Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Carolina 3 Ottawa 2

THE GOOD:

Peter Schaefer getting time on the powerplay. I was glad to see Schaefer, who played his best game of the season Friday night in the win over the Lightning, get rewarded with a shot to play on the powerplay. Since he was traded to the Senators in the summer of 2002, Schaefer has consistently been one of the hardest working players on the team, and though his offensive output isn’t always as steady as fans of the team would like, you can never question the effort.

Vaclav Varada’s big hit on Kevyn Adams. Varada’s role on the team this year might be different than it was last season, when he was getting a lot of time on the top line with Marian Hossa and Radek Bonk, but they’ll still need him to provide that pesty, agitator energy. Hits like that one set a physical tone.

Wade Redden. Even though he didn’t figure into the scoring, I liked Wade Redden’s game, especially in his own end. After starting the season slow with an absolutely horrible first game against the Leafs on opening night, Redden’s play has gotten increasingly better every game so far.

Patrick Eaves netting his first NHL goal. The kid has worked his tail off for the four games he’s been up with the big club and up to last night only had an assist and a nasty cut on his face from a vicious hit from behind to show for it. So I was happy Eaves collected his first ever NHL goal less than a minute into the game. I keep saying Eaves will go back down to Bingo, and then he plays again, so I’m not making that mistake again. With the way “Mr. Glass” Mike Fisher is built, even if he is sent down, Eaves could be back up in a week. Fisher might stub his toe and be out a month.

THE BAD:

No longer undefeated. Yeah, they were going to lose eventually, but in the back of my head, I had some romantic idea of the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators going undefeated. Would the 1972 Miami Dolphins care about that one too?

The liability that is Brian Pothier. Again, nothing new, I know, but it still frustrates me to no end to see Pothier get pushed around in his own end the way he does. Without question, he’s the one Senator who, when they touch the puck in the defensive zone, I hold my breath. In addition to the fact that he’s prone to giveaways, Pothier gets moved off the puck by opposition forwards regularly. I understand that he’s a good puck carrying defenceman, is solid on the powerplay, and has a nice passing touch, but are all these things worth the risk that he is as soon as the play comes to the Senators end? It’s disappointing that he’s paired with rookie Andrej Meszaros, who’s been very good this season, because on the one hand I want Meszaros to get the big time ice his play warrants, but I know that means Brian Pothier also takes the ice. It’s becoming quite the dilemma for me.

Zdeno Chara pinching on the PK. I talked about it previously, and it’s something that should be addressed. Zdeno Chara is a major part of the penalty killing unit, which is worlds better this season under Bryan Murray than it was with the previous regime, but he cannot pinch the way he did last night. On Carolina’s first goal, they were on the powerplay, and turned the puck over. One of the Ottawa forwards (I can’t recall who) chased the puck and Chara joined the rush for a two-on-one scoring opportunity. Normally, I’m all for these. But Chara, though relatively quick for someone who’s 6’9” and 260 pounds, doesn’t have the footspeed to do this kind of thing. Because if they do not score and the play continues, the opposition now has two of the penalty killers in a compromising position. Last night, it resulted in a goal.

Theatrics on ice. It’s been talked about elsewhere already this season, but this is the first time in a Sens game diving became a significant issue. There were two consecutive Senators penalties which absolutely saw the Hurricane player involved embellish the infraction by falling to the ice. This is not to say the initial penalty the Senators took was invalid. They know that you can’t impede a player with your stick, and you can’t take one of your hands of your own stick and put it on the opposing player, but if the player on the other side falling to the ice with a dive, they should be sent to the box too. The Senators combated it by doing it themselves, as Jason Spezza, after colliding with Erik Cole along the boards in the neutral zone, fell down despite the fact the contact was pretty minimal. It was still interference on Cole’s part, but Spezza should’ve had time in the sin bin as well. The TV crew, Dean Brown and Garry Galley, said that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if the Hurricanes were going to do it and not only get away with diving but prosper from it, the Sens might as well too. I disagree. It’s embarrassing, and the tired cliché of two wrongs not making a right seems appropriate here. Of course, the Hurricanes took the reigns again late in the game when Martin Gerber was bumped by Chris Neil with a few minutes left on the clock, and went down like he’d been shot. That was a major penalty because it put the Sens on the PK for two of the last three minutes of the game with them down a goal. Some might say that you can’t blame the ‘Canes for trying, but I can’t follow suit. These kind of things need to be eliminated from the game immediately. There was a time, a few years ago, when the NHL was being very proactive in their attempt to eliminate diving. They identified divers publicly and developed the negative stigma around it. For whatever reason, they’ve gone back on that since. Let’s hope the people in the league offices see this as the problem is it as act accordingly.

