This is a weekly feature that takes an uncharitable look at the Senators’ upcoming opponents.
Tuesday, December 8 – Senators @ Panthers
The Florida Panthers – still going! Neither beautiful weather, nor plentiful local entertainment options, nor a rink that’s farther from Miami than Arnprior is from Ottawa will keep a hardy 12,000 fans from showing up each night, often referring to their 100-level club seats as “the best $8 we’ve ever spent”. And good for them, I say. Because you know what? If you ever slow down and start experiencing the breezy south Florida lifestyle for yourself, you’ll realize there are more important things than winning. It’s enough just to play a game and enjoy life, you know? That kind of relaxed attitude, along with joints-friendly temperatures and a lack of state income tax, has drawn hockey legend Jaromir Jagr here, after all. Denis Potvin will be calling this game while drinking something blue out of a coconut. Jimmy Buffett may not be a great artist, but he’s still a poet, man. What’s wrong if this team, and their fans, are just here for a good time?
Just kidding. Most of the people at Panthers games are snowbird Habs fans yelling obscenities at both teams in screeching voices that echo endlessly off thousands of empty seats. It can be kind of a bummer. For what it’s worth, though, a few years of good drafting have started to make this team Interesting, in the sense that the Panthers are no longer just a grab bag of overpriced veteran free agents that good teams were smart enough to dump like a sack of laundry. Oh sure, some of those guys are still around – Willie Mitchell, Jussi Jokinen, and Dave Bolland all wear letters, and I haven’t even mentioned Shawn Thornton yet – but the core of this team is young, led by guys like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Aaron Ekblad. They might actually be Good in a couple years, if they don’t let that weird, creeping south Florida lethargy set in, as tends to happen with most people that move down there. I mean, have you ever actually heard a Jimmy Buffett song? They’re awful. He makes the Eagles sound like the Ramones. Yet you spend just two weeks in the Keys and there you are, singing along with the rest of the bar, no idea where your shoes went. Good luck, kids.
PREDICTION: You know how it is when Canadians get down to Florida as soon as it starts getting cold at home. Half of them are polite and respectful tourists who take a lot of pictures and tip well, and the other half spend the whole time vomiting Bud Light Lime into hotel showers. Look for Zack Smith to have a big game either way. Senators 5, Panthers 0.
Thursday, December 10 – Senators @ Lightning
The Tampa Lightning – for some reason the city of Tampa adds “Bay” to the names of all of its sports teams, which is sort of like if you cheered for the Ottawa River Senators – are another one of those sun belt teams, like Carolina and Dallas, that you keep forgetting actually won a Cup. There’s another one in there . . . Anaheim? Can’t remember. And heck, Tampa almost won for a second time last year! This season they brought back the same team plus fourth-line superstar Erik Condra, so most pundits expected them to be the class of the Eastern Conference once again. Instead, they are currently sixth in the Atlantic. In Old Sailing Tymes, the grizzled buccaneers navigating the murky waters of Tampa’s bay would probably call Condra a Jonah for all the bad luck he’s brought with him, cursing his name between belts of rum. Those guys are still around, but these days they’re typically drunk on much nicer boats, blasting Jimmy Buffett as they look for a Margaritaville to dock at for some mango-chipotle ribs and Cozumel Cosmotinis. They have no idea who Erik Condra is.
Anyway. Unlike the Panthers, the Lightning are a relatively successful team with one of the league’s biggest stars in Steven Stamkos, so they draw home crowds well enough that you can barely hear the snowbird Habs fans. Part of Tampa’s poor record this year stems from a bad start for Stamkos, who many say is distracted by rumours swirling around him during the last year of his contract. Will he break the bank signing an extension with the Lightning and captain them for the rest of his career? Or will he leave nice weather and talented teammates to go home to Markham and play for the biggest group of losers in NHL history under the filthy microscope of Toronto’s sports media? In career terms, this is like trying to decide between being a European travel writer or losing a few fingers on a North Sea oil rig. For some reason the Toronto media keeps telling me it’s a pretty close call.
PREDICTION: The great thing about Erik Condra is that no opinion about him is wrong. He IS worth $1.5M a year in this league. He IS completely replaceable. He IS a great possession driver. He IS a concrete-handed butcher in front of the net. When the Senators let Condra walk away in July, Bryan Murray remarked that he wasn’t too concerned about making up Condra’s 23 points from last season; by the end of this game, look for the Senators to already have five players over that mark with over 50 games to go. Look for Mike Hoffman in particular to have at least three more, and to continue to drive his ticket much higher than $1.5M. We’ll figure out the details later. Senators 5, Lightning 0.
Saturday, December 12 – Senators @ Canadiens
Why spend a week playing in front of snowbird Habs fans in weird parts of Florida when you can come home and play in front of the real thing? At least Ottawa will be used to their gutter-mouthed taunts by Saturday night, although in Montreal the Senators will have to contend with the additional challenge of staying loose and warmed up during a three-hour pregame ceremony that celebrates Maurice Richard being the first Montreal Canadien to use a petroleum-based hair tonic, or some nonsense like that. Come on with the pomp and circumstance, Habs. I would say “act like you’ve been there before,” except the response would probably be, “we have been there before, and let us tell you about it, using torches.” Also, Habs fans, most of that music you like is basically just Jimmy Buffett in French.
The Habs are making do without Carey Price or Brendan Gallagher right now, which downgrades their roster from “le worst” to merely deeply unlikeable. P.K. Subban is still suckering guys in the brainstem. Michel Therrien is still behind the bench striking overly-dramatic thinking poses like he’s in some dinner theatre version of A Man For All Seasons. Dale Weise still looks like a guy who should be thrown out of a casino somewhere. Worst of all, the one likeable player the Habs had, the one guy you felt good rooting for – I’m talking of course about Alex Semin – was put on waivers this week. What kind of dismal, joyless team would give up on a dynamic, selfless guy like Alex Semin? If that’s how you want to lead the Eastern Conference, fine, but I shan’t have any part of it.
PREDICTION: This is the Senators’ last game against the Habs for three months, and their last at the Bell Centre, their favorite road arena, until the playoffs. Look for Craig Anderson, in his 437th consecutive start, to pitch his typical shutout, and for a guy in a Galchenyuk jersey waking up on the men’s room floor after the game to really get serious about going back to school this time. Senators 5, Canadiens 0.
Season prediction record: 14-8-5
NEXT WEEK: The Sharks and Kings – Ottawa West and Dirtbag Central!