Yoga: On and Off the Mat

January 30, 2012 9:06 am
Photo by j.sparksphotography

Yoga is a discipline that has existed for millennia in India, and more recently has become popular in North America. While many people are initially drawn to the practice in search of a ‘yoga butt’, they commit to the practice once they experience physical and mental well-being. The traditional system boasts a multitude of benefits, such as lower blood pressure, increased lean body mass, heightened self-awareness, deeper breath, and a serene mind.

My introduction to yoga was not easy and adapting to the discipline was a slow process. The first class I ever attended was offered at 6:00 a.m. It was a hatha class that promised a positive start to the day. However, I remember feeling extremely frustrated by the lack of aerobic exercise. Considering I had dragged myself out of bed that early, I felt I deserved a workout. Unfortunately, my negative reaction prohibited a deeper experience of the practice. The beauty of yoga is that it works on such a deep level so that not all the benefits are felt immediately. I left the studio angry and close-minded that morning, but I had yet to be enlightened.

Photo by j.sparksphotography

A year later I decided to revisit the promise of physical and mental prowess and attended another yoga class. I fell in love. Perhaps it was my mood, the studio, the time of day or the teacher’s style but it felt completely different from my first class. I started attending class regularly and quickly witnessed the multitude of positive changes. I felt lighter, healthier, more toned. But more significant than the physical improvements, were the mental ones. I felt calmer and began to live in the moment, if only for a few minutes at a time, instead of always stressing about the future. Today, seven years later, I teach yoga and embrace its teachings every day.

Off the mat, yoga can teach you a sense of detachment from expected outcomes. In everyday life, this may translate into feeling less agitated when trapped in line at the grocery store, rushing less in traffic or considering those around you. Once a regular practice is founded, the senses become more acute and your newly-opened mind allows you to notice your surroundings in a way that was not possible before.

Even personal finances can improve as a new sense of non-attachment helps you realize that you are not defined by material possessions. You may begin to relish a minimalist lifestyle, buying only what you need and appreciating what you have. Instead of constantly yearning for material goods – falsely believing that your next purchase will make you happy – yogic philosophy teaches the value self-worth.

Photo by j.sparksphotography

Ottawa is filled with established yoga studios that offer classes to suit all levels of experience, and host workshops for those who choose to deepen their practice. Some reputable studios to consider are:  Rama Lotus Yoga Centre, Santosha, Upward Dog Yoga Center, PranaShanti Yoga Centre, Blue Crane Wellness & Yoga, Orleans Yoga Shala, Mountain Goat Yoga, and Blue Bamboo Yoga among many others. Regardless of the venue you choose to attend, be sure to practice under the supervision of a certified teacher who can guide you through any necessary modifications to suit your body type and level of experience.

No matter your motivation, yoga is a balanced system of physical, mental and spiritual health. It allows you to under-achieve, as well as find happiness and health on or off the mat. The deeper lessons of yoga teach themselves once a regular practice is established. The lifestyle seeps into your habits.

The NHL’s Concussion Epidemic

January 19, 2012 9:47 am
Savard

The final act of Marc Savard’s hockey career may well have occurred in his absence, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to claim the 2010-11 Stanley Cup. Savard’s name is listed on the Cup along with those of his Bruins teammates, even though he missed three months of the regular season and the entire playoffs after sustaining a concussion in January 2011 from a hit by Colorado’s Matt Hunwick. Savard is sitting out the entire 2011-12 season, and though he is still listed on the Bruins roster, it remains unlikely that he will suit up as a professional hockey player ever again.

Savard’s concussion problems began 10 months before the Hunwick hit, when Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke delivered a malicious blow to the side of Savard’s head. Cooke was not penalized on the play, and then-NHL head disciplinarian Colin Campbell deemed that no suspension was warranted under the league’s current rules. Savard would return in time for the second round of the playoffs, scoring a critical overtime goalin his return to the ice. The Philadelphia Flyers would eliminate Boston in seven games, and Savard played just 25 games in 2010-11 before receiving his second concussion.

