Thursday, November 24, 2005

Finally, some adversity

We will now see what the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators are made of, some will say.

Up to this point, their season has been, comparatively speaking, pretty easy, the challenging schedule notwithstanding. While other teams have had to deal with playing without their captain for a month or both of their goalies for even longer, the biggest hurdle the Sens have had to leap has been the five games they were without sniper Martin Havlat when he was serving the suspension that comes with kicking another player in the balls.

But for the next few games, they will be without several key players, and as a result, their depth will be put to the test. In a freak accident, Wade Redden was injured during yesterday’s practice. According to reports, it occurred during a one-on-one drill Redden was doing with Mike Fisher. The diagnosis is a sprained knee, and Redden will be out at least a week. The aforementioned Havlat pulled his groin during Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Hurricanes, and though listed at day-to-day, won’t be in the line-up for tomorrow afternoon’s U.S. Thanksgiving tilt with the New York Islanders. And Chris Neil has left the team indefinitely to deal with the tragic death of his mother Bonnie. Visitation will be occurring over the next couple of days and the service will be on Saturday, but with situations like this, there are no timetables as to when he’ll be back.

The Senators did get some good news as it looks like Bryan Smolinski will be back Friday. He missed Tuesday’s game with a chest contusion (I incorrectly said it was a shoulder injury).

How the Senators will deal with these holes will be interesting to observe. Though most people talk about the behemoth that is Zdeno Chara, and rightfully so because Big Z is having another stellar season, Redden has quietly stepped up his play this month and, as of this morning, is fourth in defenceman scoring with 21 points in 19 games. Redden quarterback’s the powerplay, which has been the one consistent chink in the armor this season, and though you might say the struggling PP could use a shakeup, Wade Redden has been pretty solid in that role. Most of the onus for the powerplay’s ineffectiveness lies elsewhere. Jason Spezza’s sloppy passes that often lead to turnovers, Dany Heatley’s unwillingness to stand in front of the net and pay the price, captain Daniel Alfredsson’s inability to actually hit the net with his cannon of a shot. Take your pick. But if you’re going to point the finger somewhere, Redden shouldn’t be near the top of that list.

In the past, whenever the Senators played without Redden, they struggled horribly. And that was when his development as a defenceman wasn’t nearly as far along as it is now. So losing him for a week, and maybe even longer, will hurt the team immensely. They are fortunate enough to have good depth at defence, and the guy who will step in and take his spot, Christoph Schubert, is probably a fifth defenceman on a lot of other NHL teams, but he doesn’t bring all the tools that Redden does.

They’ve played without Havlat already this year, and won, but still, I’m sure if it was up to the Senators, they’d have “Mach 9” in the line-up. Even though his scoring has run hot and cold this year, Havlat is always a threat on the ice and, playing alongside Antoine Vermette and Peter Schaefer, has formed a very dangerous second line.

And obviously, Chris Neil’s absence is significant. He’s having a career season, and has grown into an excellent third line forward. He knows his role and plays it excellently, never thinking twice about going to the net and getting his roughed up by defenceman (and, if they’re playing the Maple Leafs, Ed Belfour).

Denis Hamel, who I thought was decent though somewhat unspectacular in his season debut Tuesday night, will stay up with the Senators, but there is still a spot to fill and a few options to chose from. The obvious, I would think, is Patrick Eaves. Eaves got better with every game he played earlier in the year when he was called up, and didn’t look at all out of place playing alongside Alfredsson and Smolinski on the second line. However, if they want a veteran presence, they could call up Steve Martins, who’s been very steady down in Binghamton. And let’s not forget Brandon Bochenski. Even though he fell out of favor in Ottawa due his lack of scoring on the top line, he’s still a talented player and has been on fire since being sent down to the AHL. If they want some scoring, maybe he gets the nod.

Whoever does get the call will have the difficult task of leaving a struggling Bingo team, who are near the bottom of the AHL standing, and stepping into a club that is essentially firing on all cylinders. That’s a lot of pressure and little room for error.

Even though, on paper, the schedule for the next week or so for the Ottawa Senators isn’t particularly difficult, with games against the Islanders, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and then Boston again, they’ll have some obstacles to overcome.

Should be interesting.

1 Comments:

At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi ..i think chris will be back soon .. i was his neighbour and im from his hometown .. he is doin great when i saw him at the funeral ..

 

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