When the Senators face the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), they'll do it with their captain back in the lineup. And with their No. 1 line fully intact for the first time in almost a month.
Alfredsson declared himself good to go Friday morning after a team practice at the Bell Sensplex. He's missed the last four games, and six of the previous nine, while dealing with a sore hip flexor. The Senators went 1-5-0 without their captain.
“He is the most important and most valuable player on our hockey team,” Senators head coach John Paddock said about the jump the Senators should get with Alfredsson back on the ice against the Canadiens. “We obviously aren’t the same team without him.
“We know we’re a better team with him. We know every other team in the league would be a better team if he was in their lineup.”
Added left-winger Dany Heatley: “He’s our leader, our captain and he’s having a great season.”
The timing of Alfredsson’s return couldn’t be better. When the Senators lost to the Canadiens 4-3 in Montreal on Tuesday, they played without Alfredsson and Heatley – and saw their lead over the Habs dwindle to a single point.
Now both will suit up for Saturday’s huge rematch.
"Obviously, it's going to be exciting, especially playing Montreal," Alfredsson said of making his return to the lineup. "It's going to be fun.
“Watching (Thursday) night, it was great to see Heater back. And with me coming back now, we should have a full lineup and hopefully we can stay healthy down the stretch and see if we can hold on to first place (in the East).”
Heatley missed 11 games with a shoulder separation he suffered in the Senators’ 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings back on Jan. 12. The Senators went 3-8-0 in his absence, but the impact of his return Thursday against the Florida Panthers couldn’t have been bigger – or more immediate. He collected a pair of goals and an assist, including the game-winner in the third period.
“I don’t know if I can duplicate that,” Alfredsson said with a chuckle. “But obviously, it’s a lot of fun to see. I know how hard he worked to come back. He’s had a great recovery and it’s great to see him playing again.”
Alfredsson’s hip flexor first sidelined him the week after Heatley went down and he sat for a pair of games. But the captain was back for a three-game road trip before the all-star break, including a spectacular, record-setting seven-point night against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 24 that vaulted Alfredsson to the top of the National Hockey League scoring charts.
After feeling pain in the hip flexor again, Alfredsson pulled himself from a Jan. 29 game against the New York Islanders after the second period, then missed the next four games.
“You get to the point where you assess what’s best for the long term,” he said. “I might have been able to play 2-3 more games at whatever level, but I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I just had to make sure to strengthen it up and get it ready to go so I can play the rest of the games (this season).”
His return reunites the Senators’ top trio of Alfredsson, Heatley and Jason Spezza
for the first time in four weeks. And, thanks in part to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-2 victory in Montreal on Thursday night, the Senators will carry a three-point edge into Saturday’s showdown at Scotiabank Place.
“If only one of them is out, you can do without,” said Spezza of getting his regular linemates back at last. “But when both guys are out, that makes it a little bit tougher on me. Now, getting all three of us back together, we’ve just got to find our chemistry again and just be skating.
“When we skate and do things well, that’s when we’re dangerous.”
Coming off the win Thursday night over the Panthers, Ray Emery (9-8-3) will make his second straight start in goal for the Senators.
Fewer than 50 tickets remain for Saturday night's game, which is part of Hockey Day in Canada festivities on CBC.