by Todd Anderson
Ottawa Senators forwards Chris Neil and Mike Fisher are currently ranked first and second in the NHL with 77 and 71 hits, respectively. Both players take pride in the stat as they feel it indicates they're doing all that they can do to help their team win.
"We try and go out and get hits to put some wear and tear on the other team," Neil says. "That's going to work out long-term for us. We want the (opposing) defence to be aware when we are on the ice."
Fisher thinks a big hit can provide his team with energy, just as much as a goal can.
"You need guys to step up in different ways to get the team going. Guys see (a big hit) and it's contagious. When you're physical, you're involved."
Adds Neil: "Volchie (Sens defenceman Anton Volchenkov) has a big hit every game. The guys feed off it. It lifts your team and gives them an extra gear in their engines. I love a big hit."
Senators head coach Bryan Murray says hitting can do more than just lift the energy level for a team.
"It shows No. 1 that you're emotionally involved, that you're committed to help, and it gets pucks turned over and creates opportunities," Murray says. "The biggest thing for me, though, is that it takes a lot away from the other team."
While Neil has always proved to be a physical player for Ottawa, the winger also contributed a career-high 16 goals for the team last season. Just 21 games into this season, Neil already has seven goals. Fisher says the team can rely on his linemate in all situations.
"Obviously (Neil) always had a physical presence since Day 1," Fisher says. "I played against him in junior and it was obvious then, too. He can play any type of game. He can skate pretty well for a big guy and he has good hands. In front of the net he deflects and tips pucks. He's great at forechecking, too."
Murray has been impressed with Neil's progression during his stay in Ottawa.
"To me, in my two years here, he's been the most improved player on our team," Murray says. "He adds a nice dimension to our third line. When you give young guys opportunity, they can only get better."
Volchenkov, who sits 11th in the NHL with 52 hits, is another young player who has impressed Murray this season.
"It's about opportunity again," Murray says of Volchenkov's improved play. "We had to have a guy play a role in defensive situations and he's thrived on it. The ability of young guys gets better with time on the ice. I sure love it when he hits people. He's very responsible defensively, he's moving the puck better and at the offensive blueline he's getting shots on net that we haven't seen from him before."
Another big part of Volchenkov's game is his ability, and willingness, to block shots. He currently ranks second in the NHL with 72.