A 4-3 win over the league-leading Montreal Canadiens and the world’s best goaltender in Carey Price meant a much more relaxed Ottawa Senators team on Wednesday afternoon.
Particularly with Erik Karlsson.
While Dion Phaneuf was nowhere to be seen on the ice, the Senators’ captain took the chance to test some new equipment.
“Just an opportunity to take his stuff,” the 27-year-old said with a laugh. “We missed him out there. We don’t like it when he’s gone.”
Wearing Phaneuf’s gloves, pants, shoulder pads and helmet, Karlsson was absolutely swimming in his teammate’s gear.
“It’s just funny,” Karlsson said, still chuckling. “He wears a lot of padding, big stuff. He’s a big man and we’ve been talking about it for a while and seized the opportunity when it came in hand. He took the day off today and it gave the boys a good laugh.”
But does that kind of stuff fly with head coach Guy Boucher?
“It was funny because he was imitating him, too,” admitted the Senators bench boss. “He wouldn’t have done that after a loss.”
Not only does Boucher think it’s rather amusing, but he welcomes Karlsson’s humour with open arms.
“When are you going to smile?” Boucher said after practice today. “When are you going to have fun? There’s not that much time to be smiling and to have fun, so whenever you’ve got moments, you’ve got to lighten up the atmosphere.
“Everybody was in bed by, what, 2:30, 3:00 last night? Back at work this morning, another game tomorrow and then again, a back-to-back. And we’ve been playing every two days in November. So it’s a grind. I’ll be honest, I kind of welcome the laugh this morning.”
The Senators finally removed the monkey that had been glued to their back the past several weeks, when they put four pucks past Price Tuesday night. Up until the third period, Ottawa hadn’t scored three goals in regulation in 12 games.
Before Tuesday night’s clash with the Canadiens, they were barely getting by. Hanging on to dear life with outstanding goaltending and a penalty kill that could not be beaten.
The offense wasn’t there on the scoresheet, but you could tell they were on the verge of breaking out. After one goal on 31 shots against Pekka Rinne on Thursday, and hammering the Panthers 83-43 in shot attempts, only to lose 4-1 on Saturday, they were more than due for a few goals.
So does Boucher think there’s been a weight lifted off the team’s shoulders?
“A weight?” Boucher pondered. “No, I see it more as something positive after deserving it.
“We’ve been talking about it, we’ve been working on it. The guys have been very focused on doing a better job around the net, having more poise, and especially lifting the puck up and screening the goaltender. If you look at our goals, Hoffman lifted the puck up. Stone had a lot of poise on that goal and lifted it. Karlsson’s goal happened because Pageau was really screening the goaltender. All the goals that we got (last night), to me, are a result of the guys really pushing hard to be better around the net.”
Boucher mentioned he felt he’d had enough time with his players now, that he’s got more of an idea as to how his lines will be structured. Turris and Dzingel work well together, Smith, Pageau and Stone are a winning combination, and after a penalty kill, when the lines have been jumbled a bit, Brassard and Hoffman will be looked upon more often in hopes of gaining momentum.
After a rough start, the possession numbers are coming along. The power play has been abysmal as of late, but with Hoffman’s marker last night, maybe they’ve figured something out. And as always, the penalty kill and goaltending remains stellar.
After six weeks of regular season play, things might just be trending in the right direction for Boucher and his newly acquired crew.
Of course, it always helps when you force an .826 save percentage on the best netminder around.