Ottawa Slipping in the Battle of Ontario

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Peter Holland was the first star in Toronto’s 5-3 win over Ottawa on Sunday. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday’s game marked the 100th match-up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators, and for quite some time the rivalry hasn’t gone in Ottawa’s favour.

The rivalry between the two teams began when they were aligned together in the old Northeast Division, just before the start of the 1998-99 season. Their rivalry then became one of the best in the NHL after multiple playoff meetings before the dreaded season-ending lockout of 2004-05. No fan of either team can forget Daniel Alfredsson’s hit on Darcy Tucker during game five of their semi-final series during the 2001-02 season.

(Courtesy to Down Goes Brown for putting together the video)

Even though the hit happened more than twelve years ago, fans are still arguing about it. Just taking a quick scroll through the comments at the bottom of the video shows how fans still feel about the check. YouTube’s existence isn’t as old as this argument.

Since the two teams haven’t met in the postseason since the 2003-04 season, the rivalry has predictably cooled off. However these teams still have to play each multiple times during the regular season, including five match-ups this season. Unfortunately for the Senators, they haven’t been on the winning side of this rivalry since Ray Emery was the starting goalie.

Ottawa started their storied history with a 5-3 loss to Toronto back in their first game on October 20, 1992. Ironically, they also lost their 100 contest against Toronto 5-3 on Sunday night.

The Senators haven’t beaten the Maple Leafs in a regular season series since the season where they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07. In that time period the Senators have gone 16-22-4 against them, including Sunday nights loss. More recently, the Senators have gone 2-6-2 in their last ten games against the Maple Leafs. Considering that the Senators finished with less points than the Maple Leafs in only two of the seven seasons since their run to the Stanley Cup Final, that record shouldn’t be as bad as it is.

One of the main reasons why the Senators have been on the losing side of the rivalry over the past few years, is because of the addition of Phil Kessel. The Senators have had trouble shutting down Kessel since he joined the Maple Leafs in 2009-10. In 47 career games versus the Senators, he has 46 points.

Kessel has thrived in this new version of the rivalry between these two teams, which no longer features games highlighted by Daniel Alfredsson and Mats Sundin. Instead the games are highlighted by players such as Kessel and Erik Karlsson. As of right now, both teams also have goaltenders capable of winning on any given night. The rivalry might not muster the same excitement that it used to, but that doesn’t mean that these games are of any less importance to the Senators.

Before the beginning of the season, the two teams were ranked in the bottom ten of 30 teams in the league, but were arguably both bubble teams in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. After last night’s game, the Maple Leafs leap-frogged the Senators for fifth place in the division. This gives them a one point lead on the Senators.

Although its early, the Senators need to play better against their provincial rivals. Last night they held a 3-2 lead but allowed three unanswered goals en route to their loss.

The teams may be evenly matched, but Ottawa has let too many games against the Maple Leafs slip away from them in recent history. Their next match-up against the Maple Leafs comes on January 21. Hopefully the Senators can turn the tide, for the sake of the rivalry that’s slowly tilting towards one side.