After an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on January 12th, their fifth loss in a row, the Senators turned to AHL goaltender Mike Brodeur for a game in Madison Square Gardens after Pascal Leclaire took a puck to the head during practise; Leclaire remains on the injured reserve list with a concussion.
Facing the Rangers and all-star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, many Ottawa fans expected another loss, possibly even a shutout. However, it was Brodeur that shutout the Rangers that night by a 2-0 score, beginning a streak that has seen the Senators steadily gain ground in the Eastern Conference standings. The Senators now sit in fifth place with 64 points, only five behind the Buffalo Sabres for the division lead.
Buoyed by the return of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek during the streak, the Senators are now riding the hot-hand of Brian Elliott, a 9th round selection (291st overall) in the 2003 entry draft. In his last five games, Elliott has allowed only five goals against, including a shutout against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. With last night’s game, he set a new personal mark for appearances in a season with 32.
The previous record dates back to the start of the 2007-2008 season. Coming off their appearance in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, many analysts expected the Senators to encounter the “Stanley Cup Hangover”. It would come eventually, but not until mid-season. Bryan Murray had moved into the General Manager’s role and John Paddock was behind the bench. The Sens started the season with back-to-back wins over the Toronto Maple Leafs and reeled off five straight victories before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. Coincidentally, their eight game winning streak that followed, which ran from October 16th – November 6th, 2007, also began in MSG against the New York Rangers.
What a difference a few seasons can make; Paddock was gone by the end of February, with Murray stepping behind the bench to finish the year. Craig Hartsburg came and went in the 2008-2009 season and the reigns of the team went to current Head Coach, Cory Clouston. Some notable names that were an integral part of the first eight game wining streak have also moved on; Dany Heatley, Antoine Vermette, Wade Redden, Andrej Meszaros, Joe Corvo, Martin Gerber and Ray Emery to name a few.
While that squad relied heavily on the top line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson, this year’s streak is more of a team effort. Defenceman Chris Phillips has two game winning goals during the streak, and some of the new additions to the team have also chipped in with game winners; Chris Campoli, Ryan Shannon and Alex Kovalev have all provided timely goal scoring, leading the team to victory.
Will the streak hit nine games? The stage is set for a new franchise record with a national television audience and a game against the struggling Montreal Canadiens as part of Saturday afternoon’s Hockey Day in Canada celebrations. The Canadiens have lost two in a row (4-4-2 in their last ten), and according to reports out of Montreal, there is a growing unrest in the locker room. With a new commitment to the team concept, this Senators squad may earn a place of their own in the franchise record books.