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Gonchar a fit in many ways for Senators

Wednesday, 09.29.2010 / 3:00 AM / 2010-2011 Season Preview

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Gonchar a fit in many ways for Senators
The Senators see Sergei Gonchar as far more than just an offensive talent. He'll be expected to play in all situations and help mentor their younger talent. It's a role the club easily sees him playing.
Don't expect Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston to suddenly implement the "torpedo system" now that offensive-minded defenseman Sergei Gonchar has joined the team.

"Obviously we feel we've improved in the back end in a lot of different areas," Clouston told NHL.com. "By signing Sergei, we've added a guy who knows how to move the puck, can make great reads, smart plays and create offense, but I'm not about to sacrifice good defensive positioning for more offense."

So what will change now that Gonchar is in the fold?

"We want to make sure that our puck possession is increased and we feel we have that now with someone like Sergei coming to our club," Clouston said.

Gonchar, who signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Senators in the offseason, certainly isn't a savior, but he was considered a necessity. The 36-year-old Russian will be entering his 16th NHL season, after spending the previous five with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has 202 goals and 684 points in 991 games, but he was limited to 62 games last season due to shoulder and arm injuries.

"He's won a Stanley Cup and is an elite defenseman," Clouston said. "We expect him to be one of our top minute guys and we have to play him in all areas. That's why he's here, that's why we went out and signed him. Not only can he contribute offensively, but we expect him to be solid defensively. With Pittsburgh, he played against the opponent's top lines and killed penalties."

Gonchar, who could be paired with veteran Chris Phillips to open the season, is looking forward to a fresh start in Ottawa.

"I'm very excited about it because I've played against them for many years," Gonchar said. "I do believe this team is close to going far in the playoffs and maybe winning a Cup. Hopefully with my addition, we'll be able to do so."

Another area Clouston is hoping will improve is specialty teams. The club finished tied for 21st in the League with a 16.9-percent power-play efficiency last season. With Gonchar manning the point and working the transition, Clouston has another weapon at his disposal with the man-advantage. Gonchar had 6 goals and 30 points on the power play during an injury-plagued 2009-10 campaign, but he ranked second in the League with 46 power-play points in 2007-08.

"Over the last 12-15 games of the regular season, our power play was hitting at a 30-percent clip, and in the playoffs we were hitting at 31 percent (in six games)," Clouston said. "So we made some strides on the power play and Sergei will be a big part of that this season. But let's not forget, (Filip) Kuba, Alfie (Daniel Alfredsson) and (Jason) Spezza also missed a big chunk of games, so we had a lot of key guys missing on our power play last year. We're not going to put all the emphasis on just one player, but obviously we're excited that he's coming and he's going to help our power play, so he'll be a leader in that area as well."

Not too mention a mentor for a few of the young defensemen in the organization, including Erik Karlsson and Brian Lee.

"We expect everyone to help everybody out -- we're a team that stresses team," Clouston said. "We want our group to support each other and we feel we have some good, solid veterans back there with Kuba and Phillips. We don't expect Sergei to be a coach. We expect him to lead by example by how he prepares and plays the game. That's how we want him to help Erik, as well as everyone else on this team."

It'll be especially important that he helps Karlsson. The young blueliner averaged 20:06 of ice time per game as a rookie last season, but that number surely will go up while Kuba misses 5-6 weeks after breaking his right leg on the opening day of training camp.

"It's not like we sat (Gonchar) down and said, 'This is what we need you to do and we want you to take Erik under your wing.' That's not how it works here," Clouston said.
"We expect him to be one of our top minute guys and we have to play him in all areas. That's why he's here, that's why we went out and signed him. Not only can he contribute offensively, but we expect him to be solid defensively. With Pittsburgh, he played against the opponent's top lines and killed penalties."        -- Senators coach Cory Clouston
Gonchar also should provide Spezza -- whose 57 points in 2009-10 marked his lowest output since his first full season in the League in 2003-04 (55 points) -- with some needed assistance.

"Sergei's definitely a guy who's going to go back there, log big minutes, be a good presence and also calm things down when the situation is headed south," Clouston said. "He'll be able to help us regroup."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at:
@mike_morreale

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