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Cheechoo hoping he's back on track

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Fifteen games into his new life with the Ottawa Senators, former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo netted his first goal of the season. He's hopeful it's the first of many more to come (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).

Jonathan Cheechoo didn't have time to feel the proverbial monkey finally slipping off his back.

Then again, the one-timer he blasted past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jeff Deslauriers on Tuesday night hit the back of the net in a flash. And just like that, Cheechoo had his long-awaited first goal in an Ottawa Senators uniform.

Fifteen games into life with a new team, it was time for the 29-year-old native of Moose Factory, Ont., to celebrate a lengthy goal drought.

"It was exciting," Cheechoo said after finishing up practice with his Senators teammates earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "I love to score goals. It’s been a long time coming, so to get the first one, there’s definitely an excitement that runs through your body."

How long has it been? Try Game 2 of the Sharks' first-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks back on April 19. But Cheechoo was too enthused about getting the Senators on the board in the first period to feel any relief.

"Any time you go through a prolonged stretch (without scoring), you’re going to feel some relief," he said. "I was too excited to feel any of that at the time. I get that way when I score goals."

It's something the Senators hope they'll soon get more of, now that Cheechoo has finally broken the ice. He's a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner (with 56 goals) in 2005-06 who saw his totals decline to a career-low 12 with the Sharks last season. The Senators were merely hoping Cheechoo could find his way back up to the 20 or 25 mark when they obtained him from the Sharks (along with Milan Michalek) in the Dany Heatley deal on Sept. 12.

"If we expect him to be a 50-goal scorer, that's not being realistic," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said before his team faced off against the Oilers. "But we do need him to contribute more offensively."

Now that he's turned the red light on again, Cheechoo wants to believe it's only the beginning of better things to come, starting with Thursday night's matchup with the Flyers in Philadelphia (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

"I hope I can build off this," he said. "It’s something that, whenever you score, you want to build confidence off that. The more you keep building, the more you’re going to get chances and the more you’ll put them in."

While there's more to Cheechoo's game that goals, Clouston admitted a boost in offence would add extra value to the hard-working winger's play.

"(Cheechoo) has been playing well," said Clouston. "I know everyone judges someone like that on numbers. We don’t. Part of his game is to help us out offensively and produce. But his attitude, his work ethic, his detail to do the little things well … those are valuable to us as well. If we can get him scoring like he did last night, he’s going to be a (bigger) part of our team."

Goal scorers are often streaky in that area and there is recent evidence to suggest that's true about Cheechoo. He scored three goals in the Sharks' final five games last season, after hanging a goose egg on the board in his previous 16 outings.

"Any time you go through a prolonged stretch (without scoring), you’re going to feel some relief ... I hope I can build off this. It’s something that, whenever you score, you want to build confidence off that. The more you keep building, the more you’re going to get chances and the more you’ll put them in." - Jonathan Cheechoo
"Most guys are like that," said Cheechoo. "There are a few guys that do it more consistently than others, but I’ve never really started off strong. It’s not the way you want to do things, especially when you come to a new team – you want to get off to a good start. Hopefully, this propels me into scoring a few more."

Cheechoo insists he never lost faith that he'd find his scoring touch.

"You never like not scoring," he said. "The thing is, for me, that I just work and try to go through the same process. I know if I stick to that process, it will come out. There’s a confidence that it’s always going to be there. I’ve just got to find it."

He'd surely accept more passes like the beauty Alex Kovalev laid on his stick to set up Tuesday night's ice-breaker. And wouldn't you know it, Cheechoo found himself on a line with the flashy Russian and Mike Fisher in practice today.

"It was a beautiful pass," Cheechoo said with a wide grin in recalling Kovalev's helper. "If I could get a few more of those, it would be really nice."

Around the boards

The wait for defenceman Anton Volchenkov's return to the lineup could be a little longer than originally expected. It was believed the hard-nosed Russian blueliner would be sidelined for two weeks when he suffered a right elbow injury in an Oct. 28 game against the Florida Panthers. But Clouston suggested today Volchenkov could be out another week to 10 days. "Each day, there are little improvements," said Clouston. "The swelling has gotten a lot better in his elbow. Pretty soon, (team doctors) are going to put a brace on his elbow, just to give him a little more support." ... Daniel Alfredsson took a "maintenance" day off practice, but Clouston said the Senators captain should be "100 per cent for tomorrow" ... The Senators are back at Scotiabank Place on Saturday to face the New York Rangers (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Fewer than 3,500 tickets are available for the game.

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