EARLY SUCCESS A PLUS FOR SENATORS
Early team success has resulted in several Ottawa Senators players placing among the best in the National Hockey League when it comes to the plus-minus rating.
As of Nov. 9, defenceman Wade Redden and forward Dany Heatley were one back of leader Joni Pitkanen (+16) of Philadelphia with a plus-15 rating.
Defenceman Andrej Meszaros, along with forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, were tied for fourth at plus-14.
Forward Peter Schaefer has also had a strong start, ranking 11th with a plus-11.
As a team, the Senators rank second to Philadelphia (+19) with a plus-12 ranking.
"We have been able to score and our goals against is in real good shape," said Bryan Murray of the early success. "Half of our (28) goals against, we've been short-handed."
While the high point totals from the first line has led to good ratings for Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson --and Redden's experience could explain his success-- Murray is excited to see Meszaros stand out.
"He's a real player, a competitive kid. I think he's going to be recognized as a top-end defenceman in the league. You watch him at practice and he's working hard everyday."
Redden says adapting to the rules is key for keeping the plus-minus ratings on the right side of the scale.
"You can't get a stick on a guy, you just can't do it. You have to be aware and be in the right place. You can't be a second late. We've been pretty good five-on-five and, of course, a good offence is a good defence."
Defenceman Chris Phillips says, as always, players will try and find loopholes with new rules.
"Guys are trying to take advantage by going down a lot easier. For defenceman, we have to push and use our strength instead of cross-checking (when clearing the front of the net). The game is a lot faster, especially in the neutral zone. You have to be strong and focused."
As years go by, Alfie still a great influence to Sens
Bryan Murray joked recently that the prime years of players in the National Hockey League has changed from 26-27 to 25-40. So far, under new rules, younger players have been able to shine earlier in their careers because of a lack of interference. Meanwhile, older veterans have also been able to put up strong point totals because of the extra space.
"Players can play longer now," said Murray.
"Guys like (Daniel) Alfredsson aren't tailing off."
In Alfredsson's case, the Senators captain seems poised for a breakout year. Maybe it's the new rules, maybe it's his new linemates? According to Murray a lot could be said of Alfie's dedication and effort to being in the best shape possible.
"He's had a great work ethic throughout his career. Yesterday (Nov. 7) afternoon after practice and an off-ice workout, he went for a run. I have been very fortunate to have captains like (Paul) Kariya, (Rod) Languay, Scott Mellanby and (Steve) Yzerman. Alfie fits right in with those guys when it comes to a competitive level. You can see he's having fun out there."
Alfredsson said his focus didn't change coming into this season.
"Every year you come in and say ‘this will be my best year.'"
Linemate Jason Spezza said his right-winger is a great influence.
"He leads by example and bring lots of energy to the rink every day."
Senators training planned well in advance
While Senators players went through a rotation of exercises Tuesday morning, the workout couldn't have come as a surprise.
"I have an annual schedule I put together for practice, days off and physical days," said coach Bryan Murray.
"Some days we back off, some days we pick it up. We notify players of what they should expect. They know when they have fitness days."
New rules haven't changed Hasek's game
While Dominik Hasek admits he has struggled at times adapting to the new puck-handling limitations for goalies, the way he plays in between the pipes hasn't changed after other rules were introduced.
"I haven't changed my style at all. I know my left hand, my right hand and my pads. The only change is when I play the puck."
Hasek was asked how it feels to be caught illegally playing the puck when it is outside the trapezoid behind his net.
"It's happened once or twice. I hope it doesn't happen again. Sometimes you're really into the game and you forget."
Hasek said restrictions on equipment size has been most evident in his glove.
"It feels different. The puck bounces out more but on the other hand your glove is faster because it's lighter. Still, two inches on each side would allow you to stop a bit more."
If Hasek plays at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, he said he will go back to the old equipment as Olympic rules allow.
Despite the changes for goaltenders Hasek, has been among the league's best this year. He is tied for first in shutouts (three) and has eight wins to rank third in the league despite playing fewer games than the goaltenders ahead of him.