Monday, January 30, 2006

An apology

Due to an unforeseen Internet connection problem at my home, I've been unable to update since late Thursday night.

I'm hoping, based on what I've been told, that it will be solved sometime this week, and possibly as soon as today, but I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, the blogs on the right should provide you with what you're looking for until Sympatico decides to get off their collective asses.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ottawa 3 Montreal 0

THE GOOD:

A surge in the powerplay. The most prominent sore spot during the home and home again with the Leafs was that they were unable to capitalize with the man advantage, scoring only one goal in both games, and on most of their opportunities, unable to sustain any sort of momentum. Such was not the case last night. How much of that can be credited to the Leafs’ solid PK, or the Canadiens teri cloth one, who knows, but anytime a team racks up three PP goals when it had previously been struggling, you have to be happy. Overall, it just looked like a different team when up a man. They were able to move the puck very well, did a good job along the boards, avoided sloppy passes (namely, Jason Spezza’s threw the crease that the Leafs telegraphed every time) and kept the rubber in the Habs’ zone.

Mike Fisher. After lighting the lamp twice vs. Toronto Saturday night, Fisher was unable to do the same here, but he had a terrific outing.

Brian Pothier throwing a hit, and a big one at that. Someone check the temperate in Hell.

Zdeno Chara’s hands. Chara undressed Sheldon Souray on his goal and, when keeping the puck from going offside on a powerplay, made moves that Jason Spezza would’ve been proud of.

Anton Volchenkov getting time on the powerplay. Volchenkov has been playing especially well as of late, and deserved the shot to pad his stats a little bit and display some of the offensive upside he rarely does on even strength. And sure enough, with the A-Train out there, the lamp was lit. Might want to look into that coach.

The easiest shutout of Dominik Hasek’s career. Hasek is infamous for overextending himself and involving himself in plays because he’s bored, and usually that consists of a lot of stick slapping and much wandering out of the crease. When you consider he only faced 12 shots on goal, you’d think Hasek would be doing laps around the ice, but he seemed to be enjoying the rest.

Chris Neil. Neil played the role of superpest all night long, throwing hits and drawing penalties.

The penalty killing. Montreal’s powerplay is dreadful, yeah, but Ottawa was relentless down a man.

THE BAD:

Snake bitten Dany Heatley. I cannot recall the last time I saw a legitimate NHL sniper get so many excellent scoring chances and yet not score. Heatley registered eight shots on goal, and the majority of them were in the slot and on most night would’ve been in the net.

THE OPPOSITION:

You’d think a team in Montreal’s position, with the GM behind the bench, would play like a desperate club. You’d think the Canadiens, having taken a huge freefall in the standings in the last two months after starting the season so stongly, would be working their asses off to ensure they’re back in a playoff position.

You’d be wrong.

Rather than looking like a hungry club, instead, the Montreal Canadiens were lost out there. Zero chemistry between players, even less emotion displayed from the majority of the team, and at no point at all did you feel like it would change. It was as if the game was a foregone conclusion about five minutes in.

I realize they played last night, and beat a pretty good Philadelphia team, but there should be no excuse for the effort they displayed last night at the Scotiabank Place. None.

It was truly the kind of display that will have the Montreal call-in shows busy for days.

When a team is struggling, it’s usually up to the veterans and top players (most often one in the same) to pick up the slack. Lead by example. The Habs’ top guys did no such things. Both Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev had dreadful games. Their other key contributors up front, Richard Zednik, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder didn’t fare much better. And on the blueline, Sheldon Souray continued to struggle. He was pyloned numerous times and just looked to be in another world for the majority of his time on the ice.

The lone bright spot was the play of Cristobol Huet in nets. He had a sensational first period and kept them in a game they had absolutely no right still being in. Until recently, I never believed much of the Jose Theodore trade rumors, but where there’s smoke, there is usually fire, and based on how he’s played as of late and how well Huet has done in relief, as well as the way the rest of the club has looked, it’s clear something needs to be done.

Theodore, in spite of how he’s played this season, is probably their most appealing asset to other teams, and could command the most coming back the other way to help their numerous needs. They’re not deep enough on defence, don’t have nearly enough scoring to compete with most of the other Eastern heavyweights, and appear to have serious heart issues.

In short, they’re a mess. A mess that a coaching change clearly didn’t cure. It was a band-aid solution, and for a while, it looked as if it had turned things around, but they’ve come back to Earth.

Besides trading Theodore to get some help in there, I don’t have any solutions. Those kind of pieces should be penned by someone more closely in touch with the team. But something clearly needs to be done, and unless it’s done fast, this season will be a wash.

UP NEXT:

A month ago, I would’ve said the cakewalk continues, but the Boston Bruins are playing a whole lot better than they were at that time, and have quietly put themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Still on the outside looking in mind you, but considering around Christmas it looked like their fate as Northeast bottom dwellers was sealed, B’s fans have to be pleased with the progress.

Boston’s also a team that’s beaten Ottawa twice this year, including the day after they traded Joe Thornton to the Sharks. Both of those games were in Beantown, while this will be here, however, if the Sens take them too lightly and ignore the fact they’re playing much better, they could be in for a rude awakening.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

They're no MLSE

The Ottawa Senators have frozen season-ticket prices and maintained the 30 per cent discount on its premium lower bowl seating for subscribers in the 2006-07 season, the NHL club said Wednesday.

It will be the fifth straight year with no price hikes for its season tickets.

On the one hand, it's nice that they're not raising the prices, so bravo.

But I don't want to hear Eugene Melnyk cry about how he's not making money then. He could probably raise the ticket prices a little (if they win the Cup, a lot) and people would still come.

He choses not to because he wants to keep them affordable to most and to maintain a good image publicly. Cool.

Just don't try and get me to feel sorry for you, poor ol' NHL owner. You chose to minimize your gains so you're the fan favorite owner.

Also, can corporate Ottawa, or what's left of it now that the tech boom has died off, please get back on this bangwagon? Thanks in advance guys.

Goodbye Mario

Yesterday's announcement of retirement for #66 was hardly unexpected, as the signs had been pointing to this finale for some time, but regardless, it was still a sad day in hockey.

Anytime you lose a player with not only his immense skillset, but also his class, it's a loss for everyone.

I do have a confession to make: prior to him coming back in the winter of 2000, I wasn't a big Mario Lemieux fan.

