OTTAWA - Whenever Daniel Alfredsson has been out injured in the past, the Ottawa Senators have often looked very much like a hobbled team.
It's a situation they'll need to remedy if forced to contend a little longer with their captain's status up in the air while he recovers from knee surgery.
Alfredsson had his right knee scoped last Friday to remove a bone chip and, despite making a quicker-than-expected return to the ice earlier this week, is questionable for a pair of weekend games.
"It feels pretty good," the 35-year-old said following the Senators' skate Thursday, where he was upgraded from a grey non-contact shirt to a white jersey that could see him return to spot on the right wing alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.
Good enough to play Friday night against Phoenix or Saturday against Boston, however, Alfredsson couldn't say.
"We'll see. I'm not going to commit to anything today," he said. "We'll see how it is tomorrow again. I'll skate tomorrow morning and go from there."
Even if the Swede isn't back right away, the sight of him back in full practise already is good news for the Senators, given their lack of success without him in the lineup.
Although Alfredsson disputes the impact his absence has on the Senators, the numbers over the past two seasons don't lie.
"I don't know if (the team) is that different," he said. "If you go back to our record last year, I missed a lot of time when we weren't playing all that well anyway, so I think that has something to do with it and I believe that sometimes (the media) makes a bigger deal out of it than it maybe is.
"I think in the short term, anybody is replaceable and I don't think I'm different. I think it's more of a coincidence than anything."
But after losing 3-2 to the Detroit Red Wings in their home opener last Saturday, Ottawa's record without Alfredsson dating back to last season now stands at 3-9-1 in the regular season and 0-2 in the playoffs.
Any debate over which player is most valuable to the Senators can quickly be put to rest by looking at that stat. So the bigger question for Ottawa is figuring out the reason for their futility in his absence and how to go about remedying it.
"He's obviously our leader, so it's a big gap to fill," said second-year forward Nick Foligno, who will attempt to take up the slack on Ottawa's top line if Alfredsson's not ready to go. "I think it's just maybe that we have guys that want to do too much when he's out that when they step into his role they have to play the way he does instead of just playing the way they know how."
With the Senators (1-1-1) playing a sporadic schedule after opening the regular season in Stockholm, Alfredsson elected to get the surgery over with in order to minimize the numbers of potential games he could miss.
Senators coach Craig Hartsburg has ruled out bringing Alfredsson back in a limited role this early in the season and would prefer to see Ottawa learn to cope without him.
"If a player's ready to play, he's able to play in any situation," Hartsburg said.
"It's important that the team has to take over when there's a good player out of the lineup. A team that's firing on all cylinders, doing the little things right, you should be able to get by for a short period of time without a top player."