Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ottawa 4 NY Islanders 2

THE GOOD:

Getting off to a good start. After the way the Senators responded during that embarrassing first period onslaught from the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, it was refreshing to see a completely different team take the ice to start last night. It was the Senators we’ve come to known this season. Quick skating, good outlet passes from the defence and excellent tape to tape passes from the forwards, a strong forecheck, and everyone finishing their checks. The result was three quick goals to give them a 3-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. And while we saw on Tuesday vs. Montreal that a three goal lead is never safe, and can evaporate very quickly with poor play, it was a safe assumption that the Sens had it in the bag by the second when they barely let up the gas.

Ray Emery. Emery made several big saves through the game and looked to have his confidence back after two Ls in a row. His rebound control was excellent and he was seeing pucks extremely well all night long. Emery continues to prove he’s a more than capable backup who, if called upon, can perform.

Scoring from the blueliners. With Martin Havlat and now Brandon Bochenski out indefinitely, much has been made about the Senators need for consistent secondary scoring. The usual suspects have been looked to to provide it: Bryan Smolinski, Mike Fisher, Peter Schaefer. However, if the Senators will remain the top team in the NHL, they’ll require their defencemen to pick it up offensively. Last night, we saw that. Zdeno Chara scored his third goal in as many games while Andrej Meszaros’ terrific rookie season continued as he netted a goal. There were other points in the game where an Ottawa rearguard could’ve tallied a goal as well, included Anton Volchenkov being set up in the high slot in the third period for a glorious scoring chance.

Reuniting Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Even though I disagreed with it, I could recognize Bryan Murray’s logic in breaking up Alfie and Heatley for Thursday night’s game against the Flyers. With Spezza out, on top of the two shoulder injuries on the wing, the Sens desperately needed scoring and so distributing it over two lines instead of one was understandable. However, it didn’t work. Heatley had an awful game and Alfie wasn’t much better. In both cases, the guy was trying to do too much to compensate for the factthere were gaping holes in the line-up. Heatley in particular was making not just one move too many on a play, but more like three or four moves than necessary. He would’ve been much better off just shooting the puck. With the way they struggled, it was a no brainer to pair them back up and though it wasn’t quite as magical as when Spezza is centering the pair, you could see the games of both #11 and #15 get taken to the next level playing with each other.

The Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil line. For the second straight night, this trio was Ottawa’s most consistent forward line. Fisher in particular was a beast, registering four shots and four takeaways, accounting for half of Ottawa’s total in that regard.

The powerplay. 2 for 4 is a much more pleasing statistic than what we’ve been seeing as of late from the Senators.

THE BAD:

Antoine Vermette’s limited minutes. After an excellent game against Philly, you’d think Murray would reward Vermette with more ice time. Nope. He continued to get few even strength shifts (his line as a whole wasn’t on the ice much during 5-on-5 play) and got most of his sniffs of time on the PK. He’s an excellent penalty killer, but there is so much more to Vermette’s game than that that I wonder why Murray is reluctant to play him. He gives Patrick Eaves, a rookie, 13 minutes. I like that, as Eaves works hard and plays well. But why not Vermette as well? Vaclav Varada also gives it his all on every shift but just doesn’t have much offensive flare and more often than not fumbles whatever opportunities he gets. Vermette is a proven scorer at both the junior and AHL level. Someone, anyone, explain the logic in this.

Ill timed penalties. After getting up 3-0, the Sens started to get into some trouble. First, Brian Pothier took a very poor tripping penalty that resulted in Jason Blake’s goal to make it 3-1. The Sens then took three straight penalties over the next 12 minutes, giving the Islanders every opportunity to get back into the game. Thankfully, the penalty killing was very good, Emery was in a zone, and the Islanders’ PP wasn’t all that impressive, because it could’ve been a repeat of the Habs game.

THE OPPOSITION:

I will say this about the New York Islanders: they’re a whole lot better than the last time I saw them play Ottawa. Because on that night, almost two months ago, the Isles barely looked like a team good enough to play in the same league as the Senators, let alone be competitive. Some of that had to be chalked up to the fact they had turned over a lot of talent in the offseason and hadn’t yet established the chemistry necessary to win, but even beyond that, there were poor performances from all the players they depend on to be a playoff team.

So in that sense, they’re better, but I’m still not convinced they can be a club playing in late April or May. Their goaltending let them down big time, as Rick DiPietro was not strong through the night. This is a guy who will likely backstop Team USA in Turin, and if so, should squash whatever aspirations that team has of taking home a medal. If he had withstood Ottawa’s pressure in the first period and not given up say two of the three goals the Sens scored, it probably would have been a completely different game. Instead, he put his team in a horrible spot with over 50 minutes of game time remaining.

Another recurring problem is that their alleged stars just aren’t up to snuff. Alexei Yashin was, literally, not even noticeable throughout the game and even when the Isles were on the PP #79 wasn’t a factor. This isn’t news of any substance to Sens fans who watched Yashin do this same act here for years, but the Islanders have rebuilt their entire team around him this season hoping it would spark something. I sure didn’t see it.

The same can be said for Miroslav Satan and Janne Niinimaa, two guys who will have to improve their play if this team has any shot of a playoff spot.

UP NEXT:

With Christmas in two days, the Sens do get a little break, but jump back into action on Boxing Day with a home game against the visiting Rangers.

Truth be told, this is a game I’m looking forward to immensely.

For one, the Rangers have been an anomaly all year to me. I picked them to finish last, yes dead last, in the Eastern Conference, yet here they are, on top of their division more than 30 games into the season. I really don’t understand how they’re doing it. Yes, Jaromir Jagr is playing lights out, finally, and yeah, I know, they’re finally getting top shelf goaltending from Kevin Weekes and Henrik Lundquist, but first place? Really?

And secondly, I want to see how the Sens play against a team that has, so far, been among the league’s best. The Rangers may not be that on paper, but guys like me will have to get over that and accept them as the real deal sooner or later. Ottawa has struggled against top teams this season so let’s see how they respond matched up with a team that has it going for them and who you know will want to make a big impression to prove the skeptics like myself wrong.

3 Comments:

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont worry about Dipietro in the Olympics. The Isles dont have much in the way of a defensive game. There best players are pure offensive machines and rarely care to play defense, and the blue line corp itself isnt anything to write home about. In the Olympics, and under Laviolette (sp?), the team will have a much better blue line corp, and will play much more defensivley sound then the Isles do. In north America, Team Canada hockey gets all the attention, and deservedly so, considering the talent pool and interest in the sport compared to the USA. But don't count Team USA to not be a serious contender for the gold. This will be Laviolette's 3rd time head coaching international competition for the USA, and USA Hockey is taking the year very serious. I live in the USA, and although I am not proud of too many aspects of my country, I am supportive of USA Hockey, and feel this team has a decent shot. I don like all the decisions that were made for roster picks, but Wadell and Laviolette have been working closely the last few years to get this team ready for Italy. Dipietro is a GREAT goaltender, he wouldnt have been offered a 20 year contract from the Isles if he wasnt the real deal. Although the Canadians have a ton of scoring and flash on their team, the USA seems to be taking on the persona of a blue collar, grind it out team, and I certainly like their chances playing physical in what often tends to be a tournament against not physical, high flying world teams.

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

I think Team USA has enough offensive weapons to be a threat. In a short tournament, anything can happen, so it would be foolish to write them off completely.

But when compared with the lineups the Canadians and Russians will be sending, as well as the Czechs, I can't see them being favorites to take home a medal.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger #1 Met Fan said...

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