Ottawa rights the ship

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Sleep well, Ottawa. The crisis, if ever one existed, is past.

After stumbling out of the gate, the Senators have taken steps the past couple of games to soothe the jangled nerves of their anxious fans.

Nothing like a couple of lopsided victories to turn the tide of public opinion. After drumming on the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, to the tune of 8-1, the Sens made it back-to-back pastings last night, winning 6-2 against the Leafs and their Swiss cheese defence. In the process of winning back-to-back games for the first time, Ottawa more than doubled its seasonal goal production.

Play with passion

"We've got to play with the passion that we haven't had the first little while," said Mike Fisher, one of Ottawa's dominant performers last night. "We have to make sure we're all playing with a bit of an edge and competing, finishing checks and having fun as a team. We seem to be doing that a lot more the past couple of games. We're feeding off each other."

Last night's game was thoroughly one-sided right from the start. Seven minutes into the second period, Ottawa had a 5-0 lead and the game deteriorated somewhat from there, with a couple of fights and the usual attempts at intimidation that go on between two arch-rivals.

"We play them again (tomorrow) and they maybe wanted to set the tone and I thought we matched them," Spezza said. "There's obviously a little animosity. I think we've played them, what, seven times in the last month, so there's no love lost."

For the Senators and their fans, the riches of the last two games couldn't have come at a better time.

"I think there's always pressure when you're not winning and not playing well," said coach Bryan Murray earlier this week.

"And I think guys were pressing. I think it was a real relief when we scored the first power-play goal. I think it just loosened everybody up and they just played."

Relief doesn't go nearly far enough. Ottawa expects to be one of the highest-scoring outfits in the league and it's understood that the power play unit is going to play a huge role in that offensive thrust.

Yet, until that opening goal last Saturday, the Senators had scored just one power play goal and only 11 all told. Since that point, they have scored 14 more goals, three of them on the power play.

Central to that early puny output was the team's big line of Dany Heatley, Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson which had been essentially invisible. Toss in talented pointman Wade Redden who is mired in the worst slump of his career. Even after the eight goal outburst against New Jersey, Redden still didn't have either a goal or an assist in the club's first seven games. He finally got on the scoresheet last night with an assist on his team's second goal.

Perhaps Murray put the fear of God in his players last Friday when, during practice, he put Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson on three separate lines. Against New Jersey and again last night, Heatley and Spezza were back together and both scored, playing on a line with Patrick Eaves. Alfredsson skated on a line with Dean McAmmond and Chris Kelly. Between them, the Big Three accounted for seven points in that game and three more last night.

By the end of the season, the Senators surely will have been challenged so often that this early hiccup will be long forgotten. But right now, that Jersey game is unquestionably a turning point.

"We struggled a little bit early and couldn't get two wins strung together," Murray said. "I think we're playing better. Some of our better players are getting their games together now. If that's enough to say we've turned the corner, I hope we have."

Truth is, if three wins and four losses represents the worst stretch of seven games that the Senators have this year, they will be just fine. Their biggest problem was timing. When you're in a hockey-mad market and you start the season with some indifferent results, especially on home ice, the natives will get restless every time.

Just ask the Leafs today. Their nagging defensive flaws were exposed in embarrassing fashion last night.

That should be just about enough to stimulate a full-blown anxiety attack on Leaf Nation.

See, neuroses know no boundaries.


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