As they boarded the plane on Wednesday, the Senators had sunshine in the forecast.
And not only because their charter flight was leaving the frozen tarmac of Ottawa, bound for Florida.
If the Senators, like a responsible pilot, ran through the pre-flight checklist of their early season, they could tick off box after box.
Get fans on board: Check.
Consistent goaltending from starter Craig Anderson: Check.
Let new defencemen Marc Méthot, Andre Benoit and Patrick Wiercioch get a foothold: Check.
An early, confidence-building goal for forward Jakob Silfverberg: Check.
Get the power play and penalty kill units up and running: Check.
The last thing the Senators wanted, coming off a 2011-12 season in which they over-achieved, was a slow start to create doubt. Here, too, it’s mission accomplished after opening the shortened season with victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers.
A tougher schedule lies ahead, so it is vital for the Senators to bank points while they open with eight of their first 13 games at home, and no games against the NHL elite until Game 5 on Sunday, when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Scotiabank Place.
In between is the potential for further success — or a harsh setback — with dates against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday and Friday.
As they look around at winless teams in their conference, including the 0-3 Flyers, the Senators have to be pleased with how they’ve come out of the gate.
“You can’t make the playoffs in the first 10 games, but you can put yourself in a position where you’re not chasing,” said centre Jason Spezza, after a short team skate at the Bell Sensplex before the flight. “We want to keep accumulating wins and hopefully put us in a good spot.”
Spezza thinks too much is made of winless teams off the first week of the schedule, especially a strong club like Philadelphia, but he admits an early string of losses in a short season “does send off a bit of alarm.”
Oh, to be in Philly to hear endless hours of goalie talk on the radio. This is just the kind of season — with 34 dates chopped by the lockout — when a good team with a fatal flaw can get left behind.
“A year like this gives every team hope because it’s a little more unpredictable and there’s a lot of unknowns,” Spezza said.
By the nature of their profession, coaches are worriers, doubly so in the untamed wild of a 48-game season.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean is thinking less about the two wins, and more about being ready when the level of play and intensity of competition takes off in the weeks ahead.
“Everything is going to go up slowly and we have to be prepared to go up with it,” MacLean said.
If the Senators had a major concern in launching right into the schedule, it was having goaltender Anderson game ready without playing games during the lockout, in front of three new faces on the blueline. So far, Méthot looks like an upgrade over Filip Kuba in the pairing with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, and the Binghamton tandem of Benoit and Wiercioch have been steady. The patience Wiercioch showed with the puck before setting up his boyhood pal Kyle Turris in the home opener reflects the patience the organization has shown with Wiercioch. He has top-four potential.
Likewise, there was relief all around when Silfverberg scored his first NHL goal, a collector’s item puck to pack with him for Florida. Playing alongside Spezza and Milan Michalek on Ottawa’s first line could be daunting for the earnest, soft-spoken Silfverberg, who badly wants to succeed in the NHL after dominating the Swedish Elite League last season.
“As a young player, now getting your first goal maybe it makes him a little more comfortable,” Spezza said. “The most important thing for him is not to rush. He’s so anxious to do well, you try to help him out and keep him calm.
“When he scored, I was pretty happy for him just because I know he’s putting pressure on himself to produce and play well. Now that he’s got the first one, hopefully he can get into a rhythm.”
Spezza says the Senators will face a “hungry” Panthers team after Florida went 0-for-Canada, with losses to Ottawa and Montreal. Perhaps, but the first game home after a road trip will be made that much tougher for the Panthers, considering how Anderson has owned them.
After Monday’s 4-0 shutout, Anderson, a former Panthers goaltender, is 8-0-1 lifetime against Florida, and in no hurry to hand Ben Bishop his first start of the season.
MacLean has said Bishop could start on this trip, and that leaves only the Lightning game, but the coach is making no promises. That particular flight plan has not yet been registered.