Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ottawa 4 Buffalo 2

THE GOOD:

The first period onslaught. I don’t think I’d be accused of exaggerating if I suggested those 20 minutes were the best this team has had in many months, and I dare say, all season. It was an utter dominance by Ottawa, against a more than formidable foe. They dictated the pace of the entire period, had both puck possession and puck positioning for the vast majority of the frame, and never allowed the Sabres to utilize their speed. The 2-0 score after the first wasn’t enough of an indication of just how one-sided it truly was, and a better way to judge it was the shot count, as Ottawa outshot Buffalo 22-5, and none of those five from the Sabres were particularly good ones. The second period was still Ottawa’s, but not nearly as decisively as the first. The third was pretty even. However, by the time the Sabres found their game, they were in too much of a hole to get out of.

The Peter Schaefer-Bryan Smolinski-Chris Neil line. Without question Ottawa’s best forward trio. I loved the look of this line and was more than pleasantly surprised with the way Smolinski filled in for Fisher. He brought a different, but valuable dimension to the line. While Fisher is a harder forechecker, a faster skater, and a more physical presence, Smolinski brings just a bit more of an offensive touch and savvy that only a veteran with his experience has. The line a combined +5 on the night and were in on two goals, one of which was the highlight of the night for sure. Neil appeared to take the absence of his good friend Fisher as motivation for him to step it up, as I felt like he had one of his stronger games in a while, especially in regards to taking the body. He’s credited with four hits according to NHL.com’s recap, but at the game, it sure seemed like a lot more than that.

Anton Volchenkov. Another unremarkable but extremely effective game from the “A-Train”. He’s taken his “demotion” to the third defensive pairing in stride, and after a few games where it looked as if he was effected, he’s now back to playing the way he was before the break: solid. Now on the right side, his natural position, Volchenkov might elevate his game even more and help Brian Pothier, who is unquestionably a physical liability, out in that respect. Like with Redden, Volchenkov is playing with a more offensive-minded defenceman, so he’ll have to be the defensive conscience, but that role seems to suit him very well. On this night he was hitting a lot, was first on the puck on almost every instance, and, among all Sens’ d-men, was the best in their own end.

Zdeno Chara. Vintage Chara performance on this night. Was a pain in the ass to play against I’m sure, as he was all over the Buffalo forwards and almost single handedly shut them down. Every line he and Phillips were matched up against were stifled.

Chris Kelly & Antoine Vermette. Once again, this duo came to play, and despite their (on paper anyway) minimal role, they managed to be big factors. They both got a ton of ice time (Vermette’s 15 minutes has to be close to the most he’s played all year, and he did it in a lower line), and earned every minute. It says a lot that Murray had both of them on the ice for the last minute when Buffalo, down a goal, had a faceoff in Ottawa’s end. I was particularly happy to see Kelly net a goal, only his seventh of the season. He deserved it, and even though it was an open netter, it was hardly a gimme, and only resulted from his hard work after losing the draw.

Carolina losing. Finally the Sens are able to gain some ground.

THE BAD:

The officiating. As bad as it was Thursday night, it was 10x worse here. Just dreadful, and some of the worst refereeing I’ve ever seen, NHL, junior hockey, international, whatever. It’s no coincedence that Shane Heyer called this game as well as the one against the Bruins two days ago. Whoever’s responsible for these guys needs to give him a call because it was downright embarrassing out there. If these guys get playoff assignments, the NHL is out of their mind. Holding, hooking, tripping, diving, and outright takedowns occurred all night long without being called, and then, they’d whistle one that made the others look like homicide. And if you think I’m just a bitter fan (bitter at my team winning?), even the scattered Sabres fans in the building seemed to feel the same way. One I spoke with on the way out agreed it was among the worst refereeing he’s ever seen. So not only did they not call a bunch of things that, even in the old NHL, would’ve been whistled infractions, but they couldn’t even be consistent about it. Horrible.

Ray Emery hitting the wall. By no means did he have a bad game, but in the second and third period, it appeared as if Emery was struggling out there. He was fighting the puck and did not look comfortable. Last night was his 10th straight game, and that’s a lot of hockey for a guy who, for nearly four months, was playing less than once a week. Maybe it’s time to give Mike Morrison a look and let Emery get some rest.

Tyler Arnason, M.I.A. Where oh where can you be? Not on the ice, because I didn’t notice you out there. Only Vaclav Varada and Christoph Schubert played less than him. That says it all.

The powerplay going 1 for 10. Some credit has to go to the Sabres and their strong PK, but Ottawa weren’t aggressive enough with the man advantage. Even with Miller playing as well as he did, they still could’ve double their output had they been effective on the PP.

THE OPPOSITION:

There’s only one reason this game wasn’t a blowout reminiscent of the ones Ottawa handed the Sabres earlier in the season, and that’s Ryan Miller. Saying he was spectacular wouldn’t be doing him justice, as he gave one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever witnessed in person in my life.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that’s about where the positives end, because the 18 skaters in front of him didn’t come to play with any consistency. Some of them (Daniel Briere and J.P. Dumont) looked to at least be making an effort of some sort, but too many of their impact players (Chris Drury, Taylor Pyatt, Toni Lydman) were invisible out there.

