|Varada registered his first two-goal performance of the season against the Edmonton Oilers.|
by Todd Anderson
A strong forecheck, defence-first attitude, hustle and hard work -- those have been the attributes behind the success of the Senators line combination of Vaclav Varada, Chris Kelly and Patrick Eaves.
In recent games the trio has been rewarded for its hard work with offensive numbers supporting its cause. One game after Varada registered his first two-goal performance of the season against the Edmonton Oilers, Kelly and Eaves each scored three points against the Minnesota Wild. Varada also had two assists. The Sens won both of those road games, and the victories put them back on track after dropping four of the previous six games.
"First we're trying not to get scored on, then we're trying to create chances offensively," said Kelly of his line's motivation. "We want to take some pressure off our first two lines."
As the only non-rookie on the unit, Varada knows how much hard work is required to chip in at this level. He sees that his two linemates have a pretty good understanding of what it takes as well.
"I think they know that, and that's why they are here. You work hard on your game and do the best you can. We were getting lots of chances and now we're finally getting the breaks. We're forechecking hard and we're getting chances in (the opponent's) zone."
Eaves, a native of Fairbault, Minn., admitted he was a bit nervous entering the game against the Wild. Several family and friends were in attendance. Those feelings quickly turned to delight after he turned in the most productive game in his NHL career.
Eaves' second goal of the game came after Kelly beat the Wild defence to the puck behind their net and sent a perfect pass in front. Eaves one-timed the puck to the back of the net. It was a returned favour after Kelly had scored earlier off a similar feed from Eaves.
"We're really forechecking and we're getting good bounces," Eaves said. "The goalie fumbled the puck a bit on both of those plays and we were quick to get in. That's what our line does."
Kelly thanks new NHL rules for creating both of those plays.
"On my goal, that's the new rules. Goalies can't play the puck in that area and Patty went in and got it. We've been finding each other lately."
Dominik Hasek will be in goal for a fifth-straight game when the Ottawa Senators host the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Thursday evening.
Up front, game-day decisions on both Jason Spezza and rookie Brandon Bochenski will determine if there's a shake-up to the line combinations. During Wednesdays practice at the Bell Sensplex, coach Bryan Murray had the same combinations together as he did in previous games against the Wild and Oilers.
Spezza spoke about the progress of his pulled chest muscle injury after he took part in the practice. While his team traveled to Edmonton and then Minnesota, he stayed behind and rehabbed the injury with strength and conditioning coach Randy Lee.
"It felt really good today, better then it has been. It's a step in the right direction. We'll see how it is tomorrow (during the pre-game skate) after I do more physio this afternoon."
Murray spoke about the possibility of both players returning.
"We'll bring Jason in the morning (to the pre-game skate) and he'll do what he usually does before a game. We'll see how it goes. Bochenski is the same thing. Those injured guys have to tell me when they are 100 per cent and they can contribute."
Murray added that he met with Lee Wednesday morning and was told that Spezza's strength had greatly improved and he was skating well.
"The message has to be we need you and you must do anything and everything to be a better player," said Murray of the budding star. "He has to improve his body, and his game."
Meanwhile Spezza's close friend and former roommate, rookie goaltender Ray Emery, is anxious to get back in between the pipes. Still, he understands why Hasek has been called upon for the past five games.
"I definitely can't wait to get back in there and I have been working hard in practice and feel good about my game. We've been on the border line of the NHL lead lately so obviously they're going to give Dom more (games) to try and get a bit of a cushion again."
Ron Low worked with Emery both at practice today and during the team's day off yesterday.
"We're preparing guys now to be ready to play some hard hockey," said Murray. "We've had our fun scoring goals."
Hasek is looking forward to the five-game home stand, which kicks off tomorrow.
"You look at the standings and it's getting closer, we want to stay on top. It's nice to be home for five games but we'll look at each game separately and focus on only the next one."
Added Murray, "We play well at home and it's good for the fans. We can get a lot done here, on game days and off days."