February 14, 2012
Florida trip no holiday for SenatorsFresh off proposal to girlfriend, Butler hopes to step it up on first line
By DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency
TAMPA - The most redundant, least insightful comment in sports comes from those who like to throw a blanket over a team’s problems by only saying “its best players have to be its best players.” Gee, thanks for that, right?
Of the Senators, it’s a little different to state that here, under the Florida sun, the first line has to shine.
For one thing, one of their best players is second-liner Daniel Alfredsson, and this is not about him. This is about Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and yes, the return to prominence of Bobby Butler.
The Senators are about to begin a softer stretch of their schedule, playing the Lightning Tuesday and the Panthers Wednesday, then going on a four-day break that allows teams to close the gap in the “GP” category before visiting the Islanders Monday. Now, before anybody screams about Florida sitting ahead of them in the standings and Tampa being a desperate team that is 6-2-2 in its past 10, these are two games the Senators need to be able to win if they are serious about making the playoffs. They just are. Also, over their past 34 games in the Sunshine State, the Senators have a record of 27-7. Recent history is on their side.
Back to line No. 1.
When Ottawa lost seven in a row to fall off the cushion from which they sat comfortably in a playoff spot, Michalek and Spezza were in a rut, producing nothing. Their slump-busting, 4-3 win over Nashville saw Spezza score twice, including his first goal since the previous victory, and Michalek add two assists, just his third and fourth points in 12 games. Imagine, their producing and the team’s winning went hand in hand.
Also coinciding with their scoring was Butler’s return to their side. In his previous fall from the press box (as a healthy scratch) to the first line, Butler went three games without a point. So back upstairs he went for three more games.
In uniform again, he has three assists in the two games since the team’s slump ended.
“I’m trying a new stick,” Butler joked when asked if he finally just decided to change his style from sniper to playmaker. “I don’t know, I’m just trying to help the team, trying to produce and do what I can.”
Can this be the time Butler sticks when thrown at the first line? Management thought he’d have 15 goals at this point in the season, not five. A number of players on the roster are having stronger offensive years than expected — Zack Smith, Colin Greening ... even Alfredsson, given his off-season surgery and age — and that has allowed the Senators to cover up what many thought their biggest weakness would be — scoring.
But now, with crunch time approaching fast, there can be no passengers. If they are going to put a proper ending on this surprising season of theirs by making the playoffs, they need at least one more scorer.
And if they’re not going to get him by trade, Butler may have to do.
“I’ve hit a few posts. If half of those go in, I’m doing a little better point-wise,” said Butler, whose recent surge has bumped his assists total to six. “But we’re having a successful season this year and we’ve just got to keep going. No one really worries about the first 60 games, it’s what happens towards the end, going into the playoffs.”
Butler proposed to his longtime girlfriend Lisa while they were in Miami for the all-star break. He’s not sure if they’ve ever spent a Valentine’s Day together, with him always somewhere playing hockey, but back in the Sunshine State for this one, he’d no doubt make his new fiancee happy by doing even more to secure a spot on the Senators’ top line.
It should almost go without saying, but Craig Anderson will be back in goal for the Senators Tuesday ... Players and the dads that are travelling with them enjoyed a nice day on the golf course Sunday ... On reducing rookie D Jared Cowen’s ice time to 13:52 and putting him on the third pairing Saturday, coach Paul MacLean said. “For the first time, Jared has (hit a bit of a wall), yes. That is an indication of his minutes. When he was playing real good he got to play lots. At some point in time we knew he was going to be a 20-year-old kid. Over the course of the season, that is going to happen. That doesn’t mean he is a bad player. That doesn’t mean we don’t like him. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in him. That just means we have to manage his minutes until he gets himself sorted out.”