Brandon Bochenski admits he dealt with a lot of pressure when he started the season in the NHL. After a stint with Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, he's back and his confidence has returned.
"When I started the season with the top line, we played the others teams' top checking lines and best defensive pairings. I had so much stress. It wasn't fun, but I'm having fun now. It's a lot better when the puck goes in the net."
Bochenski scored his first NHL hat trick and added an assist against the Florida Panthers in a 6-3 win Monday night. In the previous game, he had a goal and an assist during a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Bochenski said that goal against the Kings boosted his confidence.
"It's the kind of goal I score. Fifteen to 20 feet out. It gave me some comfort."
Bochenski's first goal against the Panthers came after he blocked a shot at his own blueline, out-skated a pair of Panthers defenders and then roofed the puck past NHL all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo just before one of the defenders could tie him up.
"You get to a point where you don't even think," the 23-year-old said of the play.
"You've gone through plays like that so often. It's just reaction. I kept the puck on the outside of my body and just shot it where I needed to."
According to head coach Bryan Murray, plays like that will keep him around.
"He's been skating very good. If he scores three goals like that every night, I think he'll continue to play here. He was able to handle the puck a bit more (in Binghamton) and the last two games here, he's been very involved."
In 13 NHL games, Bochenski has five goals and six assists for 11 points.
The native of Moorhead, Minn., is taking advantage of his second chance in the NHL as an emergency call-up for the injured Martin Havlat.
"While I'm here I want to do the best I can. I've got to focus every game. I'll probably shoot even more now."
More on Havlat's injury to be known this afternoon
Ottawa Senators officials and forward Martin Havlat are expected to learn more today about the player's shoulder injury.
A specialist based in Cleveland, Ohio, was scheduled to hold a conference call with the player and team reps to offer advice on how to proceed in the rehabilitation process.
Havlat has missed two games since dislocating his right shoulder on Nov. 29 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Phillips leaves his mark
With the absence of Zdeno Chara (suspension) and Wade Redden (knee injury) against the Panthers, it was time for defenceman Chris Phillips to shine.
Murray said he was pleased to see how his veteran defensive defenceman reacted to the chance to lead his teammates to victory.
"I thought he was very good. He's overlooked sometimes because he plays with Chara. It's great when players get a chance and can elevate their play accordingly."
Phillips led all Senators in ice time against the Panthers at 24:30.
Spezza in the forefront at practice after Yzerman opts off of Team Canada roster
With Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman opting out on a chance to play for Team Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics, Jason Spezza was asked on Tuesday morning if he thought his chances of making the team were improved.
"It probably helps my chances a bit but you can't look into it too much. Those guys (veterans like Steve Yzerman) earned the right to choose if they play or not. It's a huge honour any time to put on your country's colours. All I can do is go out and play, and make them (Team Canada officials) recognize my play."
Defenceman Wade Redden, who is vying for a spot on Team Canada's blueline, said Yzerman's decision speaks volumes of the Nepean native's character.
"That's the type of guy he is. He probably decided to do what's better for the team. Spezz is having a great year and he's getting a look from the team, deservedly so."
Dany Heatley, another Team Canada hopeful, says it would be a treat to play with his linemate at the Olympics.
"Hockey Canada will do what's best but I think he should be there. Things are going great between us and our chemistry keeps going."
Murray also thinks Spezza should crack the lineup.
"Jason makes the players around him a lot better. I don't think there's a better play-making centre in the east and his skating has improved a fair amount. He's tied for the league lead in scoring. Certainly on that basis he should be considered for the team."
Chris Phillips is the other Team Canada hopeful while Martin Havlat (Czech Republic), Brian Pothier (United States), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia), Bryan Smolinski (United States), Dominik Hasek (Czech Republic), Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia), Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden), Christoph Schubert (Germany) and Anton Volchenkov (Russia) will also get serious looks from their respective countries.
Redden hoping for return to lineup on Friday in Vancouver
Wade Redden returned to the ice for practice on Tuesday but his status for Friday's game against the Canucks in Vancouver was still up in the air Tuesday morning.
"It's feeling good and I will continue to work on it and see what happens," Redden said about his sprained left knee. "I can skate more and more with comfort. Down low when you move quick is when you feel it. It still needs a bit or work."
Redden has missed five games since injuring his knee on Nov. 23.