Monday, May 01, 2006

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 1

The Sens made quick work of the Lightning and have once again become one of the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. We don’t yet know who they will be facing in the next round, but it’s never too soon to evaluate how it’s gone so far.

THE GOOD:

Martin Havlat. Coming back from a serious injury that caused him to miss nearly 60 games, it was difficult to expect a lot from Havlat off the bat. I assumed he would need some time to find his game. I was wrong. Havlat was an impact player from jump and, from game one to five, was their most dangerous forward. Early in the series, the Bolts appeared to be overlooking Havlat and as a result he was able to be a produce offensive. By the third game they realized the error of their ways and began pressuring Havlat defensively. It made no difference. Havlat was still able to find ways to be a factor. He scored six goals in the series and almost all of them were timely, big goals, something this team has often been without in the playoffs. In previous postseason years, Havlat has been rightfully criticized for folding his tent under pressure. Are we seeing a new, mature, toughened Martin Havlat? If so, he gives the team another threat that makes it difficult to neutralize one line. We can only wonder how the Senators would’ve done this season with a healthy Havlat.

Wade Redden. Wade was dealing with off ice issues that few of us can imagine the difficulty of, and yet he had the playoff series of his career. Throughout the season, when Redden was out of the line-up either with an injury or back home in Saskatchewan dealing with his family, we saw how vital he was to the team, as the powerplay became much less powerful and the team no longer had the outlet pass option. Even in this series, for game two, the Senators were an entirely different team without Redden, as the other defenceman had to take on bigger roles that they could not handle. When it was Anton Volchenkov handling the puck instead of Redden, it was a nightmare. It’s possible Redden is still running on adrenaline and will come back down to Earth, but based on his post-series comments, he seems very determined and motivated to make this his best playoffs yet.

Jason Spezza. Explosive offensively, and much more reliable in his own end than he’s been in the past, Spezza’s maturation as a playoff performer seems to be occurring right before our eyes.

Special teams. Before the series, I gave the edge to the Senators and thought it might be a deciding factor. It was one of the few pre-playoff proclamations I got right. Ottawa’s powerplay, at 33%, was the best of the first round, while also having the third ranked PK. As the playoffs continue, special teams will only get more important, so it’s essential the Sens maintain a high level of effectiveness in both areas. Tampa wasn’t particularly strong in either area all season long so it’s foolish to celebrate too much. Let’s see how they fare against a better team.

Ray Emery. Going into the series, Tampa Bay head coach John Tortorella wasn’t alone in thinking #1 would be the team’s weak link. Down the stretch, his play wasn’t very consistent and there was great concern from many Sens fans. Emery silenced them all. He was huge, making big save after big save. He looked cool and confident throughout the series, never allowing the pressure to take him off his game. Emery has proven himself to be a streaky goalie. When he gets hot, he’s difficult to beat, and there can be no disputing that right now, Ray Emery is sizzling.

Chris Neil. A lot was made of Chris Neil’s antics in game three (probably too much), but even beyond that game, I thought Neil was one of the more effective Sens. In the context of his role, which is to provide energy every time he’s on the ice and finish checks, more couldn’t have been asked for from Neil.

Mike Fisher & Peter Schaefer. It’s doubtful Havlat would be having the series he is if he wasn’t playing on a line with these two. Maybe the most consistent players all season long, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they’ve carried that into the postseason. Their work along the boards, on the forecheck, and in front of the net make it possible for Martin Havlat to shine.

THE BAD:

Sloppy play in their own zone. Ottawa was often the architect of their own miseries in the series, and had Tampa been able to capitalize on more of their chances, it might've been a longer go for the Senators. Too frequently, a Sens player would half-ass a clearing attempt only for it to be stopped at the blueline and kept in.

Anton Volchenkov. I’ve been a big backer of Volchenkov and have championed the argument to get him more ice time. In this series, with the injury to Chris Phillips and Wade Redden missing a game, he did, and he did not respond well. Terrible with the puck, including far too many turnovers and countless near ones, routinely out of position, bad penalties. It was an awful series for the A-Train. Unlike Andrej Meszaros, who also struggled, Volchenkov doesn’t have the excuse of being new to the playoffs. This is the third time he’s been in the dance and by now he should be over the jitters. The Sens will need more consistent play from Volchenkov down the line.

Zdeno Chara’s missing mean streak. It was on display in game three, which by no coincidence was Chara’s best, but the mean and nasty Big Z was not present often enough, and in fact, it was sometimes the other team taking the body to him. We know he intimidates opposing players (The Hockey News polled NHLers and found he was the most feared man in the league), but if he doesn’t play with that mean streak it doesn’t matter. I suspect a lot of it was because Chara was worried about taking a penalty, knowing the league was cracking down and officials would be whistle happy, but if it means Chara spends some time in the sin bin every now and then, I think it’s worth it.

Daniel Alfredsson’s offence. I wouldn’t categorize Alfie’s series overall as a bad one, because he still did a lot of good things (excellent on the PP, good forechecker). However, they need to get Alfredsson going offensively. He wasn’t much of a scoring threat throughout the series and that has to be corrected ASAP. I’m going to keep shouting they need to throw Alfie back on the Big Line until it happens, but based on how well Spezza and Dany Heatley played in the first round, it’s doubtful Bryan Murray will want to shake things up. That means Alfredsson will have to find a way to make something happen with Bryan Smolinski as his center. Great.

5 Comments:

At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally think Alfredsson has the most thankless role on the Senators right now. Murray has put him on a line that otherwise would be nothing but dead weight so that other teams cannot just focus on the top two lines. I feel that the amount of space the Spezza and Fisher lines have been getting is due to a large measure to Alfie being on a different line. I think we need to recognize the significance of Alfie's contribution in this role.

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

That's not the role you want such a gifted player on though.

 
At 11:34 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

The style of play in that series didn't fit Volchenkov's game. That was the least physical series I've ever seen. I thought he played much better in the last two games.

Chara needs to get mean as well.

 
At 3:26 AM, Anonymous Thomas DeChastelain said...

Spezza, Heatley Alfredson combined for only one "real" even strength goal (discount the empty netter)

this is not getting the most of these players...when they were together we had the best 5 on 5 stats around

putting the big line together to me is a no brainer...the arguments for splitting them apart just don't wash with me at all.

 
At 4:53 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

If the Senators end up playing Buffalo, as I expect, in the second round they will need much better defensive play by the defensemen other than the traditional shutdown defense pair of Chara-Phillips. Tampa had 7 forwards in their lineup wiht 15 or more goals while Buffalo has 10 (which is also more than Ottawa which has 9). That extra depth the Sabres have mean guys like Redden, Volchenkov, Meszaros, Pothier and/or Schubert will need to step up their defensive games as the team can't just rely on Chara/Phillips to be the sole shut down guys. The other key for the Senators will be to get Alfredsson to pick up his game because Ryan Miller is going to be a significantly tougher goalie to beat than Grahame/Burke and you won't be able to live on just Havlat's goal scoring. You better route for Montreal or the heavily injured Flyers because the Sabres would present a very very big challenge for the Senators.

 

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