Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 1

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. A lot has been made about Emery’s lack of experience and his slump down the stretch, and understandably so. However, in there last night, he looked like a season veteran. He made all the saves he had to, and a few he probably shouldn’t have been asked to, and was the main reason the Sens won the game. While Grahame was shining in one end, Emery was holding his own, and seemed to be revealing in the showdown he was having. Positionally, Emery was sound all night, coming out and challenging shooters often. One game doesn’t make a career, but I suspect Sens Nation is more confident than they were 12 hours ago.

The “fourth line”. I remarked, after Tuesday’s win over the Rangers, that I was surprised with how well the Vaclav Varada-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil line played because I didn’t have high expectations going in. I expected good things here, but once again, they went above and beyond what I projected they would do. Once again, whenever on the ice, the puck always seemed to be in the Tampa end, and they generated more scoring chances than an alleged fourth line is supposed to. Murray gave this trio a big vote of confidence as they were given key shifts in the third period, getting a regular shift throughout the frame and making the most of their opportunities. Antoine Vermette (who’s become the local “play this guy more!” dude) got a ton of time at even strength in comparison to how much he usually plays.

Martin Havlat. After missing not one but two golden scoring opportunities at the side of the net on the same powerplay, Havlat’s finish looked to be in question. I assumed it was still in Cleveland with that witchdoctor who kept denying Havlat clearance to play. But he proved me wrong with his goal to tie the game. There can no disputing however, what a vital role he has on this team. He created something positive almost everytime he touched the ice, and I figure in a couple games he’ll be even more dangerous. Paired up with Mike Fisher and Peter Schaefer, Havlat gives the team the big secondary scoring weapon they’ve been yearning for all season.

The penalty killing. Though Tampa’s powerplay, ranked 23rd, is not very potent on paper, when you have Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Vinny Prospal, you have enough weapons to be a treacherous team. Ottawa handed them chance after chance to make something happen but then did an excellent job of making life difficult for them once the Bolts got on the PP. Tampa put Richards on the point and it was a mess, as he wasn't equipped to handle the aggressive approach Sens' PKers take. Hence, Mike Fisher's shorthanded goal, and about four other shorthanded odd man rushes.

Wade Redden. The best Sens d-man on the night, he was the best powerplay player, doing a good job distributing the puck while also keeping the puck in the zone.

THE BAD:

Chris Kelly on the top line. I like Chris Kelly. I think he’s a valuable role player who, in the right function can be very useful. But the top line, with two of your most dangerous offensive weapons, is no place for a role player, however hardworking he may be. If Bryan Murray is that determined to spread out the scoring and not reunite the Big Line, at least give Spezza and Heatley someone who has a skillset a tad comparable to theirs. Kelly’s a grinder. He exists for the third and fourth line, and why Murray is insistent on jamming a square peg into a circle hole is beyond me. It’s no coincedence that, at even strength, neither Spezza nor Heatley were major factors. They need someone to jump start them, and when you have that someone floundering on another line, it doesn’t make much sense from where I sit to do nothing about it.

Daniel Alfredsson. I’ve said before that if this team is going to have the kind of success we all want, Alfie will need to be their best player, and he was not on the night. It didn’t appear to be because the effort wasn’t there, as questioning Alfredsson’s work ethic is akin to treason here in Ottawa, but he never quite found his game. He did some good things on special teams, especially moving the puck on the powerplay, but like Spezza and Heatley, 5-on-5, Daniel Alfredsson really wasn’t much of a issue, which is something Tampa had to be smiling about.

For the first two periods, the powerplay. If you read this blog, you know the PP has been a thorn in my side all season, as it never really performs when you want it to. Those first 40 minutes, when they pissed away four powerplay chances without generating much in the process except for missing the net a lot, I began to think they would never net a PP goal.

Bad penalties. The standard was established early in the game, and whether or not you liked what was being called, you can’t accuse the referees of being inconsistent (even though that seems to be what John Tortorella is doing). And so for the Sens to routinely take such illtimed and, frankly, thoughtless penalties was frustrating. Dany Heatley took two on his own. Hopefully the coaching staff shows the team some game tape of what was called and says “now that we know what’s being called, knock it off”. That is, assuming the standard remains what it is. What’s that, you don’t think it will? Me neither, but I’m trying to be an optimist.

THE OPPOSITION

Even though they came out on the losing end and are now down 1-0, Tampa Bay can’t be too upset with the night as a whole. I’m sure they’re disappointed with the collapse in the third, but they did enough good things in the first two periods that they should have some hope that they can win the series.

Their big question mark was between the pipes, and John Grahame did as much to silence that as is possible in a single game. He was sensational, making a number of big saves and keeping the Sens at bay. On his end, he basically told his teammates that they could afford to play a more open style, that same style of play that they utilized on the way to winning the Cup, without having to worry about Grahame giving up a bad goal. He can’t be faulted on any of the times the Sens lit the lamp. Martin Havlat’s goal was pure idiocy on the part of the Tampa defenders, who let a bonafided sniper out of their sights and then in alone around the net, Jason Spezza picked a corner, and the shorthanded tally from Mike Fisher was a result of poor defensive play by the Bolts.

The question then, I suppose, is whether or not he can keep this up for the entire series, because if he doesn’t, I’m not sure Tampa Bay can remain competitive. I’m not fully convinced that Grahame is up to the task, however, if I’m a Tampa fan, I’m more optimistic than I was a few days ago.

Pavel Kubina was someone I highlighted as a key player for Tampa, and I thought he was probably their best player. He was terrific on the penalty kill, was real good on the point on the PP, and played the physical game they need him to.

What was evident about this team, and what would worry me, is how fragile they are. Despite playing a great game for two periods, one goal from the Sens totally deflated them, changing the momentum and making the result a foregone conclusion. That may very well be the difference between this version of the Lightning and the ones who won the Cup. They don’t seem to have that confidence.

3 Comments:

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Zamboner said...

The old Senators would never have come back in the 3rd.

Kubina and Boyle were stellar for the Lightning... Unfortunately for them, I think this loss might be too deflating.

 
At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ottawa had a great faceoff game and that should be part of your "the good" section. They won 43 and lost only 23 faceoffs!

 
At 12:03 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Why the hell couldn't Varada play like that all season? He was awesome.

I thought Volchenkov played great, in what little time he saw. When he A-Trained himself into the glass in the 3rd I was worried he hurt himself.

That was the best playoff game I've ever seen Redden play.

 

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