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Sens defence never rests

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The great goalie debate isn’t going away anytime soon.

But the way Greg Carvel sees it, the Ottawa Senators are going to do just fine with either Ray Emery or Martin Gerber between the pipes. And not just because the duo is teaming up to keep the opposing side of the scoresheet rather tidy these days.

“You can question who the goalie is going to be Saturday (against the New Jersey Devils),” said Carvel, the Senators’ assistant coach, who handled the media duties following Thursday morning’s workout at the Bell Sensplex. “But if our forwards and (defencemen) are playing the way we want them to, our goalie is going to look good, no matter which way we go.”

Most nights so far this season, everyone’s been on the same page defensively. It’s no small reason that the Senators are off to a National Hockey League-best 8-1-0 start heading into Saturday’s game in Newark, N.J. (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).

With a team goals-against average of 1.99, the Senators rank fourth in the league behind only Minnesota (1.65), Carolina and the New York Rangers (both 1.98). As Carvel points out, that "team" word has a lot to do with it.

“A big part of our success last year was (how we played) defensively, and how we played as a team,” he said. “During training camp, we wanted to build off that.”

Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, who formed one of the NHL’s top shutdown defensive pairs by the end of last season, have carried that play right over into 2007-08. Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros have stepped up their games, too, and veteran Luke Richardson has fit in smoothly beside Joe Corvo, a second-year Senator.

“Our top four defencemen are as good as any four in the league,” said Carvel. “We know we’re real fortunate to have that situation. On top of that, they’re all real committed to playing D and playing the system that we have.”

Redden wasn’t about to disagree with that assessment.

“You look at Mez and Volchy, they’ve only gotten better since they’ve been here,” he said. “I think the same can be said about Philly and myself, too. Joe adds a dynamic punch on the power play, a big shot.

“Luke’s not a flashy guy, but he calms things down out there and makes the simple play … He’s come in and played tough and really rounded out the corps.”

Most importantly, those blue-line pairings have pretty much been set since camp. That wasn’t the case last season, when Corvo and Tom Preissing arrived as newcomers.

“We didn’t know what the mixture would be, and it took us awhile to figure it out,” said Carvel. “Philly and Volch didn’t even start the year together, but we figured that out around Christmas time. The pairs fell into place, and that’s when things started to turn (around) for us.

“That was a big part of the (early season) problem last year. It took time to figure out what their roles were, and who could play best with who.”

No worries in that area at the moment, that’s for sure.

“I think that’s part of the reason we’re off to a good start,” said Carvel.

Now they’ve all got to keep it up after a full week between games.

“Our practices have been pretty intense,” said centre Jason Spezza. “Obviously, you won’t be as sharp as when you’re playing every day, but I don’t think we’ll have a tough time getting into it (Saturday).”

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