Friday, February 10, 2006

Atlanta 2 Ottawa 1

THE GOOD:

A vastly improved effort. The Senators still didn’t get the W, but as a fan, you have to at least be pleased that the overall effort was worlds better than it was the night before at MSG in the loss to the Rangers. There were still a lot of things that need to be rectified, including the inefficiency of the special teams (which I’ll touch on in a minute), and as a whole, they’re still not where they need to be. Having said all that, they played a solid game that they deserved to win. They didn’t win, and those things will happen over the course of an 82 game season, so you can’t get too discouraged at the end result when the work done for the 60 minutes prior to that last buzzer was pretty damn good.

The mixing up of the lines. I’ve taken the Big Line to task for a while now, but never did I suggest breaking them up. The reason being, I felt like the best way for them to break out of their slump was to play through it. But perhaps Bryan Murray’s method (assuming it wasn’t just a one game thing to send a message) of breaking them up and getting them hot that way, and then reuniting them, is a better route to take. Long term, I do think that for the Sens to achieve what we all want and win the Stanley Cup, they’re better off loading up that number one line. By then, Martin Havlat will be back and let’s hope they’ve added some scoring help via a trade as well. I thought both of the top two lines did a lot of good things and, for their first game together, looked promising. Antoine Vermette finally got the promotion everyone has been clamoring for by being placed with Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. They did a lot of forechecking and brought significant speed when on the ice. At even strength, I thought Alfie was the worst of the three but he didn’t have a bad game by any means. They also reunited the number one line from opening night by putting Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza with recent call-up Brandon Bochenski. Talk about a lot of pressure for a rookie to walk into. Put on the top line on a team that hasn’t been scoring and has struggled with consistency for far too long now. They too looked mostly good when playing five on five. Heatley in particular was very strong on the puck and Bochenski, showing an attribute of a natural goal scorer, was in great scoring position all game long. Though neither line got on the scoresheet, it might be beneficial to keep them together for one more game. Saturday’s contest against the Flyers will be a big game and I know the natural inclination is to go back to the Big Line, but I would try this gameplan one more time to see if it gets better.

Vaclav Varada Before going down due to a cheapshot from Ronald Petrovicky, Varada had another solid game where he did the things he has to in order to fulfill the expectations the club has of him. He was real nasty in the corners, threw one of the biggest and best open ice hits any Senator has delivered this year on Serge Aubin in the first period, and was making a lot of things happen when on the forecheck.

Zdeno Chara’s meanstreak. Chara hasn’t been playing with his usual meanness for some time now, and I don’t think it’s any coincedence that his overall play has diminished in quality as well. Put simply, Zdeno Chara is at his best when he’s a pain in the ass to play against. A lot of that was seen against Atlanta, where he was crushing Thrashers forwards with hits, getting involved in scrums, and generally pissing the other team off. Chara also did so while logging nearly 28 minutes of ice time. I do wish Chara was taking the Olympics off however. Despite what Jes Golbez might want you to believe, Slovakia doesn’t have much of a shot of winning a medal in Turin, let alone a medal. Stranger things have happened, sure, but how likely is it? So why go. Sit at him, rest, and get ready for games that do matter.

The warm response Marian Hossa received. I previously talked about how I was somewhat worried about how Ottawa would react to Marian coming back. A lot of the reason was because I was fearful they would feel like they should based on how Dany Heatley was treated when he came back to Atlanta. Thankfully, they showed that, among hockey fans at least, we’re classier up north. Hossa did a helluva lot for the Senators organization in bringing them from a pretender to a contender and their growth might not have been possible without him. Yeah, there were some things at the end that were not great for his image, but that doesn’t take away from all the good things he was a part of. And by the way, if you’re a Thrashers fan and want to comment about how Heatley is a “conviced killer” and he “betrayed the fans”, at least have the decency to post under your name or I’ll take you as seriously as I do most hockey-related comments from someone below the Mason-Dixon. Hey, I can be ignorant too. How you like that.

