The Pittsburgh Penguins are probably the Ottawa Senators biggest rivals right now.
These two teams have met three times in the playoffs in the last six years and there have been numerous incidents between them during that span. Who could forget Andy Sutton’s “So you’re an expert” rant after his controversial hit on Jordan Leopold? Or Nick Foligno’s mini-feud with Sidney Crosby, where he suggested the Penguins superstar was a hypocrite for his stance on shots to the head?
There was also Craig Adams knocking out Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson for almost a month with a shoulder injury just before Christmas in 2009. Then on Boxing Day the following year, Kris Letang hit Jason Spezza into the boards, forcing the Sens top centre to miss six weeks with a shoulder injury.
And of course, on Wednesday night the skate of Matt Cooke slicing Erik Karlsson’s Achilles tendon will go down as possibly the single most deflating moment in franchise history. We can sit here and debate whether Cooke did this on purpose or not, but it doesn’t fix the real issue here: The Ottawa Senators seem to be in big trouble.
What started as such a promising season — kicking off the year with a 5-1-1 record — has now gone sideways faster than a car driven by Lindsay Lohan. Without Spezza for two months, there was the faint hope this team could hold their heads above water until he returned around the trade deadline. But without Karlsson as well, this team is fully submerged — and drowning fast. They have lost five of their last seven games and the offence has looked sluggish. And that was before the gut-wrenching blow of losing the reigning Norris Trophy winner.
There are suggestions now that perhaps general manager Bryan Murray should pull the trigger on a trade. Since this season is a write-off, why not move Craig Anderson — who is currently the league’s hottest goalie? You have Robin Lehner waiting in the wings, seemingly ready to make the step to the NHL. You could also dangle Sergei Gonchar, who is in the last year of his contract, and might be able to yield something in return.
But the Senators are not going into an accelerated rebuild mode just because two of their star players are sidelined indefinitely. In fact, Murray almost laughed in my face today when I told him about the theory of trading Anderson to allow Lehner to play in the NHL right now.
“He’s got two years left on his contract. He’s a pretty good cornerstone to build with,” Murray said of Anderson. “He’s at a stage where he can play another five or eight years if we want him to.”
Instead, the Senators are going to try and make the post-season with this depleted roster. And they need to look no further than at their biggest rivals — the Penguins — for a little bit of inspiration.
Two years ago, the Penguins were written off by most people when they had to deal with the double-whammy of losing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the second half of the season. Crosby, if you will recall, was sidelined with a concussion he originally sustained at the Winter Classic. Malkin ended up blowing out his knee a few weeks later.
The Penguins played 34 of the final 35 games of that season without both Crosby and Malkin. Their record in those games was 19-11-4. Dan Bylsma won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year that season and he showed the hockey world that you can survive without two superstars.
The Penguins gelled together as a team without their two best players and finished the season in first place in the division. If the Penguins can rack up 42 points in 34 games without their two franchise players, then there is some hope for Ottawa to do the same.
And guess what? The Senators have exactly 34 games left in this regular season. While it might seem like doom and gloom around Ottawa today, the Senators should take heart in the fact the Penguins got themselves into the playoffs in a similar situation two years ago.
With Craig Anderson playing this well, it at least gives Ottawa a fighting chance they can replicate the success the Penguins had without their two big guns.