Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ottawa 8 Toronto 2

THE GOOD:

The rejuvenated powerplay. This team’s lack of consistency with the man advantage has been a thorn in my side since the season started, and though it was only one game, going 6 for 11 on the PP is hopefully a sign of things to come. The return of Wade Redden made a noticeable difference in how well their powerplay functions as they were severely lacking his puckmoving abilities when he was out injured. I will say they started slow and on their first couple of opportunities with a man up they were not impressive. Especially the first unit, who were making the same mistakes they had been during this recent slump: sloppy passes, trying to force plays, and losing battles for loose pucks. However, they turned it around and once the train got rolling it was near impossible to stop it.

The Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil. In the first period, when Toronto had the lead, it was this trio who were generating much of the team’s chances to even up the score. They were grinding hard and flat out hustling the Leaf defenders matched up against them. Schaefer’s work along the boards continues to be legendary, Fisher is skating as well as I’ve ever seen him, and Neil takes care of the scraps.

Chris Phillips. He was physical, well positioned, and reliable all night long. The other half of the Chara-Phillips pair doesn’t get the fanfare his partner gets, but more than any other Sens player, Chris Phillips seems to rise to the occasion in big games. He’s a notoriously great playoff performer and last night’s game was about as close to playoff game as you’re going to find in December. Phillips even made a big save in the first period when Dominik Hasek was out of position on a play. He moved into the crease and stoned Mats Sundin cold on a shot from the slot.

Chris Kelly. I don’t know what it is about blowouts against the Buds that brings out “Battleship Kelly”’s scoring touch, but both of his goals have been against Toronto. And if I’m not mistaken, each was the eighth goal of the night. Even though on both occasions the game was out of hand, it was nice to see Kelly get the change to pad his stats. He’s one of the team’s unsung heroes and if it wasn’t for ace penalty killers like Kelly, the Sens would’ve struggled even more over the last couple weeks with all the penalties they were taking.

The Big Line getting going again. Even with the majority of their combined eight points coming on the powerplay, it was nice to see this line finally break out of their own down time and put up some offence. Spezza had a strong game, skating hard and making a lot happen, Alfredsson was back to his old form of being remarkably sound in both ends of the ice, and Dany Heatley decided to actually start hitting the net again. And what do you know, it resulted in goals. Imagine that. What couldn’t be ignored about this line during its slump was that they just weren’t finding each other with passes the way they had been previously. For the most part, last night was a return to the old ways.

THE BAD:

Jason Spezza fighting, and now likely being suspended. I’ve already heard some praise #19 for standing up for himself, but I didn’t like the sight of him rolling around on the ice fighting. Especially when he’s coming off a bad hip. There’s no question the spear on him was not kind (was it even Colliacovo who did it?), but he should’ve sucked it up and moved on. We’ll see if he’s suspended, as since they say it’s cut and dry, he automatically is unless it’s rescinded. To me it very much resembled the Shane Doan incident, but Colin Campbell seems to beat to his own drum and pays no mind to the precedent he’s set with his previous mandates, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Spezza get shelved by the league. I’ll have a hard time swallowing it if Bryan Murray is fined again though, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. By the way, why did Belfour not get a third-man-in penalty on that? He was throwing punches. Eddie couldn’t even get kicked out of the game.

Anton Volchenkov’s enthusiasm for hitting. You can’t tell the “A-Train” to derail himself and stop playing the way that makes him effective, but I’d like to see Volchenkov be a little bit smarter with his timing. On more than one occasion last night, Volchenkov went for a big hit, missed, and a scoring chance opened up for the Leafs. I realize a big hit can change the tempo of a game, and perhaps set a tone, but there’s a time and place for it.

THE OPPOSITION:

The 8-2 score is not flattering to the Leafs, but I’m also not sure it’s a fair indication of how the game was. Even though they were outshot horribly in the first period, the Leafs were not out of it. Had a bounce gone their way during a scrum in the Ottawa crease, it would’ve been 2-0 for Toronto and likely an entirely different game.

