There are few things more important in the hockey world than the choice of hat for the television cameras.
Players can promote their team, cause, buddy’s restaurant (free food), car dealership (free lease), stick manufacturer, energy drink or sports logo (free money).
Jason Spezza – the big, friendly and easygoing star centre of the Ottawa Senators – chose to honour his NHL team after practice Tuesday. He donned a heritage cap, symbolic of the ancient Ottawa Senators, sometimes known as the Silver Seven and winners of a remarkable 11 Stanley Cups.
The cap has a large O on the front.
O for Ottawa, a hockey historian would say.
O for zero, a grumpy fan in 2012 might say.
The Senators head into Game 4 of their best-of-seven, opening-round playoff series with the New York Rangers having yet to score a goal on the power play – albeit having but three chances – a 0.0-per-cent success rate. And the players who scored all season and are being counted on to score in the playoffs – Spezza and Milan Michalek – have zero goals between them.
The Philadelphia Flyers, on the opposite side of the power-play coin, are operating at 57.1 per cent, having scored four times in seven opportunities in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The players who are expected to score – Claude Giroux (four goals, four assists) and Daniel Brière (four goals, one assist) – have performed as expected.
When Ottawa was shut out 1-0 by the Rangers on Monday, it fell to 2-1 in the series. In nine previous years in this position, the Sens have moved to 2-2 only twice and seven times lost.
This is of great concern for fans expecting a good playoff run for Ottawa. They are far from unanimous, it should be pointed out, as there is a solid fan base already more than satisfied that a rebuilding team with such low expectations somehow managed to reach the playoffs at all. It bodes well for the future, they say.
But this is the present, and the talk shows are in a bit of a tizzy about the possible absence of captain Daniel Alfredsson (concussion) and the lack of production from Spezza and Michalek, who have but one assist each in three games.
Alfredsson wasn’t at practice on Tuesday, and his status for Wednesday’s game unknown.
This led to two obvious questions: How do you replace Alfredsson? How can Spezza and Michalek get on track?
“He’s the captain of the team,” MacLean said of Alfredsson. “He’s the most experienced on the team. It is a big loss for any team.
“It’s an opportunity for someone to step up, but we’re not replacing Daniel Alfredsson. We don’t have that player.”
“With Alfie out everybody is trying to step their game up,” said centre Kyle Turris, who has indeed picked up his own game. “You can’t replace him. On the ice, he does so much and, in the room, he’s such a great leader.”
Obviously, added forward Nick Foligno, who leads the team in scoring with a goal and an assist, “we’d prefer to have him in the lineup … but I thought [Monday]we showed we can play just as well without him. It’s not to say we don’t want him in the lineup. It’s just to show we have a lot of depth on this team.”
Depth, indeed, but what is required is height, players who can reach beyond what is expected – such as New York’s lumbering giant, 6-foot-7, 244-pound Brian Boyle, who has three goals including both game winners.
“Sure,” Sens head coach Paul MacLean conceded, “someone can be the hero” for Ottawa – and he singled out hardnosed forward Chris Neil, who scored the overtime winner last Saturday.
The natural scoring heroes, of course, should be the heroes of the regular season: Spezza, who led the team with 84 points, Michalek, who had a career-high 35 goals, all-star defenceman Erik Karlsson and Alfredsson.
Alfredsson may be out, Karlsson has played well since a sluggish Game 1, leaving Spezza and Michalek feeling the pressure to get pucks past New York’s brilliant goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.
“The pressure is there for them every day,” MacLean said.
If Ottawa’s top players can get going, Spezza added, then it can act as “a springboard for everyone going.”
And if they cannot, then that springboard will soon become a plank.