THN: "It’s all on the line"

Lesedauer: ca. 3 Minuten

Heatley - Spezza - Alfredsson

In der Titelstory der neuesten Ausgabe der nordamerikanischen Fachzeitschrift "The Hockey News" dreht sich alles um die Top-Reihe der Ottawa Senators:

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It’s all on the line

By Ken Warren


As the Ottawa Senators finished practice, a wave of reporters arrived at Jason

Spezza’s dressing room stall, asking for yet more details on how he has

transformed his game by adding sound defense to his offensive gifts.


When Spezza was done, Dany Heatley emerged to talk about his timely goals and

the disciplined game plan which had carried the Senators past the Pittsburgh

Penguins and New Jersey Devils and into the Eastern Conference final against the

Buffalo Sabres.


Last, but certainly not least, captain Daniel Alfredsson wrapped up the

proceedings, going over the details of his dominating hitting-scoring-passing

showcase against the Devils, leaving little doubt he wasn’t close to being

satisfied yet.


The scene took place on the eve of the start of the East final in Buffalo, but

the same scenario has played out over and over again since the Sens clinched the

berth for only the second time in franchise history.


And why not?


After Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza helped the Senators blaze past the Devils

in a swift five games, even the most hardened of critics in Ottawa – conditioned

to watching lofty expectations fall flat following year after year of playoff

failure – had jumped on the bandwagon.


Perhaps it’s because the local story has developed into a national, even

international story.


The three amigos combined for nine goals and 23 points (and a stunning plus-18)

against New Jersey’s much-heralded checking unit of John Madden, Jay Pandolfo

and Sergei Brylin, establishing themselves as the NHL’s hottest line through two

rounds.


Halfway to the Stanley Cup, all three were receiving due consideration as Conn

Smythe candidates.


“I think we all skated really well,” understated Alfredsson, on the ice for 12

of the Sens’ 15 goals against the Devils. “We made it real hard for their

checking line. I think we did respect them because their history speaks for

itself. I just thought we outskated them, and it seemed all three of us had

confidence.”


Confidence? Is this really the same trio that was roasted mercilessly by the

home fans in October, November and December?


If ever there was truth to the adage that the NHL season is a marathon, not a

sprint, the Sens are the case study. At the risk of opening up old wounds in

Canada’s capital, let’s rewind the tape, shall we?


After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, for both the team and

Alfredsson (one empty net goal in 11 games), the groundswell to trade the

34-year-old captain hit a fever pitch.


Following an unsubstantiated rumor that Alfredsson was on the verge of being

dealt to L.A. for Craig Conroy, GM John Muckler broke from his standard practice

of not commenting on rumors to shoot down the story as completely false.


Alfredsson’s game gradually came back, to the point where he was a force every

night in the final two-thirds of the season. He finished with 29 goals, 87

points and was plus-42 in 67 games.


Meanwhile, Spezza was going through his own fan crisis. Despite his impressive

output (90 points in 68 games in 2005-06), the Senators’ faithful was tired of

watching his ill-advised drop passes land onto opposition sticks. Spezza often

left Scotiabank Place with his ears ringing from boos.


When Spezza sustained a knee injury in late December and the Sens went on an

11-2-1 run, countless fans suggested the team was better off without its No. 1

center.


In Spezza’s absence, Heatley took on more responsibility, establishing himself

as much more than just a shooter, showing a willingness to get involved at both

ends of the ice.


Goalie Ray Emery also seized the opportunity and took over from Martin Gerber,

the high-priced unrestricted free agent who struggled out of the gate and only

seemed to find his form in the final weeks of the regular season.


The Senators continued to roll when Spezza returned, primarily because they

listened to coach Bryan Murray’s emphasis on defense. Spezza had no choice but

to buy in, playing in more defensive situations, while also helping Heatley hit

the 50-goal mark for the second consecutive season.

 

To read the rest of this story and other great features from the world of hockey, you can buy this issue

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