Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ottawa 5 New Jersey 4

THE GOOD:

Vaclav Varada stepping up when given the opportunity. Last night was, without a doubt, Varada’s best game of the season. He’s had a few where he played well in spurts, which, from a fourth liner, is about all you can expect. But when Bryan Smolinski went down in the first with a shoulder injury and Mike Fisher moved over from left wing to center that line, Varada was put into a position to show and prove. He has talked endlessly in the local media about wanting more ice time, and how he can’t be a productive member of the team with 5 minutes of ice time. He delivered. He was skating hard, finishing his checks, generating more chances that at any other time this season, and being the pest that he’s expected to be. In registering five shots on goal and getting the most ice time of the year in almost 10 minutes, let’s hope he’s turned a corner and can be this effective on a consistent basis. Varada definitely made a case for a more prominent role on the club, and if Smolinski’s injury keeps him out of the line-up for an extended period of time, he might have even more opportunities to show that he’s still important to the Senators.

Chris Neil’s powerplay goal. The coaching staff needs to show the clip of this on a loop to the entire team at the next video session, because it was exactly what they need to be doing. Was it pretty? No. Flashy? Not at all. But it was a blue collar goal that was the result of hard work and a second effort. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley should pay close attention and follow the lead of Neil sometimes. Wow, there’s a sentence I wouldn’t have thought I’d be typing three months ago.

Mike Fisher. It’s sort of become like praising the game of Daniel Alfredsson – redundant – but Mike Fisher continues to be the most consistent secondary tool the Senators have. With two goals, over 20 minutes of ice time, and a +3 rating, Fisher was, I thought, the best player on either team last night.

Brian McGrattan’s first NHL goal. “Gratts”, as he’s since become known in the area, has filed a void and played a role on this team that, though it’s not the kind of spot that will get him and his line a flashy nickname, it’s an important one nonetheless. The ovation the Corel Centre crowd gave him when the P.A. man announced the goal showed just how appreciative they are of his work.

Timely saves from Ray Emery. While outsiders still talk about how when Dominik Hasek goes down with the inevitable crippling injury, the Senators will be screwed, Emery remains on top of his game. Four goals won’t be great for his GAA, but he made a dozen big stops, including about five in the first 10 minutes of the first period alone. None of the goals were what I would classify as bad.

Taking hold of first place in the Northeast. Previously I talked about how the Habs winning streak was a good thing, because it kept the Sens in second place and with something to shoot for, but even if it’s only temporary, I like the look of them finally a top the division and conference.

THE BAD:

Undisciplined play, especially in the third period. Without question, some of it has to be chalked up to poor, inconsistent officiating, but as a team, the Senators need to know better and use their head. In the third period alone, they gave the Devils five powerplay opportunities, and they cashed in on one. One of which was an awful delay of game penalty that Wade Redden took in the last minute of the game. At that point, New Jersey had seized the momentum with the last two goals and were pressing hard (or, as hard as the New Jersey Devils can). I’m alright with some penalties, but shooting the puck over the glass isn’t one of them. Yeah, I know, it’s a new rule, and a pretty dumb one at that, but Wade Redden is a veteran by now, a leader on this team, and should know better. Back to the referees, they were absolutely brutal, missing calls on both sides all night long, with the most obvious being a hit from behind that, at the very least, was interference. No hand went up. Five seconds later, Chris Kelly got a tripping penalty.

Scoring a minute into the game. Please, for those of us who sometimes get in a little late, can you hold off on the goals?

CBC only showing the game in the Ottawa region. On paper, this had to be one of the worst HNIC line-ups in years. While some might’ve been interested in the Leafs-Thrashers game because of how the last one went, and the words the Leafs had for ATL coach Bob Hartley post game, as well perhaps as the fact that the Thrasher are, offensively, pretty good, you’re telling me, nationally, that was a better choice than Ottawa-New Jersey?

Brian Pothier’s pass that got Smolinski roasted. One of the main reason Pothier is in the line-up over Christoph Schubert, who is probably more sound in his own end and certainly a more physical presence, is because he’s a good puck mover and usually an excellent passer. But he owes “Smoke” an apology. He gave him a pass right in his skates, and as Smolinski looked down to kick it to his stick, Dan McGillis smoked him, no pun intended.

Dany Heatley’s inflated opinion of his stickhandling skills. I know a 17-point scoring streak will give a guy a big head and a bit of the Superman syndrome, but on more than one occasion, Heatley tried to stickhandle through three Devils players, even when the pass looked, to me anyway, to be available. Another case of trying to be too smooth.

THE OPPOSITION:

This was actually the first time I’d seen a full New Jersey game, and I realized, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Much like when I saw Minnesota absolutely shut down Vancouver a week into the season and came to the realization I was a complete idiot for thinking Jacques Lemaire would change his ways, I quickly figured out that, even in My NHL, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So many of the Devils players have had the old mentality drilled into their head since they were drafted (I imagine Lou schools them on the trap as they’re putting on the red jersey and hat on the draft podium with the commish), and so to expect them to suddenly open up and adopt a run and gun exciting style is akin to asking

This isn’t to say they don’t have some explosive players. Guys like Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and John Madden have always had speed for days, but you can see that they’re still in Old NHL mode. Even when down two goals in the third period, they didn’t throw caution the wind and go all out. Obviously, doing so would’ve in turn to lead to more chances for Ottawa, allowing them to possibly putting a dagger into their heart, but when the score’s 4-2 you have to do something. Luckily for them, Ottawa got into penalty trouble and allowed them to get back into the game without taking any big risks.

I do want to make note of the fact that Martin Brodeur looked quite un-Marty like. I’m not sure if this can simply be chalked up to the fact that he’s coming off an injury, or if he, once a major puck handler, is having a hard time adjusting to the new restrictions, but it whatever it was, it was noticeable all night. He wasn’t controlling rebounds the same way he usually does and wasn’t moving as well as he usually does.

I was impressed with their resiliency as a team to come back, but based on last night, I’m not sure I’d put New Jersey in the upper class of the East with Ottawa, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Montreal.

UP NEXT:

Though it’s still not even 20 games into the season, I don’t think it’d be out of line to suggest that Tuesday’s game in Carolina is the biggest of the year. The ‘Canes have handed the Senators two of their three losses so far, and so it’s probably safe to assume that they’ll want to end this little domination streak before it becomes a legitimate monkey on their back. Having been knocked out of the playoffs four of the past five seasons by the Maple Leafs, Sens fans know what it’s like to feel as if a certain team owns Ottawa. They don’t want that hanging over their heads all year. Anton Volchenkov went down at the end of the game, when it was basically chaos as New Jersey tried to tie the game, and had to be helped off the ice. As of the time of this post, there is no word about the severity of his injury, nor if Bryan Smolinski will be in the line-up either.

1 Comments:

At 4:26 AM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I couldn't even get this game on Centre Ice, which was somewhat maddening given that it turned out to be the night's best game. I settled for Washington-Montreal, but only until 9 minutes in when the Caps were already up 3-0.

Something tells me the Sens will be holding onto that division lead for a while.

 

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