Anton Volchenkov is a fearless shot-blocking machine.
Teammates marvel at the way the burly Ottawa Senators defenceman plays the game, with a relentless fury that has made him a key anchor on the team’s blue line.
“He’s a big cornerstone on our defence,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
said of the big Russian. “It’s great that he’s coming back. We’ve definitely missed him.”
After sitting out 15 games while mending a broken right index finger, Volchenkov will make his much-anticipated return to the Senators lineup on Friday night in Buffalo against the Sabres (7:30 p.m., Sens TV, Team 1200).
“It's still a little sore, but I’m ready to play,” Volchenkov said after Wednesday’s optional team skate at Scotiabank Place. “I’ll play Friday in Buffalo.”
Volchenkov suffered the injury while blocking a shot by the Nashville Predators’ J.P. Dumont back on Nov. 29. But he doesn’t plan to alter his style of play in the least, though he might wear some extra padding in his glove to protect his finger.
“I’ll still play the same way, blocking shots,” Volchenkov said with a gap-toothed grin. “No big change in my game.”
He admitted it’s been frustrating sitting on the sidelines, especially during the past two games – 8-6 and 6-3 losses to the Washington Capitals.
“It’s 15 games (out), it’s tough to watch,” he said. “It’s pretty hard just practising for four weeks. But I’m in good shape now and I’m ready to play.”
Needless to say, the return of Volchenkov – who averages 20:45 of playing time per game – is welcome news for the rest of the Senators’ blue-line corps.
“He’s a great defensive presence for us,” said veteran Wade Redden. “After the last couple of games, it’ll be good to get him back playing and contributing again.”
The team’s goaltenders appreciate what Volchenkov brings to the rink, too.
“(Volchenkov) is a guy who plays the game like nobody else,” said Martin Gerber. “He blocks the big shots and battles hard in front of the net. It’s always good to have a guy like that come back, for sure.”
Senators head coach John Paddock calls Volchenkov “a premier defensive defenceman,” and said his return should provide a steadying effect on the back end.
“It settles down some of the running around we’ve had in our zone,” said Paddock. “What’s always impressed me the past two or three years is his effectiveness without taking penalties. He seems to have that knack and strength to stick check and get the stick over the top and control guys in the corners.”
While Volchenkov is confident about his fitness level, despite the five-week layoff, Paddock cautioned against expecting him to be up to speed from the opening whistle on Friday night.
“He’ll be a little bit rusty,” said Paddock. “There will be concerns with (his sharpness) until he gets back into the flow.”
Paddock hasn’t decided yet whether the return of Volchenkov means Christoph Schubert immediately gets bumped back up to a forward position.
“It’ll just unfold tomorrow or Friday,” he said.
Meanwhile, forward Patrick Eaves, who’s been out since Nov. 21 with a separated shoulder, is moving closer to making his return.
“We’re hopeful for this time next week,” said Paddock. “He hasn’t practised with us yet, and I’ve heard that’s not happening in the next couple of days. So we’ll see on Monday where he’s at … That’ll be a good gauge, if he’s able to skate with us (Monday).”