The Dom-ino effect

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:05 PM ET

There was a quiet, workmanlike atmosphere at Scotiabank Place yesterday, but that is a temporary state of affairs before all hell breaks loose Wednesday for the Senators.

That's when they resume their NHL season after the Olympic break with a visit to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins, the first of 26 games in just 49 days to end the regular season.

As the games start to unfold, the league will be speeding headlong into the NHL trade deadline March 9. The Senators brain trust will have several tough decisions to make.

Given the adductor muscle injury suffered by goaltender Dominik Hasek in his right thigh and the inconsistency of backup Ray Emery, does GM John Muckler need to revisit the team's goaltending situation?

There won't be much time to determine Hasek's status. It's up in the air whether he will even play before the trade deadline. He said he's worried about being able to return to 100% health this season. What happens if Emery has a couple of rocky starts?

Do the Senators roll the dice that Hasek will be healthy enough to carry the load?

Will the Senators' assets -- which might have been allocated to bringing in another top-six forward -- have to be used to address the goaltending situation?

Goaltenders on the market heading into the deadline could be Curtis Joseph of the Coyotes, Marc Denis of the Blue Jackets, Manny Fernandez or Dwayne Roloson of the Wild and perhaps Florida's Roberto Luongo, if he's not signed to a new contract by then.

Hasek has sounded something less than confident about his current condition, though Senators coach Bryan Murray said yesterday he is hoping Hasek might be able to get back on the ice to test it next week.

In the meantime, Murray is working with the Senators in camp -- defenceman Andrej Meszaros of the Slovakian team was the latest to show up at Scotiabank Place yesterday -- and sharpening the team's focus for the stretch run.

Murray said yesterday the Senators -- particularly some of the skilled players -- are going to have to play within a more structured approach as the games get tighter and tougher over the last seven weeks of the season.

That's what the coaching staff will focus upon during this mini-camp.

"It's an opportunity for a lot of them to know what we want them to do," said Murray, who yesterday showed his players some highlights of their play from earlier this season. "They had a hard time buying into structure in the offensive zone. There's all kinds of designs that you can do. But they'd try it once and then they wouldn't do it. So you just let them do it. You let them go do their thing and when they fail a few times, you say, 'now do you want to do it the other way?' You'll find more and more they'll buy in.

"This is a perfect time for this group. The highlight clips come from the third and fourth line a lot of times because they're more inclined to play structure than some of the guys that have a little more ability with the puck."

Murray has been happy with the play of the third and fourth lines and will be leaning on them a lot down the stretch as the games mount up.

"They're going to be grinding points," Senators winger Vaclav Varada said of the points up for grabs down the stretch. "It's going to be teams protecting what they have now, and then there's going to be four or five teams chasing two spots.

"It won't be 7-2 or 6-2 games. That's how you find out what kind of team you have."

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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