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Alfredsson leader of the pack

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
He keeps hearing the question more and more with each passing day, but Daniel Alfredsson’s response remains as consistent as his play.

A shrug and a grin, sometimes garnished with a wee bit a deadpan humour.

So how about it, Daniel? Are you like that bottle of fine wine, the one that keeps on getting better with age?

“A year smarter, I guess,” the Ottawa Senators captain said with a smile and a glint in his eye after a three-point effort against the New Jersey Devils on Monday afternoon at Scotiabank Place.

And so it was, in the wake of his latest stellar performance, that the classy 34-year-old Swede – and the rest of the National Hockey League, for that matter – awoke Tuesday morning to find Alfredsson leading them all in both goals (five) and points (eight, tied with Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche).

It’s almost like the off-season was a mirage, that we’re witnessing the same Alfredsson who set such a torrid pace during that magical ride to the Stanley Cup final in June.

“Alfie seems like he’s at a different level than most players on most teams on a given night,” Senators head coach John Paddock said. “It appears he’s ahead of everybody else a little bit, and that’s the way it was in the spring.”

Adds winger Dany Heatley: “He’s picked up from where he’s left off last year, producing offensively and still doing everything he does defensively, killing penalties and leading this team.”

Alfredsson’s thoughts about his own play are typically more reserved.

“Obviously, I feel pretty good,” he said before the Senators departed for Atlanta, where they’ll face the Thrashers on Wednesday night (7 p.m., No TV, Team 1200). “Our line and the whole team’s playing well, and when you win games, it’s a lot easier for individuals to do well.”

Especially when they seem so perfectly matched, as the red-hot trio of Alfredsson, Heatley and Jason Spezza are once again. They’ve combined for 22 points to fuel the Senators’ 4-0 start out of the gate.

During training camp, Paddock had talked about separating Alfredsson from his two linemates to spread the wealth, so to speak. But given the trio’s sizzling start, Paddock admitted “they’ve made it impossible” for him to make that move now.

“At this point, we’ll keep going with it as it is, until something significant makes me change my mind,” he said.

While Alfredsson’s preference is to stay right where he is, his take on the situation is about what you’d expect from a captain and a leader.

“I’ve talked with John, and he knows I’m fine wherever I play and wherever he thinks I’ll be able to help the most,” he said.

Given where Alfredsson’s game is at these days, he’s sure to elevate the play of any line.

And here’s a scary thought: Spezza believes Alfredsson’s best is still yet to come.

“I think he’s got another level he can go to,” he said when asked if the captain is in playoff form already. “But he’s playing awfully good hockey right now, and he’s carried the momentum from the end of last season into this season.”

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