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Chemistry isn't always easily found

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says communication is a big key to developing quick chemistry with a new linemate (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

The mere word conjures up visions of some sort of laboratory experiment.

And in many ways, it really is.

Chemistry is a word that’s been tossed around often this season in the Ottawa Senators dressing room, especially when the topic is the wealth of new forwards that had to be incorporated into the team’s 2009-10 lineup. Two of them – Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, both obtained from the San Jose Sharks in the Dany Heatley trade – didn’t even arrive in Ottawa until a few days into training camp.

So for head coach Cory Clouston, it meant some early mixing and matching of line combinations, all in the name of finding the right fit. It’s not always as easy – or obvious – as it might seem.

“It’s not always about the best players playing together,” said Clouston. “Sometimes, it’s about certain types of players playing with certain players.”

Nobody likely faced a bigger adjustment than centre Jason Spezza, who spent most of the previous four seasons as the main setup main for Heatley. More often than not, captain Daniel Alfredsson found himself on the opposite wing.

“Shooters are usually best for me (as a linemate) because I can dish the puck,” said Spezza. “Heater and I had good chemistry right away. Sometimes, it takes a little more work, but that’s not a bad thing.”

This season, at least, it’s been a necessary thing. But Spezza appears to have found a comfort zone with Michalek, while Alfredsson settled in alongside centre Mike Fisher and winger Alex Kovalev – another of the new acquisitions – before moving back beside his longtime centre, Spezza, in recent games.

Yes, the chemistry word gets bandied about in reference to both trios – not that it’s something easily defined.

“Chemistry is kind of unexplainable,” said Spezza. “It just kind of comes. Sometimes it comes after one game, sometimes it comes after two games and sometimes it takes 10 games. It’s more about getting a sense for how the other guy plays.”

Added Fisher: “It (comes from) playing with each other and getting to know tendencies. It just takes time, really. The more you play together and just talk with each other and learn from each other, the better it gets.”

Few things matter more than communication. And that goes beyond just words.

“It’s more a matter of reading off each other and knowing what the other guy is going,” said Alfredsson. “If you look at the (Vancouver Canucks’) Sedin twins, when you talk about chemistry … they probably know in the morning skate what they’re going to do at night. If you create habits and play with certain players a lot, you know their tendencies and you can play a little more instinctively.

“It all depends on how you complement each other and the way the system you play works in your favour. You’ve got to talk and communicate out there.”

"Chemistry is kind of unexplainable. It just kind of comes. Sometimes it comes after one game, sometimes it comes after two games and sometimes it takes 10 games. It’s more about getting a sense for how the other guy plays." - Jason Spezza
Cheechoo found that out in a major way with the Sharks in 2005-06, when he clicked so well with Joe Thornton that Cheechoo produced a career-high 56 goals, which earned him the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer.

“He knew where I was going to be and it was something that really worked out that year,” said Cheechoo, who also buys into the importance of communication. “Most guys here (in Ottawa) have good hockey sense, so any time you’re talking, you’re going to say ‘hey, this is where you’ll find me’ or ‘I like the puck here.’

“A little communication goes a long way.”

So, too, does the trust factor that goes along with finding such familiarity.

“When you have a bunch of new faces, it’s a matter of getting into a rhythm with your line combinations and your roles,” said Clouston. “Just feeling comfortable out there and trusting each other … that everybody is going to be in the proper position and do their job.”

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