Thursday, October 06, 2005

It was only one game...

but did anyone else get a feeling of de ja vu until about 10:15?

Because up to that point, last night’s Sens-Leafs contest greatly resembled much of the playoff games that have taken place in that same venue over the years: the Sens, unable to build momentum, face a hot goalie and look like they’d sooner develop a new math theorum than manage to light the lamp. Fortunately, they sucked it up and pulled it out. Maybe that’s a sign that this really is a new team with a new swagger, as it’s not unfair to suggest that in the past, getting scored on with 90 seconds left would’ve demoralized the crew and had them packing their bags. Instead, they tied it up, played a solid OT, and then took it in the shootout.

If special teams are to be as significant in this new NHL as we’ve been led to believe, then the Senators have some work to do in that area. Firstly, they have to cut down on the penalties. A few of them (Chris Neil’s crosscheck on Eric Lindros) were alright with me, but many were just brainfarts by. Sens fans can only pray this was just part of the growing pains that will come with the enforcement of the new rules and not an indication of how undisciplined this club will be in ’05-’06. Even if they do adjust and take less penalties, their PK still needs some work. Last season it was 20th in the league, and Bryan Murray had said he wanted to rectify that by giving more penalty killing shifts to the top players on the team. Whether or not that approach will prove successful remains to be seen, but that’s still an area that has a ways to go. Some of the guys on those crews did well, but as a whole, I was not pleased.

On defence, there were a few issues. Wade Redden had an awful game. He was shaky playing the point on the powerplay, was soft even by Redden standards in his own zone, and took three of those aforementioned dumb, untimely penalties. #6 didn’t get in a lot of pre-season play because the team excused him to care for his ill mother, so maybe that was still weighing on his mind, or perhaps he’s just rusty, but whatever it was, let’s hope he gets it rectified quick because this is a guy the team will lean on heavily this season. As well, Anton Volchenkov did not look good out there. For a lot of the contest, he managed to become David Blaine and morph into a pylon, as Leafs forwards routinely went around the Russian. This might have been excusable if the “A-Train” had brought his physical game to Toronto, but he wasn’t much of a force in that sense either. They gave Volchenkov a big vote of confidence by signing him to a new deal and by trading Greg de Vries and he needs to respond accordingly.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought Zdeno Chara had a fantastic game in both ends of the ice. He was neutralizing Toronto forwards for a lot of the night, and was a big reason the Leafs didn’t put up more goals during their powerplay opportunities. I also liked the play of Brian Pothier, as he made many smart plays with the puck and looked comfortable playing the point alongside Redden on the powerplay on a few occasions. The rookie Andrej Meszaros seemed to have gotten stuck to the bench as he was not on the ice past the first period very much.

Up front, Daniel Alfredsson was a monster. He channeled all those boos coming from Leaf Nation into motivation, scoring both of their regulation goals and the shootout winner. It’s worth noting that in the third, with the team floundering and the clock running low, Murray broke up the much heralded Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Brandon Bochenski line and put the captain in the rookie’s place, to dazzling results. From their first shift together, they were dominant, and looked to be pressuring hard enough for a goal until Chara took a double minor. They were able to sustain that momentum though and were the reason the team won the game. So who had one game in the “How Long Will the HSB Line Last?” office pool? Of course, this doesn’t mean that Murray won’t go back to it, but after tonight’s result, I would think he’d at least milk this new combo for all it’s worth first. But before he even ponders that decision, can Mr. Murray please sit Jason Spezza down and make him understand that those cute lil’ blind drop passes may work in junior and maybe even in the AHL, but that that nonsense won’t fly in the big league. How many times was a turnover created by this idiotic play? If someone watching was playing a “take a shot everytime Spezza coughs up the puck on a drop pass” drinking game, they would’ve needed a liver transplant. Fix that, please.

As for the other forwards, I was particularly impressed with the play of three other guys: Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, and Martin Havlat. Vermette and Kelly, both third liners, got a ton of time on the penalty kill and were very good when on the ice in that role. Vermette especially. They generated numerous short handed scoring chances and probably deserved to get more even strength ice time than they were given. Havlat was a beast out there, skating his way around Leafs defenders with ease. His finish didn’t look like it was in mid-season form, but that will come with game play

In nets, for all the talk of the geriatric goaltenders, both were on top of their game. Dominik Hasek looked somewhat wonky early on, but found his game quick, and for most of the night, Ed Belfour looked eerily similar to the guy who basically single handedly won the 2004 series between these two teams. A lot has been made about whether or not either one of these old timers had reached their expiration date, but nothing was sour tonight.

For Leafs fans, the fact that this wasn’t a blowout, and that their team was the better club for most of the night, should give them comfort. I’ve maintained for most of the offseason that this team will not be the embarrassment some other apparently they will, and that have enough tools to be competitive most nights, even against teams with superior talent like Ottawa. Any team with Pat Quinn behind the bench will have a good work ethic and this team, regardless of who's in the line-up, has a never say die attitude.

