Two games into the season, the Senators are both terrible and wildly entertaining as they staged big comebacks in both matches and almost caught the panicking Leafs on Saturday night. Ultimately they came up short again and are sitting at 0-2 going into their home opener.
Okay, cancel the parade but don't cancel your cable package. It looks like every night has the potential to be either a massive train derailment or a fight filled, goal scoring frenzy. Or both. Quite likely both.
Even when the Senators were getting absolutely hammered by the Leafs in the first two periods, guys like Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka basically went to war in order to salvage some pride for their team. Konopka came as advertised in his first Senators game - yapping, fighting, selling penalties, winning faceoffs and ....yapping a little more.
Neil unfairly got an instigator and a misconduct penalty when he schooled Luke Schenn near the benches in the second period. Neil was going for a change when Schenn stepped into his path on purpose but clearly got more than he could handle. Refs must have felt sorry for Schenn and tossed Neil, leading to the Leafs scoring on the ensuing power-play. Things were hitting rock bottom rather quickly for the Senators, just like it did against the Wings on Friday.
Dion Phaneuf delivered what will probably be the biggest hit of the year on waterbug Stephane Da Costa. The rookie could have lain there like a shattered human being, wishing he was back in Paris strolling along the Seine, but to his credit he got right back up, took a bit of ribbing and probably some short advice from Daniel Alfredsson on the bench. The cameras clearly caught him mouthing the words "my fault" and letting slip a smile.
If the NHL can keep those kinds of hits in the game and eliminate the "Cooke on Savard" type disasters that repulsed so many, both players and fans will certainly be satisfied on both sides of the violence debate.
More encouraging news was relayed by CBC reporter Elliotte Friedman on the pre-game show when he said both Brendan Shanahan and his assistant Rob Blake went back and viewed the Scott Stevens clips that Don Cherry showed on Thursday's now legendary Coach's Corner segment and said that all but one of those brutal hits would be completely legal under the current rules. Only the Paul Kariya hit in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals would have been deemed illegal. Perhaps now some critics can also stop piling on Hall Of Famer Scott Stevens with comments like "those are the type of hits we need out of the game." In fact, we need more of them, and Phaneuf delivered a memorable one tonight.
And a little like Kariya years before him, Da Costa rose like Lazarus and ended up scoring a clutch goal (his first in the NHL) near the end of the third to put the Sens back within one in a see-saw battle right to the final faceoff in the Leafs zone with less than ten seconds remaining.
A few thoughts the Sens coaching staff can take with them after the short but brutal road trip are probably these:
1. Da Costa is an NHL player and a top-six forward who's going to put up points. Despite getting cleaned by Phaneuf, this guy rarely gets taken off the puck when he's on the rush. I've said it in about 5 or 6 posts dating back to the rookie tournament, but the one word that best describes Da Costa is "sneaky".
2. Erik Karlsson woke up tonight and is back on track to put up some huge totals.
3. Daniel Alfredsson needs to be on the first power-play unit, not Nikita Filatov. What were they thinking? Also, Alfie is back to his old self. Took this team on his back in the third. What else is new?
4. Sergei Gonchar needs to get better very quickly if they have any chance of turning this around. We all saw his mistakes on the goals, but he wasn't very good on the power-play either. Zero shots recorded and I don't remember any being blocked.
5. It really is a problem that Matt Carkner is out with an injury. The Sens just can't put muscle on guys in their own zone and it's costing them big time. Turnovers are killer, but so is the fact that nobody on the Leafs or Wings were even remotely worried about going to the net or into the corners with the likes of Karlsson, Filip Kuba, Brian Lee or Gonchar. Carkner isn't exactly fleet of foot, but sometimes you don't need to be when you're laying the lumber on guys trying to get close to Craig Anderson. Jared Cowen is doing a good job on his own but he needs some help.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Erik Karlsson
All right, short post tonight. Happy Thanksgiving. See you Tuesday, a little older, a little wiser, a little fatter.