The Ottawa Senators have finally figured out the hockey gods.
They cheer for the Maple Leafs.
What else can explain the coincidence? Tragedy strikes, and the next cheer the beleaguered hockey club hears is “Go, Leafs, Go!”
A week ago, right after the Senators lost their best – make that the NHL’s best – defenceman, Erik Karlsson, they faced the Maple Leafs in Toronto and lost 3-0.
Saturday in the nation’s capital, right after losing their best – make that the NHL’s best – goaltender, Craig Anderson, they will face … guess who?
The Leafs also have injuries – most specifically to goaltender James Reimer (knee) – and both teams are showing surprisingly well so far in the standings. Each will play its 19th game of this 48-game season, and each has 22 points. The Senators are keen to avenge last week’s loss to Toronto – even without Anderson in net.
The Senators have so much traffic going between Binghamton, N.Y., and Ottawa lately that it is, at times, difficult to the tell the American Hockey League Senators from the National Hockey League Senators.
They lost their best centre when the shrunken season had barely begun when Jason Spezza went out with back surgery. They called up centre Stephan Da Costa from Binghamton, sent him back down on Friday, and called up goaltender Robin Lehner.
The team might consider establishing a halfway house in Ogdensburg.
They lost Karlsson when the skate blade of Pittsburgh Penguins menace Matt Cooke cut into the Achilles tendon of last year’s Norris Trophy winner.
And on Thursday they lost Anderson when speedy New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider stepped on the stick of Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot and fell hard into Anderson, spraining the goaltender’s ankle.
Spezza and Karlsson are said to be lost for the season. Anderson is listed “day-to-day” and could be back in a week or two. It looked much worse as he limped off under assistance.
“I’m speaking, I’m sure, for a lot of the guys on the team when I say my heart sank into my stomach,” Methot said following the game.
Backup goaltender Ben Bishop finished the third period and overtime for the Senators, who finally won the game 3-2 in a 14-player shootout.
“Another 2 pts,” Anderson tweeted to his fans later. “Bish stood tall. Hard place to come in the game. My ankle’s going to be OK. Be back ASAP.”
“One guy goes down, another guy steps up,” Bishop said Friday morning, “and I don’t think that’s going to stop.”
The shuttle between Ottawa and Binghamton has proved far more successful than most experts predicted when the Senators lost Spezza and Karlsson. Since last Saturday’s loss to the Leafs, the Senators went on to beat New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, two of the games going to shootout. Unknown players and rookies have played key roles.
Head coach Paul MacLean thinks the reasons are obvious. One, the leadership of such players as captain Daniel Alfredsson – so despised by Maple Leafs fans who will take great delight in booing him at home Saturday. Two, the depth of players scouting and drafting has produced. And three, hard work.
“Work ethic and structure has always been the cornerstone since I’ve been here,” MacLean said Friday.
“A lot of these players know how to play and know how we want them to play and they just do it. They’re getting an opportunity. The energy that players from the American Hockey League bring is that opportunity to play in the National Hockey League – and that’s part of the energy they bring every night. And part of what makes it go is youthful enthusiasm and energy.”
Youth was much on display Friday as 22-year-old Karlsson spoke to the media for the first time since the successful surgery to repair his Achilles tendon. He said Cooke had tried to reach out by text message but Karlsson did not respond and has no intention of responding.
Still angry, the all-star defenceman said he did not believe Cooke meant to cut him, but meant “to hit me hard, knock me out. … He’s been after me before, ever since I got into this league.”
In Karlsson‘s opinion, the injury could have been prevented.
“I’ll be back,” he vowed.
So, too, will Anderson and Spezza.