Sure, I was an admirer of his abilities, and respected what he'd accomplished on the ice (how can you not?), but if you were to ask me to name my favorite 10 players in the game from 1990 to, say, 1997, his name would never come up. And a lot of that was because of how Mario carried himself.

A pro athlete has every right to be reserved. To treat his job as just that, a profession. That's what Mario did. Mario was never unprofessional, but at the same time, he also didn't seem to approach playing the way most elite players do. He was ridiculously good at it, but it didn't seem like he had the passion of a Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or even Brett Hull.

It was almost like he was given these abilities and was just putting them to use. So much of what he did seemed effortless, where as a lot of his contemporaries, though unquestionably skilled, had to work at it at least a bit.

Who else but Mario could've come back from a three year hiatus and make the kind of impact he did right away? I'd imagine it's a short, short list.

However, upon his return, it looked like a different Super Mario. He was having fun, enjoying himself. A lot of that had to be because he was away from the game for so long and realized he'd taken it for granted, I'm sure. He laughed more. Smiled. Even with his team often struggling and the future of the franchise in doubt as they unloaded impact player after impact player to rivals for prospects and cash.

Him playing for Canada was also tremendous. You can't knock a guy for not wanting to play during his spare time, especially when they have a family, so no one crucified Mario for not suiting up in the maple leaf very often, but him doing so upon his return warmed the hearts of many, and most of all it seemed, Mario. Here was a guy who'd done it all, won two Cups, numerous trophies, and yet he was battling like every other guy on the team.

No superstar ego. No "put the focus on me" attitude.

The once cold and standoffish Mario was replaced by a warmer, fuzzier version upon his return. It's a shame that Mario couldn't have played longer.

Thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Very good news and sorta kinda maybe bad news from Eklund

The good

I just confirmed rumors that I heard earlier today that Ottawa is "way out in front" of the Doug Weight Sweepstakes...Other teams still in the game...Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver. ... My source, who is very tied in, said this..."I`d put it at 90% that Ottawa lands Doug...all other teams are a far off second...at least at this point."

Great. Doug Weight would solve a lot of this team's troubles as far as secondary scoring, and give Martin Havlat a world class playmaker to play with when he comes back.

The potentially bad, however:

I hear the Flyers pulled out because the price was too high...I had a team owner tell me he was amazed at the cost...

Uh oh.

Last week, when Philly traded for Petr Nedved, I wrote that it was good news for teams like the Senators, because one major player was now out of the Weight sweepstakes.

David Johnson wrote a comment that he thought St. Louis would ask for Patrick Eaves. I replied that if that is what it took to get Weight in town, I would not want John Muckler to make the deal. Eaves has been tremendous this season and will only get better. He's going to be a big part of this team's future for years to come.

To trade probably your best forward prospect for a guy who more than likely will be playing somewhere else in October is not wise. I'm all for doing whatever it takes to win, and that's why I laugh when people suggest we should trade either Zdeno Chara or Wade Redden instead of letting them go for nothing in July. This is Ottawa's year.

But you don't want to handicap yourself too much. Eaves, like Andrej Meszaros, Ray Emery,and probably Brandon Bochenski, should be on the "off limits" list. Period.

Antoine Vermette? I like him, but take him. He could very well thrive someplace else, because he's that talented, but he seems to have hit the glass ceiling in Ottawa and I, one of his biggest supporters, have grown impatient with his lack of production when given opportunities. Christoph Schubert? A very useful player who's shown tremendous versatility, but to get Doug Weight, I'd drive him to the airport personally. Any of the goalies in the system besides Emery? Take 'em.

Hell, even Alexei Kaigorodov, who every Sens fan over at the HF Forums creams their pants over, would be expendable. Yes, he's talented, yes, he ripped up the Russian Elite League, but he also might never play a single game in Ottawa. He said before the season he wouldn't come over unless he could be guaranteed a job with the big club. And I don't blame him for it. In Russia, he has to be earning a high six figure contract. In the AHL, he'd make, what, $75,000?

But on Ottawa's end, it makes no sense to promise a guy who hasn't play a single shift of pro hockey in North America a job when you're a top team. A club like St. Louis could give him that guarantee though.

Most every other prospect within the system should be made available too, but at a price. If they want some like Kaigorodov, or a highly touted younster like Brian Lee or Ilya Zubov, Ottawa should force them to take on the contract of Vaclav Varada as well.

Today, Eklund follow up by saying he now hears Carolina is strong in the mix, but insists Ottawa is the favorite to land Weight, but that it won't be until after the Olympic break.

Assuming it does go down, and Weight ends up in Ottawa, he'll have around 25 games to get adjusted to a whole new conference, a different style of play, a bunch of new teammates, and an environment about as opposite of what's been in St. Louis this year as you can get.

In the past, "Rent-A-Player" deals have never worked out well for Ottawa. Tom Barrasso was supposed to solve their alleged goaltending problem, and while he didn't lose any games for them that year when they went down to Toronto for the first time, he also didn't win any, which was sorta why he was brought in. Ron Tugnutt could've played that well and we wouldn't have to put up with Barrasso's asshole personality.

Last year, neither Peter Bondra nor Greg de Vries lived up to expectations. Bondra, one of the most talented goal scoring in modern NHL history, was snake bitten around the net. de Vries was supposed to solidify their defence, but ended up being the worst, by far, of the top five blueliners, and was so not welcome back they threw him into the Marian Hossa-Dany Heatley deal just to get his salary off their books.

So will Doug Weight be any different? Let's hope so.

Ottawa 4 Toronto 3

THE GOOD:

A more competitive game. This looked a lot more like the Battle Of Ontario we’ve come to know and either love or hate, depending on which side you sit on. There was a ton of hitting early on, and though it was tempered somewhat by the scary injury to Carlo Colliacovo, it picked back up in the second period, making the game as a whole much more enjoyable. For once, it seemed as though there was an actual rivalry between these teams. Lots of chirping on the ice, many scrums. Just resembled the contests of the past that made this, in my opinion, the best feud in the NHL as far as quality of play and atmosphere.

Winning a close game. Really, they shouldn’t have let it get close, and I’ll touch on that in a minute, but at least we’ve now seen the Sens win another close, competitive contest, which will hopefully do some good in silencing their critics who’ve said they’re incapable of winning tight games. Dominik Hasek was one of the loudest of these people, and he made some good points. They’ve since gone into Edmonton and won a close contest, and now beat their biggest rival in a similar fashion. That has to be seen as a positive.

