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Senators’ Smith, Lightning’s Kucherov fined $5,000 each

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NEW YORK (AP) — Zack Smith of the Ottawa Senators and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning have been fined $5,000 each Saturday for rough play during separate games.

The NHL said Smith was disciplined for elbowing Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson. The infraction came during the second period of Pittsburgh’s 5-3 home victory.

Kucherov was fined for a dangerous trip of New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield during the first period. Tampa Bay won 1-0 in a shootout.

Both players drew minor penalties during the Friday night games. The fines are the maximum allowed under the labor agreement, with the money going to a player assistance fund.

Legwand out, Smith in as Sens face elimination

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The Ottawa Senators will make a switch at center tonight against Montreal, as Zack Smith draws into the lineup at the expense of David Legwand, who’ll sit as a healthy scratch.

Smith, 27, missed a good chunk of time this season to a dislocated wrist and appeared in just 37 games. While he did play in the final 10 games of the regular season, he sat in all three of Ottawa’s losses to the Habs in this opening-round series.

Legwand, meanwhile, played in all three but was mostly a non-factor, going scoreless with a minus-3 rating and just one shot on goal.

Smith will skate on the fourth line between Mike Hoffman and Chris Neil, with the hope he can bring the energy displayed in past playoff performances. Smith appeared in 10 games during Ottawa’s ’13 run, scoring two points while racking up 31 PIM.

After 11-game absence, Sens get Michalek back for playoffs

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The red-hot Ottawa Senators are getting a key piece of their lineup back for the postseason.

On Monday, head coach Dave Cameron confirmed that veteran winger Milan Michalek — out since Mar. 21 with a concussion — will return from an 11-game absence and dress for Game 1 of Ottawa’s first-round series against Montreal.

Michalek, 30, had just 13 goals and 34 points in 66 games this season, but really started to find his form in February and March following a slow start to the campaign. He scored 18 points over his final 22 games of the regular season, that after scoring just seven in his first 22.

With Michalek drawing it, Zack Smith will sit for the series opener on Wednesday.

Onus now on Sens to prove MacLean was the problem

The Ottawa Senators fired Paul MacLean because he was too hard on his players.

OK, it wasn’t just that. The losses might have had something to do with it as well.

But the “too hard on his players” narrative is the main one that’s emerged since Monday’s announcement that the 2013 Jack Adams Award winner had been let go — a message that was pushed by GM Bryan Murray, who felt that “very definitely” MacLean had become “more demanding of some of the players, and more critical of some of the players.”

While MacLean has since expressed disappointment with that notion — “Did I push them too hard? At the end of the day, that must be what they’re saying….But I think it has more to do with me not winning games than anything else,” he told ESPN.com — the Senators now find themselves in the position of having to prove that the coaching change was the right move.

If, on the other hand, they don’t turn things around, you can imagine what people will say. Oh, the coach was too hard on you? Boo-hoo. Seems by the way you’re playing he was right to be.

The Sens host the Los Angeles Kings tonight, then hit the road for three games in Boston, Buffalo, and New Jersey.

Forward Zack Smith is hoping the change in bench bosses, from MacLean to Dave Cameron, might “spark” the team.

“It’s unfortunate to say — and I want to word this right — sometimes coaches are hired to be fired,” Smith told the Ottawa Citizen.

“It’s a tough job. If you’re not winning, you’re not going to be there long. When a new coach comes in, everyone’s trying to prove themselves and fight for a spot, and prove to that coach that they can play or deserve to be there. I think that might have slipped a bit over the last year-and-a-half.

“It’s not to put it on him, but that’s what happened. I don’t think guys were playing to their abilities. That’s what led to the poor start we’ve had so far.”

That’s the theory.

Will the Sens prove it?

Or, will their play debunk it?

Pageau eyes Sens’ lineup

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Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau burst on the the scene as a 20-year-old with his hometown Senators during the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

Pageau scored two goals and four points in nine regular season games before adding four goals and six points in 10 playoff games as the surprising Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

Since then however, Pageau an Ottawa native, has just two goals in 28 NHL games and a minus-5 rating. He spent much of last season with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton.

“For sure I think after my good playoffs two years ago, expectations went really high,” Pageau told the Ottawa Sun last week. “I don’t want to say last year I had a bad year, I want to say it was a learning year. I learned that nothing is guaranteed and you always need to work for your spot. You need to deserve to be there. That’s why I’m working hard this summer to make sure if I have my chance this year I’ll catch it and stay there.”

As Don Brennan points out in his piece, it appeared there may be room for Pageau on the big club when general manager Bryan Murray dealt Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars; however, any room at center was quickly filled by the signing of David Legwand.

Presently the Senators have Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad, Legwand and Zack Smith filling center ice roles meaning Pageau, who is in the final year of his entry-level contract, will likely have to go back to the AHL and wait for a phone call.

Pageau was helped by the departure of fellow center Stephane Da Costa, who signed with the KHL’s HC CSKA Moscow this summer.

“For sure I see myself in the lineup,” Pageau said. “I always believe in myself and I’ll always believe in myself. But I know it’s going to be hard. That’s basically why I’m giving a little extra every morning … just work hard and give everything I have to make sure I do my best.

“If I go to camp and do my best, I’m sure they’ll find a way to find a spot in the lineup for me.”

Pageau says he got direction from Senators coach, Paul MacLean, on where he can improve heading into the 2014-15 season during the team’s exit interviews in April. One thing the 21-year-old does have working for him is his face-off abilities. With Spezza, the team’s top centerman gone, Pageau’s intangibles could prove worthy to the Senators if he has a stellar camp.

Related: Under Pressure: Turris, MacArthur & Ryan