ANAHEIM – A mere four games into the season, Stephane Da Costa and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are already feeling some heat from Ottawa Senators fans – especially those who questioned the demotion of Mika Zibanejad to Binghamton of the American Hockey League at the end of training camp.
Da Costa played a total of 9:30 in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks and only sparingly in the third period. Pageau, meanwhile, logged 11:03 and lost penalty killing time as the Senators continue to struggle shorthanded.
So, what’s up with Zibanejad?
According to Binghamton coach Luke Richardson, Zibanejad had a strong game in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Norfolk Admirals, setting up the play that led to Andre Petersson’s game winning goal. Darren Kramer, Derek Grant and Jim O’Brien, into an empty net, also scored for Binghamton. It was the second game of back-to-back contests in Norfolk, which began with the Admirals 5-0 win on Friday.
“He has been great, he has played well and he has a good attitude,” Richardson said of Zibanejad, who has one goal and one assist in Binghamton’s three goals. “He has been strong on the puck and he probably should have had a goal (Saturday). He has done what we wanted him to do.”
The organization wants to see the Zibanejad that showcased himself against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs last spring. They want him to shoot him the puck, they want him to go to tough areas in the middle of the ice and they want him to take care of business defensively, as well.
The Senators don’t necessarily want Zibanejad to a big hitter, but they do want him to use both his size (6-2 and 211 pounds) and speed.
“Marian Hossa isn’t a banger, but he’s a powerful skater and he plays on the inside. He can also beat defencemen wide. We just want (Zibanejad) to do it all with intensity. It’s not that he played that bad in training camp, but there were two desperate guys (Da Costa and Pageau) that outplayed him. You’ve got to keep an eye out for guys who are pushing you.”
While the shock of being sent to the minors is one thing, there’s another strong form of motivation at work: the travel.
The round trip to Norfolk took 17 hours on the bus and the Binghamton arrived back home at 6 am following Saturday’s game.
Next weekend, Binghamton plays in Syracuse Friday, at home against Syracuse Saturday and the team will leave by bus immediately following that game for a four-hour trip to Bridgeport and a Sunday afternoon game.
“That’s another reason to push,” said Richardson.
As tough as the big-league Senators schedule was this weekend – a 5 pm start in Anaheim after a tough loss in San Jose Saturday – the Binghamton experience provides some perspective on how the other half lives.
PRINCE SITS OUT: Following Friday’s 5-0 loss – all five goals came in the first period, four of them on the power play – Richardson shook up his roster, making winger Shane Price and defenceman Michael Sdao healthy scratches.
Richardson believes Prince got the message.
“He had a great rookie camp and a strong training camp in Ottawa, but we felt in his first game he was on the perimeter and had only one scoring chance. We expect so much from him, but he got revved up by that (healthy scratch) and he’s a fiery guy. He didn’t like that.”