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Northeast: Sens excelling at specials, not much else

by John McGourty /
With a 7-9-4 record, there haven't been too many highlights this season for the Ottawa Senators, who reside in last place in the Northeast Division under new coach Craig Hartsburg. But there are bright spots.

The Senators have an excellent record on specials teams. They are the second-best penalty-killing team in the Northeast with an 85.4 percent success rate. Only the New York Rangers, with an otherworldly 89.9 percent success rate, are better in the East. The Senators are the sixth-best power-play team in the conference with an 18.9 percent success rate.

Ottawa is fifth-best in the NHL in allowing only 2.40 goals per game. Hartsburg is looking for more winning from his team, but he strongly believes that will come with a commitment to his style of play. Some of the losses can be attributed to not following his system and some of the losses come from trying to learn a new system. So Hartsburg is looking for two things: An acceptance by his team of his style of play and its successful incorporation.

That's why Saturday's 4-1 victory against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place is so encouraging. Not only did it end a six-game losing streak, it contained a lot of the elements that Hartsburg and General Manager Bryan Murray want. The Senators not only got goals from first-liners Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, but youngsters Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester also scored.

The top line of Dany Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson had a second-period shift in which they pinned the Rangers in their end for about a minute and drew a big applause from the fans. The Senators outshot the Rangers, 36-19, and outhit them, 31-28. They had 16 takeaways. The Rangers had three.

Still, problems remain. The Senators are 50 percent on the season on faceoffs and ranked 16th League-wide. But they lost 58 percent of their faceoffs against the Rangers.

Of course, second-line center Mike Fisher was out of the lineup with an injury. Antoine Vermette has been taking a lot of faceoffs and has a 58.4 percent success rate. But he was 5-for-11 Saturday.

The Senators are also one of the NHL's worst teams -- 28th so far -- in five-on-five play, with a 0.76 goals for/against ratio. They score three goals to the opposition's four at even strength.

But this is a time for the Senators to focus on their positives. They have made some significant changes to the roster that got them to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, but they still have a core of veterans that have been winners. They have some good, young players emerging and a goaltender, Alex Auld, who is third-best in the NHL with a 2.04 goals-against average and seventh with a .926 save percentage.

If the Senators can keep the score down against them, they just have to get more scoring throughout their lineup. Heatley, Alfredsson, Spezza and defenseman Filip Kuba are getting their points, but no one else has more than eight points or four goals.

Wilson is right here -- Boston Globe hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont for years has ended his Sunday column with "Where have you gone, (insert former NHL player's name.)" We've got two this week: Where have you gone, Darryl LaFrance? LaFrance had 55 goals and 67 assists for 122 points while playing right wing for Marc Savard on the 1994-95 Oshawa Generals. LaFrance then played in the International and East Coast hockey leagues before retiring in 2000.

And where have you gone, Landon Wilson? Wilson made the news twice last week. Most importantly, Wilson made it back to the NHL when the Dallas Stars called him up in the wake of Brenden Morrow's injury. Wilson was the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round pick, No. 19, in the 1993 Entry Draft. His rights were traded June 28, 1994 with Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre and a first-round pick to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a first-round pick. Wilson had just completed the first of his two seasons at the University of North Dakota and had been named WCHA Rookie of the Year.

Wilson's name first came up last week when Clark had his No. 17 honored Saturday night before the Blackhawks game at the Air Canada Centre.

Wilson played 16 games for the Colorado Avalanche during two seasons before he was traded Nov. 22, 1996, to the Bruins with Anders Myrvold for a first-round pick. He played 130 games for the Bruins and had 12 goals and 21 assists before signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes. He was in his second season there when he suffered a serious eye injury on Dec. 13, 2002. He came back the next year with Phoenix and was traded at midseason to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wilson played the next year in Finland and then three seasons in Switzerland. He signed as a free agent with Dallas this year and played 15 games for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins in which he had 8 goals and 7 assists. The Stars called him up Nov. 22, 14 years after he was traded for Sundin and almost six years since his eye injury, and he had a goal Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers, his 350th NHL game.

Wilson's dad, Rick, is the assistant coach of the Stars, in charge of the defense. Rick Wilson played four seasons in the NHL, including two in St. Louis, where Landon was born. Rick was an assistant coach on the 1980 NCAA champion North Dakota Fighting Sioux and was coach of the Prince Albert Raiders in 1986 when they had the WHL's fewest goals allowed. Rick Wilson has been with the Stars since 1993 and won a Stanley Cup in 1999.

