The Toronto Maple Leafs started off their season with a loss to the Ottawa Senators and ended the rest of their home schedule with another. The only difference was, this time, the Ottawa Senators gave their hated provincial rivals a classic 8-2 ass-whooping and are closer to securing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
However, as always the case with games involving the Battle of Ontario, the Senators' crucial victory came at a steep price as they will be without two of their key players in Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher.
Flying in with a blindside elbow to the head, Leafs forward Mark Bell caught Alfredsson in the face and he was flattened emphatically onto the ice. The captain did return for one shift early on in the second period, however, as expected, he was unable to finish off the rest of the game. The Senators are calling it an upper body injury with no certain timetable as to whether Alfredsson will be back on time for the first round of the playoffs.
As for Mike Fisher, the Sens center suffered an awkward knee injury after colliding with a Maple Leaf player at mid-ice. Some are saying that it could have been a groin strain as well but head coach Bryan Murray is expecting Fisher to be back within a week.
When asked about the extent of the casualties suffered during the battle against their provincial rivals, Bryan Murray maintained that he wasn't sure when they would be back.
"We just don't know the extent of the injuries at this point," said Murray.
"If we go a couple of rounds, yeah [Alfredsson and Fisher could come back]. Maybe if we go one round, but I don't think it will be right away. [Alfredsson and Fisher] are both out for some time."
The setbacks come at a time when Ottawa have witnessed a landslide in results after starting off their season 14 games undefeated. For a team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final last year against the Anaheim Ducks, Bryan Murray has a long way to go to restore stability to a club that seems to have lost their swagger and confidence.
The situation of Ray Emery certainly didn't do them any favors as well earlier on in the year. It led to first-year head coach John Paddock's dismissal and has fueled goaltending controversy between him and Martin Gerber for the number one job between the pipes for the Ottawa Senators.
After being told to "beat it" by Paddock, Emery was sent home for his care-free attitude towards practice workouts. The speculation only began to increase about Emery's future with the club and the Senators began their spiral downwards in the Eastern Conference standings.
Battling a wrist injury for a part of the year, the immature Emery now finds himself riding the bench despite leading the same club to the Stanley Cup finals this time last year. Whether Gerber can realistically handle the pressures of being a day-in, day-out goaltender remains to be seen. Until Emery can sort out his arrogance, the goaltending situation will remain seemingly unchanged.
With all things considered, the Sens find themselves in sixth spot as of tonight's result after entering the All-Star break with one of the best records in the East. The off-ice distractions and lack of confidence has the hockey world wondering: Do the Ottawa Senators of 2008 have what it takes to legitimately win the Stanley Cup?
After all, the Ottawa Senators didn't enter the regular season thinking that they would still be needing to capture a playoff berth with two games remaining. Dany Heatley didn't plan watching his point total drop from 105 to 82 in a span of a year. Ray Emery certainly didn't think he could have lost his starting job to Martin Gerber at the beginning of the year, but in all fairness, deserves to be sitting on the bench.
Unlike the team that Bryan Murray rode to the Stanley Cup finals, this year's version is carrying in a lackluster 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games. That's not mentioning the possible threat of playing against a red-hot team in the Washington Capitals or a high-flying Carolina Hurricanes team with home-ice advantage.
As much as the media or Ottawa Senators fans like to dwell on their situation, one thing is for certain: it is what it is. And now they have one hell of a mountain to climb if Daniel Alfredsson or Mike Fisher were both to miss significant portions of Ottawa's playoff run.
The Sens Army might just end up jogging by the end of it all if their team can't get it done this time around. Then again, they might even have enough time to catch up with the Toronto Maple Leafs on the golf course this time around.
*Clean hit or dirty? You can be the judge of that with a few slow motion replays of Bell's blindside hit on Daniel Alfredsson. Special thanks to the poster who found the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b59LxkvpW8Y