Game Day: at Ottawa
Jackets travel to Ottawa for first time in two years
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|The Ottawa Senators are clearly in a period of transition, and the current roster in Canada’s capital city bears nearly no resemblance to that which competed in a Stanley Cup Final four years ago. But these young Senators are loaded with skill and speed, an element that general manager Bryan Murray wanted a lot of when he decided to rebuild the club two years ago. It started with the trade of star winger Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks, when Murray acquired speedy winger Milan Michalek as part of that deal in hopes he could play with center Jason Spezza.
Michalek has been a nice fit in Ottawa and developed into a regular 20-plus goal scorer in the National Hockey League. He and Spezza have formed a stellar top duo for new head coach Paul MacLean, who gets his first NHL head job after several years as an assistant under Mike Babcock in both Detroit and Anaheim. Interestingly enough, the Ducks won the Stanley Cup against the Senators in 2007 when MacLean was Babcock’s assistant. Though Ottawa’s lineup is very young up front, the Senators have the potential to be explosive despite their early-season struggles.
Murray has acquired and drafted young players such as Peter Regin, Bobby Butler, Nick Foligno, Stephane Da Costa and 18-year-old Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad was Ottawa’s first-round pick this past summer at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and is stating his case to remain with the parent club beyond the nine-game “tryout” period for junior players. MacLean has several experienced role players at his disposal to balance the youthful exuberance – namely team captain Daniel Alfredsson, who you could certainly argue is more than a role player, even at the age of 38.
“Alfie,” as he’s known around the NHL, still has tremendous speed and a lightning-like release on his shot that enables him to play at forward or the point on the Ottawa power play. Other veterans like Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka and Jesse Winchester add a sandpaper element that creates balance in the Senators’ forward corps.
On defense, the Senators are building something special with a trio of talented youngsters. David Rundblad, an accomplished player at a young age in the Swedish Elite League with Skelleftea HC, was acquired in exchange for a first-round pick in June 2010 from the St. Louis Blues – the club that originally used a first-round selection to draft him in 2009. At the age of 21, Rundblad appears poised to become a regular contributor in the NHL, and MacLean is beginning to trust him with more ice time as the season progresses.
Jared Cowen, 20, is a lumbering and physical presence to contrast Rundblad’s transition game. Ottawa’s first-round pick (ninth overall) in 2009, Cowen is also wading into the NHL this season after an impressive career with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.
The headliner on the back end is Erik Karlsson, perhaps one of the most dynamic young defensemen in the game. An All-Star for the first time last season at age 20, Karlsson is the building block around which Murray will build his blue line for years to come. He possesses a hard shot from the point and world-class skating ability that pose a challenge for any team to defend. Opposing coaches marvel at Karlsson’s poise and fearlessness on the blue line, especially for a young player.
Ottawa traded for goaltender Craig Anderson at the trade deadline a year ago in a deal that sent Brian Elliot to the Colorado Avalanche. Not much was expected of the 30-year-old from Park Ridge, Ill., especially after a subpar season in Denver. But Anderson was nothing short of outstanding over the final 18 games with the Senators, posting a record of 11-5-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and two shutouts.
That performance earned him a new four-year contract with Ottawa, and he enters this season as the undisputed No. 1 man between the pipes. Murray also inked veteran goalie Alex Auld to a one-year contract this summer to serve as the backup to Anderson.