A mixed bag weekend
First, the walking wounded: with both Peter Schaefer and Daniel Alfredsson already on the shelf as a precautionary measure with groin injuries, two defencemen who will sorta need to be healthy if the Sens plan to prosper this season got themselves hurt.
Fortunately, the aching groin that forced Wade Redden to leave Sunday evening's game in Halifax against Toronto doesn't appear to be serious.
However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Sens will be without Joe Corvo for an estimated four-to-six weeks with a broken foot. It seemed like an innocent enough play, and when he was taken off the ice, I would never have thought the injury was serious, yet here we are. It's times like this that having a Christoph Schubert calibre rearguard as your 7th d-man comes in handy.
Truth be told, Corvo was not impressing me in the least bit prior the foot injury. He looked slow, sluggish, uninspired and made poor decisions with the puck in the pre-season games I saw. This doesn't mean I was demanding a trade, or questioning the signing (a lot). However, I sure would have been much more comfortable if Corvo blew me away during those first insignificant games he played as a Senator.
The pairing between him and Redden looked awkward, and seemed to be affecting Redden's game as well. That's strange, because all last season, Redden juggled defensive partners and throughout it, maintained a high standard of play, able to adjust to whomever was beside him on the blueline.
What will be interesting to observe is who gets to play with Redden during the first part of the regular season now that Corvo is out. The pairs looked to be locked in, with Redden alongside Corvo, Chris Phillips teamed with Andrej Meszaros, and Tom Preissing and Anton Volchenkov making up the bottom pair. Now that's out the window. Bryan Murray seems to be in love with the idea of Phillips and Meszaros, so odds are, it'll be either Preissing or Volchenkov playing with Redden. I suppose Schubert is a possibility, but that'll be a lot of minutes for a guy who wasn't even considered good enough to be in their top six d-men.
Smart money is on Volchenkov getting the nod. He and Redden have played together for some time, with mostly good results, and having some familiarity back there will help with the other pairs being so new. If that ends up being the case, it'll be an odd twist of fate for the "A-Train", who had been the subject of trade rumors. Many people, myself included, wonder about the economic sense of having a fifth defenceman being paid $1.25 mil on a team counting every penny due to limited cap space, and when it looked like Alexei Kaigorodov wasn't coming off, it made sense to suggest John Muckler should dangle Volchenkov in front of GMs in hopes of getting that elusive second line center.
All of that said, the idea of Preissing paired with Redden intrigues me. I was never too hot on Corvo and Redden, as they seemed too similar (Corvo a poor man's Redden) to work, while Preissing seems to have a better all around game. However, when they threw $2.6 mil at Corvo in July, that all but guaranteed they'd be giving him top four minutes. We'd love to think salaries have no baring on who gets ice time, but if you truly believe that, I have both land AND a bridge to sell you.
Also a major highlight of the weekend action was the continual disappointment that is Alexei Kaigorodov. I'm someone who was willing to cut him some slack as far as immediate impact, because coming from Russia to North America is a significant adjustment for the kid to make, and even I'm let down by his play. For those of you who were convinced he's the messiah that would take this team to the next level, solve their problem on the second line, and put up Ovechkin type numbers his freshman year, you must be feeling suicidal.
There's no way to spin his play thus far as anything but piss poor. He's looked downright lost on the ice on a lot of occasions. The Wednesday night loss to Toronto was a nightmare, the worst possible scenario, and Friday night versus Buffalo, the guy just wasn't a factor. That was an improvement over the previous game, because he didn't embarass himself, however, when I notice prospects who are expected to make up the third line in Binghamton more than the supposed savior, there are problems.
I'm not calling the kid a bust yet, but he has a small window to impress and he's shit the bed quite severely thus far.
