Friday, January 20, 2006

Anaheim 4 Ottawa 3 (SO)


Jason Spezza’s first game back. For a guy who, 24 hours ago wasn’t sure he would be even playing, Spezza sure looked quite comfortable in there. He was involved in every facet of the game and was a factor for much of the contest. He was physically involved, his skating looked to be fine (which was reassuring because that was apparently the most painful act for Spezza during his time off), he was going hard to the net, and his passing looked just a tad less crisp than it was before. He missed almost a month of game action and yet played quite well, logging over 20 minutes. The only part of his game that looked to be soft was his faceoff winning percentage, as he was only 38%.

Dominik Hasek in the first period. Hasek, overall, had a very strong game in defeat, but in particular, he saved the club’s bacon in the first frame, when the Ducks were firing tons of shots his way. Hasek made a number of spectacular stops and was the only reason the Sens went into the first intermission up 2-0.

The coaching staff showing confidence in Patrick Eaves by having him shoot last. In the shootout Yeah, it’s easy to say, now, “that was a mistake”, but I liked the act by Bryan Murray and co. to give the kid a shot. He played very well, and has shown himself to have an uncanny ability to find the net since his first NHL game. When the team gets healthy in a few months, the team will have some tough decisions to make because Eaves has played his way onto this roster. Being that he’s only 20, and the team has good depth at forward, it’ll be a difficult call to make. Previously, I felt he was better off in the AHL, developing his game, based on the good it did Jason Spezza. But the way he’s playing, it’s hard to argue that Patrick Eaves doesn’t belong in the NHL right now, full time, and getting major minutes.

Getting a point in a game you don’t deserve it. You have to take ‘em when you get ‘em, and though Ottawa was outplayed by the Ducks in, basically, every way imagineable, the fact they still managed to squeak out with a point means they won’t be too dejected, though I doubt that single point will be any consolation to Bryan Murray.

Dany Heatley’s backchecking. Heatley, never known to be a defensive specialist by any means, has really turned on that aspect of his game in the last little while, and I thought last night’s game against the Ducks was his best in that regard. Does the ghost of Jacques Martin still linger on the grounds to give offensive players advice on how to be a good two-way player?


The plethora of turnovers committed. Most of them unforced, by the way, and just the result of sloppy play. They racked up a grand total of 18 giveaways. Unacceptable.

The poor defensive coverage. I have no explanation for this, as Ottawa is usually quite good here, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t clicking last night. Men were left wide open for longer than they should have been, Sens players were playing the puck instead of taking their man (which resulted in the Ducks’ first goal, and shifted the momentum the other way).

Bryan Murray’s line juggling. When Spezza was out, I understand why Murray was mixing it up. The fact the team was playing poorly only meant it made more sense to try new combos to get something firing. But the Senators were coming off a big win in Edmonton and a destruction of the Minnesota Wild, completely breaking open Jacques Lemaire’s trap system for six goals. Why not insert Spezza where ever and keep everyone else together? No exaggeration, there must have been 20 different trios trotted out by Murray. Many of them were tried when the Sens, though being outplayed, weren’t being dominated.

The shootout drought. When the season started and the Sens beat the Leafs in back-to-back shootouts, everyone in Ottawa, myself included, was elated. We had what we thought was the best shootout goalie in the world, and we came to that conclusion based on some pretty good evidence, and a team full of goal scorers. Yet after those Leaf shootout wins, the Sens have struggled in this area, losing their last three shootout encounters.

Removing the “Thank you fans” message The NHL allowed teams to begin to take this off the ice last month, and it was rich to see who couldn’t do it quick enough. Thank you fans? Who would do such a thing? An NHL team? I was pleased to see the Sens keep it around, but it was gone for tonight’s game in the newly renamed venue. Does Scotiabank hate hockey fans? We know they hate their customers based on the interest rates, ridiculously long lines, etc.


If last night’s contest was a statement game for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, then they made their statement loud and clear: they are a formidable hockey team.

Even with Brian Burke unloading two of their most dangerous scorers, and with Sandis Ozolinsh off in rehab, Anaheim are a team that still has enough weapons to beat you.

What cannot be questioned about this team based on last night’s performance is that they’re a hard working team who, if you don’t come correct with the effort on your end, will beat you, regardless of how much more talented you are on paper.

Anaheim outskated the Senators, stayed hard on the forecheck, making it difficult for the Sens defencemen to make the outlet passes that are such a key to this team’s success, won most of the battles along the boards, and took advantage of their special teams chances.

What’s perplexing about Anaheim’s win is that it goes against most of the other Ls the Sens have taken. Most of the time, they’re beat by teams that play a system, lay back, don’t allow Ottawa to get much in the way of chances, but pounce on the few they themselves get. It’s how Dallas came in and got two points, how Calgary beat Ottawa in overtime, how San Jose was able to get a win, etc.

In all of those games, Ottawa’s effort was questionable, yeah, but you could at least see a system at work, and to a certain extent justify the loss. Not here. Anaheim just outplayed them in every way, even outchancing them by a wide margin.

All of this despite their goaltender not playing particularly well. That should be encouraging to Ducks fans because you would think that in order for them to be a team capable of climbing back into the playoff picture, they’ll need J.S. Giguere to stand on his head the way he did that spring of 2003. In this game, he gave up a horribly soft goal and was offering up juicy rebounds all night long.

As a team, they played terrific, so to single anyone out would be doing their win a sort of injustice, but it’s worth noting how excellent a game Teemu Selanne had. I, like most of you I assume, had written him off as an impact player after his wishy washy season in Colorado. I thought he could still help whatever team signed him, but as far as being his team’s best forward? I was sure those days were gone. He proved me wrong last night, and based on the fact he has 20 goals, it’s probably safe to assume last night’s performance wasn’t an aberration. He was skating like the wind and had to be responsible for many of their best scoring chances, as he was buzzing around the net on a nonstop basis.

It would be unrealistic to expect Anaheim to play this well every night, or even most nights, but if they can come close to duplicating this effort, I see them making some noise in the Western Conference.


A little team called the Leafs. I’ll have a lot more to say on this, don’t worry. And I promise, no corny election punchlines about Monday's game. I'm about as sick of that as one could get.


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