Exceptional play from forwards Jason Spezza (the NHL’s current second star of the week) and Milan Michalek, a hot power play and strong goaltending from Craig Anderson have the Ottawa Senators just one win away from .500 (4-5-0). Having claiming three straight victories in the last week, the Senators look to keep the good times rolling without rookie Mika Zibanejad, who will be sent back to his Swedish Elite League team Djurgardens.
“We all felt at the end of the day this was the right thing,” Senators General Manager Bryan Murray told reporters earlier today. Murray had earlier expressed his concerns with sending his young prospect to another continent.
“Will he benefit from playing in the (NHL)?” Murray asked. “Will he learn more playing here than going back to Sweden? If he were playing here in the junior system, where we could see him every day, it might be different. Not having a daily view of him if he went back makes it a little more complicated from my point of view.”
Ottawa faces a unique problem. With Peter Regin still out with a re-injured shoulder, the Senators’ skill level down the middle drops considerably after Spezza. The team does have Jesse Winchester back from injury, but the success of the team largely lies on the healthy return of Regin to help spread the offense.
Last Thursday, Anderson stood on his head while making 35 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Overcoming a 1-0 deficit entering the second period proved easy for the Sens as the top line of Michalek, Spezza and young Newfoundlander Colin Greening had combined for eight points through just two periods of play. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean felt his team’s struggling penalty kill may have made the difference as it kept the Jets power play off the scoreboard.
“More than half of (the opposition’s goals) were against our penalty-killers,” MacLean said. “They did a good job (tonight). That was the big difference.”
In a Hockey Night in Canada featuring an Original Six matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens, two of the league’s more recently added teams faced off in Ottawa last Saturday. The visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, then the league’s only winless team, strode in and took a 3-2 lead on the Senators. With close to a minute left of play and the Senators’ net empty, Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson sent a wrist shot at Blue Jackets netminder Steve Mason; the subsequent rebound saw Michalek taking a shot before Spezza scored. Then, with the Senators on a power play, Michalek tipped in a Sergei Gonchar bomb from the point to win the game with five seconds left. The comeback effort was reminiscent to the team’s resilient effort against the Minnesota Wild on October 11.
Last night, the Senators squandered a 2-0 lead against a desperate Carolina Hurricanes team late in the third period after a rare (but beautiful) goal from pugilistic enforcer Zenon Konopka and a power play goal by Spezza, which all came in the second period. Forwards Tuomo Ruutu and sophomore sensation Jeff Skinner scored to send the game to a shootout, where Spezza played saviour again by notching the only goal. The game was a Senators rarity as it marked the first time the team held a lead through the entire first period. Perhaps this infrequency was responsible for the team’s defensive meltdown with five minutes left to play in the third period. It was also Ottawa’s first road win this season.
Ottawa has a busy travel schedule next week; they face the Florida Panthers in Ottawa tomorrow night, head to New York City to take on the Rangers for an afternoon game on Saturday, return home for Round Two of the Battle of Ontario on Sunday night, and ship up (down?) to Boston for a match against the struggling Bruins next Tuesday.