Rundblad picking up pace on Senators blue line
With Gonchar sidelined, Swedish rookie blueliner eager to accept bigger challenge
|Senators rookie defenceman David Rundblad is growing more comfortable with his role on the Ottawa blue line. With veteran Sergei Gonchar currently sidelined by injury, Rundblad and fellow rookie Jared Cowen figure to take on more minutes and responsibility (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
David Rundblad's face positively beams at the mere mention of the name.
"He's a legend," the Ottawa Senators rookie defencemen said when asked about the prospect of facing off against Jaromir Jagr and the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "It's going to be really cool to play against him. He's still a great player.
"I played against him at the world championship last year, so I know what he can do with the puck."
Tonight, the test comes against Jagr, who was a National Hockey League rookie in 1990, the year Rundblad was born. Saturday night, it was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. For the 21-year-old Swedish blueliner, the challenges keep getting greater, but Rundblad insists it's exactly what he needs at this point in his first NHL season.
"It's good for my game," Rundblad said following the Senators' pre-game skate in advance of tonight's matchup with the Flyers. "When you play against very good players, it makes you learn things and it makes you a better player. It's good for me to play against them."
With veteran Sergei Gonchar currently sidelined with a bruised foot and Matt Carkner still not back from a knee injury, the Senators figure to learn even more heavily on rookie defenceman such Rundblad and Jared Cowen. After seeing just 12 minutes of ice time in last Thursday's 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Rundblad saw that number grow to 17:54 against the Capitals in the wake of Gonchar's depature in the first period.
If that number continues to increase ... so be it, said Rundblad.
"When you get to play more and more, it's easier," he said. "You get to feel everything and learn every situation ... it's easier to get into the game and get into the feeling of the game. Against Washington, it felt good. I got to play a lot in the second and third period and it was nice to get my first (career NHL) point, too."
Veteran blueliner Chris Phillips has been impressed by the way the likes of Rundblad and Cowen have taken on increased responsibility for the Senators (1-4-0), who aim to end a two-game losing streak against the Flyers tonight.
"They were thrown into maybe a lot of new situations and certainly more ice time in those situations," said Phillips. "They're certainly coming along well. Every day is a learning process and they're just going to continue to get better."
But even in the face of the current injuries, Rundblad won't allow himself to feel pressured to pick up even more of the slack.
"It's hard to think that way," he said. "I just want to play my game and every minute I get to play, I enjoy it. I do my best and hope for the best."
Around the boards
The Senators are currently riding a seven-game winning streak on home ice against the Flyers, who last took home two points from Scotiabank Place on Nov. 24, 2007. Philadelphia is 2-8-2 in games played in the nation's capital since the 2004-05 lockout ended. "We get up to play them," said Senatorfs forward Nick Foligno. "We enjoy the competition and they're an elite team in this conference and in this league. I don't know (why) we match up so well against them, but hopefully we can continue that tonight and get another win" ... Senators head coach Paul MacLean's NHL playing days were winding down with the St. Louis Blues when Jagr made his league debut in 1990. "He's got great size, he's got great reach and he's very difficult to defend," said MacLean said of Jagr, who's back in the NHL after a three-year absence (with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League). "Time will tell how much he's got left, but he certainly looks good to this point" ... It's also Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night at Scotiabank Place, with Senators wives and girlfriends, along with team president Cyril Leeder and Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson, joining forces to sell special merchandise prior to the game in support of the league-wide initiative ... Alex Auld makes his second straight start in goal for the Senators this evening ... The Senators complete a three-game home stretch with games Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) and Saturday vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).