Sidney Crosby was injured in the 2011 Winter Classic after a hit from Washington's David Steckel.

While Cooke’s teammate Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL’s concussion epidemic, Savard is its most severe casualty, having amassed over 700 points in 14 pro seasons before having his career derailed by two careless headshots. Even with the chronic uproar over the place of fighting in the game of hockey and the pending expiration of the CBA threatening the 2012-13 season, the health and safety of its players is the most pressing issue facing the NHL, specifically with regards to headshots and concussions.

Months of interminable speculation over Crosby’s health have underscored the magnitude of the NHL’s recent concussion influx. Crosby missed the second half of the 2010-11 season after receiving separate blows to the head from Washington’s David Steckel and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, both occurring just four days apart. Crosby returned to action on November 21st, only to be shelved indefinitely just eight games into his comeback after a check from Boston’s David Krejci.

While the former Hart Trophy winner is the most prolific of the NHL’s injured players, one could compose a veritable All-Star team of players who have missed time due to concussions this season. Stalwart Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger will miss the remainder of the season with post-concussion symptoms, while teammate Claude Giroux lost his grip on the NHL scoring lead after sitting out four games. In addition to Crosby, Pittsburgh has gone without defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek for significant parts of the season. The New York Rangers’ Marc Staal was sidelined for three months with post-concussion syndrome, sustained last February but not diagnosed until the 2011 off-season.

Brendan Shanahan succeeded Colin Campbell as the NHL's head of discipline in June 2011.

The Ottawa Senators have seen four players miss time with concussions, including NHL All-Stars Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, who each sat out five games earlier in the season. While Michalek’s injury was the result of a collision with teammate Erik Karlsson, Alfredsson was felled by an elbow from the New York Rangers’ Wojtek Wolski, an action that garnered no supplementary punishment from new NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan. After appearing in 314 consecutive regular season games, Chris Phillips missed two games in early January with concussion symptoms. Jesse Winchester hasn’t played since December 20th after receiving a vicious check to the numbers from Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad.

Shanahan’s succession of Campbell as chief disciplinarian last June was celebrated as part of the NHL’s commitment to cracking down on dangerous play. Four months into his tenure, Shanahan’s approach can best be described as inconsistent, with the former Detroit Red Wing vacillating between leniency and suppression, often choosing one when the situation calls for the other. The Wolski hit is a prime example of Shanahan’s tendency towards inaction, and an apparent endorsement by the NHL of elbows to the head of unsuspecting opponents. The ambiguity of the league’s headshot rules has compounded the ineffectiveness of the disciplinary process, to the extent that few officials, fewer players and even fewer fans understand the scale, intent and application of the law.

Although it stands as one of the most reprehensible on-ice acts of the past decade, Cooke’s hit on Savard was deemed legal under the NHL’s rules in March 2010. Today, there’s no question that Cooke’s actions would be met with a lengthy suspension, but Shanahan’s arbitrary rulings have managed to set a confusing precedent for the league’s players and referees. Shanahan has attempted to make the disciplinary process more transparent by releasing online videos of every play that he reviews, but his manifold explanations have done little more than provide fodder for fans and pundits who disagree with his rulings.

Matt Cooke has been derided for his reckless play throughout his career in the NHL.

Concerned fans, bloggers and members of the mainstream media have bandied about several potential measures to reduce dangerous play. One popular “solution” entails the adoption of a bigger, European-style ice surface, giving players more room to maneuver and lessening the likelihood of reckless play along the boards. This, of course, could never happen – not unless every NHL owner agrees to eliminate the first few rows in every arena to accommodate the larger playing dimensions, disregarding the lost revenue and logistical costs.

A more feasible measure involves equipment modifications, including more durable helmets and/or reductions to the size and sturdiness of shoulder and elbow pads. While the league office has stated its intentions to reduce equipment size while maintaining its protectiveness, the glacial pace at which the NHL typically considers these measures indicates that change won’t necessarily be coming soon.