Oh, and Sean Avery: want to explain to me, and Mats Sundin, why exactly visors are for pussies again?

Overall, even though Ottawa got the two points, this team did not look like Stanley Cup champions. Don’t go planning those parade routes just yet. It was refreshing that they came back and showed some resiliency to win, but it was a sloppy affair for most of the night. Still, in the Battle Of Ontario, we’ll take ‘em any way we can. Even though the score shoulda been 1-0 Ottawa in the first period.

7 Comments:

At 4:05 AM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Give Dom and the Eagle forty games and see how they feel. Wonky may be an apt description at that point as well.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I was quite pleased with Murray's decision to not only create but double-shift the Spezza-Alfie-Heatley line in the third period. Jacques Martin would never have done that in a million years. Starting the season with a character win like this one feels pretty good.

 
At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great first game review -- only thing I don't agree on, Neil's cross-check on Lindros was a bad penalty at a bad time. Lindros laid a clean check on Fisher (I think...pretty sure Fisher actually had the puck), not quite sure what a corss-check to the back thn achieves?

Hasek looked his usual, goofy self somehow stopping the puck.

 
At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Romanswinter said...

I totally disagree with your recap of the game. Reading your review, one would think the Sens lost the game if you they did not know the score. You have to take some things into account when your looking at this game.
First off, it was the FIRST game in a year and a half. It was the first game of a relaunched NHL season. In addition, it was the first game under a new coach and a new system. Secondly, this game was being played in the hollowed ACC. A place as sacred and holy as a church for many fans, it is quite a hostile and intimidating enviroment for any team, let alone the ach nemesis Senators. Thirdly, as mentioned, this was just no ordinary game, this was against the Leafs, the Sens killers for the last several years. The ultimate enemy.
Regardless of the rosters of these teams, the deck wasnt on the side of the Sens in this one. Could there have been a more difficult opening game for the Sens to play? Where other game could have been scheduled to make it a more difficult opening game?
The Sens came out against the leafs like they always do in a playoff game. They raced out of the gate like they were jacked up on triple doses of speed. They came out overly excited, overly agressive, overly confident. This was nothing new to see. Although dissapointed by this, I had realized that until they shake the Leafs curse, and the notion that the Leafs bully them to victory, this will always remain, especially now under the new Bench boss with the "dont turn the other cheek" attitude. Had that Smolinski goal counted as it should have, I think we would have ended up seeing a one sided game with a large senators margin. Instead the opening goal went to the Leafs and it changed the dynamics of the game. I do believe had they Sens gotten that early goal they would have calmed down and played at a much safer pace.
Did you see the speed at which the Sens were playing? They Leafs looked like old men on the ice. How many times did the Leafs start back on an odd man break only to have 2 or 3 sens speed up and get on defense before the Leafs even crossed the zone? How many times did a Sens player chase a puck that was slowly but clearly headed towards a leaf stick, only to snatch it away and race down the ice blowing the Leaf player in the dust behind them. There is no doubt the Sens felt the pressure of having something to prove, and were not as focused to the detail of the gamplan as they should.
But the game went back and forth up and down the ice, good floorchecking and defense on both ends for the most part. Both Goalies were solid, especially the Eagle, who kept the Leafs in that game in the first and in the early/middle part of the third. You also need to consider the Leafs had 10, count them 10!!! powerplays. That is an entire period worth of play on the powerplay. You know as well as I do that these penalties were going on all game, and only the most blatant ones were called, ie, when a guy falls down. Its a little ridiculous if you ask me, but I think the players will get the hang of it soon. But the leafs had 10 power plays!! Against most other teams, they would have scored more goals given those chances.
I agree with the fact the Redden looked terrible and made a ton of mistakes. I agree that Spezza was a little careless, and needs to realize he isnt in the AHL, and he is playing amongst men now. But his play wasnt that bad. Boshenski on the other hand... well he clearly seemed overwhelmed out there on the ice, he made a lot of mistakes and when he was involved in the action, but seemed to stay out of the action for the most part all together.
I disagree with the idea the Volchenkov played poorly. He was banging bodies all night, he took a lot of hits and dished a lot out. Ask some of the Leafs players, I think they will concur that Volchenkov was out in force last night. Did he make mistakes? Yes he made a couple, and one big one. But I wouldnt say he had a bad game because of those two mistakes.
In past seasons, I dont think the Alfredsson scores the first game tieing goal. I know under Martin he doesnt score the second goal. The sens showed a resiliancy last night that I have never seen before. They showed a never give up attitude that in the past was clearly evident when a team was able to stifle them most the game. As much as I appreciate what Jaque Martin did for this club, the fact is he taught a system of play. When players believed in that system and they were able to execute they were outstanding, and the Sens record over the past few years reflects that. But when that system could be shut down by a team or a goalie ( Belfour, Broduer), they shut down the confidence in the players ability to make that system work. Rob Ray was on local TV here (I live in the Buffalo NY area) and he said of his time with the Sens, that the team was like Robots. They played the game for the execution, and constantly followed the system regardless of the game situation or opponent. He felt the sens played with little emotion, because the system was what they were taught to believe in.
The Sens shattered that existence last night, and fought like dogs, on skill and emotion at the end of the game to come back and win. They didnt hang it up early cause Belfour was shut them down, and they didnt hang it up after the Lindros goal.
Although I would have liked to see a more dominating game by the sens from the start, I came away with the feeling that this team may actually have the "heart" to win the big games, the tough games, the unwinnable games. I really feel confident that this is the team that is capable of skating around the ice with the Cup in their hands.
The Leafs on the other hand should be ashamed that they couldnt close the deal on the Sens last night. At home in front of an adoring crowd, with a 1 goal lead late in the third, then again with just mins left, says something about these guys. I think you will see a much different, much more confident and composed Sens team at the Corel center next week, and a true indication how these teams stack up this season.
My only concern is that I dont think Hasek will last the season. I winced everytime there was a lot of action in front of him. I just dont see it happening. I hope the Sens trade for a veteran back up. Getting to see a lot of Binghamton games since I live here in Rochester (and they play binghamton in the AHL) I dont think very highly of "razor" and have never been impressed by his play even in the AHL.

