|Nobody appreciates the steady play of Anton Volchenkov more than Chris Phillips, his longtime partner on the Senators blue line (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).
Bryan Murray considers the blue-line brigade he has assembled, and there is no doubt in his mind about its sturdiest anchors.
"There are two guys right now who are playing superior (hockey) and the rest of them are pretty good," the Ottawa Senators general manager said earlier today while the team practised below him on the ice Scotiabank Place.
Murray meant no disrespect to the rest as he clearly singled out the play of veterans and longtime defence partners Chris Phillips
and Anton Volchenkov. With Filip Kuba
still sidelined by injury and newcomers such as rookie Erik Karlsson
and Matt Carkner
still fitting into the mix, it's Phillips and Volchenkov providing the rock-solid base for the group.
While steady, efficient play is their hallmark, Volchenkov's run of big hits through the first four regular-season games – vintage Volchie, one might suggest – have put an exclamation point behind the performance of a player whose efforts often are unheralded, to say the least.
Not among the players who share the dressing room with the burly Russian, mind you.
"(Volchenkov) keeps it simple," Phillips said of his partner. "It doesn't go unnoticed (by us) that he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's not a flashy guy. He just gets the puck and gets it out of the zone. He's a big part of our team (just by) being solid defensively."
While Senators head coach Cory Clouston uses the word "unsung" to describe the 27-year-old Volchenkov, he's well aware of what he brings to the defence corps.
"He's very important," said Clouston. "He's doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but what he does is very valuable to the team – the physical play, the solid shot blocking, the good defensive zone coverage. He plays against top lines. Those little things are not going to show up on the scoresheet, but the value he has for this hockey club is very strong."
Nobody appreciates that more than the guy who lines up beside Volchenkov every night.
"He's never out of position," said Phillips. "He's not a big gambler, jumping up the ice a lot. He's back and in his position. You can always rely on him, that he'll be back there to help defend against whatever rush is coming."
In other words, he's the perfect counterbalance to the player that someone like Karlsson will become someday. While the Swedish teenager has had a few rough outings lately, he's also logging far more ice time than the Senators had expected this early on. But Kuba's injury has put extra weight on the entire defence.
"He's doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but what he does is very valuable to the team – the physical play, the solid shot blocking, the good defensive zone coverage. He plays against top lines. Those little things are not going to show up on the scoresheet, but the value he has for this hockey club is very strong." - Cory Clouston
"I thought if (Karlsson) could play up to 15 minutes a game... but we've needed him more than that and the coaches have played him more," said Murray. "The results have been okay and I think that's good for his development."
Added Clouston: "When you lose Kuba... those are 23 minutes, especially power-play and regular-strength minutes, that all of a sudden you have to make up. In a best-case scenario, a young guy like that won't play that many minutes. Each game will dictate how that goes and who you play will also dictate that."
Karlsson, for his part, still sees every day as a learning experience. Confidence, he added, isn't a major worry of his right now, no matter what happens.
"Every day is a great experience and the more minutes I play, the more I learn," said Karlsson. "(My confidence) is good. I have no problem with it. Never have. Sometimes, it might seem like I lack confidence but that's just the way it is.
"I'm a young guy in a new league this year. So I'm trying to learn new things every day and gain a lot of experience. I think I will do that the more that I play."
Having a certain pair of solid supporting anchors doesn't exactly hurt, either.
Around the boards
Centre Peter Regin
(upper body) and forward Jesse Winchester
(right knee) are "real close" to full health, but Clouston said a decision hasn't been made yet if they'll be good to go for Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) ... The Senators held the first of two First 500 Appreciation Luncheons today, with those in attendance getting to be part of a panel discussion that included Murray and forward Alex Kovalev as well as sitting in on practice. Those invited to attend the Fans First initiative were among the first 500 season-ticket holders for 2008-09 to renew their seats for 2009-10 ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for Thursday's game, which is also the first of nine Subway Savings Games
this season. All regular-priced tickets are 20 per cent off.