'Gut feeling' a lift for Winchester
Rookie forward makes the most of chance to line up with Heatley, Fisher
|Alex Auld makes his fourth straight start in goal for the Senators tonight when they face the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/NHLI via Getty Images).
Jesse Winchester wasn't quite sure how to define what turned out to be a moment of inspired genius. Whatever the reason, the rookie centre was just happy to have a major hand in the Ottawa Senators’ 3-2 come-from-behind victory Monday night over the Canadiens in Montreal.
First, he started the play that led to Dany Heatley's tying goal in the third period. Then came a crunching hit along the boards that had no small part in Heatley's eventual game-winner 38 seconds later. Not bad for a fourth-line guy plugged into a more significant role alongside Heatley and Mike Fisher on a coach's whim.
"Coach is good at mixing up lines that way," Winchester said earlier today as he reflected on the key contributions he made to the uphill triumph. "He seems to come up with combinations on the fly and for whatever reason, they seem to work during those games. It's not the first time. He's switched other lines and they've produced regularly, too.
"I don't know if it's luck or his skill or whatnot, but it was nice to get a chance to play up with those guys, for sure."
It sure worked for Heatley, the biggest beneficiary of the makeshift combo (Clouston won't have them together to start tonight's game, if you're wondering).
"Winch had a couple of faceoff wins and a couple of big hits," said Heatley. "Fishy made a couple of great plays. It worked for the last seven minutes or so and we won the game."
It's been almost exactly a year since Winchester made his National Hockey League debut in Boston against the Bruins, the same team the Senators will face tonight at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). While Winchester talks with a laugh about the "cool restaurants" and "cool hotels" he's had the chance to enjoy as a full-fledged NHLer, a more important learning curve has taken place on the ice.
"Since (my first game), I've grown a lot," he said. "I can't even tell you how much I've learned. It's been a good experience so far and, hopefully, I can contribute and grow as a player next year and be more of a counterpoint guy."
All of which makes games like Monday's – and the Senators' final three this week, for that matter – anything but meaningless for the 25-year-old native of Long Sault, Ont.
The physical tone of Monday's game, which saw the Senators dish out what Clouston believes to be a season-high 42 hits, also fit in well with Winchester's style.
"I enjoy playing physical and coach has shown a lot of confidence in me in physical contests, for whatever reason," said Winchester. "I thrive on that, I guess. Any time you get put on the ice with two top-quality guys (like Heatley and Fisher), you want to play well and make the most of it."
Whether the Senators can deliver a similar bruising effort less than 24 hours later against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins... well, that remains to be seen.
"It was a very emotional game (on Monday), lots of ups and downs," said Clouston. "It was a physical battle and nothing was easy. We know it's going to be tough to get our emotional level back up there but in the past, we've responded very well and we don't expect anything less (tonight)."
Around the boards
Alex Auld (15-18-6) makes his fourth straight start in goal tonight and will aim for his third consecutive victory. He played strongly in the Senators' 2-1 loss in Boston last Thursday ... No other lineup changes are expected tonight ... The Senators have won eight straight at Scotiabank Place, tying a franchise record first established in 2002 (Nov. 14-Dec. 14) ... Clouston credited defenceman Anton Volchenkov with producing a standout assist to set up Heatley's winner. "It was a great play by Volchy, someone who earlier this year I was told couldn't pass the puck," said Clouston. "But he did a great job getting it up to Dany." ... Fewer than 1,250 tickets remain for tonight's game, while 1,000 are left for Thursday's matchup with the New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). It's the Sens' season finale at Scotiabank Place and has been designated as Fan Appreciation Night.