Saturday, March 18, 2006

The biggest game of the year, and it's in the dark

I don't think I'm laying on the hyperbole if I say that tonight's game between the Senators and the Buffalo Sabres at ScotiaBank Place is the biggest of the year for both clubs. With one point seperating the two teams in the Northeast standings, there is little margin for error on either side for the remaining games of the season, and the four games the two will play against each other will likely decide who wins the division, and thus, gets that #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, a much more desirable position than the #4 spot that awaits the loser.

The Sabres are red hot while the Sens are warm but bruised and battered. Tonight's game will mark the first Mike Fisher will miss with his sprained ankle, and though it doesn't appear to be a long-term injury (the early prognosis has him out two weeks), the fact Fish won't be in the line-up handicaps a team already dealing with significant injuries.

Tonight's game also marks the first contender-caliber opponent Ottawa is playing post-Olympics. While they've got a pretty good record coming out of the break (7-2), only two of those wins came against a team that currently has a playoff spot, and that team is one of the most disjointed in the league right now, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

We'll see just how good the Sens are tonight. This doesn't mean one should use the game as an ultimate barometer for measuring how they'll fare in the playoffs, because they are playing without two of their top six forwards and their number one goalie, but nevertheless, Buffalo provides formidable opposition who will force the Senators to play their A-game. No coasting or cruise controlling will be permitted, unless they expect to be handed their asses.

And Ottawa better get used to playing tough teams, because the easy games will be scare for the rest of the year. In addition to four games against the Sabres, Ottawa plays New Jersey twice, the Rangers twice, and Philadelphia once. Plus, Montreal, who will be battling for their lives and thus have more incentive to win than the Sens, two more times. Time to strap in boys.

With Fisher out, expect Vaclav Varada to slide back into the line-up. He was scratched Thursday night against Boston, and I was very much in favor of this decision. Varada has not played consistently well for a while now, and probably only stayed in as long as he did because he's a veteran who the coaching staff hoped would snap out of the funk. No such luck. But he's getting a second chance tonight, and should take advantage of it. For him, that means being the uber-pest he was for so many years in a Sabres uniform. That Varada has not been seen a lot this season, and while I get that he’s probably been hampered by the new rules, other agitators have seemed to adjusted accordingly.

The line combos for tonight remain unknown, but I suspect Chris Kelly will move up to center the Peter Schaefer and Chris Neil line, with Antoine Vermette shifting over from left wing to center that fourth line, and Varada taking Antoine's old spot. It is possible that Vermette will get moved up though, or even that Bryan Smolinski will be taken off the second line to give the Schaefer-Neil combo a veteran presence.

On defence, I imagine it'll be the same combos we've seen since the Olympics. Expect to see Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips, as always, matched up against Buffalos' top line, which, according to Kevin of the BFLO Blog, will be Taylor Pyatt-Daniel Briere-J.P. Dumont. See the problem already?

Buffalo has an incredibly well spread out offensive attack. Beyond that first line, they have Ales Kotalik (24G, 29A), Chris Drury (22G, 29A), Maxim Afinogenov (17G, 34A), Tomas Vanek (23G, 20A), and Derek Roy (15G, 24A). Ottawa cannot focus their efforts primarily on one forward line, because they have three that can hurt you if you give them the slightest bit of an opportunity.

In net for Ottawa will of course be Ray Emery. How will he fare against a team like the Sabres, who sport a lot of weapons and are 4th in league scoring? Again, it will be a good test. It's about time we find out what he's made of. I'm optimistic, but not overly confident.

Tonight's game has all the making of one of the more exciting, interesting of the season. So why isn't it on TV you ask? I have no idea.

Once again, the CBC is not televising the game, nationally or locally. Instead, we're being treated to the Maple Leafs-Rangers. Hoooray.

The CBC is a business, and I understand that. They want to get as many viewers as possible, and from a national point of view, that probably means broadcasting Leaf games. Fair enough. But is it too much to ask that they send a crew to Ottawa to broadcast it to the Ottawa region? Apparently so. And of course, no other Canadian network can carry the game because CBC has an exclusive deal on Saturday night games.

A big fuck you to the CBC for this. We pay for you with our tax dollars, last time I checked. Because of this, you should serve the interests of more than just the majority, who in this case are Leaf Nation. By no means am I suggesting that you neglect that game, as obviously that would be a PR disaster, but is it too much to ask you to, perhaps, also remember those of us not inside that bubble?

Thankfully for me, I'm going to the game tonight. But there are only 20,000 seats in the building, and something tells me even just in Ottawa, there are more people than that interested in tonight's game. For those of you on the outside looking in, I hope you have CentreIce or a local establish that you frequent does, because I don't think spending your Saturday night around the radio would be a fun night.

Thanks Nancy Lee.


At 5:48 PM, Blogger Tom L said...


Greawt for you to be going to the game tonight. I'd like to say good luck to you, but that would be counter-productive. :)

Whatever happens, though, a whole lotta information about these two teams will be handed out tonight. I'm probably as nervous as you are about this game.

So, may the best team win and the iron be kind to us, because that may be the difference in this one....


At 5:49 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Enjoy the game, Chris. Looking forward to your review....


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