In a season that at times seems upside down, it seemed only appropriate that the most interesting players this night were not even on the ice.
There was – or perhaps was not is more accurate – Jason Spezza, the Ottawa Senators’ most-gifted forward, out with an “upper body” injury and, according to social media, sighted in the Ottawa airport, Toronto and parts unknown.
There was Sergei Gonchar, the Senators’ most-dependable defenceman, suddenly scratched because of some unnamed “lower body” injury.
Upper body, lower body, out of body – not a good sign for a team that relies heavily on both players.
But not this night, not when the Senators coasted to an easy 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
“Goal scoring by committee,” Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean called it.
For Montreal, missing was the player most talked to, and who did by far the most talking, this day in Ottawa: newly-signed holdout defenceman P.K. Subban. Also missing, though sitting on the bench as backup, was goaltender Carey Price, a significant reason for Montreal’s predictor-dumbfounding 4-1-0 start to the shrunken season.
The Canadiens took the early lead, scoring a weak goal on early-season star Craig Anderson. Andrei Markov – who came into the game having scored three game-winning goals in only five matches – walked in from the point on a Montreal power play, got the puck into the crease area and Tomas Plekanec was able to sweep it past a slipping Anderson.
It was Anderson’s only weak moment of another solid night for him.
“Craig was good tonight,” said MacLean. “Unfortunately, he had to be.”
“We’re getting some bounces,” said Anderson. “Getting some luck.”
One bad goal at one end deserves another bad goal at the other, surely. Ottawa tied the game at one apiece when Erik Karlsson’s point shot bounced high off Montreal goaltender Peter Budaj and Jim O’Brien took a swing that would called for a mulligan in golf and the puck trickled in off the tee.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson scored his first of the season on a power play when he jumped on a rebound and rifled it into the near side past Budaj.
“It’s always good to get that first one to get started,” said a pleased MacLean.
Less than two minutes later, 19-year-old Mika Zibanejad – the surprise first star of Ottawa’s Tuesday win over the Washington Capitals – scored his first NHL goal ever on a hard slapshot from the top of the left circle that clipped in under Budaj’s crossbar.
“I finally got it,” a smiling Zibanejad said as he admired his trophy after the game.
No one had anticipated such a showing by the Senators’ minor-league prospect, but he may not be returned to the Binghamton Senators for some time at this pace.
“When you get to be the first star,” said MacLean, “you usually get to play again.”
The Senators moved to 4-1, and put this match well out of reach, when moments later defenceman Chris Phillips put a hard blast through multiple legs that Budaj could not possibly have seen.
Ottawa’s feisty Chris Neil finished off the scoring on a wraparound that was poorly played by Budaj, who will surely now return to his customary place on the Montreal bench.
The sideshow to this game was Subban, the reluctant defenceman who finally signed Monday for $5.75-million over two years. He skated virtually alone in the morning and hammed it up for every one of the many cameras turned on him.
If, as Ottawa’s Kyle Turris was right Wednesday morning when he said “Confidence is 99 per cent of this game,” then Subban has but a 1-percent concern in getting back to NHL action. His exuberance and cockiness apparently rubs some of his teammates the wrong way.
“I missed everything,” Subban told the gathered media in the afternoon. “I missed my teammates, missed the game, missed the jersey, missed the fans. This is hockey. This is what I’ve grown up doing my whole life and I look forward to getting back.”
Asked if he had amends to make to his teammates, many of whom seemed cool to news of his signing, Subban insisted there would be no problem.
“When you come back in the dressing room it’s a team concept. It’s about everyone in the room. It’s not about one individual or another guy’s opinion. It’s about everybody coming together as a team.
“The quicker we can put this stuff behind us the better it’s going to be for our team and our hockey club. It’s not about me anymore – it’s about the team.”
Not having played for nearly 11 months, Subban was asked how long it would take him to be ready, given that he has skated and practiced regularly throughout the fall and early winter.
“It’s that edge,” he said, “getting back in the game. It’s not how hard you practice.”
Pressed to guess how soon he might be back in the Canadiens’ lineup, the flamboyant 23-year old defenceman could only smile.
“When they need me.”
That would be right away, young man.