Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ottawa 6 NY Islanders 0

THE GOOD:

Senators forwards going hard to the net. With the new rules leaving defencemen handcuffed to fend off forwards around the net, it’s about time the Senators skaters went hard crashing the goalie. There’s a thin line between going to the net and running the goalie, and they walked it last night. Even beyond giving up six goals, it was a long night for Rick DiPietro, as he had Black sweaters in his face all night long. While Ottawa is a team that mostly wins from finesse, in the form of good skating and precise passing, they showed they too can play a more aggressive playoff style of game if need be.

The still unnamed big line continuing to produce. They had a combined seven points last night. There appears to be no stopping this trio. In addition to the offense they can and do put up, they are an excellent puck possession line, as when they’re on the ice, they spend what has to be 75% of the time in the opposition’s end with the puck. They can create chances on quick breakouts, as we’ve seen, but their ability to move the puck amongt each other is superb.

Anton Volchenkov’s play in his first game back. Having missed three games with a shoulder injury, there was some concern among Sens fans, and I imagine within the organization, about whether or not Volchenkov, whose game is so dependent on his physical play, could be effective as soon as he was back in the line-up. He quickly erased any doubts with a few big hits early in the game, setting the tone for the entire night.

Zdeno Chara shutting down Alexei Yashin. The much maligned Yashin, who as expected was booed everytime he touched the puck, was not at all a factor in last night’s game, aside from taking two penalties that put the Isles on the PK against a red hot team, and much of the credit for that has to go to Chara. Even though most Sens fans would probably hate to admit it, Yashin seems to have found his groove on Long Island as of late and came into the game as one of their better performing players (though it hasn’t translated into any consistent winning from the team). So the fact he was unable to contribute offensively is a credit to Chara, who in logging over 27 minutes of ice time played a ton last night. Chara playing against the other team’s best forward, and shutting them down, has become a trend and it will need to continue as teams begin elevating their games when playing Ottawa.

Beating Alexei Yashin on his 32nd birthday. Yes, I am that petty.

Setting a new Corel Centre attendance record. The soldout crowd of 19,776 was the largest to see the Sens play.

Free pizza. Even with Pizza Pizza bitching out and changing the terms of their contest by deciding the Sens would now have to score six goals, not five, in order for those in attendance to redeem their tickets for a free slice of pie, we still won. How ya like those apples? Why do I think by next week it’ll be eight?

Brian Pothier. Yes, you read that right. My whipping boy get praise. He actually had one of his better games of the season, I thought, distributing the puck well and not being the softy in the Sens’ end that he usually is.

Mike Fisher. I’ve singled him out in each of the last two games, so it probably seems like I’m favoring Fish, but his play as of late has been tremendous. He appears to have really found his place playing the wing.

THE BAD:

Jason Spezza going hard into the boards, and giving Sens fans everywhere a near heart attack. Though he turned out to be all right, when Jason Spezza went crashing, feet first, into the wall, you could literally hear the collective heart beats of those in attendance pounding. As he skated to the bench gingerly, our worst fears had come true. Alas, he was okay. Whether or not Alexei Zhitnik’s shove into the boards was dirty or not could be debated, but I would’ve felt better about it had one of the Sens let him know that will not tolerated.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Islanders are a team that I predicted would miss the playoffs and finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and after last night, I have no reason to think that was incorrect. Which, if you’ve followed how my predictions have fared (Tampa winning the division, Carolina out of the playoffs, Atlanta in, etc.), you’d know is a first. Firstly, it should be noted this team is surprisingly slow. I’ve only seen them play one other time this year, in a great game at MSG against the Rangers in which they won in a shootout, so it’s possible it was just an off night for the Islanders, but for a team with, on paper, some good skating forwards and a few decent puck moving defencemen, they were not at all effective in getting the puck into the Sens end with any kind of regularity or quickness. They appeared to be lacking that next gear that most players have. Coasting, if you will. Again, because Ottawa is such a dominant team, it’s difficult to say if this is because of how good the Sens are or if the Islanders are just not a very strong team, but if I was a fan of this club, I’d be worried. Their defence, which was essentially turned upside down in the offseason when they lost three of their top four blueliners, was awful. They had no answer for the Sens’ forwards and their speed, and were incapable of stopping them from going to the net. Their solution was to push them onto their goalie, who I felt quite bad for for most of the game. Of the defencemen, the only one who impressed me was former Canuck Brent Sopel, as he was at least trying to create plays through passing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Janne Niinimaa was not good and rookie Chris Campolli was even worse. Once the strength of the team, the defence now looks to be it’s Achilles heel, and unfortunately, they don’t have the forwards to make up for it. A few of the guys who they’ll need to step up if they have any hope of playing in late April were downright invisible last night. Oleg Kvasha, Trent Hunter, Michael York, and Mark Parrish were all non factors except for a few shifts where, at most, they worked hard, and for them to be a team in contention, that has to change ASAP. They need to produce. Their powerplay was especially atrocious (York on the point?!?). To say it needs work would be the understatement of the year. It needs an overhaul in the worst way based on what I saw. And even though he let in six goals, DiPietro did not have all that bad a game. With Sens players all over him all night long, he had no real chance on a lot of them. He’s not an elite goalie, yet, and needs the skaters who play in front of him to be a lot more helpful in the future. That said, if not for a few of his spectacular saves, the score would’ve been a whole lot less flattering.

UP NEXT:

Another extended break, as the Senators don’t resume playing until Thursday when the Sens travel to Boston. This NHL scheduling kills me. Boston, if you recall, was the team I picked to win the Northeast (yet another one of my idiotic predictions), and they seem to be struggling to find their way this season, playing very inconsistently from game to game. They’ll be without goalie Andrew Raycroft and defenceman Brian Leetch, both out with injuries. On paper, you’d think with those two out of the line-up the Sens will be able to walk all over them, but the B’s still have a few gamebreakers who can takeover a game single-handedly, the most notable of course being captain Joe Thornton. The Sens beat up on them pretty bad earlier in the season so you know they’ll be looking for redemption. But the truth is, if the Sens keep playing like this, I think they’ll be disappointed with the result. While I’m sure they’ll relish a few days off, when a team is playing like Ottawa, a break of four days between games is probably not the ideal scenario, as you want to keep at it while you’re hot.

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