 
At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Romanswinter said...

PS. Woops, sorry about all those typos! Proof reading for the WIN next time :)

 
At 5:37 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

only thing I don't agree on, Neil's cross-check on Lindros was a bad penalty at a bad time. Lindros laid a clean check on Fisher (I think...pretty sure Fisher actually had the puck), not quite sure what a corss-check to the back thn achieves?

On all the replays I saw, it looked like Lindros got his elbows up on Fisher, so I'd disagree that it was a clean hit.

Taking any penalty in the last two minutes of a tied game is not smart, sure, but I can live with ones where a guy like Chris Neil is sticking up for a teammate who has (in his mind) been wronged. Those penalties are a lot easier to swallow, for me anyway, than the the ones Wade Redden took all night, which were just lazy penalties because he wasn't working hard enough.

 
At 6:08 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

First off, it was the FIRST game in a year and a half. It was the first game of a relaunched NHL season. In addition, it was the first game under a new coach and a new system

True, but Murray played with 80% of this roster in almost all pre-season games. As well, the Leafs had even more turnover in personnel, and they adjusted.

Thirdly, as mentioned, this was just no ordinary game, this was against the Leafs, the Sens killers for the last several years. The ultimate enemy.

Since the '01-'02 season, Ottawa is about .500 in regular season games in Toronto, so the idea that they were slaying a beast doesn't exactly fly with me. Come April or May, yeah, then you'd have a point.

Boshenski on the other hand... well he clearly seemed overwhelmed out there on the ice, he made a lot of mistakes and when he was involved in the action, but seemed to stay out of the action for the most part all together.

The problem with Bochenski, as I see it anyway, is that when he's not producing offensively, he's useless. He appears to be very one dimensional. He was not a physical force, I can't recall him making any good defensive plays. At least when Martin Havlat isn't scoring, he's making plays happen (a lot of times, almost all by himself). At least when Daniel Alfredsson isn't scoring, he's playing a great two-way game. Bochenski seemed to have nothing else to him other than his scoring ability.

I disagree with the idea the Volchenkov played poorly. He was banging bodies all night, he took a lot of hits and dished a lot out.

NHL.com's game stats would say otherwise. According to them, he had zero hits given. How does that equal banging bodies all night? I'm all right but some A-Train mistakes if that part of his game is there. It wasn't last night, no matter how you try to spin it. He played like shit.

The Sens shattered that existence last night, and fought like dogs, on skill and emotion at the end of the game to come back and win. They didnt hang it up early cause Belfour was shut them down, and they didnt hang it up after the Lindros goal.

I agree, and it's something I noted, as it's probably accurate to say that in the past, after that Lindros goal, they would've packed it in. But that still doesn't make up for 50 minutes of pretty uninspired play, does it? The end result was what they wanted, yeah, but getting there was not pretty, and you don't want to have to do that too often during the season.

My only concern is that I dont think Hasek will last the season. I winced everytime there was a lot of action in front of him. I just dont see it happening. I hope the Sens trade for a veteran back up. Getting to see a lot of Binghamton games since I live here in Rochester (and they play binghamton in the AHL) I dont think very highly of "razor" and have never been impressed by his play even in the AHL.

This is a legitimate concern, and one I share, but at some point, you just have to take that chance. Based solely on one game, I think the team will be fine.

As for Emery, he was fantastic in the pre-season. He seems highly motivated, and I'm more comfortable with him coming in should Hasek self destruct than I was, say, six weeks ago. As for not being impressed with him in the AHL, he didn't have a strong year last season, but before that, was considered to be among the best goaltenders in the league.

 

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