by Todd Anderson
The Ottawa Senators' recent success has come thanks to balanced contributions from the entire squad. Last year the Senators relied heavily on captain Daniel Alfredsson and his linemates -- Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley -- to carry much of the offensive load, but this year the scoring has been spread out quite significantly. The Senators currently have 11 players in double digits in points. Only the Buffalo Sabres, with 12 players, have more, while the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators also have 11.
"On any team you can't count on two or three guys," says Senators head coach Bryan Murray. "You have to have a lot of people play well. We've been playing three lines most times, and they've all done well. If you're going to be a competitive team, you're going to need balance."
This season Murray has given more ice time to forwards Chris Neil, Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Peter Schaefer, Patrick Eaves and Chris Kelly, to try and get more balanced scoring. The result is when you compare this year's individual stats after 25 games with stats over the same period last season, most of those players are on pace to set career highs in 2006-07.
Fisher has 13 assists and 18 points this season, up from seven assists and 15 points after 25 games in 2005-06. Vermette, who has eight goals and assists, is up from 5-4-9 and Kelly is now 3-4-7, compared to one goal and two assists recorded at this point in 2005-06.
Eaves didn't play in the first 25 games last season but finished the campaign with 20 goals and 29 points. After 25 games this season he has four goals and 12 points.
Schaefer has four goals and 14 points compared to last year's four goals and 18 points but the winger has turned it on of late after a slow start this season because of a hip-flexor injury that forced him to miss four games. Neil's totals are virtually identical to 2005-06. He has eight goals and 16 points this year compared to nine goals and 17 points last season.
Vermette says a number of factors, other than increased ice time, have resulted in a jump in production from the group.
"It's a combination of feeling more confident and comfortable," he says. "It's about having more responsibility and feeling better."