The Air Canada Centre has always been a house of horrors for the Ottawa Senators.
Steve Thomas. Cory Cross. Gary Roberts. Joe Nieuwendyk. Every Sens fan can tell you with painful clarity how each of those players stung the Senators in the past.
So as the Sens get set to face the Maple Leafs in a crucial game on Saturday night, I pondered a very legitimate question: Has Ottawa ever beaten Toronto in a regular season game that mattered at the Air Canada Centre?
The only instance I could think of was at the tail end of the 2007-08 season, when the Senators crushed the Maple Leafs with a decisive 8-2 victory. With that win, Ottawa essentially clinched a playoff spot – although they were facing a Toronto team that had absolutely nothing to play for. The worst part is that win actually proved costly, as Leafs forward Mark Bell took out both Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher in that game and neither was available for the playoffs.
Even Ottawa's lone meaningful regular season victory at the Air Canada Centre came with a massive asterisk.
For the most part, Ottawa has enjoyed success at the ACC in the month of October. Their most memorable victories were probably the first ever shootout win in NHL history and Dany Heatley's four-goal performance in an 8-0 win. Both of those wins came just a few weeks apart in October of 2005. You could maybe toss Craig Anderson's 47-save shutout performance in his Sens debut into the mix, but that victory came in February when the Senators had already given up on the 2010-11 season.
In fact, that Anderson victory at the ACC was an aberration when you look at the Sens record against the Leafs towards the back half of the season. A monthly breakdown of the Sens all-time record against the Maple Leafs paints a pretty clear picture of a team that does well in the first half of the season, but fades down the stretch against their provincial rivals:
Of course these numbers only reflect regular season meetings, but if you were to add the playoff numbers to the mix it would only worsen the situation for the Senators.
In short, the Senators have won 16 times against the Leafs in the month of October in only 22 games. But that is more wins than they have against the Leafs in the final three months of the season combined – and that spans a total of 41 games.
To add to the misery, the Senators record against the Leafs in February, March and April in the last five years is a woeful 2-10-0. It's not like I'm dragging up ancient history and talking about the playoff series from 12 years ago. This is recent history that has not been kind to Ottawa.
Ottawa has lost some memorable regular season games to the Leafs and it feels like all of them have been in the back half of the season. The infamous flu game where Owen Nolan scored the OT winner and said “Boo-hoo” about Ottawa players being sick. Or the 6-0 shellacking the Leafs laid on Ottawa in the regular season finale in 2003-04, which gave Toronto home ice advantage in their subsequent playoff series. And even Nazem Kadri's hat trick last March in a 4-0 shutout win is probably near the top of the list.
Toronto's great regular season moments against Ottawa come in February, March and April, while the Senators big wins seem to occur in October.
These are all ominous numbers and stats for the Senators, as they head into Saturday night's showdown against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The calendar has flipped to February and history is not on the Senators side.
But if Ottawa wants to make the playoffs this season and head into the Olympic break with some momentum, it's time they finally won a game at the Air Canada Centre that mattered for both teams.