The Sens had their first practice with their finalized roster today as the team trimmed back to 22 players on Monday. Among the notables practicing that made the cut were Cory Conacher, Stephane Da Costa and Jean-Gabriel Pageau who entered training camp in tight battles for roster spots, but have emerged with places as part of the opening group.
Here's what Sens head coach Paul MacLean had to say after today's first practice with the 2013-14 Ottawa Senators...
On the team coming together:
Well I think we finally got down to the 22 players that we're going to start the season with so that was a comforting thought for us. We felt we've done a lot of good work throughout training camp but the pace of things and the execution of things was much better with the quality of players we had.
On consistency as a key for young bubble players:
That's going to be the difficult task, not only for them, but for everybody. As young players the hardest thing to find in the league is consistency. At some point in time, someone or all three (Conacher, Da Costa, Pageau) could struggle with that but at this point they've probably been the most consistent players from the start of training camp until the end of training camp and as a result they're here to start the season.
On what he tells young players:
We just tell them, "You're on the team, play." It'll sort itself out. We don't tell them anything like that (re: being sent down). Our expectation is that they're part of the Ottawa Senators, they come here to play and just keep playing.
On Da Costa as a surprise:
I don't think surprise is the right word, I think we've given him some direction over the last two seasons he was here and he had some growing up to do and he obviously listened and embraced not only what I was telling him, but what the training staff and the strength were telling him to make him stronger and fitter to help his ability to play the game. His dedication to that has been rewarded with an opportunity to play on the team. I think he has done what we've asked him to do, to make changes, and he's done that and as a result he has come in and outplayed enough people that he's on the team. That's a credit to him and so it didn't surprise us, no, but we're glad he took it to heart and did something about it.
On Conacher as a different player:
Cory is a player we had some discussions with mostly about his fitness level and, most importantly, controlling his diabetes and our concern with how he was doing that and how better he could do that, take advantage of our medical people and our training people to really help him avoid the fluctuations that come with being a diabetic and he's done those things and he's done extra work as well on his fitness level and he's been a very consistent player.
On Conacher handling his diabetes:
I think he would do it like he was 18 or 20, 21 instead of being 25, 26 where he was depending on a pump and a can of Coke to fix everything up when the reality is exercise and proper food and eating at the right times and getting the proper rest are the ways to regulate it so you avoid the big spikes when it comes to being a diabetic. Part of it is just being grown up and being more responsible about it.
On Jason Spezza's job changing with the C:
I'm not sure his job necessarily changes, I think what we have to try and avoid is him trying to take on too much of a burden of what's going on around him. If he just goes out and he just — be yourself, do what you do, play the game the right way — that would be the hardest thing for him is to play the game. We've asked him to make changes to his game and to play a different way than he's done maybe in the past and he has worked very hard at it, I can't really say last year because he missed most of the year, but the previous year he did and he has had a lot of time to see the concepts we want to do and those are challenges for him to do. As far as wearing the C I think we're going to try and avoid that complicating it because of those surrounding him.
On how he'll rely on Spezza:
Similar (to Alfredsson), we'll have to have discussions on the team, how the team has played, how the team travels, personalities on the team. Any time I need to talk to him about the team he's going to be the guy to talk to. That's a relationship he and I have to have and that we've started, it started obviously before now. Now that he's the captain he's more of a guy that I would go to more often than when he was an alternate captain and a player. I look forward to those conversations and for the opportunity for him to basically be a part of the coaching staff as the captain of the team... One thing about Daniel and good captains that I've been around is they still play. They don't change the way they play because they're the captain. They don't change the way they act or do things, they just continue to do things the way they've done them and it just naturally comes.
On Da Costa's role:
I think he's a player that plays with a lot of speed and some tenacity, he's got a good skill level, he was good in the faceoff circle so we expect him to do the same things. He might not be with Michalek and Ryan all the time but the expectation is he'll continue to play well and create. He should be able to create more opportunities for those guys to have an opportunity to score and that's something we're looking for is secondary scoring up and down our lineup and he gives us an opportunity — he might have to create five more chances maybe than someone else did for some of the guys he's with. At the same time, if he's creating those chances they're going to have a chance to put it in.
On if he could fill that role in the past:
Well he couldn't even play in the league two years ago. There was no evaluation. He wasn't strong enough, he wasn't fit enough, his game wasn't competitive enough to play in the league. We had him in the league trying to play, but he couldn't play. Now his fitness level, competition level and skill level, he can play in the league. Now we can evaluate how good he can be in the league, who can he play with, how high in our lineup can he play or who he can play with. He has a base where we can now start to evaluate him and see what he's going to be.
I think the two guys we've just spent 10 minutes talking about have been the difference. We've said all along that the best players are going to get to play here. Mika was in a place where yes, we spoke about him — last year he was on the third line, he was in an important role, and these two players came in and outplayed him. You don't just get the job because you're supposed to have it, you actually have to — especially because Mika is not Jason Spezza, he's still Mika Zibanejad, still finding his game, how good of a player is he? Players can't just come in and go by you and you have no response to it and have an expectation that you'll be on the team after playing 42 games. If you play 420 games you can have a reasonable expectation that you're on the team and you can have a so-so, just an OK training camp and still be on the team. I didn't think Mika was in a position to do that and I thought the two players we've spoken about went by him and the best guys play... We just expect him to go down there and be the player — whether he has to be mad to do that, I don't know — but he has to find the player we had here for 42 games that plays hard, goes up and down the rink, shoots the puck and is involved in the game. That player wasn't there in training camp.
On if talking to Zibanejad about his game:
We've had conversations.
On if Chris Phillips will play a big role on the blueline:
I think he's going to play a big role even if he's not in the top four, he's in the top five or the top six, he's an important player on our team. Players can learn from him, players can watch him, he can help them on the bench, he's a real big help to us and the coaching staff. He's still a big factor no matter where he plays.
On if Phillips is the best pure defender on the team:
At this point in time, yeah.
On the difference between this team and last season's team:
I think the biggest difference in our team is the experience we had last year and the success we had in the playoffs had great growth in our team, and I think a significant part of our team is the addition of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur. Not so much — well, the fact who they are is important, but for me the fact that they've played, they're 26, 28 years old and they've played 400 games. We have a lot of guys who are 22, 23 that have played under 200 games and we guys who are over 30 who have played 700 games. They're a barometer in between where our younger players can look at them and say "Well in two years can I be doing what they're doing." It gives them someone a little bit closer to maybe being a mentor for them. I think that's a difference in our team is a little more experience of our own and experience we've brought in.
Sens TV has Coach MacLean's full availability here:
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