Saturday, October 28, 2006

Boston 2 Ottawa 1

THE GOOD:

Martin Gerber. Even in defeat, I thought this was the Swiss netminder’s best game of the season. He’s been burned by some poor performances by the team in front of him so far, and on this night, with an often blasé skating group not helping him a lot, Gerber bailed them out more than once. More than anything else, Gerber looked confident, which has been the theme for Senators coming out of slumps thus far this year. Spezza and Heatley turned their games around when they started playing with buoyancy and that was certainly the case here. Gerber wasn’t fighting the puck, looked calm and cool throughout, controlled his rebounds very well, and was even good handling the puck, something I never thought possible a few weeks ago. It’s a shame the Sens couldn’t pull out the two points to give Gerber something to hang his hat on. Let’s just hope the defeat doesn’t deflate Gerber and instead he’s able to carry it over into his next start. If he does, the Sens sport two very confident goaltenders, which is a good problem to have.

Chris Phillips. His play fell off a little in the third, which I suspect was partly due to Philly tiring with all the minutes he was logging, however, overall, the Big Rig turned out a strong game. How much of that was because he wanted to play well against his defence partner of four years, Zdeno Chara, who knows. It’s not as if the uber-determined Phillips needed extra motivation (and if he did, I’d hope it would come when he found out Wade Redden was playing), but whatever it was, it worked. He was very effective in his own end, laying checks as well as taking them in order to make the right play, as well as breaking up many rushes from the Bruins.

The penalty killing. Yeah, they allowed a goal, the game winner no less, but they were able to neutralize the Bruins for most of the games and were effective on the whole. They should have never been on the ice in the last five minutes with the game tied.

Anton Volchenkov. Another solid, albeit unspectacular outing from the A-Train. Very responsible defensively, good physical presence, and never caught out of position, which is more than you can say for the majority of the Senator rearguards.

The intensity in the first period. A fight between Chris Neil and Wade Brookbank (what’s that about Neil not fighting other fighters?), a near fight between Chara and Brian McGratton (smart bait by Gratts), and tons of hitting made me think the game would be electric. It didn’t last. Neither team came out with that same energy in the second period, unfortunately, and the quality of the game fell significantly. But for 20 minutes, it was quite good.

The Toronto-Montreal game. Even with a rooting interest in the Sens-Bruins game, I found myself turning into RDS to catch the Habs-Leafs contest more and more as the night went on. What a finish.

THE BAD:

Another uneven effort. Perhaps Ottawa came in overconfident and figured they could take it easy and still get the W against a struggling Boston team. Maybe those three consecutive blowout wins inflated their heads a little too much. Whatever it was, the Sens as a team definitely didn't come to play for the full 60 minutes, and the result reflects that. This isn’t to say they played poorly. But it was a flat, uninterested team that took the ice and, with the exception of a shift here or there, that attitude remained throughout, and only got worse as the game aged. They didn’t play with the same jump, they weren’t going the extra mile to win the battles along the boards, and the passing was sloppy. The play in their own end was also a problem, especially in the second half of the contest. Lazy attempts to clear the zone, which are about the most frustrating to me as a fan (I'm sure my neighbors hear me yell "JUST GET IT OUT!" a dozen times every other night and think strange thoughts), were far too prevelant.

The powerplay. The Senators did notch one goal with the man advantage (a five-on-three), but overall, their play in that position was not good. Wade Redden has taken a lot of criticism for his lack of offensive production thus far but his importance to this team, especially in this area, was blatantly obvious when you saw how poor the Sens defencemen were on the powerplay. They had a difficult time keeping the puck in the end and a lot of the passes, whether they be from D to D or to a forward on the wing, were not good. Boston came into the game with one of the worst penalty killing records in the league thus far and Ottawa was not able to exploit it. They even got a second five-on-three in the third period for nearly 90 seconds, and could not get anything out of it. And if you want to look for a turning point in the game, that’s as good a place to start. The Bruins already had the momentum, having just scored two minutes earlier, and the jolt they got from killing those penalties really lit a fire under them.

