OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators believe that a single player doesn’t define a team, even if that player is Daniel Alfredsson.
In a surprise turn of events this past summer, the Senators’ longtime captain signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent.
Alfredsson’s departure left fans, management and even teammates reeling, but to a man the Senators say they are ready to move on.
“Our identity is still the same as last year,” said forward Zack Smith. “We’re known as a hard working team, a very good skating team and one that never gives up.
“(Alfredsson) was a huge part of the team for years and it will be hard to match that, but at the same time people don’t see other leadership throughout the room. We have a lot of guys who have been around for a while and are leaders as well, so it’s a chance for them to step up and kind of take on a bigger role.”
When the Senators open the regular season against the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 4 they will usher in a new era with Jason Spezza as captain. After missing most of last season with a back injury, the 30-year-old is excited at the prospect of leading the Senators.
“I have high expectations of myself and with missing last year I want to have a good year,” said Spezza. “You want to be consistent when you’re the captain of a hockey club, you want guys to see you’re there every day and you’re bringing what’s good for the team every night and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
Spezza worked hard over the summer and doesn’t anticipate any recurring issues from the back surgery he underwent for a herniated disc.
Hours after losing Alfredsson to free agency, the Senators worked out a trade with Anaheim and acquired Bobby Ryan, a four-time thirty goal scorer, who will play on Spezza’s right side with Milan Michalek on the left. Michalek is recovering from a procedure on his knee and only time will tell whether or not it was successful.
Ryan is looking forward to helping the Senators improve on its 27th ranking in goals scored last season after playing in the shadow of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim.
“After being around for a couple of weeks you start to get a realization and an understanding of just what the pressure feels like playing here,” said Ryan. “I think if you have the expectations yourself it won’t mount as much and I certainly have that for myself this year.”
The addition of Clarke MacArthur, who is expected to play with Kyle Turris and a yet-to-be determined right-winger on the second line, allows for the possibility of decent secondary scoring.
While there’s little doubt the Senators will want to score more goals this year, they would be happy to replicate their defensive prowess. The Senators finished second in the league in goals against thanks to the play of its goaltenders.
Craig Anderson carried much of the workload until suffering an ankle injury that forced him to miss 18 games. He has declared himself healthy and knows he will need to be at his best as Robin Lehner will be pushing for his job.
The 22-year-old Lehner is seen as the Senators goalie of the future and has already proven he can hold his own in the NHL. Lehner has made it clear he will do his best to earn as many starts as possible.
Anderson and Lehner will be counted on to make up for any defensive breakdowns with a younger defensive corps manning the blue-line.
The Senators signed veteran Joe Corvo to help make up for the loss of veteran Sergei Gonchar, but there’s no comparing the two. At this point it appears Corvo will be paired with Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, returning from a partially lacerated Achilles, will play with Marc Methot, while Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch will form the third pair.
Cowen missed much of last season due to hip surgery and Wiercioch has played just 50 games in the NHL. Their inexperience could be a factor for the Senators at times.
More important will be the issue of whether or not Karlsson can return to the form that made him the Norris Trophy winner in 2012.
“I think every year you develop and I don’t think I’m going to be exactly the same player as I used to be, but I’m going to be pretty close and hopefully be better in some areas,” said Karlsson. “I’m still going to try and do the same things.”
With the rash of injuries last season little was expected of the Senators, and yet they managed to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Head coach Paul MacLean knows expectations will be greater this year and says much of the team’s success will depend on their desire to commit.
“Can we on a daily basis come here and do the work we need to do to be successful,” said MacLean. “To me that’s the biggest challenge that we face as a group. Can we put enough emphasis or enough pressure on ourselves, be as demanding of ourselves everyday or are we going to get comfortable and start to cheat to get prepared for games or are we going to actually over-prepare. I think that’s the challenge.”