Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ottawa 5 Boston 1


All four lines rolling. For the first time since opening night, and maybe even into the pre-season, I thought all four of the Senators forward lines were on their A-game last night. I was especially impressed with the play of the Peter Schaefer-Antoine Vermette-Martin Havlat line. Even the fourth line made their presence felt. Getting over 6 and a half minutes was Brian McGrattan, by far his highest number this season, and he was not a liability out there. Previously, I had wondered why the team was using a roster spot on a guy who appeared to be pretty one dimensional and only used sparingly, especially when you have a guy like Denis Hamel sitting on the farm, but he had a good game.

Persisent skating through the neutral zone into the other team's end. Personally, in the previous four games, one of the most frustrating things has been the Sens inability to penetrate the opposition's zone. Often, the other team has lined up three players along their own blueline, and the Sens were forced to dump and chase. Not the case last night. With this team's speed and skill, hopefully this becomes the trend.

Dominik Hasek getting his 300th career win. Milestones like that don’t just fall out of the sky, so it’s nice that Hasek was able to achieve it in a Sens uniform. Let’s hope it won’t be the highlight of his run in Ottawa though. He made some big saves early in the game, before it was essentially over, that kept the Senators in it. I must admit though, having a top notch goalie between the pipes is taking some time to get used to. Previously, there was always a feeling of apprehension when the other team came in on odd man rushes or got on the powerplay, but with Hasek on the team, there’s a confidence. And you can see it in the play of the guys in front of him. They’re more willing to pinch and take risks because they know they have a world class goaltender who’ll likely bail them out on their side. Of course, this sense of security can be dangerous if they fall back on it too often, but for now, it’s an asset.

Brandon Bochenski getting his first NHL goal. It was just a matter of time. After Tuesday night’s win over the Habs, I said that Bochenski had turned the corner in his play, and that even though he failed to net a goal in that game, based on the way he played, it was going to happen sooner rather than later. I didn’t have to wait long. Besides his goal, Bochenski’s overall game was good as well. He was back to going hard to the net, something he did in that ultra-successful pre-season, and was working hard on the forecheck. At one point, he even beat out a Bruins’ defenceman to stop an icing call.

Bryan Smolinski getting his first goal of the season. I’ve been very hard on Smolinski this year, and justifiably so. He’s looked pretty mediocre on most nights, barely even making an impact. And whatever impact he was making was not positive. While there were still a few things I didn’t like last night, he was much better. He was passing the puck with a lot more confidence than previously, wasn’t making the mental errors in his own end, and was skating hard. I wonder how much of that can be attributed to Patick Eaves being put on that line. Often, when a young, hungry rookie comes up, his enthusiasm becomes contagious. For a veteran like Smolinski who often plays uninspired, perhaps rubbing elbows with a freshman gave him new life.

The penalty killing. One of the most improved parts of this team since Bryan Murray took over. Under Jacques, the PK was not good, but Murray has rejuvenated it with his concept of putting skilled playing out there in that situation. Last night, they killed off a 5-on-3 early on the game, when Boston could’ve put up a couple of goals and taken over the game, and if I had to point to one turning point for the entire night, it was then. After that, it seemed like the Bruins were deflated and without confidence. A big part of that PK, by the way, was…

Daniel Alfredsson. At this point it’s kind of redundant, but Alfie was fantastic yet again. While Jason Spezza is getting all the accolades, Alfredsson has been playing like a man possessed and is an early candidate for the Hart Trophy in my opinion. He really is the straw that stirs the Sens’ drink, and when he plays well, you can be pretty sure the team will be putting up a W. And so far this season, we haven’t had to worry about when he’s not on his game.

Wade Redden. Even though he hasn’t played poorly, Redden had struggled to find his game so far this year. Last night, he found it. Easily, his best game so far. He was moving the puck extremely well, both on even strength and on the powerplay, was solid in his own end, and was maybe the best blueliner at defending forwards who went to the net. In this new NHL, where defenceman have been impotent to stop net crashing, body positioning will take precedence over rough stuff, and that’s Redden’s forte.

Standing up for the skilled players. Once again, a Senator did not turn the other cheek. Hal Gill roughed up Martin Havlat behind the net after a whistle, throwing some shots to his chest and face, and Chris Neil wasted no time in stepping in to take care of business.


