The whole idea behind the switch, Martin Brodeur said, was to “try and shake things up.”
The New Jersey Devils had come to Ottawa after six NHL games without a victory to show for their efforts.
Brodeur, the Devils’ Hall-of-Fame-bound goaltender, came with an idea, though: He would break with his pattern of never speaking on game days and, instead, chat merrily with the gathered media for a half-hour prior to the game. It might just bring a change in fortunes.
He might better have kept his mouth shut, as the Senators went on to win their home opener – held rather late after starting the 2013-14 season with six games on the road – by a 5-2 score.
That the Devils needed a shakeup was obvious, outscored by 10 goals in those games and off to a miserable start. The Senators also stumbling early in the season, had just come off a swing through California in which it appeared they were skating on sand but had fortuitously encouraged their fickle fan base with a 4-3 overtime victory last Tuesday over the Phoenix Coyotes.
“We survived it,” centre Jason Spezza said of six points the Senators tallied in the six road games. “We aren’t thrilled with the results, but we survived it.”
While the Devils were seeking change, the Senators were dealing with change.
Ottawa had a new captain in Spezza – beloved Daniel Alfredsson now wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. They had yet another new name for their suburban rink, now known as Canadian Tire Centre.
Both teams were missing key Russians, the Senators having lost defenceman Sergei Gonchar to free agency, the Devils having lost top scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL. And the losses had clearly blunted the attack for both.
Brodeur knew his team needed a victory badly. The more they lost, the worse it would get. They needed something to build from if they were going to get out of their early funk.
“It’s hard to stay confident,” he joked, “when you don’t have that confidence yet.”
The Senators also needed a win. They failed to sell out their home opener (18,867) and needed to demonstrate last season’s second-round playoff run was no fluke and there could be life after Alfredsson.
Last season, they had become the “Pesky Sens,” a team renowned for its ability to survive injuries to its top players. This season, so far, they had shown no identity whatsoever, in the opinion of head coach Paul MacLean.
Brodeur certainly looked “shaken” on the first three Ottawa shots that were sent his direction. The first went in, a laser slap shot from 2012 James Norris Memorial Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who missed almost all of last season with a severed Achilles tendon.
The second also went in, a semi-wraparound attempt by Bobby Ryan – ostensibly the scoring replacement for Alfredsson obtained in a summer trade with the Anaheim Ducks – and the third puck fired toward Brodeur’s net clanged off the post.
Ryan’s goal was especially welcomed by the fans, some of whom were already questioning his $5.562-million (U.S.) salary after he failed to score in the team’s first two games. Ryan had been expected to produce instant “chemistry” with the slick playmaking Spezza, but that had fizzled early in the road trip and Ryan was instead paired with centre Kyle Turris, Ottawa’s top player in the early going. During the three California games, Ryan scored three times.
Following his fourth goal of the year, with Turris assisting, a scoreboard tribute announced, “Welcome to Ottawa, Bobby,” to great cheers.
“I’m one of the more-documented streaky goal-scorers,” Ryan said prior to the match. He quickly added he dreads the day it streaks the other way.
The Devils badly outplayed the Senators in the second period, more than doubling the total shots on net over Ottawa, but they could not beat goaltender Craig Anderson who made saves ranging from superb to bizarre.
“Flat out, we have to play better in our own zone,” MacLean said even before seeing how bad it would be this night.
On the attack, however, it was a different story for the Senators.
Nearing the end of the period, Spezza sent a nice pass to Karlsson, flying up the ice over the Devils blueline, and Karlsson deftly fed a pass to Zack Smith, who hammered goal No. 3 past Brodeur from the right side of the net.
Ottawa’s poor play in its own zone combined with bad penalties to deliver the Devils a 5-on-3 power play early in the third and, finally, Travis Zajac was able to beat Anderson.
New Jersey scored again when, on yet more sloppy Ottawa defensive play, Steve Bernier was able to get a shot away in the slot that slipped past Anderson’s glove.
Milan Michalek put an end to any comeback thoughts, however, when he blasted a long shot past Brodeur for Ottawa’s fourth of the night.
Spezza finished matters with an empty net goal after Brodeur had been pulled for an extra skater.
Anderson, incidentally, had said nothing on game day.
He simply let his game speak for itself.