Sunday, April 09, 2006

Buffalo 6 Ottawa 2

THE GOOD:

Reuniting the Big Line.. It’s about 10 games overdue, but nevertheless, at least it occurred. I’ve been clamoring for Bryan Murray to make this move for some time, as I feel like Ottawa is in it’s best position to win when they have these three firing on all cylinders. On this night, they didn’t blow the Sabres over, and it was evident that the chemistry which made this line so dangerous earlier in the season cannot be obtained with the snap of a finger, however, they still produced a number of good opportunities in addition to the goal they were responsible for.

Anton Volchenkov’s attitude. Coming off the sore neck, an after effect of the concussion that kept him out of the line-up for a few games, I was pleased to see that it didn’t cause the “A-Train” to change his game. Less than 30 seconds into the contest, a Sabres forward came down the right wing and Volchenkov threw a monster hip check, putting my worries at ease.

A wake-up call. If you want to be glass half full, then you can look at this losing streak as a reality check for a team that thinks it doesn’t have to give 100% for 60 minutes to get the win.

THE BAD:

The turnovers in the neutral zone. There were a plethora of them and they were a big reason why the Sabres were the better team. In fact, Buffalo’s third goal, scored by Taylor Pyatt, was the direct result of a turnover.

The job the defencemen did in their own end. In no other area was the absence of Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, and Chris Phillips evident. Put simply, the blueliners did a shit job of clearing the men in front of the net and winning battles along the boards. Buffalo has, comparatively speaking, one of the smaller forward groups in the Eastern Conference, and yet they manhandled Ottawa’s defence with ease, walking in front of the net without any retribution.

Ray Emery’s rebound control. When your defence cannot clear pucks, it’s up to the goalie to be especially strong in making sure the other team doesn’t get second and third chances. That didn’t happen here. Rebounds have, occasionally, been a nemesis of the rookie goaltender this season, however, it only becomes evident when the opposition gets the opportunity to pounce on the loose pucks that come off his pads.

Breaking up the Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil line. While on the one hand I praise Murray for putting the Big Line back together, I question this decision very much. These three have, consistently, been Ottawa’s best, hard working forward trio on a nightly basis for the second half of the season, providing good energy, a strong forechecking presence, and even some offence. Murray split them up, put Bryan Smolinski with Fisher & Schaefer and Neil with Arnason and Varada to disastrous results. Both lines were absolutely dreadful. Why Murray continues to tinker is beyond me. It’d be one thing if he didn’t have any lines in place that has proven to be effective but that’s just not the case. It couldn’t have been that he was trying to get Arnason going, because that line was, essentially, the fourth line. Was he hoping some of Fisher and Schaefer’s juice would rub off on Smolinski? If so, that says a lot about where the 34-year-old’s career is at, and why so many expect him to be with another team next season.

No physical play by the Sens. With a few exceptions (Neil’s big hit on Henrik Tallinder being an obvious one) collectively, Ottawa did not finish their checks at any point throughout the night, instead letting the Sabres dictate the physical pace of the game.

The play of the point men on the powerplay. I couldn’t even count the number of time the puck came back to the point and the guy situated there either mishandled the puck or was out of position, allowing the rubber to get out of the zone and force the whole powerplay to lose momentum.

THE OPPOSITION:

Credit has to be given to Buffalo. They played a near perfect game. They had more scoring chances, maintained the pressure even with a lead, and were incredibly tough in their own end. They looked more like the 100 point team they are here than any other time these two teams have played this season.

What makes Buffalo so dangerous was very evident last night: they have a well balanced scoring attack. While they don’t have a Big Line like Ottawa, they have three lines that can put the puck in the net, leaving their opponent unable to concentrate on shutting down one line in particular. If you do, the other two will burn you.

Also, I like what Lindy Ruff did in starting Ryan Miller. He apparently struggled Friday night in the loss to the Flyers, but instead of going to a more than capable Martin Biron, he tapped Miller on the shoulder, showing confidence in the young ‘tender.

UP NEXT:

The Sens travel to Montreal, and if they cannot get up for this one, then we really have reason to inch closer towards the panic button.

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