Ultimately, the NHL’s concussion problem won’t be solved until the players make a conscious effort to remove unsafe and irresponsible hits from the game, which is directly correlated with the penalties doled out by Shanahan. If plays such as the Cooke and Wolski hit go unpunished, players will respond accordingly, knowing they won’t face supplementary discipline in the future for similar infractions. Conversely, if referees are too harsh in penalizing hits that fall within the rules, such as the phantom charging major and game misconduct assessed to Nick Foligno on December 22nd against Florida, players, coaches and fans will complain – and rightfully so – about the erosion of physical play in hockey.

Put simply, the concussion epidemic is the single biggest issue facing the game of hockey. It threatens to overshadow all the progress the NHL has made since the Dead Puck Era of the 1990s and the damaging lockout of 2004-05. Players are bigger, faster and generally more reckless, a lethal combination that endangers the health, career and livelihood of every man who suits up in an NHL game.

Faced with a game becoming too big and too fast for its own good, the NHL must institute a workable solution to preserve the health of its active players. With no intelligible rule to legislate headshots, the NHL has failed to find a balance between the on-ice comportment of its players and the punishment levied by the game officials and the head office, and it’s the players who are paying for it. After playing just eight games in 12 months, Sidney Crosby still has no timetable for his return. Marc Savard has his name on the Stanley Cup, but no safe or concrete future in the game of hockey. With the NHL in a dangerous state of flux, there’s no telling who might be next.

Schools Keep Health in Mind

January 13, 2012 8:58 am
sad-girl

Once considered an affliction mainly suffered by adults, mental illness now increasingly affects children. Studies show up to one in five Canadian youth experience mental illness – and for some of them, the pain becomes too much.  In 2011, 4,000 lives in Canada were lost prematurely due to suicide. Many of these individuals were under the age of 30.

In 2011, one of those youth was 15 year old Jamie Hubley of Ottawa. The openly gay student committed suicide after years of taunts based on his sexual orientation. Jamie’s death shocked the Ottawa community. But sadly, tragedies like Jamie’s are only too common. Emotional wounding caused by bullying, is a daily reality for many children.

Mental illness can affect academic performance and other aspects of school life.

According to Paul Taillefer, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the umbrella organization of Canada’s teacher unions and organizations, although professionals do not know the exact cause of mental illness, bullying such as that experienced by Hubley and other teens makes matters worse.

“Mental illness is a combination of many factors…heredity, bio-chemical and environmental factors, ”Taillefer says.“It’s also the reality of the school community that students who suffer the stigma of mental illness are often bullied and isolated, perpetuating ongoing symptomatic behavior.”

No child should be in so much emotional pain that suicide feels like the only option. That’s why the Canadian Teachers’ Federation takes mental wellness seriously. Ensuring students receive their education in a safe and caring environment that fosters personal growth is a top priority for the Federation. To this end, the CTF has spoken out on issues that may trigger mental illness including bullying, poverty and the need for inclusion.

Taillefer says every school needs to deal with mental health challenges by having clear policy directions from its board, protocols that promote mental health activities and ongoing professional development for teachers on how to assist students who have to deal with this issue.  Also important is the provision of professional support for teachers and students and strong communication between parents, teachers and the school principal.

“Where there are no appropriate policies or protocol in place in support of effectively dealing with student mental health issues, teachers feel powerless to help the student in question,” says Mr. Taillefer. “Teachers must also face the fear of making matters worse for the child should they intervene without proper supports in place.” Open and clear communication between parents and schools is also critical. “Ongoing communication between the parent and the school is critical so that together, they can to assess situations, share information and build a blanket of support to wrap around a child.”

Being excluded hurts.

