Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ottawa 5 NY Rangers 1

Tonight's game was said to be of the impact variety going in, and if we're working under that assumption, then what was the message that Ottawa's victory sent? On TSN, they're acting like this one game erases the last two weeks of torment, but I'm not convinced. However, it was a refreshing performance and I do feel more confident about Friday than I did 24 hours ago.

The passion that was so obviously absent in Saturday night's embarassing loss to the Leafs magically re-emerged for the win over the Rangers. That's a positive.

The new lines Bryan Murray ushered out were a hot topic, and a lot of you expressed skepticism in the comments from yesterday. I have mixed thoughts.

Without question, the best trio was the Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Martin Havlat line, which shouldn't come as a surprise because this was unanimously the most excitable of the lines Murray was toying with. I think only one Debbie Downer wasn't enthused about this line's possibilities. There can be no disputing that Havlat was rusty in his first game back Saturday night. He looked a step slow most of the time while also appearing to be trying to do too much. He found his game.

"Mach 9" was flying out there. He was the best Sens player on the ice, creating a ton of scoring chances and even initiating some hitting, something that's never been a strongpoint of his. Schaefer was his usual solid self and Fisher did his job while scoring yet another highlight reel goal in the process.

The other line I was impressed with was the one I had the lowest expectations of going in: Vaclav Varada-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil. I worried this line was going to bring down Vermette as stiffle Neil's streak, but I was proved wrong. They did exactly what a fourth line is supposed to: they created energy and took it to the Rangers every time they took the ice. On almost every occasion, when the line got tapped by the coaching staff and were on the ice, the puck was in the Rangers end. They moved the puck well, hit everything in a blue sweater, and caused a ton of commotion around the Rangers net.

On the flipside, with the exception of a handful of decent burts, I didn't like the game of the Chris Kelly-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley, especially in their own end. Tom Renney went for power-on-power a lot of the game, putting Jaromir Jagr's line on the ice against Spezza's, and it was a disaster in the Sens end. If not for Zdeno Chara, Jagr would have probably had a hat trick by the mid-point of the game. They could not take possession of the puck for the life of themselves.

They were able to create some offence once the play moved out of their own end, but their liability as a defensive unit made it difficult

My opinion is probably in a state of purgatory on the Patrick Eaves-Bryan Smolinski-Daniel Alfredsson. They scored a goal at even strength, and Eaves had a good game, but Alfredsson wasn't the presence 5-on-5 he needs to be for this team to thrive. I did like Eaves' game in that he played with a huge chip on his shoulder, getting involved in many scrums and causing quite a bit of a ruckus. Smolinski was his usual floater self.

One of the most significant improvements over Saturday night, and let's hope it continues, was the strong play of the defenceman around the net. They left Ray Emery out to dry against the Leafs but were much more responsible and showed a willingness to eliminate opposition skaters who came too close to the net.

Emery's game was solid but unspectacular. He was technically sound but wasn't forced to make too many difficult saves because, for the most part, the team did a good job protecting him from quality second and third chances, which has been a problem when combined with Emery's rebound control issues.

Essentially, Emery played the kind of game he'll need to for the Sens to win in the playoffs. Wasn't asked to steal a game, but when called upon, made the necessary saves.

The special teams was also tremendously improved. The powerplay has been complete shit for far too long, and even when not scoring, they were in fact hurting the team by not being able to generate much scoring chances, giving momentum to the team which had successfully killed off a penalty. However, going 2 for 5 provides some hope for what has often been this team's Achille's heel all season long, and they also managed to stay out of the box.

One good game will not make me forget all the holes in this team that revealed themselves the last two weeks, but as we enter the postseason, it does quel my fears somewhat if for no other reason than to remind me that, yes, this team can play good hockey. It's been so long that I had forgotten.


At 12:48 AM, Blogger hamb0ne said...

"Schaefer-Fisher-Havlat" should be Bryan Murray's mantra going into the playoffs.

At 1:03 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Throw the Big Line back together, put Eaves with Vermette & Neil, and make the checking line Varada Kelly and Smolinski, and yes, you're right.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Throw the Big Line back together, put Eaves with Vermette & Neil, and make the checking line Varada Kelly and Smolinski"

I like that proposal, though Eaves isn't the weak link on that second line, Smolinski is. Eaves could play opposite Alfredsson provided there's someone at center capable of matching their skill and intensity level.

I'd love to have had Brian Rolston centering the second line heading into the playoffs. And yes, I would have traded Varada, Volchenkov and Bochenski to get him.

A bona fide 2nd line center is the missing piece on this team, IMO, and may be the difference between winning a Cup and an early exit.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger John F. said...

Good luck int he first round. We'll see you on Friday.


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