OTTAWA – Mark Bell is getting plenty of heat from the Senators after his hit on Daniel Alfredsson took Ottawa’s captain out of its lineup for the foreseeable future.
But Alfredsson took some of the heat off the Toronto Maple Leafs forward Friday by blaming himself for winding up on the receiving end of a blind-side hit from Bell that will force the him to miss the Senators’ final regular-season game and at least the start of the playoffs.
“I think it’s more myself (at fault),” said Alfredsson, who’s out with an unspecified upper-body injury and a knee injury, although he denied he suffered a concussion. “Usually I’m aware of what’s going on around me and I had no idea he was coming.”
Bell levelled the 35-year-old with an open-ice hit late in the first period of Ottawa’s 8-2 victory Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre. Alfredsson returned for a shift in the second before leaving the game for good. No penalty was called on the play.
“I don’t know if it’s a headshot or not, but I think it’s more my responsibility to be aware of where everybody is on the ice,” said Alfredsson, who said he was winded by the check, but wouldn’t get into details of the injury.
“I don’t think there’s any concussion concerns,” he added. “There’s some soreness and my knee’s a little bit sore today as well.
“It’s obviously very frustrating knowing that I’m not going to play for a few weeks, but I’m hoping that I can get back quick.”
Earlier in the contest, the Senators lost centre Mike Fisher with a left knee injury that Fisher said he suffered in a knee-on-knee hit from Bell.
The Senators lost 2-1 in their final game against the Boston Bruins on Friday, but backed into the playoffs after Florida beat Carolina 4-3.
Senators general manager and coach Bryan Murray said both players are expected to be lost for a significant period.
“I don’t know the time frame, but it’s going to be a while,” Murray said following Friday’s pre-game skate at Scotiabank Place. “Weeks for both.”
And it was the hit on Alfredsson that left Murray and other members of the Senators furious with Bell and re-ignited the debate over checking to the head at the NHL level.
“It’s dirty for sure. He came from behind, nearly took his head off, guy’s wearing a birdcage,” Fisher said, referring to the full protective mask that Bell is sporting to protect a broken orbital bone. “Not cool.”
Murray was seething after Thursday’s game and accused Bell of leading with both his knee and his elbow. Although replays suggest that Bell did neither, Murray hadn’t changed his opinion by the next day.
“My opinion’s the same, but the league doesn’t agree with me,” said Murray, who sought a review of the hit from the NHL but was told no punishment would be coming for Bell. “It’s clear they thought it was a good hit.”
Murray’s frustration is understandable, especially considering the circumstances.
The injuries leave the Senators without their best all-around player in Alfredsson, who has 40 goals and 89 points in 70 games this season, as well as the energy and physical presence of Fisher. Despite having a slow second half of the season offensively, Fisher still chipped in with 23 goals.
As a result of their absences, the Senators recalled rookie left-winger Nick Foligno from Binghamton of the AHL before Friday’s contest.
“You’re going to miss them in a lot of aspects, but I think you’re going to really miss them if you get down in games or if you’re scrambling to try and really put pressure on teams because they’re guys that carry a lot of minutes and they’re offensive guys,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said.
Last season, Murray defended Senators right-winger Chris Neil when he blind-sided then-Buffalo Sabres centre Chris Drury during a February contest. This time around, he suggested it might be time the NHL re-evaluates their position on making any contact to the head illegal.
“I thought (Bell’s) elbow was in play. I thought the Chris Neil hit was a shoulder,” Murray said. “(Sabres coach) Lindy Ruff was upset when Chris Drury got hurt. I’m upset when Daniel Alfredsson got hurt. We’re coaches, we’re emotionally connected to our players and emotionally connected to protect our players.
“I think we’re getting to a point where you keep seeing guys get hurt that a further action has to be taken.”
Neil, who said he didn’t see the Bell hit and couldn’t comment on hit, also shook up Bruins centre Jeremy Reich last Saturday during a 4-0 loss in Boston.
“I didn’t watch (Bell’s hit) too much, but I think it’s probably a clean, dirty hit,” Spezza said. “It’s within the rules, but it’s a dirty hit because there’s intent there I think. It falls within the rules, but you can let up in situations like that.”
The Senators also defended their decision to not confront Bell following the hit. Spezza and defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Wade Redden confronted Bell, but nothing came of it.
“The guy’s got a cage on, he’s not going to fight, what do you do?” Neil asked. “You go grab him and take a two-minute penalty. How else are you going to get even? They take Alfredsson out, Mats Sundin isn’t in the lineup, you can’t go after him.”