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Flyers offer tough test before Olympic break

by Staff Writer / Ottawa Senators
Wade Redden stretches before practice on Friday. The defenceman will be one of nine Senators competing at the Winter Olympics. Photo: OSHC

by Todd Anderson

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, the Ottawa Senators still have one key matchup remaining before the break: Their Eastern Conference rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, visit the Scotiabank Place tomorrow evening.

The Flyers sit just four points back of the Senators with 73 points and one point behind Atlanta Division-leading New York Rangers. The Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

While Sens coach Brian Murray said he would go with Dominik Hasek in goal tomorrow, the status of two of his other veterans is still up in the air.

"(Vaclav) Varada will get checked this afternoon," Murray said on Friday after practice. "He's pretty sore around his neck and shoulder."

The stiffness is a result of Atlanta Thrasher Ronald Petrovicky's awkward hit on the rugged forward into the boards last night.

On defence, Chris Phillips' status will be better known after tomorrow morning's pre-game skate.

"It's feeling better," Murray said of Phillips' right-thumb sprain. "But we'll decide on him in the morning."

Brian McGrattan, who has been out of the lineup for the past three games with a swollen eye, told Murray he's ready to return.

Senators hope for rejuvenated play after Olympic break

While the focus is primarily on tomorrow's game with Philadelphia, the Senators have also been setting plans for the Olympic break.

"I guess I'm looking forward to it," Murray said of the break. "The way we're going right now, to take a step away might be refreshing."

Captain Daniel Alfredsson hopes to head to the Olympics on a good note with a win tomorrow.

"Right now, we're not too happy. It's our last game before the break. It's important we finish well."

Senators general manager John Muckler said the break could steer his slumping players back on the right track.

"They'll be in a new atmosphere, with new players. If (the Olympic participants) have some success and win gold, it could be a great thing. It would show them how hard they have to work to be a champion. Teams who don't have anyone going to the Olympics feel good, too, because they get a good rest."

Muckler and group will explore trade options

Muckler said he would meet with a group of six of his pro scouts for four days, starting on Monday, to discuss the possibility of making a trade before the NHL deadline on March 9 (3 p.m. ET).

"We've done our homework. I know exactly what's out there. In those four or five days we're looking at whether we want to make a trade or not. I want to hear what these people know or think about the players or organizations."

Muckler isn't looking to make a trade just for the sake of doing so, even if the Senators haven't had the same rate of success in 2006 as they did at the beginning of the season.

"We want to do the right thing for the club. Whether we're able to or not, I'm not sure at this particular time. It comes down to what we have to compensate with. We won't overspend or harm our future. This is a great bunch of guys here."

Lines combinations mixed up again

The line combinations at practice on Friday included: Chris Kelly-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley-Bryan Smolinski-Patrick Eaves, Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil and Brian McGrattan-Christoph Schubert-Antoine Vermette. The most notable switch had Kelly on the top line in place of Heatley.

"Just mark that down as something that happened one day in February," Murray said when asked what to make of the line changes in practice. Murray added he wasn't certain the combinations would be used tomorrow against Philadelphia.

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