The “other” defencemen. A lot of the hype surrounding Ottawa’s blueline centers around Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden, and it should, because they’re both terrific and are having especially strong seasons. But often, their defence partners, who usually play quite well alongside their most high profile teammate, get lost in the shuffle. I thought both Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips had terrific games.

Standing up for the rookie. Wade Belak was really taking it to Andrej Meszaros, and it was nice that Brian McGratton stepped in to defend him.

The Conservatives win!!! Now can the entire country please shut up? Thanks in advance.

THE BAD:

The struggling powerplay, again. This now makes two consecutive games where Ottawa was unable to be effective with the man advantage, and this time around, a lot of the credit for that has to go to the Maple Leafs, who did a masterful job of penalty killing. They were aggressive on the point men, blocking shots and shutting down passing lanes, making it incredibly difficult for them to move the puck, and when collapsing, were much more impressive as far as covering men down low than they were on Saturday night, when Ed Belfour was the main reason the Sens’ PP shit the bed.

Complacent play. Ottawa outplayed the Leafs badly in the first, and though the score wasn’t out of hand, as far as the Senators taking it to them, it looked like it would be much like the other games. However, when they stepped back onto the ice for the second, it was a different team on each side. Ottawa didn’t have that same jump in their step, taking a collective nap instead of continuing to press, and Toronto was rejuvenated. The result was a Tie Domi goal that put them right back into the game. In the third, it looked as if they woke up, putting up two goals to take a 4-1 lead, but once again, they laid back instead of keeping their foot on Toronto’s throat, allowing the Leafs to fight back, make it a one goal contest, and be pressing during the last minute of the game. This has happened a few times this season and it’s alarming, as if Toronto had been fully armed and not without several of their key offensive players, they could very well have tied it up and forced OT, and it would’ve been because Ottawa allowed it to happen.

Tie Domi’s goal. How does Zdeno Chara allow him to be in all alone like that and not take him out?

THE OPPOSITION:

Toronto fans and media alike lamented that last night’s game at the newly renamed Scotiabank Place would be one of their biggest of the season, and I was inclined to agree. Whether rightly or not, Pat Quinn has been on the hot seat and some have commented that he needs to be removed. So with that said, it was fair to suggest we would see what this team was mad of with last night’s game, and if we are using it as the barometer, Leaf fans should probably come off the ledge, take their heads out of the oven, and take the bullets out of their guns. The team will be alright. Sort of.

They still lost, and were only back into the game scorewise and chancewise because Ottawa allowed it happen, but the effort was very much there and for once it seemed as if the Buds wanted to be there. Wanted to win.

Their key players had strong games. Mats Sundin had a solid game and was creating a whole more than he had been in the past. He even had a shot to tie the game, with an open net, but fumbled around with the puck. So he’s still not where he needs to be for them to be competitive with top teams, and a big part of that is his finish needs to return to hwere it was, however, it was progress.

Having said all that, there were still players who didn’t carry their load. Nik Antropov made amends somewhat with his goal to make it 4-3 after a terrible penalty earlier, but he still wasn’t as much of a factor out there as he needs to be. Jeff O’Neill was no where to be found, as usual. And Ken Klee had another typically bad game.

But don’t get too excited, Leaf Nation. They still lost, and the tailspin continues. Fortunately for you, you have Montreal in five days, and they seem to be the only team who are struggling even worse than you guys.

UP NEXT:

Coming out of two more wins against the Leafs, Ottawa has regained much of the momentum they lost when Anaheim came to town and took them apart, but I’m not sure if said momentum would even be needed for the immediate opponents.

Montreal will be here for a game Thursday night. They suck right now, and after a slight bump when Bob Gainey took over and they all got scared, the team has resumed playing like shit. Jose Theodore in particular, though the players in front of him probably haven’t much help. We could get another divisional blowout in a few days. Always good for the soul.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ottawa 7 Toronto 0

THE GOOD:

Almost everything. The Sens managed to bounce back in a big way after Thursday night’s embarrassing effort versus the Ducks to once again trounce the Maple Leafs. As far as the game, picking out “The Bad’s” was difficult, because frankly Ottawa was terrific. They scored the first goal, setting the tone early, and didn’t take their foot of Toronto’s throat until the result was obvious. Offensively, the Senators were passing the puck as well as I’ve seen in some time. They did a good shot of getting shots on net and sustaining pressure. Ottawa won almost all the battles along the boards, outmuscling Toronto at nearly as every turn. In the past, Toronto has always set the physical tone of the game, and if we were lucky, Ottawa would respond. Not on this night. It was Ottawa mostly initiating the physicality, and Toronto had little answer. In their own end, the Sens were spectacular, giving the Leafs little room to get back into the game with their tight coverage and relentless backchecking from the forward group. In short, they played wonderfully.

THE BAD:

The Battle Of Ontario being so one-sided. No one loves seeing the Leafs get destroyed than me, but I also must admit to being somewhat disappointed that this once great rivalry has diminished into this. It seems like gone are the days when the games were competitive, intense, and entertaining to hockey fans in general, not just people who cheer for the Senators.

The powerplay. It’s amazing that Ottawa was able to light up the Leafs so much with a powerplay that was as ineffective as it was. But truth be told, I’m reaching somewhat, because even though the Senators were unable to score a goal with the man advantage, they were very strong as far as shots on goal, moving the puck, and creating traffic in front of Ed Belfour. It just so happened that Belfour was Toronto’s best penalty killer, as he made save after save, keeping the Leafs in a game they otherwise had no business still being in.

THE OPPOSITION:

The last time the Leafs came into Ottawa and got slaughtered on national TV, after gloating a little, I warned Leafs fans to put away the razors and leave their wrists alone for the time being because the score was not indicative of the game. The same cannot be said this time.

The 7-0 tally is very much representative of how one-sided this game was, and in truth, it shouldn’t been much worse, as Ed Belfour saved the Leafs bacon throughout the game. It’s no coincidence then that Belfour was perhaps the lone Leaf who, right to the end, was still competing. It was unfortunate that he had to withstand this abysmal effort in front of him.

