Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 3

THE GOOD:

The work of the penalty killers. Ottawa nearly handed the Lightning the game with their abundance of penalties taken, but fortunately for them, the Bolts were unable to capitalize on all the opportunities they were given. And a major part of that was because Ottawa’s PK units were beyond superb. They neutralized the Tampa attack and made it incredibly difficult for the Lightning to gain momentum when up a man. Tampa had a difficult time even getting set up with the man advantage, as more often than not, they’d dump it in, lose a battle along the boards, and have to skate the distance of the ice after an Ottawa skater cleared the puck. Tampa Bay went 1 for 8 on the powerplay, and that one goal came with less than five seconds remaining in the penalty. Great, great work by the penalty killers, who basically saved the game for them. In particular…

Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette. Kelly and Vermette have developed wonderful chemistry and it comes in quite handy when the two are teamed up on the PK. Last night was a perfect example of that. The pair made a number of excellent passes and made it difficult to even tell the Sens had a man in the sin bin. Kelly was the game’s number one star on the TV broadcast, and he deserved it. “Battleship Kelly” had a great game, leading all Senators in shots on goal with five, one of which was a shorthanded breakaway that would’ve sent the game into a whole nother direction had he scored. Kelly also drew another penalty in the third period when he forced Vaclav Prospal to hook him with a 2-on-1 brewong. As for Vermette, I’ve seen some people comment on how #20 deserves to be promoted to one of the top lines with the way he’s played as of late, and while I can understand where they are coming from, I disagree. Vermette and Kelly’s chemistry on the fourth line gives them some real weapons to play with. To mess with that with be foolish. Down the stretch drive, it’s not unlikely that, with either injuries or poor performances, Vermette will get bumped up, but I like the look of them two on the fourth line.

The decision to reunite the Big Line. I get why Bryan Murray broke them up, as he wanted to give Tyler Arnason a player of Alfredsson’s caliber to play alongside when he’s trying to adjust to his new team, but it was painfully clear that this trio needs to be together. Because from almost the minute they were put back, the momentum of the game shifted in the Sens favor. None of the three were having particularly good games up to that point, and yet, once reunited, a fire was lit.

Putting Chris Neil back on the powerplay. Earlier in the season, Neil was on a goal scoring tear. At one point, he had more goals than Sidney Crosby. The majority of these were scored on the powerplay, as Neil was extremely effective standing in front of the net and getting the garbage. However, he stopped producing and was taken off the PP squad. He returned there against the Capitals Sunday afternoon, and collected one goal was being responsible for another with his screening of Olaf Kolzig. On this night, he against was a factor, redirecting a Dany Heatley shot for the goal that tied the game at one. Neil is by no means the most gifted offensive player on the team but he’s more than willing to take the abuse necessary.

Dany Heatley’s massive hit in the third period. One of my criticism’s of Heatley this season, and let’s be honest, when a guy has 37 goals it’s hard to find falts, is that he hasn’t been as physical as I would’ve liked a lot of the time. The comparisons between Heatley and Marian Hossa, however unfair they may be, are inevitable, and when you look at their games, one of the things that separates the two is that Hossa is more of a power forward. That’s a part of his skillset that had developed a lot in the late few seasons, and the reason was Hoss made a concerted effort to add that element to his game. Heatley, despite his good size, lacks that edge. With the playoffs looming, and the intensity expected to reach a heightened level, the Senators will need Heatley to become more physical and take the body more often.

Coming back from a deficit in the third period. While Ottawa is unbeatable if they go into the third with a lead, they've had trouble this season coming back to get the win if they go into that third trailing. They've only put up four wins that way this year. So it was a nice trend to break.

Daniel Alfredsson’s redemption. Nothing erases a bad penalty like a game winning goal.

THE BAD:

Jason Spezza’s play pre-Big Line reuniting. He looked lost out there, coughing up the puck with regularity and then not working hard to get it back (a big pet peeve of mine). Spezza will need to smarten up if he expects to be effective in the playoffs, because this kind of effort, playing on the perimeter and being able to be moved off the puck with ease, will not be acceptable.

