Commentary

Hockey fans, meet the new Dany Heatley

Updated: October 6, 2008, 2:35 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Dany Heatley says he wants more from his seventh NHL season, and so far, he's showing he's not kidding.

Forget for a moment the three goals he scored this weekend as the Ottawa Senators took three points from their opening two games of the season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, capping their Swedish trip with a 3-1 win Sunday night.

"[He was] blocking shots!" said an enthusiastic Sens coach Craig Hartsburg.

And he went after Brooks Orpik when the Pittsburgh defenseman roughed up Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson at the end of the first period.

And he yelled while on the bench to pump up his teammates when the game was still scoreless.

Hockey fans, meet the new Dany Heatley. Not just a 50-goal man, but a leader and a more complete player. Two games into the 2008-09 season, it's impressive.

"My conversations with him early in the summer when I was hired, it was pretty evident that he wanted to take a big step and a bigger role in the leadership part," Hartsburg said. "You can say that, and that's one thing, but he's come to training camp, been a hard-working guy every day, he's tried to do the little things, he's asking questions about being a more complete player. He was great tonight."

Hartsburg could tell in training camp that Heatley was serious about his pledge. The 27-year-old star winger wanted to be a bigger part of the action. So the first-year Senators coach cemented his trust in the player by slapping an A on Heatley's uniform on the eve of the season. In the hockey world, these letters matter a whole bunch. And it mattered greatly to Heatley.

"It makes you more accountable, and it's a lot of responsibility," Heatley said. "For me in my career, I've found that's brought out the best in me. Craig and the staff showed a lot of faith in giving me that letter and giving me that responsibility. And I want to prove them right."

Goals have never been an issue. He had back-to-back 50-goal seasons after the lockout and followed that up with 41 last season when a shoulder injury limited him to 71 games. But if Heatley is intent on following through with the rest of his preseason goals -- being a more complete player, acting like a leader -- then this is a Sens team that suddenly has more teeth.

Because if there's one thing on this team that was lacking last season when rumors swirled around Ray Emery's off-ice issues, it was leadership in trying to halt a late-season tumble down the standings. The season ended with the Senators going out meekly in four straight to the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. That left core players like Heatley searching for answers. He found them from within.

[+] EnlargeDany Heatley
AP Photo/Niklas LarssonReunited again, the Sens' top line of Daniel Alfredsson, left, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza combined for four goals and four assists in two games in Stockholm this weekend.

"As a group, this was a big weekend for us," Heatley said. "We've got a lot of new faces, and the faces that were here last year were real disappointed with what happened. We were hungry for these two games."

But Dany, blocking shots?

"Craig is showing a lot of faith in me and [Jason] Spezza, giving us some PK time, and that's one of the jobs of the guys on the PK, is to block shots," he said with a grin.

Let's not fool anyone here: his game is still about offense. By the looks of it, it's going to be another monster year. Some people questioned the merit in Hartsburg's decision to reunite his three star forwards, Spezza between Heatley and Alfredsson. The knock on the tactic is that it leaves the Senators thin on the second line. But when it produces four goals in two games, it's hard to argue with. And it's fun to watch.

"I've talked a lot about Spezza and Heatley in the Swedish media, about playing with them," Alfredsson said. "Now they can see that I stand for my word. They're two really good players and I have a lot of fun playing with them. And Heatley showed why today."

Down the hall at Globe Arena, the mood was sour in the Penguins' dressing room. Pittsburgh goes home with two points in the standings, but with two nagging issues to chew on during its flight home Monday.

The first is finding a fit for superstar Sidney Crosby. Miroslav Satan lasted all of one and a half games before Penguins coach Michel Therrien yanked the veteran Slovak off the unit and inserted Tyler Kennedy on Sunday.

"We were not doing anything offensive and we were trying to get something going," Therrien said of the move.

Crosby, who had an assist Sunday, didn't seem interested in wading into the subject.

"It's still early in the season," the Penguins captain said. "It's tight out there. It's tight for both teams. It's just a matter of executing, really."

We're guessing Therrien will give Satan-Crosby-Ruslan Fedotenko another try next weekend when the Penguins resume their season. There aren't that many options, really. There are essentially seven forwards who can play on the top two lines. Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kennedy and the injured Petr Sykora (groin) are the other four. Given the chemistry Sykora and Malkin had last season, they're likely a lock to stay together.

While Therrien tries to figure out his top two lines, what is also pressing is the power play. So far, the absence of quarterback and slick puck-mover Sergei Gonchar has been deeply felt. The Pens are 1-for-14 with the man advantage to start the season, their only goal a meaningless tally at the buzzer Sunday night.

Despite a unit with the two-headed attack of Crosby and Malkin, there's no cohesiveness right now.

"We struggled on the power play again, and that was probably the difference," Crosby said. "We're not getting control of the puck enough. They do pressure, but we have to do a better job of being a little bit more calm out there, making some plays. When the shots are there, take them. But when we have opportunities to pass the puck, we execute well."

Therrien said it's a simple answer: Keep working on it.

"This is two games in a row we've lost the battle of the special teams," he said. "Any time you finish in the minus, it's going to be tough to win games."

Crosby refuses to allow Gonchar's absence to be an excuse for the power-play malaise.

"I don't think the personnel is the issue. We've got to execute," the captain said.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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