As regular season victories go, they don’t come much more satisfying than the one the Ottawa Senators pulled off in Toronto Friday night (Jan 27).
In front of a national TV audience (being subjected to the usual Toronto-centric analysis), the Sens completely thumped the Leafs 6-2.
Brady Tkachuk had two goals on the evening, while Claude Giroux and Tim Stutzle chipped in with two points apiece. The Senators scored five goals at even strength as well, which has been an area of relative weakness this season. Secondary scoring has also been a sore spot but not on Friday, as ten different Senators got in on the act. Even Erik Brannstrom got on the scoresheet with his first point in 26 games.
Giroux paid tribute to a big NFL playoff weekend with the hockey version of a pick-six. He intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, made an absolutely beautiful move and then scored to make it 6 for the Sens. It was easily one of the prettiest goals of the Senator season.
Drake Batherson has cooled off a little in the new year but has been excellent in each of the last two games. He was rewarded in this one with a goal – a perfect shot, low to the glove side to make it 4-2 late in the second period.
“I thought we just went at ’em,” Batherson said. “We didn’t sit back. I found in years past we kinda sat back and watched them play. At times they had a good push but we came back and answered with a big goal or a big play. I thought we went at ’em the whole game and even in the third, we got a couple more in the third. It was awesome.
Batherson seems to have benefitted from the club’s major line shuffling, now playing alongside Shane Pinto and Derick Brassard while still getting his usual power play assignments. And the team is now 2-0 since the line shuffling and the arrival of rookie Ridly Greig who was held off the scoresheet in this one.
As one of Ottawa’s major rivals, Sens fans are always going to get fired up to face the Leafs. But this one had an added layer of intrigue with Matt Murray starting for Toronto against his former club. Murray hadn’t played since being pulled in a game 10 days ago when he allowed four goals on eight shots in a win over Florida.
Murray was the scheduled starter against Ottawa way back in October but pulled out the morning of the game with an injury. He missed a month of action after that. Murray was the scheduled starter again Friday night but pulled out of the game after the pre-game skate with another injury.
Murray’s days in Ottawa were a hot mess. He was consistently injured and consistently inconsistent when he played, even getting sent down the minors for a stretch. The Sens traded Murray in the off-season and now pay him $1.5 million to play for the enemy.
In a very nice moment after the win over the Islanders on Wednesday night, Josh Norris presented the team’s ceremonial tanning goggles – usually reserved for player of the game – to assistant coach Bob Jones, who was recently diagnosed with ALS. Jones presented the goggles to Thomas Chabot, who hasn’t had his best season, but definitely looked more like his old self Friday night. Chabot got Ottawa off to a great start, 90 seconds into the game, taking a pass from Tim Stutzle at the blue line, skating into the slot and scoring blocker side.
One brave Senator fan in enemy territory went viral on social media after the Giroux goal. Wearing a white Sens jersey, he stood to sarcastically applaud as the hometown Leaf fans scuffled toward the exits with over five minutes still left to play.
It’s true. Not all heroes wear capes.
Toronto’s post-game analysis was amusing, focused on excuse making. They made sure to point out that Murray’s last second injury put them in a bad spot, as if this were the first time a starting goalie had been injured. They cited the injury to Auston Matthews as a major factor, as if Ottawa didn’t have their own injury concerns. They chuckled that Ottawa has nothing to play for anymore so this was their Super Bowl, as if the Leafs were the one true NHL standard of excellence that all teams target and measure themselves against.
Maybe it’s best that Toronto’s talking heads save the excuse making for when they’ll need them most – after round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
By Steve Warne