I usually love writing, but I will be the first to admit that putting together this week’s blog was horribly depressing.
The thought of assembling the best moments of the calendar year for the Ottawa Senators served as yet another reminder of how painfully ridiculous this lockout has been.
The Senators were one of the few teams that ended last season on a high note — with a wave of momentum that had everyone looking forward to the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
But alas, when we look at the top moments of 2012 for the Senators, we have to go back about 10 months to find most of the highlights.
Despite the lockout, 2012 was one of the best years in franchise history. And to be honest, this was a lot more fun than picking the top 10 Senators moments of 2011 — even though the Senators played games throughout the entire year.
Last year, I would have been hard-pressed to get more than four or five great moments. Erik Condra’s two-goal game against the Flyers may have even cracked the list.
However, 2012 was a totally different story and I had a hard time creating the list because there were so many moments to choose from.
Here’s hoping the top 10 moments of 2013 isn’t just a blank Word document.
10) Chris Neil fights Zdeno Chara
If anyone from your team fought Zdeno Chara in the past calendar year, that has to be considered a top moment. Neil’s fight against Chara on Feb. 25 was extremely impressive for a couple of reasons. For starters, Neil laid out Johnny Boychuk with one of the most devastating clean hits you’ll ever see. And then moments after that hit, Chara challenged Neil to a fight in the Boston zone.
Instead of declining the fight against someone who was out of his weight class, Neil dropped the gloves and held his own in the tilt with Chara. The hulking Bruins defenseman was impressed with the way Neil handled the incident. “He didn’t need to fight me, but I appreciate it,” Chara said afterwards.
9) Jason Spezza dekes the entire Winnipeg Jets team
Jason Spezza has scored numerous highlight reel goals during his time with the Senators. In fact, we’re pretty sure Sheldon Souray is looking for his jockstrap from Spezza’s spectacular overtime winner against the Canaidens back in 2005. But his assist on a Kyle Turris goal against Winnipeg on Mar. 26 ranks at the top of any Spezza highlight pack.
On his way to setting up Turris, Spezza deked out the following players in order: Ron Hainsey, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Antti Miettnen and then Hainsey again for good measure. The performance was also clutch, as it came in a must-win game for the Senators down the stretch in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
8) Mark Stone makes his NHL debut
Mark Stone had never suited up for an NHL game, but that didn’t stop Paul MacLean from throwing the rookie into the playoff spotlight in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. The 19-year-old responded by setting up Jason Spezza for the eventual game-winning goal on a beautiful saucer pass in the first period. Sadly for Ottawa fans, the 2-0 win over the Rangers would be the last game the Senators would win in 2012.
7) Bryan Murray lands Ben Bishop
There didn’t appear to be any upside to Craig Anderson slicing his finger during a freak kitchen accident in late February. The Sens netminder had been in the midst of a brilliant stretch where he won four consecutive games, while posting two shutouts. But the extended absence of Anderson forced Bryan Murray to make a move he otherwise wouldn’t have, when he landed netminder Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues to act as an insurance policy.
Rumour has it St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong told several teams that they could have Bishop for a second-round pick and the first general manager to phone him back would acquire the netminder. Fortunately for the Sens, Murray had his phone available and dialed Armstrong’s number immediately to beat out the other competitors. With the addition of Bishop, the Senators suddenly had three legitimate NHL goaltenders and appear to have finally addressed a position that has been a weakness for several years.
6) Robin Lehner outduels Tim Thomas
Sticking with the goaltending theme, Robin Lehner also stepped up and delivered during Anderson’s absence. On Feb. 28, Lehner went into Boston and posted a 1-0 shutout victory over Tim Thomas and the Bruins. The win was impressive because the 20-year-old Lehner made 32 saves to beat Thomas — who had basically owned the Senators for the past three seasons.
5) Senators clinch playoff spot
It’s hard to believe that a Sunday afternoon game against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum cracks the top five on this list, but the Senators win 5-1 win there on Apr. 1 was massive for the organization. Just moments before the game fans thought they were the victims of an April Fools prank when the Senators announced they would play without Daniel Alfredsson — who had the flu — and Jason Spezza — who left the club to attend to the birth of his second child. But even without their top two offensive stars, the Senators rallied for a decisive win that clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with one week left in the regular season.
4) Chris Phillips has magical 1000th game
In terms of regular season moments in 2012, Chris Phillips’ 1000th game against the Nashville Predators on Feb. 9 is at the top of the list. The stay-at-home defenseman burst out with an unlikely two-goal game in this milestone contest. His second goal of the game — a power play marker midway through the third period — would stand up as the game-winner and was punctuated by Phillips memorable celebration while lying on his back.
After the game, his teammates were eager to describe Phillips’ unlikely two-goal performance with a little sarcastic wit. “It took him a thousand games to figure out he’s an offensive defenseman,” joked Spezza.
3) Kyle Turris’ playoff OT winner against the Rangers
In my 11 years covering the Senators, I’ve never heard Scotiabank Place as loud as it was when Kyle Turris ripped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist early in the first overtime of Game 4 of the playoff series against the Rangers. The building erupted when Turris’ shot found the back of the net at 2:42 of overtime, as it evened the series at two games apiece. The Senators erased a 2-0 deficit in that game and the comeback win seemed to epitomize the never-say-die attitude that was the hallmark of the 2012 squad. The Turris goal gave the Sens their last great comeback win on home ice in the 2011-12 season.
2) Daniel Alfredsson ‘s All-Star Game ovation
The Ottawa Senators played host to the NHL All-Star weekend in January and while the club had four players named as starters to the game, the signature moment came when Daniel Alfredsson scored his first of two goals. After the goal, the officials delayed dropping the puck so that the Senators captain could soak in the standing ovation from the hometown crowd. Players from both teams were banging their sticks on the boards and San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was seen clapping his hands behind the bench.
The multiple standing ovations he received during the All-Star festivities showed hockey fans across the continent what Alfredsson has meant to this community.
1) Erik Karlsson wins Norris Trophy
Erik Karlsson capped a memorable season by winning the Norris Trophy at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 20. The 22-year-old had a breakout season by shattering the Senators record for points by a defenseman with 78 and finishing a whopping 25 points ahead of the next highest-scoring blueliner in the league. And just a few hours before being awarded the Norris Trophy, Karlsson was handed a seven-year contract extension worth $45.5 million — proving that some people actually do leave Vegas with more money than they came with.