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Sens share wealth on defence

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Jason Smith returns to the lineup tonight as the Senators take on the Blues at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images).
In some ways, it's the most pleasant of dilemmas.

But with a full, healthy set of defencemen finally at their disposal again, Ottawa Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg and his staff are now being faced with choosing an odd man out on a given night. These days, it's a decision Hartsburg admits isn't always an easy one.

Tonight in St. Louis, Alex Picard is out and Jason Smith slots back in as the Senators try to get back on the winning track against the Blues at the Scottrade Center (8:30 p.m., NHL Network, Team 1200). Ironically, St. Louis carries the same 3-0-1 run into tonight's matchup that the Senators had going for them until Tuesday night's 4-1 home-ice loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Hartsburg will send out the following defence pairings against the Blues: Filip Kuba-Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips-Brian Lee and Smith-Brendan Bell. Of Picard's absence, Hartsburg simply said "we think he can play better than he did (Tuesday) night."

"He's still young in this league and he's learning and he's done some good things for us this year at times," said Hartsburg. "It's about competing. When (Picard) plays a competitive game, a battle game, he's a pretty good player."

Smith, a healthy scratch Tuesday night for the first time all season, will no doubt be chomping at the bit to get back into the fray.

"Smitty needs to go back in and be that hard-nosed defensive guy," said Hartsburg. "That's what he is and that's why he's been in this league forever. I think he'll go back and give us everything he has. Every night, you can't question Smitty's effort."

The overall healthy picture and improved play by Brendan Bell is combining to make the coaching staff's decision-making tougher each night.

"Smitty needs to go back in and be that hard-nosed defensive guy. That's what he is and that's why he's been in this league forever." - Craig Hartsburg
"We're in a situation where we haven't been this healthy, and Brendan Bell is a guy who has put his foot forward and (showed) he wants to stay in the lineup," said Hartsburg. "I thought Brendan played well the other night. It's probably a good healthy competition."

While Hartsburg has liked the combination of the veteran Phillips and rookie Lee in recent games, he doesn't rule out more mixing and matching, depending on who is in the lineup.

"When you sit guys out, your pairings obviously change," he said. "There's no reason why the pairings we have tonight can't be good. The next game, if Picard goes back in ... to me, defensive pairings can change.

"It's not a big deal to me to switch defencemen around."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott (3-2-1) makes his seventh straight start tonight, while Alex Auld will tend goal Friday in Columbus against the Blue Jackets (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) ... The Senators' road trip wraps up Sunday in Washington vs. the Capitals (12:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) ... Centre Dean McAmmond, who'd been battling a flu bug, has been cleared to play tonight. Christoph Schubert is the healthy scratch up front ... Shean Donovan (back) didn't make the trip ... The Blues last played Jan. 21 when they blanked the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks 2-0.

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