Such communication and administrative supports are necessary to deal with the myriad ofmental health challenges experienced by youth includingdepression, autism, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and panic disorder. Other associated conditions include addictions and anorexia and bulimia. Of particular concern, is schizophrenia which disproportionately affects the 16 to 30 year old age group – an estimated one in a hundred Canadians areaffected by the disorder.

Early intervention is critical. Research shows that symptoms of mental illness can manifest in childhood. More often however, the onset of mental illness occurs in pre or early adolescence – in other words, in school aged children. And while the symptoms of mental illness such as behavioral challenges may have been dismissed in the past, schools are now taking truancy and other behaviors more seriously. “Truancy in the school system was disruptive but not perceived as potentially arising from a mental disorder,” says Taillefer.

Apart from initiatives within the schools themselves, Taillefer says the CTF is working on a pan-Canadian level “to lay the groundwork for systemic change within our own education system.”

In the spring of 2012, the CTF will have results of a national survey of teachers around the issue of student mental health.  Believed to be the first of its kind, the survey conducted in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Commission will provide a voice for classroom teachers on this very important issue.

Most often the onset of mental illness occurs in pre or early adolescence.

The Federation also partners with the School-based Mental Health and Addictions Consortium that promotes youth mental health initiatives in schools. The Consortium looks at school-based and school-linked practices that promote mental health and provide early intervention for students with mental health and addiction issues. CTF also works with Partners for Mental Health, a not-for-profit charity which hopes to transform the way people think about and act towards people living with a mental illness. “They aim to empower individuals and organizations to take action leading to unprecedented improvements in mental health services, mental health research funding and the mental well-being of all Canadians,” says Taillefer. In April 2012, Partners for Mental Health will launch a grassroots-based social media site to facilitate information sharing, dialogue and increased access to resources to help de-stigmatize mental illness.

“As an organization representing teachers who work and build relationships with youth on a daily basis, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation believes this social media platform focused on mental health can be a hub where teachers go to access the tools and supports they require,” says Taillefer.

“Together as a profession, we can empower ourselves, help de-stigmatize mental illness and work towards systemic change that will confirm that mental health is indeed a basic human right of children and youth.”

Jen’s Jibberish: Riding away on the RyderBike

January 5, 2012 7:11 pm
images

It is official and it is sad.  Winter is here, the holidays are over and if you are like me, you are a bit thicker around the middle after the excesses of the season. Even more sad, gone are the easy days of slipping into running shoes and heading outdoors with little else on other than sunscreen and an iPod to get that heart rate up. If packing on the layers to keep the cold at bay to hit the pavement is not your thing, you may be looking for new ways to motivate yourself to work out, especially now that we have ushered in 2012.

RealRyder-get yourself moving

As a long distance runner, I have to say up front I was a sceptic about the RealRyder but honestly, it really is unlike anything I have ever done exercise-wise.  As far as I am concerned, indoor cycling (by yourself or in a class) always seems limited to pedaling faster or slower and for an attention-deficit person like me, boredom always sets in, making cycling feel torturously long. What sets the RealRyder apart is the fact that it has a whole range of motions because its frame moves — meaning your muscles steer and turn and that keeps the mind more engaged and the body more active. This was certainly the case for me anyway.  On top of that, you get a real kick ass work out. The RealRyder, unlike regular stationary bikes, improves not just your legs and cardio, but also upper body and core muscles groups.

The most effective way to experience the RealRyder is in a class offered at KRX  by fitness trainer Rick Gilker. While Rick will kick you into gear on the RealRyder, he also does one-on-one training. Whether your goal is shedding a few pounds, ridding yourself of some post-holiday eating guilt or you are preparing for a marathon, Rick will whip you into shape. (For a full list of his services, visit www.totalfitnessottawa.com.)

The most effective way to experience the RealRyder is in a class offered at KRX by fitness trainer Rick Gilker.

KRX Fitness, located at 176 Gloucester Street, is a small gym but it is a great place to get your exercise fix. Owned by personal trainer Kenny Rolland (well known to anyone who works out at the YMCA on Bank Street), the gym offers classes as well as personal training by Kenny or other members of the KRX team.