If we were using this game as a measuring stick for the legitimacy of the Sabres as a Cup contender, and that’s certainly how both Buffalo fans and media were positioning it, then they failed the exam horribly. And while I don’t think you can write them off completely based on one bad game (they happen), if I’m a Sabres fan, I’m concerned about this team’s inability to take their collective game to the next level. This was as close to a playoff game as the Sabres organization has had in some time, and they did not play like it. If this is how they perform when the real postseason starts, they’ll be out in the first round, 100+ regular season points or not.

UP NEXT:

The Sens can’t afford to bask in the victory too long because they have another challenge ahead tonight in the swamp. The Devils are never an easy two points, and they’ve become a pretty good team in the second half of the season. As big of a test as last night’s game was, tonight’s will be equally important to see if they can maintain that level of play for consecutive games with very little rest.

Game's not on TV, again.

16 Comments:

At 1:17 AM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Even though Volchenkov was "demoted", he's still playing more than Meszaros in most games. He might be the best PK defenseman on the Sens after Chara.

Vermette was playing with Arnason and Alfredsson, so I wouldn't say he was doing it with a lower line.

 
At 1:44 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Even though Volchenkov was "demoted", he's still playing more than Meszaros in most games.

That's why I put quotation marks around the word. I don't think it's a demotion either, but instead an attempt to give them a more solid trio of pairs.

 
At 2:39 AM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Miller's a star. He'll win the Vezina in the next couple of years, which means the Sabres are going to have a solid team for at least that long.

Tonight's game just wasn't a good one for them, but Buffalo's been downright dominant lately. It's unreal that, before last night's game, they were three points from being the top team in the NHL. No one can write that off as a non-Cup contending team.

 
At 3:20 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Tonight's game just wasn't a good one for them,

I don't think you can just write it off that easily. If I'm a fan of the team, I'm a little concerned. This was their biggest game of the year and half the team didn't come to play. That would be alarming to me.

No one can write that off as a non-Cup contending team.

Sure you can. Being a good regular season team and being a Cup contender are two entirely different things. People here in Ottawa know that all too well.

They have very few players who are playoff tested, and much of their core have minimal playoff experience, if any at all.

Kotalik: 0
Afinogenov: 16
Connolly: 0
Vanek: 0
Briere: 6
Roy: 0
Campbell: 0
Dumont: 13
Tallinder: 0
Kalinin: 13
Lydman: 6
Pyatt: 0
Miller: 0
Biron: 0

They only have five guys (Drury, Numminen, Grier, Hecht, McKee) with more than 20 games of postseason experience.

Unless they proof themselves in the playoffs by winning a round, they're an unknown entity when it counts.

It doesn't help that in their biggest game of the year, they collectively shit the bed.

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Ottawa's playoff experience:

Heatley: 0
Spezza: 6
Arnason: 3
Meszaros: 0
Vermette: 4
Pothier: 8
Kelly: 0
Eaves: 0
Emery: 0

Heatley, Spezza, Arnason, Meszaros, Vermette and Pothier can be expected to play significant rols for the Senators in the playoffs and most of the rest of the team's playoff experience has been riddled with dissapointing play. Only Hasek can be considered to have had significant playoff success but who knows what his health situation is.

 
At 1:14 PM, Blogger Tom L said...

ANd all of that said, Chris, they were within a hair's width a couple of times of tying this game.

Say what you want to about our 'effort,' such as it was in the first 50 minutes, the last 10 were all Buffalo and, honestly, the Sens didn't show me the ability to put a team they had beaten to every puck away for good.

Long story short, the Sabres were flat and tentative. So, don't overthink this. It's one game. Both teams have weaknesses and it's a good thing for Ottawa that Hasek is supposed to be ready because Emery didn't have one angle covered last night.

I'll post my full report tonight.

All of that said, you guys played an outstanding game and deserved to win.

Ta,

 
At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Duff said...

Don't forget about coaching experience in the playoffs.Murray can change the dynamics of this team the way Martin could not.He has had them playing playoff style hockey since the Olympic break.Emery is getting a taste of what it will be like to be the starter in a series.Get ready for it fellow Sens fans!

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Don't forget about coaching experience in the playoffs.Murray can change the dynamics of this team the way Martin could not.

How many Stanley Cups has Murray won?

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

You're nothing if not predictable David.

We've had this discussion (re: the lack of playoff experience among some key Sens) before. Where I think it differs from Buffalo's situation is that:

a) More than half the team was a part of the team that went to game seven of the Eastern Conference finals in '03. So, as a group, they have proven they can win in the playoffs. Not win it all, but at least win. The Sabres have not.

b) You say most of guys who do have playoff experience (Alfredsson, Chara, Redden, Phillips, Fisher, etc.) have it in a disappointing form, however, I think that even losing in the postseason can be a beneficial tool, and so to say their losses are a negative is, I think, wrong.

