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Blue-line battle heating up

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Crunch time, it appears, is almost at hand for the crowded – and highly competitive – blue-line battle still raging at Ottawa Senators training camp.

With that in mind, consider tonight’s pre-season test against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200) a bit of a crossroads moment for some of the prime contenders to fill out the defensive corps the Senators will take to Sweden for their season-opening trip next week.

No doubt head coach Craig Hartsburg will pay particular attention to the work of former 67’s captain Brendan Bell, rookie hopeful Brian Lee and 20-year National Hockey League veteran Luke Richardson, all of whom remain in the picture to make the squad. There’s also Christoph Schubert, who spent most of last season as a forward but desires a return to his natural position.

Goaltender Martin Gerber is expected to debut this new mask tonight at Scotiabank Place, when the Senators face the Philadelphia Flyers.
Tonight’s game might prove an especially vital audition for Bell, who owns the puck-moving skills that the Senators currently crave on their back end.

“The big thing for (the defence as a whole) is that they have to defend but we really have to continue to improve our transition game,” said Hartsburg. “Moving the puck will be a big thing. We want to make sure we’re moving it smart and quick. A guy like Brendan Bell, he has the ability to do that.”

Bell is expected to see some power-play time tonight, another big need at the moment. Veteran Filip Kuba got a crack at the quarterback role during Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers in New York. Now it’s Bell’s turn and he might see some time on the first power-play unit tonight with Kuba, captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

He realizes the potential significance of the evening, with only nine defenceman still left on the Senators camp roster.

“I’ll just try to do the best with it,” he said. “There’s not seven (defence) spots set in stone by any means. Everybody’s got an opportunity in camp, especially on our back end. There’s a couple of openings and that’s why I’m here.

“Coming right into camp, it was stressed that everybody had an opportunity. There are a lot of guys fighting for spots, even some veteran guys that are in a battle.”

Also in the mix is Alex Picard, the blueliner who, along with Kuba, came to the Senators in the Andrej Meszaros deal at the end of August. But Picard is still nursing a groin injury and Hartsburg isn’t sure yet whether the Gatineau native will be able to hit the ice before the plane leaves for Sweden on Sunday.

“He skated a little bit this morning,” said Hartsburg. “He seems to be making progress but again, we’re not sure if he’ll be able to play this weekend or not.”

Meanwhile, goaltender Martin Gerber is scheduled to see his first full game of action tonight as he begins gearing up for the season-opener Oct. 4 in Stockholm against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity for me to play a full 60 minutes,” said Gerber, who might don a new face mask for the occasion. “It’s such a short period (of pre-season preparation this year). There’s probably no perfect scenario. You have to use what you get and make the most of it and make sure you’re ready.”

Around the boards

Mike Fisher (groin) won’t play tonight, but Hartsburg is still hopeful the centre will be back sooner rather than later. “He said he felt better today but we’ll keep him off the ice,” said Hartsburg. “Day-to-day, we’ll see how he feels.” … The Senators reduced their camp roster to 30 by assigning seven players to Binghamton today: Forwards Danny Bois, Josh Hennessy, Alexander Nikulin, Ryan Shannon and Ilya Zubov; defenceman Mattias Karlsson, and goaltender Jeff Glass.

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