OTTAWA - Once again, the stakes have some height in the Battle of Ontario.
At Scotiabank Place Saturday night, both the sixth-place Senators and eighth-place Leafs desperately need a win. Just two points and the New Jersey Devils separate the teams in the standings. It's February, and both are fighting to make the playoffs.
Alas, another fight is gone, likely forever, from the rivalry. The Matt Carkner-Colton Orr big man tilt that used to be so much fun to watch.
Even Carkner will miss his Toronto adversary, who a few weeks ago was sent to the minors.
"We had some pretty good battles there," Carkner said before Friday's game against the Islanders. "We didn't hold back anything when we fought each other. That obviously makes things a little more heated, the guys get more invested in the games.
"Saying that, the Battle of Ontario is still alive and well. They always have some kind of toughness over there. They play with grit. They've got tough competitors in every stage of their team.
"For me, personally, having Colton Orr out of their lineup, it's a different look, for sure."
Almost always, a Carkner-Orr scrap ended with a knockdown punch.
"Sometimes you like them less than others," Carkner said of fighting Orr. "It was great. It got you involved. And the team kind of built some energy off them, win, lose or draw. It's something that people talked about ... a lot of people still talk to me about it. They can't believe how hard we went at it."
In 21 games, Carkner has been charged with three fights this season, but he's really only had one, and that was with Boston's Milan Lucic a couple of months ago.
As the heavyweight champ of the East, at last, he is running out of opponents.
"I've asked quite a few guys to go, that really couldn't go, whether it's the score of the game or whatnot," he said. "Sometimes it just doesn't happen. I've put myself out there. I'm being physical out there. When it happens it happens. I'm always ready to go."
Yup, the Battle of Ontario is regaining its intensity and bitterness. Too bad it doesn't have Carkner-Orr anymore.
STARTS AND STOPS
The Senators picked up one more point than they deserved Friday. They were very much the second-best team on the ice ... Coach Paul MacLean said Spezza had a "touch of the flu." The question: Is Spezza at 50% better than Bobby Butler at 100%? ... Jared Cowen made a rookie mistake, drifting across the ice to take out P.A. Parenteau before the latter set up Matt Martin for the tying goal. But the veteran Sergei Gonchar had slid over to cover for him. And where was the backcheck? ... John Tavares sure can dangle. His best move was an undressing of Filip Kuba ... Andrew MacDonald nearly spent some time in the penalty box. At least it looked like a first-period hit by Chris Neil was going to put the Islanders defenceman through the boards ... Zack Smith leads the Senators in Goals Off Innocent Looking Shots. And shorties.
STUFF I THINK I THUNK
The Senators power play is clearly out of practice. They actually did get their first in two games 7:25 into the second period, when Kyle Okposo caught Smith with a high stick, but just 81 seconds into it, MacLean had seen enough. That's when a third (fourth?) unit, with Erik Condra, Zenon Konopka and Smith up front, and Chris Phillips and Kuba on the points ... Weak call on Rhett Rakhshani midway through the third period of a 1-1 game. Erik Karlsson didn't dive, but he did get his feet crossed up.
In line for a pay hike is Parenteau, who with two assists against the Senators has 47 points in 50 games and currently makes a salary of $1.25 million. Parenteau, who was born in Hull but moved when he was three months old, is set to become a UFA July 1. "Obviously I want to come back (to the Islanders)," the 28-year-old said Friday morning. "I like it. They treat me very well. I try not to think about (the impending raise), but it's in the back of my mind a little bit. Especially the way the market was last year." Indeed, if the Islanders don't open their wallets to him, then somebody else sure will. What does a Parenteau fetch on the open market? About $3 mill-per, probably ... Who else was hoping for a foot race between Karlsson and the Isles' Michael Grabner, perhaps the two fastest skaters in the league? You are one of the speediest, right, Michael Grabner?
"I don't know, there's a lot of fast guys in the league," he said. "It's tough to tell. I think a lot of guys are the same speed at the top speed. I just try to work on my first two, three steps, try to get like a half a step or a step. I think at top-end speed there's a lot of guys at the same speed." Okay, well, I still wanted to see him and Karlsson chase a loose puck.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...
Neil had a chance to demolish Tavares while he was cruising through the slot in the second period, but he passed ... New videoboard means added entertainment. The in-house band Friday night was Flash Lightnin'. Pretty good.