OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators will resume their season Saturday without captain Daniel Alfredsson, and in his temporary loss head coach Craig Hartsburg sees opportunity.
Change has been a theme for the club since last season's disappointing first-round playoff exit. Alfredsson's brief absence, expected to be no longer than two weeks, and how his teammates respond to it, gives the Senators a chance to continue forging their new identity.
"Certainly we're going to miss Alfie, he's out of our lineup, we're obviously a better team when he's in there, but it's a great opportunity for us to prove that we're different this year," said Hartsburg.
"This is a group that wants to take great pride in being a team and doing whatever it takes. It's an opportunity for some people to step up, to do more. We don't need to change our plan, we're not going to change anything but this is a good challenge for us, and it's a great test right off the start to see how we react to it."
Alfredsson underwent arthroscopic surgery Friday on his right knee to remove a bone chip that was dislodged during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins last Sunday.
The team believes a hit he took aggravated an old injury from last season, dislodging the bone chip and causing it to float around in the knee.
Alfredsson tried to skate this week and while he didn't feel awful, he still felt some discomfort, according to Hartsburg. Doctors told the team that Alfredsson could play through it for a while, but eventually surgery would be needed.
That prompted them to decide to get it done now, even if it meant missing Saturday's home opener versus the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
"We thought and he thought that this was the best time," said general manager Bryan Murray. "He'll miss the season-opener here but we're hoping it won't be much longer than that."
A more specific time-frame for Alfredsson's recovery wasn't available and Murray hesitated to try and pin it down.
"We'll take it as we're told and as he feels comfortable," said Murray. "But we're assured it's not more than a couple of weeks type of thing."
Alfredsson recorded two assists to help the Sens take three of a possible four points from the Penguins during the season-opening games in Sweden last week, and they're hoping to extend that strong start back home.
There was some good news Friday, as Hartsburg confirmed that centre Mike Fisher will be ready to go after recovering from a groin injury.
"(He's) practised two good days, feels that he's ready to play," said Hartsburg. "We lose a good player but we get to add a really good player, too."
Hartsburg said pesky winger Jarkko Ruutu will take Alfredsson's spot on the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.
"Whatever line you put Ruutu on he's going to play the same, he's going to bring his game," said Hartsburg. "He's a very intelligent player as far as the team game, the systems, winning loose puck battles, doing smart things with the puck. ...
"I think he'll go and help those two guys."
In the interim, Hartsburg will keep a close eye on his team to see how it reacts without Alfredsson.
The 35-year-old right-winger had 89 points (40-49) in 70 games last season. Alfredsson has recorded 849 points (331-518) in 855 career NHL regular-season games.
"Every team in this league is going to go through it, you miss good players for game," said Hartsburg. "That's the thing we've been talking about since we started here in training camp - we need to be a team."