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March 24, 2019
Alfredsson an All-Star (Sunshine)
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
For the fifth time in his career, Daniel Alfredsson will be participating in the All-Star Game. But this year, the 35-year-old winger was voted into the starting lineup, making it a special honor for the Ottawa captain. He was so happy, he immediately turned and fired a puck at Scott Niedermayer.
"Yeah, it is more of a recognition, that's no question," said Alfredsson of being voted into the starting lineup. "I don't know if it means more. When you're there, I think at the All-Star weekend, it's a lot of fun no matter how you get into it. I've always enjoyed mine. It's been a pleasure, you know, to mix with the best players in the league, check out their sticks, what equipment they're using, kind of mingle a little bit. But, yeah, obviously I'm very humbled by being recognized as a starter."
Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier will be joining Alfredsson on the Eastern Conference's starting unit. It'll be interesting to see how Alfredsson gets along with Crosby, who he ripped as a whiner during Sid the Kid's rookie season. The Senators and Penguins also had a contentious playoff battle last Spring, only adding fuel to the fire. But Alfredsson seemed excited to play with Kid Crosby and Lecavalier. He could barely stop smiling long enough to shoot a puck at Scott Niedermayer.
"I'm looking forward to it, there's no question," said Alfredsson. "I mean, I'm pretty spoiled waking up every day and going to the rink, have Spezza in the middle and Heatley on the other side. You know, not a lot of players that are that fortunate. But it's going to be a lot of fun to play with Sidney and Vincent, there's no question, especially seeing what kind of years they're having. We played Tampa Bay here the other day. The skill that Vincent has is pretty amazing and fun to watch. It's going to be nice to be up close and on the ice at the same time."
Yeah, it's hard to believe, but playing on a line with Crosby and Lecavalier is pretty much a lateral move for Alfredsson, who gets to skate alongside Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza on a nightly basis with the Sens. The trio is once again decimating the league, combining for 65 goals and 157 points in Ottawa's first 41 games. It's rare to see such a dominant line in today's NHL.
"Well, I think the salary cap has something to do with it," explained Alfredsson, pausing briefly to shoot a puck at Scott Niedermayer. "You know, you probably have two, three top forwards. Mostly you want to spread out the scoring as much as you can. I think in our case, it's been, you know, I think at times the coach wants to split us up, at the same time we've been playing so well together that that's hard to do. . . . I mean, when you're playing that well together, you don't mess with that. I think the salary cap is a big reason why."
The cap is also the reason the Senators don't have much scoring depth. After the big three, it's a whole lot of nothing. Mike Fisher is having a great year for Mike Fisher, already posting 15 goals and 30 points, but, well, he's Mike Fisher. Antoine Vermette is fifth amongst Ottawa forwards with eight goals and 23 points. Chris Kelly is sixth with seven goals and 18 points. Yes, that's right, Chris Kelly. He's very good. I bet he couldn't even hit Scott Niedermayer with a puck.
"Well, I think we've been getting more and more throughout the season," said Alfredsson. "Lately Fisher has been playing really good, scoring a lot of big goals. Vermette has chipped in where we needed. Randy Robitaille same thing. I think on every team's wish list is to get another top six forward, to make the team that much deeper. Bryan Murray said in the meeting for us as well that's on his list, too."
How could he tell? I can't understand a word Murray says. It's all pops and buzzes. But the Sens seemed to have adjusted well to Murray moving into the front office. New coach John Paddock has kept things rolling, leading the Sens to a 27-10-4 record, good for a seven-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
"Style-wise, you know, the system we play, it hasn't been a big change," said Alfredsson. "I think, you know, we've practiced harder under John. I think he made it clear throughout the summer, making calls to everybody, that he expected everybody to, you know, get in real good shape come the season because he knew it was going to be a tough go in the playoffs, starting up again, mentally and physically. We were pretty well prepared physically, I think. I think everybody responded well to that challenge. That's probably one of the reasons why we started so well. Yeah, he's been around the league a long time. He's seen all different situations. So he kind of took over after Bryan, and it's gone real smoothly."
Well, real smoothly might be stretching it a bit. The Sens have had their problems, most notably in goal where Ray Emery has all but imploded and Martin Gerber alternates between unbeatable and unwatchable. Emery has been a distraction most of the season, displaying terrible practice habits and even worse commitment to the team. Last week, he showed up late for practice and got sent home. This week, he ended up fighting Brian McGrattan. At least he makes it fun.
"You know, once in a while I don't think it hurts," said Alfredsson of the practice scrap. "I know they're good friends outside the ice. Sometimes things flare up. I think this is one of those times. It's not a big deal inside our locker room."
Emery and McGrattan are good friends. They used to share a place with Spezza when all three were in Binghamton together. It wasn't the first time the two have traded punches, and it probably won't be the last. On the bright side, at least it shows Emery is finally competing during practice.
"In Canada, in the NHL, you're going to be under the microscope," said Alfredsson. "All the little things are going to be made a little bit bigger. I think for us it's been a much improved situation where Ray has really put a bigger effort into coming to the rink every day and working hard. That's I think what the coaches are looking for, too, for him to get more ice time, for him to play more. He needed to show them that he wanted to do that, which goes for any player, but especially a goalie. Because in practice, too, it's never fun if you go down to the goalie, you're going to shoot, and he's not really trying. It's been a much improved situation for us."
If Emery and Gerber can settle the goaltending situation, Ottawa will remain the favorite to come out of the East.
"We know we're a good team," said Alfredsson. "We just try to be competitive every night. I think we take a lot of pride in preparing, giving our best shot every night. If we do that, we know we have enough talent to win a lot of games. It's so close in this league now that, you know, if you're not ready or if you miss 10, 15 minutes in the period, you're probably going to lose that game. You know, put ourselves in a good position going into the playoffs, then anything can happen."
Of course, anything less than a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals will be seen as a disappointment in Ottawa. Last year's loss to Anaheim still haunts the Senators.
"You know, what bothers me when you look back at it is Game One," said Alfredsson, apparently forgetting about a certain incident involving Scott Niedermayer in Game Four. "We're up 2-1, and we have a five-on-three for a minute and we don't score. We score there, it's a totally different ballgame. I don't know if we learned anything specifically you can say this is not going to happen again. Sometimes it's just a very small margin. Once we got down 2-0 in games, it's tough to come back. You need to still win probably when you're on the road like that. The biggest thing is hopefully this year we can put ourselves in a better position, that if we go there again, we will start at home."
Yes, sir, I'll never forget those inspiring words: "You need to still win probably when you're on the road like that." Just hearing it makes me want to go out and shoot a puck at someone.