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'Blue-collar' look for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Alex Picard laces up his skates during the team's practice session Thursday at Scotiabank Place.
As their home rink stands poised to welcome the world, a long, hard road beckons for the Ottawa Senators.

They'll hand over their dressing room to Team Canada on Monday, as the message board in the players' home away from home reminded one and all today. It's game on for the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in just eight days.

All of which means the Senators face a three-week haul away from the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place after Saturday night's matchup with the Dallas Stars. It hasn't been the kindest place to be, to put it mildly, in recent weeks. Ottawa is winless in its last eight road games (0-6-2), with Friday's game in Newark, N.J. against the Devils (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) beginning a stretch of nine road starts in 10 games.

It's a rugged schedule Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg believes they won't navigate successfully unless they make a full set of hard hats a mandatory part of their travel attire.

"It's a very simple game on the road, " he said after the Senators' practice at Scotiabank Place earlier today. "You've got to have a good start, which means putting the puck in deep, getting a forecheck established and trying to put pressure on some people. We haven't done that enough.

"Throughout your lineup, if you don't have 20 players on the road ready to do those things, you won't have success. We have a tough stretch of games coming with lots of road games. We have to be better on the road."

Veteran defenceman Jason Smith echoed the same message.

"I think we need to just simplify our game," he said. "We need to make sure we're working from start to finish every night and make good, smart decisions. If we can cut back on our errors and be a solid team from start to finish, we'll get the results that we need."

The alignment Hartsburg will send out to face the Devils won't look like anything Senators fans have seen in the past. The team's big three are indeed split up, with Jason Spezza centring Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil, captain Daniel Alfredsson lining up alongside Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette, and Dany Heatley skating alongside Chris Kelly and Nick Foligno.

"It's got a good mix of different things," said Fisher. "I'm excited about it. Every line has some skill and some guys who can play physical. It's kind of a different look, which maybe we need now."

"I think we need to just simplify our game. We need to make sure we're working from start to finish every night and make good, smart decisions. If we can cut back on our errors and be a solid team from start to finish, we'll get the results that we need." - Jason Smith
Added Spezza: "We've just got to simplify the game, work hard and try to find a way to get wins. The way we were doing it before hasn't worked consistently and now we're going to try a little different approach."

In Hartsburg's mind, it comes down to the most basic of elements for the National Hockey League's lowest-scoring team. The Senators (11-13-5) have scored just four goals in their last four games and 67 in 29 games overall.

"Let's be a blue-collar team that has some really good players on it to help us. If we do, then we'll start to turn (this around)," he said. "Everybody in the world is capable of working hard. It doesn't matter what you do.

"To me, it's the one thing that every person can do and that's what our team needs to do together right now. Let's start games thinking that we have to outwork people and that we're going to outwork people."

Around the boards

Defenceman Anton Volchenkov is likely to return to the Senators lineup on Friday night, but forward Jesse Winchester (upper body) is out. "He's probably doubtful for Saturday," said Hartsburg ... Forward Ilya Zubov won't make the trip to New Jersey because of visa issues, so Cody Bass has been summoned from the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. ... Alex Auld (9-7-4) makes the start in goal ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the Stars' visit to Scotiabank Place on Saturday (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).

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