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Alfie eager to help Senators conquer big road test

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

It's a cross-country trek that figures to test the Ottawa Senators' mettle.

Good thing they'll have their captain back in tow to steer the ship.

"Isn't that good news?" Senators head coach Paul MacLean said with a broad grin when asked about Daniel Alfredsson's expected return to the lineup Friday night, when Ottawa visits First Niagara Center in Buffalo to take on the Sabres (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "I can't wait till tomorrow."

Alfredsson, who's been sidelined for five games while dealing with the effects of a concussion he suffered Oct. 29 against the New York Rangers, confirmed earlier today it's most likely he'll be good to go against the Sabres.

"I'm expecting myself to be back and ready to go," he said following a practice in which MacLean described him as "one of the better players on the ice."

The Senators have gone 1-3-1 in Alfredsson's absence and MacLean has no doubt has presence on the team's second line alongside rookie Stephane Da Costa and Nick Foligno will make an impact.

"That gives you a second line the other team has to respect," said MacLean. "Obviously, there's the leadership and everything else he does. But for us right now, a little shot in the arm offensively would be a real good thing."

Though he's never previously dealt with a concussion, Alfredsson doesn't plan to alter his style or ease himself back into the mix slowly.

"I'm not going to be cautious," he said. "You've got to be aware at all times on the ice — I've said that before and it's the same (now). If you don't feel you're ready, then you shouldn't start playing again. I feel confident in my reaction time and whatnot, so I'll just try to play as normal."

While Alfredsson's return is a definite plus, there was one piece of bad news today. MacLean revealed winger Chris Neil twisted an ankle during Wednesday night's 3-2 home-ice loss to the Rangers and won't be available for Friday's game in Buffalo and Saturday's contest with the Maple Leafs in Toronto (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"Right now, he's being assessed," MacLean said when asked if Neil's absence might be long-term. "He won't be able to play this weekend, but I'm not sure beyond that."

As for the trip itself — which also includes stops in Calgary (Nov. 15), Edmonton (Nov. 17) and Vancouver (Nov. 20) — the Senators (7-8-1) see it as an opportunity to break out of a four-game winless skid that included three straight one-goal losses at Scotiabank Place.

"We just go game by game and try to improve all the time," said Alfredsson. "We know it's going to be a tough stretch with a lot of travel, but I think we can make the most of it and make it a team-building trip. Have some fun on the off days and play hard during the games."

While the results haven't been satisfying in the last week or so, MacLean looks at the bigger picture and still likes where his team is at.

"A lot of our game is real solid," he said. "Since the first day of training camp, we've been working on getting out of our zone and playing defence fast. It's really been a main focus for us and we've done a really good job of that the last four games. Playing without the puck, we've done a good job.

"Where we haven't done a good job is with the puck. We haven't taken care of the puck and what we've lacked the last few games is just one more goal."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "We're just not there, we're just not sharp enough to get the wins. But we're not going to change what we're doing. It's not like early in the year, when we felt like we had to rediscover what type of team we are. We know what type of team we are, but we just have to be a little bit better and execute a little bit better."

Around the boards

MacLean hasn't decided on his goaltending starter for Friday night, but acknowledged that backup Alex Auld is likely to see some action during the upcoming trip ... The Senators are 2-4-0 on the road this season but have won two of their last three away from Scotiabank Place ... Spezza has 26 points (13-13) during his last 12 games in Buffalo, dating back to Oct. 27, 2008 ... Alfredsson recorded a hat trick, including his 1,000th career National Hockey League point, during Ottawa's 4-2 victory at then-HSBC Arena on Oct. 22, 2010.

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