New-look Sens eyeing playoff return
Deeper team aiming for big things heading into 2009-10 season
|Captain Daniel Alfredsson likes the more balanced makeup of the team the Senators will put on the ice to start the 2009-10 season (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images).
Such is life in professional sport. Most notably, for puck-loving fans in Canada’s capital, it’s an absolute truth in the National Hockey League. And so it is that the Ottawa Senators put a new face on the roster over the summer months.
Mind you, nobody in the Sens’ offices at Scotiabank Place counted on enduring the Dany Heatley trade demand saga that paralyzed the franchise through the off-season until the high-scoring forward was finally dealt to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 11, the opening day of 2009-10 training camp.
On the other side of it all, however, has emerged a team that might be the most balanced offensively that Senators fans have seen in years. Gone are the days of putting everything on the shoulders of one high-powered line. Instead, the additions of Alex Kovalev (free agent), Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo (both obtained in the Heatley deal) have spread the wealth in a much more equitable way.
Kovalev, Michalek and Cheechoo combined for 61 goals with their respective teams in 2008-09, leading head coach Cory Clouston to believe there’s more than enough firepower on hand to make up for the loss of Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer.
“You’re never going to just do it with one player,” said Clouston. “That’s ridiculous, to think that all of a sudden we just picked up a 50-goal scorer. I think what we’ve done is balanced out the scoring. We have more options. We’re more dangerous from top to bottom and you can’t just key on one line.
“I think that’s very important … There are certain things you make (other) teams do just by having that kind of depth in your offence.”
When the pre-season ended, Clouston had his three newest forwards aligned on three separate lines, with Michalek, a power forward with great speed, moving into Heatley’s old spot alongside captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Jason Spezza.
“Our depth is strong right now,” said Spezza. “You’re never going to really replace Dany Heatley, but the players we’ve brought in have given us a lot of depth. Any night, any of our lines can hurt you and that’s something we maybe haven’t had the last couple of years. I think we’re a stronger team than we were last year.”
Added Kovalev, one of the NHL’s most gifted players: “This team has a lot of talent. We have some new additions, myself included, and there are so many possibilities. You can make the lines different ways and still be successful.
“Sometimes, it’s a good thing to have extra guys (rather than) not having enough guys. If something goes wrong or somebody gets injured, you know you can replace him any time you want. That’s a good sign. But at the same time, you have to be happy that all four lines can (be a threat) as well.”
As many as seven new faces could be in the lineup when the Senators face off against the Rangers in their season opener Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. Danish centre Peter Regin was the surprise of training camp and earned the chance to at least start the season in Ottawa. Flashy Swedish blueliner Erik Karlsson, the Sens’ top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, cracked the lineup as a 19-year old.
Perhaps the most vital addition is in goal, where Pascal Leclaire – one of the league’s top stoppers two years ago with the Columbus Blue Jackets – gives the Senators an elite presence between the pipes.
“(Leclaire) is a good goalie, there’s no question,” said Alfredsson. “He’s going to be good for us. I think it’s a step up in that area for us. At the same time, (Brian) Elliott has looked really good in camp this year and he got some experience here last year. Goaltending looks good for us.”
“Sometimes change is needed and that’s what we’ve gone through here,” said Spezza. “We’ve had a couple of years where we haven’t been very good and we underachieved, and we probably needed this change. Now we’re pretty excited about the season ahead.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot to prove. We feel like we’re a better team than we’re getting credit for. But the only way to prove people wrong is by going out and winning hockey games. There’s not really much to say. We know what we have to do. We know we have to play better and we know we have to win more games.”
Alfredsson looks at the new array of talent on hand and sees a team capable of more than just squeezing out a playoff berth.
“The tough challenge is to get into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s so competitive and it’s going to be a race for a lot of teams down to the last game again this year.
“I think we’ve got a solid group here. We should be able to fight for a playoff spot and make the playoffs. That’s obviously our goal. When you’ve done that, then there’s only one goal left and that’s to win (the Stanley Cup). Yeah, I like our team.”