Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ottawa 7 Phoenix 2

THE GOOD:

Daniel Alfredsson’s first game back. Boy is this team every different with Alfie present. Whether or not he can be credited with the entire team’s elevation of play remains to be seen but there is no disputing the fact that with Alfredsson out there the Sens look faster, more dangerous, and you feel like they can score at any time, a feeling I most certainly did not have in any of the games they lost last week. In those contests, when down, there was absolutely a feeling that even a one goal deficit was insurmountable for Ottawa. Alfredsson himself looked fantastic. Not one step slower and even the hesitation to play with an edge I had expected, and was more than willing to cut him slack for, was not there. Hell, you could see that there would be no rust on this captain on his first shift, where he took a hit, had a scoring chance, and then drew a penalty. We might as well give this man the Hart right now because I sure can’t think of a player more important to his team, Jaromir Jagr included.

The work of the Vaclav Varada-Chris Kelly-Patrick Eaves line. I continue to be impressed with this unlikely trio’s chemistry and ability to generate chances. There was one shift in particular, in the first period, when the game was still close, where they must have had three scoring chances in the span of a minute. On paper, I couldn’t imagine a more Odd Couple of a forward line, yet they have gelled quite well, quite quickly, and can be counted on for energy of some sort every time they’re put on the ice.

Zdeno Chara’s hands on the third goal. It likely would’ve gone in had Big Z not been there, as Dany Heatley was planted right beside him and he’s not the type to miss on those opportunities (though on this night, he might’ve, more on that in a second), but nevertheless, I was impressed with Chara’s move to score. For a giant, he’s got pretty swift hands.

Christoph Schubert’s physical game. It’s a shame he left the game early, because the big German was having one of his best outings of the season so far. For a rookie who’s natural position is defence, Schubert has made the transition to forward look so easy I’m wondering why they don’t try it with Brian Pothier. Is it a German thing? Do we have to send Pothier to Berlin for a week for it to be possible? Schubert won’t score a lot of goals, but as a fourth liner, that’s not really his role. Instead, his job is to make things happen, take the body, and mix it up, and boy did he ever before getting injured. Despite only playing a little more than two minutes, he finished with four hits, and that number seems low to me. When this team gets healthy this week, with both Spezza and Bochenski expected back by the weekend, I imagine Schubert will be relegated back to the taxi squad (assuming he’s not seriously hurt, as I’ve yet to see an update), which is a shame because he’s played well enough that he deserves to continue to play regularly. It’s reassuring though that we have a guy like this who can be called upon whenever there is an injury, which with this team this season is more a matter of when instead of if.

THE BAD:

The officiating. I know, I know, it’s getting tired, but this was not one for the ages as far as the work of the zebras. On both ends. It probably didn’t decide the game, as Phoenix sort of did that to themselves, but a lot of the calls made against both teams were borderline embarrassing. As Wayne Gretzky so eloquently said from the bench, they missed a high stick on Mike Johnson that busted him open for five stitches, yet called a Petr Nedved for tripping a few shifts later when Bryan Smolinski just skated over and tripped on his stick. Later in the period, Mike Fisher was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for taking a shot on ‘Yotes goalie Brian Boucher after the whistle, but as they noted on the broadcast, it wasn’t so late that it would’ve been called on its own and only got chalked up because of a scrum afterwards when Mike Ricci flipped out like a little girl and the referee felt he had to even it out. Brian Pothier got a holding penalty late in the game that was a joke.

Dany Heatley’s skates. I don’t know what it was, but Heatley must’ve fell three times in this game.

Dany Heatley’s finish. I don’t know what it was, but Heatley must’ve missed what would otherwise be sure fire goals for him three times this game. For a guy considered this team’s best sniper, he sure didn’t partake in the fun that was running up the score on Wayne Gretzky. He got one goal credited to him, yeah, but I mean, you or I could’ve scored that. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to try, what with the whole having-to-take a point shot from Zdeno Chara to get it thing. By the way, why is Chara only hitting the best players with these shots, or has he been doing it all year and we’re only noticing now in the aftermath of the Alfie scare?

THE OPPOSITION:

The Phoenix Coyotes really have no one to blame for this loss, or at least the degree to which they lost, but themselves. Because even though I’d say Ottawa outplayed them in the first, it wasn’t lopsided, and being down only a goal after 20 minutes against the rejuvenated Sens was something I’m sure they looked at as a positive.

Yet in the second, Phoenix folded, and badly. Some of the credit for that folding has to go to Ottawa, who were all over them on the forecheck, forcing turnovers, but a lot of the turnovers were also the result of sloppy plays from the Coyotes. In fact, all three of the third period goals that blew the game wide open were as a result of a Phoenix player coughing up the puck. Ottawa, when they’re on their game, is too good a team to be giftwrapping scoring chances to, and that’s exactly what they did.

I haven’t seen much of Phoenix this year, so judging them based on one game, and especially on this one, might not be fair, but I’m going to do it anyway. They appear to be a club with far too many floaters. They have a lot of veterans, or at least, guys with league experience, who aren’t performing up to par. Besides that absurd tripping penalty he was assessed, Nedved was not a factor in this game at all. The same goes for Ricci, who I only noticed for the nonsense he was doing after the whistle. Ditto Geoff Sanderson, Denis Gauthier, and Mike Comrie. These are the guys who, if the Coyotes are going to creep back into the playoff hunt, are going to have to play well, and they did not at all on this night.

Meanwhile, they have some young players who looked very good that fans of the team should (and likely are) be excited about. Fresh faced defencemen Keith Ballard and Zbynek Michalek both had strong games, and up front, even in defeat, I liked the games of Steve Gainey and Fredrick Sjostrom. Unfortunately, they’re probably still a few years away from being good enough that they can lead this club to some success.

UP NEXT:

Another team that, in theory, should be hungry in the San Jose Sharks. If their annihilation of the Boston Bruins last night is any indication, they’re starving, but haven’t we all learned this season that the Bruins are such shit they can’t be used as the barometer against any club? Except when Ottawa comes to town, sadly.

Even though he got kicked out, I doubt Joe Thornton will be facing any disciplinary action from the NHL, so he’ll be in the lineup and looking for redemption. Also expected back, assuming his owwie doesn’t hurt too bad that day, will be Spezza.

Even with all the ribbing I’ve done about his seemingly lack of interest in coming back to this team at a pace other than super slow, there’s no disputing Ottawa is a different, better team with Jason Spezza playing than they are without him, so that will be a plus. Finally, the Big Line will be reunited so they can reclaim their chokehold on the NHL scoring race.

4 Comments:

At 12:36 AM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Phoenix is in a big, big, big slump, so I wouldn't judge them on this game. Coming off a 5-2 loss to Columbus in which the Coyotes played terribly, I expected more, but this may be the beginning of the end for Gretzky's team as a playoff contender. A shame really.

 
At 7:24 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

I agree with James. Also remember they Coyotes used back up goalie Brian Boucher who, aside from a 5 game shutout streak, has been a pretty mediocre goalie his whole career. That said, there were some things to be optimistic about. Seven goals doesn't happen by accident.

It would be real bad news for the Senators if they have to depend on Alfredsson so much. It wouldn't be good for Ottawa if shutting down Alfredsson means shutting down the Senators. Heatley has to pick up his own game some. He had 7 shots last night but only 7 shots on the whole 4 game road trip when Alfredsson wasn't there. That isn't acceptable and not representative of a supposed star player.

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Thoughts on the new 'Scotiabank Place'?

 
At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DJ:

This is who Dany Heatley is as a player. I think he got overrated while in Atlanta.

 

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