There’s no way to spin this game for the Buds in any other way but this: they were brutal. Toronto was outchanced, outworked, overpowered, and out of their league.

Coming into the game, though I figured Ottawa would end up the victors, I was more concerned than I was before any of the other games this season, and the reason being (besides Ottawa’s piss poor performance against Anaheim) that Toronto has historically been at their most potent when their backs are against the wall. Certainly this has been the case since Pat Quinn took over. They always a never-say-die attitude and even in defeat, you could rarely say it was because of a lack of effort and/or desire.

Are those days over? It sure looks like it. Because this was a team who looked defeated and deflated quite early into the game, when, scorewise, it was still within reach. Earlier in the season, in the second game between these two teams , when down two goals, Toronto were able to rally back, score three, and force Ottawa to even the score to send it into overtime. At no point in this game did this look like it was possible.

I don’t usually agree with Don Cherry on anything, but I felt like he made an interesting point in the post game wrap-up. If you’re going to lose to your biggest rival badly, at least made a mark of some sort. This doesn’t mean gooning it up or running the goalie, but somehow making your presence felt. Whether it was through scrappy but not over the line play or making the other team pay a physical price with hits, it’s a legitimate thought.

The Leafs brought none of this, and only manned up and showed some intensity when the game was literally over, as after the buzzer some Leafs were angered that Chris Neil pushed Nik Antropov around. If these same players had displayed this kind of emotion two hours earlier, maybe the score would’ve been more flattering to them.

Now, it’s true Toronto came into this game horribly undermanned, without Bryan McCabe, Eric Lindros, and Darcy Tucker, and so that has to be taken into consideration, but would those three have made enough of a difference that the Leafs would’ve won? McCabe is a great powerplay point man, and Toronto’s PP was not good, so that would’ve helped. Lindros has always been tough on the Sens, regardless of what sweater he’s wearing. And you know Tucker would’ve likely showed some of the aforementioned missing passion. But I find it hard to believe it would’ve been enough.

Don’t panic yet, but be concerned. Very concerned. The “blow it all up” sentiment, though understandable, is a little overdramatic, but changes may have to be made because this team hasn’t looked like a playoff team, let alone a contender, for some time now, and in Toronto, that’s not acceptable.

UP NEXT:

Toronto, again. It will be very intriguing to see how the Leafs respond to this loss. They’re a proud group with many veterans. Even if they’re on the road and somewhat sheltered, the players and coaches will still hear about the outrage currently ongoing in Leaf Nation. They’ll hear about the anger on the post game call in shows and I’m sure a few of the newspaper articles will make their way in front of them before game time.

They’ll want redemption. In that way, for them, it’s almost ideal that they play Ottawa so soon. They have an opportunity to rectify the loss against the very team who humiliated them. We’ll see what this team is made of.

During the HNIC broadcast, Harry Neale speculated that the reason Quinn didn’t pull Belfour was because he planned on starting Michael Telqvist on Monday and didn’t want his confidence shattered even a little by being part of this disaster. I realize Telqvist has been surprisingly solid as of late, but if Ottawa comes with a game similar to this one, he’ll be blown out of the water.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Flyers "gain" will help Ottawa Weight it out?

The Philadelphia Flyers traded for Petr Nedved today, sending reserve defenceman Dennis Seidenberg to the Coyotes in the deal.

Nedved has been in the Great One’s dog house for some time now, and justifiably so. After being signed in the offseason with the intention of bring veteran scoring to Phoenix, Nedved has failed in every facet. In 25 games, he’s only put up 11 points, all the while collecting a $2.2 million salary. In the handful of Coyotes games I’ve seen this season, Nedved has either been terrible or downright invisible.

However, from the Flyers end, I guess they figured they had no other choice. Keith Primeau’s head doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and it now remains doubtful he’ll be back at any point this season. As terrific as he’s been when in the line-up, Peter Forsberg appears to have problems staying healthy, which shouldn’t be a surprise given his track record.

Without those two, the Flyers are suddenly much thinner at a position everyone touted as one of their main strengths going into the season. Both of their talented rookies, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, are capable of playing in the middle, but does the organization want to hang their hats on two 20-year-olds who have so little NHL experience? Michael Handszus is a fine second-line center, but I also find it hard to believe any team that fancies itself a Stanley Cup contender would want him as one of their top two centers.

Something tells me Bob Clarke is so blinded by the memories of Nedved burning his team in the past that he fails to realize Petr is no longer that same player.

"Nedved has always been a good scorer and a real good player and we think he'll solve some of our problems up front," said Flyers general manager Bob Clarke.

Good luck with that, Bobby.

But the big winner in this trade might just be a team not even directly involved, and it could very well be the Ottawa Senators. If you believe the rumor sites, and I realize that’s a slippery slope but play along, the Flyers were among the leading contenders to trade for Doug Weight. Now that they’ve acquired Nedved and his paycheck, it stands to reason they’d no longer be in those sweepstakes, as they’re pretty much against the cap as it is and would have to unload some big contracts to bring a player with Weight's ticket into town.

So with the Flyers out of it, does it mean it will be easier for Weight to end up in the nation’s capital in time for the playoffs? One has to think so.

Anaheim 4 Ottawa 3 (SO)

THE GOOD:

Jason Spezza’s first game back. For a guy who, 24 hours ago wasn’t sure he would be even playing, Spezza sure looked quite comfortable in there. He was involved in every facet of the game and was a factor for much of the contest. He was physically involved, his skating looked to be fine (which was reassuring because that was apparently the most painful act for Spezza during his time off), he was going hard to the net, and his passing looked just a tad less crisp than it was before. He missed almost a month of game action and yet played quite well, logging over 20 minutes. The only part of his game that looked to be soft was his faceoff winning percentage, as he was only 38%.

Dominik Hasek in the first period. Hasek, overall, had a very strong game in defeat, but in particular, he saved the club’s bacon in the first frame, when the Ducks were firing tons of shots his way. Hasek made a number of spectacular stops and was the only reason the Sens went into the first intermission up 2-0.