What killed them was the same thing that has haunted the Senators: undisciplined play. They took far too many penalties and handed the game to Ottawa on a silver platter. A lot of the calls weren't the kind of penalties I liked whistled down, but it went both ways, so Leafs fans can't really cry foul as far as their team being hit with too many chinzy infractions.

Going into last night, some questioned the wisdom in playing Ed Belfour. After all, Mikael Telqvist has been playing well, Belfour had not, and “Eddie The Eagle” was coming off a groin injury. Was it wise to play him in a game that you knew would see him forced to make a bunch of stops in order for the Leafs to be competitive? It was a fair question.

From a Leafs perspective, I thought Pat Quinn made the right call in going with Eddie. I figured after that last embarrassing outing against the Senators, Belfour, who’s known for his competitive edge, would be quite motivated to play well. It turns out I was wrong.

He started strong, and made a couple large saves in the first period to keep it close, but as the game went on, he unraveled horribly. By the end, he was barely trying. After Bryan Smolinski scored Ottawa’s 5th goal to restore the Sens’ three goal lead, he essentially threw in the towel. On the three goals that followed, Belfour wasn’t making much of an effort, and looked to be trying to get out of the nation’s capital as soon as possible.

However, the team in front of him didn’t fare much better. A few players came to play. I thought Jason Allison was their best forward, and was responsible for more than a couple of their best scoring chances. He went to the net hard and tried to be creative. Matt Stajan was giving his all and despite his smallish stature, was among their most physical forwards. And Clark Wilm was terrific on a lot of the penalty killing shifts he got.

Unfortunately for Leaf Nation, that’s about where it ended. The rest of the team appeared to have forgotten the drubbing they were handed on national TV six weeks ago, because they didn’t play like a team who wanted redemption. For a team that in the past has gotten by on heart when they’re hit with the injury bug and their backs were against the wall, they looked remarkably uninterested.

Is there an explanation for this? Has Pat Quinn’s message grown tired? Do they just not have the horses to compete with a top team? I don’t have the answers, but I’m sure those very questions will be repeated ad nauseam on message boards, in the Toronto media, and on sports call in shows over the next week.

I will say, as poorly as he played, I actually felt bad for Belfour. When a goalie is having an offnight, is it not protocol to pull him so he can retain some semblance of his pride? Did Quinn decide the code didn’t apply because Belfour’s effort was lacking? Was he trying to send a message by humiliating him out there? Again, I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of these questions.

UP NEXT:

Ottawa has a potentially tough stretch coming up, so they’ll need to keep the ball rolling or could very easily find themselves in another mini slump. First up are the struggling Montreal Canadiens.

After starting the season like gangbusters, the Habs has cooled off quite a bit and going into last night’s game against Minnesota, had only won four of their last 14. That said, they’ve always played the Senators tough and will likely be looking to snap out of their losing streak with a big win.

9 Comments:

At 11:38 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

If you look at the keys to the game I outlined in the comments to the previous post, they all came true.


1. Leafs goaltending. Belfour played great for most of the first half of the game but was bad for most of the second half. The 4th goal wasn't a bad one, but you'd expect him to stop that 8 times out of 10. Then the Leafs came out storming in the third, made the score 4-2 only to have Belfour give up a bad goal on an bad angled shot. The 7th and 8th goals were also on bad angled shots that should have been stopped (but of course after the 5th goal it didn't matter)

2. Senators big 3. Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson looked better tonight that they have in any of the Senators previous 6 or 7 games.

3. Penalties. Toronto got into penalty troubles and Ottawa capitalized on them and it ultimately cost Toronto any chance at winning.

Toronto was doing OK for the first half of the first period. They were up 1-0 and holding their own. Then they got into penalty trouble that lasted right through the second period and the Senators took control of the game. But the Leafs didn't give up and dominated the early part of the third period and looked ripe to get back in the game. Then came Smolinski's goal that Belfour should ahve stopped and that was the end of hopes of a comeback. Then the Leafs got in penalty trouble again.

As for Spezza, who knows if he will get suspended. The rules say he should but as we know it isn't necessarily automatic. One of the things the NHL is trying to stop with the rule is having players take justice into their own hands late in the game when the game isn't close and taking the instigator penalty is essentially meaningless. This applies to the Spezza fight tonight but will the NHL go after a star player who doesn't have a past record? Who knows. With the NHL it's anyone's guess.

