Milan Michalek is the only player who should have been feeling some "extra" pressure or motivation in last night's Ottawa-Edmonton game.
Not Dustin Penner or Ladislav Smid or Andrew Cogliano. They had nothing to prove. Senators GM Bryan Murray already told the world how good he thinks the three Oilers are or could be by offering such a superstar as Dany Heatley for them last June.
And not Jonathan Cheechoo. After 14 games, people around here had stopped even expecting him to score.
But Michalek, who entered the night as the Senators’ top marksman with seven, had to feel some additional heat trying to prove Murray did okay by settling for him as the marquee player in a package coming this way for Heatley. And to keep up to the 6-foot-4, 245-lb. Penner, he has some playing to do.
Prior to last night's action, Penner was seventh in the NHL with 21 points, two more than superstar Heatley.
But at least early in the day, Michalek didn’t look very anxious. After the morning skate, he was his usual accommodating self, speaking to reporters and flashing the grin that — minus the front tooth he lost in Game 2 against the Leafs — makes him look like Heatley off the ice, anyway.
“We mostly knew what we were getting (in Michalek),” Senators coach Cory Clouston told enquiring Edmonton reporters. “(But) I think the element of grit and toughness ... I don’t know if we realized how much pain this guy can play in.”
Penner, meanwhile, also shrugged off the notion of this one being a special night.
“It’s not really more than just another game,” he said after the Oilers skate at SBP. “I’ve played here before.”
But what about all the summer trade talk? The Oilers were all ready to unload you. That had to be bothering, no?
“I was down in California,” said Penner. “It wasn’t that tough. I was not really (paying attention). They don’t cover that much (hockey trade talk) down there.”
Penner said a lot of things have contributed to his fast start, but any desire to prove the Oilers were wrong in even having his name mentioned in trade discussions wasn’t one of them.
“Not at all,” said Penner, who was an undrafted 21-year-old Murray brought into pro hockey on a free-agent tryout in 2004 with Anaheim. “No, I had that (unwanted) feeling a lot when I was younger. I don’t know if you followed my career. Getting cut, and things along that line, are pretty familiar to me. It doesn’t bother me.”
Penner was asked if he had thought about coming out for the pre-game warmup in a Heatley jersey.
“No, why?” he said. “You got one for me?”
They’re pretty tough to find in Ottawa these days, he was told.
Hours later, luck was on the side of Big Dustin in the Penner-Michalek showdown. He gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead when, while battling with Brian Lee in front of the net, a shot from the point went off his rear end, then deflected off the end of Pascal Leclaire’s goalie stick before crossing the line in a classic double-butt goal.
At the other end of the ice, Michalek failed to get enough of the puck on a swipe at an open side on his first shift. Later in the opening period, he clanked a shot off the post.
Penner, who was also robbed of a sure goal by Leclaire in the third, gets the nod in this first meeting of two showdowns with Michalek this season. Of course, there are those who believe there should be no such head-to-head focus on the two in the first place.
“The day that Heatley said he wasn’t coming (to Edmonton), it should have been forgotten,” Oilers coach Pat Quinn said of the players his team dangled for Heatley. “We move on. You guys have been getting too much out of this thing. You’re still bringing it up seven months later, for crying out loud.”
STOPS AND STARTS
The Senators’ fourth line of Chris Neil, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu played a lot, starting from the opening faceoff, and played well ... Yes, Ethan Moreau’s second-period goal was unassisted, if you don’t count the miscommunication between Alex Picard and Peter Regin in helping set it up ... The Senators missed D Anton Volchenkov more than ever last night ... Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher hit the same post on different sharp-angled shots in the second ... Denis Grebeshkov has likely seen enough of Pascal Leclaire, who made great saves off the Oilers D-man in the second and third.
The exasperating Alex Kovalev was definitely “on,” at least early in the game. With his puckhandling and dipsy-doodling, yes, but even more impressive was the way he angled veteran D Lubomir Visnovsky into the boards, relieved him of the puck and then teed it up for Jonathan Cheechoo’s first goal as a Senator. That wasn’t enough for at least one friend who, as the third period rolled around, sent Cheapseats a new nickname for AK27: “Igor Floatalot.” It does have a ring to it ... Against what has been a growing sentiment, Senators coach Cory Clouston said early in the day that he hadn’t even thought about making Cheechoo a healthy scratch. “Because I think the effort has been there, for the most part,” said Clouston.