by Todd Anderson
A key focus in the Senators' game against the San Jose Sharks tonight will be the matchup between two of the NHL's biggest stars.
Ottawa's Zdeno Chara, a six-foot-nine perennial Norris Trophy candidate, will have his hands full once again, when Joe Thornton, a six-foot-four perennial Art Ross Trophy threat, strolls into town.
The two stars have enjoyed intense battles three times already this season before the Boston Bruins traded Thornton to the Sharks on Nov. 30, 2005. Chara is looking forward to another meeting tonight.
"Joe is a very good player and San Jose is a better team with him. It's a good challenge to play against him again."
Coach Bryan Murray likes the matchup as well. He said he would try to have Chara on the ice when Thornton's line is skating.
"With (Jonathan) Cheechoo and Thornton together, it makes sense for Chara to look after them. (Patrick) Marleau will have to be catered to by someone else. Any team that has two or three scoring lines has a special dimension. That's what we had earlier with Martin (Havlat, who is recovering from surgery on a separated shoulder). We are confident with our six defencemen playing against anybody here."
Chara's partner, Chris Phillips, is also excited about tonight's contest.
"It's fun to have the responsibility to try and shut down those types of guys. Joe is a tremendous player and he makes guys better."
Dominik Hasek will be searching for his 22nd win in goal tonight. Again, Thornton was the focus when asked what he knew about the Sharks team, a western club Ottawa will meet just once in the regular season.
"My focus and preparation is the same as always. We talk about the best players, their power play, their tendencies. Thornton is usually looking for the pass when he comes off the sideboards but you have to be focused on a shot, too. He can surprise you with a good one."
The game tonight marks rookie Brandon Bochenski's return to the ice. He's missed almost four weeks of action since suffering a separated shoulder against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 17, 2005.
"It feels like it has been a long time but I guess it (healed) quicker than expected," he said. "I hope I can pitch in here and there."
Christoph Schubert (hamstring) participated in the pre-game skate. Jason Spezza (pulled chest muscle) took to the ice with assistant coach Greg Carvel after his teammates had left the ice. Both are not expected to play tonight.
Tonight's game will be the last hosted in the building while it is still named the Corel Centre. On Friday, the home of the Senators will be renamed Scotiabank Place. Captain Daniel Alfredsson said he expects his team to be just as good within the confines of the building with a new name.
"I imagine we'll score lots of goals in Scotiabank Place as well," he said on Wednesday, a day after a 7-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Bochenski welcomes visitors
Bochenski visited with a group of just over 100 young fans from northern Quebec and various Cree communities after the pre-game skate on Thursday. Bochenski spoke to the group about the importance of staying in school and other important life choices.
The group traveled 10 hours to Ottawa to watch tonight's game featuring San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo, a resident of the Cree community in Moose Factory, Ont., an island community in the Moose River, about 18 kilometres from its mouth at James Bay.