Friday, September 23, 2005

Putting The Dominator the test

Tonight’s second pre-season game against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be interesting for a few reasons, but the primary one is that it’s the first time we get to see Dominik Hasek in a Sens uniform.

Having played less than 20 games in over two years, there has been considerable doubt surrounding Hasek by Sens fans and NHL followers alike. And understandably so. Goaltending has often been cited as the Achilles heel of the franchise, sometimes with the netminder getting blamed unfairly, but there is no question if the Sens are to do well this season, they’ll need strong, reliable play between the pipes.

Is the 40-year-old Hasek, a two-time Hart Trophy winner as well as a four-time Vezina recipient, the right guy to lead this team into the promised land? There’s no denying his track record. He may very well be the most dominant goalie of our this generation, and if not, Hasek’s name has to be in those discussions with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. In the past, he’s proven himself absolutely capable of taking an average team onto his shoulders and carrying them to unbelievable heights.

But that was then. What Dominik Hasek will be the Ottawa Senators be getting this year is the prevailing question throughout the league.

The people who run the Sens seem to think they’re getting an elite goalie. GM John Muckler is telling anyone who will listen that he’s more than confident Hasek will perform. While a pessimist might argue that Muckler has to say this, having hedged his bets on a goalie who could be over the hill. But John Muckler, though a lot of things, isn’t a bullshitter. He’s a straight shooter. When asked for his thoughts on Hasek’s prospects, he wouldn’t bury “The Dominator” if he was less than sure of him, but I certainly doubt he would put himself out there the way he has. I genuinely think he believes Hasek will be stellar this season when called upon. New head coach Bryan Murray has basically echoed these sentiments in his comments on the issue.

”I have a pretty good idea of how he’s going to be in a game,” said Murray.

“Being in a game might be a little different, but he’s very, very competitive, and I’m real confident he’s going to be a very good goalie for us this year.”

Well, I’m glad he’s confident, because I’m not. There’s no arguing Hasek is a gamer, and having gone out on a sour note in Detroit, he likely has a fire lit under him to prove he still has it. But you can’t fight father time, regardless of how motivated you are.

As Sens fans, we’ve been through the rollercoaster that is inconsistent goaltending. Patrick Lalime may have shouldered too much of the blame for the meltdown in April of 2004, but he also didn’t do himself any favors with his unreliable play throughout that regular season. The warning signs of goaltending being an issue were there all year long, and fans of the team, myself very much included turned a blind eye. We said, well, the regular season doesn’t matter, it’s the post season that counts, and Lalime has always been solid then. To an extent, that’s true. The playoffs are what matters most. But when there looks to be a problem in February, it was naïve to think it would suddenly not be one in a few months.

If nothing else, all I want from Dominik Hasek is consistency. I do not expect him to steal games, though he might still be able to do so. Hold the fort steady and then, turn it up a notch in the more significant second season. Can he fulfill these expectations? Tonight against the Pens will be the first inkling into what we have gotten ourselves into.

Fortunately, for Hasek anyway, supposed phenom Sidney Crosby will likely not be playing. Did he pull something when fanning on a breakaway the other night?

The teams are playing back-to-back, with tonight’s game in Binghamton, NY, the home of the Sens AHL affiliate, and tomorrow’s in Wilkes Barre, PA, the city the Baby Pens call home. While it’s expected the Bingo game will sell out tonight, I’ve heard strange reports about a surprisingly large amount of tickets available in Wilkes Barre. Anyone have an explanation for this? Maybe some guessed that he would be sitting out one of the two games, but why would they assume it would be there’s? If anything, I would’ve thought they knew the Pens organization would’ve wanted to treat their AHL fans with a glimpse of their future rather than Binghamton.

Getting back to the Sens goaltending, Kelly Guard will play the second half of tonight’s game. He has been assigned to Bingo, but will play in one game before leaving. It will be his opportunity to make an impression.

The line-up up front will have a different look than the one that took the ice at the ACC in their Sunday win against the Leafs. Two of the four lines will remain in tact, the first of which being the much heralded Brandon Bochenski-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley combo. Once is a fluke, twice is evidence, so let’s see if BB has another memorable outing.

Besides that line, the team will be giving some players who are either on the bubble or guaranteed AHLers a look. The second line will Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil, which served as the third line on Sunday. Murray has talked about expecting a lot from this group, both on the score sheet and as far as energy. While I’m not sure I’m sold on Neil being a third liner, I’m alright with them giving him the opportunity in the pre-season to show he belongs there. Neil has been one of the hardest working Sens since joining the organization, often the very heart and soul of the club, so he deserves a chance to improve his standing.

The third and fourth lines will be Denis Hamel-Chris Kelly-Patrick Eaves and Grant Potulny-Steve Martins-Danny Bois. All of those third liners are on the bubble and trying to win one of those last spots with the big club, so expect all three of them to leave it all on the ice tonight. It seems like Hamel and Kelly have a leg up on Eaves, which disappoints me because I’ve been excited at the idea of Eaves being with the Sens this year. Both Potulny and Bois have already been assigned to Bingo, so they’re not playing for jobs, but I’m sure each will want to leave a good impression on the Sens brass watching. Martins is another player trying to stick with the main team, but his chances don’t look good.

The defence core will also have a slightly different appearance tonight. Chris Phillips and Zdeno Chara will play together, but by now that’s kind of assumed as they’ve been married on the ice for years. The second pairing is a repeat of Sunday as Lance Ward and youngster Andrej Meszaros are teamed up. Meszaros impressed many who saw the Sunday night game with his play at the both ends of the ice, and in knocking a Leaf out, Ward did what he largely brought here for. The third coupling on the blueline will be Christoph Schubert and Brennan Evams. With Meszaros having a strong game, Schubert could be behind the eight ball as far as winning that coveted sixth defenceman job, so he needs to have a good game if he wants to be in Ottawa in October. Evans has already been assigned to Bingo.

As with the Sunday game, tonight’s contest is not available on TV locally, but can be heard on the radio on The Team 1200, who also stream their broadcast on their site .


At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tonight's game is in Bingo, tomorrow's game is in W-B. Sid, Mario et al are playing tomorrow night, which makes the non sell-out that much more surprising.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Yeah, I've since realized that. Very perplexing.


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