It was a night to remember for the Ottawa Senators.
A crowd of 19,858 shoe-horned its way into the Corel Centre (now the Canadian Tire Centre) to see the Senators blank the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.
That game was 15 years ago – Nov. 29, 2005. For some fans, especially those who were there and glued to every Senators game, it seems like yesterday. In other ways, with the constant winning and routine sell-out crowds, that era seems lost in the land of forever ago.
That 4-0 victory over the Canadiens gave Ottawa a 19-3-0 record to start the season. It was, at the time, the best start ever by an Ottawa Senators hockey team. And it remains one of the greatest first quarter-seasons in NHL history.
Many fans remember the 19-3-0 start for the 2005-06 Senators. It was, after all, the year that NHL hockey returned to its starved fans after a full season was due to the lockout. This was also the year that Ottawa was going to bring the Stanley Cup back home to its birthplace. They finally had the pieces in place to get past the Toronto Maple Leafs after losing to their provincial rivals in four straight playoff series. Twenty-two games into the 2005-06 season, it sure looked like the Senators were the team to beat.
The team had all of the pieces in place. With the arrival of Dominik Hasek, the Senators finally had an elite goalie between the pipes to take the team where Patrick Lalime, Tom Barrasso, Damian Rhodes, Ron Tugnutt and every other Sens goalie before them could not.
Here Comes Heatley
And then there was Dany Heatley’s arrival. Ottawa fans were both surprised and skeptical when the Senators traded Marian Hossa to Atlanta for Heatley. The Senators had just signed Hossa to a deal after some difficult negotiations. Just hours after signing him, they dealt him, along with his three-year, $18-million contract and defenceman Greg de Vries, for Heatley.
Heatley had requested a trade out of Atlanta. In September 2003, he was the driver in a serious car accident that claimed the life of his teammate, Dan Snyder. Heatley was seriously injured in the crash and missed the first three months of the season, but he’d play in 31 games and record 25 points.
The following season was the lockout year, and Heatley went to Europe to play for SC Bern in Switzerland. He was having a great season, with 24 points in his first 16 games. But another serious injury would put him on the sidelines, as he suffered a broken orbital bone, and his left eye became permanently dilated.
With what Heatley had gone through in the previous two seasons, the doubts of Senators fans were justifiable. The jury was out on his character regarding the car accident, and there were concerns with the injury problems he had dealt with in the previous two years. There was also the issue that Hossa was one of the most popular players on the Sens’ roster among fans in Ottawa.
The Senators, however, did not share the same skepticism. They signed Heatley to a three-year, $13.5 million deal. It was a much more fiscally palatable deal for the team than Hossa’s contract.
Heatley answered the skeptics immediately. In that 4-0 win over Montreal, which pushed the Senators’ record to 19-3-0, he recorded a point in his 22nd straight game with the team. Hossa held the previous Senators record for consecutive games with points in 13 games. Heatley, who would not record a point in his next game, fell just one game short of the record for points in consecutive games after joining a new team. That record of 23 games was set by Wayne Gretzky when he joined the Los Angeles Kings for the 1988-89 season.
Heatley made a positive impression in Ottawa long before his 22-game point streak. In the NHL season opener on Oct. 5, the Senators traveled to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs. Not only had Toronto been a playoff obstacle for the Senators, but they had also added hometown boy Eric Lindros to their lineup. With the Senators trailing in the third period, coach Bryan Murray decided to replace Brandon Bochenski with Alfredsson to play on a line with Heatley and Jason Spezza. And the move paid off. With 1:02 left in the third period, Alfredsson scored his second goal of the night to tie the game at 2-2. Heatley drew an assist on the goal to begin his 22-game point streak, and it marked the beginning of the most potent line in Senators history.
After overtime settled nothing, the game in Toronto featured the first shootout in NHL history. Ottawa fans know from the most overplayed trivia question in Senators history that Alfredsson became the first player to ever score a shootout goal. But few remember how the rest of the shootout played out. Toronto’s Jason Allison whiffed, and it was an easy save for Ottawa goalie Dominik Hasek, who like Heatley, was playing his first game in a Senators uniform.
Martin Havlat missed for Ottawa, and Lindros missed for Toronto. It was Heatley who beat Ed Belfour in the third round to clinch the win for Ottawa. The sticks used by Alfredsson and Heatley both ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
On Oct. 29, Heatley endeared himself to Ottawa fans as he scored four goals in an 8-0 win over the Leafs.
Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson officially became a full-time line for the Senators on Nov. 2, 2005, at a game in Buffalo. Heading into the Nov. 29, 2005 game, the line had been together for 11 contests. Alfredsson, over those 11 games, had 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points, while Spezza had five goals and 16 assists for 21 points. Heatley, meanwhile, had nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in those 11 games. Counting shootouts, the Senators had scored 100 goals through the first 21 games of the season. Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza had accounted for 48 of those 100 goals.
Against Montreal on Nov. 29, 2005, Heatley was not the only Senator to set a milestone with his 22-game point streak.
Ray’s Record Night
Goalie Ray Emery, who had great success against Montreal early in his career, had a pair of milestones in the game. The 4-0 win set an NHL record, as it marked the ninth straight win to start his career. The win was Emery’s third against Montreal in the young season, and it was also his first NHL shutout.
Not all was perfect for the Sens, however. Havlat injured his shoulder in the game after receiving a hard but clean hit from Montreal’s Michael Ryder. Havlat would play only 18 games that season, though he did return to the playoffs and play in all 10 of the Senators’ playoff games, recording 13 points.
When the calendar flipped to November, the streaks seemed to end. The Senators were shut out 3-0 in Boston in Dec. 1, bringing Heatley’s scoring streak to an end. Emery did not get his 10th straight win in his next start. On Dec. 10 in Calgary, the Flames beat Ottawa 2-1 in overtime. And Emery would lose his next start in regulation, as Ottawa was shut out 2-0 by Dallas five days later.
The Pizza Line
Despite the ups and downs, the Senators stayed on top of the standings, and Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson continued to light the lamp. The Ottawa Citizen held a contest to name the team, and its winner was the “CASH” Line (Captain Alfredsson, Spezza, Heatley). Fans, however, had other ideas. At Senators’ home games, fans could exchange their ticket stub for a slice of pizza at any Ottawa Pizza Pizza location any time the day after Senators scored five goals at home. When they would reach four goals, chants of “We Want Pizza!” would echo through the Corel Centre. Callers and hosts on talk radio, as well as Ottawa Sun writers, referred to the trio as the “Pizza Line.”
The season shut down for nearly three weeks for the 2006 Torino Olympics. Senators fans were excited about the games, as nine Senators would make their respective Olympic teams’ rosters, while a tenth would make it as a substitute. Heatley and Wade Redden would play for Canada, with Spezza going as a substitute. Defencemen Zdeno Chara and Andrej Meszaros played for Slovakia. Alfredsson would win a gold medal with Sweden. Anton Volchenkov would suit up for Russia. Christoph Schubert would play for Switzerland. Havlat made the Czech team, but he could not play because of his shoulder injury. And Dominik Hasek would also play for the Czechs.
Hasek’s goaltender equipment would get left behind in Ottawa, and he missed the first few days of practice with the Czech team. In the first period of the first game of the qualifying tournament, he suffered an injury to his right adductor muscle. That ended his run at the Olympics, and his season with the Senators would be over.
The Senators’ fortunes would rest with Emery, while they’d go on to acquire Mike Morrison as a backup.
Ottawa finished with 52 wins and led the Eastern Conference with 113 points. They did not win the Presidents’ Trophy, however, as the Detroit Red Wings had 124 points. Heatley became the first Senator to score 50 goals, breaking Hossa’s record of 45 goals in a season. Heatley also became the first Senator to reach 100 points in a season. He and Alfredsson finished tied for the team lead in points, setting a record with 103. Alexei Yashin had been the previous record holder, with 94 in a season.
Redden finished the season tied for the NHL Plus/Minus with Michal Rozsival of the New York Rangers. They both had a plus-35 for the year, while Meszaros had a plus-34, while the Senators led the NHL in goals, shots on goal and shorthanded goals.
Ottawa would beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs, making Emery the first rookie goalie since Brian Boucher of the Philadelphia Flyers to win a playoff series. Emery’s luck ran out in the next round, however, as Buffalo eliminated Ottawa 4-1. Buffalo, like Ottawa, won 52 games in the regular season and finished just three points behind Ottawa in the standings. Three of the Sabres’ four wins in the series came in overtime.
Hasek would never play for Ottawa again. But the Senators would get to the Stanley Cup finals the next year with Emery as their starting goalie, and they would get off to an even better start in 2007-08 when they went 13-1-0 in their first 14 games.
Despite the Senators’ dominance, the Stanley Cup eluded them through that three-year stretch.
Fans point to Hasek’s injury as the reason Ottawa did not win the Cup. But on that night 15 years ago, after the 4-0 win over the Habs, there seemed to be nothing but optimism in the Nation Capital Region.