Sunday, September 25, 2005

No March of the Penguins here

It might be overstating it a bit to say that the Senators dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins in their two games Friday and Saturday night, however it is fair to comment that they were, by far, the superior team. Now undefeated at 3-0 in the pre-season, having outscored their opponents 14-4 in their three games, it looks like Ottawa is firing on all cylinders.

The big question regarding Friday’s game was how Dominik Hasek would play. By all accounts, he was outstanding. Zdeno Chara called his play “awesome”, while Hasek was more humble, saying he was satisfied with his play, but noting that it was not against the Pens’ best players as the team decided to sit out Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Mark Recchi, Zigmund Palffy and John LeClair. Still, it’s nice to see Hasek respond well in his first test, even if it was for the most part an insignificant one.

It sounds like all Senators’ goalies played well against Pittsburgh, with expected Bingo Sens starter Billy Thompson getting praised for his play in the second half of last night’s contest.

Brian Pothier impressed the radio crew in last night’s game, scoring two goals and getting their second star award. The battle for the job to be his defence partner continues to heat up. Andrej Meszaros, who’s played a ton of hockey having participated in the rookie tourney and all three pre-season games, continued to impress with his play, while Christoph Schubert was said to have been solid. Even though Lance Ward is still with the team, the race appears to be between them. Some who follow the team have even commented that it looks as if it’s Meszaros’ job to lose, but Schubert is capable of playing his way onto the team. Tomas Malec has yet to suit up due to an injury he came to camp with, and probably won’t be able to by the time the pre-season ends, which is a shame because I was interested in seeing how he fared.

Up front, for the players on the bubble, it was a mixed story. Chris Kelly played in both games and was said to have been fantastic. Even though he was playing on the wing, Kelly got some key faceoff looks when Bryan Murray took Mike Fisher off his line with Chris Neil and Peter Schaefer and put Kelly, a natural center, in his place. That speaks volumes about how well Kelly was playing. In addition, because of all the penalties the team took, Kelly, who’s of course fighting for one of the remaining forward jobs, got a ton of ice time, and everyone said he responded excellently. That has historically been a strong part of his game, but considering the spot opened up by Vaclav Varada’s knee injury is on the fourth line, it might suit a player like Kelly more than Denis Hamel, who though not inept defensively, is perceived to be more of an offensive minded forward.

Rookie Patrick Eaves was said to have struggled badly in the Friday night game but bounced back well the next night. The work ethic is clearly there, but word is he sometimes looks out of place with the NHLers. That’s disappointing to hear, but when I praised his rookie tournament play, I commented that I was hesitant to sing his praises too much because the caliber of opponents wasn’t strong. Now that he’s played with and against a higher level of talent, Eaves might not be NHL ready yet. It sounds as if he’s on the outside looking in as far as the main roster, and will start the year in Bingo. It’s worth noting that last year Brandon Bochenski, the most popular player in the city right now, played in the AHL coming out of college and it looks like it’s been good for his development. Perhaps that it what Eaves needs.

Speaking of Bochenski, the Bochenski-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley line remains red hot. It now looks as if Bochenski has all but guaranteed himself a spot in the opening night roster on October 5th.

In contrast, Antoine Vermette, who basically has a spot on the team guaranteed, was said to have struggled. In the media lately, Vermette has commented that he’s disappointed with the diminished role he’ll play on the team, having been penciled in as the fourth line center. He says he wants to be an offensive contributor on the team, which is difficult to do when you’re number four on the depth chart. Well, he didn’t do himself any favors with his play Saturday, as his name was often said in a negative context by the radio announcers. I’m very big on Vermette, and think his future with this team is bright, but the best way to prove you belong on the top lines is to play well, not to talk about it in the local papers.

The amount of penalties continues to be an issue, but that’s been expected. I do find it somewhat strange that the radio crew makes negative comments about the abundance of calls, saying stuff along the lines of “oh sight another penalty,” but then a moment later say they hope fans don’t complain too much about them because they are necessary to reform the game.

The ridiculous scheduling has the Sens playing their third game in as many nights tonight against the Maple Leafs. A rematch of their contest seven days ago at the ACC that saw the Senators outplay the Leafs in every aspect. The Leafs did not have an all-NHL line-up, though, so if they decide to do so for tonight, maybe the result will differ. Hasek will suit up again, and there are rumblings he will play the whole game. I imagine much of that will be based on two factors: a) how well he's playing and b) how many pucks he's facing. Hasek is notorious for loving a lot of action, so if the Leafs only register 10 shots by the midway point of the game, Murray could leave him in there.

As of the time of this post, there were said to be less than 500 tickets left. It’s pretty well guaranteed that it will sell even, even with the extra 653 seats added to the Corel Center since there was last hockey there. Excluding tonight’s game, the Senators have four pre-season contests remaining, including two at home, against Pittsburgh on Thursday and Montreal a week from tonight.

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