OTTAWA – For any Senators fans lamenting Ottawa’s trade of Dany Heatley or the team’s lack of scoring early in this NHL season, Milan Michalek delivered Thursday night.
The Czech winger, acquired from San Jose last month in the trade that sent the disgruntled Heatley to San Jose, notched his first career hat trick and the Senators’ offence had a breakout night in a 7-1 romp over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Michalek, who came in with just 11 multi-goal games over his first four full NHL seasons, struck for two short-handed goals and completed the outing with a power-play goal before a crowd of 17,732 at Scotiabank Place.
“To see all the people standing and clapping for me was an awesome feeling,” Michalek said. “Hopefully, there’s many goals to come.”
The Senators and their fans hope that’s the case, too.
They had scored just 12 goals in their opening five games, while Heatley was named NHL offensive player of the week and is off to a torrid start to the season.
But the Senators feasted on a listless Tampa Bay team, with Michalek leading the way. It was the first time the Senators had scored that many goals in a game since an 8-2 win at Toronto on April 3, 2008.
“Obviously, we played good, but they didn’t have a great game today,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who recorded three assists. “We get up a couple fairly early and they have to force it and go on the offence, which opens things up. It’s a big confidence boost for us, but it’s one of those games that kind of got a little bit out of hand for them.”
Jarkko Ruutu had a goal and two assists and Alex Kovalev, Alexandre Picard and Nick Foligno also scored for the Senators (4-2-0), who improved to 3-1 at home in a game in which Lightning tough guys Zenon Konopka and Steve Downie mixed it up on more than one occasion with Ottawa’s Chris Neil and Matt Carkner.
With it being Hockey Fights Cancer awareness night at Scotiabank Place, it was a fitting night for Foligno to score his first goal of the season. He lost his mother, Janis, to the disease in July.
Anton Volchenkov had two helpers and Pascal Leclaire enjoyed a quiet night in goal, needing to make just 16 saves.
Ryan Malone, with his sixth goal of the season, replied for the Lightning (2-2-2), whbo had their two-game win streak stopped and failed to pick up at least a point for the first time in five games.
With an assist, Martin St. Louis extended his season-opening scoring streak to six games.
Smith, getting the start after Antero Niittymaki played the last two games for the Lightning, finished with 28 saves.
“Two short-handed goals, it’s embarrassing,” said Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, whose team came into the game leading the Southeast Division. “We gave one up against Florida (in a win Monday night). I know it’s only Game 6, but when you give up three short-handed goals in two games, there’s going to be some video, there’s going to be some talking and there might be some changes.
“First place early in the season, two stinkers in a row, we’re going to have to get to work tomorrow.”
Alfredsson, Heatley and Jason Spezza made up Ottawa’s first line in years past. These days, Spezza’s centring Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo – and Michalek is one of the players being counted on to offset the loss of Heatley’s offence.
So far, he looks like a good fit.
“We’ve played six games together, so we’re starting to be comfortable,” Michalek said.
After Alfredsson intercepted a blind pass by Martin St. Louis and set up Kovalev for the game’s opening goal on Ottawa’s first shot less than 4 1/2 minutes in, Michalek shovelled a rebound past Mike Smith with Tampa on the power play midway through the first.
He beat the Lightning goaltender again on a breakaway early in the second, helping the Senators to their fourth win in the past five games.
His third goal came when he converted a spinning backhand pass from Jason Spezza during a third-period power play.
“He was flying, obviously, and he was able to find a lot of openings and he could have had a couple of more with some luck,” Alfredsson said. “He’s very dangerous with his speed.”
Notes: The Senators are in Montreal on Saturday night. It’ll be Kovalev’s first game there since leaving the Canadiens to sign with Ottawa in the off-season. a Centres Peter Regin (upper body), Ryan Shannon (suspected concussion) and Jesse Winchester (knee) and defenceman Filip Kuba (lower body) all sat out with injuries. a Defencemen Lukas Krajicek, David Hale and Matt Smaby were all healthy scratches for Tampa Bay. a The Lightning travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Saturday.