All the jibberjabber about the Senators defenceman who is not in the lineup is taking a little something away from those who are.
And after a start to the season in which the play of the group could generally be described as offensive, Ottawa blue-liners have become offensive ... in a good way.
In Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Atlanta, they totalled six points, with Matt Carkner the only one of the bunch who was held off the scoresheet.
It was the type of game that at least temporarily changed Filip Kuba’s name to Filip Who?
“It sure is nice,” coach Cory Clouston said of the offence he’s getting from the defence. “It adds an element to our attack that wasn’t there earlier on.”
Leading the way are the two who are supposed to be: Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson.
Gonchar is flashing the skills that have made him one of the league’s top producing backenders in the last decade. The three goals he has in his past four games has drawn attention to the fact he now has 10 points in his last 10 games.
Karlsson, who made a great pass to Jason Spezza for Ottawa’s second goal in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Atlanta, has four assists in his last two games and six points in his last four.
“We’ve played 15 games now, and the more games you play, the more you get into the game pace,” said Karlsson, whose four multi-point games ties him with Daniel Alfredsson for the team lead. “It just feels better and better.”
Chris Phillips looked like he had scored the winning goal against Atlanta, until it was later credited to Chris Neil, but if there was indeed a deflection, it was slight and may have only propelled a puck that was headed for mesh anyway.
And David Hale, the callup who has proven to be a bonafide NHLer with a couple of points and a plus-3 rating in his nine games, made the smart feed to Spezza for the team’s all-important first goal.
“I’m aware of it,” Hale said when it was mentioned that Kuba should soon be ready to play his first game since breaking a leg in training camp. “I’ll say I’m aware of it.”
Whether he’s growing impatient with Kuba’s recovery or he has another plan up his sleeve, Clouston has not called for a car to take Hale to Binghamton just yet.
“We don’t necessarily have to take David Hale out right now,” said Clouston. “We’ll play it by ear.”
Before they embark on a gruelling road trip where they’ll meet four tough opponents, the Senators are facing a tremendous test Thursday with the arrival of the Vancouver Canucks, who won six in a row until losing 2-0 in Montreal Tuesday.
Which of Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire will be between the pipes won’t be known until the morning skate as, although Elliott has won four games in a row, he missed practice Wednesday’s practice with what Clouston called a “nagging injury.” If Leclaire plays, it will be his first action since he suffered a groin injury Oct. 14.
Whichever it is will see a Canucks team that is 2-4-1 on the road, where the 14 goals they’ve scored have come from only five different players. Daniel Sedin has five of them.
“Our biggest problem is we’ve been changing our game on the road,” Henrik Sedin said after Wednesday’s practice at Scotiabank Place. “(In Montreal) I didn’t think we played our game. We don’t need to change our game just because we play on the road. We’re the same type of team. Good teams, they play their game. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Rogers Arena or here in Ottawa.”
To coach Alain Vigneault, the problem at the Bell Centre was obvious.
“When you go 0-for-12 in the first two periods on faceoffs, you’re chasing the puck,” he said of Henrik Sedin, who finished the night 2-13 in the circles. “That’s not home and away.”
The Senators will try to keep doing what they’ve been doing. And that includes having the defence help out in the offensive zone.
“It was something that was talked about a lot coming into the season with adding Gonch to the lineup and having Karlsson coming into his own,” said Phillips. “(Chris) Campoli is another offensive guy who’s been jumping up and making things happen. That’s what we need. Even if you’re not getting on the scoresheet, you have to make things happen for the forwards.”
It’s the kind of forward thinking that the Senators need from their defence.