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OTTAWA — Mark Stone figures he made a whole lot of people in his hometown quite grumpy Saturday.
The Winnipeg product was the scoring hero for the Ottawa Senators, potting a pair to lead his team to a 5-2 victory over the Jets.
“I think my buddies were watching, for sure. They’re probably not too happy with me right now,” Stone told reporters at the Canadian Tire Centre following the game.
Of course, Stone could turn some of those Winnipeg frowns upside-down if he were to join the Jets later this month. It’s no secret the 26-year-old pending unrestricted free agent is a strong candidate to be traded before the Feb. 25 deadline, as the rebuilding Senators look to get something for an asset that could walk away in the summer.
The NHL rumour mill is working overtime these days, and the Jets have been linked to Stone, a right-winger — although some might argue their needs might be better filled with the addition of a centreman such as Ottawa’s Matt Duchene, who also scored Saturday.
It will likely take a king’s ransom for a team to land Stone or Duchene, with a first-round draft pick and a couple top prospects and/or young players a likely starting point.
Stone hasn’t wanted to publicly discuss his contract situation or trade speculation, but he did heap some praise on the Jets on Saturday.
“Yeah, good team. They obviously pressed pretty hard on us in the third period there. Anders (Nilsson) had to make some incredible saves. You’ve kind of got to expect that from a team like that. I thought, overall, we did a really good job of containing them,” said Stone, who leads the Senators in scoring with 25 goals and 31 assists through 55 games.
Right behind him is Duchene, who has 25 goals and 28 assists, despite missing nine games earlier this year with an injury.
It’s been a tough year in Ottawa, as the Senators languish at the bottom of the NHL standings. But Stone said it’s nice to get rewarded for a strong effort, as his team has now won two in a row.
“We’ve been right in hockey games most of the year. Other than maybe the mishap in Buffalo (a 9-2 loss in November), I think we’ve played pretty hard most nights and given ourselves a chance to win.
“We just haven’t been able to get over that hump. I think the last couple games, we’ve done a good job of getting a lead and playing with a lead,” he said.
And it starts with the top line. After a bit of a dry spell, Stone now has three goals and two assists in his past three games.
“It’s been a tough stretch for our line. I think we’ve started to get back to where we were maybe in the middle of December there, when we were playing our best hockey. I think we’re starting to get that confidence back,” he said.
Just in time, perhaps, for him to help another club make a Stanley Cup run this spring.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.