“There’s an extreme difference,” the Ottawa Senators head coach said Thursday following his team’s 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. A week ago Murray was pulling his hair out, trying to figure out what exactly ailed his talented but underachieving club, which stood 2-4-0 with only 11 goals scored.
Then came an 8-1 whooping of New Jersey on Saturday, a 6-2 walkover at Toronto on Tuesday night and Thursday’s rout of the Maple leafs at Scotiabank Place.
“We’ve good a good rhythm right now and it appears we can score goals,” said Murray.
Dany Heatley had the hat trick while linemate Jason Spezza and defenceman Joe Corvo each had a career-high five points as the Senators swept the home-and-home with the Leafs.
“Guys are a little more comfortable with the puck now,” said Spezza, who had a goal and four assists. “With that 8-1 game, it seemed like we stopped gripping our sticks after that. . . .
“I was pretty frustrated with how things were going early on but I tried not to let it get to me mentally.”
Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher also scored for the Senators (5-4-0), who moved over .500 for the first time since an opening-night victory at Toronto.
“The way we played in those first couple of games it seemed like we forgot the season had started,” said Spezza, who was in Murray’s doghouse early in the year. “It’s definitely a lot more fun right now.”
Bates Battaglia and Jeff O’Neill replied for the Maple Leafs (4-4-3), who have apparently forgotten how to play defence. The Leafs have given up 33 goals in their last seven games, including 13 in the last two games to their provincial rivals.
“You give all these guys like Spezza and Heatley that kind of room on the ice – river-type hockey – and we can’t compete with them,” said Leafs captain Mats Sundin.
The Battle of Ontario has been a tilted one since the NHL returned from the lockout. Ottawa is 10-2-0 against the Maple Leafs since last October, including 3-1-0 already this season.
Ray Emery stopped 29 shots in goal for the Senators while his counterpart Andrew Raycroft had a busier night, facing 40 shots.
“This is what happens when a team plays their best and the other team doesn’t play their best,” said Raycroft. “But we’ll get up tomorrow morning and I’m sure the sun will be there, maybe behind a cloud.”
A crowd of 19,178, nearly half of them wearing Maple Leaf jerseys, may have anticipated a chippy affair after all the hype surrounding the beating Toronto’s Darcy Tucker handed Ottawa’s Patrick Eaves in Tuesday’s game.
While there were big hits, including a brain-rattler from Anton Volchenkov on Tucker in the second period, the bloodbath never materialized Thursday.
Rugged Senators winger Chris Neil did look for a fight at the opening faceoff as he lined up opposite Tucker and chirped in his ear, but the Leafs winger didn’t accept the invitation.
“Kudos to him, he did what he needed to do,” Tucker said of Neil. “It doesn’t make sense to me to fight a 225-pound guy. I’m going to get walloped and everybody is going to get a good cheer out of it.”
Ben Ondrus’s first and only shift of the first period for Toronto wasn’t a memorable one. The young winger gave the puck away at his own blue-line and it led to Ottawa’s opening goal by Fisher at 14:07.
The Senators extended their lead to 3-0 on quick goals by Vermette and Heatley early in a wild second period that featured seven goals. Heatley’s goal was a result of a Wade Belak giveaway at the Toronto blue-line.
Battaglia, on a breakaway at 3:46, and O’Neill, on a rebound from in-close at 11:50, had Leafs fans in the building excited as Toronto cut it to 3-2. But Corvo scored on a blast to the top corner at 13:21 and Heatley added a pair from the slot at 16:39 and 17:56 to put the game out of reach.
Spezza made it 7-2 just under three minutes into the final period with a nifty forehand deke and shot. Corvo’s assist on the play gave both players five-point nights.
The Senators finished the game without their top two defencemen after Wade Redden and Chris Phillips both suffered lower body injuries.
Notes: Heatley has 19 career goals in 20 games against Toronto . . . Corvo set a team record for points in a game by a defenceman while Spezza’s four assists in the second period set a franchise record for most assists in a single period . . . The record for most points in game by a Senator is held by three players, last achieved by captain Daniel Alfredsson last season . . . The Leafs went 0-for-7 on the power play while the Senators were 1-for-8 . . . Forward John Pohl and defenceman Jay Harrison were healthy scratches for the Leafs. Still injured are defencemen Pavel Kubina (knee, out 2-3 more weeks), Andrew Wozniewski (shoulder, 4-6 months), Staffan Kronwall (ankle, day to day) and forward Nik Antropov (leg, day to day) . . . Winger Peter Schaefer (hip flexor, day to day) was out for Ottawa while winger Denis Hamel was a healthy scratch . . . Ottawa’s next game is Saturday at Boston while the Leafs travel to Montreal for a Hockey Night In Canada clash with the Canadiens.