What a difference a day makes. What a difference a save makes.
The Ottawa Senators will take the ice for the home opener against the New Jersey Devils Thursday carrying an injection of confidence, thanks to Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Phoenix Coyotes. The victory allowed them to salvage something from a four-game western road swing which was on the verge of going nowhere but south — way south.
Only seconds before Cory Conacher’s game winner, goaltender Craig Anderson made a pair of point blank stops, including a robbery of former Senator Antoine Vermette on a 2-on-1 break.
A goal there and the mood coming back to the Canadian Tire Centre would have been completely different. Instead of facing endless questions about what would have been a five-game losing streak, the Senators can now take solace in having completed their season-opening six-game road trip with a .500 mark.
There are no plans for a Stanley Cup parade route just yet, but at least the Senators can talk about constructing a road toward something positive.
“Winning covers up a lot of mistakes, winning makes you feel good about yourself,” said Anderson, who was sharp after allowing two goals on the first seven Coyotes shots. “Obviously, there are mistakes, plays we want to change, but credit the guys. They found a way to get it done.
“You’ve got to build on the good things. When you win, your focus is on the good things. When you lose, you tend to focus on the bad things and maybe that snowballs a bit.”
Anderson firmly believes the Senators took a step toward finding that elusive “identity” that has been coach Paul MacLean’s theme ever since the disastrous performance in California. The Senators didn’t fall victim to a pity party when they fell behind 2-0 early in the second period against Phoenix. Or when the Coyotes’ Mike Ribeiro scored with 3:30 left to send the game to overtime.
“It’s a sign of mental strength,” said Anderson, who is expected to get the start against New Jersey. “We parked those first two goals and found a way to get some momentum back.”
As for his own game, Anderson insists the ultimate statistic for netminders is the number in the wins column.
“You’ve got to stop one more than the other guy,” he said. “Grant Fuhr made a living out of winning games 6-5, making one more save than the other guy. The big picture is you got the win and it doesn’t matter what the (other) statistics are. If the team wins, everybody’s happy.”
Indeed, the smiles were everywhere as the Senators left the desert Wednesday morning for an overdue dose of home cooking.
“This has been a long stretch on the road and getting the two points gives us a lot of confidence,” said captain Jason Spezza, who registered a natural hat trick to take the Senators from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead.
“We’re excited to get home, we’re excited to play in front of our fans, we’re excited to see our families. Home ice advantage is big in this league.”
Spezza recognizes the Senators have work to do. Ribeiro’s late goal in regulation was, he says, an indication of some uncertainty.
“It just shows you how hard this trip was,” he said. “We’re not making it easy on ourselves, but we found a way. By not holding the lead, it shows we’re lacking a bit of confidence with the lead. We haven’t played with it much, but that will come the more we have the lead.”