The Ottawa Senators hosted the Florida Panthers Wednesday night in a battle of two teams that may look much different in a few days. Both teams are pretty much out of the playoff race and are looking towards the future. Ottawa took to the ice without its top two scorers, as Daniel Alfredsson was joined on the sidelines by Erik Karlsson, who tweaked something during practice Tuesday. Chris Campoli returned, but Sergei Gonchar remained out of the Ottawa lineup. Craig Anderson made his first home start for the Senators, facing Panthers backup Scott Clemmenson at the other end.
The first period opened up with a scrap early on, as pugilists Francis Lessard and Darcy Hordichuck dropped the mitts and exchanged pleasantries. There were no knockout punches, but Lessard scored the takedown. That was the lone fight of the game, but shortly after that tilt the game was marred by a seemingly constant parade to the penalty box. Each team would go on to take three minors in the period, which intereupted much of the flow. However, ironically it was an even strength goal by Bobby Butler, set up by Colin Greening that got the Senators on the board. The assist was Greening’s first NHL point. Ottawa did a good job killing off a minute-long 5-on-3 disadvantage shortly after Butler’s goal to maintain the momentum. The first period ended 1-0, with the Senators outshooting the Panthers 11-7.
The Senators opened the second on the power play, and wasted little time as Jason Spezza found Ryan Shannon open in the slot. Shannon wired a slap shot past Clemmenson for a 2-0 Senators lead. Florida got on the board when Chris Higgins‘ centreing pass from along the boards deflected off Chris Phillips’ skate past a startled Craig Anderson. Butler restored Ottawa’s 2 goal lead with a great individual effort when he won a battle along the boards and worked it out front on his own and buried his second of the night. That goal seemed to take and wind out of the Panters’ sails as they seemed disinterested from that point on. The second period ended with the Senators leading 3-1.
The third period was uneventful as the Senators nursed a rare lead, and Florida showed no jump to try and cut into the lead. A goal by Milan Michalek, followed by a late marker from Jason Spezza were the final nails in the coffin as Ottawa skated off with a 5-1 victory. The Senators first back-to-back wins since Dec 23rd & 26th.
THE UP SIDE
Bobby Butler has continued to impress with his ability to get into the open spots. I am not saying he is the second coming of Dany Heatley (the talented on-ice version), but he could be a 40 goal scorer playing with Spezza for a full year. His individual effort shows he has finally adjusted to the NHL style of play.
Craig Anderson has already earned the confidence of his teammates that hasn’t been seen in some time. He has yet to get beat by a shot from an opponent’s stick, as the only goal to beat him so far came off a deflection from a teammate.
Jason Spezza is shouldering the offensive load, and is succeeding. He continues to find the open man, but is also taking more opportunities to shoot the puck when the opportunity presents.
THE DOWN SIDE
Chris Neil left the game with an injury after his attempted hit went awry and he crashed into the boards. He did not return and that may put a cramp in any attempts to trade him before Monday’s trade deadline.
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THE THREE STARS
3rd Star – Craig Anderson, OTT: His steady play has paid dividends througout the lineup as the team already plays with an air of confidence in front of him.
2nd Star – Jason Spezza, OTT: A three point effort (1G, 2A) and was over 60% in offensive and defensive zone faceoffs. Provided a spark on the PK and created offense in all areas.
1st Star – Bobby Butler, OTT: A no-doubter as he is creating chances, getting open for passes and dominating in both zones. Perhaps a star in the making. With the opportunity presented to him for increased responsibility, he has taken the ball and run with it.
Bobby Butler took a year to emerge as an everyday player, but is an example of the good things that Bryan Murray has done in his tenure as GM. He won the sweepstakes for the NCAA free agent last year, and his confidence in the player is now paying off. He has done an admirable job creating the system, it is just the July 1st Free Agency period that has cracked his aura. Remove the “mistakes” like Kovalev and Gonchar, and his legacy might not be as tainted as it is now.
Craig Anderson is making a name for himself in this city, and pressure is going to be on to sign him to a contract for the future. It is still very early in his tenure, but he is making himself more and more future money with each start.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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