|The Ottawa Senators are clearly in a period of transition, and the current roster in Canada’s capital city bears nearly no resemblance to that which competed in a Stanley Cup Final four years ago. But these young Senators are loaded with skill and speed, an element that general manager Bryan Murray wanted a lot of when he decided to rebuild the club two years ago. It started with the trade of star winger Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks, when Murray acquired speedy winger Milan Michalek as part of that deal in hopes he could play with center Jason Spezza. |
Michalek has been a nice fit in Ottawa and developed into a regular 20-plus goal scorer in the National Hockey League. He and Spezza have formed a stellar top duo for new head coach Paul MacLean, who gets his first NHL head job after several years as an assistant under Mike Babcock in both Detroit and Anaheim. Interestingly enough, the Ducks won the Stanley Cup against the Senators in 2007 when MacLean was Babcock’s assistant. Though Ottawa’s lineup is very young up front, the Senators have the potential to be explosive despite their early-season struggles.
Murray has acquired and drafted young players such as Peter Regin, Bobby Butler, Nick Foligno, Stephane Da Costa and 18-year-old Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad was Ottawa’s first-round pick this past summer at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and is stating his case to remain with the parent club beyond the nine-game “tryout” period for junior players. MacLean has several experienced role players at his disposal to balance the youthful exuberance – namely team captain Daniel Alfredsson, who you could certainly argue is more than a role player, even at the age of 38.
“Alfie,” as he’s known around the NHL, still has tremendous speed and a lightning-like release on his shot that enables him to play at forward or the point on the Ottawa power play. Other veterans like Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka and Jesse Winchester add a sandpaper element that creates balance in the Senators’ forward corps.
On defense, the Senators are building something special with a trio of talented youngsters. David Rundblad, an accomplished player at a young age in the Swedish Elite League with Skelleftea HC, was acquired in exchange for a first-round pick in June 2010 from the St. Louis Blues – the club that originally used a first-round selection to draft him in 2009. At the age of 21, Rundblad appears poised to become a regular contributor in the NHL, and MacLean is beginning to trust him with more ice time as the season progresses.
Jared Cowen, 20, is a lumbering and physical presence to contrast Rundblad’s transition game. Ottawa’s first-round pick (ninth overall) in 2009, Cowen is also wading into the NHL this season after an impressive career with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.
The headliner on the back end is Erik Karlsson, perhaps one of the most dynamic young defensemen in the game. An All-Star for the first time last season at age 20, Karlsson is the building block around which Murray will build his blue line for years to come. He possesses a hard shot from the point and world-class skating ability that pose a challenge for any team to defend. Opposing coaches marvel at Karlsson’s poise and fearlessness on the blue line, especially for a young player.
Ottawa traded for goaltender Craig Anderson at the trade deadline a year ago in a deal that sent Brian Elliot to the Colorado Avalanche. Not much was expected of the 30-year-old from Park Ridge, Ill., especially after a subpar season in Denver. But Anderson was nothing short of outstanding over the final 18 games with the Senators, posting a record of 11-5-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and two shutouts.
That performance earned him a new four-year contract with Ottawa, and he enters this season as the undisputed No. 1 man between the pipes. Murray also inked veteran goalie Alex Auld to a one-year contract this summer to serve as the backup to Anderson.
| || || |
|Prospal (3) ||Michalek (5) |
|Nash (5) ||Karlsson (7) |
|Nash (7) ||Three tied (8) |
|Dorsett (14) ||Neil (36) |
|Four tied (+1) ||Regin (+3) |
|Mason (0-6-1) |
|Anderson (2-2-0) |
|Mason (3.46) ||Anderson (4.25) |
|Mason (.881) ||Anderson (.876) || |
|•The last couple of meeting between these two clubs have been close games full of intensity. Let’s go back to New Year’s Eve last season: the Blue Jackets built a 3-0 lead by the time two periods were complete, but the Senators came storming back. Daniel Alfredsson tied the game with under a minute to play, sending the game to overtime. In the extra session, Jakub Voracek buried a turnover through the legs of Senators goalie Brian Elliot to give Columbus a 4-3 victory. Two years ago, it was a 2-1 affair at Scotiabank Place that saw both teams traded chances throughout the game. Nick Foligno broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period on a sneaky wraparound that proved to be the winner. |
•Ottawa has had its share of troubles keeping pucks out of the net. The Senators have been beaten for seven goals on home ice two times this season: first, it was a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on October 13. Less than a week later, the revamped Philadelphia Flyers dropped seven in a 7-2 victory that did not sit well with Ottawa coach Paul MacLean. The Senators’ response was a defensively-sound 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets a few days later.
•The Blue Jackets have never gone this deep into a season without a victory. Columbus went 0-2-4-0 back in 2001-02 to open the campaign.
•Who’s hot for Columbus? Look no further than Derick Brassard, who figures to play his third straight game on the No. 1 line with Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger. With Jeff Carter on injured reserve, Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has given more ice time to the young center. Brassard has responded: he has scored in back-to-back games after being held without a goal in the first five games.
•Tonight’s game will be a homecoming for a trio of Blue Jackets players: defensemen Marc Methot and Grant Clitsome each call Ottawa home, while Brassard grew up in Hull, Quebec – about a half-hour outside of the Canadian capital. Clitsome enters the game shouldering a heavy load, too – with Radek Martinek suffering an injury on the first shift last night, it meant overtime for the Columbus defense. Clitsome finished with 28:00 total and spent over four minutes patrolling the blue line on the power play.
•What else can you say about Vinny Prospal? Last night’s game was the second straight in which Prospal was all around the puck. He fired seven shots on goal, picked up an assist and played over 18 minutes. He’s now the second-leader scorer on the Blue Jackets (3-3-6) and is one point behind Nash for tops on the club.
C - #19
•It’s safe to say all eyes will be on Spezza whenever his line hops over the boards tonight. Ottawa’s No. 1 center is consistently one of the team’s offensive leaders, and he possesses a multi-weapon arsenal. Spezza is a powerful skater that plays the game in “straight lines,” using his wide stride to get to the net with authority.
•Since the trade that brought Michalek to Ottawa, he and Spezza have formed a solid duo atop the Senators lineup. MacLean has experimented this year and tried Spezza with different line mates, but he and Michalek seem to click. Spezza also likes to shoot the puck, and can create rebound opportunities for his wingers by shooting from the middle of the ice.
G Mark Dekanich (ankle); indefinitely
LW Kristian Huselius (pectoral); indefinitely
RW Jared Boll (thumb); indefinitely
C Jeff Carter (foot); day-to-day
G Curtis Sanford (groin); 2 to 4 weeks
D Radek Martinek (undisclosed)