 
At 11:51 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Yep, your game notes were on point.

Any thoughts, as a Leafs fan, on what to do? I realize the loss is still fresh, but to say Leaf Nation is in shambles right now might not be too much of an overstatement.

 
At 3:43 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

The Leafs don't need to do anything at the moment. Every year they go through the same problems. Every year media and fans call for Quinn's head at some point. Every year they claim drastic changes need to be made. But every year they still manage to make the playoffs and more often than not manage to win a round or two. I think there will be roster changes between now and the trade deadline but I don't think they need to rush into anything. I am pretty sure tehy will add a defenseman between now and the trade deadline and possibly some additional speed up front. But an overhaul is not needed.

BTW, not having Antropov in the lineup tonight certainly hurt. He and Ponikarovsky have been an excellent penalty killing duo in the past couple weeks. Ponikarovsky is quick and Antropov has the long reach to cut off passing lanes. They work well together on the PK and as you know the PK for the Leafs just wasn't working tonight.

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger pale said...

Thin Ed Belfour is nervous looking to move past Terry Sawchuk on the NHL's all-time goaltending wins list?

He failed to do so for the fifth straight start. He made 35 saves, but hasn't won since Nov. 28 and remains stuck at 447 career victories.

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Toronto took a lot of penalties, but most of them were not soft... they were for dirty play. Look at the list:

Puck over glass
Boarding
Hooking
Slashing
Boarding
Hooking
Slashing
Slashing
Slashing
Hooking
Slashing
Holding

Can't complain about the puck over the glass, boarding is always dangerous and must be called, and then five slashing calls, all of which were obvious.

Toronto only took 4 penalties that were "new NHL" style penalties... Yes, the hooking calls were often weak (against both teams), but only getting 4 like that is a pretty good outting.

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

How much longer will just making the playoffs be enough, though?

This is a team that has won six playoff rounds in the last six years, but four of them were over Ottawa. Beyond the Sens, they haven't had much success.

I've seen you comment that the Leafs always start slow, but we're now at the 33 game mark of the season. It's no longer the start of the year.

While I'm not sure firing Quinn is in the answer, I do think changes of some significance need to be made.

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

You can't make drastic changes now. They have set themselves up to be able to do a lineup rehaul next summer but for now they can't do much more than tweak the lineup and hope that Belfour and Sundin get it going and the team gets focused. When the team plays hard, they are a good team. Just look at the first 5-8 minutes of the third period. They really dominated the Senators. And when playing 5-on-5 the game was probably fairly even. Probably half of Ottawa's shots came on the power play.

The problem with the Leafs is the effort and consistancy isn't always there and this has been a problem under most of the Quinn teams in recent years. They have never made it easy on themselves. And it isn't just the start of the year, it happens at various moments in the season. In 2003-04 they went on a 4-6 stretch in Feb-March losing games they should have won against Carolina, Florida (twice), Buffalo and Pittsburgh which cost them a chance at the division title and an easier playoff schedule.

The Leafs are still in a playoff spot so there is no reason to panic. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games but they have been to San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas and Ottawa, all good teams and three of those losses were one goal losses. It's not time to panic yet.

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Rachael said...

I'm just curious as to how many Leafs fans got their free slice of pizza after last nights game...and if they did, did they choke on it :)

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Duff Wormburner said...

Good one Rachael!...The taste of crow pizza can only be washed down with a tall glass of deja-vu boo hoo juice.
The Blue fans are beginning to realize the reality of their team not making the playoffs!The slim hope of the last spot is evaporating before Christmas.You Blue fans better hope the NHL was only kidding about calling the rules because that is the only way Mats(face wash)Sundin will be able to be successful.It's time to come to the reality that either Mats(blade around the waist)Sundin or Eddie(3rd man in )Balfour will be traded before the deadline.My hunch is that it will be Sundin so that he could have a chance to win the cup with another team...can you say Colorado or Detroit?

 

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