Unfortunately for the Ottawa Senators, one of the NHL’s best teams looked like exactly that Thursday night, as they walked into the Wells Fargo Center, and were figuratively and literally pounded by the Philadelphia Flyers. The game was a rowdy affair, with no shortage of fisticuffs, and the Flyers imposed their will on the Senators on the scoresheet as well as their fists; easily satisfying an appreciative crowd with a 6-2 victory.
Ottawa started the game in a 2-0 hole before all the fans were in their seats. Daniel Briere scored his 25th goal of the season only 2:03 into the first period, and Mike Richards followed up with another goal just over two minutes later.
The Sens, to their credit, did not give up after going down two goals early. After Richards’ second goal of the game mid-way through the second, Ottawa’s offense woke up, and briefly made a hockey game of it. First, Milan Michalek showed a fleeting glimpse of the speed he has been missing post-major knee surgery by streaking through the neutral zone on a shorthanded break, and making good on a breakaway versus Sergei Bobrovsky. Under two minutes later, in the last minute of the second period, Nick Foligno capitalized on a deflected Mike Fisher shot, pounced on the rebound, and made it a one-goal game, and gave Ottawa momentum to carry into the third. The Sens played a great second period, outshooting Philadelphia 13-5 in the frame, and were rewarded with two goals, and after going down by two early, went into the final period with a chance to win.
Once the third frame began, however, things got out of hand in a hurry in a number of ways. The Senators quickly lost any semblence of control they may have had over the game after two quick goals to end the second period. The Flyers took over the play, and Brian Elliott collapsed in the Ottawa net, allowing three goals on only seven shots in the third, before being yanked for Mike Brodeur with the game already out of reach. Elliott struggled mightily, highlighting a particularly tough period for him, in which he has lost ten straight starts in the Ottawa net. Scott Hartnell, James VanRiemsdyk, and former Senator Andrej Meszaros all victimized Elliott for third period goals, and made the final score 6-2.
While it was not a terribly close game on the scoreboard in the end, the teams at least gave a reason to stick around to the fans who – as Don Cherry says – ‘enjoy the odd tussle.’ With the game out of hand for Ottawa in the third, tempers began to flare, and several eruptions of violence occurred in the final eight minutes of the game. When the dust settled, there were five fights in the third period. At one point, three of those fights went on at the same time, causing an array of scattered sticks, gloves, and helmets that looked as if a delivery truck had crashed on its way to a sporting goods store. After this outburst, as well as a chant of “goalie fight!” and with the Flyers ahead 6-2, the always bloodthirsty Philadelphia crowd gave their team an extended standing ovation. For Flyers fans old enough to remember, it certainly must have given them visions of the Broad Street Bullies of old – a highly skilled team that wins games, but also bullies their opponents into submission with vigor. The timekeeper must certainly have been harkening back, with a game that featured five fights, four game misconducts, seven roughing penalties, and 126 minutes in penalties handed out in total.
At this point in the season, the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators are a study in polar opposites. The Flyers look like a juggernaut, just working themselves into a frenzy, and rounding into top form just in time for the playoffs. They have won eight of their last ten games, have the NHL’s best record, and are riding a wave of momentum. Daniel Briere has started to provide what they expected of him – the recently-named All Star has points in seven of his last eight games, and eight points in his last five. And as scary as the Flyers have been recently, their lineup got a lot more imposing Thursday night, as Chris Pronger returned to the lineup after a broken foot.
The Senators, on the other hand, are in a tailspin, and are likely only a couple of weeks away from spending the rest of this season in a Pittsburgh Pirates-esque “playing out the string” mode. Losers of nine of their last ten, the Sens currently sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. Thirteen points out of a playoff spot (realistically, nearly an insurmountable deficit at this point in the season). Only the Islanders, Oilers, and Devils have worse records than Ottawa at this point; so if there is any positive to be taken from their current standing, it’s that if things don’t get better, they’ll at least be looking at a lottery pick in the draft. Their coach, and GM are both firmly entrenched in the dreaded ‘hot seat,’ and because of injuries are without three of their most important players in Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, and Pascal Leclaire (remember him?). While the Flyers are gearing up for another likely long playoff run, the Senators look at a season whose hourglass is quickly ridding itself of its sand reserve. Barring a major turnaround very shortly, a major shakeup of both the on and off ice personnel of the Ottawa Senators organization seems both likely, and necessary, sooner rather than later.
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