JULY – NO FREE AGENCY SPLASH
As the July 1st free agency period opened, Bryan Murray was true to his word that he would not be pursuing any of the “big name” free agents on the market. On the first day of FA, Murray addressed the back-up goalie spot, brining back former Senator Alex Auld to be Craig Anderson‘s understudy. As the month went on, pieces were added, first the addition of gritty forward Zenon Konopka (a former Ottawa 67′s captain), resigning Erik Condra and Bobby Butler to one-way deals and adding veteran Mark Parrish to the Binghamton roster, along with Tim Conboy, Mike McKenna and Lee Sweatt (who would end up retiring before the season. The Senators also singed top draft pick Mika Zibanejad to his entry level deal. They added another piece of the Binghamton championship by signing Kaspars Daugavins to a two way deal, after the Latvian had been considering his options in Europe.
OTHER JULY NEWS
- Ottawa Senators prospects were making news at World Junior camps. Mark Stone and Matt Puempel attended Team Canada’s summer development camp, while Shane Prince and Stefan Noesen did likewise for the US.
- Daniel Alfredsson’s recovery from back surgery was on track and the captain was optimistic about his return to the ice in time for training camp.
AUGUST – QUIET BEFORE THE STORM
August was a very quiet month as preparations were being made for training camp and the long season ahead. The anticipated energy to be brought by the youth movement was seen as a good thing, but expectations were not high from those outside the organization about their potential to compete this season.
SEPTEMBER – TRAGEDY IN THE HOCKEY WORLD
After a summer of tragic losses due to the deaths of NHL’ers Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien and former player Wade Belak, the hockey world was stunned by the crash that took the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL hockey team. Forty-four of the 45 people on board were killed. Every NHL team had some connection to the plane crash and the Senators were no exception. Draft pick and prospect Vitaly Anikeyenko as well as former Senators Pavol Demitra and Karel Rachunek were among the players killed in the crash.
OTHER SEPT. NEWS
- The Senators went 3-0 in the rookie tournament, defeating Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto rookies to win the tournament. Standouts included Mika Zibanejad, Stephane DaCosta, Jared Cowen and Mark Stone
- Training Camp opened and the pre-season began, as players jostled for position on the club and with Binghamton.
OCTOBER – DROP THE PUCK
A long off-season officially came to an end on October 7th. New faces in the Senators lineup included Jared Cowen, Mika Zibanejad, Nikita Filatov, Stephane Da Costa. It was a 5-3 loss to the Red Wings, but Ottawa showed that they will not roll over as they scored 3 third period goals to make it close. The Senators started out losing 4 of thier first five games, including two blow-out losses to Colorado and Philadelphia. It looked like it was going to be a long season. However, they found their grove and Ottawa closed out the month on a 6 game winning streak. They didn’t make it look pretty, but a number of last minute wins and third period comebacks earned them the “cardiac kids” moniker.
- Daniel Alfredsson took an elbow from the Rangers’ Wojtek Wolski in the October 27th game, and was sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
- Mika Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden after the club’s 9th game of the season, as it was determined that his development would be better served with more playing time. Zibanejad had one assist in his tenure with the Senators.
- The shuffling began as the Senators looked for the right combinations that would work on a nightly basis. The second line centre spot became a revolving door with Zibanejad, Peter Regin and eventually Nick Foligno all getting a chance.
NOVEMBER – RETURN OF THE KING
Daniel Alfredsson returned to the lineup after missing 2 weeks and five games, in time for Ottawa’s Western Canadian road trip. After going 1-3-1 without the captain, they lost the game in which he returned, but then went on a solid run going 5-1-1 over the rest of the month. Alfredsson and new second line centre Nick Foligno were instrumental in keeping the Sens in the playoff hunt.
OTHER NOV. NEWS
- The fan balloting for All Star weekend commenced, with 5 Senators – Alfredsson, Spezza, Michalek, Gonchar and Karlsson – on the ballot. A “Vote Alfie” campaign gained momentum as Senators fans embarked on a mission to make sure Alfredsson would be in the starting lineup for the first All-Star game in Ottawa.
- The Nikita Filatov experiment hit a snag as the winger, who had only one assist in 9 games, was assigned to Binghamton for the second time to get some conditioning and to try to gain some confidence around the net. The beneficiary of Filatov’s struggles was Kaspars Daugavins, who excelled in a 3rd line role alongside Zack Smith and Erik Condra. Filatov was brought up again just before the month ended, for another chance to show he can contribute at the NHL level.
DECEMBER – #400!
Daniel Alfredsson reached a milestone in the 2nd last game of 2011. The captain scored his 400th career goal, and he did it in style. Number 400 was the overtime winner against the Calgary Flames, completing the club’s comeback from a 3-0 hole. The fact that he could do it on home ice in front of Sens fans made the milestone even more special. It made for a great end to 2011, and kept the Senators in the playoff hunt.
OTHER DEC. NEWS
- Injuries to both Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar meant that Jared Cowen was given more prime time minutes and more responsibility. Cowen showed that he is more than capable of being a shutdown defenseman and can contribute some offense also.
- The Filatov experiment ended (suppposedly) at least for this season when the Russian decided to return to the KHL. Ottawa assigned him, but a mixup with the paperwork and inability to come to a contract almost forced Filatov back to North America. He finally came to an agreement and is continuing his season in Moscow.
- The Senators signed first round picks Matt Puempel and Stefan Noesen to entry level contracts on Dec 29th. Both players were overlookd for their respecitve countries’ World Junior selection camps, however, which was a disappointment for both.
- Senators prospects Mark Stone (CAN), Mika Zibanejad (SWE), Fredrik Claessen (SWE) and Jakub Culek (CZE) carried Sens colours into the World Juniors. Shane Prince was invited to the USA camp, but didn’t make the team due to a perceived political slight (both by myself and Prince himself). Stone and Zibanejad were stars for their respective teams, with Stone tied for the tournament lead in goals with 7 through the preliminary round.
- The Senators attempted to address the second line centre role by acquiring Kyle Turris from the Coyotes for David Rundblad and a 2nd round draft pick. Turris had underperfomed in Phoenix and had requested a trade, holding out almost until December before signing a contract. Turris had points in each of his first three games as a Senator.
- Team Black captained by Alfredsson won the annual SenSkill competition. Colin Greening defended his fastest skater title by beating his own record. Spezza had the hardest shot at just under 104 MPH.
- The Senators were on track to have 3 starters in the All Star game as Alfressson and Spezza were among the top three forwards and Erik Karlsson led all defensemen in voting with less than a week left.
2011 ended with the Senators sitting in the midst of a playoff spot, which is a lot higher than many prognosticators would have expected. Hopefully they can carry the momentum into 2012 and defy nearly all predictions (yours truly was an exception) and see the post season one year after blowing up and retooling the team.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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