Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ottawa 8 Tampa Bay 4

It was said that Monday night’s game, the third of this series, would be a message game for the Senators. Their character was once again put into question after the loss two nights earlier, some might say justifiably so, and as a result, they had to come back in a big way to silence those critics. I think it’s safe to say they did so. It was far from a perfect game for Ottawa, but in comparison to the effort we saw Sunday night, this was a big step forward.

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. You might look at the score, see four goals against, and assume Emery had a subpar game, but that was not the case. Emery was very good and when called upon to be, sensational. It’s hard to fault him on any of the goalies, with the only one I’d say having any chance of being saved the Paul Ranger goal from inside the blueline. Emery was the best Ottawa penalty killer with his big saves.

Wade Redden.Those of you who questioned this man’s commitment to his teammates and the organization ought to feel pretty stupid. Redden had a monster game, scoring a goal while assisting on another. His outlet pass ability was on display on Martin Havlat’s second goal, as he backhanded the puck half way down the ice, tape-to-tape, to an already speeding “Mach 9”. If there’s another defenceman in the NHL who can make that play, I don’t know who it is. This was what was missing in Sunday night's loss. When the other defenceman tried to do Redden's job and pass the puck across the lines or carry it into the neutral zone, disaster occured. Redden may not be the bonecrushing d-man we all love to have on our team come playoff time but what he brings to the table is equally important to success. Redden’s still got to be reeling from the death of his mother but showed what kind of character he has both as a man and a hockey player on Monday night.

The return of Big Mean Zdeno Chara. Chara had been criticized by many, including Bryan Murray, for his lack of intensity and nastiness in the first two games. Perhaps he was afraid of taking a bad penalty, but for whatever reason, Chara played quite timid in this series, and for him to be effective, that just won’t work. We saw more of the Zdeno Chara we’ve come to know and love last night, as he was initiating contact with regularity and engaging in after whistle scrums often. He did show a bit of restraint and humanity on Vincent Lecavalier, who’s lucky he didn’t catch Chara on a bad day or he’d probably be missing some teeth and would be getting asked to recite the alphabet by a doctor checking his mental state. I’m sure a lot of you were like me when you saw Chara begin to throw punches: I was scared. We saw the worst case scenario when he dropped ‘em with Eric Cairns, and the last thing this team can afford to withstand is the loss of Chara because of a dumb decision to fight. But the replays showed Lecavalier threw the first punch, at a time when it looked like all Chara wanted to do was hold him back, and so it’s hard to blame Z for losing his cool.

The fight in Daniel Alfredsson. Another Sens who’s been racked over the coals for his mediocre peformance thus far has been the captain, and again, it hasn’t been without reason. Alfie simply hadn’t been the player the Senators need him to be. He promised a different game would emerge, and he did not disappoint. That extra gear was back in his skating and he was winning battles along the boards that he showed no interest in even engaging in for the first two games. Alfredsson was also big on the PK, especially when Chris Kelly left the game.

Martin Havlat and his big goals. How did we ever live without this guy? His ability to score in key moments is so huge.

Chris Neil, superpest. I imagine there is a dart board with Chris Neil’s face on it in the Lightning locker room. Neil took on a new role last night, channeling the ghosts of Claude Lemieux and Ken Linesman. He drove the Tampa goalies nuts and was responsible for luring Chris Dingman into a dumb penalty that basically squashed the momentum the Bolts were building.

The brewing bad blood. Did this series ever get vicious quickly. It’s strange because of all the Eastern Conference matchups this would be the one you’d think would least develop that way, and yet game four will have a whole lotta hate going on. A near blowout does that I suppose.

THE BAD:

The officiating. The referees did an excellent job of establishing the standard for which this series will be called in the first two games. I didn’t necessarily agree with all the calls, but at least they were consistent and went both ways. That was out the window here. I don’t know if the refs were swayed by the surprisingly live crowd, but there seemed to be different rules for the Ottawa Senators than the ones that applied to the defending Cup champs. Don’t get me wrong. Most of what Ottawa got whistled for were legitimate (a few were questionable). However, Tampa was getting away with near homicide on the ice most of the game. Patrick Eaves was mauled by the Lightning bench and Ray Emery was run with regularity. It’s no wonder the game degenerated into violence. The Sens figured, I assume, that if the refs weren’t going to do anything about it, they would. Whatever blood was spilt was on the hands of Kerry Fraser and Eric Furlatt. When a team takes 11 penalties you’d usually be right in calling them horribly undisciplined but I can’t fault the team.