THE BAD:

The ineffective special teams. Ottawa’s powerplay Wednesday night against the Rangers was more frustrating than especially bad. They had puck possession for most of the time they had the man advantage, but could not get shots through. In that sense, it was better last night. Shots were going through easier, and that probably has to do with the fact that Atlanta has an inferior penalty killing unit. However, other things were the problem. For one, Atlanta was winning far more battles along the boards than they should’ve. Jason Spezza in particular was beaten with regularity, and often it would result in them clearing the puck, forcing Ottawa to regroup. As well, the passes were not crisp in the least bit. As is often the case when Ottawa’s powerplay fails, the passing was forced. It’s one thing to try and force those crease-crossing passes when you’re playing well and gelling with your teammates. But when you’re struggling, keeping it simple is off the essence. And unfortunately, in addition to the powerplay not performing, their penalty killing also failed them. Atlanta was able to score twice when on their PP. A lot of the time it looked as if Ottawa was more concerned with scoring shorthanded than just killing the penalty before Atlanta nets a goal. I realize that their ability to score when down a man is one of this team’s beat features, and makes them difficult to play against because you have to be especially careful, but it seems as if Ottawa’s goals when shorthanded come from pouncing on the other team’s mistakes rather than forcing them.

Allowing Atlanta second and third swipes at the pucks. A big difference between the two teams was how they handled rebounds. Kari Lehtonen was making all the big saves, and his defencemen did a super job of clearing the puck on most occasions, ensuring the Sens did not have opportunities to bounce on loose pucks. Meanwhile, Hasek was every bit as strong as Lehtonen when called upon (which was, admittedly, far less often), but he didn’t get that same support from his teammates.

The calls on Chris Neil. I don’t know what it was, but it sure seemed as if the officials had a hate on for Neil last night. Now, he was doing his fair share of chirping, but regardless, those last two calls were quite questionable. In fact, in seemed as if from the point where he put Ilya Kovalchuk on his ass after eating a few gloved fists to the face from him, he had a target on his back.

THE OPPOSITION:

For a team like Atlanta, you take any wins you can at this point, as you’ll need them all two months from now when those last few playoff spots are handed out, so for them, it was a good night, but I don’t even the most partial Thrashers would have to admit they were outplayed.

Howevber, as I said above, special teams were the difference, and their powerplay came through when it mattered most while Ottawa couldn’t say the same.

What was disappointing, however, was that a game which featured four of the league’s top five goal scorers, and two teams that can light the lamp, played a 2-1 game. Atlanta didn’t show much in the way of offensive, and in only registering 22 shots, looked quite impotent scoring wise against a team that played last night and had to have had less gas in the tank.

However, in their own zone, even though Ottawa outplayed them by a wide margin, they were terrific at ensuring Ottawa didn't get second and third chances on rebounds and also took away a lot of opportunities through shotblocking. Their defence blocked 12 in comparison to Ottawa's D only getting in the way of 8.

They too have been struggling as of late after putting together a nice run that put them into a playoff position. If they need Lehtonen to play as well as he did last night to win, then Don Waddell is probably going to be eating a whole lot crow come mid-April because they won’t be a playoff team.

UP NEXT:

One of the bigger games of the season, I think. Philadelphia comes to Ottawa for a Saturday night contest (and once again, no HNIC coverage. Thanks!). The Flyers are a team that has owned this season, and in the games, seems to really get up for the Sens.

In the past, Ken Hitchcock has talked about using Ottawa as a measuring stick for where his team is, seeing as how it has been Ottawa who knocked them out of the playoffs two of the last three years. Ottawa better start preparing for the games as much as the Flyers do because if not, the result will be the same.

6 Comments:

At 9:55 AM, Blogger mdfriedman said...

Just a note... because some Thrashers fans are idiots, we aren't all idiots. Sure, some people booed Heatley, but not all. I was at that first game and it really wasn't as bad as the press would have you believe. About 25% of the fans booing constantly.

In some way, though, they should be allowed to boo, just like you boo any opposing player. It's the nature of the game. In a way, Heatley did "betray" (strong word, but I can't think of anything better) Atlanta's trust, as we embraced him after what happened. I understand the choice he made to leave, but that doesn't change the matter that it does sting a bit.

Most Thrashers fans wish Heatley the best.