As for the RealRyder? “More kinds of movement. More muscles used. More calories burned.” That’s the RealRyder promise. Given my sore butt and abs after the class, I am inclined to believe them. Check out the class schedule at www.krxfitness.com.

Russia 6, Canada 5

9:39 am
Canada

Two periods into Tuesday night’s World Junior semifinal, I had an entire article penned about Canada’s catastrophic loss to Russia, about the crossroads Hockey Canada now faced, about how the Russian development model had definitively eclipsed ours. Canada trailed 5-1 after 40 minutes, and Nikita Kucherov added a sixth goal eight minutes into the final frame. A full decade had passed since Canada last failed to reach the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championships. Ten consecutive shots at the championship, and now disaster.

Then Dougie Hamilton tucked in a backdoor pass, and hope flickered. Jaden Schwartz banked a puck in off a Russian defender, and it looked like disaster may be averted. Brendan Gallagher tipped in a drifting shot, and the Russian development model began to teeter. Brandon Gormley ripped a bullet from the point, and Hockey Canada was back on track. Four minutes, fifty-seven seconds. Four goals.

It was the second-greatest comeback in the history of the World Juniors – the comeback that was never completed. The Canadians resembled Russia circa the 2011 goal medal game, rising from the dead, roaring back from an early deficit and turning the hockey world on its head. The Russians played the part of Canada ’11 too well, weathering a first-period storm, pouncing on defensive errors, erupting for an all-too comfortable lead. The lead was insurmountable for 49 minutes, vulnerable for five, unbearably thin for the final six and then insurmountable once again – this time, for good.

The game was played in a tidy two-and-a-half hours, though each passing minute seemed to elicit a different emotion – anticipation, anger, doubt, shock, depression, repulsion, resignation, disbelief, desire, silence. Despite the Russians’ temporarily decisive lead, the outcome could have turned on countless Canadian chances. 56 total shots rained down upon the Russian goal, with several rang posts and agonizing near-misses fortifying the post-game Canadian despair.

Lost in the flurry of the late Canadian charge was the yeoman’s effort put forth by 17-year old Andrei Vasilevski. A day after outlasting brilliant Czech netminder Petr Mrazek in the quarterfinals, Vasilevski stopped 44 shots, holding off the Canadian onslaught as his team chased Scott Wedgewood from the opposing goal. One stop in particular will go down among the greatest in the history of the tournament: Vasilevski’s stunning toe-save on Jonathan Huberdeau during a first-period power play, sending the puck skittering harmlessly above the goal and maintaining a one-goal Russian lead.

Vasilevski’s heroics lasted until the midpoint of the third period, when he finally fell victim to the Canadian siege. The stunning five-minute meltdown led Russian coach Valeri Bragin to yank Vasilevski and insert Saskatoon Blades starter Andrei Makarov into the game. Makarov faced Canada’s final seven shots, locking down the crease and absolving the eminently shaky Russian defense, whose struggles began long before Canada’s frantic comeback.

Though his team nearly offset last year’s gold medal victory with the mother of all collapses, Evegny Kuznetsov emerged as the hero for the Russians. The lone returning player from Russia’s 2011 championship team, the Washington Capitals prospect was held off the scoresheet in the first two round-robin games, before posting three goals and six assists in a 14-0 demolition of Latvia. Kuznetsov potted his second hat trick of the tournament in the semifinal, toying with the inexperienced Canadian defense and taunting the Calgary crowd after receiving his Player of the Game Award.

Canada’s valiant effort over the last 11 minutes doesn’t excuse the team for the dismal performance put forth through the first 49. 17-year old Ryan Murray had the unluckiest of games, with each of the first three Russian goals deflecting off of him and past Wedgewood. Fellow rearguard Nathan Beaulieu hooked down Kucherov at the Russian blue-line midway through the third period, failed to hustle back down ice and watched as Kucherov buried the eventual winning goal on the delayed penalty. Forward Boone Jenner took an elbow to the head near the end of the second, only to earn himself a five-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Kuznetsov in retaliation. Huberdeau missed the first half of the third period after receiving a misconduct for slamming his stick into the boards.

