Two days ago, the Ottawa Senators were falling fast and hard down the standings, their 12-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens having evaporated. Suddenly tied with the Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers for 5th in the Eastern Conference with 79 points, the Senators were a sad state of afairs: unable to score, an anemic power play, a penchant for bad penalties, and two goaltenders with zero confidence and even less luck.
Two days later and 2-0 victories against both the Flyers and the Canadiens, the Senators find themselves in sole posession of 5th-place with 83 points. Everything that wasn't working before this week was suddenly working: they're scoring, they're taking fewer and smarter penalties, they've got a confident goaltender, and the power play... okay, the power play is still awful. But they have a confident goaltender!
Chris Kelly and Daniel Alfredsson scored the goals and Brian Elliott recorded the shutout, but the biggest thing here is the two points the Senators earned. It was a chippy game: Daniel Carcillo was a thorn in the side of the Senators all game, while Anton Volchenkov returned the favour to the Flyers. There was a strange moment in the opening minute of the third period when a Volchenkov hit let directly to an odd-man rush and a Daniel Alfredsson goal. Philadelphia's Simon Gagne accumulated 19 penalty minutes after the play, including two instigator minors (the extra one for going after a player with a visor), somehow granting the Senators a 7-minute power play that they (naturally) failed to score on.
While both teams fans' could find a few things to grumble about, in the end it was still a solid effort by a Senators team in desperate need of another win. After the horrible stretch following the Olympics, this was exactly what the team needed.
Sens Heroes: Brian Elliott, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton
Where to begin? Brian Elliott was absolutely spectacular. A complete reversal of his play coming off the Olympic break, Elliott solidified his spot as the team's starting goaltender heading into the (knock on wood) postseason by stopping all 26 Flyer shots for back-to-back shutouts, the first by a Senators goalie since Ray Emery in 2006. He was the team's best player tonight, hands down.
While technically impossible to award a shutout to a defenceman, Anton Volchenkov deserved one tonight. Caught in a mad scramble late in the third period, Volchenkov saw that Elliott was unable to make a save and decided to tend goal for a moment, stopping the puck with his skate and setting off a nearly 10-minute goal review process. The ruling? Inconclusive. The grit, determination, and decision to morph into a second goaltender at a moment's tonight is exactly why Volchenkov stands to be rewarded quite handsomely in his next contract. How many teams can honestly say they don't want a player like him on their team?
Andy Sutton had his best game as a Senator tonight and finally found his role. Every time one of his teammates took a cheap shot from a Flyer, Sutton was there to defend them. Whether Scott Hartnell barreling into Brian Elliott or Erik Karlsson being pushed around by Daniel Carcillo, Sutton was there to stand up to the opposition. Sutton has gone from being labeled as a bust and a liability two games ago to earning his second nickname as a Senator: The Sheriff.
Oh, and honourable mention to Chris Kelly for passing the puck top-shelf into the net in the first period.
Sens Zeroes: The power play
No goals on a 7-minute power play in the third period? 420 seconds. Four hundred and twenty seconds. We know the Senators' power play is bad, but this is getting ridiculous.
Sens Killers: None
Sens Mild Irritants: Daniel Carcillo
Carcillo was a pest all night, drawing multiple penalties while somehow avoiding taking any himself, and notched two shots on goal to boot. He also got nailed by Volchenkov, which was pretty entertaining.
Cory Clouston Fashion Update: Pea green shirt and matching tie.
Did You Know: The Senators are 6-0-1 in the last 7 games that Z. Smith has been in the lineup? Sorry, Ryan Shannon. Looks like you'll be in the press box for awhile longer.
Closing Thoughts: Get Volchenkov's signature on a contract right now. Do not wait. Do not pass go. Let him collect $200,000. Android may not get many points, but who would you rather have on your team: Volchenkov, or Robyn Regehr? I'll take Volchenkov.
Peter's take: I consider myself lucky to have been at this game; it had everything a good game has. What's going to come out of this game is the uncalled Volchenkov hit-from-behind on Simon Gagne, and Philadelphia fans have good reason to complain: It was a hit from behind, and should have been a two-minute penalty; instead, Ottawa scored, and got a seven-minute powerplay out of it. Still, I think it's a shame that that incident will dominate our memories of the game, because there was some terrific play by a lot of other players: Elliott, first and foremost, had a better-than-heroic performance, especially in the second period, when the game was still very much in question. Volchenkov, aside from that aforementioned hit, was outstanding, and his shot-blocking was tremendous. And no matter what Philly fans might think, Sutton's hit on Carcillo was both clean and legal; it's unfortunate he was assessed a penalty for it, his third "big-hit" penalty since joining the team. And the penalty-killers were at least as good as the powerplayers were bad; it's really ugly when you get a seven-minute powerplay and can't score, but it's pretty amazing when you kill off a full two-minute 5-on-3 situation as strongly as Ottawa did--Volchenkov, Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, and Matt Cullen deserve tonnes of credit for it. It was a strong effort, and a huge win for a team that really needs the two points--and needs the momentum at least as much.