|Forward Chris Neil believes home-ice advantage could be the edge the Senators need to make a longer run in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the 2010-11 season (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images).
For the Ottawa Senators, it might well have been a case of opportunity lost.
And Chris Neil
knows exactly what can help the Senators make the best of the same scenario in the season to come, should it present itself again.
"We felt like we had a good opportunity to beat Pittsburgh (in their first- round series," said the rugged 31-year-old forward, who is entering his ninth full season with the Senators. "You play the 82 games to put yourself in a good position going into the playoffs and you have a good seed.
"That’s the bottom line and the goal for us — we want to put ourselves in a better situation, so we’re playing a lower (seeded) team than us and we get home-ice advantage. That definitely helps."
The Senators attack was also hurt by the loss of forwards Milan Michalek
and Alex Kovalev to season-ending knee injuries. While Kovalev was done in the final week of the regular season, Michalek went down in Game 1 of the series with the Penguins.
"I look at our matchup and we were pretty excited to play Pittsburgh, the defending champs," Neil said in a radio interview with the Team 1200. "If we would have got by them, we would have done pretty well, I think. Losing Milan Michalek
definitely hurt us. He's a guy who brings a lot of speed and energy and you could really see that in the first game. When he went down with an injury, and not having Kovalev as well ... those two guys are big parts of our team. Losing the offence those two provide definitely didn't help us."
Kovalev and Michalek are both expected to be good to go for the start of training camp in September. And they'll be joined by defenceman Sergei Gonchar
, a power-play dynamo who's expected to add some serious jump to a specialty unit that was often inconsistent last season.
"I haven't lost a step. I feel quicker and that's the most important thing when you get older. Sometimes, you can lose a step. But you look at a guy like (former Senator) Shaun Van Allen ... he's a guy who relied on smarts out there. You rely more on that with experience." - Chris Neil
"You look at this year and bringing in a guy like Sergei Gonchar
, with his offensive ability on the power play ... we were one of the worst teams in the league (on the power play) last year, but we were still in the playoffs," said Neil. "I think if we up our power-play status, we're definitely going to be higher in the standings and put ourselves in a better position."
Even with nearly 600 career games now under his belt, Neil still feels he's got plenty of jump left in his game. He's changed his off-season training regimen, working more on agility and strength, and brings a veteran's guile to the table as well.
"I haven't lost a step. I feel quicker and that's the most important thing when you get older," Neil said during a break at the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camps at the Bell Sensplex, where he made a guest appearance on Tuesday. "Sometimes, you can lose a step. But you look at a guy like (former Senator) Shaun Van Allen ... he's a guy who relied on smarts out there. You rely more on that with experience."
He's more than happy to share that experience with the youngsters who take part in the annual camps at the Sensplex. Neil also did the same thing back in July, when he helped out at the Mike Fisher Hockey Camp in Orleans.
"It's great to get out there and work with the kids," said Neil. "I did camps when I was younger and you look up at some of the older guys who come out and work with you. It was definitely an experience and thrill for me when I was a young kid. Hopefully, it's the same for these kids today."