The Sens from A(lfie) to Z(ibanejad)

48 games and 26 letters, each representing part of the Senators’ 2013 regular season.

A: Alfredsson, Achilles and Ankle: Daniel Alfredsson was the Senators’ most consistent forward during the regular season. Where else in the NHL is a 40-year-old doing that? The captain’s play aside, the team’s ability to somehow withstand the Achilles injury to defenceman Erik Karlsson and the ankle sprain to goaltender Craig Anderson was really the story of the season.

B: Big Ben Bishop. Yes, the towering goaltender finished the season in Tampa Bay Lightning colours — dealt away for rookie Cory Conacher at the trade deadline — but his eight wins (four in a shootout) were pivotal in allowing the Senators to gain points consistently, even in games when they were outplayed.

C: Cooke and Cowen. Need we say more? Could there possibly be a more hated person in Ottawa than Matt Cooke, the Pittsburgh Penguins winger with the sharp skate blades and controversial background? Jared Cowen has comfortably settled back into his role as a physically imposing top-four defenceman for the Senators after missing 41 games following hip surgery.

D: Doppleganger. Way back on Jan. 21, Mike Watson — alias Paul MacClone — became a brief Internet sensation for his striking resemblance to coach Paul MacLean as he sat behind the Senators’ bench.

E: Eriks (Karlsson, Condra) and Eric (Gryba) that we know. Karlsson was on target for another Norris Trophy, winning a couple of games himself before the slice heard around Ottawa. Condra was instrumental on a penalty-killing unit that was at the top of the league rankings all season long. Gryba was perhaps the biggest surprise of all players on the roster, going from 10th on the depth chart to a defenceman who played well over 20 minutes per game after injuries decimated the blue line.

F: Frazer McLaren. The Toronto Maple Leafs heavyweight appears here because he dealt a crushing blow to Dave “Dizzy” Dziurzynski — a one-punch knockout seen over and over again on TV replays — effectively ending Dziurzynski’s stint as a forward with Senators. He’s back with Binghamton in the American Hockey League.

G: Great Goaltending and Gonchar. Anderson was a candidate for the Hart and Vezina trophies before Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers accidentally slid into his ankle, taking him out for eight weeks. The Senators crease then became a three-headed monster, including Bishop and Robin Lehner. The Senators battled Boston and Chicago for fewest goals allowed all season. Gonchar picked up some of slack lost when Karlsson left, setting a franchise record with assists in 10 consecutive games.

H: Harry Zolnierczyk: The former Philadelphia Flyers pest also delivered a nasty hit, in his case a leaping check on Senators defenceman Mike Lundin. Lundin was concussed and Zolnierczyk received a four-game suspension. That hit, coupled with McLaren’s punch, led Senators GM Bryan Murray to acquire Matt Kassian from Minnesota.

I: Injuries: Take a breath, a deep breath. Now repeat the names Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, Craig Anderson, Guillaume Latendresse, Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson. All of them missed significant time with ailments ranging from head (Latendresse’s whiplash) to back (Spezza) to hip (Cowen) to knee (Michalek) to ankle (Anderson).

J: Jack Adams: By making the most of a makeshift lineup game after game and getting the team into the post-season, Ottawa’s Paul MacLean appears to have the inside track on winning the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of the year. He was able to find significant roles for players (Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, André Benoit, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Dziurzynski) who weren’t considered top-end prospects when the season began.

K: Kaspars Daugavins: The Riga Wraparound, his unique, but failed ringette-esque shootout attempt against the Boston Bruins — placing the puck under the tip of his stick, skating down the ice and spinning in front of the net — was pretty much the only topic in the NHL for a few days. When the Senators put him on waivers, the Bruins picked him up.

L: Lockout and Lehner: We missed almost four months of NHL hockey. For what? So owners could try and flex muscles before returning to their old habits of signing players to ridiculous long-term contracts? Lucky for them, fans chose to forgive and forget. OK, sorry for the reminder. Looking ahead, Senators fans can expect Robin Lehner to be a major part of the future; he’s in the NHL for good and pushing Anderson for the top netminding job.

M: Marathon and Methot: The Senators were only minutes away when two bombs erupted at the Boston Marathon, giving perspective to what they do for a living and ultimately extending their regular season by a day. On the hockey front, defenceman Marc Methot was consistently solid all season long. If his original role was to serve as support for Karlsson, he delivered much more than expected.

