Senators defeat Panthers in battle of upstart teams

When the question was raised early Wednesday about the work Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has done this year, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean adopted his usual deadpan humour.

Senators defeat Panthers in battle of upstart teams
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Florida – When the question was raised early Wednesday about the work Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has done this year, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean adopted his usual deadpan humour.

“He’s just like me, he’s getting out of the way and letting the players play,” he said, with a grin.

If only it was that simple.

Fact is, MacLean and Dineen have been the authors behind two of the most surprising stories in the NHL this season, shocking pre-season observers by keeping their teams in playoff contention with only seven weeks remaining in the regular season.

As a result, as their teams met here Wednesday – Jim O’Brien scored his first NHL goal, Kaspars Daugavins and Bobby Butler broke long goal scoring droughts, while Daniel Alfredsson,. Milan Michalek and Filip Kuba also scored as the Senators capitalized on the injury-depleted Panthers defence to post a 6-2 victory to sweep their two-game Florida swing — both MacLean and Dineen were in the running for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.

The respective coaches have established their success in different ways.

As Senators fans know well enough, MacLean was the long-time assistant for Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings machine and has managed to find chemistry between the old guard led by Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips and a group of youngsters.

Dineen, a former Senator – he was the first NHL player to play his 1,000th game in a Senators uniform – has successfully brought together a holdover crew of Panthers players and an incoming camp of veteran players. Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been a busy man, bringing in Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Mikael Samuelsson and Jose Theodore, among others.

“We talked about that a lot, early on,” Dineen said of the coaching staff’s efforts to find chemistry. It helped matters, Dineen says, that many of the incoming players had “leadership qualities” after being on teams with strong playoff backgrounds. Versteeg and Campbell won the Stanley Cup with Chicago. Samuelsson went to the finals with Vancouver last season.

Senators tough guy Zenon Konopka, who played for Dineen with Portland in the AHL, raves about him as a coach. Alfredsson, who played alongside Dineen when both were in Ottawa, remembers him for his “work ethic as a player, he brought it every game.”

Now, that’s a culture he’s trying to imprint on the Panthers, who haven’t made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. Outside of Campbell, the Panthers aren’t overloaded with dynamic game-breakers, but they’ve often worn down teams, both at home on the road.

That certainly didn’t happen Wednesday, though, as the Panthers bid for a fourth consecutive victory was over early.

Instead, it was MacLean’s squad which had the magic touch. In particular, the Senators young depth forwards that were among the shining stars, helping chase Panthers starting goaltender Scott Clemmensen in the second period. Jose Theodore finished the game. The Senators have won all three meetings against the Panthers this season and nine consecutive overall. Spezza had three assists, giving him seven points (three goals, four assists) in two games.

“You don’t score six in a game and you don’t continue to win if you don’t get contributions from everybody,” said MacLean. “It’s not only on the offensive side of the puck with goals and assists. It’s also on the defensive side, with blocked shots and finished checks and doing a good job backchecking. I thought we got that from all of our lines.”

O’Brien, who was the Senators first round draft pick six years ago, finally got his first NHL goal, opening the scoring, on a wraparound.

“It’s something that you’re working towards since you’re playing Mites hockey,” said O’Brien. “Just a great feeling. It was even better that we got the win tonight.”

Shawn Mattias beat Senators goaltender Craig Anderson to tie the game in the first period, but Anderson was sharp during a period where the Panthers carried the play.

The Senators took control on goals from Daugavins and Butler 2:06 apart. It was Daugavins first goal in 38 games. Butler now has six points in his past four games.

Clemmensen’s night ended when Alfredsson beat him with the Senators shorthanded.

Michalek padded the lead early in the third. The Panthers’ Brian Campbell and Kuba scored power play goals late in the third to complete the scoring.

GAME FILE

Why They Won: Goaltender Craig Anderson was sharp early and the Senators took control with some long lost offence – with Jim O’Brien, Kaspars Daugavins and Bobby Butler all scoring. The game was over after Daniel Alfredsson chased Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, scoring shorthanded with 5:54 left in the second period.

Stud: Jim O’Brien, Senators. The Binghamton call-up finally got rewarded offensively, netting his first NHL goal. O’Brien, who has now played in seven straight games, has been a solid defensive presence as a fourth line forward and it will be difficult for coach Paul MacLean to take him out of the lineup.

Dud: The Panthers’ power play. Down 3-1 late in the second period, the Panthers had a chance to get back into the game, blessed with the man advantage for almost four straight minutes, 11 seconds of that with a two man advantage. Not only did they not score, they also yielded a shorthanded goal to Daniel Alfredsson. It was Alfredsson’s 20th goal, the 13th time he has hit that mark.

WHAT WERE THE ODDS?: O’Brien scored his first NHL goal, while Kaspars Daugavins scored his first goal in 38 games, Butler netted his first in 12 games and Filip Kuba hit the twine for the first time in 17 contests. Defenceman Brian Lee had two assists, his first two-point game of the season.

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