Friday, April 28, 2006

Put a fork in 'em

Apologies for not updating after last night's game, but Blogger was giving me technical problems all night.

And really, what needed to be said?

Last night was a shining example of the frailty that is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The truth is, for the first 30 or so minutes, they outplayed Ottawa. Not by a wide margin, but they were the better team. They had more jump in their step, their passes were connecting, and they were far superior in their own zone with the puck (a major problem for the Sens in the first half as they couldn't seem to clear the puck even if their lives depended on it).

Unfortunately for the Lightning, Ray Emery was once again on his A-game, making that whole "Emery is their weakest link" argument from John Tortorella look pretty stupid. If this is the team's weak link, then Ottawa might as well start planning their Cup parade because Emery has not disappointed yet. If I was to list players who I'm concerned about as we go forward, Emery wouldn't be anywhere near the top.

Tampa had the game in command with a 2-1 lead, and yet a chinzy goal by Chris Phillips deflated them. Suddenly, that confidence they had been playing with for 30 minutes began to wain. By the time Ottawa scored two more that period, the air was out of the tires. HNIC showed a shot of the bench just before the second intermission and they collectively looked like their dogs had died. Despite being the better team for the majority of the game, they were down two goals and knew there was no coming back.

A lot has been made of Tortorella's rant after the game and I really don't know what to make of it. I used to think Tortorella's spiels were gamesmanship, an attempt to get inside the head of whoever the subject was, but I'm beginning to believe the guy is just an asshole with an inflated sense of self.

Yeah, honesty is nice, and as fans it's fun to not get the same stock post-game comments, but I feel as though Tortorella went too far.

John Grahame is not a starting goalie in the NHL. This much has been known for some time by just about anyone with half a brain. Yet the Lightning convinced themselves he was up to the job.

If Tortorella wants to blame anyone, blame Tampa Bay GM Jay Feester because he's the tool who didn't bring in a more qualified goalie. Their Plan B, Sean Burke, looked old and past his prime two years ago. I wouldn't think it would take a rocket scientist to realize that a 38-year-old goalie who hadn't played a game in over a year was not a good solution, yet that's the road they took.

Grahame is in over his head, and try as he might, he just doesn't have what it takes to fill the job. Tortorella can rant and rave all he wants, but it won't cause Grahame to suddenly wake up the next morning with more skill. You either have it or you don't and he does not.

What long term implications will what Tortella said have? Grahame is a UFA at the end of the season it's probably a safe assumption he won't be back, nor would he want to be. But what about those who remain?

The handful of interviews I've seen with Tampa players about what was said seem to indicate they back Grahame not Tortorella. Brad Richards made a comment to TSN about the separation between the coaching staff and the players.

Is every Tampa Bay Lightning now going to be thinking "if I screw up, this guy will rip me a new one?"? I know I would, even if it was just a little bit. Having a taskmaster who cracks the whip has proven to be successful (see Scotty Bowman) but John Tortorella is not Scotty Bowman. He's not even Mike Keenan. He's a guy who won a Cup with a loaded team that had everything go right for them that season.

Tortorella must feel as though his job security is not an issue if he feels comfortable potentially alienating his locker room.

What was also exposed last night was how important Tampa's lack of forward depth was. The Bolts had been leaning on their Big Three as well as their three supporters all series long, and they often rised to the occasion. In game four, Ottawa rolled four lines and skated them into the ice. They were dead tired.

The injury to Chris Phillips don't sound as if it's super serious. Bob McKenzie was on OTR a few minutes ago and said he had heard that if the game was very important, Phillips could've and would've kept playing, but since by that point the Sens had a strangehold, they thought it wise to sit him.

If he's not 100%, no point in risking him reinjuring it by playing him in game 5. It's better to play it safe short term than risk long term problems. Phillips has not looked particularly strong all series, which is uncharacterist of the Big Rig as historically he's been their best postseason blueliner. I suspect it has to do with the bad knee, and so might as well play Christoph Schubert in his place and let him get healthy, or at least healthier. If this team is going to make a long run this spring they'll need Philly back in top form.

And yes, that pretty much means I'm approaching tomorrow night's contest as if it's a formality. Nothing should ever be taken for granted in the NHL, but I truly see no reason why the Sens will lose tomorrow night. The way Tampa looked in that third period, it seems as if they too have accepted their fate. I wouldn't be surprised to learn a few of them started booking their vacations late last night, shining up the nine irons and making sure the speedos still fit right.

Can Tampa Bay win? Sure, I guess. They have enough weapons and we've seen what happens when said weapons bring it. I just don't see the Sens playing as poorly as they did in game 2. They learned their lesson.

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