Milan Michalek had a good laugh when asked if he felt embarrassed to complete his hat trick with two empty-net goals Tuesday night.
"A little bit," he said. "But they count, and I'm happy for it."
As well he should be, especially considering the company he now keeps.
The 27-year-old winger joined Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne as the only three players in NHL history to score goal Nos. 2 and 3 of a trick into a vacated cage, when he sealed the Senators' 7-3 victory over Tampa. Both of the two career hat tricks Michalek has reregistered have been against the Lightning, with the most recent coming at a critical time as it was in the third period of a game that looked like would become the second in a row the Senators had frittered away after building a comfortable cushion.
The way the Senators have been swinging from winning streak to losing streak, stopping the consecutive 'Ls' at two was important.
No doubt, when Michalek scored his 30th of the season at 12:12 of the final period to give Ottawa a 5-3 lead, there had to be a tremendous sigh of relief on the visitors bench.
"They were coming back hard and it was a really important goal for us, on the power play," said Michalek. "From that, we controlled the game."
And so now the Senators enter Thursday's home game against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers on a high note, thanks very much to the offensive outburst of a guy who has led the way for them in that department all season long. When Michalek joined the 30-goal club, he became just the eighth player in Senators history to do so.
"I think it's a great accomplishment, especially nowadays," said Jason Spezza, who has reached that plateau three times in his career. "Obviously, (Steven Stamkos) is lighting it up, but other than him it's pretty tough to get to 30 these days. For Milo to get there for the first time, I think he's pretty excited and we're excited for him. It's just showing the year he's having."
It's clear that Michalek, who joined the Senators as part of a trade for Dany Heatley three years ago, is showing what he can do when relatively injury-free, as he's only missed five of the team's 68 games to date. It's also obvious that he and Spezza have developed some chemistry together.
"I think Milo's potential as a goal scorer is to put up 30 a year," said Spezza. "I think health has a lot to do with it for a lot of us. He's a good player. When he skates well, he's real tough to defend against. Our chemistry has gotten better and better as the year has gone on."
How does that chemistry work, specifically? In the team's last home game, Spezza put a blind pass on Michalek's stick that was quickly deposited into the Blackhawks net.
"You don't know exactly, but you know the tendencies," Spezza said when asked about the instinct. "Our timing through the neutral zone is better than it's been in prior years, We've learned to play with each other. Some times it's instant, some times it's developed and some times it's a little on me a little bit, as the guy who has the puck a lot, to figure out when is the best time to get him the puck and what not. I think I've figured that out a little bit better, using his speed more to our advantage as a club."