N: Nazem Kadri: Thanks to Kadri’s hat trick in a 4-0 win against the Senators on March 30 and the ensuing love-in with Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry, there’s a fresh villain for Senators fans to hate in the Battle of Ontario. Kadri went cold after the goal explosion, not scoring again until — you guessed it — the Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 4-1 on April 20. The Maple Leafs won four of the five meetings between the teams, and a March 30 loss was the start of a five-game Senators losing streak that threatened to derail the season.

O: Overtime and One-Goal Games: It made perfect sense that the Senators clinched a playoff berth by winning a one-goal game in overtime. When they finished off Washington, it marked the 12th time the Senators had played beyond regulation, winning six and losing six. From Feb. 21 to March 16, they played in 11 consecutive one-goal games with a record of 5-2-4.

P: Pesky Sens: The moniker gained traction after the Senators erased a 3-1 third period deficit and defeated the New York Islanders 5-3 on March 19, another in a long line of games where the Senators could have disappeared. Defenceman Chris Phillips got the “Pesky Sens” ball rolling. From then on, whenever the Senators won, they sported “Pesky Sens” T-shirts during post-game interviews.

Q: Quincy: As in Quincy, M.E., the old television show about a medical examiner played by the late Jack Klugman. It came to mind after Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told a Toronto radio station he was working with forensic doctors to try to prove that Cooke’s slice of Karlsson’s Achilles had been an intentional act.

R: Rihanna and Rookies: The “Diamonds” diva set twitter ablaze when she showed up at a Los Angeles gala event in early April sporting a Senators sweater and what appeared to be nothing else. No, it doesn’t really have much to do with hockey, but it’s a shameless attempt to get a picture of the singer in the paper. As for the rookie reference, the Senators led the NHL with 15 first-year players seeing game action this season.

S: Jason Spezza: Five games. Two goals. Three assists. After his back problems re-emerged Jan. 27 against Pittsburgh — why are the Penguins in the middle of all the bad news for the Senators? — Spezza had surgery, hoping to be back by the first or second week of April. A setback during rehabilitation altered that and he stopped skating. He’s on the ice again, but the team isn’t counting on his return during the playoffs.

T: Kyle Turris: Spezza’s injury put the spotlight squarely on the shoulders of Turris and he struggled with the increased attention on the ice. Turris opened the season with four goals in three games, but endured goalless stretches of 21 games and 13 games, even more noticeable in a 48-game season.

U: Underdogs: The Senators quietly relished being counted out after all the injuries, using it as motivation. “I love that we were able to prove all those people wrong,” Methot said after the Senators clinched a playoff spot. “We really didn’t need to talk about it (in the dressing room) because it was in our faces. We’re playing in Canada.”

V: Variety: Sure, it’s the spice of life, but it was also a fact of life for MacLean and Murray, who had to to patch together an ever-changing roster and lineup because of injuries. A total of 35 players saw game action for the Senators, so line combinations and defence pairings were in constant flux.

W: Winnipeg and Washington: Senators fans have never spent so much time worrying about the Jets and Capitals as they did in the last week of the regular season. Washington did the Senators a favour by putting Winnipeg on the brink and when Ottawa clinched against Washington, Winnipeg lost all hope of catching them.

X-rated: The comments from Melnyk, Senators general manager Bryan Murray, MacLean and Senators players towards Cooke if they were allowed to speak their minds publicly. There was no microphone attached to Chris Neil when he confronted the Penguins agitator at Scotiabank Place on April 22, but it was a colourful night for those who could read lips.

Y: Yzerman, as in Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. He fired Guy Boucher as coach following a 5-3 loss to the Senators at Scotiabank Place. Yzerman and Murray also completed the deadline deal bringing Conacher to Ottawa for Bishop and a fourth-round draft pick.

Z: Zibanejad. After Mika Zibanejad’s troubled start to the season in Binghamton — he was out of shape, unfocused and in and out of sick bay — there were considerable doubts about whether the sixth overall selection in the 2011 draft would become an impact NHL player. However, when Spezza’s back issues opened the door to full-time NHL duty, Zibanejad proved he had the skills to control play. The future looks bright for the 20-year-old.

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

Tags:

What do you think? Leave a comment