Chris Neil era ends with Ottawa Senators after 15 years

The Chris Neil era has ended in Ottawa as the Senators' forward officially announced he was hanging up his skates on December 15th after 15 years with the NHL team. The 38-year-old from Flesherton. Ontario was originally drafted by the club back in 1998 when the Senators chose him in the sixth round with the 161st overall selection. The 6-foot-1-inch right winger was taken from the North Bay Centennials of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) after scoring 72 points in 66 games in his final junior season on 26 goals and 46 assists.

Neil was drafted due to his work ethic and toughness and spent his first two pro seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. He didn't disappoint the team as he racked up more than 300 minutes in penalties in each of his two seasons there and chipped in with 24 goals and 31 assists for 55 points. Neil cracked the Ottawa lineup at the beginning of the next season and showed the club he wouldn't back down from anyone while contributing 17 points and 231 minutes in penalties as a rookie.

Neil was seen by most fans as the Senators' enforcer during his career and he led the club in penalty minutes most seasons. He did manage to score 10 or more goals on five occasions with his best showing being 16 goals and 17 assists in the 2005/06 campaign. Neil ended up playing 1,026 regular-season games with Ottawa which ranks the third-most all-time for the franchise. The only players to appear in more games with the club were Chris Phillips at 1,179 and Daniel Alfredsson at 1,178. He also managed to chip in with 112 goals along with 138 assists for 250 points.

Neil served 2,522 minutes in the penalty box for Ottawa, which ranks number one for the club and 20th all-time in the NHL. He also appeared in 95 playoff games with nine goals and 10 assists to his name along with another 204 penalty minutes. Neil is just one of two players in NHL history to play in over 1,000 regular-season games and serve over 2,500 minutes in penalties while playing their whole career with just one club. The other player to achieve the feat was former New Jersey Devils blueliner
Ken Daneyko.

Along with serving the Senators for 15 seasons, Neil also contributed to the local community and he'll be honoured for this on Jan 25th in a pregame ceremony when the Boston Bruins visit the Senators. Pierre Dorion, the general manager of the Senators, told the media that Neil is one of the club's all-time greatest players due to his leadership qualities, toughness and fearlessness and the fact he was always there to stand up for his teammates.

It was revealed that several other teams were interested in his services before the 2017/18 season began, but Neil didn't think it would be right to leave Ottawa. One of the teams that was interested in him was the Montreal Canadiens and their head coach Claude Julien. However, the Habs were only willing to offer him a Professional Tryout Contract and Neil promptly turned the Senators' rivals down. Neil then signed a one-year extension with Ottawa, but didn't appear in a regular-season game this campaign.  

Leafs' goalie Frederik Andersen rebounds from another slow start

The Toronto Maple Leafs believed goaltender Frederik Andersen's slow start to the 2016/17 NHL season was due to an injury suffered prior to training camp. However, they became concerned when he struggled out of the gate at the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign as well. It took the 28-year-old native of Denmark a while to get going last year as he adjusted to a new team and city after being acquired in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks. He finished the season well with a 33-16 record along with a 2.67 goals-against average, a 91.8 save percentage and  four shutouts. His play was one of the main reasons the Leafs returned to the playoffs for the first time since the shortened 2012/13 season.

Andersen's regular-season stats were about the same in last year's playoffs, but the Leafs fell in six games to the Washington Capitals, with five of the contests going into overtime. When the current season faced off, the Leafs' organization and fans expected Andersen to get off to a quick start since he was healthy and didn't miss any time in training camp like the year before. They were wrong though as he had trouble early on and his goals-against average rose while his save percentage plummeted. That all seems to be in the past now however as he's in top form and appears to be leading the club to its second straight playoff appearance.

As of December 11th, Andersen's record was 17-8-1 with three shutouts in 26 outings and he was 5-1 in his past six starts. Ironically, he seems to thrive when he doesn't get much help from the Leafs' defence as he was 4-0-1 in games in which he faced 40 or more shots. In fact, he's been the busiest goalie in the NHL so far this season by facing the most shots at 896 and making the most saves with 826 of them. He's also played the most minutes of any goalie, ranks second in the league in wins with 17, is ranked ninth in save percentage at 92.2 and is tied for second in shutouts with three. Andersen's goals-against average is 16th-best in the league at 2.67 and has been improving each week after it was above 3.00 earlier in the year.

Toronto has won five of their past six games and when Andersen does get a rare night off in back-to-back game situations, backup netminder Curtis McElhinney has been steady. McElhinney has played just five games, but has a goals-against average of 2.44 with a 92.5 save percentage, a shutout and a record of 3-2. With Andersen leading the way and getting a helping hand from McElhinney, the Leafs record as of Dec. 11 was 20-10-1 for 41 points, which was the fourth-most in the league. Consistency has been a huge factor in the team's success so far this season as the longest they've gone without earning a point has been two games. And this has happened on just three occasions. If Andersen could eliminate his slow starts to the season, there's no telling how good this Leafs team could be. 

Montreal Canadiens back on the right track

It's amazing how a five-game winning streak can turn around an NHL team's season. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs had been struggling since the campaign faced off with seven losses in their first eight game. They were well out of a playoff spot, couldn't score and possessed a leaky defence. And to make matters worse, there were hundreds of fans dressed up as empty seats for just about every one of their home games in October and November. Their on-ice fortunes have suddenly turned around though with consecutive victories over Buffalo, Columbus, Ottawa and a pair over Detroit, including a 10-1 thumping in Montreal on December 2nd.

After the destruction over the Red Wings, the Canadiens record stood at 13-12-3 with 78 goals scored and 86 against. They had 29 points, were in third place in the Atlantic Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference, and were right in the thick of things as far as a postseason spot is concerned. The return of top goaltender Carey Price has surely been the main reason the Habs are now back on the right track. He struggled early in the season and then missed several games due to injury. Price returned to the lineup and shutout the Sabres 3-0 to snap a five-game losing skid and the team hasn't lost since.

Their current streak obviously won't last forever, but with Price back between the posts the chances of Montreal making the playoffs have greatly increased. The Habs haven't won the Stanley Cup since the 1992/93 campaign and it looked like some fans had given up on them last month. The Canadiens started a sellout streak at home at the Bell Centre back on Jan. 8, 2004, but there were noticeably plenty of empty seats at several of their home games earlier this season. The seats may have been sold originally, but third-party ticket sellers such as StubHub were then stuck with them.

This led to the hundreds of empty seats as well as the sale of tickets well below face value, even as low as $30. In addition, the organization reduced the price of tickets for some games that had originally cost more as they were deemed optimum-priced contests. Since there were plenty of empty seats and hundreds available at ticket-reselling agencies the club reduced the price on a few optimum games and charged the “regular” price for the seats. But not only were many Habs' fans staying away from the games, those who did show up often ended up booing their heroes earlier in the season for their inept play.

With the Canadiens getting it together on the ice recently, the supply and demand of seats for their home games is certainly to improve for the club as well as ticket re-sellers. In an ironic twist, when Montreal drilled Detroit 10-1 at home on December 2nd it came exactly 22 years after the Red Wings beat them 11-1 in Montreal, to hand tie the club's worst-ever defeat. What fans may remember about that beating the most though, was that it was Patrick Roy's final game in a Habs' uniform. He was yanked during the game by head coach Mario Tremblay and traded to Colorado shortly after.