleasantries on the ice with Ryan White and the Habs. (Pierre-Paul Poulin/QMI Agency)

Don Brennan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:42 PM ET

MONTREAL - In the Bell Centre hallway hours before a game they needed to win and believed they would, Daniel Alfredsson was asked about the vibe in the Senators dressing room during what, for many of the occupants, is the first taste of an NHL playoff race.

"It's loose when it should be loose, and when it's business, it's business," said the captain. "That's the way it should be. We all know the situation."

On the other side of the wall, in the room after the morning skate, he was being proven right. Chris Neil and Erik Condra sat side by each, with the veteran telling everyone that the sophomore beside him, a fellow redhead, was his "job shadow" for the morning. Neil also referred to Condra as his "stunt double." Everybody chuckled.

When Jim O'Brien moved over to sit beside them, Neil tried to shoo him away, saying he had to sit beside Nick Foligno because that's who he looked like. More laughter.

"Jimmy O'Brien says he's going to get in his first NHL fight tonight," Neil told reporters a couple of seconds later, loud enough to tease his centre. "And it's not going to be the puck. Right, O.B.?"

O'Brien: "I'm gonna be throwing pucks in your feet all night."

Neil: "That's all right, I'll pick them up. It can be a bad pass to a good player."

Neil said a good dance partner for O'Brien would be ex-Senator Chris Campoli.

"(They'd both be saying), 'Don't touch my hair! Don't touch my hair!" Neil said.

"If they fight tonight, the headline can be Battle of the Mullets."

O'Brien: "None of us have mullets. It's flow."

Neil: "Okay, Battle of the Flows."

Yes, the room sure was loose Friday morning, as it should be. But things might get a little tighter now. After dropping one to the Habs, the Senators' hold on a playoff spot appears to be weakening. They face the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are riding a 14-game unbeaten streak, Saturday at Scotiabank Place. They're in Winnipeg, where few teams other than the Jets ever win, on Monday. Then they have another tough one in Philly next Saturday.

"It's a fun time of the year," Alfredsson was saying. "Every game is important, every play is important. We're in a good position, and hopefully we can make the most of it."

STARTS AND STOPS

In the buiding, from way up here, it looked like Alfredsson deflected a point shot in with a high stick on a goal that was called off in the second period. From at least one angle on the ice, too, apparently. But the replay was less difinitive. And what an interesting end it might have been had the Senators closed to within two that early in the second ... For the second time in two games, Erik Condra had a chance to make a huge impact early on. For the second time, he was turned back. Against the Habs, Condra had a breakaway with his team down 1-0. Price stopped him with a glove hand that didn't move a lot ...

WHO'D A THUNK IT?

Agent Don Meehan and two representatives of his Newport Sports Management Inc. had what we're going to call a "power" lunch in Montreal with Senators GM Bryan Murray and assistant GM Tim Murray. NSM represents Erik Karlsson ... Maybe it had something to do with having Zack Smith as his new left winger that Kyle Turris got his nose dirty on a number of occasions in the second period of this very chippy game. During one scrum, he even had it split open. Liked his spunk, but Turris sure does need to add some muscle in the off-season ...

BETWEEN PERIODS

Goalie Alex Auld was a healthy scratch Friday. He may continue to be the rest of the season. "Alex is a professional," said coach Paul MacLean. "He's been a backup goalie in the league for a number of years. He understands the position that he's in. It's not pleasant by any means, but he's been a professional the whole year as far as that goes, and we expect that to continue." ... The thinking in Montreal is that should Patrick Roy join the Habs in the off-season it will be as coach, not GM. The logic is that the Habs, in desperate need of turning things around, wouldn't be stupid enough to hire a GM who has never made an NHL trade or negotiated an NHL contract. Sounds sound to me ...

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...

Former 67's Zenon Konopka and Brad Staubitz went toe-to-toe in a good tilt just three minutes in. During a stop in play about six and a half minutes later, you could read Cole's lips on the clear press-box TVs as he glanced down the bench and noticed somebody missing. "What happened to Stauby?" Cole would have noticed that Staubitz had injured his hand in the fight had he been sitting in the press box and watching the clear TVs. Senators would have liked him up here, too ... After the morning skate, Craig Anderson told reporters "it's been a long four weeks" in regard to the time he was sidelined by a finger injury. The first period probably seemed at least that long for Senators fans.

FRESH TALK

After the morning skate, MacLean was confident the Senators were going to bust free of their scoring woes. "Every team goes through stretches where your offence seems like it dries up for some reason," he said. "But we've still scored over 220 goals in the league. We're still in the top third of the league as far as goals scored are concerned. That's something that gives us the confidence we're going to score goals again. Something has to spark it. Usually it's the power play that gets it going. Then somebody gets hot, and away you go, you're scoring goals again. We believe we're going to score goals, and it's going to be tonight." The Senators had just five goals in their past four games before Friday night.


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