|Centre Jim O'Brien, the Senators' top pick (29th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, is making an impact in the eyes of the team's coaching staff in his second stint with the big club (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
admits he wasn't prepared for the moment.
But the Senators rookie forward looked like a seasoned veteran as he celebrated his first career National Hockey League goal Wednesday evening at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., It was the opening salvo in a 6-2 triumph over the Florida Panthers that allowed Ottawa to complete a sweep of the Sunshine State on back-to-back nights.
The 23-year-old native of Maplewood, Minn., pounced on a loose puck to the left of Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, wheeled around the net and buried a nifty wraparound at the 5:35 mark of the first period to open the game's scoring. Then came the windmill fist pump that punctuated the moment.
"I wasn't thinking of that," a smiling O'Brien said when asked afterward if he'd planned the celebration of his first NHL goal. "It just kind of happens ... It's more (a feeling) of just relief. It was kind of building up there and it was just a great feeling."
Indeed, the 6-2, 200-pound centre seemed like a man on the verge of that moment over the last few games, as he generated an increasing number of scoring chances for himself. Finally, it happened on Wednesday night, making him the fifth player to record his first NHL goal in an Ottawa uniform this season. He follows in the footsteps of Stephane Da Costa, Kaspars Daugavins
, Jared Cowen
and David Rundblad, before he was dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes.
For O'Brien, the Senators' top pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (29th overall), it's been a long time in coming. He seemed a forgotten man in the Ottawa organization for a time, but made huge strides last season and earned his first promotion to the NHL on Dec. 31, 2010, a road affair against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He spent six games with the big club before returning to the American Hockey League and helping the Binghamton Senators claim the Calder Cup crown.
O'Brien was recalled from Binghamton on Feb. 3 and has impressed head coach Paul MacLean with his work ethic and presence around the net. With Peter Regin
sidelined for the season and Jesse Winchester
still recovering from a concussion, O'Brien likely isn't going anywhere anytime soon. All the more reason for him to savour this moment.
"It's something that you're working toward since you're a little guy playing mite hockey," said O'Brien. "It's a great feeling."
MacLean suggested O'Brien's first NHL goal symbolized what he's brought to the Ottawa lineup.
"Everyone remembers their (first one)," said MacLean. "He's a hard-working player and he can tell everyone it was a hard-working goal."
The win over Florida also saw Bobby Butler
and Kaspars Daugavins
end lengthy scoring droughts with goals of their own. MacLean felt it was just reward for all of them.
"They've all been real good soldiers for us and worked hard," he said. "They've had some ups and downs in their season and it's nice to see them rewarded for sticking to it and being dedicated to working hard on and off the ice.
"It's good to see. We always believed they were good players and we just had to wait until it arrived for them. It's good for them, and what's good for them is good for the team."Around the boards
With O'Brien in the mix, the Senators currently have 10 first-round draft picks in the lineup, including seven of their own — centre Jason Spezza
(2001), forward Nick Foligno
(2006) and blueliners Cowen (2009), Erik Karlsson
(2008), Brian Lee (2005) and Chris Phillips
(1996) are the others. In addition, centre Kyle Turris
(2007) and forward Milan Michalek
(2003) were top 10 picks in Phoenix and San Jose, respectively, and defenceman Sergei Gonchar
went 14th overall to Washington in 1992 ... Lee and Daugavins both recorded their first career two-point nights in the victory over Florida ... With 63 points (25-38), Spezza ranks second in the NHL scoring race behind only Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (32-37-69) ... Karlsson's 53 points (10-43) are the second-highest ever recorded in a season by a Senators blueliner, behind only Norm Maciver (17-46-63) in 1992-93, the team's expansion season. Karlsson still has 22 games left to shatter that standard ... The Sens are now off until Monday, when they travel to Uniondale, N.Y., to face the Islanders in a Presidents' Day matinee (1 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).