Ottawa Senators Michael Sdao (left to right), Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, Joe Corvo and Mike Hoffman celebrate Macathur's goal against the Calgary Flames during third period NHL pre-season action on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 in Saskatoon, Sask. MacArthur returns to a familiar place Tuesday night when the Senators face the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. MacArthur spent the past three seasons in Toronto before signing with Ottawa in the off-season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards, Canada.com
OTTAWA — Clarke MacArthur hopes nobody goes to the trouble of giving the Ottawa Senators’ top line a nickname.
It could be the kiss of death (and no, that is not a nickname suggestion).
I reminded MacArthur that, around here, the trend has been that, as soon as a Senators line has success and gets a name, the coach breaks it up due to an injury or losing streak.
“Totally. That’s the best way to put it right there,” said MacArthur. “You’ve got a trio (named), and it’s over. Let’s just say we’re an OK line right now and we’ll keep it going a little longer.”
No wonder MacArthur wants to keep his line, with centre Kyle Turris and winger Bobby Ryan, under the radar. They’re doing just fine without selling naming rights.
Funny how things work out. Every fantasy league player and reporter had the newly acquired Ryan pencilled in with centre Jason Spezza within five minutes of the news Ryan had been dealt from Anaheim to Ottawa on July 5. In anticipation, the two spoke to each other during the summer, and lined up together during the informal skates that preceded training camp.
Through camp and pre-season, Ryan was with Spezza and Milan Michalek, although a groin injury to Spezza did limit their time together during exhibition games.
Head coach Paul MacLean liked the idea of having a potent top line with which other teams would have to contend (he just didn’t imagine who would comprise that top line). Endless stories flowed about how good this unit might be, and comparisons were made between the Spezza line and other prodigious NHL trios. And by Game 5, they were toast. While losing 4-1 to the Ducks on Oct. 13, Ryan moved onto the Turris line and instantly scored his third goal of the season.
Today they are the one constant in Ottawa, Ryan leading the team in goals (9) and points (19), Turris leading the team in assists (14) and MacArthur, after failing to score a goal in the month of October, has been a point producer and now has three goals to go with nine assists.
They are the one line MacLean doesn’t have to worry about, game in game out.
“It’s always like that, it wasn’t a line that was made up in camp,” MacArthur said.
“That’s the way it goes. Whenever you see something set in stone to start the year, it always seems to change. For the better or whatever it may be.”
As successful as they have been — generating 49 points in 18 games (MacArthur missed one game because of injury) — MacArthur, Ryan and Turris have never really been able to explain the magic.
Ryan says the speed of Turris and MacArthur creates space for him. MacLean says he didn’t know Ryan was such a good distributor of the puck, thinking of him as more of a shooter.
MacArthur, too, is described by Toronto reporters who covered him with the Maple Leafs as an underrated passer.Add it all up and you get three unselfish players who consistently make the right play in the offensive zone.
This is not to say that Ryan won’t ever get a chance with Spezza again.
“I don’t know what it is. At a different time, in a different year, Bobby Ryan and Spezz could be the best line — next month,” MacArthur says. “You never know how it’s going to work out.”
MICHALEK FEELS HEAT
Heading into Friday’s game against goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins, Spezza will remain between Michalek and Cory Conacher, hoping to spark something. Conacher doesn’t have a point in his last seven games while Michalek, a 35-goal scorer in 2011-12, has three in 18 games and none since Oct. 29, a span of six games. Spezza, with a variety of wingers this season, has 16 points in 17 games.
As usual, the soft-spoken Michalek makes no excuses. In fact, he says he’s healthy and feeling good after receiving off-season serum treatments in Germany for a chronic knee issue.
Mobility hasn’t been an issue, he says, but the rest of his game needs improvement.
“I know I haven’t been good, I have to be better,” Michalek said. “Everybody expects me to score and I expect it myself, too, so it’s frustrating right now. But hopefully it turns around soon. I have to stay positive.”
For multiple reasons, Michalek isn’t getting the chances he did two years ago, and this is reflected in his shot totals. The year he scored 35, Michalek had 2.7 shots per game and a 16.5 shooting percentage. Last year, when he fought through knee trouble he produced four goals in 23 games; with 2.5 shots per game and a 6.9 per cent shooting average. This year his shooting average is 9.1 per cent but he only has 33 shots in 18 games, an average of 1.8 per game.
He ranks sixth on the team in shots on goal.
“We’re not creating as much and we’re playing in the defensive zone a lot, so we have to start there,” Michalek says.
“Play more in the offensive zone and create some chances.”
Playing out the final year of his contract, Michalek knows he needs to get hot soon.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” Michalek said, admitting it’s difficult not to press.
“When you don’t score as much it feels like you want to do too much and think about it too much, I have to relax a little bit, too.”
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