by Todd Anderson
Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov returns to the lineup tonight from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the past two games. The 25-year-old, who left the ice during the first period of Ottawa's 6-4 win in Florida on Nov. 24, is ready to get back into action tonight.
"I'm playing. I feel very good," Volchenkov said after participating in an optional skate this morning at Scotiabank Place.
Volchenkov's return will no doubt be welcomed by Ottawa's starting goaltender tonight, Ray Emery. The Russian defenceman has helped ease the load for Senators goaltenders this year by blocking 77 shots in 23 games, to rank third in the NHL. On Oct. 21, during an 8-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, Volchenkov recorded a season-high nine blocked shots. He also had eight blocked shots against the Washington Capitals during a 4-3 overtime loss on Nov. 6. Volchenkov is also tied for 23rd in the league with 55 hits.
"I like scoring. I like blocking shots. I like doing everything," Volchenkov says. "Right now, I'm playing more defensively."
This season Volchenkov, the Senators' first-round pick, 21st overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, has been given a larger role by head coach Bryan Murray - primarily on the penalty-kill where he often is in the first pairing, with Chris Phillips, to be put on the ice against opponent's power plays.
"I've played here for four years and I'm comfortable," Volchenkov says of his career in the NHL, and with the Senators. "This year feels good. Every year you just play better."
Around the crease
Murray expects Emery won't be lonely in the Senators'goal tonight.
"(Florida) plays aggressively around the net," Murray said this morning. "Like lots of teams, they play the puck around and jam. They really have some shooters. I regard them as a very aggressive and offensive type of team. (Panthers forward) Gary Roberts will be in the crease all night, and they have no problems scoring goals."