Friday, February 03, 2006

Ottawa 7 Pittsburgh 2

THE GOOD:

The apparent restoration of the team’s confidence. Though it was only one game, and really, half of one game, for the last 30 or so minutes, it sure appeared as if the Ottawa Senators of old are back. How much of that can be attributed to the utter implosion of the Penguins in the second half of the game can be debated, but there is certainly no question that the things Ottawa hasn’t been doing well consistently since the New Year. One can only hope that the flurry of pucks in the net and their comeback gives them some juice down the stretch because they’ll need it.

The shorthanded goals. It’s probably no coincidence that it was the team’s two straight shorthanded goals that gave Ottawa a boost and both put them back in the game and took the wind out of the Penguins’ sail. A lot of credit has to be given to Chris Phillips, who’s hard work battling through was the reason that first goal was even possible.

Peter Schaefer’s amazing penalty drawing skills. Schaefer is notorious for his tremendous work along the boards, where, despite his average size, he almost always comes out victorious in battles for loose pucks and is nearly impossible to move off the puck. On both of the calls he drew, Schaefer was doing good work along the wall and forced the Pittsburgh defender to take him down.

Wade Redden showing some emotion and fighting. I’m not a pugilist by any means, but it was refreshing to see the usually stoic, non-confrontational Redden engage in some fisticuffs. Redden’s play has been hot and cold for a while now, and in most of the bad games, it seems as though Redden is a robot out there. Almost as if he doesn’t care. Going through the motions. I actually don’t know what sparked the fight (the game overall was pretty chippy and scrappy, so it might have just been the result of all the previous incidents where fists were almost thrown), however, I thought it cool that Redden would stand up for himself that way. He’s one of the best defenceman in the league, and not exactly known for his ability to scrap, so he could have easily skated away or let one of the other players to handle it. He didn’t. For that, he’ll be in my good books for a while, and I’ll forgive a couple of turnovers whenever they occur. And I gotta say, he handled himself pretty well for a pretty boy All-Star Olympian likely Norris Trophy candidate.

Anton Volchenkov. Redden’s defence partner was probably the best Senator besides Hasek for the full 60 minutes. He took a bad penalty but besides that was solid for the entire game, finishing his checks all night and making smart passes in transition.

Timely saves by Dominik Hasek. It almost goes without saying, but having Hasek in nets makes such a difference with this team, because when they were playing like shit in that first period, he made a number of big saves that kept them in the game and made their comeback possible later on.

THE BAD:

A tale of two teams. What became apparent with this game is that the Ottawa Senators have been an overconfident bunch. Probably blinded by their own hype and success, there have been many times where they did not give it their all, and on most nights, the end result saw them take an L. On this night, they got lucky. They faced the worst team in the NHL who were without their best and most valuable player while also putting their back-up goalie between the pipes. This allowed them to play like shit for the first half of the game and still come out with the win. They were able to turn it on when it looked grim and blow their opponent out. Good for them. Just know, boys, that if you try this against almost every other team in the league, you’ll end up without the two points, because they won’t do the things that Pittsburgh did which allowed you to get back into it. They won’t make those same mistakes. I sure hope the fact they were able to come back and get the win doesn’t give this team a false sense of confidence that they can do this with regularity, because they cannot.

Giving up the first goal. During their tear in the first two months of the season, Ottawa almost always scored first. And when up a goal, they’re a completely different team. They play with much more confidence, and when the other teams begins to open up in order to even the score, they capitalize on the opportunities given and blow the game open. When down, however, they don’t play with that same level of coolness. Of their last 10 losses, eight saw the other team score first. Against Pittsburgh, allowing the first goal isn’t a big deal because they’re bad enough that you can claw back in. But when the schedule begins to get tougher after the Olympics, the Senators will have to rectify this if they instead on overtaking Carolina for the top spot in the conference.

Bad penalties. It’s been a reoccurring problem all season long, but the majority of the infractions called on the Sens were the result of a player taking the easy way out through a hook or hold instead of applying effort.

For the first two periods, Jason Spezza. #19 redeemed himself somewhat with his play in the third period, but by that point, the game was pretty much in the can. When it was close, and Ottawa needed a boost, he was terrible. Even worse than being invisible, Spezza was hurting his team out there. And it was the same way he always does. Trying to do too much (forcing plays and passes), making bad turnovers as a result of these cutesy plays, and very little in the way of backchecking. You have to give Jason credit for that. He is consistent when he sucks.

