The Ottawa Senators began this very different 2020-21 season with a determined and shocking 5-3 win over the team that, before play resumed on January 13, was favoured to take the Canadian (I’m not calling it the North) Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs. That win brought to mind a couple of different Sens season starts for me. The first one brought me all the way back to their very first year and their 1992-93 season opener against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs came into the Ottawa Civic Centre looking at the Senators as a lowly expansion team and figured that, by just getting dressed and showing up, they would win. The upstart Sens gave the Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge a slap in the face in taking a 5-3 win in front of 10,479 fans and making a winner of their coach, Rick Bowness. Neil Brady scored the first ever goal for those expansion Senators. It was a power play marker, 26 seconds into the second period. Jody Hull and Norm MacIver each had two assists in the game. Peter Sidorkiewicz was the goalie in that one and for most of the games in that first Sens’ season.
Sadly, that win was one of the very few bright spots for the ’92-93 team. They won only nine more games and finished with a 10-70-4 record for 24 points. And what happened to those Montreal Canadiens? Just about eight months to the day of that loss to the newly minted Senators, they dumped the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The last Canadian team to win a Cup.
Am I saying that the Leafs are going to win a Cup? I surely hope not. Am I saying that this edition of the Senators is going to go on and play poorly for the rest of the year? Not at all. But as good as this weekend looks, and getting a split with the Leafs on the opening home stand of the season is not a bad thing at all, Sens fans would be well served to temper their expectations for the 2020-21 season.
That said, I would like to bring your attention to one other season in which the team from Ottawa was expected to be just gawd-awful. I give you the 2011-12 Senators.
Who can ever forget how ALL the prognosticators had written off that team? I can’t ever remember a time in which EVERYBODY picked a team to finish at the very bottom of the conference. Not the division. THE CONFERENCE! Yes, that preseason, your Ottawa Senators were predicted to finish fifteenth out of fifteen teams in the Eastern Conference by pretty much everyone.
Paul MacLean was their coach. At centre, they had a 28-year old Jason Spezza, 25-year old Colin Greening, 22-year old Kyle Turris and 23-year old Zack Smith. Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, Chris Neil and Eric Condra were patrolling the wings. On the blue line, they had 21-year old Erik Karlsson, 37-year old Sergei Gonchar, 35-year old Filip Kuba, 33-year old Chris Phillips, 21-year old Jared Cowan and a platoon of Brian Lee, David Rundblad, Matt Carkner, Matt Gilroy, and a very young Mark Borowiecki. Their goaltending group was led by Craig Anderson, but they also had a very young Robin Lehner, Ben Bishop and Alex Auld at their disposal.
Yes, they did lose five of their first six games. But then they won six in a row. Then they lost five in a row. Then they won three straight, lost two, won two, lost five of six, won three...You get the picture. Not all bad though. At Christmas, the team was 17-14-5. And, more importantly, they sat in a playoff position at the break. They finished that season with 41 wins, 31 losses and 10 ties for 92 points and second place in the Northeast Division, ten points behind the Boston Bruins. They lost a hard-fought seven game series to the New York Rangers, but they did what no one, and I mean NO ONE, thought they could do at the beginning of the season.
So far in this young year, taking a well deserved win in their first game against a lacklustre Toronto Maple Leafs squad was a gift. The Leafs had just four shots on Matt Murray in the third period of that matchup. Nick Paul and Drake Batherson looked good in that game. But, Murray had to know that the Leafs would come out a lot stronger in the rematch on Saturday night. And they did. The Leafs outshot the Senators 40-19 in that second game and won by a 3-2 score. Murray did everything he could to keep his team in the game. Paul scored the first goal for the Sens and Tim Stutzle got his first NHL goal to give his team a chance to come back in the last seven minutes.
Unfortunately, Jack Campbell and the Leafs did not allow that to happen. But, and it’s a big but, the Senators put the Leafs and the rest of the teams in the Canadian Division on notice that they will not be an easy team to play against. They held their own against the supposed top team in the division.
Let’s see how they do against Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, heck, every team in Canada. With 56 games and nine or ten games against each of the other teams in this North Division, it can only be compelling...fun, even. My point here is this: None of us knows how this mix of some youth and a sprinkling of veteran players will do in 2021.
As Brendan Bell said in an interview with TSN1050 in Toronto this past week, this is a young team. We will see inconsistency. They could look great and they could look bad and both could come in stretches. Don’t panic if things are rough in patches and don’t plan any parades if things are great for a while. Try to look at everything in the big picture.
How are the young players developing? How consistent is Matt Murray playing in goal? How are the defensemen playing as a group? What are the team’s strengths? What are the weaknesses? How the team plays in January of this very odd season could be very different from the way they play together in April. When all else fails, take a deep breath.
KIND OF AN ‘ON THIS DATE IN PALLADIUM/COREL CENTRE/SCOTIABANK PLACE/CANADIAN TIRE CENTRE HISTORY’ MOMENT
I want to give credit to my good friend Jim McAuley for this because he is THE sports history guy in Ottawa! On January 15, 1996, the Palladium had its Grand Opening in Kanata. Bryan Adams was there and played a concert to open the new building. Of course, the place was sold out. On the 16th, the following night, the ice was used for the first time. A figure skating extravaganza took place and such Canadian giants as Brian Orser, Toller Cranston, Elvis Stojko, Elizabeth Manley, Isabelle Brasseur & Lloyd Eisler and Donald Jackson all took part in the show. The Palladium was THE place to be that winter.
Have a great day,Sens fans! Have fun and stay safe!
By Howie Mooney | Sens Nation Hockey