Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Buffalo 3 Ottawa 2 (OT)

“We’re in big trouble.”

I said this to a person I was watching the game with about five minutes into the game. By this point, the Buffalo Sabres had registered a handful of solid scoring chances and were in complete control. The Senators looked lost on the ice. And though the Senators managed to make a game out of it with timely goals, at the end of the day, the result is the same as I suspected at about quarter past 7.

Though this game went to overtime, and even with the Senators outshooting the Sabres once again, make no mistake about it: they deserved this fate. They were badly outplayed by a team who wanted it more and were willing to do what it took to get it.

The first period was a disaster. I expected Ottawa to come out determined and take it to the Sabres yet the complete opposite happened. The Sens were lucky to get out of that first frame down only a goal. Buffalo hit a post and missed two or three open nets on those damned backdoor plays. The score could have easily been 5-0 after 20 minutes and it would not have been unfair.

The Senators were screwed in the first two games as they were the superior team and still took the L but they got what they deserved here.

The Ottawa Senators franchise and its players have been labeled chokers in the past, and I combated that characterization, but it applies here. 100%. This team cannot play under pressure. Period.

The odds of a team coming back from an 0-3 hole are so long its probably just better to write this series and season off as done and find something else to do tomorrow night. Perhaps watch that new episode of CSI. Run’s House is on MTV. Shit, go see a movie. Anything but torturing myself by watching this team disappoint me again.

I want to do these things but I cannot. I will not give up until that clock winds down in the third period. Call me crazy if you want, but I’m not prepared to throw in the towel just yet.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect too many players to be there with me. And that’s what sucks. I feel like we as fans care more than some of these guys do.

If there is any positive, and I'm trying to find one in this dire spot, it's that the pressure is off. Everyone rightfully thinks this series is over. Most of you do, I'm sure. The media certainly does. Perhaps with no pressure, the Senators will grip the sticks a little more loosely and play their game. Who knows.

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. I am certain even with his great game, many will place the blame on Emery because it’s easy to do and that’s what we in Ottawa have become comfortable with. Do so if you must but I will not hold him responsible for the loss. We talked about how Emery needed to make big saves and he did so many times over throughout the game, and especially in the later half. He made a spectacular save on Jochan Hecht (who was left wide open in the slot) and kicked out the toe in the later stages of the third. Ray Emery did everything you could have asked of him and they still lost. Some might look at the OT winner as a questionable goal but it seemed to be one of those wonky shots that knuckles in.

Martin Havlat. “Mach 9” didn’t score the goals that a sniper is supposed to, but he certainly created a number of chances. He used his speed to explode in the Sabres zone many times and drew a couple of penalties.

Bryan Smolinski. The local punching bag, Smolinski’s name is usually drug through the mud when people talk about why Alfie needs to be on the Big Line and off his. Yet Smolinski has been 10x the player Alfredsson has in this series as far as doing his job. He’s good at winning battles for pucks, doesn’t give the puck away, and is solid at defensive coverage. Offensively, his game isn’t what he used to be, but there are still a lot of good things about his game. Bryan Smolinski is probably not a top two center in the NHL anymore but he’s also not the useless slug a lot of us, myself sometimes included, have made him out to be. I’m certain this will be his last hooray in Ottawa, and it’s probably time for some new faces, but let’s not distort reality too much with how he went out.

THE BAD:

Daniel Alfredsson. If the Sens are in fact swept, a lot will be said about Alfredsson and I will have my own thoughts. Right now my primary emotion regarding Alfie is disappointment. Talk is cheap. Since Monday night he’s been all over the local papers talking about how it’s not over, they have some fight left in them, and yet the team shits the bed, and leading that charge was the captain. He had an awful turnover early in the game that would’ve been a goal if not for Jason Spezza’s backcheck, and Maxim Afinogenov had Emery down and out, and on at least five occasions tried to carry the puck alone and got stonewalled. He was with Spezza and Dany Heatley for the entire game so the excuse of him being brought down by inferior linemates is gone. In fact, much to my annoyance, Alfredsson, despite having a shit game, was being double shifted because, I guess, Bryan Murray thought he would snap out of it. I can’t fault Murray too much for that line of thinking because it’s one I’ve had for some time now. My patience has run out. By all accounts Daniel Alfredsson is a tremendous guy, and there’s no disputing that he’s a talented hockey player. But his time in Ottawa is up.

The Two Faces Of Zdeno Chara. Another guy who needed to elevate his game substantially, Chara failed to deliver. What was frustrating was that there were times when he would assert himself as a dominant player, usually when he was pinching. He was forceful along the boards in the Buffalo zone and basically impossible to move off the puck. Some chances were generated off this and a couple penalties drawn as well. Yet outside of these spurts, Chara struggled badly. He was awkward with the puck all night, especially along the blueline. When handling it, Chara seemed nervous and uncomfortable, and that spawned giveaways. He was also responsible for some absolutely boneheaded passes, including a couple right in the slot, and in his own zone, for most of the night, was running around as if his head had been cut off. Zdeno Chara has proven himself to not be a big game player.

Andrej Meszaros. In some ways I feel bad for the kid because he's been in way over his head. No one could have seen this coming. Meszaros looked like a seasoned veteran throughout the year and when put into positions where he had to play well, he shined. Rookies are expected to struggle a bit but no damn way did I think Meszaros would be such a weakness on the blueline. He followed the lead of his countryman Chara in his own end with his play. A lot of times it looked like Meszaros was in a trance, standing around watching the play instead of getting involved. He was definitely playing without any confidence.

