|Big defenceman Andy Sutton has already shown he's got the ability and instincts to be a contributor at the offensive end for the Senators (Photo by Phillip McCallum/Getty Images).
Andy Sutton admits it isn't always easy to suppress his natural instincts.
Let's just say there's a reason the hulking Ottawa Senators blueliner often finds himself near the net. And why he just might be an extra offensive force for the Calgary Flames to contend with when the two teams hook up tonight at the Pengrowth Saddledome (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"I definitely like to try to contribute that way," Sutton said when asked about the nose for the net he seems to possess. "I was a forward until I was 19 years old, then I switched back to defence my sophomore year of school (at Michigan Tech)."
Sutton directed seven shots at the Oilers net during Tuesday's 4-1 victory in Edmonton. But he was also very conspicuous with his presence near the opposition goal. Then again, this is a guy who produced 16 goals in 38 games during his senior season at Michigan Tech, after he'd officially made the switch to the back end.
"I like the freedom of the offensive game because I think I play such a restricted defensive game," Sutton said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "So if I get a chance to get in offensively, I’m looking to go back door or join or rush or something. I keep saying that with the great players we have, these guys find you. If you can find a seam or get your stick down, you’re going to get the puck. It makes it really worthwhile to help out that way.
"With the personnel we have, we can keep the puck in (the opponent's) end a little more. With good pinches or with a little help down low, we’re going to be a lot better off as a team."
While Senators head coach Cory Clouston sees the obvious benefits to having a 6-6, 245-pound body patrolling the ice in the defensive zone, he'll also take any benefits the team can gain at the other end.
"I think we’ve got a pretty good mix as far as that is concerned," he said. "But when you can get a guy like that, who (has) a big strong body ... he’s a veteran and just helps a lot with depth on your back end."
"I like the freedom of the offensive game because I think I play such a restricted defensive game. "So if I get a chance to get in offensively, I’m looking to go back door or join or rush or something. I keep saying that with the great players we have, these guys find you. If you can find a seam or get your stick down, you’re going to get the puck. It makes it really worthwhile to help out that way." - Andy Sutton
It also hasn't taken Sutton long to settle in with the Senators since being acquired in a deal with the New York Islanders nine days ago. Clouston likes the chemistry he's already beginning to develop with his current partner, rookie blueliner Erik Karlsson
"As the games have gone on, he’s gotten better (for us)," said Clouston. "His last two games have been his best games for us."
Added Sutton: "I think the only reason I felt a little off in the first game (as a Senator) was because it was the first game I had personally played since the (Olympic) break. It had been about three weeks since I played a game. I just had to weather that one and then I felt really great the last couple of games."
As a group, the Senators are feeling much better in the wake of Tuesday's victory in Edmonton, which ended a three-game winless skid coming out of the break. But they know it'll be tougher sledding tonight against a Flames team that has run off three straight wins and seems to be getting its game together.
"They’re fighting for their lives and we’re fighting for the top of our division, so it’s going to be a great matchup," said Senators centre Mike Fisher. "We know that they’re going to play us hard and play physical tonight. It’s not an easy building to play in, so we’ve just got to come ready to compete and play the way we know we can. Similar to the way we did in Edmonton, but we’re going to have to be even better."
Around the boards
Forward Chris Kelly didn't take the pre-game skate with his teammates but is expected to be in the lineup tonight ... Brian Elliott makes his second straight start in goal and 44th appearance of the season ... Alberta boy Chris Phillips
marked his 32nd birthday earlier this week in familiar surroundings, with a number family members celebrating the occasion with him on Monday night. "It was a big deal to celebrate my birthday with all my family in Edmonton," said Phillips, who had his own little cheering section at both stops so far on this road trip. "It was pretty cool."