Friday, March 24, 2006

Ottawa 3 Buffalo 1

THE GOOD:

The quality of the game. Last week’s contest between these two teams was built up a lot by media and fans alike (and justifiably so), but it failed to live up to the expectations, as one team (Ottawa) brought their A-game while the other (Buffalo) didn’t come to play. So it was refreshing that this game was a whole lot more entertaining. From almost to start to finish, it was fast paced, up tempo hockey with a lot of hitting, minimal whistles, and a whole lot of back and fourth action. No one team was dominant over the other, and the momentum switched with regularity throughout the night. In short, it felt as close to a playoff game as anything in March can.

The defensive effort from the forwards. With both Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov out, Ottawa was severely shorthanded on the blueline, and the guys they inserted in their place, though competent, cannot be asked to carry the load those guys do every game of the season. And so the burden fell onto the forward group to up their defensive ante, and they more than delivered. With the exception of the called back goal, their coverage in the Sens own zone was quite good, with few players being left in the clear or many one-on-one battles won. Ottawa is no longer the same ridiculously defensively responsible team they were under Jacques Martin (nor should they be, because we saw how well that worked when it mattered), but it’s nice to see those habits they learned under Jacques haven’t been forgotten completely, and can he requeued when necessary.

The new number one line of Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves. I doubt this will remain Ottawa’s top forward trio, and I certainly hope it doesn’t, but I’ve come to like it while it lasts. They move the puck amongst each other very well, can find each other in traffic, all go hard to the net, and every single one of them knows their role on the line. Eaves brings a different dimension than Alfredsson when he plays with them, and though at the end of the day, I hope Alfie is reunited soon, I think it’s good Eaves is getting the chance to shine.

Once again, Tyler Arnason. He’s still without his first goal as a Senator, but it isn’t because the chances aren’t there. On this night, he had three shots on goal, and all of them were very good opportunities to light the lamp. His finish isn’t where it needs to be, but if you look at where Arnason’s game was two weeks ago, he’s clearly improving. Perhaps it took this long to get adjusted. And he’s developed some pretty good chemistry with Alfie, as the two had many good give and go instances here. Arnason was responsible for Alfredsson’s goal to make it 1-0, and he drew in two Sabres’ skaters, leaving Alfredsson of all people alone in the clear. As I said above, I want the Big Line to be reunited, but it’s nice to know that should the elite trio get stifled in the playoffs, they have someone who can play with Alfredsson.

Brian Pothier. He’s no longer the liability he was during the first half of the season. Pothier’s game has always been rushing the puck, making good breakout passes, and being a presence on the powerplay. Basically, Wade Redden Lite. However, the rest of his game has improved. He isn’t moved off the puck with as much ease as he used to be and every now and then you even see Pothier initiate contact, an unheard of concept months ago. On this night, he was asked to play a lot more than he has for most of the year, logging over 20 minutes, and performing admirably.

The penalty killing. The Sens had their share of ill timed and poorly thought out penalties, but ultimately, they did not bury them because the penalty killers did their job wonderfully, neutralizing the Sabres and giving them little room to get shots through.

THE BAD:

The powerplay. I’ve decided that as much responsibility for this belongs with the Sabres, who are a pretty damn good penalty killing team (ranked 3rd in the NHL going into the game), because Ottawa’s PP has now gone limp in two straight games against Buffalo after looking so good versus other opponents. Some Sens did make the same mistakes they have been all year long on the powerplay (forced passes, too many passes, shots not getting on net).

Ray Emery’s rebound control. I’ve seen some compare Emery to Lalime in that he makes many a big saves, but seems awkward and uncomfortable of the time and especially prone to bad goals. I don’t think that’s the case most of the time, but on this night, very much so. With a depleted D, Emery should’ve been better about his rebounds, because he no longer had big bodies like Chara and Volchenkov to clear the night.

THE OPPOSITION:

I was pretty hard on the Sabres after their disappointing game last Saturday night at ScotiaBank Place, saying that they did not look, to me anyway, like the Cup contender their place in the standings imply, however, they did a better job here.

There were still some holes in their game, and they were playing a team without a whole lot of key players (four of their 10 best and most important pieces of the puzzle), but at least they were not overmatched. It did not look like they didn’t belong on the same ice as the Sens.

I’m sure some fans will be upset the goal that was called back (and some already are), and I bet if I was in their place I would have some vigor about it as well, but it didn’t look conclusive enough to me to be declared a goal. I thought the referee had the perfect vantage point, behind the net, and so his assertion that it was a goal was right, but as the replay showed, his view was obstructed by a view Senators.

I will say this: the NHL needs to invest in better cameras above the net for situations like this, because the ones they currently use are way too ancient and not nearly good enough. This was a big game, and that goal would’ve changed the way it went, but at the end of the day, it’s not that big a deal. However, if this was May or June and it was an overtime goal, I’d hate for them to have to depend on that shit. It would be horribly if the NHL had controvery surrounding a big goal in the playoffs. Oh, wait…

UP NEXT:

Part 2 of the weekend from hell sees Ottawa travel South to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. Philadelphia is a team in a playoff positioning dogfight of their own, as they and the Rangers are battling it out for that Atlant

The Flyers have been a tough two points for Ottawa this year. During their hot streak at the start of the year, when they legitimately looked unbeatable, Philly came into Ottawa and shut them down. The second meeting saw the Flyers jump all over the Sens in the first period with three goals, and though Ottawa rebounded to make it close, it was for naught. It wasn’t until the third game between the two teams on February 11th (the last game before the Olympic break) that Ottawa finally got a win over the Flyers.

There’s no disputing that Toronto is Ottawa’s top rival, even now with the Battle Of Ontario being more of a takeover than a war, but Philly is probably a close second. Ken Hitchcock has talked in the past about how the Sens are sort of to his team was the Leafs are to us: the team they cannot slay. Ottawa ousted Philly in the playoffs two of the last three years, and even with some new faces on both sides, those things are remembered.

I’m expecting a great game, and will be interested to see if the Senators can maintain the high level of play for two straight games. They were able to do so last weekend when they beat Buffalo and New Jersey on consecutive nights, but this time, they have a much less impressive line-up, and I regard Philly as tougher competition than the Devils at this point.

1 Comments:

At 2:23 AM, Anonymous PRQ said...

Arnason was responsible for Alfredsson’s goal to make it 1-0, and he drew in two Sabres’ skaters, leaving Alfredsson of all people alone in the clear.

Just like the Bob Cole quote from one of the Sens-Leafs matchups of yore: "Berg gives it away, to Daniel Alfredsson, of all people!" Maybe that's what you were thinking of. Or maybe I need to get more sleep.

 

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