The Senators just weren’t listening, weren’t reading.
Either that, or they simply didn’t pay attention to the dire predictions that they did not have enough proven NHL talent to score goals, and were destined to finish at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Yes, it’s early, but with a month in the books, those supposed cellar dwellers are 7-5-0, fourth in the east, heading to Boston with a six-game winning streak on the strength of such scoring none of the NHL experts imagined. With 39 goals in 12 games, Ottawa is among the league leaders in goals for and no wonder.
Defenceman Erik Karlsson, leads all NHL players with 12 assists. Centre Jason Spezza has 15 points, tied for second overall behind Phil Kessel’s 18. Milan Michalek (Dany who?) has eight goals, tied for third best behind Kessel’s 10.
How did this happen? After some early blowouts, the young Senators (with five to six rookies on many nights) have settled in to head coach Paul MacLean’s system of tenacious skating and checking to remain competitive game after game.
Fans of the Senators, like the team itself, expected ups and downs, but what a run over the final two weeks of October. Here’s how they (re) built it:
The anatomy of perhaps the most unexpected six-game winning streak in the history of the Senators franchise.
1. Thurs. Oct. 20 Senators 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
After getting embarrassed 7-2 by the visiting Philadelphia Flyers in the previous game, the Senators held a players only meeting to talk about commitment. Good idea. The Sens produced a workmanlike win over the Jets, despite falling behind 1-0 on a goal by Dustin Byfuglien. While winger Milan Michalek scored two goals – one an empty-netter – a Daniel Alfredsson goal to make it 3-1 was the killer, after the Jets were pressing to tie the game. Intercepting the puck from Johnny Oduya, Alfredsson broke in alone and beat Ondrej Pavelec with a high shot to break the Jets spirit. Winnipeg outshot Ottawa 36-29 as Senators goaltender Craig Anderson was rock solid in a 35-save performance. The line of Michalek, Jason Spezza and Colin Greening finished with eight points. The Senators carried a 2-5-0 record into that game.
2. Sat. Oct. 22 Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3
The first of the little miracles that would mark the streak. Poor old Columbus, still seeking its first win of the season at this point, held a one goal lead into the final minute, when – boom! Boom! Spezza jams home a rebound at 19:24 and Michalek bags the winner on a power play with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Significantly, Filip Kuba scored his second goal of the season (matching his output for the entire 2010-11 season!) and Sergei Gonchar contributed two assists, as the two maligned Ottawa defencemen worked their way out of the doghouse of Senators fans. Anderson wasn’t tested a lot as the Senators outshot the Jackets 27-21.
3. Tues. Oct. 25 Senators 3 @ Carolina Hurricanes 2 (shootout)
Considering the Senators hadn’t won in Raleigh since Dec. 12, 2007, and that the Hurricanes were grumpy coming off a loss to Winnipeg, Ottawa’s modest two-game winning streak figured to end here. But no. Despite surrendering a rare 2-0 lead, the Senators survived, barely, an overtime period in which they were outshot 6-1 and won the shootout, traditionally an Achilles heel for the franchise. Spezza scored in regulation and beat Cam Ward with the shootout winner through the five-hole as the Senators took a game that on balance they deserved to win. Anderson was perfect in the shootout to record his fourth victory of the season.
4. Thurs. Oct. 27 Senators 4, Florida Panthers 3
The little miracles of the streak pick up their intensity here, as again the Senators steal a win late in the third, this time with just 2.5 seconds left in regulation. Nick Foligno tucked the winner past Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom, the 6-foot-6 marvel. The Senators defence continues to step up. Rookie David Rundblad made the winning goal possible with a world class move at the blueline to evade a defender and get the puck to Alfredsson, who put the shot on goal for Foligno to grab the rebound. Were the Panthers already thinking about overtime? Maybe. Kris Versteeg had tied the game at 19:12 of the third, and everyone in the building expected an extra period. Four different shooters scored for Ottawa.
5. Sat. Oct. 29 Senators 5 @ New York Rangers 4 (shootout)
No team should feel comfortable against the Senators in the third period, least of all the struggling Rangers. And yet, New York could not protect a 4-1 lead halfway through the third at MSG on Saturday afternoon. This one was eventful – Alfredsson was injured on an elbow to the head from Wojtek Wolski (a mere two minute minor) and Ottawa’s Zenon Konopka was ejected and given a five minute major for a hit on Artem Anisimov. Bad calls, both of them, and when the Rangers scored a pair of goals during the major to take a 2-1 second period lead, Ottawa’s streak was given the Last Rites. Not to worry. Spezza took the game in his hands in the third, appearing to rip two shots past Henrik Lundqvist, although the NHL has since awarded Spezza’s first of the period to Michalek on a tip. Michalek then secured his own rebound at 17:10 to force overtime. The shootout, Ottawa’s new best friend, delivered the victory on a Michalek backhand move. So, between the third period and the shootout, Michalek had a hat trick, although the shootout goal won’t count in his scoring totals. The soft-spoken Czech now has eight goals and five assists in 12 games. Did you know that Dany Heatley, for whom Michalek was traded, has just three goals and four assists in 10 games? That deal is looking better and better for Ottawa.
6. Sun. Oct. 30 Senators 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Do we call this the sixth candle or the icing on the cake? Regardless, how sweet it was for the Senators and their fans to send Leaf Nation out of the building moaning about that other Ontario team that just ran their win streak to six while climbing to within a point of Toronto atop the Northeast Division. This was the kind of grinding, defend-a-late-lead kind of win that head coach MacLean could appreciate. He has this young team working, skating, battling at both ends of the rink. Who cares that the winning goal was flukey, a long shot that paid off handsomely for Kaspars Daugavins. His reward for scoring his first NHL goal was a demotion to Binghamton the next day, but he will be back, and who knows where the team will be then.
Contact Wayne Scanlan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @HockeyScanner.