Over the past decade, the Canadian junior team has found innumerable ways to win and lose games, with the three most recent tournaments leaning towards the latter. The gold medal loss to the Americans in 2010 stung, with an ill-timed Alex Pietrangelo pinch in overtime leading to an odd-man rush and an end to Canada’s streak of five World Junior championships. Last year’s collapse against Russia was a devastating blow to a country and team that thought they had secured gold once again. Tuesday’s loss began as the country’s most disastrous showing in the history of the tournament, turned into an inspiring display of Canadian heart and determination and ended with a demoralizing reminder of the two periods left un-played.

Games like these make it impossible and perhaps impractical to identify what truly befell Canada. When the score was 6-1, blame could be cast upon the forwards for failing to step up – that is, until they potted four goals in the frenetic third period. The lack of an elite goaltender, one on par with the likes of Mrazek and Vasilevski, will continue to be a prevalent explanation, though neither Wedgewood nor replacement Mark Visentin could be blamed for Canada’s troubles on Tuesday. The inexperienced defensive corps is the most likely scapegoat, though their miscues would have been forgotten had Canada mustered just one more goal in the dying minutes.

Sometime during Tuesday’s broadcast, when a Russian blowout appeared inevitable, TSN’s Gord Miller noted that so much had to go right for Canada to reach 10 consecutive gold medal games. Jonathan Toews had to score three shootout goals against the USA in 2007. Jordan Eberle had to strike with five seconds left against the Russians in 2009. Canada had to repel international hockey’s constantly fluctuating hierarchy and prove themselves to be one of the two best junior hockey teams in the world 10 straight times. In a tournament with five or six teams capable of reaching the podium every year, the bounces are bound to even out.

Maybe that’s the only explanation for Calgary and Buffalo and Saskatoon. The past three years, the bounces have evened out. One Andrei Vasilevski misstep or Ryan Murray blocked shot, and Canada might be playing for gold. One key save from Jake Allan and Mark Visentin in 2010 and 2011, and Canada might be playing for their eighth straight gold. No ill-timed icing from Dmitri Klopov, and Canada’s championship streak may have ended in 2009. Gold is perfection, silver is heartbreak, bronze is disaster, and the difference between each is a single rotation of the puck.

For 49 minutes on Tuesday night, everything went wrong for Canada, and the events of the next 11 weren’t enough to put Russia away. The hockey world will revel in Canada’s failure, and the Russians will face Sweden for the gold medal. In exactly one year, Canada will enter the medal round in Ufa, Russia, facing the same questions and the same pressure to top their greatest hockey rival.

On Tuesday night, they started too late. Four minutes, fifty-seven seconds, four goals. The Calgary crowd rose as one, growing louder with every missed chance, knowing the final goal would come. And then the game was over.

Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: December

January 3, 2012 8:52 am
Stadium

As the month of January begins, the arrival of 2012 marks the midpoint of the current NHL season. Predictably, the NHL’s elite teams have risen to the top of the standings, with the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers all jostling for overall supremacy. A similar battle continues to rage slightly lower down the standings, with several teams fighting for coveted spots in the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs.

Many prominent NHL experts may be shocked to learn that the fledgling Ottawa Senators are very much in playoff contention as December comes to a close. Boasting an offensive attack that has registered just nine goals less than the powerful Canucks, Ottawa currently ranks above perennial Eastern powers like the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, sitting in a tie for 6th place in the conference.

Surefire Coach of the Year candidate Paul MacLean has been a revelation, and goaltender Craig Anderson has slowly rebounded from his early-season struggles to bring some stability to the Ottawa crease over the last two months. Perhaps I’m hole-identification challenged, but if the Senators can remain healthy and tighten up a defensive corps that ranks 29th in goals against in the NHL, they have as good a shot as any fringe Eastern team to clinch a playoff spot.

