They entered the game the most-admired – okay, the only admired – Senators in town.
The Ottawa hockey Senators had just come off a convincing 6-1 victory over the formidable Detroit Red Wings and Daniel Alfredsson, now a Red Wing after 14 years as Ottawa’s beloved captain.
They had overcome a shaky opening to the season to move to a promising 4-3-2 after winning three of their last four tests. New sniper Bobby Ryan, dry in the early going, now had six goals and was going at a point-a-game, while new captain Jason Spezza – ever the playmaker, rarely the scorer – had an astonishing seven goals, including two against Detroit – and was leading the team with 10 points in only eight games.
The irony was that Ryan and Spezza had accomplished this apart, despite a summer-long prediction that they would be a natural pairing on the team’s top line. Ryan’s success had come with second-line centre Kyle Turris; Spezza had centred a variety of linemates.
“That’s chemistry,” joked head coach Paul MacLean. “I failed that in high school. I don’t know how that goes.”
The Senators were up against a team that had played just the night before, the Anaheim Ducks having lost 4-1 to the Canadiens Thursday in Montreal. Listless that game, on a two-game losing streak and now missing star forward Teemu Selanne – at 43 electing not to play back-to-back games – it would appear every planet was aligned for the hockey Senators, just as the stars were turning into black holes for the Parliamentary Senators.
This being hockey, of course, horoscopes meant nothing as the Ducks largely cruised to a 2-1 victory over the Senators.
The Ducks moved into an early lead when team captain Ryan Getzlaf came over the Ottawa blueline, used a toe drag to keep the puck in control, spun a backhand pass to Corey Perry behind the icing line and Perry fed a perfect pass out to the largely unknown Patrick Maroon, who had the lone goal against Montreal.
Anaheim moved ahead 2-0 on a bizarre misplay by former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, when the star Ottawa defenceman coughed up a puck behind his own net that create a free pass to Perry, with Getzlaf slamming the puck past startled Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
It was a moment when Karlsson had to envy those downtown Senators, who needn’t suffer television presence, let alone instant replay.
The Senators had expected better of themselves. Less than two weeks earlier, in Anaheim, the Senators had been humiliated by these same Ducks in a 4-1 loss that saw the Ducks fire 56 shots at the Ottawa goal.
“We played well [Wednesday against the Red Wings],” MacLean had said. “But can we do it again? That’s the test and challenge for us.”
MacLean had promised his team would be faster and quicker than they had been in California, and they were to a degree. But he had also said this week they would need to cut down on dumb penalties, which remains a central problem for this young team.
Spreading the scoring about has also been an issue, but one that might have been partially answered this night when centre Mika Zibanejad, playing only his second game since being called up from the Binghamton Senators, blasted a hard Alfredsson-style one-timer on an Ottawa power play, and the puck blew past Anaheim backup goaltender Frederik Andersen, playing only his second game for the Ducks.
Spezza had predicted earlier in the day that the Ducks, having lost the night before, would “come in with a bit of a burr,” but there was little tension to this game and the below-sellout crowd of 17,590 quiet as Parliamentary pages for long stretches.
Ryan had two superb chances to score on a third-period power play, once on a goalmouth scramble and once on a perfect set-up in the slot on a pass from Spezza.
“Bobby always seems to find that little bubble around the net,” Turris had said of his regular linemate. But Ryan could not beat Frederik Anderson.
The other Anderson, Craig, was fine in the Ottawa net, often superb, and could hardly take blame for Karlsson’s faux pas that led to the winning goal.
But nor could Karlsson take all the blame for a game in which his team seemed unfocused for long stretches and looked as if they, not the Ducks, had just come off a tough match the night before.
Never, in fact, did they look so sloppy as in the final minute, when Anderson was pulled for an extra attacker and Ottawa could do nothing whatsoever to threaten.
The game ended 2-1, Anaheim outshot Ottawa 28-27 and, it must be said, the game had not nearly the entertainment value of those other Senators at the other end of town.