Saturday, April 15, 2006

Toronto 5 Ottawa 1

If the phrase "you reap what you sow" is to be applied to the game of hockey, tonight's loss by the Ottawa Senators would be as good as example to use as I can think of.

I'm going to spare you THE GOOD and THE BAD for the time being because it would be a senseless exercise. You can pretty well put everything in the second category as this game was a disaster from almost every aspect. The only positive that can be taken out of it, I suppose, is that Dany Heatley is one goal closer to the magic number 50. Sadly, by the time he scored, they were down by four goals.

The Sens came into an environment that they knew would be of heightended intensity and comparable to a playoff atmosphere, and failed to perform.

Special teams were what decided the game. Toronto took advantage of their powerplay opportunities while the Sens shit them away, getting little in the way of scoring chances on the way to putting up yet another goose egg with the man advantage. Over the last five games, Ottawa is something stupid crazy like 3 for 30 on the powerplay. You will not win many games with that kind of bullshit, and certainly not when you give the other team seven PPs to work with.

Knowing the PP is struggling, why not try some new things? Mike Fisher hasn't gotten consistent powerplay time in I don't know how long, even though he's certainly earned it with his work at even strength and on the penalty kill. Same goes for Antoine Vermette. Is Bryan Murray afraid to sit one of the established top guns even though they're not delivering the goods? I'd like to think he's got bigger balls than that.

Simply hoping that the problem will fix itself has proven itself to be ineffective, because if that was going to happen, it would have by now. I don't have the solutions to make it better, because I'm not a hockey coach, but I do know that it doesn't appear as if those whose job is it to fix these things aren't making it a priority.

Many key players did not carry their load. Daniel Alfredsson had a good third period, but that didn't erase from my memory the 40 minutes of hockey that came before it, when the game was still in reach. He was missing passes, not finishing his checks, and turning the puck over. I don't know if the boos were getting to him, but he did not play like they need him to. It's been well established that Alfie is the straw that stirs this team's drink, and so when he shits the bed this badly, the entire team seems to follow suit. In contrast, when he mans up and puts them on his bag, it's gold.

The defence was terrible. They let Toronto skaters go the net without anything even resembling trouble. The only Sens d-man who had some punch in his game was Anton Volchenkov, but his less-than-stellar play with the puck overshadowed that vigor. Andrej Meszaros hasn't looked like the rookie sensation we were all in awe of for a while. Is he tired? Zdeno Chara was a pussycat out there. Is he still hurt?

Also, I know I've said this before, but for fuck's sake, can this team please hit the damn net! 21 missed shots is not acceptable. If need be, set up those firing targets in the corners of the net that we all practiced with in our driveways as kids. This is a problem. Correct it, ASAP, because it's been rearing it's head throughout the year with no action being taken to remedy it. If these million hockey players find it insulting to have to practice shot accuracy, who cares. Keep them on the ice all day if that's what it takes.

I have no evidence to support this claim, but I lay the blame for this phenomenon at the feet of those awful composite sticks. Maybe I have a revisionist memory, but I don't remember this many missed shots 10 years ago. Now, in addition to the fact they seem to break at the worst times, it happens all the time. I realize they give you more speed on your shot, but what use is a 90 mph slapshot if it hits glass?

I'm beginning to get worried about this team. We can no longer point to the injuries as the reason for the team's problems. Scapegoats like Brad Norton and Filip Novak are gone. Even Martin Havlat is back. Sure, Dominik Hasek is still out, but they're going to have to get over that, because I believe that will remain the case. The only lingering injury is to Chris Phillips, and while the team is weakened without him, it's not the kind of injury that should be crippling the team to this extent. Saying "when x player comes back, we'll be all right!" is foolish.

The most frustrating part of Saturday night's debacle was that, as we saw in the third period, this team can turn it on and be dominant. Of course, by then, the Leafs were not pressuring nearly as hard and had given the Sens the openings, but regardless, on the Ottawa side, it was a completely different team. Unfortunately, by then, it was too little too late.

And that's not a new issue for the team this season. There have been many nights were the Sens fail to show up for the majority of the game. At some point, something somewhere clicks instead them collectively and we finally see the great team. On a lot of nights, they can get away with this and still get some points out of it. That was the case in Thursday night's OT loss to Florida.

However, it's one thing to do this with teams that aren't playoff bound. Against a team as red hot as the Leafs are right now, it's asking for trouble, and if they try this nonsense in a week when the postseason does start, they'll be the victims of another early exit.

As a fan, I won't tolerate that. If the team gives its all and comes up short, so be it. But I'll be damned if they once again squander a great team by not coming to play. What right does this group have to be overconfident? How many Cups have they won? Fine, they've been great regular season performers, but that and a couple quarters will get you a cup of coffee. Those President's Trophy banners may be shiny and pretty up in the rafters but they mean a whole lot less than one with Stanley Cup Champions written on it.

They have one more game, against a pretty good Rangers team in a building they've struggled in, to get their shit together. I suggest they take that opportunity, come together as a team, fix what is ailing them, and get ready for a long playoff run, because anything less than that will not be accepted by the fans of this market. The bar has been set high for some time, and the organization has embraced this high standard and reaped its benefits at the box office with record crowds this year. It's up to the guys on the ice to play their part. The pieces are in place for this team to prosper.

Yes, this was a meaningless Saturday night loss to a team with a whole lot more to play for than the Sens, but it was the ease in which they rolled over, the utter and complete lack of emotion, and the non-existant pride that you would think would drive them to play hard and eliminate their biggest rival that made my blood boil. It paints a worrisome picture of what's to come.


At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chill out.
if we play our best hockey every game in the playoffs we still probably won't win the cup.
It's a crazy game.

And what's up with you demanding a cup as if it's right. God damn these guys bust their buts putting 40-50 hours of training a week for their job and you do is crap on how they can't more than 55 games and a stanley cup because they have so much more potential.
They will achieve what they were meant to achieve. I'm saying that if they don't win the cup there are two causes. One the team lacked an important piece, intensity, or two they got bad bounces.

At 1:19 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

If you read the post, you'd see my issue is effort.

"As a fan, I won't tolerate that. If the team gives its all and comes up short, so be it. But I'll be damned if they once again squander a great team by not coming to play."

If they lose because of bad bounces or whatever, fine. But if they lose the same way they have in the past, proving they failed to learn any lessons from those early exits, I won't be satisfied, nor should any fan.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The most frustrating part of Saturday night's debacle was that, as we saw in the third period, this team can turn it on and be dominant."

Ottawa has a thing for playing its best hockey when it doesn't matter.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Ottawa has a thing for playing its best hockey when it doesn't matter.

Hear hear.

Great writing Chris. Your passion is obvious and unfakeable and that's exactly what keeps me coming back as reader. Please don't "chill out".



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