Butler providing key spark for Senators' top trio
Second-year forward contributing to resurgence of Spezza, Michalek on No. 1 line
|Bobby Butler's return to the first line three games ago has helped boost the offfence for the Ottawa Senators (Claus Andersen/Getty Images).
But Bobby Butler's return to the Ottawa Senators' top line is clearly paying the right kind of dividends for a team that has suddenly regained some of its offensive punch.
The latest case in point: Tuesday's 4-0 blanking of the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which was greatly fuelled by Jason Spezza's fourth career hat trick. Butler drew assists on two of those goals and has five helpers in three games since being elevated from the press box to the Senators' top trio alongside Spezza and Milan Michalek.
Not coincidentally, the new spark from the No. 1 line has the Senators showing some of the offensive form that played a not-so-small role in the team's rise to playoff contention. Ottawa is 2-0-1 in its last three games and has scored 11 goals in that stretch, which followed on the heels of a seven-game winless streak in which the Senators scored a mere nine goals.
Spezza, in particular, has been red hot over the last three games, producing five goals and nine points. And Michalek, who has four points during that same stretch, including a goal Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers that broke a lengthy scoring drought for the Czech winger.
While Butler takes little in the way of credit for the line's resurgence, he's clearly been a catalyst.
"They’re great players," the 24-year-old native of Marlborough, Mass., said after the win over the Lightning. "I just tried to step my level of play up to match theirs. They’re such great players and when you give Spezza the puck in the slot, 99.9 per cent of the time, they’re going to go in the net.”
Butler, who hasn't scored himself in more than a month, knows he has to keep up that pace.
"I got a little rest and the legs felt good," said Butler, a healthy scratch for three straight games before returning to the lineup. "I just need to keep playing that way and go game by game.”
Head coach Paul MacLean, of course, also likes the improved offence he's now getting from his team and hopes to see more of it tonight, when the Senators aim for a sunshine sweep against the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. (7:30 p.m., NHL Centre Ice, Team 1200).
"We’ve gotten back to our identity that we established in the first 52 games," he said. "We’re skating and we’re working as a group. Our team game and our structure has been real good."
Dads still have the magic touch for Sens
Maybe it's just a matter of wanting to put on a show for the men who raised them. Or maybe they're the lucky charm that every team can use every now and then.
Whatever the reason, the Senators continue to sparkle with their dads in the stands. Tuesday's victory over the Lightning improved Ottawa's record to 4-0-1 over the last two seasons during the 'father's trip' that has now become a tradition for the team. Judging by their success, it's one the layers likely won't won't to abandon anytime soon.
"We hope to keep that going," Spezza said after Tuesday's win. "I guess it's the fear of the fathers. "It's been great having them around. Our record's been real good. It was a real fun couple of days with them."
Before the Tampa game, MacLean invited the 17 dads on the trip into the Senators dressing room to see some of their preparation and listen to his pre-game speech to the team.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for the dads to really see what their sons go through when it comes to getting prepared for a game and the detail that goes into it," he said. "It’s not just put your skates on, tape a stick and go out and play. There’s a lot more work involved in the preparation part of playing in the National Hockey League."
Around the boards
With 60 points in 59 games, Spezza is on pace for an 82-point season, which would be his best total since 2007-08 (34-58-92), when the Senators centre established a new career-high in points. That was back when the 'Pizza Line' (Spezza, captain Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley) was still in its heyday ... Ottawa has won four straight and 16 of its last 19 at the BankAtlantic Center. The Panthers' last win against the Senators on home ice: a 5-2 triumph on March 31, 2009 ... Overall, the Sens own an eight-game winning streak against the 'Cats ... Florida is currently riding a three-game home-ice winning streak ... Craig Anderson makes the start in goal tonight against his former team. He's 6-0-1 with a 2.22 GAA vs. the Panthers ... This evening's contest is the 60th of the season for the Senators, the first team in the NHL to hit that mark in 2011-12 ... Tonight's game isn't being televised locally and is only available to NHL Centre Ice and NHL GameCentre (online) subscribers. It will feature the Panthers arena video feed accompanied by the Florida radio broadcast. It's the only Sens game not available on local TV this season.