Smarter writers than myself have already run out of things to say about this Ottawa Senators team. After another comeback victory, another injury to a key player, and another two points towards a likely playoff spot that nobody believed they could grasp, this story has so much momentum that words of context can’t really capture it.
And that’s probably because there is no context for it. At least in recent NHL memory. You can relate more to the 2013 Sens by watching a Sam Peckinpah movie than anything else. Last night against the New York Islanders was like a replay of The Wild Bunch.
Down 3-1 going into the 3rd period with energy lacking and Marc Methot, one of the Senators strongest players this season, out with what looked like a fluke knee injury, the Senators looked done. Surely this was one insult too many. Fans were looking at the AHL roster for defenseman and finding nobody. You also have to remember that the news had just leaked out that morning about Milan Michalek getting knee surgery. People were making jokes about Luke Richardson suiting up again but nobody was really laughing.
Incredibly, it seemed to get worse for a fleeting moment, even though the Senators scored right away. Patrick Wiercioch shot the puck from the blueline and it sneaked into the net off a Jakob Silfverberg tip, but Wiercioch was run over and was gasping for air on his knees as a celebration. Thoughts of Andre Benoit being the Senators 3rd best healthy defenseman sent a cold wave of paranoid fear through the minds of Sens fans everywhere.
Luckily Wiercioch is young and bounced back the next shift. If I had been hit like that I’d still be on the ice doing the doggy paddle.
Then this Senators team quietly went back to work and added three more goals, led by the always steady but strangely underrated and underappreciated Sergei Gonchar. People seem amazed at his strong play of late but have somehow forgotten that he’s been one of the best defensemen of his generation and will be a Hall Of Fame candidate once he hangs it all up. He’s never gotten that respect in Ottawa despite playing basically the same solid, smooth game he always has. Of course, he’s not as dynamic as he was during his prime with the Capitals and Penguins, but like Daniel Alfredsson, he’s so smart with the puck that he creates in other ways now.
It’s been amazing to see so many rookies breaking through this season, but it really comes down to the leaders guiding them through and making huge plays with the game on the line. Alfredsson and Gonchar are self-explanatory. Chris Phillips and Chris Neil play the exact same way every night and the oldest vet of them all, coach Paul MacLean, must be a goddamn soothsayer in that locker room. It’s almost scary how his players respond to him. What if this team was completely healthy and played with the same spirit? You’d be talking about the Stanley Cup this year, not next.
But we’re getting carried away here, as we usually do.
There’s no word on Methot as of this writing, but he’s likely to miss some time. Jason Spezza is still out with wild rumours of setbacks in his recovery. Erik Karlsson is already on summer vacation.
The truth is nobody knows how this is going to turn out. We could be talking in a week about how badly this thing finally went off the rails. But somehow it hasn’t yet and the playoffs get closer by the day.
You get the sense that nobody will really care what happens when or if they get there. Just the idea of surviving until that point seems to be enough – more than enough – for everybody right now. That’s the story. That’s the whole plot of this strange movie. Endurance.
Trust me. Watch The Wild Bunch and you’ll see what I mean.
Would anyone be truly surprised if Gonchar signed a one-year extension? I’m sure he’s looking for a two-year deal but there’s a chance he wants just one more season so he can play in the Olympics. Barring more catastrophic injuries, the Senators will be a Stanley Cup contender next season. Lots of incentive for Gonchar to stay. But will Murray want him? Tough to say. You win Stanley Cups with veterans like Gonchar but Wiercioch has developed so quickly that there may not be room. Ottawa survived losing Filip Kuba. Murray may be thinking along those lines for next season..... Denis Potvin was at his best in Long Island last night calling the game alongside Dean Brown for Sportsnet. As the Senators penalties began to pile up, you could feel Potvin getting agitated with the refs (as he has all season) but it wasn’t until Eric Gryba got called for high-sticking late in the second that Potvin had truly had enough. “No...no...no....no!... no!.... NOOOO!!!” was his immediate response. I have no idea how Dean Brown kept it together after that but I wasn’t able to. .... The refs did have a tough game, especially when they called Matt Kassian for “roughing”. In reality it was a solid, clean hit on Radek Martinek that should only be a penalty in basketball. It stung even worse when Lubomir Visnovsky scored on the ensuing power-play to put the Isles up 3-1. At that point it looked like the Sens just didn’t have anything going for them but we all know what happened in the third period.
.... Speaking of Kassian, it’s absolutely terrifying how big he looks out there on the ice. For his first goal as a Senator he just went to the net and nobody was able to move him. Not a bad tip on the Gonchar shot either. Guys like that don’t even really need hands (except for fighting). Sometimes a body as big as a bus is all you need in certain situations. If Kassian wants to be in a certain spot on the ice, he can go there and nobody can really do anything about it outside of Zdeno Chara.... Phillips played over 27 minutes last night after Methot went down to injury. Clearly, that’s a bit much but I don’t see Phillips struggling when he plays big minutes. There’s a myth out there that Phillips should have limited time to be effective but I don’t really buy it. Over time he might wear out but he’s playing as good as he ever has in a Senators uniform right now.... Woah. Kyle Turris is flying out there right now. He almost scored a goal on a play that would have been on every end of year highlight reel.