OTTAWA – Zack Smith might have to get used to the spotlight.
The Ottawa centre was honoured as the team’s player of the month for November prior to Monday’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning and promptly went out and scored twice in the Senators’ 4-2 victory.
Smith now has five goals in his last five games, but deflected the attention away from himself, choosing instead to credit the play of his linemates and his experience in the minors.
“It all goes back to Binghamton where I had a chance to play a big role,” said the 23-year-old Smith, who had eight goals and 12 assists in the AHL playoffs last season in helping Ottawa’s affiliate win the Calder Cup. “I think a lot of the young guys are doing a great job and it’s easy to play with guys like (Erik) Condra and (Kaspars) Daugavins.”
Smith has eight goals and 15 points so far this season with Ottawa and has found himself on the ice in many key situations.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean also believes Smith’s time in Binghamton is playing a big role in his current success.
“They’re doing a real good job against the other team’s either first or second line. In the last 10 or 15 games they’ve really come to play,” MacLean said. “They understand what it takes to win and how hard it is to win and I think that experience has helped them adjust a little more quickly to the National Hockey League.”
Daniel Alfredsson and Nick Foligno also scored for the Senators (13-11-3), who were playing their first of nine home games this month. Craig Anderson made 31 saves and added an assist in picking up the win.
Bruno Gervais and Martin St. Louis replied for the Lightning (11-13-2), while Steven Stamkos had two assists. Dwayne Roloson stopped 27 shots in taking the loss.
Monday’s game was the first of a four-game road trip for the Lightning. Tampa Bay has dropped four straight and has just three wins in its last 11 games.
“We deserved better, but this business is about winning games and we’re not doing that right now,” St. Louis said. “Does that mean we quit? No. It’s adversity and little by little you climb yourself out of a hole.”
The Lightning dressing room was extremely quiet and Stamkos admitted the loss left the team feeling bitter.
“This is one of the games where we thought we deserved for (our chances) to go in and they didn’t,” Stamkos said. “This is where it really tests your hockey team, when you’re playing pretty solid hockey and you’re not getting the results you want.
“We had enough chances to win this game by far (but) we can’t give up four goals on a nightly basis and expect to win.”
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Senators tied at 8:58 on a heads up play by their goalie.
Anderson came way out of his net to play the puck to Jason Spezza near centre. Spezza gained the Tampa Bay blue-line and dropped the puck to Alfredsson, who ripped a slapshot past Roloson from the top of the circle.
MacLean made the decision to reunite Alfredsson, Spezza and Milan Michalek in hopes the trio might generate some chances. The move paid off.
“That was a big moment in the game,” Spezza said. “I think we’re all better players when we’re all going and I think it was a good adjustment.”
Foligno scored the winner at 15:33 after he collected the rebound of an Alfredsson shot off the end boards and stuffed it behind Roloson.
“I think we’re working towards being a good team and this was a big win for us to get,” Foligno said. “We haven’t been home in a while and to get that first one out of the way is really important. I thought we stuck with it and it was a big win.”
Smith added his second of the night on a breakaway 46 seconds after Foligno gave Ottawa its first lead.
Following a first period that featured few scoring chances, the Lightning came on in the second, including a 4-on-1 break that saw Anderson stop Stamkos’ one-timer.
Tampa Bay was finally rewarded at 13:52 when Gervais fired a shot from just inside the blue-line past a screened Anderson.
Ottawa tied it less than three minutes later when Smith redirected Jared Cowen’s point shot.
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead at 3:35 of the third off a turnover by Erik Karlsson. The Senators defenceman coughed up the puck at his own blue-line to Stamkos, who fed a wide open St. Louis in front.
The Lightning will have little time to dwell on the loss and St. Louis believes that’s probably for the best.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” St. Louis said. “This is an unforgiving league and nobody cares if you lose four in a row—the only guys who care are in here.”
Tampa Bay visits the New York Islanders on Tuesday, while Ottawa hosts the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.
Notes: Anderson’s assist on Alfredsson’s goal was his third of the season, tying his career high from the 2009-10 season. … Smith tripped on the carpet as he accepted the player of the month award on the ice before the game, earning some serious laughter from teammates. … The Senators were without Filip Kuba (upper body, day-to-day), Peter Regin (shoulder, indefinitely) and Matt Carkner (knee, day-to-day). Nikita Filatov was a healthy scratch. … The Lightning were without Pavel Kubina (lower body, day-to-day) and Mattias Ohlund (knee, indefinitely). Adam Hall was a healthy scratch.