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Mild concussion sidelines Sens ironman Phillips

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who's missed only two games in the last five-plus seasons, is sidelined with a concussion suffered Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils. He's still being evaluated and there's no timetable yet for his return (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).

The Ottawa Senators' blue line will have to soldier on without its most veteran presence.

Head coach Paul MacLean confirmed earlier today that defenceman Chris Phillips suffered a mild concussion during the Senators' 3-2 overtime triumph over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night at Scotiabank Place.

Phillips, an ironman blueliner who's missed just two games since the start of the 2006-07 season, is likely out for Thursday night's matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightninbg at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Beyond that, MacLean said it's too soon to speculate on how much time the 33-year-old Phillips might be forced to sit out.

"He's doubtful for tomorrow, if not out," MacLean said following Ottawa's practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "We're going to be hopeful that it's short-term but at this point, it's being evaluated and appears to be a mild (concussion)."

The mishap occurred during a collision with Devils forward Dainius Zubrus in the second period of Monday's contest. Phillips missed the Dec. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens with an upper-body injury, but MacLean said the two ailments are unrelated.

At the moment, Phillips is slated to play his 1,000th career National Hockey League game on Feb. 7 at home against the St. Louis Blues, but the concussion could postpone that milestone. The Calgary native hasn't played less than 81 games in a season since 2005-06, when he suited up for 69.

With Phillips absent, the Senators will lean more heavily on young blueliners such as Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, who saw their minutes elevated significantly during a recent stretch when both Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar were out of the lineup. While Cowen in particular thrived with the heaviest workload of his young NHL career, MacLean there's no question Phillips' absence will be noticeable.

"Chris has been a real steadying influence on our team and a major part of any success we've had in our own end or defensively," MacLean said of Phillips, who averages 19:37 of ice time. "He's played real good so if he's not playing, we're going to miss him. I thought he was stellar in his play when (Kuba and Gonchar) were out. Anytime we're missing a veteran player, it gives us concern."

Phillips, one of the Senators' two alternate captains, has recorded 10 assists in 39 games this season but his biggest value is as a stay-at-home shutdown defenceman, a role that has been almost solely his this season.

"He's been here a long time, he's a veteran player and he's part of our leadership group," said MacLean. "He has a lot of pull in the locker room and he's well respected. So when he's not in there, it's going to make a difference."

The Senators do expect Gonchar, who missed the last two games after being struck in the head by a puck during the warmup before Saturday's game in Buffalo, will be good to go against the Lightning. There are no plans for a defence callup at the moment, although MacLean said that might change if Phillips is still sidelined when Ottawa embarks on a three-game road trip early next week.

Meanwhile, forward Jesse Winchester — who's missed six games with a concussion of his own — skated on his own today and is hopeful a return to game action is just around the corner.

"I really don't know," he said when asked about a timetable for his return. "I get a little bit better every day, but I'm not totally comfortable (yet). I hope maybe in the next three or four ice times to get back out with the team, but that's just me being hopeful. It's up to the guys in charge and how I respond to the tests I'm taking.

"I'm hopeful, but I don't know. I'll just take it day by day and, hopefully, keep getting better."

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