The impotent powerplay in the second half of the third period. The Sens powerplay has been pretty impressive this season, but last night it failed them. Down a goal, they had two golden opportunities. A 5-on-3 for over a minute and then a few minutes later another powerplay. They could not capitalize. Some credit must go to Carolina’s good penalty killers, who did a excellent job of shutting down the shooting lanes. The Sens were able to move the puck from player to player on both powerplays, but could not get shots through. If they did, they missed the net. Something tells me Bryan Murray will have some powerplay meetings before Thursday’s home game against the Habs.

NHL scheduling. I’m not blaming the NHL for the Sens’ loss, because ultimately they’re responsible, but the schedule they’ve had for the past two weeks has been awful. Including last night’s game, they played three games in the last 13 days.

Liberties taken with Dominik Hasek after the whistle. Yes, more complaining about officiating. The Hurricanes routinely slashed and chopped at Dominik Hasek’s glove and pads after the whistle and got no penalty. It continued throughout the game, and finally, Zdeno Chara had enough and manhandled one of the Carolina forwards. He was given a penalty. If the officials are not going to take care of it, then allow the Sens defencemen to.

THE OPPOSITION:

Much has been made about how the Ottawa Senators, under new coach Murray, are a different club, but if you want an example of a transformed team, look no further than Raleigh, NC and the Carolina Hurricanes. Previously, a slow, plodding team that has been among the league’s lowest scorers for years, the new ‘Canes, coached by Peter Laviolette, are fast skating and explosive. Similar to how the old Sens would never have come back to beat the Leafs, the old Hurricanes likely wouldn’t have come back after two quick, demoralizing goals. They fought back the ol’ fashioned way: outworking the Senators, who with a two goal lead laid back and didn’t continue pressing. The goals to even the score didn’t come right about, but they kept at it and it paid off with a W. They do look like a different team. They move the puck a lot better and are much more aggressive on both the forecheck and when carrying the puck into the opposing end, rather than simply dumping and chasing. Part of that is the personnel. Two of their big offseason moves were bringing in Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney, both of whom are small, speedy forwards, and they fit in well with the other players they’ve developed (Eric Staal, Matt Cullen, etc.). Their defence still looks to need some work, as especially in the first they let Sens forwards go to the net without paying any price. Oh, and remember my season preview when I said goaltending would be an issue for the ‘Canes? I’m an idiot. Martin Gerber was out of this world, making 44 saves, including, at least, 10 game saving ones, with the biggest being a save on Daniel Alfredsson with two seconds left in the game. I doubt he can play like this every night, but if they can get even a fraction of this play from Gerber and hot rookie Cam Ward, they’ll be well positioned come April. Want another example of how stupid predictions are: I had the Hurricanes missing the playoffs. Boy does that look bad right about now.

UP NEXT:

Maybe getting the inevitable loss out of the way will serve the Sens good and allow them to refocus and realize they’re not invincible. They’ll host the Canadiens Thursday night back at the Corel Centre. They beat the Habs a few weeks back when Montreal had their home opener, spoiling it badly, so you gotta think they’ll want some revenge. The Habs are playing pretty well despite not getting strong play from Jose Theodore, which should give fans of the team solice because previously, to even be competitive, they had to have Theo stand on his head most nights. He’ll come around eventually, and when he does, the Canadiens could be even more dangerous.

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