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Senators try a new approach

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The ultimate example, some might suggest, will reside on the home-teach bench at the Prudential Center tonight.

While Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg doesn't want to turn his team into a mirror image of the New Jersey Devils, he'll look across the ice tonight (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) and see the kind of single-minded approach that he insists is necessary for Ottawa to make a quantum leap in its performance level.

Not to mention the Eastern Conference standings, where the Senators (11-13-5) sit in 12th place, eight points shy of a playoff position.

The Devils, meanwhile, have continued to prosper despite losing star goaltender Martin Brodeur to a torn biceps injury that will sideline him until March. New Jersey is 17-9-3 and stands seventh in the conference, 10 points ahead of Ottawa.

"Do I want to play like them? No," a passionate Hartsburg said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "But I would like our team to have a mindset that they're all going to play like a group and that's what (the Devils) do. They're good because of it.

"I think the team-first mindset has always been a part of that organization and they've had great players. They've got great players right now ... but they all play a certain type of game that allows the team to have success as well as individual success and that's what we've struggled with."

Hartsburg hopes his new forward alignment, with top guns Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza spread across three lines, will help foster that type of mindset. He remains adamant that the Senators can't succeed by putting everything on the shoulders of his three top guns.

"They all say they can play with other people and this is the time when they have to do it," said Hartsburg. "We can always go back to that line or put two of them back together. That's not what this whole story should be about today. It should be about the group.

"Those guys have to add to the group in different situations than they've been asked to before. It (used to be) 'you guys go and do some things offensively and you've got to win some games for us.' It's not happening so there has to be a different approach to this whole thing."

Alfredsson will line up alongside Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette tonight, while Spezza centres Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil, and Dany Heatley skates with Chris Kelly and Nick Foligno. The fourth line consists of Shean Donovan, Cody Bass and Christoph Schubert.

If there is no clear No. 1 line, well, there is a message from Hartsburg in it all.

"It's not about three stars and 17 plumbers. That's the mentality and the identity of this team and it's no good," he said. "We're not going anywhere and we're going down the wrong road right now and the only road out of this is to be a team that works extremely hard, no matter who I am or where I am in the lineup. That's how we become a team."

Around the boards

Defenceman Anton Volchenkov took the pre-game skate and will suit up against the Devils after missing two games with a lower-body injury ... Forward Jesse Winchester (upper body) is out tonight ... Alex Auld (9-7-4) makes his 21st start of the season in goal ... Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Saturday's visit by the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200). With the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship taking over Scotiabank Place next week, it's the Senators' last home appearance until Jan. 10.

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