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Battle gets tougher for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Nobody said this was going to be easy.

But as the Ottawa Senators struggle to escape from a five-game winless streak, they've been hit with another big roadblock. Centre Mike Fisher and forward Chris Neil are both nursing knee injuries suffered during a weekend road trip to New York and head coach Craig Hartsburg admitted today it's "probably not realistic" that either will suit up against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

Both were awaiting medical reports later this afternoon. Fisher got tangled up with a New York Rangers foe during the second period of Monday night's 2-1 shootout loss at Madison Square Garden and had to be helped off the ice.

"I finished the shift but I knew I did something (to it)," said Fisher, who walked with a limp to meet the media earlier today. "It kind of locked up my leg on me. It was weird. I couldn't put any weight on it for a while. It was kind of a weird thing that I've never experienced before. I'm hoping it's not too bad."

Neil, who left Saturday's game against the New York Islanders because of a knee problem, admitted today "it feels better than when it first happened but there's still some issues there.

"It's hard to say (when he'll be back). The sooner, the better is my priority. If I'm out any (length of) time, I'll just work hard to get back as soon as possible but, hopefully, that's not the case."

If both Fisher and Neil are out, Hartsburg said the Senators might call up another player from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., or perhaps shift Christoph Schubert back to the forward position. Schubert was a healthy scratch on defence Monday night.

No matter who's in the lineup, though, the reality remains the same: the Senators, at 6-9-3, currently stand 14th in the Eastern Conference. It's hardly where Hartsburg or any of his players expected to find themselves at this point in the season.

"We're disappointed about where we're at right now. There's no question about that," said Hartsburg. "But I also knew this was going to be a challenge. This team struggled the last 40 games (last season). It struggled to score, it gave up way too many goals at the end, and we're still trying to fix some things. We're disappointed we haven't been able to fix it quicker.

"In some areas, we've tightened things up defensively but we haven't scored as much as we'd like. I knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Captain Daniel Alfredsson said the Senators can't get caught up thinking about where they are in the standings and how much ground needs to be made up to secure a playoff position. Even with just 15 points, Ottawa is only three shy of eighth spot.

"I don't think you can allow yourself to go in that direction with your thought process," he said. "It's dangerous because then you start being very negative. You just have to work hard every day. Right now, we have to work harder than everybody else to get things done and that's what we have to do. This is a challenge for us and, hopefully, we'll be up for it.

"We've faced adversity before. I don't think it matters who's in the lineup right now, we've got to find a way to get it done and pull out two points."

Added forward Jarkko Ruutu: "We're not happy with the way we've started the season but it's no time to panic or do something stupid. We just have to play together. There's no magic or secret to how you turn it around. Just play simple and play together and that's how you get things going."

Though it only produced a point, Monday's effort in New York was a definite step in the right direction. Hartsburg believed his team "outchanced" the Rangers but just couldn't deliver a victory against New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

"I thought we battled hard and deserved a better fate out of that game," said forward Dany Heatley. "Nothing is going to get handed to you, whether things are going good or bad. We've got to keep going. (Monday) night was a good effort by everybody and we've got a big game against Montreal (on Thursday) that we've got to come out the same way or better."

Around the boards

Binghamton callup Ryan Shannon, who suffered a concussion in last Thursday's loss to the Islanders, is almost ready to get back on the ice. "He rode the bike yesterday, he's going to ride it again today and then he can possibly skate again tomorrow," said Hartsburg. "He's feeling a lot better." ... Fewer than 50 tickets remain for the game against the Canadiens, while only 900 are left for Saturday's afternoon affair against the Rangers (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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