Zdeno Chara’s close call. In the third period, Chara, on a breakaway, got a highstick in the face from Bruins’ rookie defenceman Andrew Alberts (who made a number of questionable plays that might make him a target the next time these teams play). It barely missed his eye. The whole visor debate has been driven into the ground, and I’ve already made my feelings on the matter clear, but it’s still a scary sight when you see a key player of your team go down with his hands to his face. It’s worth noting that with Wade Redden putting a visor on this year, Chara is the lone Sens blueliner who doesn’t wear a shield, so at least it’s getting better.

Martin Havlat throwing a kick at Hal Gill. Even though Neil stepped in and took care of Gill for his shots on Havlat, it was not pleasant to see Havlat kick at Gill before his savior arrived. “Mach 9” already has a rep around the league of being dirty, and there have been some incidents in the past (he got warned by the league for a kick at Eric Cairns and also highsticked Mark Recchi in a scene that led to the big brawl between the Sens and Flyers at the end of last season), and maybe he needs to be pulled aside by someone like Alfredsson and set straight before he does something really stupid and not only hurts himself but someone else.

The HNIC broadcast. I admit, I was wrong. I was happy when former Sens’ ‘tender Ron Tugnutt took over the Ottawa region color commentator job, and I heard he had a rough debut in the booth last week, but I wanted to reserve comment until I witnessed it myself. Yikes. It’s still early, and I’m sure he’ll get better, but it was not good. And the play by play man, Bruce Rainine (who?) was downright awful. It was so bad that I had to turn on the Team 1200 radio broadcast with ol’ reliables Dean and Gord at the start of the third period to get some relief. Thankfully, those two will do the A-Channel broadcasts.


I picked the Bruins to win the Northeast, over the Sens, Leafs, and Habs, largely based on the offseason moves they made that I felt improved their standing. Last night did not make that prediction look very smart. It’s worth noting that Joe Thornton did not suit up, out with a back injury (I have him on my fantasy team, unfortunately), like most teams without their superstar, the Bruins are not the same without their captain. Not only is he their best player, he’s also the leader of the team, so the Sens did not beat the real Bruins. Still, the team we saw did not look like division champions. As I noted above, after they failed to score on their 5-on-3 in the first period, they looked discouraged and the Sens capitalized. You can really see how much better Thornton makes Glen Murray when “Jumbo Joe” is out of the line-up, as Murray was not a factor all night. Sergei Samsonov did have a good game, however, and former Sen Shawn McEachern seemed to step it up against his old team. It was Nick Boynton’s first game back, and it showed, as he looked a step slow most of the night. As well, Brian Leetch, who I thought was a great signing by the B’s, didn’t play like the same Brian Leetch who was the Leafs’ best defenceman in the 2004 playoffs, reaffirming (to me anyway) that he still had it. For those of you who’ve seen other Bruin games, has this been the trend for Leetch so far this season? Is he, perhaps, the next to follow Brett Hull? In nets, Andrew Raycroft started strong but was chased out by the Sens after the fourth goal. By that point, he was giving up juicy rebounds and generally not playing. After giving up the somewhat weak Smolinski goal, rookie Hannu Toivonen was downright sensational. He made some saves during a Sens 5-on-3 in the third that, had the game been close, could’ve easily been classified as gave saving. With Raycroft and he on their team, the Bruins look to be set in goal for a long time to come.


Vacation. The wacky NHL scheduling has the Sens not playing until next Thursday in Tampa Bay against the defending Stanley Cup champs. Obviously, that should be a test. The next night they're in Miami, when they face former Sens’ coach Jacques Martin and a few veterans who’ve burned Ottawa in the past. Oh, and maybe the best goalie in the world. The rest, though annoying as a fan, is probably good for the team, as it gives them a chance to fully heal Mike Fisher and Vaclav Varada, who are both expected to be back in the line-up. That means, of course, that two guys have to be sat. Expect Patrick Eaves to be sent back down to Bingo, and as for the other spot, that will be the debate over the next couple days.


At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure the Sens play Tampa next thursday? According my calendar the Lightning will be in Atlanta that night. Oh well, should be an easy win for Ottawa, eh?


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