The one thing we now know for certain is that the NHL lockout had a diminishing effect.
Not just on the public reputations of many of the key players in that appalling money grab, but also those on-ice skills that range from merely completing a pass to blowing a whistle.
It has also significantly reduced the meaning of “streak.”
Four bad outings in a regular season and panic sets in. Now it’s down to two games in a season that has been essentially sliced in half.
“Early in a season winning and losing streaks are magnified,” Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said just before his team defeated the Ottawa Senators 2-1 in a shootout Sunday afternoon.
“But it’s even more so in a short season ... it is heightened.”
Bylsma should know. His Penguins – early favourites to charge 48 games into the playoffs and challenge for the Stanley Cup – began this truncated 2013 season well, then sputtered, first losing 5-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs and then blowing a 2-0 lead in Winnipeg on Friday before losing 4-2.
“A wake-up call,” Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury called this new-measure “ losing streak.”
They all felt it. Captain Sidney Crosby was calling for his teammates to “get back to our work ethic.”
No more getting “caught with our guard down,” added forward Matt Cooke.
Much the same applied to the Senators. After starting the shrunken season with three successive wins, the Senators twice blew leads in Tampa Bay and fell 6-4 to the Lightning.
“Flat outplayed us,” said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
“It’s really unpredictable,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told the media on the weekend. “We’ve just got to be ready and prepare for battle each and every day.”
Unfortunately for Alfredsson, and his Senators, the only battle he would fight Sunday was against the flu, scratched from the lineup as his team tried to stop the “streak” before it reached two games.
Ottawa fell behind early in this game that might be kindly described as scruffy.
“That’s the way it’s going to be sometimes,” said star defenceman Erik Karlsson.
It was Karlsson who had the Senators’ best scoring chance in the opening period came when a fat rebound rolled out to him and he had all the time in the world to cock and fire – only to break his stick in half.
With Karlsson vacating the right side of the ice to get a new stick, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s MVP last time there was a real season, came down the ice and danced around Zack Smith before sending a perfect cross-ice pass to James Neal, who pounded the puck behind Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson.
The Senators came back admirably in the second period, however. Perhaps it was the inspiration of Anderson, who continued his stellar goaltending by stopping Cooke on a clean breakaway and, later, stopping Crosby on a point-blank opportunity.
In between those two highlight stops, the Senators finally got some passes to connect. Jason Spezza came down the ice and fired a hard shot that Fleury stopped but Colin Greening was there to snap in the rebound when the spinning puck fell to the ice. It was Greening’s first goal of the season – sort of a mini-streak for a player who rarely scores.
You would expect that a 1-1 game that goes into overtime would be exciting, but such is not always the case in professional hockey. This game was tied 1-1 after regulation because neither team could mount much of an attack. The passing was dreadful, the strategy dubious, the finishing non-existent.
“I thought it was a great game,” MacLean said. What he liked was the way his team shut down the Pittsburgh stars.
“You don’t want to open the game up too much,” added Spezza, though he did concede that “We were a little bit sloppy with the puck at certain parts of the game.”
“Sloppy” would be a generous description, for both teams involved.
While some praise might be sent the way of the two goaltenders, Anderson and Fleury, there could none for any of the usual stars of these two potentially strong teams.
The sellout crowd of 20,081finally found its diminished thrill of the day in a shootout that followed a Keystone Kops five-minute overtime that was, at times, as close to slapstick as hockey ever comes.
The good goaltending of the game, however, became the Achilles heel of the shootout.
Pittsburgh won 2-1 on three successive goals by James Neal, Crosby and Malkin. Ottawa managed but two, by Spezza and Kyle Turris.
An appropriate end to a very bad hockey game.
In the end, Pittsburgh’s streak had come to an end.
And Ottawa, claiming a point, could argue that theirs was just starting, direction unknown.
Ah, the vagaries of the hockey half-season.