The coaching staff showing confidence in Patrick Eaves by having him shoot last. In the shootout Yeah, it’s easy to say, now, “that was a mistake”, but I liked the act by Bryan Murray and co. to give the kid a shot. He played very well, and has shown himself to have an uncanny ability to find the net since his first NHL game. When the team gets healthy in a few months, the team will have some tough decisions to make because Eaves has played his way onto this roster. Being that he’s only 20, and the team has good depth at forward, it’ll be a difficult call to make. Previously, I felt he was better off in the AHL, developing his game, based on the good it did Jason Spezza. But the way he’s playing, it’s hard to argue that Patrick Eaves doesn’t belong in the NHL right now, full time, and getting major minutes.

Getting a point in a game you don’t deserve it. You have to take ‘em when you get ‘em, and though Ottawa was outplayed by the Ducks in, basically, every way imagineable, the fact they still managed to squeak out with a point means they won’t be too dejected, though I doubt that single point will be any consolation to Bryan Murray.

Dany Heatley’s backchecking. Heatley, never known to be a defensive specialist by any means, has really turned on that aspect of his game in the last little while, and I thought last night’s game against the Ducks was his best in that regard. Does the ghost of Jacques Martin still linger on the grounds to give offensive players advice on how to be a good two-way player?

THE BAD:

The plethora of turnovers committed. Most of them unforced, by the way, and just the result of sloppy play. They racked up a grand total of 18 giveaways. Unacceptable.

The poor defensive coverage. I have no explanation for this, as Ottawa is usually quite good here, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t clicking last night. Men were left wide open for longer than they should have been, Sens players were playing the puck instead of taking their man (which resulted in the Ducks’ first goal, and shifted the momentum the other way).

Bryan Murray’s line juggling. When Spezza was out, I understand why Murray was mixing it up. The fact the team was playing poorly only meant it made more sense to try new combos to get something firing. But the Senators were coming off a big win in Edmonton and a destruction of the Minnesota Wild, completely breaking open Jacques Lemaire’s trap system for six goals. Why not insert Spezza where ever and keep everyone else together? No exaggeration, there must have been 20 different trios trotted out by Murray. Many of them were tried when the Sens, though being outplayed, weren’t being dominated.

The shootout drought. When the season started and the Sens beat the Leafs in back-to-back shootouts, everyone in Ottawa, myself included, was elated. We had what we thought was the best shootout goalie in the world, and we came to that conclusion based on some pretty good evidence, and a team full of goal scorers. Yet after those Leaf shootout wins, the Sens have struggled in this area, losing their last three shootout encounters.

Removing the “Thank you fans” message The NHL allowed teams to begin to take this off the ice last month, and it was rich to see who couldn’t do it quick enough. Thank you fans? Who would do such a thing? An NHL team? I was pleased to see the Sens keep it around, but it was gone for tonight’s game in the newly renamed venue. Does Scotiabank hate hockey fans? We know they hate their customers based on the interest rates, ridiculously long lines, etc.

THE OPPOSITION:

If last night’s contest was a statement game for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, then they made their statement loud and clear: they are a formidable hockey team.

Even with Brian Burke unloading two of their most dangerous scorers, and with Sandis Ozolinsh off in rehab, Anaheim are a team that still has enough weapons to beat you.

What cannot be questioned about this team based on last night’s performance is that they’re a hard working team who, if you don’t come correct with the effort on your end, will beat you, regardless of how much more talented you are on paper.

Anaheim outskated the Senators, stayed hard on the forecheck, making it difficult for the Sens defencemen to make the outlet passes that are such a key to this team’s success, won most of the battles along the boards, and took advantage of their special teams chances.

What’s perplexing about Anaheim’s win is that it goes against most of the other Ls the Sens have taken. Most of the time, they’re beat by teams that play a system, lay back, don’t allow Ottawa to get much in the way of chances, but pounce on the few they themselves get. It’s how Dallas came in and got two points, how Calgary beat Ottawa in overtime, how San Jose was able to get a win, etc.

In all of those games, Ottawa’s effort was questionable, yeah, but you could at least see a system at work, and to a certain extent justify the loss. Not here. Anaheim just outplayed them in every way, even outchancing them by a wide margin.

All of this despite their goaltender not playing particularly well. That should be encouraging to Ducks fans because you would think that in order for them to be a team capable of climbing back into the playoff picture, they’ll need J.S. Giguere to stand on his head the way he did that spring of 2003. In this game, he gave up a horribly soft goal and was offering up juicy rebounds all night long.

As a team, they played terrific, so to single anyone out would be doing their win a sort of injustice, but it’s worth noting how excellent a game Teemu Selanne had. I, like most of you I assume, had written him off as an impact player after his wishy washy season in Colorado. I thought he could still help whatever team signed him, but as far as being his team’s best forward? I was sure those days were gone. He proved me wrong last night, and based on the fact he has 20 goals, it’s probably safe to assume last night’s performance wasn’t an aberration. He was skating like the wind and had to be responsible for many of their best scoring chances, as he was buzzing around the net on a nonstop basis.

It would be unrealistic to expect Anaheim to play this well every night, or even most nights, but if they can come close to duplicating this effort, I see them making some noise in the Western Conference.

UP NEXT:

A little team called the Leafs. I’ll have a lot more to say on this, don’t worry. And I promise, no corny election punchlines about Monday's game. I'm about as sick of that as one could get.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

As if things couldn't get worse for the Penguins

While the Steelers are one win away from a Super Bowl appearance, and with no Neil O'Donnell to ruin for them should they get there, the other pro sports team playing in Pittsburgh has had a rough year.

Mario's been injured more often than he's been in the line-up, Sergei Gonchar has been perhaps the biggest disappointment of the free agent crop, Mark Recchi has failed to look like the player who was such a force prior to the lockout, Jocelyn Thibault has not lived up to their expectations as a solid #1 goalie and a mentor to Marc-Andre Fleury, Dick Tarnstrom looks like a shell of his former self, and the new coach is criticizing them at every turn. This will inevitably result in a mutiny. Bet on it.

The one bright spot, rookie sensation Sidney Crosby, has had to fight back criticism that he's a diver, a whiner, and a locker room cancer, all at the tender age of 18.

They've suffered yet another set back. Ziggy Palffy is retiring.

"I have agreed on all matters related to my retirement with the Pittsburgh management," Palffy told the Sport daily. "There is no point in suffering any longer."

