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Sens captain hits new high

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
John Paddock is looking forward to rubbing shoulders with hockey’s finest players on NHL all-star weekend.

But the Ottawa Senators head coach can’t imagine seeing a better one in Atlanta than the guy who leads his team in every way possible whenever he’s on the ice.

Daniel Alfredsson’s seven-point explosion against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night merely offered further fuel to Paddock’s contention that the Senators captain should be front and centre in any discussions about the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the National Hockey League’s most valuable player.

“He’s makes a big difference, wherever you put him in the lineup. You just can’t say enough about him,” Paddock said after the Senators routed the Lightning 8-4 in Tampa, Fla., in their final game before the all-star break.

“I have the utmost respect for (Vincent) Lecavalier and (Sidney) Crosby, and we don’t see much of (Jarome) Iginla and the players from the other side. But (Alfredsson) has been as good as any player in the league from the playoffs (last season) through to now. I don’t think anybody could argue with that.”

Alfredsson not only set a franchise record with his three-goal, four-assist night against the Bolts, he rocketed past Lecavalier to seize top spot in the NHL’s scoring race. The Senators captain, who’s racked up 32 goals and 35 assists in 47 games – Lecavalier has 66 points in 50 games – also leads the league in points-per-game (1.43).

“It feels good,” said Alfredsson, who previously shared the old team record of six points in a game (four goals, two assists in a 10-4 win over Buffalo on Nov. 2, 2005).

“I was able to get some pretty good chances … it was one of those nights where you’re feeling it and when you’re shooting the puck, it goes where you want it to (go). It’s a lot of fun.”

He imagines it’ll be a night he’ll look back upon fondly after he retires.

“The way I look at it, you add them up and at the end of your career, maybe you look back and say ‘remember that night in Tampa?’ ” he said.  “I have a good friend of mind (watching Thursday) who’s going with me to the all-star game, too, so that’s kind of the things you remember. That’s the fun part.”

Alfredsson doesn't consider it a "big shock" that he's the NHL's scoring leader heading into the all-star break.

"We've had a good start to the season here as a team, and that's a big reason why we're doing so well," said Alfredsson. "It's a little surprising but I don't think it's a big shock."

Alfredsson had missed two games on the weekend with a hip flexor injury and all returned to the lineup Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers.

"I can't say I felt great in Florida but I felt better yesterday in Tampa, so it's going in the right direction for sure," he told reporters Friday in Atlanta.

The injury didn't make him consider skipping the all-star game.

"I felt if I could play (Thursday), then I would play here, too," he said. "I don't think you can say, should you skip it because you want the rest. If you have a nagging injury or something you want to take care of, this is a good time. It's not often we get days like this where you can rest up.

"At the same time, I think everybody really enjoys coming here. We get treated really well and they put on a good show. It's a good way to give your team publicity and hopefully we'll have a good show."

Centre Jason Spezza, who had two goals and two assists in Tampa, also joins Alfredsson for the all-star festivities in Atlanta along with Paddock, who’ll coach the Eastern Conference team.

“He’s a big reason why we’re first in the standings,” Alfredsson said of Paddock. “He’s done a good job and it’s going to be fun to go with him there.”

For the rest of the Senators, it’s a break from the schedule that resumes Tuesday night in Uniondale, N.Y., when they face off with the Islanders (7 p.m., Sens TV, Team 1200). Two nights later, the Sens return home to face the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). About 400 tickets remain for that game.

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