Chris Neil’s lack of production. Neil hasn’t scored in over 10 games now. The effort is there, so it’s hard to criticize him, and even with his slump, he’s still having the best season of his career offensively. However, if he wants to keep his spot on the third line and not return to the fourth squad where the minutes are much more limited, he’ll have to start putting the puck in the net again. With Martin Havlat coming back next month, and the team possibly trading for a forward, he’ll have to play well if he doesn’t want to be demoted.

THE OPPOSITION:

If Ottawa looked like two teams out there, then certainly so did their opponents. For the first 30 or so minutes, Pittsburgh looked like a pretty good team. Without Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, they had managed to be up 2-0, and while the absolute dogshit performance from Ottawa has to attributed to that, the Pens were also doing pretty well for themselves.

They were winning most of the battles along the boards and were out hustling Ottawa. Pittsburgh was creating much of their chances, and for a while, looked like they were going to win.

And then they choked. Horribly. They took way too many penalties. While Ottawa’s PP was looking quite pathetic early on, when you’re the worst team in the NHL, you can’t afford to give a team with Ottawa’s weapons as many chances as they did. Eventually they were going to snap out of their slump.

And once Ottawa got up, Pittsburgh seemed to fold the tent. Few of the players who were playing so well earlier (up to that point, I liked the games of Ryan Malone, Kostantin Koltsov, Colby Armstrong, and Michel Oulette) elevated their game to get the Pens back into it, and the ones who were wishy washy out there became liabilities (*cough*SergeiGonchar*cough*).

All in all, I imagine it was a tough night to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Just when it looks like the sun might shine on them and they’ll get a win, they shit the bed. But at least you have Evgeni Malkin coming. And a team in the SuperBowl.

One player I wanted to keep a particularly close eye on was Mark Recchi. Someone mentioned his name as a guy who Ottawa might want to persue if they can’t land a good second line center, as although he’s a winger, Recchi would at least give them someone who can score on that second unit. And he’s got a ton of playoff experience and a Cup ring.

When watching Recchi, I noticed two things: one, he’s still competing out there. Even with Pittsburgh in the NHL basement, the veteran isn’t phoning it in. It’s a shame for Pens fans the same can’t be said about a few of their other elder statesmen. And two: he’s clearly annoyed with the situation. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why he was so chippy out there. Recchi’s not a pussy, but I’ve never thought of him as a particularly feisty player either. In this game, he was in all the scrums and at one point looked like he was going to drop the gloves with Zdeno Chara. If you’re a team looking at acquiring him, all of this is a good thing,because it means if you bring him into an environment where they can actually win, he’ll bust his ass.

UP NEXT:

A team that Ottawa cannot afford to lay dormant for a period and a half against, the Buffalo Sabres. Ottawa travels to upstate NY to face the red hot Sabres. My expectations are that it will be an exciting, entertaining game because, when playing well, both teams are exceptionally fun to watch.

Ottawa has handled Buffalo pretty easily in the previous three meetings, including the 10-4 drubbing on TSN, but that was before the Sabres turned it around. It really does look like an entirely different team now. It’s amazing what a winning streak and some confidence can do for a team on the bubble.

Considering that Ottawa has beat up on them already this year, you know they’ll come to play and want the win quite badly. Ottawa has had to get used to teams taking their games to new levels against them all year, as they’ve had a target on their back since the first game due to their terrific pre-season and all the hype about them being the Cup favorites. So far they haven’t responded well on a consistent basis to this. It will be interesting to see if they match Buffalo’s desire.

Not only are the Sabres themselves readying for the game, but I have to imagine so are fans of the team. Tom L. over at Sabre Rattling has repeatedly talked about how he hoped the rejuvenated Sabres could compete with Ottawa. So it’s clear Buffalo fans will be using the game as a measuring stick for how good their club really is.

All in all, it has the make up for an extremely enjoyable hockey game. So of course the CBC isn’t carrying it.

1 Comments:

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Volchenkov was a beast last night.

I would love Recchi on the Sens. It would be interesting to see how he and Havlat would get along considering their history.

 

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