Tuesday's 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins makes it three straight wins overall, and a franchise-record nine straight home wins. Is it weird that this team is setting winning-streak records in what will be their worst season in a decade? Yes. Will it seem like an eternity until the 2009-2010 season starts? For sure. Do I have to wait anyway? Not once I get this damn time machine to work.
Ottawa kicked off the scoring when Christoph Schubert fired a drop-pass from Jesse Winchester that was deflected high glove side early in the first period, and at around the midway mark of the opening frame Mike Fisher out-hustled Zdeno Chara to score a short-handed goal and give Ottawa a 2-0 lead. Phil Kessel cut the lead to one early in the second, but ten minutes later Dany Heatley scored his 38th of the season and third in two games. Heatley's goal would hold up as the game winner after Chara cut the lead back down to one. Alex Auld stopped 31 of 33 shots for his third straight win.
The Senators came out hard against the Bruins on Tuesday just as they did against the Montréal Canadiens on Monday, outhitting a huge Bruins team 29-18. When you outhit a team with the likes of Chara, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Shane Hnidy, and Blake Wheeler by such a large margin, you know you've done something right. Leading the way for Ottawa were Schubert and Chris Neil, each of whom had six hits on the night, and Nick Foligno added four of his own.
The fourth line for the Senators was huge tonight. It looked like Winchester and Schubert made a decision to set up their own plays while Jarkko Ruutu was skating around makign hits, and they got a few chances out of hit; not the least of which was Schubert's goal. This was the most effective an Ottawa fourth line has been since the Senators' 2007 Stanley Cup run, and is promising for next season--even if it might leave Shean Donovan out of the picture.
Ottawa's third line, on the other hand, was rough. Usually the combo of Neil with Chris Kelly and Mike Comrie had been simply offensively inept, but tonight they were a defensive liability to boot. I'm not sure if it's that they're not used to one another yet or if that's simply a line that is less than the sum of its parts, but it's not something the Sens would want to go into the playoffs with. Comrie's play hasn't been top-six-forward calibre--he's been completely outplayed by Ryan Shannon, who had another assist and looks more like the second line winger Comrie was hoping to me--and Neil hasn't done enough to justify the significant raise he's looking for; I don't see either of those players having demonstrated their worth when Bryan Murray's assessing the two UFAs in the off-season.
I never really thought it before, but Marc Savard can be a jackass. A few weeks ago, he challenged Sidney Crosby and then backed down when Crosby came back at him. Tonight, he hit Kelly from behind and took a penalty, then skated at Kelly as if he was looking for a fight. It seems reasonable to assume he wouldn't have dropped his gloves anyway, so one has to wonder what the hell he was doing--especially after he was in the wrong on the hit.
Two players have been exceptionally improved over the last few games: Winchester and Brian Lee. Winchester's been playing the physical, confident, puck-protection style that he's morphed into over the course of his interesting season. Lee looks like he did at this point last year, and better; he's playing physically and had a couple hits, including a good one on Wheeler, and looked totally composed in the defensive end. It was reassuring to see, considering how up-and-down his career has been so far, and it makes me hopefuly he'll crack the lineup next season and make a difference for the Sens.
Schubert also showed us why he was signed to his two-year contract. He played defence on a few penalty kills and was effective as a checking forward at even strength. He's capable in either role, if not outstanding, and it looks like he's back in his element under Cory Clouston's coaching style.
I've also got to give Heatley a lot of credit for his play tonight, and the last few games. He was on his horse all night, working the puck on his own and setting up for one-timers, and looked as good as he had last season in the World Hockey Championships (maybe it's no coincidence that this season's are just around the corner). He had the one goal, and was inches away from scoring the goal of the year in the first period: After carrying the puck into the offensive zone, he cut to the front of the net, was tripped, but still managed to roof the puck while just about upside-down in mid-air. His shot hit the corner where the post meets the crossbar, though, so he'll just have to try it again.
Two more games in the season, Thursday against New Jersey and Saturday against the Maple Leafs. It would be terrific (and completely realistic) to win out the season, even though technically the points won't mean anything. In other news, the Habs lost to the New York Rangers Tuesday, meaning that they're just one point up on the Blueshirts and look like they might meet up with the Bruins in the first round again this year. Which would be terrific.
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