Monday, October 03, 2005

It's finally over

The Ottawa Senators wrapped up their pre-season yesterday with a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Dominik Hasek and Ray Emery split the shut out, and according to the people who saw the game, both looked very good in the process. As well, the HSB Line, as it’s apparently been dubbed, continued to roll, as Dany Heatley chalked up two goals and an assist in the victory.

The Sens finish the pre-season an impressive 7-1. Obviously, a great pre-season record means nothing in late March when the playoff spots are being decided, but it’s nice to go into October with some momentum.

Having said all that, if you’ve noticed a significant decrease in the amount of time I've spent discussing the actual pre-season games, it’s by choice. I’m all pre-seasoned out, I guess. Frankly, I was ready for the season to start about a week ago. As far as I’m concerned, Wednesday cannot come soon enough.

Before they drop the puck 85 hours from now at the ACC to start playing in games that actually mean something, the Senators have to finalize their roster. It’s expected that the final decisions on that end will come today, as the players that will likely get sent down to Binghamton will have to clear waivers, and they’ll want the 24 hour period.

At this point, it’s still a guessing game as to who will stick with the big club and get those last remaining jobs, but most who follow the team seem to agree that some guys have more of an inside track as we’re going down the stretch than others.

Despite some ideas that perhaps, with Chris Neil’s third line experiment possibly coming to an end and him returning to his fourth line spot, the other tough guy Brian McGrattan’s days up in Ottawa could be numbered, I still don’t think that is the case. John Muckler and Bryan Murray have spent a lot of time pandering the masses, talking about how this team needs to get tougher, and so they can’t exactly then go and send the exact opposite message by shipping the best fighter on the team down to the AHL affiliate. Besides, McGrattan participated in what many are calling the best hockey fight they’ve seen in years on Saturday night at the Corel Centre against another tough guy on the bubble, Montreal’s Raitis Ivanas. I talked to one person who was at the game and she said the roar McGrattan got was comparable to a lot of goals.

That leaves on forward spot open, and really, it might not stay empty for as long as we all originally thought. Reports continue to come out that Vaclav Varada’s progress is coming along at a good speed, and that he might be back sooner than anticipated. This probably shouldn’t be news considering Varada’s work ethic and toughness are well known. And after all, he did come back from a torn ACL, which keep most people out 4-6 months, in a little more than 2 months the last time there was hockey. Still, he won’t be ready on opening night, and so for the time being, there is a chance for either Denis Hamel or Chris Kelly to jump on in.

The reports from the last two games against the Habs say that Hamel struggled while Kelly played well. Both got a lot of ice time because they were used on the powerplay, and Ottawa took many many penalties over the last two nights. Both Kelly and Hamel have to clear waivers in order to go back to the AHL, and many seem to think that either one, but especially Hamel, would get gobbled up by another team. One with less depth than Ottawa, I suppose, because Hamel could probably be a third liner on a lot of NHL teams right now. Of course, they said that about defenceman Lance Ward and he went through waivers just fine.

The battle on defence remains the one I’m watching closest. Andrej Meszaros’s play apparently declined in the last two pre-season games, but it’s worth noting that this is a kid who’s played A LOT of hockey. He played in the rookie tournament and in seven of the eight pre-season games. Meanwhile, Christoph Schubert’s play has coincidentally gotten better as Meszaros’ went down. When listening to the parts of the games I did hear, I heard a lot of “Schubert in the slot… Schubert misses the net!”, or variations of it. He was in the mix in Thursday’s game against the Penguins, but didn’t have the finish I would’ve liked to have seen.

However, like with Hamel and Kelly, the issue of holding onto the player will likely factor into the decision as to what defenceman to keep. I know we’d all like it to simply come down to who the better blueliner is, but it’s not that simple. Basically, Schubert has to clear waivers. Meszaros does not. As I talked about the other day, the team has invested a lot of time in developing Christoph Schubert, and eventually, you’d think they’d want to see if he’s capable of being an NHL defenceman. In previous years, there were really no jobs for him to win, but with one available this year, I’d imagine they’d at least want to give the big German a chance to sink or swim.

As well, even though his play has been strong, Andrej Meszaros is still only 19 (20 very soon, I believe) and he’s yet to play a single pro game in North America. While Schubert’s development is further along, Meszaros is still maturing as a player. Would it not serve his growth better to be in a place where he can get 20+ minutes, get time on the first powerplay unit, and play against the other team’s top players rather than 10 minutes on the third defence pairing in Ottawa? Maybe I’m out of whack on that one.

Either way, we shouldn’t have to wait long for the decision to be made, and if it’s not today, it will obviously come down tomorrow. I bet a few of the guys who I’ve talked about had a sleepless night last night, but it’s almost over boys.

Once we know the roster, I plan to do an indepth look, player-by-player, at the team for the 2005-06 season. As well, with the season almost upon us, I guess it’s time I do my official predictions/prev for the season. I had been putting them off, and then at one point decided not to even do them, but alas, I have thought better of it and will succumb to temptation and offer my sure-to-be brilliant picks for this coming NHL year. As you’ve seen with my NFL picks, I have Kreskin-like abilities in this area. Get your house deeds ready folks, because you can put them on the line with these picks. I guarantee it*

Barring an unforeseen situation, I plan to do an Eastern Conference preview tomorrow morning, and the Western Conference version later that night.

So basically, I will be doing a lot of blogging over the next couple days, which in turns means neglecting the things I should be spending my free time doing.

* guarantee not valid; Chris McMurtry will not be held accountable for any foolish bets you make based on the guesswork he does as far as who finishes where in the upcoming National Hockey League season.


At 11:11 PM, Blogger aquietgirl said...

I'll be at the ACC's opening night party, dressed as a Leaf fan to hopefully score some tickets (yes, I dare scoop so low. Anything for Spezza and Alfie ...). Wish me luck.


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