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Senators aiming to beef up defence

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Binghamton callup Brian Lee is being counted upon to help an Ottawa Senators blue line that has been thinned by injuries (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images).

The thin blue line gained a little more strength at Ottawa Senators practice today.

With veterans Anton Volchenkov and Filip Kuba not yet back from the Vancouver Winter Games and Chris Campoli sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury, the Senators had only two defenceman on the ice Wednesday when head coach Cory Clouston conducted his first practice after the eight-day Olympic break.

But that number doubled today at the Bell Sensplex, with Erik Karlsson rejoining his teammates for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury Feb. 4 and Binghamton Senators callup Brian Lee arriving back in Ottawa. Both are likely to be in the lineup next Tuesday, when the Senators return to game action against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

Volchenkov and Kuba, whose teams were eliminated from the Olympic tournament Wednesday night, both should be back at practice by Monday. But general manager Bryan Murray acknowledged today he's also hoping to fortify his blue-line brigade via the trade route before the National Hockey League's deadline for deals arrives March 3.

For the time being, though, Clouston is counting on work with what he has on hand. And that's why Lee was brought in now, even though the Senators don't play for another five days.

"(Lee) is going to be part of our team as of right now," said Clouston. "He’s going to be dressing for us Tuesday as of right now, so we need to get him back practising with us. It also helps us with numbers. It’s tough to run a practice with two or three defencemen.

"But the big thing is, unless something changes, he’s going to be starting with us come Tuesday."

All eyes, however, will be on the status on Karlsson, who hasn't yet been cleared to return to game action. Clouston is "very optimistic that he'll be ready for Tuesday" and if that happens, it would be a major boost. Karlsson's dynamic skills were becoming a growing factor on the Senators' back end before he went down with the injury.

"It's (making) the progress we expected and is feeling the way we want it to be. (Tuesday) is what we're working for. We've still got a few more days here to see how it feels but right now, it feels really good ... I wish and I hope that I come back the same way that I left. I’ll do everything I can to step in the next game and play like I never missed a game." - Erik Karlsson
"Hopefully, he’ll be able to start where he left off," said Clouston. "He was playing very well for us, as well as he has all season. He was playing with a lot of confidence and really adding to our team."

Karlsson, the 19-year-old rookie from Sweden, is also targeting Tuesday for his return and remains hopeful it can happen.

"It's (making) the progress we expected and is feeling the way we want it to be, " he said. "(Tuesday) is what we're working for. We've still got a few more days here to see how it feels but right now, it feels really good."

He hopes to pick right up where he left off when he gets back into the lineup.

"I wish and I hope that I come back the same way that I left," said Karlsson. "I’ll do everything I can to step in the next game and play like I never missed a game."

Lee, who has spent most of this season with the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, knows what he needs to bring to the table during his latest stint in Ottawa.

"I think I just have to keep it simple and do the things I’m good at — skate and move the puck and take away time and space from guys defensively," he said. "Things should take care of themselves (if I do that)."

Around the boards

Clouston is thankful that at least four of the Senators' Olympians will be heading home from the Vancouver Games without any injury issues. "The fact they are healthy is a bonus for us," he said. "They're going to get three or four days off now, which I think is really important, and they'll be a lot fresher going into the rest of the season." ... Forward Jarkko Ruutu has at least two more games to play for Finland — Friday's semifinal against the United States, then either the bronze-medal game on Saturday night or the gold-medal matchup on Sunday afternoon ... Forward Alex Kovalev missed practice today with a touch of the flu but is expected back at practice on Friday.


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