Sometimes, you just have someone's number.
That's been the story of the Senators dominating the Sabres ever since the lockout and tonight was no different as Ottawa continued their offensive binge started against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
There were a lot of great performances from the guys in black and red but none better than the one from captain Daniel Alfredsson who was a team high +3 and was all over the puck - even-strength, power-play and penalty kill.
The captain has missed consecutive practices which leads one to the conclusion that he's currently playing through some kind of injury but it didn't seem to show tonight (or any other night for that matter).
While Alfie was the best of the bunch, a few others really stood out, including Filip Kuba who had a career high 4 point night, Jason Spezza with 2 assists and another strong all-around game and Mike Fisher who helped Ottawa to a 38-21 faceoff advantage.
The Senators penalty-kill was also strong, giving up only one goal on 7 chances and killing a handful of late penalties from Matt Carkner and Chris Neil that threatened to bleed the Senators of their huge lead. Again, Chris Kelly continued to impress with great defensive play and contributed a goal for his second straight game.
You had to feel for ex-Senator Patrick Lalime, who always seems to get lit up by his former teammates but he played well in the early going before getting burned by Alfie in the second period.
The Senators may have caught a lucky break due to the Sabres having played the night before and sitting Ryan Miller. But it's not luck that Ottawa now sits only 1 point behind Buffalo for the Northeast division lead.
For 3 games, the Senators have overcome various injuries and personal tragedies to seemingly quiet their ever present critics with consistent, spirited play. They've also developed the knack to score big goals at the right moments in games.
Their hot streak couldn't have come at a better time as the Boston Bruins have started to get their heads together after a mediocre start to the season. The Senators leapfrogged them tonight and still have two games in hand.
The only worry to come out of the Sabres game was Pascal Leclaire leaving after the second period with what seemed like a neck or head injury due to a previous pileup in the crease. Leclaire played through it for awhile but it obviously wasn't good enough to go in the third. Brian Elliott played okay after coming off the bench but the last thing Cory Clouston wants to see is Leclaire nursing a nagging or even a serious injury in the coming weeks.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Filip Kuba
3. Jason Spezza
Honourable mentions: Milan Michalek, Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher.
Here is the updated scorecard of the Black Aces 3 Stars so far this season. (3 points for 1st Star, 1 point for 3rd Star)
Alfredsson – 13
Spezza – 12
Michalek – 9
Neil - 7
Leclaire – 7
Fisher – 7
Ruutu - 5
Elliott – 3
Kovalev – 3
Volchenkov – 3
Phillips - 3
Carkner – 3
Kuba – 3
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Kelly - 1
It was tough to see a guy like Shean Donovan go down with a major injury. To be fair to Matt Cooke, I don't think it was necessarily a dirty play. You may disagree. It looked like a normal collision though some say he led with the knee. I've watched the play a few times and I can't see that it was overly malicious, despite Cooke's reputation. That being said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Cooke had the intent to do some damage but he disguised it pretty well if he did. As Donovan tends to be, he seemed positive during his first post-injury interview and with any luck, that ACL will be okay and he'll be back on the ice in two or three months. If the Senators can get into the playoffs, and I think they will, getting Donovan back will be like adding a grizzled playoff warrior at the trade deadline....for free.......
The black sweaters the Senators wore tonight are starting to grow on me. I actually kind of like the "SENS" lettering though I would prefer a real logo on the front. But that "SENS" font would look decent on a t-shirt...... Speaking of which, I spent an hour in the Kanata Hockey Life store today going back and forth over which t-shirt to buy. I opted for a New York Rangers logo shirt. That shield is pretty sharp looking..... Don Cherry called Cory Clouston something that sounded like "Colson" after the game on HNIC....... I love the Coach's Corner segment but Cherry seems even more hyper and entertaining after the games and right before the second game of the double-header. He seems to be able to freewheel a little more during that time because the Coach's Corner segments are so tight with time and loaded with topics. After the game, Cherry can sort of wing it with any issue that came up during the last two hours and it's usually worth waiting around to watch. If only he could ever find anything nice to say about the Senators.....
The Hockey News Ken Campbell with his take on the Senators attendance problems:
"Everywhere in Canada except one place, not a single seat has gone unsold since the lockout. But when your arena is miles out of the city and your team has generally been a disappointment the past two seasons, it does present some challenges....
A lot of that has to do with a pricing structure that charges top prices for those games, but the fact people aren’t willing to shell out big dollars for those games is telling. Through 13 games this season, the Senators are averaging 18,000 per game in the 19,153-seat Scotiabank Place. They haven’t sold out a game since they attracted 20,154 against Boston Oct. 24 and they’ve played seven home games since then."
Personally, I'm still convinced that extremely bad press has been part of the cumulative dwindling of the paying fan base over the past two seasons. Certain print journalists and a pair of prominent radio hosts spent all their influential energy trying to portray the Senators as careless and arrogant party animals who were fleecing fans out of their money. That sentiment was consistent and driven home almost daily for two straight years without the Senators so much as lifting a finger to defend their players or their product. It stands to reason that the image of the team has been damaged and the local public's attitude towards athletes has never been more cynical. Once Dany Heatley was traded, the press has once again turned into cheerleaders but it's probably a little too late to fix the damage for this season. No one doubts that a troubled economy, high ticket prices and poor performances have hurt sales, but no one seemingly wants to admit that a full media blitz against certain players (one of whom is still on the team but apparently forgiven overnight) may have contributed to the negative atmosphere that still clouds this franchise.....
In case you missed this the other night, Scott Niedermayer set off a free-for-all brawl....in the stands...when he tried to give his game stick to a little girl in a Ducks jersey after the game. This might be one of the funniest things I've ever seen at a hockey game and it is all Niedermayer can do to keep from laughing during the post game interview on the ice. You can imagine the laughs in the locker room afterward as Niedermayer tried to explain to his teammates.
It still doesn't top this classic drunken player-fan brawl from MSG in the 70's... Make sure you catch a fur coat wearing Phil Esposito explaining that when fans throw "beer and whiskey" in their faces, he would be okay with it landing in his mouth once in a while.