OTTAWA – Each and every player on the Ottawa Senators got a phone call from John Paddock last summer shortly after he was named head coach.
His message was simple. Look at what happened to 2006 Cup finalists Edmonton and Carolina last season. Don’t let it happen here.
“We were challenged, the talk of a Stanley Cup hangover really pushed us even more,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the rival Toronto Maple Leafs improved Ottawa to a mind-boggling 13-1-0, making the Senators the fastest to 13 wins of any team in NHL history.
“I mean, 13-1, you hear that and you say ‘wow,”‘ said Alfredsson. “We’re playing well. But the challenge is to keep going. I’m not worried about streaks or records. I want to keep giving ourselves a chance to win.”
Even a bolstered Maple Leafs lineup was no match for the high-flying Senators on Tuesday night. Andrej Meszaros, Chris Kelly and Patrick Eaves each had a goal and an assist and Martin Gerber collected his NHL-best 10th win of the season as Ottawa cruised past Toronto.
“You look around the room, everyone is enjoying it,” said Gerber. “But it doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot of work.”
Alfredsson and Chris Phillips also scored for the NHL-leading Senators, who set a franchise record with their eighth consecutive victory.
“Guys are working really hard,” said veteran Ottawa blue-liner Wade Redden. “No one is getting lazy here.”
Nik Antropov potted his ninth goal of the season for Toronto (6-7-3), which dressed forwards Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia) and Mark Bell (NHL suspension) for the first time this season. It didn’t matter.
Antoine Vermette had two assists as the Sens continued their domination of the Leafs, improving to 15-2-2 in the regular season since the lockout ended – including 3-0-0 this season.
The Leafs were buoyed by their recent play on the road, winning three of their last four away from home with solid defensive play. But on this night they had trouble handling Ottawa’s speed early on, turning the puck over and giving up odd-man breaks.
“You don’t want to give up five odd-man breaks a game – we gave up five in the first four to five minutes,” said a clearly disappointed Paul Maurice, Toronto’s head coach.
A lively crowd of 19,613 featured a healthy dose of Leaf jerseys, but they were quieted in a hurry.
“We got off to a good start and our fans took over,” said Alfredsson.
Phillips opened the scoring 2:59 into the first period, pinching in from the point and beating Vesa Toskala top corner on the stick side after a nifty cross-ice feed from Dany Heatley.
It was 2-0 just 47 seconds later when Eaves finished off a 2-on-1 break by patiently waiting out Toskala before flipping the puck over him.
Alfredsson collected his 10th goal of the season 1:21 into the second period after finding the open side on another 2-on-1 – this time short-handed. Meszaros made it 4-0 on a Sens power play with a screened shot that beat Toskala, chasing the Finnish goalie from the net.
The goalie change seemed to spark the Leafs, who carried the play for the rest of the middle period and finally got a goal when Antropov rifled a wrist shot in the top corner over Gerber’s stick side on a Toronto power play at 14:23.
But there would be no comeback on this night. The Senators re-asserted themselves in the third period, Kelly finishing off yet another 2-on-1 break after a pass from Eaves to make it 5-1 at 6:25.
Toronto had plenty of chances to make this a game, getting nine power-play chances on the night but scoring only once. Ottawa got three man advantages and scored once.
Wellwood and Bell started the game together on a line with John Pohl but later found themselves with Jason Blake as head coach Paul Maurice shuffled the deck. Wellwood also saw time on the first power-play unit.
Toronto actually outshot Ottawa 31-21 – a prime example of how the shot clock can be misleading.
Notes: With Wellwood and Bell returning, Simon Gamache paid the price. The Leafs put the winger on waivers Tuesday for the purposes of sending him back to the AHL Marlies … Star centre Jason Spezza missed his fourth consecutive game for the Senators with a groin injury … Defenceman Bryan McCabe (groin) and forward Darcy Tucker (knee) remained out for Toronto … Gerber has only lost once in regulation in his last 23 starts (20-1-2) dating back to last season … The Battle of Ontario was missing its biggest brawlers – tough guys Wade Belak of the Leafs and Brian McGrattan of the Senators were healthy scratches … The Leafs next play Friday at Buffalo while the Senators host Washington on Thursday … The Senators were 5-1-2 against the Leafs last season and 7-1-0 in 2005-06.