Right from this season’s outset, it’s perhaps been job No. 1 on the to-do list for the Ottawa Senators’ coaching staff.
Find some second-line scoring punch to back up the offensive prowess of Daniel Alfredsson
, Jason Spezza
and Dany Heatley, widely regarded as the top trio in the National Hockey League.
Finally, thanks to a key addition up front, the numbers seem to be aligning just right for the Senators and head coach John Paddock. Scan the scoresheets for the last two games, and you’ll find the names of Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and newcomer Cory Stillman all over them.
Kelly and Vermette accounted for both goals in regulation time during Tuesday night’s thrilling 3-2 shootout triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place – the latter’s tally coming courtesy of a laser of a seeing-eye pass from the veteran Stillman, who was acquired last week from the Carolina Hurricanes.
For Kelly, it was his second goal in as many games. Vermette also scored during Tuesday night’s decisive shootout. Not bad for a duo that is best-known for its penalty-killing abilities but seems to have found the beginnings of a new chemistry with Stillman, the gritty forward with a pair of Stanley Cup rings to his credit.
Paddock called the new unit, which he created at the end of last week following a conversation with Vermette and Kelly, “our best line the past two games.”
“(It’s their) hockey sense,” Paddock said in describing why he thinks the combination has been an almost immediate hit. “Kelly and Stillman both think the game really, really well and Vermie’s got great speed … They really seem to be in sync (as a group).
“(Stillman) is really communicating with them and saying ‘let’s try this.’ And they’re hungry to create a little more offensively. (Vermette and Kelly) have a real important role on this hockey team killing penalties, but everybody yearns for a little bit of a different angle or spotlight.
“All of a sudden, they’re playing with a creative guy and they’re feeding off that, (gaining) a little bit of energy and confidence.”
Vermette can see the line’s chemistry beginning to build.
“You always want to find a way to help your team,” he said after Tuesday’s win. “If we can score that way, it’s welcome.”
Paddock said there’s nothing fancy about they way they’re getting the job done.
“They work it and work it until somebody’s free,” he said. “They’re keeping it simple, but keeping it simple also means a lot of work. You have to move your feet all the time.
“You also (need) that little bit of communication. Cory’s talking to them a lot and they’ve quickly developed a sense on the ice.”
They’d all like to build some momentum off Tuesday’s big win, which allowed the Senators to stay even with the Montreal Canadiens – who rallied from a 5-0 deficit before winning a shootout of their own – atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Northeast Division rivals both own 75 points (the Senators have a game in hand), two better than the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in what has become a torrid race.
“We want to build on that (win),” said Paddock, who gave his team the day off Wednesday. “Just be really ready to play. Get some energy like we had at the start of the game (Tuesday) night and be attacking and aggressive.”
Added Vermette: “We found a way to win. I hope we can build on that.”Around the boards
Paddock named Ray Emery his starter in net for Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200). It’ll be Emery’s seventh start in eight games … Forward Chris Neil
, who missed Tuesday’s game with the flu, should return against the Blue Jackets. “He’ll be fine tomorrow. I’m 100 per cent sure,” said Paddock … Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday’s game.