Da Costa stakes his claim

Stephane Da Costa isn’t looking much further ahead than his own nose.

Da Costa stakes his claim
Ottawa Senators' Stephane Da Costa (24) celebrates his goal with Erik Condra (22) in the first period of an NHL hockey game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators in Pittsburgh, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Stephane Da Costa isn’t looking much further ahead than his own nose.

Yet thanks to his recent nose for the net, he could be staring at an unscheduled, paid vacation back home to France or somewhere south and sunny in the next few days.

Da Costa remains in limbo as the Olympic break approaches, but it was intriguing that the Senators chose to keep him here in Ottawa Thursday while Mark Stone was re-assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.

Assuming Da Costa plays Saturday against the Boston Bruins, he will have played only nine games on his latest recall, meaning he doesn’t have to clear waivers to be re-assigned to Binghamton during the Olympics. The Senators will likely opt to send Da Costa back to the minors, but the Paris-born centre isn’t getting lost in the what ifs.

“I have no idea, I’m here today and that’s all that matters,” DaCosta said before Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. “I don’t look at anything right now. I didn’t know that we were playing Buffalo after St. Louis (on Tuesday). I just go day by day, really.”

Only a few weeks ago, Da Costa appeared to be on his last legs in the organization, among that group of players who can dominate in the American Hockey League, but who can’t stick in the NHL.  After scoring three goals in four games and adding a pivotal shootout goal against St. Louis netminder Jaroslav Halak in Tuesday’s 5-4 win, though, Da Costa has now helped the Senators pick up invaluable points in the past two weeks.

The emergence of Da Costa as a solid two-way centre has also provided coach Paul MacLean with a trustworthy – albeit, unusually small – fourth line, playing alongside Erik Condra and Cory Conacher.

When he was recalled from Binghamton on Jan. 21, it was originally thought to be little more than a stopgap move until Stone recovered from his wrist injury.

MacLean says Da Costa has learned how to use “his mind and his feet” to his best advantage.

“Now he understands, I think, what he needs to do for him to be successful in this league and I think he has figured it out,” said MacLean. “He has been a player that has come in and provided offence and he has been very good defensively.

“The (criticisms) we had of him early in his career was that he couldn’t defend, that he couldn’t win faceoffs. He has gone to Binghamton and he has worked at those two specific things. He holds his own in the faceoff circle and he can play defence. Those two things gives a coach comfort.”

One obvious sign of Da Costa’s increased confidence is his increased willingness to talk about his emotions. He acknowledged his nervousness before facing Halak in his first career NHL shootout attempt. If he didn’t score, it was game over.

Yet after beating Halak to keep the shootout alive and watching as Kyle Turris finished off the Blues, he “was pumped the whole night after,” as the Senators made the early flight home to Ottawa.

Da Costa acknowledges getting caught up in his own mind games earlier in the season.

“Before, I was playing a little bit scared, scared of making mistakes,” he says. “Now, I know how it goes. I just need to play my game and that’s all.”

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