Defensive zone play. I have no explanation for what happened. I’ve never seen this team play this poorly in their own zone for extended periods of time. They were outworked for pucks, missed assignments leaving opposition players open, and made countless poor passes. I must have screamed “JUST GET IT OUT!” about 100 times throughout the game. Why this thought process was not going on in their head makes me question the makeup of this club. If the other team is pressuring you, ice it. Even with the new rule forbidding line chances on icings, it’s better to force them to win a faceoff than continue to run around clueless.

Backdoor plays. When a player or, collectively, a team makes a mistake, one thing we as fans can usually take out of it is that they learn a lesson and won’t let it happen again. So why these backdoor plays were allowed to develop time and time again is beyond me. I am certain each instance was dissected by the coaching staff via video for the entire time. What happened?

Officiating in OT. Maybe it was payback for some of the questionable calls Buffalo got in the game that gave Ottawa powerplays, but twice in OT a Sens player was tackled without the puck. And does Daniel Briere have pictures of the officials. He got away with not one but two hits from behind, one of which on Alfredssonwas close to be incredibly dangerous. Do not get me wrong. Ottawa did not lose because of these calls but they rubbed me the wrong way.

Missed shots. Frustrating.

THE OPPOSITION:

While I was wrong in assuming a determined Ottawa Senators team would take the ice at the HSBC, I wasn’t off base in thinking we’d see a different Buffalo Sabres team than the one who left Ottawa lucky to be up two games. We never saw their A-Game with any regularity during the first two games but it was only logical to expect it to emerge eventually.

Buffalo looked very much like the 100 point team that roared back after a slow start to push Ottawa for the Northeast title. They were relentless in their pursuit of the puck in the first, established themselves as the dominant team, and sent the message that they would not lose. Ottawa lost confidence very early and could not recover.

Their transition play was so far beyond was Ottawa was capable of.

11 Comments:

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Neil Tubb said...

Chris, thanks for this great post. Somehow, I actually feel better just knowing someone out there agrees with me. They have replaced their Game 1 swagger with teeth-chattering nerves...what the fack is this? Are these guys professionals? It is times like this that I start to wonder that some on this team realize they are only really paid for the regular season, and see the playoffs as cutting into their vacation. That sounds harsh...but so was sitting through that game!

I don't know...I guess I'll watch the next game, but clearly it is a stay of execution. This isn't how it was supposed to end.

 
At 11:32 PM, Blogger aquietgirl said...

I don't know.

I'm really at a loss for words.

This was the first real "loss" of the series and the guys really sound demoralized.

Starting Hasek might be worth it. There's really nothing left to lose ... plus, it adds to the drama -- Hasek! In Buffalo! Returning!

I don't want to blame Emery specifically, but I think the team lost faith in him after game 1. After that, the swagger & confidence in him and in themselves just disappeared.

 
At 11:37 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Ottawa would be nuts to get rid of Alfie. Snap out of it, man. What's hurting Alfie is the fact that he's the lightning rod. I couldn't believe that TSN.ca ran a front-page story with the headline ALFIE UNDER PRESSURE today. You wouldn't see a headline of BRIERE UNDER PRESSURE if Buffalo were down 2-0. Murray needs to put his stamp on this team and he hasn't done that, so Alfie is the default scapegoat. If anything, I think there should be a coaching change in the off-season.

 
At 12:32 AM, Anonymous KevinP said...

Chris, I almost feel bad for the Sens just because of you.

You are the most level-headed opposing blogger I have ever read.

/end ass-kissing

 
At 12:43 AM, Anonymous sens4life said...

i love to hate this team.
i hate that i love this team.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Yeah... what sens4life said.

I hope they win tonight. If they do, I'll be awful tempted to snap up a game 5 ticket so I can personally boo their sorry asses off the ice after they serve up the inevitable choke.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger Adam said...

Why start Hasek (assuming he's healthy)? Emery kept the game closer than it should have been. I think it would send 2 bad messages:

1) The team's weakness has been in nets (which I couldn't disagree with more).

2) The team would rather have a shaky Hasek (hasn't played since Feb) than a healthy Emery. Could you think of a better way to poison the relationship between next season's goalie and the rest of the team?

Like the rest of you guys, I'm amazingly disappointed at how the games have been going, but I'll be parked in front of the TV tonight. It ain't over 'til it's over.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Rob Wiebe said...

We're in big trouble, indeed. We've now got the guys saying they're going to win or 'die trying' (today's Citizen). Hoorray, they're going to start trying tonight. Bet Ryan Miller's shaking in his skates.

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

Chris,

Nice breakdown, as usual. Here are a couple of thoughts…

You’re not the only one screaming “get it out”. I must say that about the Sabres 50 times a game. Even if the puck is only in our own zone for five seconds its way too long, especially in the playoffs.

The Sabres have been working that “back door” play all season long. I don’t think all of the video sessions in the world will help teams. The Sabres are very fast and very skilled and they find ways to get in position. Its usually just a matter of “when”, not “if” they’re going to get those chances.

“What the fuckity fuck?!?” is taking off here in the B-Lo (that’s Buffalo for you Ottawa folks). Kevin dropped it at the game last night and my wife said it to me this morning. When do your “WTFF?” tee-shirts hit the market??? I’ll take a gross.

Mark

www.BfloBlog.com

 
At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thoughts Mark.

The Moose's thought. Alfie screwed up by not watching star wars with the rest of the team after the monday loss.

Ricky stuffed moose Sen fan blog

 
At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the moose posted first. Woo hoo. Take each moment as its own and forget stats.

New play off tradition each post now has song to encapsulate game.

http://spaces.msn.com/sensmoose

 

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