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'Coming down to the wire' at Senators camp

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, remains in contention for a roster spot as the team's training camp moves into its final week. A large number of cuts are expected by Wednesday morning (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

To the casual observer, it looked suspiciously like the kind of lineup the Ottawa Senators could indeed send out onto the ice on opening night.

Not so fast, suggested Senators head coach Cory Clouston, when asked if the division of today's practice groups was a clear indication that a number of final decisions have already been made in terms of the group that will start the 2010-11 campaign.

"It'll be close," Clouston said about the 23-man group that hit the ice earlier this morning at Scotiabank Place. "But that doesn't mean the guys who aren't practising with us today have no hope. Some of those young guys are going to play two more (pre-season) games. We did this to basically work on a few things and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do it before the weekend, when we're going to use more of our team.

"But it's not a complete indication that this is going to be our team, either."

Most conspicuous among the so-called "Binghamton group," which hit the ice after the regulars, are forward Bobby Butler, whose strong game in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens included a goal on a penalty shot, and defenceman Patrick Wiercioch. Both are slated to get another audition on Tuesday night, when the Senators play the annual Kraft Hockeyville game against the Buffalo Sabres in Dundas, Ont. (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

Eight defencemen skated as part of the main group, including David Hale — a veteran of 302 National Hockey League games with the New Jersey Devils, Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning — and 19-year-old Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. With Filip Kuba sidelined until at least the end of October with a broken leg, it would seem there is room for either Hale or Cowen on the opening roster. But the final decision isn't quite that simple.

"They're very different scenarios," said Clouston. "Cowen has to go back to junior (if he doesn't make the team); Hale can go down to Binghamton. If (Cowen) starts the season with us, once he plays that 10th game, we have to keep him. He's in a different situation than David is."

Hale, who's also slated to dress in Dundas, is a savvy enough veteran to know that "it's coming down to the wire" in his bid to earn a spot on the team.

"I realize there is a spot open and there are a few guys battling for that spot," he said. "I think (experience) plays a big part. If I do make a few mistakes, I know I can bounce back and I know I've done it before."

For the veterans who don't need to be concerned about such things, the fine tuning for another season should gather steam over the final three pre-season games — Wednesday at Scotiabank Place against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a home-and-home series with the New York Rangers set for Friday at Madison Square Garden and Saturday at home.

"We're still in preparation mode and we've still got things to work on," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "Today was the first time we had most of the regulars in the (main) practice. We need to work on special teams a bit. But we're getting close."

Around the boards

The 12 forwards on the ice were aligned in somewhat familar fashion: Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno-Mike Fisher-Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Peter Regin-Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester. While Foligno's hot start in the pre-season (four goals in three games) has given him an early leg up on Regin in the battle for a second-line spot, Clouston cautioned "lines are never set in stone." ... Fisher left the ice early with what Clouston called "a little bit of groin pull." But Fisher indicated later "it's nothing too serious. I just didn't want to make it any worse. Just a few things going on, but I'll be fine." ... Ryan Shannon, who has been held out of practice since taking a hard hit into the glass last Wednesday in Toronto, skated this morning and Clouston expects "he should play this weekend."

The Senators roster for Tuesday's game in Dundas against the Sabres:

Goaltenders: Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner.

Defence: Andre Benoit, Matt Carkner, Eric Gryba, David Hale, Brian Lee, Patrick Wiercioch.

Forwards: Cody Bass, Bobby Butler, Mike Hoffman, Ryan Keller, Chris Kelly, Corey Locke, Chris Neil, Peter Regin, Jarkko Ruutu, Zack Smith, Roman Wick, Jesse Winchester.

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