Martin Havlat wondered yesterday if maybe the NHL had made another subtle change and forgot to tell him about it.
"Have they made the nets smaller?" he asked coach Bryan Murray.
Easy to understand how the resurrected right winger would think so.
After a 58-game absence recovering from shoulder surgery that had only been performed 15 other times -- never before on an NHLer -- Havlat returned to the Senators lineup Saturday against the Maple Leafs, understandably looking very much like he had just missed four months of action.
"A little bit," he said when asked if was tentative in that first game back. "I needed to get a couple of hits ... I felt I was better (Tuesday) than the first one."
Indeed, Havlat was back to his exciting old self in the season-ending, 5-1 win over the Rangers. His speed was there. His moves were there. The only thing missing was his finishing touch.
He had two breakaways -- one in the game's opening minute that saw him hit the post, the other in the second that Henrik Lundqvist stopped -- and a couple of other 2-on-1 chances. He finished with five shots on goal and four missed shots -- the first number matched only by his idol, Jaromir Jagr. The second stat, no one else was even close to.
Yet he wound up with no goals to go along with his two assists, a fact inconsistent with a player who had scored nine times in the team's first 16 games.
How many goals should he have had against the Rangers?
"I could have had a lot," he said. "But it's good that I had the chances. I had a good feeling from (Tuesday's) game. I need to be more calm at the end of the play. It's just a matter of time, hopefully."
Murray said he was less surprised than pleased at the way Havlat has regained most of his form so quickly, and that he expects big things from the five-year veteran in the playoffs.
"Once he gets fine-tuned, he'll be a little more accurate," said Murray. "He's such a skilled player, so quick ... I expect he'll get it together fairly quickly and be a big factor for us."
Havlat played on the right side of centre Mike Fisher and everybody's favourite winger, unselfish board-man Peter Schaefer, in New York. That line should give the Senators another consistent threat to go along with Chris Kelly-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley, and Patrick Eaves-Bryan Smolinski-Daniel Alfredsson.
Vaclav Varada-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil will start the playoffs as Ottawa's energy line.
Fisher shook his head and chuckled in amazement when asked yesterday what it was like to be playing with Havlat again.
"It was nice," he said. "The way he was skating, his moves ... it's been awhile since we played together.
"The way he was moving, he creates so many chances. It was a treat."
Together, their quickness and deke-ability should give the lesser mobile defencemen fits. The two will also give Ottawa -- which led the league with 25 shorthanded goals -- another dangerous penalty-killing duo.