Fear not - I haven't abandoned ship. In fact, I've been paying much more attention to the Sens this season than I did last year. Several contributing factors, I suppose - last season, I was still hurting and bitter over the departure of my #1, Wade Redden, to the New York Rangers. It didn't feel like my team without him. Also, the Sens were so dismal last year, it was hard to get excited about them, and when they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in eleven years, it was discouraging as a fan.
That being said, I'm no "fair-weather" supporter - I never stopped marching in the Sens Army. I was always interested in the outcome of games, made sure to attend several matches as usual, and when they quietly faded to black in early April while the top teams in the league battled on for Lord Stanley's Cup, I still called myself a Sens fan, and vowed we'd be back next year.
About 1/3 of the way through the '09-'10 campaign, it's quite clear they are a much-improved team. Stanley Cup worthy? Probably not. But they have been winning, playing more like a team, and it seems that head coach Cory Clouston has them on the right track.
Ah, but what would a Senators season be without at least a little adversity?
This past Monday night, Ottawa lost to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season. As if that wasn't bad enough, they also lost star Jason Spezza to a torn MCL for up to two months - he likely won't be back until after the Olympic break in February.
Added to the fact that they are already without #1 goalie Pascal Leclaire, and forwards Chris Neil, Shean Donovan, and Nick Foligno, the Sens were scrambling to put together four solid lines for last night's game against the Buffalo Sabres, who came into Scotiabank Place riding a 4-game winning streak. Things were looking bleak.
But this year's version of the Ottawa Senators seem to be able to rise to the occasion, and that's exactly what they did last night. Nearing the end of the first period, d-man Alexandre Picard beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller with a shot from the point, as Jonathan Cheechoo set up the perfect screen in front of the net. Then the Senators' biggest "pleasant surprise" so far this year, the studly Mike Fisher, added a late goal to seal the shut-out victory for Sens back-up 'tender Brian Elliott.
Where would the Sens be without Mike Fisher? For years, he's been a beloved fan favourite, despite the fact that his production never quite equalled the hype. Nobody ever liked to say anything bad about Fish. He's been so great in the community, involved with Roger's House and visiting sick kids in the area on a regular basis. And even though the devout Christian broke hearts with last year's announcement that he was dating country sweetheard Carrie Underwood, his new relationship endeared him even more to the hockey fans in Ottawa.
On the ice, he worked harder than anyone. He played his heart out every night, even though it wasn't always reflected on the scoreboard, and his grit, effort and determination were unmatched.
Still, it was always on the tips of everyone's tongues - that Fisher was not the player he was being paid big bucks to be. Nice guy, for sure, but not the flashy forward the Sens had hoped he'd develop into.
It's still too early in the season to proclaim that Mike Fisher has "arrived"; that he has finally broken out and become the elite player he was touted to be in his early years as a Sen. However, a very telling sign that Fisher is blossoming is the fact that, on the same night Jason Spezza was shelved with his knee injury, Mike Fisher scored his 14th of the season.
That was ten more goals than supposed "#1 centre" Spezza had at that time.
Even better? With his tally last night, Fisher now has two more goals than he did all of last season!
Suddenly, Fisher's being considered the team's top centre, not Spezza. And it's Fisher's name being mentioned as a possibility on Canada's Men's Olympic Team, not Spezza. And with Spezz now out for an extended period of time, the fans aren't panicking nearly as much as one would expect.
Because we've got Fisher. And so far this season, he's given us reason to believe in him.