Down times in Montreal -- The sun will certainly shine again in Montreal and perhaps even soon, but recently the city's sports fans have had a hard go. The Canadiens have won only one of their last 10 games in regulation. They won two more in shootouts, but have lost four games in regulation and three in shootouts. The five shootouts and the lone outright win gave the Canadiens nine of a possible 20 points.

Fans don't know whether to laugh or cry: One win in 10, but they've gained points on all but one team in the division.

On Sunday, the Montreal Alouettes lost their fifth Grey Cup of the millennium, 22-14, to the visiting Calgary Stampeders. The Als have lost four Grey Cups since beating Edmonton in 2002. They also lost the Final in 2000.

Crunching numbers -- Stats are important ... except when they aren't!

Say what? Well, the Boston Bruins lead the Eastern Conference with the fewest goals allowed, 49. But Ottawa is 12th in the division and they've allowed the second-fewest goals in the conference, 51. What's really important is that Boston has the biggest goal differential, 20. They've scored 69 times and that's tied for the conference lead with the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. Washington also has allowed 69 goals, a wash on the differential, but they're the only team in the conference that's undefeated at home.

The Bruins went 4-0 during the past week, with victories against Toronto, Buffalo, Florida and Montreal. They are 9-0-1 in their last 10. Montreal was next best at 1-1-1 with a shootout win against Ottawa, a shootout loss to Boston and a loss to Carolina. Ottawa also gained three points last week with a 4-1 win against the Rangers on Saturday and shootout losses to the Rangers and Montreal. Toronto was 0-1-1 with a loss to Boston and a shootout loss to Chicago. Buffalo was 0-3 with losses to Boston, Philadelphia and the Islanders.

The Bruins are dominating with a 7-1-2 record within the division. Montreal is 4-2-2. Buffalo is 2-3. Toronto is 3-3 and Ottawa is 1-3-1. Boston has shootout losses to the Rangers and Penguins to give them an 0-0-2 record against the Atlantic Division. Montreal is 2-1-1. Buffalo 3-3. Toronto 2-1-1 and Ottawa is 3-2-2. The Northeast is 10-7-6 against the Atlantic Division.

Boston is 2-0-0 against the Southeast Division. Montreal is 2-1. Buffalo is 1-1-2. Toronto is 0-2-1 and Ottawa is 2-2-1. The Northeast is 7-6-4 against the Southeast.

The Northeast is 14-8-5 against the Western Conference. While Boston's 5-2 record is best Toronto's 3-2 opening-night victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena remains one of the season's highlights.

This and that -- Boston Bruins center Marc Savard was named the NHL Player of the Week after his 2 goals and 6 assists led the Bruins to four-straight victories and helped them gain the best record in the Eastern Conference and open a seven-point lead in the Northeast Division. ... Buffalo Sabres left winger Thomas Vanek was tied by Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter for the goal-scoring lead with 15. ... Ottawa Senators left winger Dany Heatley is tied for fifth with 12 power-play points. ... Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle is tied with Sidney Crosby and Andy McDonald for eighth with 11 power-play points. … The Bruins had played nine home games and 12 road games, no doubt a factor in Savard being tied for second with Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom with 16 road points. ... Edmonton Oilers right wing Ales Hemsky leads with 17 road points. ... Edmonton has played an NHL-high 14 road games while Washington has played away 13 times. ... Savard tops the NHL with 13 points registered in his own division. His right wing, Phil Kessel, is fourth with 10 own-division points. ... Heatley and Vanek are the only Northeast Division players in the top 30 in points scored outside the division. Heatley is tied for 17th with 16 points and Vanek is tied for 24th with 15. … Toronto's Tomas Kaberle is tied for ninth among defensemen in the NHL with 15 points. ... Boston defenseman Dennis Wideman is third with a plus-11 rating. ... Wideman is one of eight defensemen who have scored a shorthanded goal this season and the only one in the Northeast Division. ... Nine defensemen have scored overtime goals, including Wideman, again the only one in the Northeast. ... Buffalo's Craig Rivet is fourth with 39 penalty minutes and he missed five games with a knee injury. ... Boston captain Zdeno Chara ranks sixth among NHL defensemen with an average of 26:27 minutes per game.

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