Senators showing signs of magic
"For the first time in a long time I've played with the same guys for four or five games and that makes a huge difference."
So said Eric Condra after last Saturday night's come from behind 4-2 Ottawa Senators victory over the San Jose Sharks. Condra, the subject of trade rumours before the deadline, is rapidly emerging as a "Michael Pecca" type player for the Senators under new head coach Dave Cameron now that he's getting a chance to play regularly.
All players like having steady line mates so they can develop the chemistry necessary to succeed. While Condra is no exception, he's taking full advantage of the confidence his coach has placed in him.
Eric Condra was a member of the Binghampton Senators Calder Cup Championship team. Before returning for the AHL playoffs, Condra made a big impression with the big club. I remember thinking how Condra seemed to instil confidence in the whole team with his inspired play. He helped turn a lost season around that year just as he is emerging as a veteran leader on this very young Sens team. A supposed career fourth liner, Condra is proving he's worth much more with his heady play, unrelenting determination and a tenacity that resembles the play of Michael Pecca, one the great fourth liners to play in the NHL.
Condra's confident play has spread like wild fire among the many Sens rookies. A team that often looked timid and lost under former head coach Paul McLean, the Senators rookies are starting to show what they can do at this level with more playing time. Hoffman, Stone, Borewski on D, Pageau and now Hammond are playing with unbridled confidence during their recent road trip to he western conference. For young players, confidence translates into speed and good bounces. Hoffman showed off both in scoring the winning goals vs. San Jose. Mark Stone, originally tagged as a slow skater, has proven to be anything but. Coupled with soft hands and a sixth sense around the net, Mark Stone is both a suburb playmaker and a sharp shooter. His future is looking very bright.
What Borewski's return to the lineup means to the team couldn't have been expressed more clearly when he put a pounding on Francois Beauchamin in Ottawa's 3-0 win over the Ducks in Aneheim. In fact, it could be argued that Borewski's decisive victory in defence of Sens sniper Bobby Ryan, set the stage for the franchise's first ever sweep in California. An incredible turn of events which surprisingly sees the Sens still in the hunt for a playoff spot.
None of the Sens recent success however, would have happened without the inspired play of rookie goaltender Andy Hammond. Called up first to back up Robyn Lehner, Hammond or "Hamburgular" as he has been passionately nicknamed by the Sens faithful, has shown why you should never give up on a goaltender. The 27 year old rookie's confident play has allowed him to backstop the Sens to an 6-0-1 record since his call up. He has defeated some of the best clubs in the NHL, including the Canadiens, Ducks and Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings. It's hard to believe a career minor leaguer could have this kind of impact on a NHL club, but Hammond has shown that goalies need to be smart as well as talented. Standing tall at the top of his crease, squaring up to the puck at all times, handling it like a forward and exhibiting excellent rebound control, Hammond has allowed the Sens to minimize scoring chances against and to utilize their speed to counter attack on the rush.
The Sens play during their western road trip has been nothing short of magical. The team needed a boost of confidence to survive the trip let alone come away from 9 of 10 points. Hammond has given them that and more--much more. The Sens confident play is visible in all aspects of the game. Defence, offence, forechecking and back checking. Everyone is giving a 100%, and as a result, the team is finally playing to its full ability.
If they are to continue their strong play in the hope of catching Boston for the final playoff spot, the Senators will need the good karma to continue. However unlikely, Hammond has done what both Lehner and Anderson have failed to do all season--get the team on a roll and keep them there. Not messing with the lineup and especially the goaltending situation is key in my opinion. Let's hope the Sens brass realizes that Hammond's play is reminiscent of Cam Ward's Stanley Cup winning season when he carried the Canes on his back to the championship. Let Hammond play and let's see how far he can take us.