Saturday, December 10, 2005

Vancouver 3 Ottawa 2 (SO)

THE GOOD:

The playoff-like atmosphere. Even though it was a game in early December that, ultimately, will have little implications, it sure felt like it was a whole lot more important. Even watching it on TV, over 3000 miles away, I could feel the excitement.

Dominik Hasek. Despite starting slow, Hasek was in rare form last night. He was the team’s best penalty killer in the sense that he made a gang of massive, timely saves that kept them in a game they otherwise might not have had any business being in. I’ve said it before, so I might as well chime in again: Dominik, please, stay in your net. I know, I know, who am I to tell a surefire Hall Of Famer what to do, but it hurts my insides every time I see him wonder out of the net. I get that he wants to challenge the opposition, but he should pick and chose his spots.

Andrej Meszaros. With Wade Redden still out with that injury (and not all that committed to coming back early, it seems), the rookie has been forced to take on a bigger role with the team and has responded wonderfully. This is not to say he was without his errors. He made a terrible giveaway in the Sens’ end, as well as blowing a tire earlier in the game, allowing a Canucks forward to go in alone on a breakaway, but those gaffs were few and far between. The rest of the game, he was horse, logging over 24 minutes of ice time. He also finally scored his first NHL goal, and though it wasn’t pretty, it was an example of what the Senators should’ve been doing more last night: he simply threw the puck on the net, got a lucky bounce, and bam, red light. It says a lot about how much Murray and the coaching staff thinks of him that they put him into Redden’s spot on the point with the man advantage.

Peter Schafer’s shorthanded goal. Schaefer has been a popular target of Bryan Murray, who’s been on him to shoot more since he took over the reigns. Schaefer has always been pass happy, and when you’re playing with a sniper like Martin Havlat, but with Havlat out until the playoffs (we hope), Schaefer might as well start firing the puck. He did last night, and sure enough, it went in.

Getting a point. If we’re trying to be glass half full, then the fact Ottawa got one point in a game they likely didn’t deserve it has to be seen as a positive.

THE BAD:

Way too many damn penalties. Going into last night’s game, Ottawa was the 4th most penalized team in the NHL, and after all the time they spent in the sin bin in Vancouver, I’d wager they’re now in the top 3. And what makes it worse is, most of the penalties were not good ones to take. A few of the 13 (yes, 13) they were issued were iffy calls, but the truth is that went both ways, as the officiating was very inconsistent. Most of them, however, were just bad plays. The Canucks were outskating Ottawa and getting loose pucks with regularity, and too often, the Sens’ response was to obstruct them. I don’t like that a lot of these are now penalties, but the reality is, they are, so the Senators need to break these old habits and get with the times. It sure seemed last night like a lot of Ottawa players were stuck in the old NHL. Mike Fisher took four penalties alone. It was not a good night, and I’m sure Bryan Murray gave them a tongue lashing after the game that would make his assault on Jim Fox look tame. And they deserve it.

Jason Spezza. I don’t know what was wrong with #19 last night, but to say he was off his game wouldn’t be doing his performance justice. Throughout this season, he’s had a few games where he’s made a couple boneheaded plays, whether they be errant passes or ill-timed attempts to stickhandle through 20 guys, and every time I jumped all over him for it, but last night was easily the worst. His passes were sloppy all night long, missing their intended targets and quite regularly leading to giveaways. He also didn’t register a shot all night long. Like Schaefer, he fancies himself a passer not a shooter, and that’s fine, but when he has good opportunities, he needs to fire that puck instead of trying to dish it off. He capped the night off with the world’s best Jason Allison impression during the shootout. I thought my TV had gone into slow motion. As a whole, it was Spezza’s worst game of the season.

Only playing Christoph Schubert 7 minutes. I have to question the wisdom of the coaching staff on this one. I’ve been very impressed with Schubert this season, as he’s incredibly solid in his own zone and isn’t afraid to join the attack when the opportunity arises. Why did they bench him? Did he make a bad play that I missed? The aforementioned Fisher took four bad penalties and still played 19 minutes.

THE OPPOSITION:

Having only seen the Canucks a handful of times prior to last night, I had no real sense of how good a team they were. If last night was their measuring stick, they’re quite good, but still have some issues I’d be concerned about if I was a ‘Nucks fan.

For one, their powerplay. Ottawa handed them the game with their lack of discipline, yet Vancouver couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities. A big part of that was Hasek standing on his head, but they still needed to finish much better. I must say though, I thought former Sens defenceman Sami Salo, who I was never all that fond of during his time in the nation’s capital, was a monster playing the point on the PP. He was moving the puck like Nick Lidstrom and made at least a dozen good plays at the blueline to keep the puck in the zone.

For a game that hyped largely on the match-up between the two big lines, I didn’t think the Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi trio looked much better than Ottawa’s top three. Neither were the force you might expect. Instead, it was the Sedin twins who were the straws that stirred the Canucks attack last night. They looked to have come a long way even from last season.

UP NEXT:

No time to dwell on their poor performance, as it’s back at it in Calgary on national TV tonight. On the one hand, I think getting back to it so soon is a good thing. They’re a team that, when defeated, likes to get the train going again, as seen last week when they were dominated by the Bruins and then came back 24 hours later to beat up the L.A. Kings in every sense of the word.

Having said that, they’re bound to be an exhausted bunch. Killing penalties takes a lot out of a team, and Ottawa was forced to kill a bunch of them. They had five players over 20 minutes last night, and three more within 90 seconds of 20 minutes. We’ll have to hope that they’ll get by on adrenaline and a desire to redeem themselves because there likely isn’t much gas left in the tank of key guys like Chara (who played 32 minutes) and Alfredsson (who played 27).

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