Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ottawa 5 Buffalo 0

I've decided to implement a new method of blogging about Senators games. Thoughts?

THE GOOD:


- Martin Havlat. He had a good game on Wednesday against Toronto, but was even better last night. There wasn’t a more dominant player on either side of the puck, as #9 had more scoring chances (seven) than any two players combined. He got a lot of time on the PK (which was also very improved) as part of Bryan Murray’s new initiative to put the team’s more skilled players on when the Sens are shorthanded. It proved effective tonight, with Havlat getting at least three breakaways while the team was down a man. He eventually scored on an even strength breakaway, but if he had not, I would’ve sworn there was some sort of hex on “Mach 9”. The finish still isn’t in mid-season form, but there’s no rust on Havlat’s wheels as he routinely went either around or past Buffalo defenders. Havlat has been cited as a guy who will benefit from the rules chances and the overall sped up pace of the game, and tonight showed that to be absolutely accurate. If this is in fact an indication of how he’ll fare this season, those of you with Havlat on your fantasy team or in your hockey will are lucky.

- Dominik Hasek. For the second straight night, “The Dominator” silenced his critics. #39 has not looked 40 for a minute of this new season, and more often than not, appeared to be in vintage Hasek form, flopping around on the ice, looking awkward much of the time, yet still managing to keep the puck out of the net. After two games, he’s got a 1.00 GAA and a .940 SV%. His first shutout in a Senators uniform was a good one.

- The improved powerplay. On Wednesday night, they went 0 for 5 with the man advantage, yet tonight capitalized on 3 of their 5 opportunities. It was apparently a part of their game Murray spent a lot of time working on in the practices between the two games and it showed. They were moving the puck much better than previous game, and actually kept the play in the opponent’s end for the majority of most powerplay opportunities which also wasn’t happening against the Leafs. Last night looked more like the powerplay that’s been among the NHL’s best the last three years. And some of that credit, shockingly, has to go to …

- Chris Neil. If you would’ve told me Neil, known mostly for his character and work with his fists, would not only be on the Ottawa powerplay but be a major part of it’s success a week ago, I would’ve likely laughed at you. Neil has long been the heart and soul of this club, but his role has also mostly been limited to a fourth line enforcer put on the ice when the rest of the team is slacking and his neverending work ethic is needed as an example. Under Murray, he was given the chance to move up to the third line, and even though that didn’t last and he was put back onto the fourth unit, he did get a chance to play on the PP last night, and was tremendous. He did what many of us have long been asking for players to do, which is go to the net and stay there. In doing so, he was able to screen Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, basically eliminating whatever chance he had at stopping the puck. He got credited with the second goal, and I thought scored the fifth, and deserved an unofficial assist on another. I don’t know how long this experiment will last, but it’s first test proved successful.

- The HSB Line. Criticized heavily, and justifiably so, for their play against the Leafs in the season opener, the big line that tore up the pre-season looked to be back in the swing of things last night. Brandon Bochenski stepped up his play after being yanked off the line late in the last game. He went to the net with the same vigor he did in the pre-season and was skating much better. Wednesday he looked almost overwhelmed out there, seemingly spending as much time standing around and watching as he did being involved in any game play. That wasn’t the case last night. Spezza cut down on his cutesy pass attempts, and as a result, only had one giveaway versus the four he had against the Leafs. And Dany Heatley was a force. He didn’t capitalize on a lot of the opportunities he had, but was a presence most of the night, which is all you can ask for.

- Anton Volchenkov. After coming down very heavily on the “A-Train” for his awful play on Wednesday, where he looked more like a pylon than a defenceman, I am pleased to say that he turned it around in a major way tonight. Gone were the bad plays in his own end, and instead, we saw the return of the physical player that we’ve known for two years now. However in addition to his ability to play the body, he also showed spurts of offensive upside. He made a tremendous outlet pass to Havlat on one of this many shorthanded breakaways, and was consistently pinching in to make plays throughout the game. Beyond the big two of Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, Volchenkov had the most playing time of any Ottawa defender with 21:05. That tells you the kind of confidence the coaching staff has in the big Russian.

- Mike Fisher. Fish got the wrath of Bryan Murray’s anger as much as anyone, as the coach went out of his way to slam him for his insufficient game on Wednesday, noting that he needs Fisher to hit and skate more. Fisher heard him loud and clear, as he was among the best Senators forwards all night. He returned to his trademark forechecking fever and put a lot of pressure on the Buffalo defencemen. As well, he set up a few nice plays for his wingers. Peter Schaefer, who he played on a line with, also had a good game.

- Over 19,600 fans in attendance. A new Senators record.

- Free pizza.