Undisciplined play. If Jacques Martin was still coaching this team, some players would be getting an earful on the plane trip home. Chris Neil in particular took two very bad, ill-timed penalties in the last five minutes of the game. The second, with less than two minutes left. was a questionable call, and it barely looked like interference to me, but Neil should know better than to even tempt fate at that point in the game. Especially when the previous penalty he took resulted in Boston taking the 2-1 lead.

Andrej Meszaros. This was one of those nights when the Slovakian defenceman looked his age. A very poor performance. Many mental errors both with the puck and positionally. You could count these kind of games from the kid on two hands last year, which for a 20-year-old rookie d-man was pretty remarkable. I suspect we won’t see too many this season that resemble this one.

Giving up odd man rushes. I realize that much of the reason the offence had exploded in the previous three games was because the defence was getting involved in the fun, often joining the rush. But you have to pick your spots. The Sens must’ve allowed half a dozen odd man rushes, including three in the first period, and almost all of them came from a defenceman overextending himself offensively, leaving the team prone. Thankfully, none of them ended in the Bruins lighting the lamp, mostly because Martin Gerber saved the day (on one of them Jason Spezza of all people backchecked hard and broke up a pass), but maybe they need to get burned on one of them to learn their lesson. I would think that after the first couple they’d get the message but alas they kept playing with fire, asking to be burnt. If they do this against a better team, it’ll happen.

Tom Preissing. He’ll get the goat status due to the turnover that resulted in P.J. Axelsson tying the game, but even beyond that, he struggled. With Wade Redden out, you’d think Preissing would get an increased role, but he only played 13 minutes, and much of that was logged on the powerplay, where he didn’t play particularly well. He’s really having trouble finding his role on this team, especially with Joe Corvo back and playing so well (Corvo, in contrast, played 29 minutes, the most on the team). Preissing’s had a couple good games but on the whole hasn’t made the impact I expected. If Christoph Schubert has a few really good games Preissing might find himself in the press box unless he steps it up.

The ice. You’d think a hockey city like Beantown would have a resident ice guru who made sure the rink’s surface was sound. Pucks were bouncing all night long, for both teams.

THE OPPOSITION:

Like most Ottawa-Boston games, this one was a slow, often uninteresting game, and much of the reason was because that’s how the Bruins, who dictated the pace for the majority of the game, wanted it. It seemed as if they were biding their time, waiting for the chance to score and then take over offensively. Don’t get me wrong, they had their chances, and more than Ottawa, but they knew they couldn’t run and gun with the Sens and therefore played a more consecutive game.

The one guy who didn’t get that memo was Phil Kessel, who was, hands down, the best player on either team. I’d seen the rookie in one other game this season, and came away remarkably unimpressed, but he won me over here. He literally took the Bruins on his back in the second period, when the pendulum shifted for good in their favor, generating the majority of their good chances and generally serving as the catalyst for their attack. If Patrice Bergeron had actually come to play, they could have really been a dangerous combination.

The other guy I watched closely, like most of you did as well I’m sure, was big Chara. All eyes were on how he’d fare against his old team and I thought he had a strong game. He wasn’t dominating, but he certainly made his presence felt, both in his own end by throwing his weight around in the corners, as well as by scoring the game winner. I think he’ll get more up for when he comes back to Ottawa next month, his first visit back in the nation’s capital as a Bruin.

UP NEXT:

Montreal on Tuesday. Both clubs should be anxious to get the win, with the Habs losing in tonight’s barnburner at the Molson Centre. While they lost, and were clearly outplayed by a determined Leafs team, they’re still having a solid season thus far and if Sergei Samsonov is truly back, and the two goals tonight weren’t an aberration, then Ottawa might be in some trouble because he’s a gamebreaker. On their side, the Sens have to be hoping both Peter Schaefer and Redden will be back. The early word is that Schaefer will be ready but with these hip injuries it’s tough to pinpoint a hard return date, and Redden’s lower body injury is apparently the same groin that bugged him earlier in the season, meaning it might be another game before he’s ready.

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