It's a shame Pens fans don't have that same chute to pull to end their everlasting suffering.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ottawa 6 Minnesota 1

THE GOOD:

Battling back against the Wild. Because of the style they play and the systems Jacques Lemaire implements, Minnesota are nearly impossible to come back against. They tighten the reigns, trap harder than Young Jeezy, and make it quite difficult to generate any offense against. Ottawa as a team isn’t particularly great when trailing, as they lack that jump in their step. So when the Wild netted the first goal, I was worried. Worried, for one, that the game was about to become about as exciting as watching paint dry, but also because I wasn’t sure if the Senators would be able to score and get back into it. They proved me wrong, big time, scoring six goals, blowing the game open, and exposing Minnesota’s supposed rigid defensive system as something that can be brought down.

Patrick Eaves collecting three points. Two Ottawa rookies, Eaves and Bochenski, had a ton of family in the building to watch them play as NHLers. Unfortunately for #10, his shoulder acted up again and he was forced to sit this one out. However, Eaves more than made up for it, having, statistically, his best game yet, with two goals and an assist. I’ve sung the praises of that mish mash of a trio that makes up the new third line before but it’s worth mentioning again. They have really impressed me with the way they’re able to make something, anything, happen every time they step on the ice. Most of the time, that something is scoring chances, but not much in the way of red lamp lighting. Tonight was different. Vaclav Varada also remains sizzling hot, registering another two point game. For a guy who only had 11 points before Saturday’s game, he sure is on quite the tear. And what can be said about Chris Kelly? The way he has elevated his game since being moved up to the third line has been remarkable.

The penalty killing. Mind you, Minnesota’s powerplay can hardly be described as potent, but I liked the adjustments the coaching staff made to the PK units in the wake of their struggles Saturday night against the Oilers. They were much more aggressive, pressuring the point men, and were often battling with Minnesota players for pucks in the Wild end after they would dump it out, demonstrating how much the Senators were on top of them.

Breaking the road powerplay slump. Coming into this game, the Sens were something like 1/29 with the man advantage in recent road games. It was clearly a problem. Coming into the game, against the best penalty killing team in the NHL, I was fearful the streak would continue, but the Senators stepped it up. They did a good job of moving the puck and, in particular, a terrific job of keeping the puck in the zone.

THE BAD:

The horrible diving calls. I can appreciate that Steven Walkhom and the NHL wants to rid the league of diving. I agree 100% with that initiative. Diving is one of the worst parts of the game and needs to be eradicated. However, they also have to be smart about it. I understand it’s tricky thing to call, but the two that were whistled in that last night’s game, one against the Wild and one against the Senators, were both questionable at best, and from where I sit, terrible penalties to call. The one on Chris Kelly was laughable.Yes, he was diving, but it wasn’t to embellish the penalty, which was already being called, but rather diving to stab at the puck, to try and get a shot on goal before a Minnesota player was able to touch the puck and get play whistled dead.

Dany Heatley’s giveaways. It’s been a problem for a while now. Heatley, for all his positive attributes, is prone to extremely ill-timed, bad giveaways.

THE OPPOSITION:

I was extremely disappointed in the effort of the Wild. I was actually expecting this game to be a big challenge, a measuring stick for the Senators. They’re known to be a tight checking team who can frustrated more talented clubs. These are the kind of games Ottawa has had a difficult time with this season. When the game is open, they’re golden (except the atrocity that was the game in Atlanta).

I figured, we’d see if the Sens had learned from their mistakes in the past and were able to find ways to overcome being beaten by system teams.

Ottawa held up their end of the bargain. They came to play. The Minnesota Wild did not. For the most part, they were sloppy, loose in their coverage, and very undisciplined. Even with Ottawa’s struggling powerplay, a team like Minnesota, who struggles to score goals, cannot give a team with their kind of firepower the

Minnesota remains on the outside looking in as far as the Western Conference playoff picture, and I with the roster they have, the division they play in, and the system their coaches use, I can’t see them making a run. They’re difficult to play against on most nights, I’m sure, but they simply cannot generate enough offense to play with most teams.

If they do fail to make the playoffs, it’ll be the second time in as many years they’re not playing in May after having that deep run in 2003. At what point do you look at Jacques Lemaire and all that he brings and decide it’s no longer working?

Watching them play in not exciting, and they’re not winning a lot of games, yet the crowds continue to come, so ownership might not have the motivation to make a move the way Charles Wang did on Long Island, but surely, eventually, the fans will want a winner. Can Jacques Lemaire provide that in an NHL that emphasizes speed and scoring over coaching and defence? We shall see.

I figured this team did have one problem that a lot of their rivals wish they did, and that was one too many starting goalies. Both Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson would be number one netminders on half the teams in the NHL. You’d think this would mean they’re in a position of power to deal, even with both being UFAs at the end of the season. But if this is the Dwayne Roloson teams would be trading for, he hardly seems like an upgrade over the Alex Aulds and Ty Conklins of the world.

UP NEXT:

The revolving door that is the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Brian Burke, who will be practicing on the Rideau Canal tomorrow morning. Considering it was –17C today, that might not be a good idea.

The Ducks, like the Wild and the Coyotes before them, aren’t a playoff team as of right now, so, in theory, that means they’ve have more to play for than the Senators, as for them, every game matters from now until the end of the season.

Though nothing has been announced, I’d look for Ray Emery to possibly get some time in nets. He hasn’t seen action since struggling in back-to-back games against the Thrashers and the Habs, so they might want to try and get him out of his funk against an inferior team. Plus, with those damn Leafs coming to town for two games at the Scotiabank Place, it could be wise to sit Hasek Thursday for those, since they’re sorta more important than a game against the lowly Ducks.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ottawa 5 Edmonton 3

THE GOOD:

The overall effort. One of Dominik Hasek’s main criticisms during his post-game rant Thursday was that the Senators were outworked that night in their loss to the Sharks, and last night, it was absolutely remedied. As a team, you cannot complain about their work ethic as they battled through in what was a very tight, close game.

Bryan Murray shaking up the lines. Coming off a game where they were unable to generate any offense, nor much sustained momentum in that area, it was a good idea to mix it up a little bit. Murray took Dany Heatley off the top line with Daniel Alfredsson and Bryan Smolinski, putting him with the ever impressive Chris Kelly and Patrick Eaves, in an effort to distribute the scoring throughout the line-up. Peter Schaefer was put onto that number one line, which of course meant the third line of him, Mike Fisher, and Chris Neil was broken up. An unfortunate casualty. Vaclav Varada spent some time with those two for the first two periods before being reunited with Kelly and Eaves in the third. I liked the look of a lot of these new combos. Assuming Jason Spezza ever does return from his chest injury, and he isn’t forced to retire, I still think it’s a good idea have him with Heatley and Alfredsson. By then, hopefully Smolinski will be rolling, having played with Alfredsson for a while, and will be able to carry that momentum over onto the second line. Of course, by the time Spezza is back, it might be close trade deadline and Doug Weight might be on the squad.