Record: 7-5-3. (Currently 19-15-5. 2nd in Northeast Division. T-6th in Eastern Conference. T-13th in NHL.)

Leading Scorers: (December) – (Total)

Daniel Alfredsson (15 GP: 6 G, 11 A, 17 PTS) – (33: 11-16-27)
Jason Spezza (15 GP: 4 G, 11 A, 15 PTS) – (39: 13-25-38)
Erik Karlsson (15 GP: 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS) – (39: 5-30-35)
Jared Cowen (15 GP: 2 G, 7 A, 9 PTS) – (39: 4-7-11)
Nick Foligno (15 GP: 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS) – (39: 11-11-22)

Game-by-Game Recap

After earning 11 of a possible 14 points in their final seven games of November, the Senators started slowly in December, ceding a one-goal lead in the third period to fall 3-2 to the Dallas Stars and allowing a goal just 12 seconds into overtime against the Washington Capitals. They would bounce back with a strong effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning 4-2 on the strength of two goals from Zack Smith, before losing three straight games in demoralizing fashion, falling 5-3 to Washington, 5-4 (in a shootout) to the New Jersey Devils and 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Sens would split two games with divisional rivals, topping Buffalo 3-2 in overtime and falling 5-2 to the champion Boston Bruins. A brief winning streak would follow, with Ottawa scoring 14 total goals in victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo (once again) and the Florida Panthers. Craig Anderson’s tumultuous season was characterized by two consecutive losses to Carolina and Montreal; the first in which he was spectacular, stopping 36 shots and falling 2-1 in overtime, before conceding four goals on seven shots to the Canadiens four nights later.

Ottawa would cap off 2011 with two straight emotional victories, coming back from a three-goal deficit to top the Calgary Flames in the final home game of the calendar year, before rallying to beat Buffalo for the third time in December, claiming a 3-2 shootout victory on New Year’s Eve.

Player of the Month

After posting just two points through his first 25 NHL games, hulking rookie defenseman Jared Cowen showcased his unforeseen offensive potential in December, potting two goals and totaling nine points in 15 games. Cowen shone during the absence of veteran Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar, regularly logging over 25 minutes a night on the first defensive pairing with Erik Karlsson. Cowen’s new partner continued to display his prodigious offensive ability, adding nine assists in December to push his total to 30 on the year. (Karlsson ranks second in the league in assists, an astonishing feat for a defenseman of any age.) Nick Foligno carried much of the team’s offensive load in the early part of December, while Jason Spezza scored 10 points in six games from December 8th to 20th.

No Senator could match the captain in December, however. Daniel Alfredsson returned from injury on November 11th, but only managed three points in the month’s eight remaining games. As soon as the calendar flipped, Alfredsson flipped on the offensive switch, registering five multi-point games (including two three-point efforts). No Senator has produced as much offense in a month as Alfredsson did in December, combined with his ever-steady defensive effort and penchant for coming through in the clutch. Alfredsson continues to embody the Senators franchise, proving the doubters wrong during his 16th NHL season.

Goal of the Month

Nick Foligno enjoyed the finest offensive stretch of his pro career in early December, notching points in six consecutive games from November 29th to December 8th. Foligno’s streak was highlighted by his second-period goal on December 7th against Washington. After taking a pass at the blue line and bursting past an exhausted Dennis Wideman, Foligno cut to the middle of the ice, eluded another Washington defender, stepped around Bobby Butler (who took out another Capitals skater), cut behind the net and, using one hand, slipped the puck past goaltender Tomas Vokoun and under a prone Wideman.

