Monday, January 26, 2009

Volchenkov's back, and the defence shuffle

Reports abound that Android Volchenkov's shoulder malfunction has been resolved, so he should be back in the Sens lineup on Tuesday against the Devils after missing Ottawa's last eight games.

As a result, there's a bit of a log jam at defence: You can be sure that Volchenkov won't be a healthy scratch, and Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba will both definitely be in the lineup. As Shean Donovan's skills competition-induced injury will likely keep him out for the whole week, Christoph Schubert is expected to suit up as a forward, meaning that one of Brian Lee, Alex Picard, Jason Smith, or Brendan Bell will be a healthy scratch for the game.

It seems doubtful that Lee will be, as he was practicing today in his regular pairing with Phillips, and the two have been playing well together. A good point was raised by Jason York on the Team 1200 this afternoon: Since the quality of Lee's competition has gone up, so has his play and his consistency. With him playing so well, and such high expectations for his development, it would likely be a step backward to bench him or send him to Binghamton right now.

The most likely candidate to be scratched, at first glance, is Bell. He's been scratched a few times recently, including three of the last four games. However, Bell scored the game-winning goal against Washington a week ago, and has three goals in his last five games played (two on the powerplay). With the Senators looking for mobility and offence from the back end, Bell could continue to be a pretty good second-powerplay-unit defenceman.

Then there's Picard. He's had an up-and-down season, but he's still leading Senators defencemen in goals scored with five. He hasn't scored a goal in 11 games, though, and doesn't even have a point in nine. All despite an average ice time of around 17-19 minutes played, usually including some powerplay time. It's an easy time to send a message to Picard that more is expected of him, but benching him is not a long-term solution: He's on a one-way contract, unlike Lee or Bell.

Finally, the possibility exists of Smith riding the press-box-pine for a night. Although it's pretty bad that he's only got one point (albeit a game-winning goal) on the year, that's not the chief reason he could be benched, and it's not why he was signed. Scratching Smith would be a tactical decision based on the speed of the Senators' opponents Tuesday, the Devils, and Smith's difficulty in keeping up with smaller, speedier players. Again, Smith wasn't signed to his contract to blow anyone out of the water; all he's got to do is play smart, positional hockey, lay a hit when it's available, kill a penalty when it's necessary, and speak up to or for his teammates. Scratching him wouldn't be a long-term solution, because a dog as old as Smith won't likely learn new tricks.

Ideally, I think that Picard could use a rest in the press box for one night or so, until the Sens decide whether to send Bell or Lee down to Binghamton. In the end, though, one of those two guys on two-way contracts will be don in Binghamton relatively soon. The Senators' don't need to be spending more money than they need to be spending at this point in the season.
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