Going 'back to basics' gets Greening back on track
Senators makes most of opportunity in being reunited with with Spezza, Michalek
|After enduring a 14-game goal-less drought, Senators forward Colin Greening found the back of the net again Tuesday night against the Lightning and also added an assist in Ottawa's 7-3 victory (Getty Images).
Stuck in a goal-less drought but offered the opportunity to rejoin two of his most offensively gifted teammates, the Senators forward certainly made the most of it during Ottawa's biggest offensive output of the season.
The 25-year-old winger from Newfoundland notched a first-period goal — his first in 15 games — and added an assist for good measure as the Senators rolled past the Lightning 7-3 at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tuesday night. It's no coincidence that Greening's slump-busting night came while playing on a line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, a trio that enjoyed great success together early in the 2011-12 campaign.
"I hadn't scored in 14 games, so it was a little bit frustrating," the second-year Senators forward admitted earlier today following Senators practice at the Kanata Recreation Complex. "But it was really nice (to get on the scoreboard). It showed the confidence the coaches have in me to put me back with Spezza and Michalek. It was nice to finally be able to put that goal in."
Greening, who's now totalled 13 goals and 30 points in 68 games, drew on some of that early-season success to help get himself out of his scoring funk.
"When you play less minutes, like I have in the last five games, you kind of reflect on it and go back to basics," said Greening, one of the Senators' most insightful players. "You kind of focus on what makes you strong as a player and, in an 82-game schedule, you can lose sight of that sometimes.
"That was one of the things I reiterated to myself (Tuesday night), to play the way that I was playing at the beginning of the year. I guess it worked."
In the second period, Greening completed the proverbial "Gordie Howe hat trick" — the first of his career — by engaging in a heavyweight scrap with 6-6 Lightning blueliner Keith Aulie. But it was Michalek who earned the real hat trick of the evening, collecting three goals in a 7:41 span near the end of the third period. It included a pair of empty-net goals, making the Czech winger only the fifth player in National Hockey League history to turn the trick in that manner.
Not that he was going to apologize about taking that route for his second career three-goal game.
"They count and I'm happy for it," Michalek said with a hearty laugh.
The hat trick allowed him to hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time. And he's already two more toward 40, although he's not dwelling on that possibility just yet.
"It would be great to hit 40, but I just have to go game by game," said Michalek, who credits Spezza with playing a big hand in getting him to this point. "He's one of the best playmakers in the league and it's so much fun to play with him."
Count Spezza among those who believed Michalek had the potential to score big.
"He's a good player and when he skates well, he's real tough to defend against," he said of the speedy left winger. "We've played together the whole year and that can't get understated, either. When you get comfortable with a player and you've played together a long time, you start making better reads on each other and we're both reaping the benefits of that."
Around the boards
Veteran blueliner Chris Phillips, who suffered a broken nose on an Adam Hall hit during Tuesday's win in Tampa, practised with a full visor today and is likely to be available Thursday, when the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "It appears that he is (okay)," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean. "He did break his nose and he has to wear the face shield, but that was it. So it was good to see him on the ice today." ... Forward Jim O'Brien, who was a late scratch against the Bolts with a lower-body injury, also took part in full practice today and could be available against the Blueshirts. "He was better at practice today, so that's positive," said MacLean, adding "we'll evaluate it tomorrow." ... Goaltender Robin Lehner, in his first action since being returned to Binghamton, backstopped the B-Sens to a 2-0 road triumph earlier today over the Toronto Marlies. It was Lehner's first American Hockey League shutout of the season and came just eight days after he blanked the Boston Bruins 1-0 for his first career NHL goose egg.