Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ottawa 4 Boston 2

THE GOOD:

The Big Line. Though there had still been points put up, the truth is that for the last five or so games, the still unnamed first line of Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson had been struggling. They certainly didn’t look to be clicking to the same degree that they did early on when the combo was first formed. Last night, it was a blast from the past as they were finding each other with their passes the way they were previously. Spezza, who had two goals, had an especially good game, and there were very few of the lazy passes that had become his trademark over the last couple weeks. As well, Dany Heatley was playing with an extra jump in his stride. Like Spezza, he’s often been guilty of trying to do too much as of late, and we’ve seen him attempt to stickhandle through three opposing players to disastrous results. The one consistent through this, mind you, was the play of captain Alfredsson.

Zdeno Chara. Played 30 minutes, threw a handful of big hits, and was the most dominant player on either team, including the Big Line.

Andrej Meszaros. Though he had his first NHL goal taken away from him, and given instead to Spezza, I thought Meszaros had a tremendous game. He logged a ton of ice time, and got time playing in both special teams situations, and did not look a bit out of place.

Christoph Schubert. Though he’s still only played a handful of NHL games, the big German defender gets better with each outing. I think his first ever goal on Tuesday against Carolina gave Schubert a lot of confidence because he’s been playing with great poise ever since.

Mike Fisher standing up to Hal Gill. Gill was giving Fisher quite a bit of punishment when, late in the third, Fish was standing in front of the net. Basically, doing his job. Gill was crosschecking him to the back repeatedly (I thought they were eliminating this from the game), and Fisher finally put him on his ass. He took a penalty, but it was a good one to take.

Brian McGratton. Though, obviously, his role on the Sens is to drop the gloves and be an enforcer, McGratton’s progression as a solid hockey player has been a welcome surprise. He won’t be playing on one of the scoring lines anytime soon, but he’s a good skater for his size and always finishes his checks.

THE BAD:

Antoine Vermette. Vermette was benched during the last portion of the Islanders game and found himself back on the fourth line last night. Even still, he got a good amount of opportunities to play and did not do anything to motivate Bryan Murray to move him back up to a scoring line. Like Vaclav Varada before him, Vermette complained about his role on the team when he started the season on this line. However, he eventually played his way up the line-up. However, he doesn’t have enough of a track record that he can afford to get away from what got him on the second line in the first place.

Chris Phillips gets burned against. After being made to look foolish on Tuesday night by Eric Staal, Phillips was exposed again, this time by Brad Isbister on Boston’s first goal. Getting humiliated by one of the top scorers in the league isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, but when Brad Isbister sons you, you might want to rethink some things.

Don Cherry. Who’s “Daniel Andersson” Grapes?

THE OPPOSITION:

To put it simply, the Boston Bruins seem like a team without an identity. They have some good players, and a few great ones (including one, Glen Murray, who was out of the line-up for this game) but with all that turnover in talent, it could just be that the Bruins are lacking the chemistry to compete with a team like Ottawa who is firing on all cylinders right now. They likely had a gameplan to shut down the Sens, and it was probably similar to the one they employed the last time these teams played and the Senators stunk up the first period, but when Jason Spezza scored 34 seconds into the game, all that went out the window. Playing the Senators right now is hard enough. Trying to come from behind is almost an impossible task at this point.

A lot of the reason for why the team is struggling is the players who played great last season are underperforming. Though he can’t be faulted for any of the four goals Ottawa scored, goaltender Andrew Raycroft didn’t look much like the guy who carried them the last time around on his way to winning the Calder. He was giving up juicy rebounds all night long. If the Bruins are to regain their old position atop the Northeast, they’ll need Raycroft to find his game. As well, another sophomore, Patrice Bergeron is struggling to perform up to the standard he set with his strong rookie season. This, in particular, is surprising to me. I absolutely thought Bergeron would like Spezza in that he’d benefit from the year off., and the experience he gained with playing with the Team Canada club that won the World Juniors. It doesn’t look like he did.

To compound that problem, it looks as if the players they’ve brought in to fill the holes that were created when they lost all that talent on the free agent aren’t living up to their expectations. Alexei Zhamnov was beyond invisible Saturday night.

All these things will need to be corrected if Boston intends to be a playoff team. The way the Senators are playing, and the way Montreal was up to a few weeks ago, it's doubtful the Bruins will make my pre-season predictions not look retarded by winning the division, but they can still be in the mix if they get their house in order. That might mean a shakeup behind the bench.

UP NEXT:

After playing games on back-to-back nights, the Senators get a little break. Montreal comes to Ottawa for a Tuesday night game. The Habs, after starting the season almost as strongly as the Senators, have appeared to hit a rut. Part of that could be the fact they’re playing without sniper Alexei Kovalev. It is ironic that when Jose Theodorehas found his game the rest of the team isn’t playing as well in front of him. The last time they played, Ottawa dominated the Habs but weren’t able to solve Theodore and so the game went to OT. Of course, we all remember how it ended. They’ll be coming here with a sour taste in their mouth based on the way they lost Saturday night against the Leafs, so the Senators will have to deal with an extremely motivated team, but if Ottawa plays the way they did Saturday night I can't see the Canadiens coming out with two points. For the Senators, Chris Neil will be back in the line-up for the game, so with the exception of Wade Redden, they'll be back to their normal look.

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