THE BAD

- Too many penalties, especially early on in the game. Much of the reason the Senators were unable to establish any kind of momentum against the Leafs was because they took a bunch of penalties. Though it was not as bad last night, and got better as the game went on, the team still isn’t as disciplined as they need to be. With the rules being more heavily enforced, we should probably be cutting them some slack, but if this team plans to have the success we all expect, it has to be addressed.
- Bryan Smolinski. For the second straight game, Smolinski was essentially invisible on the ice. I heard one Sens fan on a call in show Thursday refer to him as the new Radek Bonk based on his play on Wednesday, and after last night, I’d say that might be a fair assessment. Despite playing on line with Daniel Alfredsson, Smolinski did nothing all night, and the few times I did notice him, it was because he had the puck on his stick via a slick pass and he fumbled around with it. I said going into this season for the team to be where it wants to be, they need the veteran to be more of a consistent presence night in and night out, and I still maintain that’s the case. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be aware of this. If he continues to struggle, I’d encourage the coaching staff to send a message and promote one of the other centers into his spot.

- Dominik Hasek’s puckhandling enthusiasm. Dominik, you had a great game, but please, please stay in the net as much as you can. Every time he left the crease to touch the puck I got scared.

- Brian Pothier. I was in the minority who thought he had a good game against the Leafs, but boy did he make me look bad with his game tonight. He was sloppy, nervous, and uncomfortable when handling the puck, which is supposed to be one of his strengths. While everyone is allowed a bad game here and there, if this keeps up, the coaching staff should not be hesitant to pluck Christoph Schubert into the line-up.

- Technical difficulties. Daniel Alfredssson was scheduled to make a speech to the crowd before the game, and came out to do so, yet the microphone was not co-operating. Alfie apparently wasn’t aware of this, as he went on with his words anyway, yet none of us heard it. It was a shame because even though we can all probably assume what those words were (“thank you fans”), it would’ve been nice to hear them from the captain.

THE OPPOSITION

The Buffalo Sabres have gotten the label of a fast, skilled team that will prosper in the new NHL. They probably are that team, but tonight may not have been a good test of it. Playing their third game in four nights, and two games back-to-back, the gas looked to be empty for the Sabres. After taking it to the Sens in the first period with 19 shots, they appeared to hit the wall in the second. When a team loses 5-0 you’d think the goaltender played poorly, but the truth is that Ryan Miller can’t be blamed for any of those goals. He either had Chris Neil’s big body in front of him (a result of the new rules that have defencemen hesitant to even touch a player in front of the net?), had Martin Havlat, one of the most talented players in the league, on a breakaway, or was out of position after making a save a second earlier. He ate up pucks all night, allowing very few rebounds and played most pucks very well. I was somewhat skeptical when I heard of the decision to make the youngster the team’s number one goalie, but he proved me wrong with his play. I was sorta scratching my head at Lindy Ruff’s call to go with Miller last night, as he has now played in all three games in those four nights. When you have a capable back-up like Martin Biron, is it not wise to utilize him in situations like this? Up front, rookie Tomas Vanek lived up to the hype with a real good game. He played the most of any Sabres forward with over 21 minutes of play. In addition to his good speed, I was very impressed with his ability to overpower defenders off the puck. Jay McKee was also very strong, blocking 10(!) shots.

UP NEXT

The Leafs on Monday back at the Corel Centre. Coming off back to back loses, and two games where they’ve given up a lead, you can be sure Pat Quinn and co. will want to finally chalk up a win. Without their captain, and maybe even Jeff O’Neill, they could be too unmanned to match the Sens firepower, but we know the effort will be there. Expect a hard hitting, intense game.

2 Comments:

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I was there tonight - what a fun game to watch. I was seated in the 100-level of the Sens end, and the 1st period was a terrifying experience.... I'm not used to Hasek yet - whenever Lalime started flopping around like a dead fish, a goal was sure to come; not so with Hasek.

re: Hasek's puck handling... You're just experiencing post-Lalime syndrome. Hasek played it well behind the net.

re: Pothier - stay outta the penalty box!

re: Havlat - I thought Murray was insane when he assigned Havlat to the penalty kill, but the man has a knack at getting shorthanded break-aways. (Look out Martin St. Louis!)

re: Neil - he lost both his goals to Heatley... poor guy!

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger Tom L said...

Chris,

Your assessment of the Sabres was spot-on. They really weren't the same team that played the night before against the B's.

The Sens were very dangerous even if they didn't play their best game, and that does not bode well for the other 7 meetings this year.

And, you're right about Dom, he is too aggressive in playing the puck and will start getting interference calls for setting picks... you wait, it will happen, eventually. He could have been called for at least two in the game on saturday.

Good game for you guys all around... if the result had been any different I would have been worried for you.

Ta,

 

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