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Volchenkov eager to shoulder load

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Anton Volchenkov only knows one way to play the game.

And even after missing 11 of 12 games with a pair of shoulder injuries, the bruising Ottawa Senators blueliner won't take it easy in his return to action against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

"I'll play the same way," Volchenkov said after the Senators returned to the ice earlier this afternoon for the first time since the National Hockey League's all-star break began last Thursday. "I play hard. I won't change for sure."

Tuesday night's matchup with the Devils should provide "a big test for the shoulder," he admitted.

"Sometimes guys come at you and play hard and you take a hit," said Volchenkov. "One mistake and you get hurt. That's hockey. But I'm ready to play tomorrow and it's a big game, too, against New Jersey."

Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg will certainly welcome Volchenkov's presence back into the lineup. The big Russian first suffered a shoulder injury on Dec. 23 in Philadelphia, sat out three games, then hurt it again on Jan. 3 in Toronto and has been sidelined since then.

"He gives us that physical edge defending and penalty killing," said Hartsburg. "His energy in the game ... he brings that energy on the bench and he's a real competitive player."

Energy abounded all over the ice today as the Senators returned from the four-day all-star break as a refreshed group. To a man, they admitted it was time off that was definitely needed.

"It feels really good coming back and I think you could tell in practice today," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "Everybody had a little extra (jump) in their skating."

Even forward Dany Heatley, the lone Senator to take part in the weekend all-star festivities in Montreal, felt invigorated by the break in the schedule.

"I feel good," said Heatley, who scored once in the East's 12-11 victory over the West on Sunday night. "I think there was a good jump for the guys at practice today. Everyone is excited to get back going and I'm excited as well."

The Senators put together a 3-0-1 run before the break and it's something Hartsburg said needs to continue when the schedule resumes Tuesday against the Devils. And not because Ottawa (16-21-7) still finds itself 12 points shy of an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

"That's not going away unless we cut that (deficit) ourselves," said Hartsburg. "But we can't be looking at that every day. If we can continue to play the way we have, cut that down, then maybe we can start talking (about the playoffs). We just have to continue to win hockey games."

Alfredsson seconded that thought.

"You look at the big picture but the focus has to be on the next game," he said. "We see the standings every day, so we know the situation. We can't go around (thinking) 'what if' and 'what happens if we don't win?' Just prepare the best you can for the next game and try to win it."

Gerber on the move on Tuesday?

Senators general manager Bryan Murray said he expects to know Tuesday where the team stands with Martin Gerber, who cleared NHL waivers on Friday. One league team has shown an interest in the veteran goaltender, he added.

"First thing (Tuesday) morning, we'll see if we can make something work that will get Martin to another team," said Murray. "If that doesn't happen, we will assign him to Binghamton (the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate) and he will play there."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott (3-1-1) will make his sixth straight start in the Senators net on Tuesday. Hartsburg expects goaltender Alex Auld to see action this weekend, when the Senators play three road games in four days ... Shean Donovan (lower body) remains out of the Ottawa lineup. Hartsburg said it will be "probably at least another week" before he returns ... Fewer than 1,250 tickets remain for Tuesday's game.

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