In similar fashion to the first two games, the Senators found themselves down 3-1 against the Minnesota Wild in the third period but stayed with it after playing a much more aggressive game the whole night. They carried much of the play and directed a lot of shots on Niklas Backstrom, outshooting them a total of 44-27 by the end.
The star of the night for the Senators by far came in the form of dependable hard-nosed veteran Chris Neil, who chipped in with a big goal, an assist and led the way with his physical game. In addition to running Clayton Stoner’s show with a good, hard hit behind the Wild net, he managed to get in the face of former teammate Dany Heatley including knocking him down on a solid backcheck.
“We’ve said it right from opening day of camp that we need our veteran players to be leaders out there and obviously if we’re doing it right, we can demand our young guys to do it right,” said Neil in his post-game media scrum.
“We always want to be in skilled players’ faces,” he continued, after being asked about his run-ins with Heatley. “You bump him off a face-off or whatever you have to do to get under the skin but you have to be disciplined as well … for the most part, we played him hard tonight and we didn’t give him too much opportunity to score.”
Neil’s line with Nick Foligno and Peter Regin proved to be the most effective on the ice as each player helped contribute offensively — Foligno with his first goal of the year and Regin with two assists in his season debut. Along with getting on the scoresheet, Regin showed no signs of discomfort getting banged around after coming off a serious shoulder injury.
Not only was this the first win for the Senators this season but the first for Paul MacLean as a head coach, something that will surely be remembered to coincide with the beginning of the team’s 20th year.“A win is a win is a win — it’s a Picasso right now, so it feels pretty good,” said MacLean after the game. “I think the team showed great stick-to-itiveness and we did it right all night and were rewarded for it in the end.” (Did Coach MacLean really just make up a new word there? Source)
“As long we’re getting the chances, the puck’s going to go in the net, we just have to make sure we bear down just a little bit more and try not to do too-too much,” he continued. “We want to make sure we’re a team that attacks the net and puts pressure on the opposition’s goaltender to defend his net and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
Since this was Heatley’s second return since being traded out of Ottawa, the mood and the hype were both very much toned down from his visit last December but that didn’t stop the boos and the chants from raining down. The first choruses of “Heatley sucks!” came before either team even stepped onto the ice for warm-up, perhaps as just a warm-up in itself.
But for the most part, the fans focused on their team as it should be. It was exciting to see the players–past and present–as well as the staff take part in the red carpet event prior to puck drop. The alumni Senators were also introduced and honoured before the players hit the ice as they were stationed in sections all over the arena.
While the Senators defence has been a little scary in the first two games of the season, they managed to settle down in the home opener. Erik Karlsson has proven once again what an asset he is to the team after playing almost 30 minutes in every situation imaginable. Still at only 21 years of age, it’s clear the team has something very special in this little Swedish defenceman who seems to get the game at every angle.
The Senators now get ready for a visit from the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday when they will debut their heritage jerseys in a game for the first time. As last announced by the Senators Twitter feed, about 1,250 tickets are left available, so if you want to see those gorgeous jerseys in action, get your tickets now!