Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ottawa 6 Minnesota 1

THE GOOD:

Battling back against the Wild. Because of the style they play and the systems Jacques Lemaire implements, Minnesota are nearly impossible to come back against. They tighten the reigns, trap harder than Young Jeezy, and make it quite difficult to generate any offense against. Ottawa as a team isn’t particularly great when trailing, as they lack that jump in their step. So when the Wild netted the first goal, I was worried. Worried, for one, that the game was about to become about as exciting as watching paint dry, but also because I wasn’t sure if the Senators would be able to score and get back into it. They proved me wrong, big time, scoring six goals, blowing the game open, and exposing Minnesota’s supposed rigid defensive system as something that can be brought down.

Patrick Eaves collecting three points. Two Ottawa rookies, Eaves and Bochenski, had a ton of family in the building to watch them play as NHLers. Unfortunately for #10, his shoulder acted up again and he was forced to sit this one out. However, Eaves more than made up for it, having, statistically, his best game yet, with two goals and an assist. I’ve sung the praises of that mish mash of a trio that makes up the new third line before but it’s worth mentioning again. They have really impressed me with the way they’re able to make something, anything, happen every time they step on the ice. Most of the time, that something is scoring chances, but not much in the way of red lamp lighting. Tonight was different. Vaclav Varada also remains sizzling hot, registering another two point game. For a guy who only had 11 points before Saturday’s game, he sure is on quite the tear. And what can be said about Chris Kelly? The way he has elevated his game since being moved up to the third line has been remarkable.

The penalty killing. Mind you, Minnesota’s powerplay can hardly be described as potent, but I liked the adjustments the coaching staff made to the PK units in the wake of their struggles Saturday night against the Oilers. They were much more aggressive, pressuring the point men, and were often battling with Minnesota players for pucks in the Wild end after they would dump it out, demonstrating how much the Senators were on top of them.

Breaking the road powerplay slump. Coming into this game, the Sens were something like 1/29 with the man advantage in recent road games. It was clearly a problem. Coming into the game, against the best penalty killing team in the NHL, I was fearful the streak would continue, but the Senators stepped it up. They did a good job of moving the puck and, in particular, a terrific job of keeping the puck in the zone.

THE BAD:

The horrible diving calls. I can appreciate that Steven Walkhom and the NHL wants to rid the league of diving. I agree 100% with that initiative. Diving is one of the worst parts of the game and needs to be eradicated. However, they also have to be smart about it. I understand it’s tricky thing to call, but the two that were whistled in that last night’s game, one against the Wild and one against the Senators, were both questionable at best, and from where I sit, terrible penalties to call. The one on Chris Kelly was laughable.Yes, he was diving, but it wasn’t to embellish the penalty, which was already being called, but rather diving to stab at the puck, to try and get a shot on goal before a Minnesota player was able to touch the puck and get play whistled dead.

Dany Heatley’s giveaways. It’s been a problem for a while now. Heatley, for all his positive attributes, is prone to extremely ill-timed, bad giveaways.

THE OPPOSITION:

I was extremely disappointed in the effort of the Wild. I was actually expecting this game to be a big challenge, a measuring stick for the Senators. They’re known to be a tight checking team who can frustrated more talented clubs. These are the kind of games Ottawa has had a difficult time with this season. When the game is open, they’re golden (except the atrocity that was the game in Atlanta).

I figured, we’d see if the Sens had learned from their mistakes in the past and were able to find ways to overcome being beaten by system teams.

Ottawa held up their end of the bargain. They came to play. The Minnesota Wild did not. For the most part, they were sloppy, loose in their coverage, and very undisciplined. Even with Ottawa’s struggling powerplay, a team like Minnesota, who struggles to score goals, cannot give a team with their kind of firepower the

Minnesota remains on the outside looking in as far as the Western Conference playoff picture, and I with the roster they have, the division they play in, and the system their coaches use, I can’t see them making a run. They’re difficult to play against on most nights, I’m sure, but they simply cannot generate enough offense to play with most teams.

If they do fail to make the playoffs, it’ll be the second time in as many years they’re not playing in May after having that deep run in 2003. At what point do you look at Jacques Lemaire and all that he brings and decide it’s no longer working?

Watching them play in not exciting, and they’re not winning a lot of games, yet the crowds continue to come, so ownership might not have the motivation to make a move the way Charles Wang did on Long Island, but surely, eventually, the fans will want a winner. Can Jacques Lemaire provide that in an NHL that emphasizes speed and scoring over coaching and defence? We shall see.

I figured this team did have one problem that a lot of their rivals wish they did, and that was one too many starting goalies. Both Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson would be number one netminders on half the teams in the NHL. You’d think this would mean they’re in a position of power to deal, even with both being UFAs at the end of the season. But if this is the Dwayne Roloson teams would be trading for, he hardly seems like an upgrade over the Alex Aulds and Ty Conklins of the world.

UP NEXT:

The revolving door that is the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Brian Burke, who will be practicing on the Rideau Canal tomorrow morning. Considering it was –17C today, that might not be a good idea.

The Ducks, like the Wild and the Coyotes before them, aren’t a playoff team as of right now, so, in theory, that means they’ve have more to play for than the Senators, as for them, every game matters from now until the end of the season.

Though nothing has been announced, I’d look for Ray Emery to possibly get some time in nets. He hasn’t seen action since struggling in back-to-back games against the Thrashers and the Habs, so they might want to try and get him out of his funk against an inferior team. Plus, with those damn Leafs coming to town for two games at the Scotiabank Place, it could be wise to sit Hasek Thursday for those, since they’re sorta more important than a game against the lowly Ducks.

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