Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 1

THE GOOD:

Andrej Meszaros: With each game, it seems like the confidence grows. Both his own as a player, as well as the coaching staff’s in the young rookie defenceman. Meszaros got ice time on the powerplay and the penalty killing unit when the game was still close, and excelled in the spots. If someone didn’t tell you, there’s no way you’d guess he’s 20 years old and has only a handful of NHL games under his belt. His five hits registered led the team and he made several veteran-like plays in his own end when Tampa was putting on the pressure.

Chris Neil the goal scorer. By registering his fourth goal of the season, and first at even strength, proving it’s not just a powerplay phenomenon, Neil now has more goals than teammates Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, Brandon Bochenski, and Bryan Smolinski as well as heralded goal scorers Mario Lemieux, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Saku Koivu, Jason Arnott, Todd Bertuzzi, Brad Richards, Alexei Yashin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexei Kovalev, Bill Guerin, Mike Modano, Shane Doan, Martin St. Louis, Mark Recchi, and Jarome Iginla. Oh, and a certain rookie in Pittsburgh. He’s becoming a regular Rocket Richard. His NHL career high for goals in a season is 8. At this pace, he’ll beat that by the end of November. And it’s clear the coaching staff is giving Neil the ball to run with. He finished with 16:08 of icetime, 4th among all Senators’ forwards. I like to think I’m pretty good at following this team’s development, but I never saw this coming.

Daniel Alfredsson. Just read what I said about Alfie’s play in every other Sens game. Looking for an early Hart Trophy candidate? Vote #11.

Peter Schaefer. Schaefer’s had a good season thus far, but his good play has mostly been limited to his strong forechecking, excellent play along the boards, and good defensive zone coverage. Last night, you could add offensive force to that list. In addition to his highlite reel goal, he was a presence in the Lightning’s end all night. Once Martin Havlat comes back from his banishment, it’d be nice if they can get something going together on the third line.

Garry Galley on color commentary. Galley has replaced my enemy Greg Millen on the Sportsnet broadcasts. I missed his first outing because I was at the Corel Centre in person, but I was very impressed with what I heard last night. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because I’ve always enjoyed Galley’s radio shows on The Team 1200, but sometimes, good on radio doesn’t mean good in the booth.

THE BAD:

The overall pace of the game. You’d think a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning, defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Ottawa Senators, the consensus favorites to take it from them, with all the offensive talent on both sides, would be nonstop excitement, right? Wrong. It looked a lot like that old NHL we pray never rears its ugly head ever again. Both teams played conservatively for the majority of the contest, and it was not much fun to watch. It got better in the third when, with Ottawa up 2-1, Tampa was forced to take chances offensively to get back in the game, thus creating odd man rushes at both ends of the ice. However, it didn’t last because Ottawa pounced on those openings with two quick goals to essentially put it out of reach. From then on, Tampa looked to be playing to run the clock down and the Sens, though not laying back completely, weren’t trying to run up the score either. I imagine casual fans, with no real rooting interest either way, looked at the schedule, saw this, and said “this seems like a game I’d want to check out”. If you did, sorry. It wasn’t even half as entertaining as the New York-New York game on Wednesday night at MSG. Let’s hope this was an aberration and not a glimpse into what the new NHL will look like with players and coaches having adjusted accordingly.

Nick Tarnasky’s hit from behind on Patrick Eaves. It happened late in the third, with the game pretty much over, so I imagine some missed it, but it was vicious. Eaves caught the edge of the top of the boards, and even though he wears a visor, still got a nasty cut on his face that forced him to leave the game. Worst of all, no penalty was assessed. How the officials could’ve missed it is beyond me, as it happened just as Eaves passed the puck. Dreadful.

Chris Phillips. Phillips is usually ol’ reliable on the backend, but he struggled last night. Several times he gave the puck away, he was routinely out of position in his own end, and made more than a couple bad passes. I’m sure it was just an off night for Phillips, who’s always been a slow starter of sorts.

The ice at the St. Pete Times Forum. I’m not sure if it was the weather or just a bad job by the arena staff, but the condition of the ice looked to be atrocious. The puck was bouncing all night and players were falling down for seemingly no reason. Hockey in warm climates has to face this every now and then and last night they got caught.

THE OPPOSITION:

Tampa played the night before, while the Sens hadn’t been on the ice for a game in five days, so maybe the level of rest was uneven, but the Lightning did not look like an elite team. With the exception of a few rushes where their top forwards made pylons out of the Senators best two defencemen, they were slow, didn’t move the puck well, and failed to sustain any pressure in the Sens’ end. It was interesting to note that last season’s MVP, Martin St. Louis, spent most of the game on the third and fourth lines. Of their other top players, Vincent Lecavalier at least generated some offense, while Brad Richards was invisible most of the night. Dan Boyle, the Ottawa native who brought the Cup to the nation’s capital last summer, had a terrible game, fanning on at least two shots and looking uncomfortable most of the night. In net, much had been made about how Tampa would be hurt by the loss of Nikolai Khabibulin, but so far this season, John Grahame had held his own while the Bulin Wall has struggled behind an inferior team. While no one can fault Grahame for the Bolts’ loss last night, he also didn’t make any of the big saves that a team can use as a momentum builder. Even in a weak division, Tampa will need to fine tune things if they plan on making another run at the Cup, because the team I saw Friday night did not look like one I’d bet on repeating. Especially noteworthy was their awful powerplay. They went 0 for 6 with the man advantage, but even worse, on five of those opportunities, failed to register a single shot on goal during the PP. With all the weapons they have upfront, that is unacceptable, and I imagine their poor performance will result in not only a stern tongue lashing from the coach but extended practices.

UP NEXT:

If you’d look at your NHL schedule, you’d see the Sens are schedule to face former Czar Jacques Martin in Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow night. In case you missed it, due to the Hurricane Wilma, the game has been rescheduled for December 5th. Instead of heading south, the Sens have a few days off before going up to Raleigh to play the Carolina Hurricanes, a team I’m interested in seeing. TSN.ca’s wacky power rankings had them at #3 behind Ottawa and the Maple Leafs, yet I can’t understand why. They have some promising young players, the most notable being Eric Staal, who’s off to a flaming start, and rookie goalie Cam Ward, and might provide stiff competition for the still unbeaten Senators.

1 Comments:

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Glad to see I'm not insane. I listened to some of the postgame show on the Team 1200, and they pretty much disagreed with me on everything.

For example...

"The overall pace of the game" - Van Allen called it "Exciting". WTF? I was bored to tears for much of the game... it was so choppy. I used to love the Ottawa-Tampa games, but this one was a let down. They'd better pick up the pace for Nov 3rd - I have tickets.

"Chris Phillips" - They gave Phillips the "4th star" for being the "hardest working Sen". Excuse me? Hardest working at what exactly? Trying to get Tampa back in the game? He practically gift-wrapped two pucks to Tampa players, and it's a miracle they didn't score on both chances.

On another note:

"Nick Tarnasky’s hit from behind on Patrick Eaves"

I'm assuming the league won't discipline Tarnasky even though this was a dirty hit, and could very well have injured Eaves far more than it did. Perhaps they'll prove me wrong - but this is where the "kicking taboo" I referred to earlier drives me nuts. Vicious hits like this have nothing to do with hockey - they are on par with kicking, and should be dealt with harshly.

 

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