Sometimes the best news arrives on the days when a team doesn’t play.
That was the case at Scotiabank Place on Monday as Senators coach Paul MacLean announced that captain Daniel Alfredsson, out with a concussion since Oct. 29, had skated on his own for about 30 minutes in duration prior to the full team practice.
“He said he felt fine,” MacLean said. “He doesn’t have any symptoms. Obviously, he has to take the baseline test (today) and we’ll see from there.”
Alfredsson has not played or practisced with the team since getting rudely hit to the head by Wojtek Wolski of the New York Rangers 10 days ago. In his only meeting with reporters, last Thursday, Alfredsson said he was suffering dizzy spells from such minor activity as playing with his kids at home. So, as MacLean noted, Alfredsson being able to ride a stationary bike and skate lightly without symptoms is encouraging news even if there is no timetable for his return.
As an organization, the Senators are preparing for the day they when fans will have to look up, way up, in the rafters to see the jersey No. 11. But neither the team nor the player is ready for that moment just yet.
Yes, it’s true that at 39 (in December), the Senators’ captain and first legacy player is never going to be the force he was as recently as 2007-08, when he scored 40 goals and 89 points for a team coming off a Stanley Cup final. That doesn’t diminish the man’s importance around a team just starting into a rebuild.
Not only are Alfredsson’s on-ice contributions still there when he’s healthy — seven points in 10 games played, including a boost to the power play and shootout — the calm, cool presence of a world-class player like Alfredsson matters to a young group.
Factor in some degrees of coincidence, and a team finding its level one month into the season, but the Senators have not been the same team since Alfredsson went down. While Ottawa beat the Toronto Maple Leafs the next day on a flukey goal by Kaspars Daugavins, the subsequent losses to Boston, Montreal and then Buffalo in a shootout have underscored how the Senators miss their captain and secondary scoring threat.
Overall, the Senators are 5-5 with Alfredsson this year, and 2-2-1 without him. He was there for the early struggles against Detroit, Colorado and Philadelphia, but it was Alfredsson’s insurance goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 20 that secured that win, the first of six straight victories for the club. During that run, Alfredsson missed the shootout win in Carolina with a hip flexor.
“A veteran player of his sort, and the skill set that he has, every team is going to miss a guy like that,” MacLean said. “He really gives you balance, offensively, with a second line. He’s got a reputation in the league — he’s scored 30-plus goals more than one time.”
Four times, in fact. And twice, 40 or more. In 15 NHL seasons, Alfredsson has averaged 26 goals per campaign. In the 11 seasons in which Alfredsson played at least 60 games, he averaged 29.6 goals per season, which we might as well round off to 30 goals per season. That is the kind of consistent NHL production a team like Ottawa craves, as unrealistic as it is to expect Alfredsson to be in the lineup every night at his age.
Whenever he can suit up it’s a bonus, a second-line threat to help take the heat off veteran forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. And don’t forget that other second-line player missing. Centre Peter Regin who was showing great promise until he re-injured his shoulder (twice), has been available for just five of Ottawa’s 15 games.
Rookie centre Stéphane Da Costa has done a reasonable job of filling in, “but when you have guys who are players in the league and they’re second-line players, I think that’s where the difference is,” MacLean said.
Ottawa’s power play, which had been cruising, is 0-for-9 in its past three games. Spezza, who had been red hot, has not scored since the afternoon Alfredsson went down. The pair don’t generally line up together 5-on-5, but they are part of what had been a potent power play, and MacLean will throw Alfredsson onto Spezza’s line when he needs a goal late in a game.
Defenceman Erik Karlsson says the team can play well without his Swedish countryman, but he knows how much better they are with Alfredsson.
“He’s a player the other team has to focus on, and he plays in every situation so he’s a very important guy for us,” Karlsson said.
In an emotional ceremony, the Almonte Thunder Jr. B team retired the No. 3 jersey of Eric Leighton, the 18-year-old defenceman who died in a shop-class explosion at Mother Teresa High School in Barrhaven in May. Leighton, who played for Almonte and the Ottawa West Golden Knights, was honoured before Sunday’s game between the Knights and Thunder. Leighton once listed among his career goals “making the NHL, and having his jersey retired.” He achieved that last goal on Sunday.
Contact Wayne Scanlan at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @HockeyScanner.