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Sens Alfredsson copes with rebuilding

Daniel Alfredsson is ready for a break. The Ottawa captain is tired, mentally and physically drained from a season that has been and always will be a disappointment.

"Memory is always really short," he said Tuesday. "This feels like the toughest stretch I've ever been through. I'm pretty sure it's not, but it's been a tough year. Things haven't gone the way we would have liked, and we're not where we want to be.

"It's tolling when you go out there and you feel like you're giving it a good effort night in and night out but we're coming up short. Mentally, I think it's good for everybody to get a break and come back fresh and get better and go in the right direction."

Alfredsson got his break with the completion of Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres. It ended a stretch that saw the Senators win just once in 12 games and drop to 13th in the Eastern Conference.

Once the All-Star respite ends next week, some of Alfredsson's teammates will be on their way out. The Sabres' archrival is in rebuilding mode, and veterans and salary are expected to be shed. Alfredsson, though, isn't going anywhere. The player synonymous with the Sens will continue to be their leader, something he's been longer than any other captain in the NHL.

"I've been part of this since '95, and we've been through our ups and downs, on the ice, off the ice throughout my years here, and that's part of life," said Alfredsson, who became captain in 1999. "Everything's not going to go your way, and it's how you act during tough times that defines what kind of character you have. We're definitely being tested right now.

"Everybody as you get older would like to be in a spot where you have one of the best teams in the league and you're fighting for the Stanley Cup, but that's not where we are this year. I have no problems being here in Ottawa in the situation we are. I'm not happy about it, but I'm going to make the most of it and try to help all the young guys get better and put this ship in the right direction."

Alfredsson, like all the Sens, is experiencing a down season. Though he leads the team in goals and points, Alfredsson's totals are a meager 14 goals and 28 points. The 38-year-old recorded 70 points in each of the previous nine seasons.

"I haven't played to the potential I think I should, and it's been very frustrating," he said. "I'm going to try to have a really good second half here after the All-Star break and finish on a good note. There's no question that I need to be better and should be better for this team.

"If we can finish off on a good note it will right some wrongs, but overall this will be a disappointing year."

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Paul Byron could probably stand outside HSBC Arena in his Sabres sweater and not get more than a handful of looks, but he was the main guy in Scotiabank Place. Sixteen media members with cameras and recorders surrounded the babyfaced center, who played his second NHL game in his hometown. He was expecting 40 to 50 friends and family members to watch the Senators host the Sabres.

"I've got tons of supporters," said the Ottawa native who played junior hockey across the river in Gatineau, Quebec. "I've got lots of great friends and family, so they're all going to be out there for me. This kind of feels like my first game. I didn't have anyone out there on Long Island [on Sunday]. Everyone kind of waited for me to be here, so I'm a little nervous.

"It's very special. My parents don't have American passports, so it's incredible to be able to play my second game in front of them."

Byron, who made his NHL debut Sunday against the New York Islanders, centered left wing Tyler Ennis and right wing Drew Stafford, who returned following a three-game absence with a groin injury. Byron scored his first NHL goal in the first period.

Stafford's return allowed the Sabres to send defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani back to Portland. He had no points and was plus-1 in three games.

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The Sabres were scheduled to fly home following the game and won't be together again until they practice Monday. Their next game is Feb. 4 in Pittsburgh. The only player participating in All-Star weekend is Ennis.

"I think I'm just going to have fun," he said. "I don't really know what to expect, but I'm excited to go and looking forward to the experience. It should be fun to be around all those great players."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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