They have made it up to their knees and are about to reach for the next rope, hopeful of planting a foot and shaking their heads a little clearer still.
Collectively, individually. emotionally and physically, the Senators are in the process of picking themselves off the mat.
The hard-fought victory over a strong Los Angeles Kings team Monday — as aided by the hockey gods as it might have been — did wonders for their psyche after the three straight losses they suffered while in states of North Carolina, Pennsylvannia, Missouri and despair last week.
It also pulled them into an eighth-place tie with the Atlanta Thrashers. That they are currently in the playoff picture is incredible, really, after all they’ve been through.
“It helps a lot,” Jason Spezza said of what the win over the Kings did for their confidence as they head into Wednesday’s home game against another Western Conference visitor, the Dallas Stars. “The way we got beat three games in a row, obviously guys were gripping sticks a little tighter. To beat a team that’s one of the favorites in the west and a real good hockey club, it means a lot for us. Now, we just hope to kind of gain momentum off that.”
Victory was made possible by the heroics of Spezza, who would have also shouldered a large portion of the blame had the Senators lost. Spezza’s giveaway in the defensive zone led directly to Anze Kopitar’s goal that erased a 1-0 lead. But rather than sulk or even just shrug it off, Spezza had a discussion about his gaffe on the bench with captain Daniel Alfredsson, then became determined to make amends.
He did, of course, by scoring the winner with under nine minutes to go in the third.
“As a player, you want the chance to get the goal back,” he said. “Me and Alfie talked about it right away. I made the mistake. I didn’t see the guy coming and I thought (Chris Kelly) was supporting me. It kind of looked like a soft play.
“You hope the coach trusts you again, keeps putting you out there and gives you the chance. That’s what we’re here for. We may give up a goal every once in awhile, but he has to trust in us that we can get them back. We scored two goals for us and got the win. it definitely helps the confidence.”
The win was also the first of the season for Pascal Leclaire, who has been limited to seven games because of injury. It looked like he was headed to the shelf again Tuesday when, during practice, he dropped to the ice after being hit on an unprotected part of the right knee by a Spezza shot.
Media members on the scene automatically thought, here we go again. Did coach Cory Clouston?
“Maybe a brief moment, it flashed in my head,” Clouston said, grinning. “But when I went down there he said, ‘I’m OK,’ so he’s OK.”
Leclaire said it was nothing more than a stinger.
“It happens a lot of times,” he said. “It sucks for a couple of hours, but I’ll be all right.”
Leclaire, who’s trying to pick himself up an all-too-familiar start to the season, has to get the call against the Stars. The Senators would not have beaten the Kings had he not played as well as he did.
“I think it was good for everybody,” he said of the victory. “You always want to get that first one out of the way, but the most important thing is we needed to come back and play well. I’m just part of the group.”
“The more you play, the more you feel comfortable. (Monday) was a good step. Just going to make sure keep going forward.”
Also expected to pick himself up and be ready for the Stars is Chris Neil, who sparked the comeback over L.A. by winning a spirited second-period fight with Kevin Westgarth, who’s only about three inches and 35 pounds bigger than he is. Neil left the game with an “upper-body” injury, but Clouston thinks he’ll be good to go Wednesday.
“I’ve seen (Westgarth) fight before when he was down in the American League against Jeremy Yablonski,” said Clouston. “He’s a tough character. Chris gives a little bit of weight away often when he fights those guys. I thought he did an outstanding job, and the guys created some momentum from that.”