 
At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

I am so sick and tired of hearing the word "classless" associated with the booing of Heatley in Atlanta. What is so classless about booing a player that demands a trade, insults the fans that supported him, did nothing for the community where he committed his crime? Besides all of that, he is just another player on another team now. I don't hear any chirping about how classless Dany is for not thanking the fans or at least appreciating the support that the whole Atlanta organization showed him (even the letter he wrote "thanking" the fans was just PR drivel, and nobody has denied that). I don't view Dany as "classless". I support his reasoning for wanting a trade, and on a personal level I wish him the best. But on a professional level, he screwed the Atlanta Thrashers organization and their fans, and for that, he is booed... and rightly so. He was going to be the future of this franchise, and after he ruined a season by his careless actions in his car, he made this season difficult by asking for the trade. Granted, we here in Atlanta are very happy with Hossa, and there is enough debate over who got the better end of the deal to say that neither team got hurt in the trade.
If Marion Hossa had requested the trade, you would have been booing him, too. And if Waddell had traded Dany without Dany wanting to be traded, their would be a long line at his door, and they wouldn't be waiting to just "boo" him.

 
At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Amanda said...

My only comment is on the crowd reaction to Hossa. I have two favorite teams in the NHL: The Atlanta Thrashers and the Ottawa Senators.

Now what could connect these two that make me love them? Obviously Atlanta's ties to the Chicago Wolves helps (I'm from the Windy City), and I've loved Dominik Hasek my whole life.

However, ever since I've heard of him (Ottawa doesn't get much coverage in Illinois), I've been head over heels in hockey love with Marian Hossa. I think he's easily one of the best players I've ever gotten to see. I paid $100 (outragous price for American hockey fans) to get one seat for an Ottawa/Toronto game in Toronto. Yes, I risked my life by being a Sens fan, complete in regalia, in the ACC. Just to see Marian.

When the Hossa/Heatley deal hit I was shocked. But, neither could have went to better teams. It was an adjustment but I can take two of my favorite players swapping spots on my two favorite teams.

I understand how fans boo'ed Heatley in Atlanta. I knew some were going to do it. While Marian was asking for more money (but also a no-trade clause) in Ottawa, Heatley asked to be moved away from Atlanta. A fanbase that didn't ask twice about that terrible night in September, just happy to get their Heater back in January. Yet the Heater then wants to leave the city that backed him through it all. That's why people boo'ed, he wanted to leave them. To this day people still boo when Chris Chelios touches the puck in the United Center, and not only did he not want to be traded, he was crying at the press conference before he left. Fans are fickle, and while the Chelios booing has no merit, I see some in the Heatley one.

Again, I'm glad Ottawa respected the super slovak scorer. Although I wouldn't have been suprised if they didn't. Just because you live above the Mason-Dixon line doesn't mean you're hockey pure. I live above it as well, and I wouldn't have boo'ed Heatley either, but I can see the reasoning. No, most people in the South don't grow up with ice, but that doesn't mean they don't understand hockey. Don't insult them on terms of geography.

 
At 10:42 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

I was at the game last night and although the Senators played much better they still had trouble 'finishing'. Ottawa's top forwards (especially Spezza/Heatley) still try to do way too much. On several occasions they tried to make the extra pass or the extra deke but that only resulted in a lossed puck or a flubbed pass. These guys need to play a more simplified game - shoot the puck and go to the net. Heatley seems to only be interested in setting himself up for one-timers and Spezza seems only interested in setting him up for those one-timers, even if it means passing through 3 sets of legs and sticks to get it there (and of course, it doesn't). All three goals last night were on fairly simple plays - shots from the point or scrambles around the net. Ottawa, especially the more talented players, need to do more of that.

Also for "The Bad" list is Barbados night. Last night was Barbados night at the Scotia Bank place which featured Eugene Melnyk making live announcements right from Barbados in his hawaiian style shirt lounging with a Pina Colada or some such drink. We were inindated with Barbados promotions before the game and nearly ever break in the action. It got kind of tiring and certainly didn't make walking between the car and the building in -20C wind chills and more fun.

 
At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anji said...

You obviously haven't spent any time talking to Thrashers fans, otherwise you would know that we did not boo Heatley because he wanted to leave. We were sad, of course, but most people understood the fact that Dany needed to get away from his bad memories. However, that is not an excuse for Dany to insult Atlanta and Thrashers fans on his way out.

We supported him through his toughest times, and we justified his innocence and hoped he wouldn't get sent to jail. But he gave us was a demand for a trade and sneered remarks about our town. That is why he was booed, and there's nothing "classless" about it.

 
At 1:45 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

I was happy with the effort last night, but it was exactly like the Buffalo game. The defense steps up, the offense disappears.

Volchenkov and Meszaros both stepped up their games in the absence of Phillips.

 

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