With the arrival of the Winnipeg Jets, the Ottawa Senators take their first foray into the 2014 schedule on Thursday night.
Beforehand, the Senators took a last look back at an eventful 2013, a year in which an entire NHL season was crammed into one calendar year, a year of fresh faces, surprising franchise growth and then unforeseen setbacks. A year that raised expectations for 2014, now tempered by a stop-and-go first half of the 2013-14 season.
A handful of Senators players, not one of whom started his NHL career in Ottawa, plus head coach Paul MacLean, reflected on a year that, for a time, brought unexpected joy in a playoff series victory over the rival Montreal Canadiens. More recently, the team hopes it has found an identity to forge in 2014.
Of all the new arrivals over the past two seasons, none has become more established in Ottawa than centre Kyle Turris, acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes just before Christmas in 2011. Given the recurring health problems of centre and captain Jason Spezza, imagine where the Senators would be today if not for Turris.
Not only has Turris established himself as a bona fide No. 2 centre, he has capably taken on even more responsibility. With 10 goals, 31 points and a plus-16, Turris, along with Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, form the go-go line of the Senators.
“It was a positive year, for sure,” says Turris. “Making the second round of the playoffs was a learning experience to build off ... developing and growing as players. Coming into this season, we haven’t been as consistent as we’ve wanted, but it’s something we’re working on.”
The growth to which Turris refers includes his personal life.
“It was a really big year: getting married, playing lots of hockey and buying a house here, making this our home now. That’s going to be tough to top, but we’re excited for 2014.”
METHOT AT HOME
Though he was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer of 2012, defenceman Marc Methot had to wait until the lockout ended in January of 2013 to make his debut for his hometown Senators. He has since established himself in the top four on the club.
“I’m so grateful to come here and get the opportunity to play — that (general manager) Bryan Murray picked me up,” Methot says. “That was huge for me personally, and my family. And I’m going to keep working hard to stay here and try to turn it around.”
Not surprisingly, when the New York Rangers asked for Methot (plus another player) in a trade when the Senators were inquiring about defenceman Michael Del Zotto, Murray ended that conversation quickly. Methot isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
And how would Methot rate 2013?
“It depends what part, right?” he says. “If you look at the first half of 2013, I enjoyed it. I know we enjoyed it as a team here last season. It’s been tough leading into 2014, but I’ve had a lot of good memories in my period of time here.
The New Year, Methot says, is “an opportunity for the guys to turn it around, and play with a little more chip on the shoulder.”
Forward Clarke MacArthur has quickly established himself as a go-to guy on the ice and in the Ottawa room. With 12 goals in 41 games, the 28-year-old is on pace for a career year, glad to arrive here as a free agent after being a healthy scratch for part of the playoffs with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the spring of 2013.
“It’s always a good year, playing in the NHL,” MacArthur says, smiling. “Life’s good. My daughter is growing ... obviously there were some ups and downs with the playoffs last year, and not knowing where you’re going to be come July ... just another chapter in the journey.
“If we can get consistent and keep going, I’m really excited about finishing this year and getting into the post-season and seeing what it’s like in Ottawa.”
Like his new centre, Mika Zibanejad, winger Cory Conacher has become a more important figure now that Spezza and Chris Neil are injured. After ending a horrendous slump against Pittsburgh Dec. 23, Conacher now has two goals in his past four games and played nearly 19 minutes in a 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals Monday. Here’s a guy trending upward, though he was traded from a Tampa Bay Lightning team that found its starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, in exchange for Conacher.
“I usually set high goals for myself, so I’m sure I’ll have a talk with my trainer from back home and some old coaches to set some guidelines for 2014, but for now it’s one game, one day,” Conacher says. “Eat well, sleep well, work hard.”
Asked if 2013 was good, bad, crazy or challenging, Paul MacLean opts for “all of the above.
“But I thought it was very enjoyable at the same time,” MacLean says. “You go through the lockout, the 48-game schedule, which was tons of work and tons of games. Then the playoff series and the fun we had ... the off-season and starting up again.
“Any time you’re in this business, it’s crazy and it’s busy. But it was a fun year and we look forward to the next one.”
Early in 2013, MacLean was so smart he was named NHL coach of the year. Later in the year, he found out what it’s like to be second-guessed by a fan base watching his every line change as the team struggled for consistency.
Now that 2014 is here, MacLean believes the staff and team are “hitting our stride ... at the same time we can’t take our foot off the gas and say everything is good.”
Though sometimes it is good to turn that calendar page.
As defenceman Erik Karlsson put it, so subtly, via Twitter on New Year’s Eve: “2013 sucks. Worst year ever. Let’s go 2014.”
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