Going into the third period, it seemed like Dion Phaneuf’s brutal hit on Stephane Da Costa would tell the story of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ win against the Ottawa Senators. (Check out that pulverizing check at the bottom of this post.)
Instead, the lasting image will be a fantastic night by Phil Kessel. Kessel scored a hat trick and added an assist to bring his season points total to five in just two games. He even looked great killing time when Ottawa emptied its net, wasting a bunch of the Senators’ time and looking dangerous throughout.
There was little indication that the Leafs would need such an explosive game from Kessel through the first two periods, though. At one point, the Maple Leafs were just embarrassing the Senators, going up 5-1 on Colton Orr’s goal at the 2:52 mark of the third.
Yet for the second night in a row, Ottawa made things a lot more interesting after digging themselves a big hole, as Daniel Afredsson scored twice and Jason Spezza earned his first goal of the season. Fittingly, Kessel’s hat trick goal put things away, even as Da Costa earned a measure of revenge by scoring to cut the deficit in half. The Maple Leafs ultimately won their second game of the season 6-5.
Here’s that awe-inspiring (but clean) Phaneuf hit.
While prospects from eight different teams will gather for the 2011 Traverse City tournament in Michigan, the Ottawa Senators plan on watching their own youngsters very closely in a different rookie competition that also involves players from the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
One would imagine that Senators training camp will serve as more substantial proving grounds for young players who hope to make the 2011-12 roster, but GM Bryan Murray hopes to see something from those prospects during the next few days. He also admitted that the franchise would be willing to trade veteran players if prospects prove that they’re ready to compete at the NHL level.
Bruce Garrioch tabs five different Senators prospects who will probably receive the most attention during the tournament, which runs through Tuesday: defensemen David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, forwards Mika Zibanejad and Stephane De Costa and goalie Robin Lehner. Each one of those players could conceivably make a case for themselves to jump to the NHL in the short-to-mid-term future, but it all comes down to Murray being willing to open that door. Murray told Garrioch that the team would do what it takes to give younger players that opportunity, if they earn it.
“We’ll look at what has to be done,” Murray said at the Bell Sensplex. “If some of these young guys are ready to play, then it’s up to me to try to create a spot for them. That may mean we have to do something.
“I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to go through training camp and pre-season and see who really deserves a chance to be on the team. If the young guys are good enough to play, we’ll let them play. There may not be a spot at the beginning of the year, but as we go forward if they deserve to play, at some point they’ll get a chance to do that.”
That rookie tournament represents a small sliver of the assessment process for Ottawa, but that doesn’t mean those prospects should take that opportunity lightly. They should seize every chance they get to impress the Senators’ front office, so this weekend represents the first test of the 11-12 season for these prospects.