Carolina 2 Ottawa 1
Daniel Alfredsson collecting his 600th career point, and the standing ovation that the crowd gave him. Alfredsson’s career season continues to roll on, but this particular milestone was very nice. It almost seems like yesterday that an unknown Swede came to Ottawa with no expectations and managed to emerge as the best player on the team, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year his first season. A 6th round pick, few in Ottawa knew who Alfie was when he first arrived, let alone thought he would eventually be the team captain, the organization’s posterboy, and so far, the greatest Ottawa Senator yet. Let’s hope he goes onto achieve bigger and better things in a Sens uniform.
Martin Havlat on the penalty kill. He continues to be a force when the Sens are down a man. On one instance, Havlat created a scoring chance out of basically nothing, as he went in one-on-four and still managed to generate a scoring chance.
Montreal keeps winning. When a team like Ottawa is playing as well as they have been this season, a fear fans have, legitimately, is they’ll grow complacent. But with Montreal continuing to play well, and stay ahead of Ottawa in the Eastern Conference and Northeast Division standing, Ottawa doesn’t have to find much motivation in order to get up for games.
The emergence of Canadian winter / Rogers Cable. Today was the Ottawa region’s first significant snowfall, though it was mostly washed away by the freezing rain that came in the late evening period. Considering it’s mid-November, I can’t be too mad, and after seeing what Winnipegers had to deal with this morning, should probably consider myself lucky. But why does the cold weather affect my cable? For the last few minutes of the first period and most second, the cable was out, and I wasn’t able to see the game. Way to go Rogers.
The powerplay. Yes, yet again. I know, by now I sound like a broken record, but when you go 0 for 8 with the man advantage in a one goal loss, it has to be brought up. The Sens are officially in an epidemic on the PP. When they’re winning games, it can be overlooked, but in loses, suddenly, these kinks in the armor that the cheerleaders say we should just ignore because, hey, we go the W, become more prominent. I’ve been talking about their inefficiency on the powerplay for more than a few games now and it has apparently fallen on deaf ears. Yes, coach Murray addressed it to the media, but in the end, has made no significant chances to the people who’ve been at fault for its faults. He did move Martin Havlat onto the number one PP unit, putting Daniel Alfredsson back on the point. But what has been the undoing of the PP has been the forwards tendency to try and be too pretty, too slick. So the solution is Martin Havlat? Really? It hasn’t helped, and in fact, the PP has managed to get even worse, with last nights game being the apex. They only registered eight shots during their eight PP opportunities. Once again, instead of moving the puck with speed from player to player, cycling the puck in order to set a play up, they were taking their sweet time and looking for that one magical shot. Most of the time, it was a one-timer from Alfredsson. He’s usually pretty good with these plays, but last night, Alfredsson couldn’t hit the net if the remaining four years on his contract depended on it. In addition, Alfie, who’s also almost always dependable handling the puck back there, was shaky all night long. It just wasn’t his night in that sense. As well, to the fans who holler “SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT” anytime someone touches the puck, if there is a defender in that shooters face, it makes absolutely zero sense to fire a shot in that situation. It’s a great risk. If that player blocks it, he usually has a breakaway, and even though with Alfie on the backend, they have a fast skater who’s relentless on the backcheck, it’s not smart. Murray tried to respond by giving ice time to the second unit (which, for most of the time, was Bryan Smolinski, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Brian Pothier, and either Wade Redden or Zdeno Chara), but while they were more aggressive, they could barely get the puck into the Carolina zone to set anything up. With the kind of talent Ottawa has, the fact that the powerplay is so poor is alarming. I don’t have any easy solutions, but one recommendation I do have is putting Chris Neil back on the first unit to fill the role of “the guy who stands in front of the net”. He played that part earlier in the season to extraordinary results. I know, we, as Sens fans have a certain image of Neil. We see him as a grinder, perennial fourth-liner who can drop the gloves. We’ve loved him in that role. But anymore more has been a stretch. Hell, I think a lot of us, myself included, have had a difficult time accepting him on the third line with Smolinski and Fisher, even though he’s been fantastic. Ken Daneyko was on Ottawa sports radio this morning and compared Neil to his former Devil teammate Randy McKay in the role he plays on the team, which is a pretty nice compliment from the veteran. The problem with the powerplay, as I see it, is that the goalie can see the shots. If they do through, his vision isn’t impaired. And when a goalie is playing as well as Carolina’s Martin Gerber has been lately (sans the Atlanta blowout over the weekend), you can’t let him see shots if you intend to score. In theory, I’d think Dany Heatley, who is advertised as a power forward, could do it, but he apparently likes to shoot and doesn’t spend much time in front of the net. That’s my powerplay rant for the night.
Two goal posts in the first period. Snake-bitten to say the least.
The high stick on the ‘Canes first goal. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but boy does that look like a bad call. It sure appears on the replays as if Justin Williams knocked the puck down with a high stick, leading to the goal by Ray Whitney.
