|Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson hasn't played since Feb. 7, but his absence will end Friday night, when he returns to the lineup for a pre-season game against the Canadiens (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
The waiting game has finally reached its end.
For the first time in seven months, Daniel Alfredsson is set to test himself against some real competition. And even if it's just a pre-season contest, Friday's matchup with the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200) marks a significant moment for the Senators captain in his long road to returning to the Ottawa lineup.
"It's fun," Alfredsson said earlier today when asked about the prospect of seeing game action for the first time since Feb. 7 in Vancouver. "It's one thing to score in practice or make things happen. It’s fun when fans are in the stands, that’s the biggest reason you play.”
But Alfredsson, who guesses he hasn't gone this long without playing a game since the 2004-05 lockout season, isn't exactly ready to break out the champagne about this one. He's well aware the game that really matters comes on Oct. 7, when the Senators open their 2011-12 schedule in Detroit against the Red Wings.
"It's just an exhibition game," said Alfredsson. "I'm going to play smart, try not to do too much and just try to work myself into the pace of it. Still, the plan is to be ready when the puck drops for the first regular-season game."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean agreed the time is right for Alfredsson's return.
"He felt real good coming into training camp and I think he's gotten better every day," MacLean said after a day of scrimmaging at the Bell Sensplex. "We said before training camp, we're going to be cautious about when he plays. We didn't want to put him in before he was ready to play ... (now) he's ready to play."
Three months shy of his 39th birthday, Alfredsson is still very much the leader of this team. And MacLean knows the Senators are vastly better with their captain in the lineup.
"I saw him play in the Stanley Cup final in '07 and you know he was an important part of that," said MacLean, a Red Wings assistant coach at the time. "I know he's a good player. You see him in practice, he has great poise with the puck, he can skate and his work ethic is second to none on this team.
"He really is the pulse of the team and as he goes, the team goes. He's a great player to have (for) a coach."
It's been a long, often frustrating road back to this point for Alfredsson, who was limited to only 54 games in 2010-11 — the fewest of his stellar 15-year National Hockey League career. Off-season back surgery in June was finally required, with the Ottawa captain enduring a summer of arduous recovery since then. Only after the few days of training camp did he feel ready to test himself in a game situation.
"I've been feeling good in camp," said Alfredsson. "I've been able to go through all the skates without any problem, so it's been good. (Going through) scrimmages and battling drills in practice and lots of skating in practice, and to be able to hold up for more than one or two or three days in a row ... that's a good sign.
"Things are going well, so the next step is playing in a game."
As to how many pre-season games he'll see before the opener ... MacLean said that's up to Alfredsson, though he suspects his captain will get one or two more tests before the games get going for real. He won't play in any back-to-back games, MacLean said, so that rules out Saturday's return game with the Canadiens in Montreal.
Around the boards
Also seeing his first pre-season action against the Canadiens will be veteran centre Jason Spezza. As well, starting goaltender Craig Anderson is slated for his first full game of the exhibition season ... MacLean plans to give Swedish rookie centre Mika Zibanejad and blueliner David Rundblad the night off on Friday ... For those not able to make it out to Scotiabank Place for the Sens-Habs matchup, Rogers is supplying television coverage. However, because of a conflict with the Ottawa 67's home opener, the community TV channel is switching its telecast to channel 456. It's available free of charge to all Rogers digital customers ... Saturday's rematch between the teams at the Bell Centre airs on RDS only, with the Team 1200 providing the radio play-by-play.