Chris Neil announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday after 1,206 games, all with the Ottawa Senators franchise.
“Chris Neil exemplifies the best qualities of both our city and the Senators franchise,” said Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. “His career personified grit, drive and resilience; there was never a day that he was not there for his teammates. Chris earned everything he achieved in the league through his hard work and dedication to the game and he will go down in history as one of the great character players to ever wear the Senators jersey.”
It won’t be long before the 38-year-old Neil, a 1998 sixth-round pick, gets to put on a Senators jersey again. He’ll participate in this weekend’s Senators alumni game as the city celebrates the NHL 100 Classic at Lansdowne Park against the Montreal Canadiens.
While Neil had his offensive moments — he finished with 112 career goals and reached double digits in that category five times — he was known as an agitator and one not afraid to drop the gloves. HockeyFights.com has him at over 150 career regular season fights and he leaves the game as the franchise’s all-time leader in penalty minutes with 2,522.
Neil’s role diminished last season under Guy Boucher and the Senators decided against re-signing him over the summer. After seeking a new gig and turning down a reported PTO offer from the Montreal Canadiens, he chose to hang them up.
“I miss playing the games. Those are the fun times and that’s what you put all the hard work in for,” Neil said. “For me, I don’t miss the grind of the day-to-day that goes on behind the scenes, but I truly do miss being there with the guys. That’s the fun part. That’s something I’ll always have to look back on.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.
Out with the old, in with the new.
That’s the strategy Ottawa will employ this evening as it looks to win its second consecutive game against Montreal and keep the series (currently 3-1 in favor of the Habs) alive — veteran Chris Neil, who played in Games 3 and 4, will be dropped from the lineup in favor of Alex Chiasson, who hasn’t played since Game 2.
Neil, 35, was a non-factor in each of the last two outings, and only played 6:06 in Game 4.
Chiasson, 24, fits with the youth movement that head coach Dave Cameron implemented upon taking the gig from Paul MacLean, and continues to push today; only two Senators in the lineup tonight are over the age of 30 (winger Milan Michalek and goalie Craig Anderson).
Meanwhile, the likes of Curtis Lazar (19 years old), Cody Ceci (21), Mika Zibanejad (21), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (22) and Calder nominee Mark Stone (22) continue to see significant minutes.
The Ottawa Senators will make a switch at center tonight against Montreal, as Zack Smith draws into the lineup at the expense of David Legwand, who’ll sit as a healthy scratch.
Smith, 27, missed a good chunk of time this season to a dislocated wrist and appeared in just 37 games. While he did play in the final 10 games of the regular season, he sat in all three of Ottawa’s losses to the Habs in this opening-round series.
Legwand, meanwhile, played in all three but was mostly a non-factor, going scoreless with a minus-3 rating and just one shot on goal.
Smith will skate on the fourth line between Mike Hoffman and Chris Neil, with the hope he can bring the energy displayed in past playoff performances. Smith appeared in 10 games during Ottawa’s ’13 run, scoring two points while racking up 31 PIM.
Erik Karlsson recorded an assist on the Ottawa Senators’ opening goal, but the offensive defenseman has also been a big factor without the puck. He’s been throwing his body around all game, including his big open ice hit on Montreal Canadiens blueliner Nathan Beaulieu, which you can see below:
The Senators captain has been credited with six hits through 40 minutes of play. That’s more than he had in any regular season contest in 2014-15. He’s not alone in playing a physical game though as Ottawa has recorded 46 so far, including nine from Chris Neil.
Down 2-0 in the series, Ottawa has a 1-0 lead going into the third period of Game 3.
Update: Although Beaulieu initially stayed in the game, he didn’t take a single shift in the third period.
Craig Anderson will get his first start of these playoffs when the Ottawa Senators play host to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 tonight.
Anderson has made four starts in the last three months. He last played in the Sens’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on March 29.
The 33-year-old was 14-13-8 in 35 games this season to go along with a 2.49 G.A.A. and a .923 save percentage.
Anderson led the Sens to a 4-1 series win in the first round of the 2013 playoffs posting a 1.80 goals-against average.
Andrew Hammond started the first two games of the series posting a 3.44 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage in the two losses.
Anderson isn’t the only lineup change for the Sens tonight.
Chris Neil is expected to return to Ottawa’s fourth line.
During line rushes Sunday morning Neil was skating in place of Alex Chiasson alongside David Legwand and Mike Hoffman.
The 35-year-old had seven points and 78 penalty minutes in 38 regular season games.
Neil last played in the Sens 7-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 14.
Puck drop tonight is at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.