I wonder if that even matters though. With the way he's been built up, he sort of has to make the team. His destiny is set in stone and these games may not even be of any importance besides getting him acclimitized to the NHL. Sending him back to Russia would be a colossal embarassment to all involved, and one I have to think the organization wants to avoid at all costs. Something tells me all that "his job isn't guaranteed" talk is just that, talk.
And speaking of sealed fates, how about Denis Hamel. Are you any more confident the guy will make the team even after scoring five goals, because I'm sure not. Having witnessed Hamel score a natural hat trick Friday night, and receive a standing ovation from the (alleged) 16,000 for it, I still think they'll find a way to send him back to Bingo in a few weeks.
Hamel, for whatever reason, is perceived by the Sens (and seemingly every other NHL team) as a career minor leaguer. A guy who can light it up down there but who's not well suited to thrive in the NHL. He has other opportunities and didn't make the most of them, however, his game looks to be much improved since then.
The argument made by people who think Hamel shouldn't make the club centers around two things:
1) Pre-season success means nothing (and they reference Brandon Bochenski)
2) Hamel has to play on the top lines
Let's address them individually.
The first one is true. Pre-season success is of little significance. But using Bochenski as a reference point isn't fair to either Hamel or the departed former Senator. Hamel scored over 50 goals in the AHL last season. The year before that, he netted 39 when there were a ton of NHLers in the league due to the lockout. This isn't some flukey September where luck is getting the better of things.
The second is one I believed for a while, so I can't fault those who still do. The perception around Hamel is that he's a goal scorer with little else to his game. If that was the case, then playing him on the fourth line would be asking for trouble because his skillset isn't suited to play in that position. But Hamel isn't just a goal scorer. He happens to do that very well, but his game includes an above average defensive prowess and a willingness to play the body. If there is a hole on the third or (more likely) fourth line, then he's as fit to fill the void as anyone else in the organization.
Essentially, what it comes down to is politics, and as a fan, who just wants whatever it takes for this team to win occur, it's frustrating to observe. A kid from Russia, highly touted, has never played a single pro game on this side of the Atlantic and gets a job handed to him. It was up to him to play his way off the team, and not center Daniel Alfredsson. Meanwhile, a rough and tumble 29-year-old who's proven himself capable of lighting the lamp has to play like the reincarnated Rocket Richard to get this team's brass to even consider him for a job.
It sorta sucks, but that's life in the big leagues I guess.
Seeing the way the fans responded to Hamel, you'd think it would be a P.R. nightmare to have him not make the team now, but I remain confident they'll find a way to fuck it up.
Touching on the other bases from the last couple games:
- Ray Emery looked solid Friday night and made a number of impressive saves. He looks to be finding his mid-season form with ease.
- Speaking of mid-season form, Jason Spezza is turning the puck over like it's February already. It was discouraging because the rest of his game has been strong however these silly giveaways erase all the goodwill he establishes with his solid play the rest of the time.
- Dean McAmmond didn't look at all out of place alongside the aforementioned Spezza and Dany Heatley Sunday night against the Leafs. McAmmond will likely start the season on the third or fourth line, but I like having him on deck to mix things up when necessary. He brings a veteran presence to that line that's difficult to get in other combos unless it involves Alfie.
- I also liked the game of Brian McGratton on the second line that game, lined up for a lot of it with Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly (last year's fourth line for much of the season). McGratton's game has come a long way and the idea of him playing six to eight minutes a game, as he has aimed for this season, isn't as laughable as you might think.
- Michal Barinka had a strong game Friday night. Very physical, good in his own end, and didn't make any mistakes when the rubber was on his tape. He looks NHL ready to me, so I'm excited about having him on the farm as the first call up. Despite being a big body he can skate and seems to have good hockey sense.
- For all the hype he gets on the HF Boards, Arttu Luttinen sure hasn't done much to impress me. Where's all this toughness I heard about?
- Thoughtless, ill-timed penalties cost them Friday night's game. Let's hope these are just the guys getting the rust of their collective systems.
- Kelly Guard's gold pads rule. That is all.