The way Mike Fisher carried the puck into the Edmonton zone all night. While he didn’t score a goal, I thought Mike Fisher may have been Ottawa’s most effective forward for the game. The team was having some trouble getting into Edmonton’s end at various points throughout the night and Fisher was one of the few who, regularly, was able to break through and get it in. He used his speed to get around the wall Edmonton would often form along their blueline.

Dany Heatley finally scoring on a one-timer. Heatley is a talented player. He’s got 28 goals. But shit does he frustrate me with his love affair with the one-timer. When he misses, and unfortunately, that’s often, I pull my hair out. Whenever he does score, however, I’m reminded why he tries them so much.

Antoine Vermette’s goal. I was quite impressed. Vermette is a guy who is known for being very ineffective when playing at even strength, because there is less ice for him to utilize his speed, and who is quite easy to move off the puck. By hitting him. So the fact he fought through Chris Pronger’s assault, including a pretty harsh elbow to the head, and went hard to the net to score won him a lot of points with me. Also, it’s pretty remarkable that a guy who’s struggled as much offensively as Vermette, who’s also spent most of the season on the fourth line, that he has nine goals already. The team would benefit greatly from him stepping it up on the scoresheet. Let’s hope this goal reinstates some of his confidence because it seems, from the outside looking in, that that has been his stumbling block as of late.

Chris Kelly’s work on Vaclav Varada’s second goal. Like Vermette, Kelly battled through a whole lot of nonsense, in this case much hooking and holding, continued going to the net, drew the penalty, and then kept working even after Jussi Markannen made the first stop, sending the puck in front of the net.

Chris Kelly’s work in the defensive zone. Kelly backchecked like an all-star and was responsible for a lot of the turnovers Ottawa forced in their end. He also covered for the defencemen, many of whom made some terrible mental gaffs.

Winning key defensive faceoffs in the third period. This has been a problem with the team as of late, and so it’s no coincidence that in a game where they were excellent in that area, they won.

THE BAD:

The passiveness of the penalty killers in the first two periods. When you have a guy like Chris Pronger playing the point, who is known for his rocket of a shot, isn’t it wise to try and take that option away when killing a penalty? I realize this means you leave the forwards down low with more room to operate, but with this team, that seems like a smart move. Apparently not. They were very loose about covering the points, basically putting zero pressure on them. What happens? Two goals. It wasn’t Pronger who netted them, but rather Marc-Andre Bergeron, but still, I was left scratching my head.

The defence not doing a better job of protecting Hasek. Were they still sour from Hasek’s rant on them from the other night? I understand in this new NHL, defencemen have a whole lot less room to stop players in the slot, but the Oilers players were going hard to the net and bumping Hasek all night long. I don’t blame them for doing so, as it’s an effective method against any goalie, but Ottawa needs to do a better job of protecting their Hall of Fame netminder.

Wade Redden’s breakout passes. One of the attributes people often talk about when praising Redden is his ability to make big passes to send forwards in on breakaways, which is especially useful with no red line anymore. This was not his night, however. He must’ve missed on three of them, all causing turnovers. During the first period, one of them lead to a penalty because the puck ended up right on Mike Peca’s stick, he was in the clear, and Bryan Smolinski was forced to trip him.

Andrej Meszaros’ gaff in third period. Hasek bailed him out, but Meszaros reminded us all that he’s still a rookie with that play. Yikes.

Sloppy penalties in the third period. Fortunately, they were able to kill them off, and so the calls didn’t come back to bite them in the ass, but when you’re a team that is struggling, and in this particular you’ve already given up two powerplay goals, shouldn’t you be more careful than this? Chris Neil’s goaltender interference penalty was just a stupid move on his part.

THE OPPOSITION:

Craig MacTavish made a comment recently about his team having the potential to be the best club in the league if not for their flaws, and though he didn’t elaborate as to what he thinks those flaws are, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know who he was talking about. I’m sure Ty Conklin’s ears were burning just reading it.

So are they really that good? Would they be among the NHL’s elite if they had decent netminding instead of the mess that currently takes up their goaltending positions? I don’t think so.

Even with, let’s say, middle of the pack goaltending, I still think they’re a pretender. A pretender who I wouldn’t want to face in a seven game series, because they have enough good players that they can beat you if they get

Last night, there were a few observations I made:
1) Their defence blocks a lot of shots.
This helps take some of the burden off of their unreliable ‘tenders, and makes it difficult, especially on the powerplay, to get shots through.
2) They’re among the fastest teams in transition
Whenever Ottawa would turn the puck over, and they did so more often than I would’ve liked, Edmonton was very quick to capitalize. As the game went on, the Senators got better about it, and it was because they saw what would happen if they didn’t curb their behaviour.
3) They have incredible depth at forward
While the Oilers probably lack a true number one line, the third and fourth lines they’re able to roll out, with the exception of Georges Laroque, are outstanding.

So what does this team need, besides better goaltending? I think a top six forward.

Now, every team needs one of those to an extent, but you throw a 30+ goal scorer on one of this team’s top two lines and they’re much more explosive, and probably can afford to have subpar work between the pipes.

Last night, Ales Hemsky had a terrific game, but a major flaw in his game was exposed: he has no finish. He’s got tremendous speed, can stickhandle very well, and does a good job of avoiding hits. However, whenever he got at the net, nothing materialized. Throw him on a line with a natural scorer, and you’ll have magic, I’m sure.

UP NEXT:

The Sens stay on the road and travel to Minnesota for a game Monday night.

Even though the Wild aren’t near the top of the standings in the Western Conference, they’re a tough win, especially when at home, so it’s hardly a gimme for the Senators.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Trouble in paradise

After last night’s sluggish effort against the Sharks, trouble is brewing. Sorta.