Taking their foot off the gas pedal. Ottawa once again fell into a bad habit that’s been present all year: they didn’t finish the job on their own. Once the Sens got up 7-2 they stopped skating, put the forecheck away, and became lazy in their defensive coverage. As a result, Tampa was able to get back into the game sorta kinda. I can understand not taking the same risks you were when the game was scoreless, because the situation has changed, but a team cannot afford to assume it’s in the bag and start slacking. We saw Monday night what happens. Two teams came back from what seemed like insurmountable deficits to force OT.

Snake bitten Dany Heatley. He did finally get a goal, but by that point the game was out of hand. Heatley had at least half a dozen prime scoring chances and flubbed every one. I guess it was just one of those nights, because any other game would probably see him bury each and every one of those.

THE OPPOSITION:

A point was made by someone who I’d love to credit for their insight if I could remember their identity: Sunday night’s win by the Lightning saw them play a near perfect game, while Ottawa played a very pedestrian, and yet the Bolts only won by a goal. It’s doubtful Tampa could maintain this high level of play all series since it was hardly consistently ushered out in the regular season, and the odds of Ottawa playing that badly for the rest of the series were slim to none.

So the Chicken Littles probably needed a reality check, and I think that’s what this was. Tampa fell back to Earth while Ottawa played only 75% of how well they can and still handed them their asses.

Vincent Lecavalier was back in his shell, Martin St. Louis, try as he did, was neutralized very well, and Brad Richards wasn’t much of a factor. These three’s dominant play in game two was one of the main reasons the series came to Tampa tied. Some of their secondary players had decent games (Ruslan Fedotenko impressed me a lot), but in order for them to win, those guys need to be great, and they weren’t.

A interesting situation has developed with their goaltending. It wouldn’t be fair to blame John Grahame for the loss because most of those goals couldn’t be classified as stoppable, but he also didn’t win the game for them. However, I foresee Grahame becoming the scapegoat via John Tortorella simply based on their previous confrontations. If they do put Sean Burke in for game four, it’s doubtful Grahame comes back into the series at any point.

Before the series, Tortorella said that the pressure was on the Sens, not the Lightning, because they have all the lofty expectations. I don’t buy that for a minute. You want to tell me the fans of the Lightning, coming off a Cup win and having broken the franchise’s attendance records this year, don’t expect this team to prosper, average regular season or not? I believe the boos that rained down on the team as they were being scored upon answered that for me. The Lightning coach can spin this series however he wants and attempt all kind of head games, but something tells me if the Bolts lose the series in this fashion it won't go over well.

6 Comments:

At 2:38 AM, Anonymous PRQ said...

I noticed a lot of missed calls too, and I'm glad you mentioned it: I was beginning to wonder if my bias was coming through that strongly.

I think the officials made up for it a bit with the full nine minutes in penalties that Neil was able to draw. The fighting and instigating were fine, but I wouldn't have faulted them for passing on that elbowing call to put the Lightning down two men.

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

It might be my bias, because the folks over at Boltsmag.com are saying the refereeing was in favor of the Sens.

 
At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Rob Wiebe said...

Hey, so happy to see Ottawa finally play with passion. And I just want to reiterate what you had to say about Emery. Tampa had lots of super chances and Emery turned most of them away. On the Ranger slapshot, it seems to me Emery was slightly screened by the sliding Sens defenseman. Emery semed to be in pretty good position to make the save.
-R

 
At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing was nice to see is that Vermette also got it going a bit offensively when paired with the top line. I'd still like to see Alfie back on top, but Vermette did a pretty admirable job.

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Regarding your negative point that Ottawa took their foot off the gas pedal, I disagree.

After the game appeared to be sealed, at 7-2, Murray starting resting the big guns and playing the players that don't usually get as many minutes.

While it allowed Tampa to get somewhat close, moves like that can only help if the series drags into 6 or 7 games. We need the boys as fresh as possible.

----

As for the guys at Bolts mag whining about the reffing - I guess they need an excuse for their team. If you look at the score sheet you will see that Tampa received far more power plays despite the teams cheating equally much. I know I was screaming for all sorts of uncalled hooks and holds on Sens players.

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger Neil Tubb said...

Another great game summary Chris...

BTW- it was Dick Irvin who made that comment (to Dean Brown, as interviewed on Team 1200) about the Sens playing poor and the Bolts playing perfect but only winning by one goal.

 

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