Things went from bad to worse for the Ottawa Senators Saturday night. They suffered a frustrating 5-0 loss at the hands of their arch-rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. They had to look up into the arena and see a sea of blue cheering every goal their opponents scored. They had to endure their beloved captain, Daniel Alfredsson, get booed every time he touched the puck. They even had to watch kids wearing Sens jerseys get booed on the jumbotron. They had to listen to the deafening chant of “Go Leafs Go!” throughout the night. The game was in Ottawa.
When Mike Fisher played for the Senators, the quote he gave to the media after a win over the Leafs on home ice has endured time.
“We had to score early to take the crowd out of the game.”
When fans in U.S. markets watch the CBC feed of an Ottawa-Toronto game from Scotiabank Place on television, it can get downright perplexing. But it’s the reality of the Ottawa market. The city has hockey roots that go as deep, if not deeper, than Montreal and Toronto do. It is the birthplace of the Stanley Cup. The NHL was formed less than an hour “up the line” in Renfrew. Ottawa gave pro hockey its first dynasty in the Silver Seven, and then gave the NHL its first dynasty in the Senators. And through the generations – from King Clancy, Frank Boucher and Aurel Joliat to Denis Potvin, Mike Gartner and Bobby Smith to Rod Brind’Amour and Derek Roy – Ottawa and the surrounding area has always had a blue-chip presence in the NHL.
But after the original Senators left for St. Louis in the 1930s, the city’s hockey allegiance split between Toronto and Montreal. And even though Ottawa was awarded an expansion team and have been to a Stanley Cup final within the last five years, it has been tough to pull families away from six generations of support for either the Leafs or the Habs and convert them into Sens fans. The passion for those two teams was too deep in the city. As a result, when the Senators face either Toronto or Montreal, the feeling is one of an away playoff game.
Making Saturday night’s defeat even more frustrating goes beyond the intense rivalry. The Senators, who less than a month ago were the hottest team in the NHL, have now dropped five straight games. The grip on their seemingly secure playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is slipping. The Leafs pulled to within a point of the Sens and they have three games in hand.
Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf scored in the first, Tyler Bozak tipped a puck over the sprawling Craig Anderson in the second, and Luke Schenn and Cody Franson scored in the third for the Leafs. At the other end of the ice, “the Rime Minister,” Jamie Reimer, kicked out 49 shots for the shutout.
“They skated real well,” said Senators head coach Paul MacLean of the Leafs. “Phil Kessel was an absolute star tonight and we didn’t have an answer for him.”
Although the Sens got 49 shots on Reimer and controlled more than their fair share of play, they could not capitalize. The Leafs kept the front of the net clear and did not allow the Sens to get the key second and third chances from rebounds on many of their shots.
The Sens also came into the game with a special teams advantage, but could not capitalize on six power plays against one of the weaker penalty kill units in the NHL. The Leafs, on the other hand, scored two goals with a man advantage.
“Special teams were a big part of us giving them momentum,” MacLean said. “We had quite a few chances tonight, but they didn’t give us second chances. (Reimer) controlled his rebounds well.”
With only one point in their last five games, the Sens will host their former goalie, Brian Elliott, and the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place. MacLean is hoping to have his team ready to turn things around.
“We’ll be taking tomorrow (Sunday) off and then come back to the rink and Monday and regroup and get back to work. This is the first time this season we have faced some adversity,” said MacLean.