The New Jersey Devils came in to Ottawa as just what the doctor ordered for the Senators: A team struggling as much as Ottawa, with even worse goal-scoring problems, and plenty of questions in their own lineup. And the Senators made the best of it, winning 3-2, although it looked touch-and-go for the last five minutes of the game.
The win, Ottawa's first on home ice since Nov. 27, allows the Sens to at least keep pace with the other Eastern Conference teams clawing their way back in to the playoff picture, although they're still five points behind the Atlanta Thrashers, and Ottawa's played a couple more games than most others in the conference.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson had a strong game tonight, putting up a goal and an assist in almost 23 minutes played. Remarkably, he'd now tied for second in team scoring with 5G and 12A in just his second NHL season--and after being scratched for a couple of games earlier in the season.
Sens Hero: Chris Phillips
Big Rig was tasked with shutting down Ilya Kovalchuk tonight, and played some of his best hockey of the season. It seems Phillips plays his best when given an assignment; in past playoff success, that's usually how he played his best. After struggling so much this season, maybe giving Phillips one job to focus on--shutting down Kovalchuk or some other dynamic player from the opposition--might be the best way to get his game back in track. Plus, he had an assist, too.
Great, but for a gaffe: Pascal Leclaire
Leclaire allowed one weak goal, although it was more unlucky than anything else--Leclaire slowed down the initial shot with his glove, thought he'd caught it, but hadn't and it trickled in behind him. Aside from that, though, Leclaire had a great game, especially with the game on the line late in the third period. He'll get the next start, and despite the one bad goal, he earned it.
Devils Hero: Martin Brodeur
For a guy coming off the injured list, Brodeur had a heck of a game tonight. He made some very strong saves against Ottawa's shooters, but was at his absolute best moving the puck, setting up some great chances for the Devils and even getting credit for an assist on their first goal. As unlikely as it would be for the Devils to get any meaningful rally going in the standings, if it happens, it will have a lot to do with Brodeur--and the rest he was able to get during his recent injury might be the key to it.
Statement made: Alex Kovalev
Even though he had no points and only had two shots, Kovalev did make a statement with his play tonight, putting forth good effort at both ends of the ice and looking quite strong. But coach Cory Clouston made a statement, too: He had Kovalev on the ice as time wound down, giving the winger an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to play in all situations. Hopefully it's a proverbial burial of the hatchet between these two, and they can get on with working towards winning more games instead of fighting with one another.