This isn't to say Ottawa is the most experience rich team. They're not. But in comparison to Buffalo, they're on another level.

As for your point about Murray, last time I checked, only four active coaches have Cup rings. One of them will miss the playoffs for sure and two of them are on the verge of beating out. So unless the Flyers win it all, we'll have a coach who's winning his first Cup.

And again, I don't think the only playoff experience that's worthwhile is a Cup ring. It would be nice if he had one, sure, but I'm not convinced it would mean THAT much more.

Anyway, don't you have a post to make about how the Leafs still might make the playoffs (I'm sure you still believe that) or why the Ottawa Senators suck?

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

ANd all of that said, Chris, they were within a hair's width a couple of times of tying this game.

Because Ryan Miller stood on his head. That's the only reason this wasn't another blowout. Well, that, and the ineffective PP (Buffalo's PK was about the only thing besides their goaltending to be happy about).

But if that's how Miller will have to play every night in the playoffs for them to win, then it won't be a long postseason for the Sabres.

And I saw you say in on your blog that you're not convinced the Sens have another gear. They do. It's called Martin Havlat, Mike Fisher, and Dominik Hasek. They're three of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and all were out of the line-up. Surely I don't have to remind a Sabres fan what Havlat can do.

This was a test for the Sabres, and they got a big F. Fortunately for them, they can rectify it pretty quickly since they play Ottawa again very soon.

 
At 7:32 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

You're nothing if not predictable David.

Hey, I wasn't the one who brought up playoff experience. Either playoff experience matters, in which case you are correct in questioning whether the Sabres will see playoff success but you must also accept that a significant portion of the Ottawa team has none as well, or it doesn't in which case you should never bring up the topic again.

If I recall correctly we last discussed playoff experience in comparing Ottawa to Carolina and you down played the fact that Carolina had more playoff experienced players (with Stanley Cup finals experience too) than Ottawa. You can't have it both ways so pick viewpoint and apply it to both sides of the discussion.

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Either playoff experience matters, in which case you are correct in questioning whether the Sabres will see playoff success but you must also accept that a significant portion of the Ottawa team has none as well, or it doesn't in which case you should never bring up the topic again.

Of course it matters. But if you think Buffalo's situation is comparable to Ottawa's, then your bias is blinding you.

11 of the current Sens were a part of the team that went to the final four. So, as a team, they have proven they can win in the playoffs.

Are there some question marks around some of their key players? Of course.

But in comparison to Buffalo, who don't have a goalie who's played a single playoff game and who, as a team, have yet to even be in the playoffs with this core, they're the friggin Red Wings.

 
At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Duff said...

These playoffs will be different.First team to figure out the refereeing wins the cup!

 
At 9:20 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Of course it matters. But if you think Buffalo's situation is comparable to Ottawa's, then your bias is blinding you.

I never said that there were comparable but that Ottawa has a significant amount of inexperience too.

11 of the current Sens were a part of the team that went to the final four. So, as a team, they have proven they can win in the playoffs.

Fair enough, then you have to admit that the Hurricances have more experience than the Senators.

Defense:
Commodore: 2003-04 Finals
Hedican: 2001-02 Finals
Wallin: 2001-02 Finals
Ward: 2001-03 Finals
Wesley: 144 playoff games, multiple stanley cup finals

Forwards:
Recchi: Stanley cup winner
Stillman: Stanley Cup Winner
Brind'Amour: 2001-02 Finals
Cole: 2001-02 Finals
K. Adams: 2001-02 Finals
Weight: 68 playoff games
Whitney: 41 playoff games

All of their defense have played in the Stanley Cup finals except for Kaberle and most of their top 3 forward lines have sigificant playoff experience except for Staal. So, all I am saying is that if you want to give Ottawa the experience advantage over Buffalo then you can't on the other hand downplay Carolina's playoff experience.

But in comparison to Buffalo, who don't have a goalie who's played a single playoff game...

Better hope Hasek gets better or you will be in the same boat. Hasek is not one known for taking one for the team and playing through a slight injury so it is 100% or no play for him.

 
At 10:33 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Fair enough, then you have to admit that the Hurricances have more experience than the Senators.

I agree, but a lot of that experience that puts them over the top didn't come together.

And like Buffalo, their goaltending is unproven in the postseason.

Better hope Hasek gets better or you will be in the same boat. Hasek is not one known for taking one for the team and playing through a slight injury so it is 100% or no play for him.

Pretty much, but that's the risk they take with Hasek.

 
At 7:12 PM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Heh, wow. Chris, all I was saying was Buffalo's a great team that has had a great season, and there's very little reason to discount what they've accomplished. We can all haggle over how much playoff experience matters, etc., as long as we want, but the fact remains the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames were the two finalists last time around and neither had playoff-tested clubs. The parity in this league is too great now for that to be the overwhelming factor against a team like the Sabres not doing well in the playoffs.

 

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