The 96th blocked shot wasn’t exactly the charm for Anton Volchenkov.
Now the Ottawa Senators must do without one of the anchors of their blue-line brigade for at least the next four weeks. Just the kind of news this team, already struggling to put the brakes on a five-game losing streak, needed to hear as it returned to Scotiabank Place for a Friday morning practice session.
“It’s certainly a tough blow for the team,” veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
said as he pondered life without his regular blue-line partner. “But it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and show what they can do.”
Volchenkov broke the index finger on his right hand in the opening minutes of Thursday night’s 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators while trying to block a shot by J.P. Dumont. The hard-hitting Russian left the game immediately and didn’t return.
“I knew right away,” Volchenkov said Friday morning. “I’ve broken the same finger before … five or six years ago (in Russia), maybe seven.
“It’s a pretty bad injury.”
The timing couldn’t be worse, given the Senators’ current slump. They’re already missing Patrick Eaves, a key contributor up front, with a separated shoulder.
“It’s a pretty tough time,” said Volchenkov. “We’ve lost the last five games and now they’re losing me, too, with a broken finger.”
All eyes now turn toward the versatile Christoph Schubert, who will move back from his current forward position. Coach John Paddock said initially, at least, he’s counting on Schubert to soak up all or most of the nearly 21 minutes a game Volchenkov logged alongside Phillips.
“It’s an opportunity for Schubie to show he can do the job,” said Paddock. “It’s well-known that it’s his position of preference, and he’s going to get an opportunity here to step up. And there’s some big shoes to fill.”
Schubert admits he hasn’t hidden his desire to play defence on a full-time basis. For the time being, at least, he’ll get that chance.
“I never was really shy to say that I wanted to be on D,” said the German-born Schubert. “Now that the opportunity is here, I want to make the best of it and prove than I can be on the top six on this team.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself now. I know I am able to do it and I have confidence in myself that I can do the job.”
That’s the kind of mindset the entire team is trying to find as it struggles to break out of its current five-game skid. Thursday’s loss hit the team like a dagger – the Senators rallied from a 5-3 deficit to tie the game on Daniel Alfredsson
’s goal with 46 seconds to play in regulation, then surrendered the game-winner to Nashville’s Martin Erat at the 19:37 mark.
“Just the way it happened (Thursday) night was pretty frustrating,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. “There was a general frustration you could sense in the room after the game, because we did a lot of things right. But we did a lot of things wrong, too.
“We’ve been finding ways to lose instead of finding ways to win.”
Now the New York Rangers (14-9-2), who appear to have found their game and are only four points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Senators (16-6-2), are up next for a Saturday matinee at Scotiabank Place (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Martin Gerber will make his 18th start of the season in goal.
For the Senators, it’s their last chance to make a statement at home for two weeks – their next five games are on the road.
“It’s not fun losing that’s for sure,” said Phillips. “But we’re trying to stay positive. We put ourselves in a great position early in the season (with a 15-2-0 start) … but at the same time, we can’t take that for granted. We have to make some changes, play a little bit smarter and hopefully get this turned around.”