The Hall of Fame game could have used a few of the legends on hand suited up and playing on Saturday.
Because as it was, the collection of 40 mostly average NHLers for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators put in a relatively pedestrian performance, with both teams coming out flat in one of the duller games early this season.
When all was said and done, the Senators turned out to be the better team on the night, winning 5-2 – and for the first time in six games – on the strength of a key goal scored on a lengthy 5-on-3 against the Leafs league-worst power play unit.
As ugly as the hockey often was, someone had to win – and that power play was as worthy a deciding factor as any.
Ottawa had a good excuse for being flat given they’d played a night earlier in Buffalo in a 5-1 loss, but the Leafs really didn't. Toronto is now suddenly reeling, having gone 1-3-0 in its past four games and outscored 19-5 in that eight-day span.
Making matters worse, the Leafs started with the lead, as Tyler Bozak opened the scoring late in the first, putting his first of the season in Game 17 off the post and in to make it 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Sens defenceman Sergei Gonchar tied things at one halfway through the second as he buried a one-timer while pinching down low.
The turning point came in the dying minutes of the middle frame, as two seconds after Bozak went off for holding, teammate Philippe Dupuis accidentally highsticked Nick Foligno in the face and earned four minutes in the box, giving Ottawa a nearly two-minute long 5-on-3.
A minute and a half after Foligno’s blood was wiped off the ice, he played the hero, splitting the Leafs defence for a breakaway goal that was one of the uglier ones against Toronto’s eternally struggling penalty kill unit this season.
"The hockey gods have a way of evening things out, I guess," Sens coach Paul MacLean said.
"Basically we were looking at killing off two minutes of 5-on-3," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "That's a pretty difficult task. We didn't do it."
Foligno’s tally was the 18th power play goal the Leafs have allowed in 17 games, dropping their already awful kill rate to just 72 per cent on the year.
Ottawa’s Zack Smith added the winner early in the third on another odd-man rush, this time with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf caught up ice after he generated two good chances but couldn’t beat goalie Craig Anderson.
The Leafs then finally came alive with time winding down, as after Anderson made three terrific saves in close, winger Joffrey Lupul banked a shot in from behind the net in desperation to cut the lead to 3-2 with three minutes to play.
Foligno ended the comeback effort soon after, putting his second of the night into the empty net. Milan Michalek was then credited with the final goal after Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur's pass went all the way down the ice and into his own goal.
"We just needed to get out of our little slump that we were in," said Anderson, who was named the game's first star after he made 31 saves one night after being pulled two minutes in. "Tonight was a good night to do that."
"We came to compete tonight," Foligno said. "We came to play. That's the beautiful thing about this game – sometimes you get to play back-to-back and right the wrong right away. I was pretty proud of everyone in here."
Wilson picked out a few trouble spots for his team after the game, pointing out that the power play let them down in failing to score on five opportunities.
"We moved it around, but we never got any shots," Wilson said. "We need to do better there. We had a great two power plays in St. Louis and tonight it was okay but we never shot the puck. For some reason we're looking for a better play and overpassed it.
"Tonight to be honest with you we really had one line and that was the Bozak line. The Grabovski line wasn't really a threat. Two of the wingers didn't have a shot on goal all night."
The proceedings got off to a late start after a 20-minute ceremony that included an impressive array of Hall of Famers on hand to honour 2011 inductees Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Joe Nieuwendyk.
The class involves three former Leafs, but the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Gilmour, the team’s former captain and franchise record holder for most points in a single season.
Along with NHL legend Gordie Howe, Mark’s father, Gilmour got a standing ovation from the Air Canada Centre crowd – which was a good thing given how little there was to really cheer about for the home side the rest of the way.
The Leafs dropped to 10-6-1 on the season, but more troublingly have been out played in many of their games of late. Toronto’s last truly consistent effort came two weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as since then they’ve gone 3-4-0 and struggled to generate much secondary scoring.
With the win, Ottawa moved to within four points back of the Leafs, who held onto their narrow lead in the Northeast Division after the Buffalo Sabres lost in Boston.