November 11, 2011
Da Costa's da real deal
By DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - Paul MacLean was wearing a smile Thursday, and not just because it brought another chance to chat with the media, which he said (he did) is his favourite time of the day other than having a cup of tea or glass of wine with his wife.
Apple (what hockey players often call an assist) turnovers aside, the Senators coach was pleased with the play of his team in its last outing.
And why not? If it wasn’t for the inexcusable giveaway by a veteran of 1,073 games (Sergei Gonchar) who should know better, and the understandable mistake by a rookie with 12 games experience (David Rundblad) who has lots learn, two of the Rangers’ three goals Wednesday night would have been avoided.
Minus those gaffes, the Senators defeat the hottest team in the conference 2-1, while leading on the shots clock 31-17, despite committing twice as many (19-8) giveaways.
They then wouldn’t be packing with them a four-game losing streak while embarking on a stretch of road games that starts Friday in Buffalo and continues on through Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Nonetheless, MacLean was enthusiastic when speaking of the opportunity to “show the Canadian people what kind of team the Ottawa Senators are.” Not to spoil the surprise, people, but what they are is exciting. Not to mention hell on a sportswriter at deadline.
Eleven of the Senators’ 16 games have been decided by one goal. They’ve lost the last three, but have won six.
“Early on in the year, when we got down, we probably felt like we had to open things up right away, but we probably believe in the system a little more now that we’ve won those close games,” said Jason Spezza.
“You stick to the plan and you hope throughout the game that you get a late goal. Instead of opening it up and letting them get more scoring chances, we try to limit their chances still and create something for ourselves.
“Paul is trying to teach us how to play a style of game that’s going to be successful in the playoffs, when our team does get to that level.”
In the meantime, the Senators will spend this season running cold and hot, like they’ve done with a six-game winning streak and a four-game slump in their past 10. So will individuals.
One rookie who was en fuego Thursday was Stephane Da Costa.
When he was on the ice, the puck followed him. He set up Nick Foligno’s second-period goal and had some glorious chances himself, including one which saw him magically juggle the puck with his stick past a Rangers blueliner.
Da Costa’s maligned defensive play is improving as he learns angles — during one battle he stripped the puck from a surprised Brad Richards. I didn’t think Da Costa was close to ready for the NHL this season. I’ve changed my mind. With his passing, vision, growing confidence ... I can even see a little of the “younger Adam Oates” comparison made by Bryan Murray.
“It’s a great compliment,” said Da Costa. “Now I’m under pressure. I’ve got to make good passes.”
That he grew up in France, the 22-year-old Da Costa was asked if he had even heard of Oates, who retired in 2004 and stands as one of the most creative playmakers ever. Of course he did.
“From NHL ’94,” Da Costa said, referring to the video game.
Da Costa did meet Oates’ old triggerman, Brett Hull, when he was a 17-year-old playing in the NAHL.
“It was a charity game in Texas and he was the coach of the veteran team, with Mark Messier, the Hanson brothers ... ,” said Da Costa. “I was on the other team. At the end of the second, I switched to the old team. I played with Messier. I just wanted to pass it to him all the time.”
Murray gets even more criticism for his free-agent signings than he does compliments on his drafting.
But Da Costa, a Merrimack grad he convinced to become a Senator, is going to be a good one.