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Picture looks familiar to Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
It is a predicament that should look awfully familiar to the Ottawa Senators.

They're facing, one more time, a somewhat steep early-season climb in the National Hockey League standings, only to find their path made even tougher by the loss of a couple of key veterans to injury.

Two years ago, the Senators not only survived, they thrived in the face of such adversity. They shook off injuries to their top three centres and, instead, began to build the momentum that would eventually catapult them to their first Stanley Cup final appearance in modern franchise history.

Senators forward Dean McAmmond stretches during practice Wednesday at the Bell Sensplex. The veteran forward is expected to see more ice time in the absence of injured Chris Neil and Mike Fisher.
No doubt they'll hope to draw on some of that experience now. Winless in five games and sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Senators got more bad news today when it was revealed both Chris Neil and Mike Fisher will be sidelined with injuries.

Fisher is probably out at least two weeks with a strained ligament in his right knee. Neil, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Friday to repair a meniscus tear, also in the right knee, is likely to miss a bit more time than that.

But rather than mope, the Senators will do what's necessary to right the ship while two key front-line players are on the sidelines. With two of the conference's strongest teams, the Montreal Canadiens (Thursday) and New York Rangers (Saturday) up next, it's a rather necessary approach.

"Two years ago, it was a situation where we were missing three of our centre men (Fisher, Jason Spezza and Antoine Vermette), basically three of our core guys," veteran forward Dean McAmmond said earlier today after the Senators' practice session at the Bell Sensplex. "And as a team, we had a group effort to win games in whatever fashion we could. Out of it, we learned how to win period.

"We came back and you saw the rest of the story then."

While head coach Craig Hartsburg isn't thinking that far down the road just yet, he said the current situation serves as a renewed call for the Senators to further hone their team play.

"Some guys get a bigger opportunity when guys go out and they get a chance to contribute a little more in ice time," said Hartsburg. "It's about us really pulling together now as a team. It's some adversity and we have to deal with it."

While Neil and Fisher said they're disappointed to miss games with the team struggling, both admitted the timing and the severity of their injuries could have been much worse.

"The bottom line is, it's early in the season and I can get it dealt with and get back healthy," said Neil. "And once I'm back, come back and help the team.

"You always hope for the best-case scenario.... It's not the worst, that's for sure. It could have been my ACL or my MCL and I could have been out longer. But this is fixable and, hopefully, I won't miss too much time."

Said Fisher: "It definitely could have been a lot worse. I just hope it's a case of a little bit of rest and a lot of therapy, and I'll be back at it soon.

"It's not the worst, that's for sure. It could have been my ACL or my MCL and I could have been out longer. But this is fixable and, hopefully, I won't miss too much time." - Chris Neil
"(The knee) feels even better today. I rode the bike a little bit. I don't think it's going to keep me out for too long, and that's great."

The Senators have summoned centre Cody Bass from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., to help fill the void. But Hartsburg indicated McAmmond and Shean Donovan, who have performed strongly on the team's fourth line, will likely see an increase in ice time.

"They've done their job here. Now they're going to get an opportunity to do more," he said. "They work and they add speed to our team and continue to give us energy. Maybe it's a good thing they'll play more. They'll give us more energy."

Around the boards

Hartsburg has tabbed Alex Auld (5-5-2) to make his 12th start in 13 games ... Fewer than 50 tickets remain for Thursday's game against the Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200), while 900 are left for Saturday's matchup with the Rangers (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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