It's probably tough for Senators fans to get excited after barely squeezing by the last place Tampa Bay Lightning but it at least sets up a possible mini-streak with the almost equally struggling Atlanta Thrashers coming to town on Tuesday.
Not to put too much dramatic emphasis on it, but the Atlanta game is another must-win for the Senators. Pundits are already starting to count them out for the playoffs, including Adam Proteau of the Hockey News who points to the fact that the Senators have 9 more games against Boston and Montreal. He didn't even mention their 3 gargantuan road trips left in the season.
But if you're looking for positives in a game that still felt a little like a loss due to a flaccid performance by the top line, there's a few to mention.
Obviously, Martin Gerber getting the shutout is a big leap forward for the beleaguered goalie but this might only be setting up another headache for the team. Gerber should never have been on this roster going into the season but now a few good games is going to force Craig Hartsburg's hand and the whole circus is about to start again.
Don't be fooled. The technical issues that have hampered Gerber's game have not suddenly gone away and they will rear their ugly heads again at the worst possible moment if Gerber is given another shot to play meaningful games.
Unfortunately, it looks like that's the direction the team is headed in. Still - Gerber gets kudos for a solid game.
Other positives: Alex Picard and Brendan Bell are starting to look better and call-up Brian Lee played a solid, if uninspiring game.
If you watched the opening half-hour of Hockey Night In Canada, you would have seen footage of Brendan Bell escorting the two hockey bag carrying Bingo call-ups (Lee and Ilya Zubov) to the Senators dressing room and seemingly calming their nerves by making a few jokes - if the big grin on Zubov's face is any indication. Bell seems like a natural leader and a guy who commands respect, if not for his actual play but for his character. It's hard not to cheer for a guy like that.
Speaking of hallway encounters, Don Cherry showed some more footage on his Coach's Corner segment but he didn't like what he saw.
First he showed the Washington Capitals entering the Molson Centre in Montreal from the team bus and praised the first-place club for wearing sharp looking suits, saying they exuded "class". Then they ran film of the Lightning and assorted Senators players entering the arena looking like "thugs".
What may have shocked some is that the Senator player he was referring to was none other than Mike "milk and cookies" Fisher who was wearing a (gasp!) wool toque and a heavy winter jacket. God forbid Fisher sets a bad example for the nation of Cherry's kids by wearing proper winter attire on a bitterly cold night.
The main Lightning player they showed was Andre "everybody hates me" Meszaros who, similar to Fisher, was wearing a toque and winter jacket but was guilty of the ultimate sin - talking on a cellphone. When they showed Fisher and Meszaros having a quick talk outside the locker rooms, Cherry went into a hilarious routine, insinuating that they were agreeing not to hit each other on the ice. He was even incensed that half the Senators were talking to Meszaros before the game, calling it a love-fest. To end the segment, he called the whole thing "sickening".
It was prime Cherry.
What actually disturbed me was a quick shot of Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson dressed in military fatigues in the middle of a bush somewhere, rifling down geese or birds or whatever the hell they were shooting. Fisher already admitted to killing a bear this past summer (classy) but we were also informed that he's an avid deer hunter. I don't want to go on a big anti-hunting rant here because people will freak out, but ... dude, take it easy.
The only solace was that we were told Alfredsson has resisted the deer hunting so far. Maybe Cherry was right about Fisher after all....
The first period scrap between Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka was an absolute beauty. Neil was having his way with Konopka but the feisty ex-Ottawa 67 repeatedly ignored Neil's body language which was clearly trying to shut the fight down. At one point Neil was just holding Konopka off and smiling at the linesman like "this guy is nuts". So Neiler decided to throw a few more and decisively won the fight but it looked like he cranked his hand off the glass, possibly hurting himself, though he did return later in the game. ..... People have been hard on Neil this year but I don't understand why. He's doing his job perfectly. I don't have the numbers in front of me but he's probably on pace to have the most fights of his career in a single season and there's not many heavyweights he won't take on. Some claim that Neil is expendable because Ottawa already has Jarkko Ruutu and Cody Bass. Except that Bass is not an enforcer by any means and only drops the gloves once in a while, usually when someone like Neil is out of the lineup. It would be like asking Mike Fisher to be the enforcer on the team. There's a big distinction between being a physical player and a regular scrapper. Ruutu backs his antics up with a scrap when he needs to but he's also not a frequent flier. Hopefully Bryan Murray finds a way to get Neil under contract for the next few seasons. There's not too many players in the league with Neil's character and spirit...... It was interesting to see Jesse Winchester singing along with the national anthem before the game. You don't see that too often..... Speaking of enforcers, it was revealed yesterday that Brian McGrattan was in the voluntary NHL substance abuse and behavioural program. The Phoenix Coyote and ex-Senator joins the long list of past NHL enforcers with similar problems. It might be toughest job in pro sports and it certainly takes its toll on the guys who do it. Here's hoping Gratts gets it together and gets back on the ice soon...... Speaking of problems, I was so into the game last night that I plowed about 10 mini peanut butter cups into my trap during the first period and was nearly in a coma by the third because of it. The Christmas season is very dangerous.....
You know what drives me insane? The NHL refuses to go to no-touch icing because they claim they like the exciting aspect of races for the puck but the referees always call the play in favour of the defender when it's close. So in reality, there's no exciting races because the only way to negate an icing is to be so far ahead of the defender that it's no contest anyways. Shean Donovan beat the Tampa defenseman last night in a close race for the puck but the linesman ruled in favour of the defender yet again, almost mechanically. It's brutal. Just go to no-touch and be done with it.