Two games into the NHL season, the Ottawa Senators are facing serious questions about their defence.
The unit was given an expensive facelift in the offseason after the departure of workhorse Anton Volchenkov. Serge Gonchar was brought in with a big contract and youngster Erik Karlsson was supposed to step up from a promising rookie year.
But after a shaky outing in their season opener on Friday, the unit collapsed completely on Saturday night, along with goaltender Pascal Leclaire, as the Toronto Maple Leafs outworked and outsmarted them in a 5-1 win at the Air Canada Centre. The Senators are now 0-2 while the Leafs, who showed a lot more hustle and enthusiasm than the team that staggered through its first 10 games a year ago, are 2-0.
The only sign of life from the Senators came at 7:11 of the third period when Jason Spezza spoiled Leaf goaltender J.S. Giguere's bid for a shutout. After two games, the Senators surrendered 74 shots and seven goals.
"We failed to execute in all areas," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said. "We knew [the Leafs]would come hard. The biggest surprise was us."
It did not take long before it was clear this would be a long night for the Senators' defence. In the second minute of the game, Spezza tried to carry the puck around his own net and lost it when Leaf centre Mikhail Grabovski checked him. The puck wound up in front of the net on Nikolai Kulemin's stick and he scored his first goal of the season.
Then began a long nightmare for the Senators' defence pair of Karlsson and Chris Phillips. Karlsson coughed up the puck at his own blue line to let Leaf winger Kris Versteeg cruise in for a shot and Phil Kessel buried the rebound for his second goal of the season.
Karlsson committed several more mistakes over the rest of the period, taking a penalty and giving away the puck. Fortunately for the Senators, they escaped only down two goals as Leclaire bailed them out with several big saves in facing 17 shots.
But Leclaire could not hold off the Leafs forever. By the third minute of the third period, the Leafs were up 4-0 on goals from Clarke MacArthur and Versteeg as Leclaire grew distinctly wobbly.
"He didn't have a lot of support [Friday]night or tonight," Clouston said of Leclaire.
Tim Brent, the Cinderella man who unexpectedly made the Leafs as a checking centre after a good training camp, scored his second goal in as many games a few minutes later to settle the issue. However, he and the fans at the ACC had to wait a ridiculously long time for the replay bureaucrats in the NHL war room to approve the goal, as Leclaire caught the puck with his glove over the goal line.
"Contributing offensively is obviously icing on the cake," Brent said. "I'm just trying to play my game and catch some good breaks."
The usual nastiness broke out in the third period once the result was no longer in doubt. No one distinguished themselves in any of the scraps.