Alfredsson set to return Friday

Daniel Alfredsson expects to be back in the lineup when the Ottawa Senators face off against the Sabres in Buffalo Friday night.

Alfredsson set to return Friday
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Daniel Alfredsson is set to return to the Ottawa Senators’ lineup after missing five games with a concussion, and the hope is he’ll immediately create a different kind of headache for opposing defencemen.

After starting out with a surprising burst of scoring — that was supposed to be the Senators’ weak link this season — the Senators have fallen back into the middle of the NHL pack on offence.

The current dip coincides with the loss of Alfredsson, who took an elbow to the head from New York Rangers winger Wojtek Wolski on Oct. 29 and didn’t return.

Not only did the injury take the most dynamic member of the Senators’ second line out of the mix, it also allowed opponents to really key in on the top trio of Colin Greening, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.

The result: Those three combined for all of two points over the following four games.

Now, on 11/11/11, No. 11 returns against a team he has dominated over the years.

“I feel ready and I feel very confident about going back — otherwise I wouldn’t be,” said Alfredsson, who has 40 goals and 81 points in 80 career games against the Sabres.

“I’m not going to be cautious,” he added. “You’ve got to be ready at all times on the ice. I’ve said that before, so it’s the same. I think if you don’t feel you’re ready, you shouldn’t start playing again.”

While Alfredsson was frustrated about missing time, he was also encouraged by his colleagues’ overall play without him.

“I’m seeing a pretty good team,” he said. “Obviously some turnovers cost us last game (a 3-2 loss to those same Rangers), but other than that, we’re doing a lot of good things which, when you’re losing, (are) not going to be noticed.

“But I think we’ve come a long way from the beginning of the year to where we are now.”

It was tough to tell who was happiest about the captain’s return: The man himself, linemates Stephane Da Costa and Nick Foligno, or head coach Paul MacLean.

“Isn’t that good news?” MacLean said with a big grin following a brief, up-tempo practice Thursday afternoon. “Can’t wait until (Friday). Won’t even sleep tonight. Or I should sleep better tonight.

“I think he averages 30 goals a year — he’s done it, he has a track record of doing it,” MacLean explained. “That gives you a second line that the other team has to respect and obviously, with the leadership and how he plays and everything else that goes with it…for us right now, a little shot in the arm offensively would be a real good thing.”

Despite dropping four straight contests to drop back below the .500 mark, the Senators clearly remain a very upbeat group.

There certainly is big difference between this skid and the one that saw them lose five of six to start the season. The earlier setback was peppered with blowouts and atrocious defensive play, whereas the past few outings arguably could have gone either way.

“A lot of our game is real solid,” MacLean said. “Since the first day of training camp, we’ve been working on getting out of our zone, getting out of our zone, getting out of our zone, playing defence fast, and really, it’s been a main focus for us. And we’ve done that.

“We’ve done a good job of tracking the puck, playing without the puck,” he continued. “Where we haven’t done a good job is with the puck. We haven’t taken care of the puck.”

MacLean was referring to a combined 46 turnovers charged to the Senators over the past four games. While the NHL’s extended stats are notoriously unreliable, anyone with reasonable vision could spot the myriad mental lapses in those contests.

It’s a continuing concern, though a little more offence could cover up the occasional slip as well.

“What we’ve lacked in the last three games, to me, is one more goal,” MacLean said. “Just some more offence and you know, Daniel brings that to us, but also our team as a group can probably get to the net better, shoot the puck more often and have people get to the net maybe a little bit harder and stay there a little bit longer.”

ALL-STAR SENS?

Fans voting for the starting lineup at this year’s NHL all-star game in Ottawa will have five Senators to choose from, including Alfredsson.

“Obviously, it would be special to play in your home town, there’s no question, but that’s not something I set out as a goal before the season,” Alfredsson said. “I think it would be a great bonus. I want to come back healthy and play as many games as I can and see where it goes. But it would be a lot of fun.”

Spezza, Michalek, Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar are the others on the list.

MIGHTY MICHALEK

Paul MacLean was asked during training camp whether or not he thought Michalek was a potential 40-goal scorer. The winger notched his 10th of the season Wednesday, putting him on pace to score 51 over a full schedule.

MacLean didn’t answer then and he wouldn’t offer a prediction Thursday either.

“I’m still not going there,” he said with a chuckle. “He’s got a long way to go — he’s only at 10. I think, like I’ve said lots of times in this room, Milan’s a real good player and I think he’s showing us that he’s a good player, he’s energized, that he wants to play, and I hope he gets as many as he can.”

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