There have been many factors why the unexpected Ottawa Senators have already piled up 26 victories this season, a win total that took them until St. Patrick's Day to reach last year.
There is the Senators' penchant for comebacks. They did it again on Tuesday. They spotted the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs a two-goal lead in the first period at the Air Canada Centre, only to chip away for a 3-2 victory
even though this was Ottawa's third outing in four nights.
The play of goalie Craig Anderson has been spectacular. He certainly was in fine form against the Maple Leafs with a 37-save effort.
There have contributions from youngsters like Colin Greening, Jared Cowen, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Kaspars Kaugavins, who all played so hard for the Binghamton Senators to win the Calder Cup championship last spring.
There has been the new system ushered in by rookie head coach Paul MacLean. He has preached an up-tempo game. He has encouraged short high-risk passes into the middle to safely move the puck out of the Senators own end. He wants the defence involved in the offensive zone. Sophomore defenceman Erik Karlsson certainly has received this message as evident by the stats he has put up so far this year.
While there were growing pains early on with the adjustment to MacLean, who knows when to be firm and when to back off from his charges, the Senators have grasped their coach's blueprint with a spectacular run of 12-2-2.
This run began the day before Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray engineered a trade last month that brought in centre Kyle Turris
from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for defenceman David Rundblad and a second-round pick. It has given the Senators a second-line centre who has worked well with captain Daniel Alfredsson.
The 22-year-old Turris scored his second game-winner in 15 outings for the Senators when he beat Toronto goalie James Reimer with a hard wrist shot early in the third period on Thursday.
"He's been a great addition to the club," Senators first-line centre Jason Spezza said. "He fits right in with some of the guys he's playing like Alfie. [Turris] already is a good player and I think he's only going to get better."
Spezza scored the Senators' tying goal late in the second period for his 20th goal and 48th point of the season. While he may not reach the career highs in goals (34), assists (58) and points (92) that he put up in his best offensive season in 2007-08, both Murray and Spezza agree that he has played the most complete game of his career.
"I'm probably playing the most complete game since I've been in the league," the 28-year-old Spezza said. "The points have been there, but I still feel good about my game when I'm not getting the points. I think I've shown some maturity on the ice and I continue to learn from my mistakes.
"Points are points, but I'm trying to contribute in more ways than points."
Faith in Spezza
MacLean exhibited the faith he has in Spezza when he had his star on the ice in the final minute protecting a one-goal lead against the Maple Leafs, who have now dropped three in a row.
"Jason has shown more intensity in his game, and with our team being so young he taken upon more of a leadership role," Murray said.
Spezza still has the odd giveaway that frustrates Murray, MacLean and the Senators faithful. But that's going to happen with creative players like Spezza. But this season his mental mistakes have not been as frequent.
Still, even though there have been plenty of reasons for Spezza and the Senators to feel good about their game right now, they want to get better before the playoffs roll around in three months.
"We're in the mix right now," Spezza said. "But we still feel we have a lot of work to do."
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