Ottawa 4 Carolina 1
Martin Gerber. He needed this one. More even than a W, Gerber needed a solid performance without any major costly mistakes, and we got that. Though it certainly looked like this would be a long night based on the early (and lone) goal he gave up, where he looked awkward and uncomfortable, Gerber managed to compose himself nicely and give a strong outing that hopefully builds some confidence not only within himself but also with his teammates. Because there can be no disputing that Ottawa played like a different team with Ray Emery between the pipes than they did when it was Gerber tending the goal. One good game doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods, and he’ll need to do the same the next time he gets tapped on the shoulder, but it was a good starting point. Fundamentally, a lot of the things that were killing him, and as a result the team, were much better. Primarily, Gerber didn’t look nearly as small. You could see, based on where the ‘Canes where shooting – high – that the book is out on how to solve Gerber, and as long as he was going down so quickly, so deep in the net, the opposition was going to continue to roof it with success.
The penalty killing. Awesome. Carolina had five powerplay opportunities and could barely build any momentum from all the man advantages they had. In fact, in a few instances, Ottawa was generating more chances and getting more energy from killing off all the penalties. Props to Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, and Chris Kelly, who were all terrific in this area.
The third period. The final 20 minutes has become a pretty sizeable foe of the Sens this season, which is a strange thing to say given how well this team was at protecting leads that season. We’ve already seen Ottawa shit the bed in the third and blow a lead a handful of times this season, and we’re only 25 games in. While it was when Ottawa scored their second and third goals to blow the game open, the truth was, Ottawa was the inferior team in the second period, as Carolina dictated the pace and dominated the majority of the frame, spending much more time in Ottawa’s end than vice versa. So, despite a two goal lead going into the last period, I was a tad nervous based on the various collapses we’ve seen this year. However, a different team came out for the third period.
The Patrick Eaves-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil line Terrific. Fisher scored a goal, registered an assist, and was the catalyst for his line’s strong play throughout. It was nice seeing Eaves score because he’s been due and they need him to be more of an offensive presence for this team to prosper. Whenever people would say “where is the secondary scoring going to come from now that Martin Havlat is gone?” I would tell them (after pointing out that Havlat only accounted for nine of their league leading 312 last season) that Eaves would be a big part of it. He scored 20 goals in 58 games last season, and in the process, demonstrated a tremendous natural goal scoring instinct that made me think a more seasoned and mature Eaves would rack up quite the tally in a full season. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunity, as Eaves spent significant time playing with some pretty offensively talented people. His overall game has improved since moving onto a line with Fish and Neil, but that scoring presence hasn’t come around. Let’s hope his first goal in seven games ends the slump and gets him scoring like we need him. Fisher’s skating pretty friggin’ well right now as well.
Going to the net. Someone lit a fire under the asses of the Sens’ forwards (and Christoph Schubert). That’s the only explanation I have for why Ottawa skaters went so hard to the net, nonstop. The first goal, scored by Patrick Eaves, was a direct result of him skating hard through a bit of a clutch from a ‘Canes defender and getting rewarded as a result. Even Daniel Alfredsson, a former Lady Byng nominee, was going to the net, and got punched in the face as a result (would’ve liked some retribution for that, but that’s another issue).
Christoph’s Schubert’s shot. Holy fuck.
Andrej Meszaros. Over 25 minutes played, strong in all ends of the ice, good in every situation. This is the Meszaros we’ve become used to.
Chris Phillips lack of discipline. The Big Rig’s new found habit of taking bad defensive zone penalties is starting to annoy me, mostly because they all result from Phillips not skating and instead resorting back to the “old NHL” ways of hooking. We’ve had these new rules for a little while now. I would’ve thought otherwise smart veterans like Phillips would’ve adjusted by now, but alas, that’s not the case.
Playing with fire. Both Joe Corvo and Wade Redden must’ve decided they just didn’t give a fuck because each guy threw caution to the wind. Redden threw the puck through his own crease more than once and Corvo thought he was Bobby Orr the way he attempted to pylon Carolina skaters.
The attendance. I realize the ‘Canes aren’t burning it up the way they were last season, and Ottawa no longer has that “must see TV” buzz around it (seems to have gone south to Buffalo), but less than 15,000? And that’s announced. It’s a good bet the real number was closer to 13K. What gives Raleigh? Was there a town hall meeting going on simultaneously?
The one noteworthy observation I have to make about the ‘Canes, above all others, is that their defence is a mess. In comparison to the squad that backstopped Carolina to a Cup win in the spring, this one is ass. Pittsburgh-last-year ass. Now, a drop off of some sort had to be expected. They lost Aaron Ward, an unremarkable but important piece of the puzzle, to free agency and Frantisek Kaberle to a long-term injury, and that hurts. But the guys they have left who were so good last year, the Glen Wesley’s (looked 50 years old out there), Brent Hedicans and Mike Commodore were not the least bit effective. Hell, Anton Babchuck, a guy they got for almost nothing from the Hawks (nice trade) was their best rearguard. Now, no offence to Anton Babchuck. He’s a former first rounder and had a very good game, but they need the veterans to anchor the ship.
This was where the game was won. All four of Ottawa’s lines forechecked consistently and Carolina’s defence, which was praised by that old relic John Muckler for their puck moving ability and overall speed last year, couldn’t deal in the slightest. Carolina’s forwards were fine and in the second did a excellent job of taking it to the Ottawa defencemen in that frame.
Also, John Grahame stinks. I thought this much was known but the Hurricanes thought he would be a good backup to Cam Ward and, apparently, serve as their insurance should Ward suffer from a sophmore slump/Conn Smythe Curse. And here I thought Jim Rutherford was one of the best GMs in the NHL.
A game against Florida on a Thursday night may not seem like a big game, but I think it is. Sorta. Ottawa, like most teams, tends to struggle when they come back from lengthy roadtrips. There is a hangover that carries over and the first game back at home is often quite poor. So it’ll be especially interesting to see if they can keep it rolling after a nice win tonight to their home returns. The early word is Alex Auld is starting. I haven’t seen enough of Florida, nor cared enough about them to follow the team closely, to know if that’s good or not.