SPORTS

Senators tinker with forward lines as they look for improvements at centre

11/19/2014 04:29 EST | Updated 01/19/2015 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - Never one to shy away from change, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean tinkered with his forward lines again at Wednesday's practice as he looked for ways to improve his team's strength down the middle.

MacLean's line juggling included moving David Legwand up into the number-two centre position and shifting Mika Zibanejad to the left side. In addition, Zack Smith moved back into centre in between Milan Michalek and Chris Neil.

"If we're going to mix anything up that's the place to mix it up," said MacLean. "Zack Smith playing on the wing hasn't been as productive a player as Zack Smith playing at centre ice so in order to get Zack back at centre ice somebody has to move to the wing. The next obvious guy to move to the wing was Mika since he's played it before so we're going to feel that out and see if it gives us a different look."

They may not be the most significant changes, but MacLean is hoping his slight tweaking will pay dividends.

"Can we make a little wrinkle and make our team better is what we're trying to do," MacLean said. "We're not displeased with how our team's played or how we're working, but if we tweak it just a little bit can we make it a little bit better."

For Smith the change is a welcome one, as he readily admits that it took nearly a month before he began to feel comfortable playing at wing. That's not to say he wouldn't move back if necessary, but playing at centre comes much more naturally to him.

"As a winger you have to be patient and stay on your wall and give the centre room to skate through the middle and it's something you have to focus on going into each game," said Smith. "Going back to centre might just feel a bit more natural.

"I want to be a player who can play at both positions so this is just part of the learning curve."

With just two goals this season, Smith is also hopeful that the change could spark some offence. Smith hasn't registered a point since his last goal on October 28th.

While Zibanejad has always been touted as a centre, the struggling forward was the obvious choice to make the move to the wing.

After 17 games last season Zibanejad had six goals, three assists and 41 shots on goal. This season he has two goals and two assists and just 24 shots and seems to be lacking confidence.

"A lot of people look at (points) and it's obviously something I want to contribute with," said Zibanejad. "I try to stay positive, obviously it's hard, but you've got to stay positive and look ahead to next game."

The move is a familiar one for Zibanejad, which should make the transition a little smoother.

"I've been playing wing a lot my last five years of my career," he said. "I like the wing. I see some better things with it than centre and obviously a couple other things that I don't like, but it's an adjustment I think I can do and something I'm looking forward to."

The Senators would also be pleased if the moves proved rewarding in the faceoff circle. Not one of the Senators' centres is above 50 per cent right now.

"We would like our faceoff percentage of all of them to be better than it is and it hasn't been," MacLean said. "I think a lot of that has to do with wingers and we need a little bit more jump from our wingers off 50-50 faceoff's and we need to win more of those and that would help our percentage a lot."

The Senators are coming off a western road trip where they went 1-1-1. Ottawa has played well at home as of late and will look to make the most of this short two-game homestand before playing the next five on the road.

Ottawa will be taking on the Nashville Predators who have won five of its last six to sit first in the Central Division as of Wednesday. The two teams met in the season opener where the Predators defeated the Senators 3-2.

"This will be a good test," said Legwand, who spent 14 seasons with the Predators. "They had a big win in Toronto and they've been on a little bit of a streak here and so we're excited to play them."

Notes: G Robin Lehner will get the start Thursday. Lehner last played November 9. ... D Chris Phillips left practice early and is questionable for Thursday's game. ... D Marc Methot continues to make progress but Paul MacLean says he remains a long way away from returning to the lineup. ... After missing practice Monday to have a colonoscopy MacLean reminded everyone of the importance of getting checked. MacLean has a family history of colon cancer, but said general manager Bryan Murray, who had no previous history, is a perfect example of why it's so important to undergo the colonoscopy.….The Predators cancelled practice Wednesday and opted for a day off after defeating Toronto 9-2 Tuesday night.

MORE:cpSports