After dropping the season opener to the Buffalo Sabres, followed by a disastrous 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators celebrated several “firsts” in their last two games. Their first point of the year came in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Washington Capitals and their first win of the season finally arrived on Thursday evening; defeating a tired looking Carolina Hurricanes squad. The Senators also scored their first power play goal of the season and witnessed the first injury of the new season to goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
After the beat-down in Toronto, captain Daniel Alfredsson gathered up the Sens on Monday morning before facing the always-dangerous Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. His message, do not panic – it is early in the season, we are better then our results indicate and we need to be confident in our abilities, as individuals and as teammates.
As the game progressed on Monday evening, the message began to sink in with the Ottawa players, as Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson, and the rest of the team began to remember that they finished fifth overall in the Eastern Conference last season. In the first games, the entire team appeared to be feeling the pressures of expectations. With the departure of Anton Volchenkov and the shift to an offensively minded defence, Chris Phillips looked lost at times, Karlsson looked scared, and everyone appeared to be waiting for something magical to happen with Sergei Gonchar added to their blue line. Alfredsson’s meeting reminded the players that it was time to start working and lend a hand to goaltender Pascal Leclaire; the best player in a Senators uniform by far this season.
“There wasn’t a sense of panic, but we knew we needed to address how we played,” Jason Spezza told the local media. “We’ve got to start playing good from day one. We can’t let things slide and if you let things slide too much, then you get into trouble.”
Despite the overtime loss, the Senators outplayed the Capitals and earned their first point of the new season. Alex Ovechkin scored the OT winner, a goal Leclaire would love to get another chance at stopping, but that is what makes players like Ovechkin great – he can beat you with a dazzling play, and at other times, he just beats you. Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth stole the two points for his Washington teammates and Ottawa wrapped up their third game of the season still in search of their first power play goal, 0-14 with the extra attacker.
All it took for Ottawa to score that first power play goal, as well as pick up their first win of the season, was a two-goal night from Mike Fisher against a jet-lagged Carolina team that opened the season in Helsinki, Finland against the Minnesota Wild; the Hurricanes will remain on the road until their home opener on October 27th. These are the games Ottawa is expected to win, and despite letting the Hurricanes back into the contest in the third period, Fisher’s performance saved the day. Ottawa can now look ahead to Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens with a victory in the win column.
One player not on the way to Montreal to take on the Habs is Pascal Leclaire. Two minutes into the fourth game of the year, and Leclaire was off to the dressing room for repairs. Despite the lack of wins, Leclaire has been Ottawa’s best player this season; his injury will shift the goaltending spotlight on Brian Elliott, the winning goalie in last night’s 3-2 victory.
Head coach Cory Clouston told the Ottawa media today (available on the Senators Twitter feed), that Leclaire injured his groin on the first save of the game, not a collision in the crease with a Carolina forward.
“The collision was nothing,” Clouston said. “They kind of focused in on that on the highlights, but both times when he was bumped it was nothing. He hurt it on the first shot, he tried to stay in, but then when he made the second save, when he extended his leg out, that’s when he realized he had done something.”
Leclaire commented on the injury today as well…
“That first save, I just kicked my leg out and I heard a little pop and felt it right away,” Leclaire said. “I felt great in the warm-up, playing in the game I didn’t feel stiff at all, I guess maybe it was an awkward kick or something like that. It doesn’t look too bad…”
“It is frustrating,” Leclaire continued. “I kind of want to get a break from those (injuries), but hopefully it is not too long before I can get back on the ice.”
As for Ottawa’s goaltending duo moving forward, Brian Elliott will get his chance to stake his claim to the number one role and rookie, Robin Lehner, will start in Binghamton this evening and join the team in Montreal on Saturday. Lehner was the best goaltender in pre-season action and if Leclaire’s injury turns into a long-term issue, he will get the chance to prove he is ready for the NHL.
After the Montreal game on Saturday evening, Gonchar and the Senators head to Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (Monday) and look to even their season series with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday (October 22).
The NHL announced today that Senators forward Nick Foligno will not be suspended and will receive a fine of $2,500 (the maximum fine under CBA rules) for his hit on Carolina forward Patrick Dwyer.
NHL executive Colin Campbell made this statement regarding the hit:
“While there was no injury as a result of the hit, it is clear that Foligno delivered a shoulder check from the blind side that made primary contact with Dwyer’s head”
“It is also clear that Foligno was delivering the hit in an attempt to get the puck. Finally, in determining that a fine was the appropriate discipline for this incident, I took into account that Foligno has not been suspended previously by the league.”
So, a “blind side hit” that made contact with Dwyer’s head does not deserve a suspension? It is a good thing that the league created a new rule for this exact scenario… There was no penalty called on the play, and whether Foligno intended to make contact with Dwyer’s head or not, the lack of a suspension is a strange decision to say the least…
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.