Isn't it funny how one night, one game, can make the trail of bad ones behind you seem to disappear for a while. Certainly, the Senators and Alexei Kovalev are hoping that's the case.
The Senators took a big step ahead in this early but magnified season by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2, falling just a goal short of giving their fans some free pizza, but giving them some much needed hope all the same.
The Senators record now stands at 3-5-1 and they have a chance to get to .500 at home if they can beat the Panthers on Thursday and the Bruins on Saturday. With a lot of the small things starting to go right, that's a realistic scenario for a team that has gone through a confidence draining slump to start the season.
Of course the big story will be the coming out party of Alexei Kovalev, but what may be more important is the play of a few defenseman, most notably Erik Karlsson who looks like he has some of his swagger back out there on the ice. He had an important power-play goal to kick start the game and despite a few giveaways, he is starting to look like a different player than the one who many were calling to be returned to Binghamton just this past week. The call-up of the steady David Hale to play with Karlsson has given Cory Clouston a third defense pairing that actually seems to be working, allowing Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips to stay together and get some kind of chemistry going.
Chris Campoli has been very good lately, even though it looks like his role is going to be that of depth player and not an offensive one. By working well with Matt Carkner, the Senators defense seems to have settled down into something workable going forward, and that is going to be the biggest factor in this team getting better. Before your team can score goals, you need your defensemen to break the puck out of the zone with consistency. With that happening tonight against the Coyotes, you could see the chances start to come for the forwards.
Also interesting was Clouston flipping Gonchar and Karlsson on the points during a late power-play. While it may prove to be a challenge for Karlsson playing his off-side (although he is a right handed shot), it may do wonders for Gonchar to play on the wall he's been used to for close to a decade. It's an interesting development to watch.
On the strength of Kovalev's big game, Peter Regin managed two much needed points and that line, along with Nick Foligno, was plus 2 on the night, and for the first time this season, Clouston had three lines that all looked capable of scoring.
Frankly, that's somewhat of a miracle.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Alexei Kovalev
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Brian Elliott
Honourable Mentions: Erik Karlsson, Chris Kelly, Peter Regin, Nick Foligno, Chris Campoli, Matt Carkner and newly minted 1000 game man Sergei Gonchar.
Since we haven't done so yet this season, here's the totals so far (games that I don't write about still get the 3 star treatment unless the game was a debacle and no points deserved to get awarded - which has happened three times so far this season)
Black Aces 3 Stars Season Scorecard
1st Star - 3 points
2nd Star - 2 points
3rd Star - 1 point
Alfredsson – 7
Leclaire – 5
Ruutu – 4
Elliott – 4
Fisher – 3
Michalek – 3
Kovalev - 3
Foligno – 2
Gonchar – 2
Karlsson - 1
Regin – 1
Spezza - 1
Call it bad luck: Number 55 Sergei Gonchar being associated with Sammy Hagar because of that song "Can't Drive 55" (which was inexplicably a big hit in '84). The Senators understandably used it as the track for his 1000th game tribute video before the opening faceoff, but will they begin to use it as his "goal song" too? We will probably find out soon enough.... Do you think Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" was erased from the music database at the Kanata rink? If not, maybe they should play it every time number 15 Zack Smith scores a goal this year. Just for old time's sake....
It seem like ages ago when the Coyotes used to go out onto the ice wearing this monstrosity of a jersey....... Dave Tippett has proven to be a very effective coach, especially in a rescue operation like the one in Phoenix, but the Coyotes used to be a bit more fun to watch when Wayne Gretzky was running the bench. Sure, they were terrible, but Tippett's teams are only slightly more watchable than a Ken Hitchcock led squad......Speaking of Hitchcock, could he be back in the NHL if John MacLean can't sort out the New Jersey mess before too long? Talk about an obvious fit.....
Hard to believe it's never happened before - someone mixing up Matt Carkner with Terry Carkner. At least I haven't heard it yet. Sens colour man Denis Potvin made the mix-up during tonight's game, but that's somewhat understandable. Just like Matt, Terry was a tough defenseman who was last seen playing for the Panthers at the end of an 858 NHL game career. Also like Matt, Terry was a local boy, born in Smiths Falls. Apparently, they are "third cousins"...... And finally, a Senators game against Ilya Bryzgalov gives us an excuse to resurrect this classic video of Bryz talking about Chris Pronger returning to Edmonton as a Duck after requesting a trade a few years ago. This never gets old...