Ottawa 5 Edmonton 3
The overall effort. One of Dominik Hasek’s main criticisms during his post-game rant Thursday was that the Senators were outworked that night in their loss to the Sharks, and last night, it was absolutely remedied. As a team, you cannot complain about their work ethic as they battled through in what was a very tight, close game.
Bryan Murray shaking up the lines. Coming off a game where they were unable to generate any offense, nor much sustained momentum in that area, it was a good idea to mix it up a little bit. Murray took Dany Heatley off the top line with Daniel Alfredsson and Bryan Smolinski, putting him with the ever impressive Chris Kelly and Patrick Eaves, in an effort to distribute the scoring throughout the line-up. Peter Schaefer was put onto that number one line, which of course meant the third line of him, Mike Fisher, and Chris Neil was broken up. An unfortunate casualty. Vaclav Varada spent some time with those two for the first two periods before being reunited with Kelly and Eaves in the third. I liked the look of a lot of these new combos. Assuming Jason Spezza ever does return from his chest injury, and he isn’t forced to retire, I still think it’s a good idea have him with Heatley and Alfredsson. By then, hopefully Smolinski will be rolling, having played with Alfredsson for a while, and will be able to carry that momentum over onto the second line. Of course, by the time Spezza is back, it might be close trade deadline and Doug Weight might be on the squad.
The way Mike Fisher carried the puck into the Edmonton zone all night. While he didn’t score a goal, I thought Mike Fisher may have been Ottawa’s most effective forward for the game. The team was having some trouble getting into Edmonton’s end at various points throughout the night and Fisher was one of the few who, regularly, was able to break through and get it in. He used his speed to get around the wall Edmonton would often form along their blueline.
Dany Heatley finally scoring on a one-timer. Heatley is a talented player. He’s got 28 goals. But shit does he frustrate me with his love affair with the one-timer. When he misses, and unfortunately, that’s often, I pull my hair out. Whenever he does score, however, I’m reminded why he tries them so much.
Antoine Vermette’s goal. I was quite impressed. Vermette is a guy who is known for being very ineffective when playing at even strength, because there is less ice for him to utilize his speed, and who is quite easy to move off the puck. By hitting him. So the fact he fought through Chris Pronger’s assault, including a pretty harsh elbow to the head, and went hard to the net to score won him a lot of points with me. Also, it’s pretty remarkable that a guy who’s struggled as much offensively as Vermette, who’s also spent most of the season on the fourth line, that he has nine goals already. The team would benefit greatly from him stepping it up on the scoresheet. Let’s hope this goal reinstates some of his confidence because it seems, from the outside looking in, that that has been his stumbling block as of late.
Chris Kelly’s work on Vaclav Varada’s second goal. Like Vermette, Kelly battled through a whole lot of nonsense, in this case much hooking and holding, continued going to the net, drew the penalty, and then kept working even after Jussi Markannen made the first stop, sending the puck in front of the net.
Chris Kelly’s work in the defensive zone. Kelly backchecked like an all-star and was responsible for a lot of the turnovers Ottawa forced in their end. He also covered for the defencemen, many of whom made some terrible mental gaffs.
Winning key defensive faceoffs in the third period. This has been a problem with the team as of late, and so it’s no coincidence that in a game where they were excellent in that area, they won.
The passiveness of the penalty killers in the first two periods. When you have a guy like Chris Pronger playing the point, who is known for his rocket of a shot, isn’t it wise to try and take that option away when killing a penalty? I realize this means you leave the forwards down low with more room to operate, but with this team, that seems like a smart move. Apparently not. They were very loose about covering the points, basically putting zero pressure on them. What happens? Two goals. It wasn’t Pronger who netted them, but rather Marc-Andre Bergeron, but still, I was left scratching my head.
The defence not doing a better job of protecting Hasek. Were they still sour from Hasek’s rant on them from the other night? I understand in this new NHL, defencemen have a whole lot less room to stop players in the slot, but the Oilers players were going hard to the net and bumping Hasek all night long. I don’t blame them for doing so, as it’s an effective method against any goalie, but Ottawa needs to do a better job of protecting their Hall of Fame netminder.
Wade Redden’s breakout passes. One of the attributes people often talk about when praising Redden is his ability to make big passes to send forwards in on breakaways, which is especially useful with no red line anymore. This was not his night, however. He must’ve missed on three of them, all causing turnovers. During the first period, one of them lead to a penalty because the puck ended up right on Mike Peca’s stick, he was in the clear, and Bryan Smolinski was forced to trip him.
Andrej Meszaros’ gaff in third period. Hasek bailed him out, but Meszaros reminded us all that he’s still a rookie with that play. Yikes.
Sloppy penalties in the third period. Fortunately, they were able to kill them off, and so the calls didn’t come back to bite them in the ass, but when you’re a team that is struggling, and in this particular you’ve already given up two powerplay goals, shouldn’t you be more careful than this? Chris Neil’s goaltender interference penalty was just a stupid move on his part.
Craig MacTavish made a comment recently about his team having the potential to be the best club in the league if not for their flaws, and though he didn’t elaborate as to what he thinks those flaws are, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know who he was talking about. I’m sure Ty Conklin’s ears were burning just reading it.
So are they really that good? Would they be among the NHL’s elite if they had decent netminding instead of the mess that currently takes up their goaltending positions? I don’t think so.
Even with, let’s say, middle of the pack goaltending, I still think they’re a pretender. A pretender who I wouldn’t want to face in a seven game series, because they have enough good players that they can beat you if they get
Last night, there were a few observations I made:
1) Their defence blocks a lot of shots.
This helps take some of the burden off of their unreliable ‘tenders, and makes it difficult, especially on the powerplay, to get shots through.
2) They’re among the fastest teams in transition
Whenever Ottawa would turn the puck over, and they did so more often than I would’ve liked, Edmonton was very quick to capitalize. As the game went on, the Senators got better about it, and it was because they saw what would happen if they didn’t curb their behaviour.
3) They have incredible depth at forward
While the Oilers probably lack a true number one line, the third and fourth lines they’re able to roll out, with the exception of Georges Laroque, are outstanding.
So what does this team need, besides better goaltending? I think a top six forward.
Now, every team needs one of those to an extent, but you throw a 30+ goal scorer on one of this team’s top two lines and they’re much more explosive, and probably can afford to have subpar work between the pipes.
Last night, Ales Hemsky had a terrific game, but a major flaw in his game was exposed: he has no finish. He’s got tremendous speed, can stickhandle very well, and does a good job of avoiding hits. However, whenever he got at the net, nothing materialized. Throw him on a line with a natural scorer, and you’ll have magic, I’m sure.
The Sens stay on the road and travel to Minnesota for a game Monday night.
Even though the Wild aren’t near the top of the standings in the Western Conference, they’re a tough win, especially when at home, so it’s hardly a gimme for the Senators.