Neil saves face for Senators

Senators forward Chris Neil is upended by Jets defenceman Mark Flood as forward Zack Smith looks on...

Senators forward Chris Neil is upended by Jets defenceman Mark Flood as forward Zack Smith looks on at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ont., Jan. 16, 2012. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:10 AM ET

OTTAWA - As rotten as the Senators were early on Monday night, Chris “Oil Changers” Neil prevented their first period from being a total disaster.

At least he sparred them from being totally embarrassed.

A rather bizarre chain reaction began with Winnipeg’s Evander Kane speeding down the left-wing boards, only to be derailed by a fast-moving Erik Karlsson. Clean hit, but that never seems to matter these days in the NHL. Kane decided he had to seek retribution, and found the opportunity seconds later when Karlsson was in the opposite corner fielding a loose puck.

As referee Dean Morton (that name starting to sound familiar, Senators fans?) stood about two stick lengths away, Kane delivered a soft cross-check to Karlsson’s upper body (near the area Ottawa’s best defenceman damaged last week, forcing him to miss a game? Don’t know. Maybe.), then followed up with an elbow to the head.

Karlsson lay on the ice, probably selling it a little bit, but hurt or not a penalty should have been called. In fact, some of us were still trying to figure out who should be suspended — Kane for the head shot, Morton for his not calling the obvious, or Filip Kuba for allowing Kane to skate away without any response at all — when suddenly Kane had a breakaway through the hole Karlsson would have had plugged had he not still been writhing in pain or whatever.

Kane didn’t score, but the score was settled next time he took the ice. As soon as the puck was dropped, Neil went after Kane with a body check and was ready to give him more when he got up. Jets defenceman Mark Stuart rushed to Kane’s rescue, Matt Carkner took care of Stuart, and Neil unbuttoned Kane’s helmet, then proceeded to give him something of an oil change.

Kane looked surprised Neil went after him. I was more surprised Kuba didn’t at least grab him and wrestle him to the ice after Kane took the cheapshots at one of Ottawa’s best players. Kuba’s having a very good season and I know he’s not a fighter or even remotely physical, but come on, that was bad.

At least Neil sent the message that abuse of Ottawa’s stars won’t be tolerated. At least he saved some face on a night when his team was left red-faced by a group of Jets it should have grounded.

STARTS AND STOPS

After the morning skate, Jason Spezza was asked about Cynthia Konopka, Zenon’s sister, singing the national anthem before the game. “She’ll definitely be the best Konopka tonight,” Spezza joked. Fact is, Cynthia was the best performer in a Senators jersey (she wore a No. 28, of course). Trained as an opera singer, she’s performed the anthems before Zenon’s games at every level — even on his team bus when he was 11. One thing is for sure — Cynthia sure can hit those high notes. Meanwhile, her presence meant Zenon had “money on the board” that was going to the team’s kitty for a win, and as good as he was skating, coach Paul MacLean gave him more opportunities for him to make the donation ... The Senators left right after the game for Toronto, where they’ll play the Leafs Tuesday before embarking on a seven-day, four-game tour of California and Arizona. From Phoenix. a few of them will head directly to their all-star break destinations. Who has two weeks worth of underwear to pack for a trip lasting almost 14 days, anyway?. “You flip them inside out,” said Zack Smith. “Then you only have to bring half as many.” Rich kids do that, too?

STUFF I THINK I THUNK

Why don’t fans get up on their feet when the Senators “welcome back” one of their former players or, in the case of Monday night, two — Brad Marsh and Patrick Lalime? Is it laziness, a lack of passion and emotion or just not knowing any better? ... It’s just past the midway mark and Sergei Gonchar has twice allowed the puck to slip over the offensive blue line then pulled it back like he has either forgotten the offside rule or he thinks the linesmen are completely blind ... While it’s a gimme that Daniel Alfredsson gets named as one of the all-star game captains, the question is who will be the other? “As long as Alfie is a captain, whoever else they pick is inconsequential to me,” said Spezza. “We just want to see Alfie be a captain.” I don’t care either, but that’s just because of a total lack of interest in the whole thing.

BETWEEN PERIODS

The Stanley Cup-champion Bruins are scheduled to visit the White House Jan. 23 and Jets broadcaster “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy, who patrolled the B’s blue line last season, is looking forward to joining them. If he can. “I just hope I get cleared,” quipped the Sheriff ... Special treat in the pressbox during the first intermission, as Chef Bento Sushi provided some delicious samples for the hard-working media. Think he brought the extra powerful wasabi, too. Anybody else notice Stuntman Stu’s voice a couple of pitches higher during early second period P.A. announcements? ... Smith drew high praise from Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner Saturday night. Among other things, Grapes said the rough-and-tumble style Smith brings would make him a perfect Bruin. Smith didn’t see the segment as he was busy working in Montreal, but he heard about it in messages from friends. “It’s awesome,” he said of being mentioned by Cherry. “I grew up listening to him and stuff, it’s pretty cool to hear him talk about you. I always get texts after (saying) ‘Don Cherry was pumping your tires.’ It’s pretty cool. He’s a guy I look up to.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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