Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ottawa 5 Pittsburgh 2

THE GOOD:

The play of the fourth line. I don’t think there can be any disputing what forward trio was the best at even strength last night. The game Antoine Vermette-Steve Martins-Christoph Schubert had was superb, and has to come as a bit of surprise. Vermette has stayed hot for the past month or so, and now has four points (three goals and one assist) in four games. Maybe all that trade talk light a fire under him? He seems to excel when his role is minimized, so I’m not even going to suggest that the Sens should elevate him to a line that gets more five-on-five ice time. We’ve been down that road a few times already this season and know how it goes. Keep him where he’s working. And I really liked the game of Steve Martins. He brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to a team that hasn’t had much of it on a steady basis in the last month. I don’t know if Martins would work as a full-time guy, but he’s about the perfect player to have on reserve. He works his ass off, can play all forward positions, and has a lot of NHL experience for an AHLer. He and Vermette in particular are a combination I like as they bring a ton of speed. Schubert brings a different dimension to the line, as he’s more of a physical presence (he lead the team in hits with six despite only getting 11 minutes of ice time).

Peter Schaefer shooting the puck. Maybe it was because he wasn’t playing with the red hot Mike Fisher, but Schaefer, who is notoriously stingy about taking shots, actually fired the puck, and as a result, got two goals. He’s on pace for 20 this year, and if Peter actually decided to try and score more often, he might just emerge into a goal scorer. Imagine that.

Anton Volchenkov, again. “The A-Train”’s hitting his stride, so fans of Russian hockey have to be excited because I’m quite confident he’ll have a monster Olympics. Hopefully he can maintain this level of play as the team goes down the stretch. Because the big guns, who play more, will begin to run out of gas and it’ll be essential the Volchenkovs, Meszaros, and (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) Pothiers step their games up to carry the load. Volchenkov’s play often goes unnoticed because he plays with a more offensive-minded defenceman and thus has to do the things that don’t get press, but his development has been extremely rewarding to watch. On this night, he made a number of great passes, was especially chippy (first in scrums, not backing down in battles, etc.), and blocked four shots. Easily their best defenceman.

Superpest Vaclav Varada. Varada had the kind of game he needs to have if he wants to remain an important part of this team. He was feisty, physical, and I’m sure by the end of the night, the majority of the Penguins wanted to choke him.

The physical tempo of the game. For those who say the “new NHL” no longer contains hitting, I present to you exhibit A: the February 6th game between the Sens and Pens. A number of big, open ice hits, tons of races for pucks in corners that climaxed with a big collision, and countless hits along the boards when players were battling for a loose puck.

THE BAD:

The Big Line. In a game where Ottawa scored five goals, none of The Three hit the scoresheet and were hardly factors at all. They did register a combined 10 shots on goal on a awful defensive team, but few of them were good scoring chances, and the couple they did get they were not able to sustain. Fortunately for Ottawa, the second line of offensive attack came through, but the big guns need to step it up. And if you’re not going to help your team, at least don’t hurt them. There were many occasions where one of those three made errors that could’ve (and likely would’ve) been fatal against a team better than the Penguins. Alfredsson was uncharacteristically sloppy with the puck. The game’s “Super Stats” say he only turned it over twice, but it sure seemed like much more than that to me. I can recall two in particular in his own end in the third period that made me cringe. By that point the game was in hand, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it wasn’t a good sign. Dany Heatley wasn’t much better. He took two terrible penalties that were just the result of his own laziness. I can understand taking a penalty if it’s to prevent a scoring chance (see Bryan Smolinski’s on a Pens odd man rush). Neither of these can be applied to the calls he got busted on. Heatley has a propensity to take bad penalties.

Ray Emery. Only two goals were scored, so that’s a start, but “Rayzor” still did not look comfortable between the pipes. He was fighting the puck for most of the night. In addition to the goals that were scored (both of which can’t be described as anything but soft), Pittsburgh hit two posts, and one puck laid in the crease after he stopped it and it creeped through. Getting a win is a positive for him as it gets a monkey off his back, but the actual game Emery had will not induce a lot of confidence from Sens Nation in him.

Too many odd man rushes in the first period. Ottawa got caught on a handful of occasions early in the game and if Pittsburgh had more finishers on their team, it could’ve gotten ugly.

THE OPPOSITION:

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: the Pittsburgh Penguins are a mess. This isn’t news to most of you, I know, but you can only really discover it if you witness it first hand.

This is not to suggest they played a shitty game, because they did not. By no means was it good, but for a last place team, it was a noble outing. The effort was there.

However, what becomes abundantly clear when watching this team is how brittle this team really is. They make one mistake, and not only does it result in the lamp being lit, but their entire gameplan goes out the window. Gone is their confidence.

Obviously, there are some pieces in place that will be helpful down the line. Sidney Crosby didn’t have much to work with, but in spite of it, he still had a good game. He was responsible for a lot of their chances, due to his creativity with the puck. I was also very impressed with how strong he was on the puck.

In addition to Crosby, I thought (until he got hurt) Maxim Oulett had a strong game, Marc-Andre Fleury, despite giving up five goals, was solid, and Rick Jackman, who wants out of town, was their best defenceman.

Unfortunately, that won’t be enough for them to get wins on most nights this season. Just be excited about Evgeni Malkin and the Steelers, Pittsburgh.

UP NEXT:

Another test, as the Sens travel to MSG to face the Rangers, who continue to prove me wrong. Not only did I pick them finish dead last in the Eastern Conference when I made my retarded predictions back in September, but I've been saying for months this run they're on is a fluke. Maybe it's about time I stop saying that and just accept that they really are this good.

It appears as if the European experiment has worked wonderfully. They have a bunch of dangerous weapons who can bury chances. The most obvious, of course, being Jaromir Jagr. Jags lost one of his linemates when rookie Petr Prucha went down but they still have Martin Straka (57 points), Michael Nylander (51), Martin Rucinsky (41 points in 40 games), and Petr Sykora (31 points). As well, their defence has a few guys who have put up points this season.

The big matchup to watch will be Chara on Jagr. When the teams played earlier in the year, on Boxing Day, Jagr managed to put up two points before being knocked out of the game after a collision with, of all people, Chris Kelly. Hopefully he stays healthy long enough to play a full game so we can see how this matchup plays out.

As a team, the Rangers don't score a lot of goals (13th in the league averaging 3.11 goals a game), but they manage to keep a lot out of their nets.

It's worth noting that the game will be televised nationally on TSN. After starting the season red hot with two wins over Toronto, Ottawa hasn't played especially well when on the network. Hopefully, that changes.

2 Comments:

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Volchenkov with another monster game, along with Phillips.

I must say, that hit on Kelly was Stevens-esque. Kelly had his head down and Orpik laid it on him good.

 
At 1:51 AM, Anonymous TomD said...

I just came across your blog and wanted to say that I enjoy reading it.

I don;t agree with everything but then who does

Excellent work..and much appreciated!

 

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