Foligno’s goal, of course, was not the most memorable of the month. That honour belongs to Alfredsson, who capped off a 4-3 comeback victory over the Calgary Flames on December 30th with his 400th career NHL goal. Alfie’s marker, a bullet from the point to seal the game in overtime, was remarkable for far more than the milestone he achieved. Consider the following:

  1. The goal was Alfredsson’s 11th of the season.
  2. Earlier in the game, Foligno and Zack Smith both scored their 11th goals of the season.
  3. Alfredsson’s goal was scored 1:11 into a Senators power play.
  4. Alfredsson’s goal was scored at 10:11pm.
  5. Alfredsson’s goal clinched the Senators’ 11th home victory of the season.
  6. The Calgary game was Ottawa’s 11th sellout of the season.

The significance of these points should need no explanation. If Alfredsson maintains his current goal-scoring pace for the rest of the season, he’ll finish 2011-12 with 411 career goals.

Game of the Month

The Senators’ most satisfying win of the month came on December 16th, a 6-4 victory over Pittsburgh in the first rematch after Sidney Crosby’s elbow to the head of Nick Foligno. (Crosby, coincidentally, missed the game and has been out of action since December 5th, after taking an elbow to the head from Boston’s David Krejci.) Jared Cowen had the first multi-point game of his career, erupting for a goal and three assists in 28 minutes of ice time. Jason Spezza also scored four points, while Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson each tallied three. Alex Auld made 32 saves for his first win since March 20th, 2011.

The Pittsburgh game, however, wasn’t Ottawa’s most comprehensive effort in a month marked by narrow wins, deflating losses and seven games that went past regulation. That would come four days later in a 4-1 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres, marked by two third-period goals from Erik Condra, including the game-winner and a late-game empty-netter. Kyle Turris assisted on Condra’s game-winner in his first game as a Senator, while Craig Anderson stopped 22 of 23 Buffalo shots.

Looking Ahead

The Senators’ postseason hopes will hinge largely on their 14 games in January, seven of which will be played against teams currently in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa will play a home-and-home series with the Philadelphia Flyers on January 7th and 8th, before travelling to Pittsburgh and New York to face the Penguins and Rangers later in the week. The 16th and 17th mark the two most important games of the month, with the Senators hosting the Winnipeg Jets and facing the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Only two points separate the three teams in the Eastern Conference standings.

After their tilt with the Leafs, Ottawa will embark on a four-game Western road trip, facing off with San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix over a span of six days. Three of their Pacific Division opponents are vying for first place in the division, while Anaheim lags well behind, currently occupying the 29th overall spot in the 30-team NHL. The Senators will then return home for All-Star Weekend, to be held from January 26th to 29th at Scotiabank Place, before ending the month in Boston with their third of six games against the stingy Bruins.

All-Star Game Update

With the seventh and final week of fan balloting for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game set to conclude tomorrow, three members of the Ottawa Senators are poised to earn a starting role in the NHL’s annual mid-winter classic. The Senators should occupy two of the three starting forward spots, with Alfredsson (537,918 votes) and Spezza (486,004) sitting in second and third, respectively. Toronto’s Phil Kessel leads all forwards with 592,339 votes, while Sidney Crosby (currently out with a concussion) has slipped behind Spezza at 458,337. Milan Michalek is in fifth place, with 448,074 votes.

Erik Karlsson has broken away from all other NHL defensemen, supplementing his league-best 35 points with 585,179 All-Star votes. Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf has locked up the other starting spot on the blue line, though he remains well behind Karlsson with 510,617 votes. For the majority of the voting period, it appeared that goaltender James Reimer would join Kessel and Phaneuf as one of the six fan-elected starters, but he now sits roughly 10,000 votes behind Boston netminder and reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas.

With one day left to vote, Sens fans can ensure that Spezza will join Alfredsson and Karlsson in the starting lineup by voting for the trio at vote.nhl.com. (It also wouldn’t hurt to cast a few votes for Thomas, in order to keep Reimer in his rightful place on the sidelines.) The final results will be tabulated after the voting period is over, and if the current results are any indication, Ottawa will be well represented on home ice when the game is played on January 29th.

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