Monday, October 27, 2008
Spezza Takes Over
That sound you heard was either the heartbeat of the Ottawa Senators coming back to life or the thousands of jaws hitting the floor in the Nations Capital after a game that was more unexpected than a good Nickelback song.
The Senators played only their second great game of the season and this one was even better than the win over Pittsburgh in game two of the Stockholm Series.
Yes the offense came back thanks to an utterly possessed Jason Spezza but even more heartening was the emotion the team showed when they were challenged physically by the Sabres.
First it was Jason Smith throwing Maxim Afinogenov to the ice after the speedy winger took a late shot on Alex Auld after the whistle. Then Mike Fisher jumped to Daniel Alfredsson's defense after Mike Weber took a run at the captain. Chris Neil got into his third fight in three games when he took on Sabre heavyweight Andrew Peters... and beat him.
It was an interesting sight to see Neil having a big laugh with Smith in the penalty box after that scrap, with Neil still sporting a welt on his cheek from an errant puck a few plays before that.
Then you had Alfredsson getting fist pumps from his teammates on the bench after simply clearing the puck on the penalty kill. According to the NHL Network's Gary Green, the players were going nuts on the bench as Alex Auld made huge saves throughout the game.
Maybe it's chemistry or maybe it's just an expression of relief from a criticism-weary bunch of guys, but something was happening out there.
Spezza was unbelievable and his pass from behind the net to Dany Heatley for a goal was awe inspiring - it actually threaded through a Sabre defenseman's legs on the way to Heatley's tape. There is no doubt that one day this will be his team and Spezza seems to be responding to Craig Hartsburg better than anyone could have thought. After being criticised heavily in the early going, Spezza has been among the hardest working players for three or four games now. The scoring was bound to come and his deke on Lalime was more vintage Spezza that fans should feel lucky to watch.
Antoine Vermette played well on that line and the penalty kill was again outstanding, easily being the Senators bright spot throughout the early season.
Auld is now solidifying his hold on the number one job by providing some real NHL goaltending for this team. He might be a tad scary when he handles the puck but Auld is miles ahead of Martin Gerber in both technical skill and confidence right now.
Christoph Schubert is also defying his critics, one of whom has been his coach, by showing that he can do the job on the last defense pairing with Smith. His early goal seemed to break the spell and the Senators never looked back.
The fourth line isn't taking a back seat either after being the only good unit for a number of games. Shean Donovan continued his hot streak by getting another goal and Dean McAmmond was all over the puck every shift.
I have a little crow to eat on Dean McAmmond as I figured him to be a dispensable player in the summer but he has totally proven me wrong and I couldn't be happier. I think Cody Bass is a future fixture for this team but McAmmond simply provides too much speed and leadership to take out of the lineup. Good for him.
Whatever the case was tonight, it shows that Craig Hartsburg may be slowly getting through to his players. With less skill than years past, the Senators will have to play a grinding, up-tempo game at all times to be successful and maybe it's just taken a while for some players to adjust.
It's only one game but sometimes that's all it takes to turn around your fortunes. As the road trip continues, fans in the Capital will be watching...and hoping that some consistency will develop.