Saturday, October 29, 2005

Here we go again

Historically, Leafs-Sens regular season games have always meant a whole lot more to Ottawa fans than Leaf Nation. Mostly because the Leafs would always beat us in the playoffs, when winning mattered most, a victory in, say, February meant very little to them. For us, it was the only consolation prize we could collect. We also used every regular season win as rationalization for why this would be the year the Sens would finally get that 800 pound gorilla off their back and slay the Leafs in the post season. I think we all know how that’s worked out for us.

However, so far, in the two previous regular season games, the Sens have had the Leafs’ number, beating them 3-2 and 6-5. But neither of those wins were particularly pretty for Ottawa. The first, on opening night, saw them play like absolute crap for the first 50 or so game minutes, and though they were able to come back from it and show the kind of resiliency they always lacked under the previous regime, it still wasn’t the domination we’d all been hoping for. The second game was better, but still saw the Senators give up a 4-2 lead by allowing three consecutive Toronto goals. It looked a lot like de ja vu, but once again, they bounced back to get the win.

For the Senators, this is a chance to prove to Leaf Nation they’re for real. Because both of their wins earlier in the year came in the form of a shootout, Leaf fans have been able to dismiss their losses as “skills competition defeats” and not real hockey games (were they saying this when they won the shootout?). Even Jason Allison, the shootout expert he is, doesn’t give them the credit for the wins in a story in today’s Toronto Sun.

The Leafs are not crazy about giving Ottawa credit for anything but the two extra points.

"Yeah, it's two extra points they got," Jason Allison said. "But, really, as a team you don't feel like you lost. It's an extra point but mentally, it's not like losing."

Jason, when it comes to shooouts, you should always feel like a loser.

For the Leafs, it’s an opportunity to once again prove they can play with one of the elite teams of the league. Before the season started, when everyone and their mother was making predictions on who would finish where (take a look back at my own to see how pointless such an exercise is), the Leafs were routinely dismissed as a non-playoff team by pundits of all varieties. However, so far, they’ve been surprisingly good. It’s still early, yes, but they look more like a 90-point team that will be a tough win for any opponent they face than a 70-point team others will romp.

That’s not to say they’re out of the woods. Pat Quinn, the Tom Benjamin off coaching in that he’s seemingly always cranky and grumpy, has yet to be pleased with their efforts, and usually calls out half the team (not by name, of course) after a game, win or loss. They’ve also lost two of their last three.

Ed Belfour has had to stand on his head more than few times for them to win already, and you have to wonder how long his back will hold up to such pressure. As well, their much criticized defence core has been carried by Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle, both of whom are off to career best seasons, but they can’t be expected to log nearly 30 minutes a game and not be completely out of gas come April.

Up front, Eric Lindros is off to a sizzling start, making John Ferguson Jr. look like the smartest GM in the league (nevermind that a handful of other teams, including Ottawa, made pitches for the Big E), but they still have glaring holes, especially with captain Mats Sundin still out of the line-up with a bad eye.

I don’t believe we’ve truly seen what these two teams, as transformed as they are from when they met in the 2004 playoffs, look like when playing at full tilt yet. Not against each other. Not in the two games they’ve already played. Maybe tonight, we will.

As a Sens fans, I’m inclined to say that if we do, Jason Spezza and Co. will walk all over the Buds, but by now, I’ve learned to know better than that. Against these pesky Leafs, nothing is certain. Except, of course, that Darcy Tucker’s a dick.

OTHER GAME NOTES:

- The Gary Suter/Al MacInnis defence pairing of this generation, Aki Berg and Wade Belak, are both questionable for tonight’s game. Sens fans everyone are disappointed. Berg has rib problems while Belak got his face broken in a fight with Colton Orr on Thursday night. He’ll have to wear a shield if he does play, which means he can’t fight. If he can’t fight, why ever bother playing him? The Leafs might call up Staffan Kronwall or Andy Wozniewski from the Marlies to fill in (why no love for former 67’s captain Brendan Bell?). As well, Mariusz Czerkawski might also miss the game with a shoulder injury. A crushing blow to the Leafs and their chances of winning, I know.

- The Sens are completely healthy, but are still without Martin Havlat due to the suspension. Two more games to serve for kicking a man in the balls with a hockey skate on his foot.

- Christoph Schubert will take the place of Brian Pothier in the line-up, likely on the third defence pairing with Andrej Meszaros. It will be the German's first NHL game of his pro career. I'm glad Pothier's out of the mix against a physical team like the Leafs, but two rookie playing together on the back-end? Eeep.

- Dominik Hasek will get the start for the Senators. Meaning, if it goes to a shootout again, Leaf fans, you don’t even have to bother to watch. You know how it’ll end.

- Bryan McCabe doesn’t believe the Sens are a gritty team.

"They've got a lot more offence now," Bryan McCabe said. "But gritty? Who knows. We'll see. It's a long year."

Apparently Zdeno Chara will have to throw him around like a rag doll again.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home

Listed on BlogShares