In the moments leading up to the drop of the puck between the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders, the few fans who made it through the grease and slop of a mid-February snowstorm were treated to film clips of past glory.
Neil Brady scoring the first ever goal in the team’s first ever win back in 1992. The goals that got the team into the playoffs in 1997. The goal that won them the Eastern Conference in 2007. And several goals by a little No. 65 who seemed to move up and down the ice like an electric current.
That would be Erik Karlsson, past glory. And No. 19, Jason Spezza, past glory. And perhaps even No. 9, Milan Michalek, perhaps past glory depending on a second evaluation being done on his knee.
Immediate past glory was less than a week ago, when Karlsson’s Achilles tendon was sliced by Matt Cooke’s skate in Pittsburgh.
Seems as long ago as Neil Brady’s No. 12.
The depleted Senators, fresh off a surprising and welcome 2-1 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils Monday, met the Islanders, fresh off a 7-0 drubbing by the Philadelphia Flyers that same night. The Islanders could not solve their sudden lack of scoring, falling 3-1 to give the Senators a second straight win.
“One of the poorer games we’ve played in the last four or five,” said Senators' head coach Paul MacLean, “but we got something out of it.”
With both teams demoralized and tired, the game opened largely as expected: sloppy as the Queensway, sticks cold as the Arctic blast coming down the Ottawa Valley.
The greatest play in the first period was turned in by Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson’s net, when an iron post denied what seemed an easy backhand goal by Islander centre Josh Bailey.
The Senators had expected the Islanders to come out flying in an effort to avenge the lopsided loss to the Flyers. The Islanders had, after all, won their previous two games and 22-year-old John Tavares had been named NHL player of the week after collecting five goals and seven points in three games. He had also scored in all five of his previous road games before arriving in Ottawa.
The Islanders, however, do not have much puck luck with the Senators. Last season they won but once while losing three times; all time, the Islanders are 19-42-14 against Ottawa, hardly past glory.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean had promised his team would continue to play the attack style they found success with when Karlsson and Spezza were healthy. Far more knowledgeable experts – no names need be mentioned – had predicted the Senators would have no choice but to turn to a dreary defensive style and pray.
“The personnel has obviously changed,” MacLean said Tuesday, “but the way we play hasn’t changed.”
The Senators finally scored on a power play after coming into the game on a depressing 0-for-24 streak. Captain Daniel Alfredsson held the puck behind the Islanders net, slipped it out front into a wild scrum and Colin Greening clipped home only his second goal of the season.
The Islanders had elected to give struggling backup goaltender Rick DiPietro a start, but he was not the cause of Greening’s goal, nor could he be blamed later in the second when ageing rookie (29) Andre Benoit fired a point shot through traffic that DiPietro did not see until it was in the back of his net.
It was Benoit’s first NHL goal. “Nice to finally get the first one,” said a delighted Benoit, “and when it’s the game winner makes it special.”
At the other end, NHL player of the month for January, Craig Anderson, remained brilliant in the Ottawa net. Three times in the second period alone he stopped the dangerous Tavares.
Tavares was, as expected, by far the most dangerous of the New York Islanders.
“He’s a handful,” said MacLean.
But Anderson – who came into the game with a gobsmacking .949 save percentage in 14 games – handled him effortlessly.
“We got great goaltending,” said Alfredsson, “which we’re kind of getting used to.”
“Craig Anderson was awesome,” added Benoit.
Early in the third period, however, Anderson’s incredible run of luck and posts ran out when, following a series of broken plays and failed clearings in the Ottawa end, the puck came out to defenceman Travis Homonic in the slot and Homonic’s high shot found its way past Anderson.
A goal post again came into play late in the game when Ottawa defenceman Patrick Wiercioch took a shot from the point that hit the inside of DiPietro’s post but just bounced clear of the second post.
DiPietro needed all the help he could get. His curious inability to contain any puck that comes near his glove leads to easy rebounds. One bobbled puck late in the game led to minor-league-call-u Dave Dziurzynski scoring his first goal when he simply charged the free puck and DiPietro could not keep it out.
“You dream of it as a kid,” said Dziurzynyski. “I just banged it – and it happened to go in the net.”
The Senators will next meet the New York Rangers on Thursday here and will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the on-again off-again Battle of Ontario on Saturday.
Win those and Ottawa fans will, much to their shock, be talking about current glory.