There was a little less room on the Senators practice ice at the Corel Centre on Monday morning. Twenty-three players took part, including Jason Spezza (pulled left chest muscle), Daniel Alfredsson (broken rib) and Brandon Bochenski (separated shoulder). Bochenski will remain rehabbing his injury, but there's a chance Alfredsson and Spezza could return tomorrow night against the Phoenix Coyotes.
"It feels pretty good and every day it gets better," said Alfredsson of his injury. "There's not much pain to be honest. I had some good rehab last week. I feel fresh and ready to go."
Out longer than he expected, Spezza is cautiously optimistic about his chances of playing against the Coyotes. He does feel he will be back in action at some point this week.
"It's been getting better everyday for the past three or four days. I'll skate tomorrow and see how it is. Thursday is more realistic. I want to make sure I am 100 per cent. I hope I am by Thursday, if not Saturday."
Mike Fisher hopes to see his teammates back as soon as possible.
"It will be good to get those guys back for sure. We knew we would face adversity this season at some point. Hopefully, we're better for it."
On Monday, Alfredsson and Spezza were re-united on a line with Dany Heatley during practice. The other combos included: Chris Neil-Fisher-Peter Schaefer, Chris Kelly-Bryan Smolinski-Patrick Eaves, Vaclav Varada-Antoine Vermette-Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bochenski-Steve Martins, both of whom were called up to fill in for injured players.
Coach Bryan Murray was hesitant in using the team's injuries as an excuse for its recent 1-3-0 road trip, but he admitted they did play a factor.
"You always have a setback when a quality player is not available to lead your team. It forces another player to play against the best of the other team. It appeared on our road trip that we did not cope as much as we wanted to cope. We didn't give ourselves a chance against Atlanta, and Montreal, it was almost the same thing. One thing I did like was when we had to work hard and adjust, (the players) worked hard. We played awfully hard in the second and third periods against Montreal. We have some pretty good character guys. When you go through cycles like this, I think it benefits you."
Whether or not Alfredsson or Spezza return tomorrow night, assistant captain Zdeno Chara wants to see a better effort from his team.
"We have to go back to the way we were playing. We have to play harder. Against Montreal, I have not seen this team play as hard as we did in the second and third periods. We played with so much heart. That was good to see."
During the recent struggles, the Senators have slipped out of the overall NHL lead in the standings. Murray was asked how important it is to see his team in first place.
"We want to win every night and to be as high in the standings as possible. I think the regular season is very important and you find out a lot about your team, yourself and individual players. You go through trials, and it allows you to understand who can stand up and who can't."