OTTAWA - Help could soon be on the way for the Senators in the form of captain Daniel Alfredsson and it can't come soon enough for the slumping team.
Alfredsson, who hasn't played since suffering a separated left shoulder during a Dec. 23 loss the Pittsburgh Penguins, is skating on his own while the Senators are on the road and he's expecting to meet up with them Friday in Montreal.
Although he thinks Saturday's game against the Canadiens may come too early, Monday's matinee in Boston - the finale of the five-game trip - could see his return.
"We'll start trying to get a little more contact the next few days and see how it responds," Alfredsson said Wednesday morning after an on-ice workout with assistant coach Luke Richardson at the Senators' practice facility. "That's the one thing we haven't tested and it's the big test and going to determine when I'll be ready to play."
Alfredsson, who has 31 points in 37 games with the Senators to rank second on the team in scoring despite his time on the sidelines, was hurt on a crunching hit by Penguins forward Craig Adams.
Since then, the Senators have taken several other hits - on the scoreboard and on the injury list.
They've won just four of their 10 games and are currently mired in a five-game losing streak going into Thursday night's game against the New York Rangers.
Since losing Alfredsson, No. 1 centre Jason Spezza has also gone down with a knee injury, left-winger Milan Michalek, the team's leading goal-getter with 16, is out with a suspected concussion, and centre Jesse Winchester (knee) and defenceman Filip Kuba (wrist) are also on the shelf.
The return of Alfredsson, undoubtedly the team's inspirational leader, could provide a much-needed spark with the Senators in danger of sliding out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference should they continue to struggle.
"You try to do everything you can when you skate and prepare yourself to get back and give yourself and the team as much of a boost as you can. I don't think anybody can expect anyone coming back to be a saviour, but hopefully be a big part of getting it back on track and maybe they'll have done that before I come back."
Alfredsson was expected to be out from four to six weeks, which would have put his return just before the start of the Olympic Games, but he has a history of making quick comebacks.
He made a shock return to the lineup during the 2008 playoffs despite suffering torn knee ligaments among other damage in the final game of the regular season. Last year, he was back a week after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on one occasion and missed just one game after fracturing his jaw on another.
"There's no difference from me or anybody else ... it's all probably in our DNA as hockey players to come back fairly quick and handle games maybe better than some other people, Alfredsson said.
Alfredsson, who was named to Sweden's roster for next month's Olympics, said he doesn't think the injury will affect his availability for the Vancouver Games, but said he won't play if it could jeopardize his season with the Senators.
He's anxious to get back to action and help them out of their funk.
"When you're out and the team is not winning, it's frustrating that you could be there to help," Alfredsson said. "You've just got to keep believing. They're not playing that bad. It's a couple of mistakes here and there that's the difference.
"I believe that we'll find our way out of this."
Cynics could suggest the best way Alfredsson's return could help would be if it were in goalie pads in Ottawa's net, where Pascal Leclaire and backup Brian Elliott have struggled.
Goaltending coach Eli Wilson paid the price Wednesday when the team announced his firing.
The Senators have had to make a goaltending change in four of their last 11 games and the heat from fans and the media in Ottawa has been turned up particularly on Leclaire, who was acquired from Columbus last March to provide the answer to the team's long-standing search for quality goaltending.
Leclaire, clearly feeling the pressure, snapped at reporters after a loss last week in Washington and continues to go downhill.
He was pulled after the first period of Tuesday's 6-1 loss at the Atlanta Thrashers after giving up three goals on 14 shots.
"I think he knew how hard it was to come to (play in) Canada, but at the same time, he didn't know and once he sorts that out and feels more comfortable, he's going to be a great goalie for us for a few years here," Alfredsson said of the netminder.
While the Senators try to sort out the goaltending, their offence hasn't been much better and that's where Alfredsson could really help.
Ottawa has scored just four goals during its losing streak and it's power play, ranked dead last in the NHL, is a big problem. The Senators are just 2-for-49 with the man advantage in the last 11 games.
"We can't get any goals and that's a big issue and especially, when you struggle sometimes, specialty teams can be a big difference and our power play has failed us a lot of times this year," Alfredsson said. "Right now, when we're on the road, maybe a little bit tired, you can tell that we need some spark and that's when the power play needs to come through."
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