Winchester's first goal is icing on the cake

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Jesse Winchester's coming-out party has something in common with the Ottawa Sun's 20th anniversary celebration. Both have lasted the better part of this week.

Even if he had not scored his first NHL goal and picked up an assist, this game would have gone down as Winchester's best performance as a pro. The 25-year-old rookie from Long Sault played with an abundance of confidence on the suddenly explosive line that includes a warming-up Mike Fisher and his other sidekick, Daniel Alfredsson.

No doubt Winchester was propelled by the high he had from rattling the pots and pans in Alex Ovechkin's kitchen Tuesday.

"(Winchester) told me, 'I'm getting one tonight,' " said coach Craig Hartsburg. "We were kidding Alfie he got Fish one and now he had to get the kid one. It's good for him to get the monkey off his back."

The FAW Line (okay, so you come up with something better) was dominant in the first period, creating chances while working the boards and cycling the puck. It was rewarded with Anton Volchenkov's goal in the opening 20, then Winchester's historic shot in the second.

Taking a pass from Alfredsson in the slot, Winchester moved the puck to his stick, then redirected it toward the opening between Antero Niittymaki's pads. Not sure if the attempt make it through, Winchester craned his neck to look for the puck in the net.

When he saw it had, he shot his arms in the air exuberantly.

His face conveyed the same wide-eyed look of pure glee he has in the dressing room every time he is asked about his situation with the Senators.

The guy is simply thrilled to be here and last night, watching him celebrate what had to be the most exciting moment of his life, you just had to feel good for him.

STARTS AND STOPS

One of the most enjoyable conversations a hockey writer can have is and always has been with Flyers goalie Martin Biron. He told a number of neat stories in both French and English after the morning skate, starting with his new mask (it's white, with a painting on the side of the mask Bernie Parent sported when he was a Flyers great) and including yarns about defenceman Jason Smith, who was with Philly before he signed with the Senators. Smith is known to his friends as "Gator" for the large tattoo on his shoulder, apparently in honour of a buddy that played for the Florida Gators. He's also a bit of a shark, according to Biron. "He used to play cards with Jim Dowd, and Jim could not win a pot from Gator," said Biron. "From the first trip to the end of the season, he had Dowd flustered. It was so funny." Biron remembered Smith playing with a hand that was "so messed up" from blocking shots and being slashed, and how he took injections for a shoulder that continually popped out of its socket. "There was this huge billboard in Philly, by the rink," said Biron. "Our motto was 'Back with a Vengeance' and there was a picture of him, he has blood dripping down the side of his face ... one drop, that's just leaking. He has a big black eye, he has his nose stitched up and taped over. It was humongous. It was right by the arena. And people are driving by and they're like, 'Holy crap!' It was unbelievable. He's just one of the toughest guys I've ever seen." ... They want to increase scoring and they speak ridiculously of enlarging nets or shrinking goalie pads, but what they should really do is allow players to kick in the puck. Hey, if you're good enough to do it, why not? And, oh yeah, if such was the case, the Senators would have had a 1-0 lead at 4:42 of the first, Antoine Vermette would have had his third goal of the season and Jason Spezza would have had his eighth assist ... If Volchenkov's hand was still hurting from the shot he blocked off the stick of Alexander Semin a couple of days earlier, it sure didn't look like it with the way he fired that slapper past Niittymaki. It was a bomb.

BETWEEN PERIODS

Things that were hit with varying degrees of force during a first-period, five-minute power play the Senators had when Braydon Coburn drilled Vermette into the boards from behind: The mesh inside the Philly goal, by Dany Heatley's relay of a smooth Spezza feed; the left post of the Philly goal, by a delayed Christoph Schubert blast; the boards in front of the Philly bench, by Heatley after he took a clean and hard check by Mike Richards ... Another big hit came from Jarkko Ruutu on Flyers defenceman Lasse Kukkonen. Speculation in the press box was that after that shot, Lasse wanted to go home ... How tough is Richards? Listed as 5-foot-11, 195 lbs., the Flyers captain braced himself as Chris Neil took a run at him along the boards in the second. Neil bounced off Richards and landed on the ice, while Richards held his ground.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM...

A rink-long rush by Schubert in the fifth minute of the second was bizarre. Trying to make a move, the puck seemed to stick to the ice on Schubert and he wound up overskating it, then trying to backhand it at the net. He didn't get a chance before Richards drove him back-first into the crossbar ... Tradition was that, after his taped, scoreboard presentation of the extremely popular "Goodies," broadcaster Gord Wilson would respond to the cheers from his friends on press row by leaning out of his booth and giving us a big wave. Last night, he didn't. Maybe he's now thinking he's too Goody for us.

BUTT ENDS

Flyers coach John Stevens is in a unique position. The man he played for in his first three years of pro hockey is the same guy who now coaches the Flyers farm team. That would be former Senators bench boss John Paddock ... The Flyers must have the only senior vice-president who puts on the blades and practises with the team. That'd be 59-year-old Bobby Clarke, who spent 15 seasons establishing himself as one of the all-round best centres the NHL has ever known. "I think it's great," said Stevens. "Not just for the players, for the coaches, for everybody. He's been around the game for so long. He's one of the best faceoff guys ... not just taking the faceoffs, but the whole attitude going into the faceoff circle. That's what he can share with the players. Clarkie still kicks around and he likes to play. He does all right."


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