Jason Spezza’s sloppiness with the puck. With a player like Spezza, who excels when the reigns are off and he’s allowed to be creative, you have to be careful not to give him too much rope or he’ll hang himself. Lately it seems like Spezza has been getting away from the fundamentals and trying to be too creative, too pretty. Almost like he’s trying to get on the highlight reels every time out. Spezza has to simply his game and get back to what made him dominant earlier in the season. Put more time into his passes and think a little bit. Sometimes it might not look great but it’s effective. As well, his defensive coverage has been getting more lax as the year has gone on. If Spezza wants to play his way onto Team Canada for the Olympics, like he says, he’ll have to correct this part of his game, because otherwise, Wayne Gretzky and the rest of the decision makers won’t even give him a second look, regardless of how explosive he is offensively.
Fanning on shots and outright missing the net. I mentioned Alfredsson’s affliction for missing the goal when playing the point on the PP above, but the entire team was particularly poor in this sense last night. On the Team 1200’s post game show they said the Sens had 28 missed shots, and while I’m not sure that number is official, it doesn’t sound outrageous. Games like this happen, so there’s usually not much you can about it, but boy is it frustrating as a fan watching.
Vaclav Varada’s ice time. Last week I talked about Varada’s complaining about his lack of playing time and how many, including V, theorized that he likely won’t be around for the year if he’s not going to be anything more than a fourth line forward. At $1.2 million, it’s a tough spot. Varada got five shifts last night, and I know when a team is down, the fourth line is less likely to get on the ice because they’re perceived as less gifted offensively, and the team needs goals, but Varada (and his linemate, Chris Kelly), are energy guys who can stir things up. If the team is playing well, I get not wanting to stir the pot, but when they’re sorta being inconsistent out there, putting a line like this out might spark something.
Carolina once again manages to foil the otherwise red hot Senators, and in the process, solidify themselves as a top team whose success this season is anything but a fluke. Were they the better club on this night? That’s debatable. They were grossly outshot 36-19, but still, somehow managed to control the pace of the game. They did something I don’t think any other club besides Philadelphia, who handed Ottawa their only non-Carolina defeat, has been able to accomplish this season: they forced Ottawa to play their game, and not vice versa. One of the praises Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock has heaped onto the Sens is that they can beat you any way. They can play a physical grinding game and win, they can play a run and gun and win, and they can win a tight defensive contest. However, last night, Carolina played their game. They were aggressive on the forecheck, slowed the pace while still maintaining some pressure, and once up a goal, went into a tight system that made it nearly impossible for Ottawa to carry the puck past the Hurricanes’ blueline. Instead, Ottawa was forced to play dump ‘n chase. It’s a style of play that they can still win with against inferior teams, but with Carolina, who’s defence, though underrated, is both big and relatively quick as well as being good puck movers, it’s difficult to win those battles. Ottawa made the mistake of not adjusting as well as they could’ve, as with the exception of a couple forwards (Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Peter Schaefer), few were willing to pay the price of going into the corners. So essentially, they were forced played dump n chase without much enthusiasm in their chase. Some flat out refused to be denied their finesse ways, and time after time, tried to carry it in, only to be denied at the line. A big part of their game, and why they won, cannot be ignored, and that’s the blocked shots. I’m not sure if the NHL keeps track of what team gets their shots blocked most in the league, but I have to imagine the Senators are up near the top. Earlier this year, Jay McKee alone blocked 10. On this night, it was 22 shots blocked for the ‘Canes, many of which occurring when Ottawa had a PP. They were excellent at closing down the passing lanes, making moving the puck difficult, and with Ottawa already trying to do too much with the man advantage, they made it even more strenuous by getting in front of shots and having their sticks all over the ice. For Carolina, it was a textbook road win. They did what they had to, and while it certainly wasn’t as pretty as a lot of their wins, including the one earlier in the year over the same Sens, it still counts as two points on the big board. I will note that I didn’t think their big line of Cory Stillman-Eric Staal-Erik Cole had a particularly great night, but the fact they still won shows that they’re not a one line club. The secondary players, especially Justin Williams and Ottawa native Rod Brind’Amour, stepped their game up and carried the load. When those two are their best forwards, it’s probably no surprise then that the game was more defensive and less explosive.
It’s a game that I imagine many fans as well as those inside the organization have had circled on their calendar for a while. Jacques Martin returns to the team he had a major part in building with the new club he’s hoping has similar success. The Panthers, even with their less than flattering record, can be a difficult team to play. Even in defeat, they gave the Habs a pretty good workout last night at the Bell Centre, and even if the five skaters on the ice are playing poorly, you still have to score on what may be the best goalie in the world in Roberto Luongo. Plus, noted Sens-killer Gary Roberts will return to the Corel Centre, which even out of the Blue And White, should still give Sens fans some worry. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers learned anything from how the ‘Canes beat the Senators last night, as if they want to win, they’ll have to employ simply tactics.