Daniel Alfredsson’s penalty. The call itself was marginal to say the least, but nevertheless, a veteran and team captain like Alfie has to keep his composure. The unsportsmanlike conduct infraction he took afterwards, as a result of Alfredsson leaving his stick and one of his gloves on the ice. It was a dumb move.

Carolina and Buffalo continuing to win. It seems as if no matter how many W’s the Sens rack up, they cannot leapfrog the red hot Hurricanes nor can they get some room from the equally sizzling Sabres. I think having Buffalo nipping at their heels will serve as good motivation for Ottawa as the season wraps up, as it doesn’t give them any room to be complacent, but at the same time, I’m worried about them passing us. I know some people maintain that playoff positioning is largely irrelevant, but I’m not one of those people. At least not in this instance. Either the first or second seed in the East will get you an opponent like Montreal, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, or Toronto. A fourth seed, which due to the idiotic rule about division champs getting automatic top three status, would see a matchup with a team like the NY Rangers or Philly. Which would you rather have in the first round? The Sens will have the opportunity to win the division with their three remaining games against the Sabres, but it’d be nice if they can pass Carolina as well.

An Ottawa win helping the Leafs in their playoff quest. I don’t like it one bit, ladies and gentleman.

THE OPPOSITION:

Martin St. Louis said that Monday night’s win over the Habs was the first time in a while he saw the Lightning play like a desperate team. That says a lot about their season, and why they’re in the position they’re in.

They are in danger of missing the playoffs, and as I said Saturday night, I don’t think they will make it. They have the horses, of course, but I don’t believe they can simply turn it on like a lightswitch and expect the results to come with ease.

A big part of that is their goaltending. Though Sean Burke had a great game against Montreal, I’m not convinced what they have between the pipes is good enough to get them a postseason spot. John Grahame had a decent game against the Senators last night, but once again, gave up a soft goal (Andrej Meszaros’s), and that’s the kind of thing that can both deflate the team and make them loss confidence in their netminder.

Tampa needs to play a sort of run-and-gun style for them to be most effective, and for the team to get the most out of their skilled forwards, however, for that to be used, they have to have a goalie for whom they feel confident in. They need to believe he’ll bail them out should they get in a position where they need him, whether it be coming off an unsuccessful odd man rush coming back the other way or a cough up of the puck as a result of one of their forwards trying to make a creative play. Nikolai Khabibulin gave it to them. Can the same be said for either Burke or Grahame?

All of that said, it’s unfair to place the burden solely on the goalies, as up to this point, the guys in front of them haven’t been performing the way they need to be. The defence has not been nearly as solid as it was last season and the forwards have not only not been scoring at the same pace, but they haven’t helped in their own end as much either.

It looked like they turned the corner against the Habs, because the Lightning were doing well for the game’s first two periods. Unfortunately for fans of the team, a different Tampa Bay Lightning squad came out for the third frame. They were overwhelmed by the Ottawa attack and, once the game got tied, looked to be playing for overtime rather than the win, and that’s no way for a team fighting for their playoff lives to be.

UP NEXT:

A familiar foe in the Boston Bruins. Another team on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs. The Bruins have played the Sens tough this year, especially when Ottawa travels to Beantown to play them, and coming off their shootout loss against the Leafs last night, you know they’ll be desperate.

They cannot afford to lose many more games if they have postseason aspirations.

1 Comments:

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

With 2 games against both New Jersey and Montreal and another against Atlanta, the Senators will have planty of opportunity to help out the Leafs. I'll be going to the Sens-Devils game on the 28th and I might actually cheer for the Sens this time. But it should be noted that I have been to two previous Senator games this year and oth of them were Senator losses (Carolina and Atlanta). despite Ottawa having a 24-6-1 home record. I guess I am bad luck for the Senators.

 

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