Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ottawa 4 Montreal 2


Ray Emery.
Much has been made about how if Dominik Hasek goes down with the serious injury most seem to think is inevitable, the Sens will be screwed and their chances of winning the Cup will dimish greatly (as if this isn’t true about nearly half the league and their goaltending situation). I think Ray Emery has been discounted by a lot of people. He’s a two-time AHL All-Star and has been considered the best North American goalie not in the NHL for a few years now. If worse comes to worse, I am comfortable with Ray Emery between the pipes. As comfortable as I would be if we had, say, Ed Belfour to fall back on? No, not really. But what team has both a great starter and an unquestionably reliable back-up? The same things that are said about the Sens can be said about Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado, New Jersey, Toronto, Boston, and basically every other supposed Cup contender not situated in San Jose. Last night was a glimpse into what we will have should “The Dominator” go down. Emery was sharp, dependable, and made some huge saves when called upon. From a back-up put into a game against a team that is red hot, that’s about all you can ask for. For a guy who’s still pretty wet behind the ears, he kept his cool like a veteran in a pretty difficult environment to step into.

Zdeno Chara fighting. I already know the counterpoint to this argument: in all likelihood whoever Chara is fighting is not as important to his team as “Big Z” is to the Sens, and yeah, that’s true. But sometimes you have to put your foot down. Daniel Alfredsson was sandwiched by two Canadiens’ elbows, and I was pleased to see Chara send a message by taking on the Habs’ supposed tough guy, Raitis Ivanas, one of the few NHLers who tips the scales at a comparable level as Zdeno. Despite slipping when throwing a punch (he still connected with it on the way down), Chara bodied Ivanas, forcing him to leave the game with a busted mouth, a cut below his eye and one less tooth. Let that be a message to any team wanting to take a run at Ottawa’s skilled players: it will not be tolerated and Zdeno Chara is not a man to make mad. Bryan Murray’s “don’t turn the other check” mantra seems to be suiting big Chara just fine.

Brandon Bochenski. I thought this was Bo’s best game yet. He didn’t put up a goal, but had at least half a dozen good scoring opportunities and was constantly making things happen in the Canadiens end. If he keeps this pace up, eventually, one will go in. If not, he won’t last much longer on the top line or even up with the big team, because besides his offense there is little to his game. Still, it’s a positive that he seemed to turn a corner last night.

Patrick Eaves. I was surprised, but pleased, to see the rookie get a shot at playing on the Alfredsson-Bryan Smolinski line, and for the most part, he delivered on the opportunity. He did exactly what this line needed (and weren’t getting from Antoine Vermette the previous game), which was someone in the corners grinding, cycling the puck, and winning battles along the boards. As a result, the play of Smolinski, who as some of you probably know has become my whipping boy for this season, was elevated, as he had his best game of the season. Eaves worked hard from start to finish.

Antoine Vermette. I’ve been very hard on Vermette, raking him over the coals for his poor play against the Leafs, and I was prepared to do so again. He had an awful start to the game, staying on the ice for about a minute too long on an early shift (and it showed) as well as being on the ice and partly responsible for the Habs’ first goal, but as the game went on, he improved his play and by the third was playing very well. He was utilizing his excellent in an area besides the forecheck.

Spoiling our rivals home openers. This makes two of them now. Feels very good.


The lack of shooting. Having fired 33 shots at Jose Theodore, you might assume the Sens had a decent game as far as putting pucks to the net, but you’d be wrong. They were far too pass happy, especially in the second period. One thing we’ve seen in the NHL this season is putting the puck to the net, even when it seems like it’ll amount to nothing, is good. Because defencemen seem to be impotent as far as being able to clear forwards from in front of the net, goalies are seeing less pucks than ever, so it makes sense to throw rubber at the goalie. Already for the Senators this season, a handful of goals have come on shots that looked weak but went into because of either a juicy rebound or a goalie screened by another Ottawa player. I know with teams as talented as Ottawa, there can sometimes be a tendency to want to make pretty plays and highlight reel goals, but in this era where the other team can come back at the drop of dime (we saw it firsthand Monday night), you want to bury all the chances you have.

The powerplay. They made up for it slighty with the goal that made it 4-2, but up to that point, with the extra man, Ottawa looked lost. Some of that credit has to go to Montreal, who’s PK, with their speedy forwards and smart tactic of lining four guys up along the blueline, is very good, but even still, Ottawa has to capitalize on more of their powerplays. The Sens went 1-10 with the extra man, and on a four minute powerplay due to a boneheaded high stick from Radek Bonk (nice to seee he’s hurting other teams with his brainfarts now) didn’t even register a shot. It’s ironic that under Murray, the PP has struggled, while the PK was been mostly solid. He really is the anti-Jacques.

Brian Pothier. For the second night in a row, #2 was a weakspot. Against the Leafs, it was chalked up to his small size and inability to fight off physical pressure, but even the smaller Habs seemed to be able to take Pothier off the puck with ease as well as outmuscle him in the fight for pucks along the borders and in corners. I understand why Pothier gets ice time, because he’s a slick passer and good carrying the puck, but he’s quickly becoming our version of Wade Belak or Aki Berg. He looked downright embarrassing on the Habs’ first goal from Saku Koivu, who was his man to cover. When we have a supposedly NHL ready defenceman in Christoph Schubert just sitting on the sidelines itching to get some game time, why tolerate someone who’s consistently making himself a liability?


Last night was maybe not a fair test of how good these teams are when playing each other, as Montreal hadn’t played since Saturday while the Sens played their bitter rival the night before, but I thought the Habs looked good. Lacking the jump I saw in the New York game last Thursday, but that might be because Ottawa’s defence, even tired, is worlds better than the Rangers’ will ever be this season. A lot has been made about Alexander Perezhogin, but I thought if anything, he dragged down Alexei Kovalev and Saku Koivu when playing with them last night. That line did little, and I was more impressed with the play of the Mike Ribeiro line. On the backend, Craig Rivet and Andrei Markov, neither of whom I’ve ever been all that enamored with, were the best Habs’ blueliners. As a team, they did appear to take a lot of bad, unncesessary penalties, and were lucky the Sens weren't on their A-game as far as working the PP because this game could've been blown wide open.


The Sens have a real live day off tomorrow before some practices going into Saturday’s tilt against the Bruins at the Corel Centre. This will be their fifth consecutive game against a divisional rival, and I will interested to see how both the Senators and the B’s fare. If you recall, I picked Boston to win the Northeast over Ottawa, but it seems like Boston is off to a slow start. Vaclav Varada, who started skating with the team Monday, might be ready to play in time for Saturday, but it remains up in the air. With Mike Fisher out, they may not want to rush him back and risk him reinjuring himself worse.


At 2:11 AM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Good stuff Chris. Just so you know, it's Ivanans.

And I agree, Bochenski looked good. 18 minutes in icetime, too.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I've gotta agree with all your "good" points. Emery looked great, and Bochenski was miles better than in the first few games. It should start oing in for him soon.

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Chris Neville said...

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At 9:37 AM, Anonymous pale said...

I think you'll find that goalies like Emery and Tellvqist - both of whom played in AHL last season - will be sharp early as they played under most of the new rules last year.

I hope Hasek and Belfour were watching closely to see how these guys adjust and handle the puck - I know I saw no hesitation in Emery around the net agaist Montreal.


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