Scores

Ottawa 2
New Jersey 5 (recap)

Pittsburgh 4
New York Rangers 3 SO (recap)

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Notable Numbers

* Reid Boucher scored his first NHL goal in New Jersey’s win over the Senators. The 20-year old registered 62 goals for the Sarnia Sting last season, so chances are it won’t be his last.

* At the other end of the spectrum, Jaromir Jagr scored career goal 693, moving past Steve Yzerman to take hold of eighth place on the all-time list; it was also Jagr’s 122nd career game-winning goal, placing him first all-time in that category.

* Chris Kunitz scored one goal and added an assist, while Sidney Crosby registered two helpers on the night, adding fuel to the “Sochi chemistry” conversation.

* Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury both allowed three goals on 32 shots, with the latter picking up with win after stopping all five attempts in the ensuing shootout.

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What Happened

Devilish moves

With Ottawa down 3-1 late in the second period, the Senators’ frustrations were further compounded by this Damien Brunner goal that featured all kinds of interesting stick work. First he managed to elude Jared Cowen, sending his stick flying in the process, and then finished things off with a nifty move past Robin Lehner.

Breaking records

Jagr’s record-breaking game-winning goal came on a little backhand scoop past Lehner.

Backhand shelf

And speaking of backhands, before netting the shootout winner for the Penguins, Brandon Sutter roofed one past Lundqvist just the way we like it.

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An Opinion

The Ottawa Senators had an opportunity to climb within one point of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot last night; instead, they lost to the also-climbing New Jersey Devils (now tied with Ottawa in points with a game in hand) and looked all kinds of awful in the process.

A closed-door meeting was held after the game, and Paul MacLean wasn’t mincing any words after his team’s poor performance:

There’s a lack of focus, there’s a lack of leadership, there’s a lack of preparation, just a lack of wanting to play in the National Hockey League and be a team that is willing to do what it takes to be elite. We’re a long, long way from being an elite team in the league.

It’s a far cry from preseason predictions that had this team challenging for an Atlantic Division title and possibly the Stanley Cup.

If I can use a bit of a poker analogy here, it seems fair to say that the Senators were playing with house money last season when they managed to advance to the second round of the playoffs; they rose above a myriad of potentially devastating injuries and came out better than anyone could have hoped or expected.

With that success came expectations, even after the departure of Daniel Alfredsson (who said he was going to Detroit for his best shot at winning a Cup) and especially after a deal that brought Bobby Ryan to town to fill that hole.

And here’s where the poker analogy continues – while the former captain called Ottawa’s bluff by signing with Detroit when he wasn’t offered what he believed to be fair compensation for his talents and (perhaps more importantly) his overall contribution to the franchise and the city, the rest of the league is calling the Senators’ bluff by saying “you may have the chips, but we don’t believe you have a winning hand.” No one’s taking this team for granted anymore, and the Senators haven’t generated enough push back to respond in winning fashion.

The thing is, the Senators have no choice but to figure things out and fast. While MacLean also said his team is likely to be in the lottery race if they don’t turn things around, the fact is their first round pick belongs to the Anaheim Ducks. This should give further motivation for the organization to achieve some measure of success this season. Nobody wants to suffer the embarrassment of coughing up a top pick in a deal that was believed to fill a hole and, at the very least, keep the team competitive.

At the end of the day, I think the Senators can and will be a playoff team. All the pieces are there for this team to be a winning group. But whether it means giving Robin Lehner the majority of the starts going forward or pulling off a deal to shore up the blue line or bring in some veteran leadership (think a 2011 Mark Recchi type), something needs to be done to spark this group.

And it better happen quick, because time might be running out on this team, and the Anaheim Ducks are waiting to reap the benefits.

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Other News

* The Blues locked up Alexander Steen with a three-year contract extension woth $17.4 million. As Thomas Drance explains, the deal is a win for the Blues.

* Josh Harding has been placed on injured reserve to allow him to make adjustments to the medication he takes to treat multiple sclerosis. Harding has been one of the best stories of the season so far, and is thankfully expected to miss only three game.

Paul Bissonnette is trying to evolve his game in Phoenix.

* And in case you missed it earlier this week, “Bear and the Gang” is back in Boston, and the Bruins’ Christmas episode is pretty great.