Senators take leap of faith at left wing

Guillaume Latendresse understands why he has been answering injury questions over and over again — in English and French — day after day, ever since he arrived in Ottawa early last week.

Senators take leap of faith at left wing
Guillaume Latendresse (Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen)

Guillaume Latendresse understands why he has been answering injury questions over and over again — in English and French — day after day, ever since he arrived in Ottawa early last week.

The incoming Ottawa Senators left winger has played only 27 games the past two seasons due to concussion and hip problems and he knows he can’t easily skate away from his history.

“Hockey is hockey, injuries are part of it,” he says. “I’m 100 per cent right now and I have no doubts, but if I have injuries, that’s part of the game. It might be my head, it might be something (else). I touch wood. I’m comfortable with my body, but you never know about injuries, so you can’t be mad at yourself if they happen.”

There are no guarantees about any player staying healthy, at the best of times. Considering that NHL teams are about to embark on a 48-game schedule during a 99-day stretch, following a four-month lockout layoff, every general manager is keeping his fingers crossed that ailments will be kept to a minimum.

Yet when it comes to the situation on the Senators left side, there has also been a huge leap of faith that a string of bad breaks is over.

During the past two seasons, Milan Michalek, Latendresse and Peter Regin — who are holding down the club’s first, second and third line left wing spots in training camp — have combined to sit out 257 games due to injuries. In that span, they’ve played only 235 games.

So far, anyway, there are no signs of recurring problems.

Michalek had surgery to repair an abdominal tear late in the summer and took his time recovering before joining Ceske Budejovice during the lockout. When he started to play, he scored 13 goals and 11 assists in 21 games.

“I was cleared (to play) before the lockout started, but I trained for three more weeks (in the Czech Republic), just to make sure,” Michalek says. “I have high expectations now. It has been pretty intense, these three days of (training camp). I’ve been able to skate without any pain.”

Then there’s Regin, who is making yet another comeback after having two left shoulder surgeries in the past two seasons. Regin played briefly in Switzerland during the lockout and says he has no concerns.

“I’m past that, I have no pain, I have the same strength,” Regin says. “I’ve been skating for five months. Playing in Switzerland gave me some confidence that I know I can play. Even though it’s a different style of hockey on the big rinks, you still bump into each other. I knew I could handle that, from taking the bumps and hits over there.”

Now, if the threesome can stay healthy, they could present a formidable challenge for opposing defences.

Michalek scored a career-high 35 goals in 2011-12. Before the major injuries hit, Latendresse netted 25 goals in only 55 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2009-10. Regin emerged as a scoring threat during the 2009-10 playoffs, leading the Senators in scoring, before losing ice time and confidence during Cory Clouston’s time as coach.

In the opening three days of camp, Senators coach Paul MacLean has been impressed with what he has seen from his forward lines. Michalek has played with Jason Spezza and rookie Jakob Silfverberg. Latendresse has skated alongside Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson. Regin has been with Zack Smith and Chris Neil. The fourth line will likely include Jim O’Brien, Colin Greening and Erik Condra.

While he has previously seen what Michalek and Regin can do, MacLean is optimistic that Latendresse can fit the bill as a power forward.

“He’s comfortable down around the net and that’s a skill that maybe you can’t teach,” says MacLean. “He enjoys being down there, mucking around. Both on the power play and (at even strength), that’s an element we’ve been looking for.”

The Senators coach is hoping that Latendresse’s presence can help players such as Greening and Smith fight for space in the tough areas in the slot. MacLean, who once made a living by scoring in the tight spaces during his NHL career, says players sometimes have more time than they think. He says Latendresse “has been there and done that” and can show the way for others.

While he’s naturally trying to stay healthy, Latendresse says fans shouldn’t be expecting him to imitate Erik Karlsson by going end to end.

“I know my role,” he said. “I know I’m not the guy who is going to carry the puck around all night. That’s why with those two guys (Turris and Alfredsson), that’s their job, bring the puck into the zone and for me, I have to make sure I get open and give them some space.”

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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