Alright, so maybe I'm a little bitter about two Ottawa Senators goals called back in the last five minutes of Thursday night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, either of which would have wrapped up the win without need of extra time. Maybe the Chris Kelly goal, deemed a high-stick by referee Dennis LaRue with only second left, wasn't a genuine goal. But when Filip Kuba put the puck past Antero Niittymaki while a delayed Lightning penalty was on the way, there's no way Tampa had possession; the play should never had been blown dead (in fact, it wasn't, but referee Kerry Fraser claims he intended to) and Kuba's goal should have counted.
Alas, it didn't, but the Senators came out with the win in the end anyway. Maybe it wasn't thanks to Kuba's first goal of the year, but it was Jason Spezza's long-overdue (and long-ago-earned) first goal of the season on the powerplay that got the Senators the extra point with less than a minute left in overtime. So, unless the Senators finish in ninth place after 82 games, only one point behind the Lightning, then all is right in the world.
Spezza's game winning goal wasn't all he brought to the table Thursday night; he also assisted on the Senators' other two goals, giving him 11P (1G, 10A) in 11GP so far this season. Considering he wasn't even expected to play in the game, I think it's safe to say the story would have been quite different without the Spezz Dispenser in the lineup tonight. He played a remarkably high 23:12 on the night, more than any Senators forward this side of Daniel Alfredsson, and finished with four shots on the night.
(Read more about Alfredsson and an early contender for biggest bodycheck of the season... )
Speaking of Alfredsson, he was no hack, either. Sure, he only got one point (yeah, only... a goal), but he was a huge part of both the penalty kill and the powerplay. Although he didn't put up the numbers Spezza did, Alfie was still first star; that's got to tell you something.
The biggest hit of the night, and an early contender for the biggest hit of the season, came about mid-way through the game. With rookie Victor Hedman skating behind his own net, Chris Neil caught him with his head down and absolutely annihilated the defenceman (check out the video highlight below). The hit came just after Tampa had tied the game at two, and gave a huge boost to the Senators in the game, shifting the momentum in Ottawa's favour. (It was also the second time Hedman had been given a ride as, you may recall, Anton Volchenkov gave him an admit one onto the A-Train earlier in the year.) Hedman left the game and did not return, costing the Lightning one of their highest-ice time defencemen. As it that wasn't enough, Neil then went on to give Steve Downie a few shots in an ensuing fight--which also resulted into a Senators powerplay thanks to the instigator penalty Downie got.
Also of note on the night was Mike Fisher, who had a goal and an assist to give him a better-than-respectable 13P (6G, 7A) in 13GP this season--good for second on the Sens' roster. (xoxo by the way, #12.) He had five shots and three hits, and has looked like a completely different player this year from last. It's in no small part thanks to a re-energized role under Cory Clouston, and it seems to be helping Fisher achieve the potential his $4.2M contract extension indicated he had.
Ottawa's defence did not look strong tonight. There's a very obvious reason that Kuba played 25:52 and Chris Phillips played 25:27 against the Lightning, and it wasn't just the extra time or all the special teams play: None of Chris Campoli, Alex Picard, Brian Lee, or Matt Carkner were particularly strong tonight. They each had their moments, and Picard deserves kudos for his short-handed play, but all four left themselves room to improve for next game.
Ottawa's special teams was a mixed bag tonight. The penalty kill, usually top-notch, was only 5-for-7 (a 71 percent effectiveness rating), but the powerplay was 2-for-6 (a 33 percent effectiveness). I guess you've got to take the good with the bad, but I'd rather have the good with some more good.
Talk about a shortened bench: None of Kelly, Neil, Lee, Ryan Shannon, Jonathan Cheechoo, Nick Foligno,or Jarkko Ruutu saw any ice time in the overtime period. I guess it's not that surprising, since the extra frame only lasted 4:17, but I figured it was worth mentioning.
A win is a win, and two points are two points. It would have been nice to keep the Lightning from getting one of their own, but it didn't happen. I'm already looking forward to Saturday's game against the New Jersey Devils, which should be a heck of a challenge for the Senators.