Tell ‘em Dominik:

”Of course, it’s very frustrating and they worked harder than we did, I think,” Hasek said. “We are losing games like 3-2 and 2-1 and if we don’t score five or six goals, we can’t win games. It’s important to win games 2-1 and 3-2. In the playoffs, there are going to be close games. We have to find a way. And we can’t do it, not at this point in the season….

Part of it must be mental, but it’s very important to find a way,” Hasek continued before abruptly finishing the post-game scrum, his point made.

In short, he’s right. Ottawa has yet to prove, on a consistent basis, that in tough, close games, they’re capable of winning. Certainly not against good teams anyway. It’s how they lost to Vancouver, Calgary, their first loss to Philadelphia, both recent defeats in Boston, and then again last night when hosting San Jose.

For a team with so much firepower, and who can run up the score against some teams, it’s quite perplexing, and needs to be rectified.

The unfortunate reality this season is that the Senators have yet to win many close, tight games. In said games, they seem to be unable to fight through and score goals.

The push from fans for GM John Muckler to make a move to bring in some secondary scoring remains prevelant. In the Ottawa Sun this week, Bruce Garrioch commented that there are rumblings out of Chicago about the Hawks wanting to unload some of their veterans, namely Matthew Barnbay, Curtis Brown, Martin Lapointe, and blueliner Jason Cullimore. Garrioch says Muckler is one of the many GMs interested.

Why? Do any of these names make sense to cure what ails the Senators? Barnaby is a gritty player, and someone I'd want on my team if I was starting from scratch, but he's a third line guy. Ottawa has more than enough of them. The current third unit, Chris Neil-Mike Fisher-Peter Schaefer has probably been the team's most reliable forward trio the last 15 or so games as far as work ethic and energy. Beyond those three, you have Vaclav Varada, another prototypical third line guy.

If Barnaby does come to Ottawa, where do you play him? On the first two lines, where scoring is needed? Hardly. On the fourth line? He makes $1.8 million. In this new NHL where every dollar counts, how much sense does that make? Earlier in the sense, we all commented how absurd it was that Varada, who makes nearly $600,000 less than Barnaby, was playing so little given his salary.

Martin Lapointe is a solid two-way player, and there were rumors back in August that Ottawa had signed him to a four-year, $8 million deal (Eklund was wrong?). He ended up in Chicago for $7.5 mil over three seasons. He's more gifted offensively than Barnaby, and thus might be able to help in that area, but do you really want to take on that contract when you have so many guys to be taken care of this coming offseason?

There are reports out of Phoenix that Petr Nedved who was a healthy scratch last night, is on his way out of that mix, and so naturally, with all the talk about Ottawa needing another forward, the Senators have been thrown into those rumors.

Nedved makes more sense than any of the runts of the Blackhawks litter, in theory anyway, because he's proven he's capable of being an offensive player, but if Tuesday was any indication of where his game is at right now, Muckler should stay as far away from that as possible.

So what have we learned? There is no quick fix not named Doug Weight out there.

Meanwhile, the latest on the Jason Spezza saga is not positive:

”I’m not going to give timetables anymore and I’m not going to skate with the team,” Spezza said. “But Saturday (versus the Edmonton Oilers) is out of the question.”

At least we can now stop pretending he’s only a few days away from coming back. Spezza will not be going on the road trip at all.

It seems, however, as if the training staff fucked this one up. They diagnosed the injury as a muscle pull, but we’re now learning it was a much more serious torn chest tendon. Whoops. Good going guys. Way to earn those paychecks.

It’s no wonder he hasn’t come back yet. And he probably hasn’t helped matters by skating so hard since then thinking, I’ll be back tomorrow, this isn’t that serious.

Maybe some days off will do him some good, but we’ve been saying that for a month now. Once he misses the Edmonton and Minnesota games, Spezza will have sat out more games than Brandon Bochenski did with his separated shoulder. Amazing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What's in a name?

In case you haven't heard, the Corel Centre has been renamed the Scotiabank Place.

Now, does this matter? Not really. I've seen some say they will revolt against this and continue to call it the Corel Centre, but I imagine most of those said the same thing 10 years ago when it ceased being the Palladium after a month of existence. They'll come around.

Having said all that, Place? It's an arena. Centre, fine, but place? Why not Scotia Spot?

It could be worse though. The Ottawa Sun reported this morning that Direct Energy was in the mix and were trying to secure the naming rights for their company. What a disaster that would've been. Anyone who lives in Ottawa has to be aware of this company already. Their door-to-door representatives make sure of that. "Can we see your hydro bill?" "we KNOW you're being ripped off" "come over to the darkside". They're a persistant bunch.

What this means to the actual hockey team (you know, the important matter?) remains to be seen, but the speculation is that this new deal will diminish Eugene Melnyk's supposed losses this season. Does this mean we don't have to hear about it all the time then? If so, then I'm all for the deal and am more than willing to call it whatever the fuck they want.

Also, can we maybe put some of this cash into the team? So that we can ice a full team every time? Just a thought.

Ottawa 7 Phoenix 2

THE GOOD:

Daniel Alfredsson’s first game back. Boy is this team every different with Alfie present. Whether or not he can be credited with the entire team’s elevation of play remains to be seen but there is no disputing the fact that with Alfredsson out there the Sens look faster, more dangerous, and you feel like they can score at any time, a feeling I most certainly did not have in any of the games they lost last week. In those contests, when down, there was absolutely a feeling that even a one goal deficit was insurmountable for Ottawa. Alfredsson himself looked fantastic. Not one step slower and even the hesitation to play with an edge I had expected, and was more than willing to cut him slack for, was not there. Hell, you could see that there would be no rust on this captain on his first shift, where he took a hit, had a scoring chance, and then drew a penalty. We might as well give this man the Hart right now because I sure can’t think of a player more important to his team, Jaromir Jagr included.

The work of the Vaclav Varada-Chris Kelly-Patrick Eaves line. I continue to be impressed with this unlikely trio’s chemistry and ability to generate chances. There was one shift in particular, in the first period, when the game was still close, where they must have had three scoring chances in the span of a minute. On paper, I couldn’t imagine a more Odd Couple of a forward line, yet they have gelled quite well, quite quickly, and can be counted on for energy of some sort every time they’re put on the ice.

Zdeno Chara’s hands on the third goal. It likely would’ve gone in had Big Z not been there, as Dany Heatley was planted right beside him and he’s not the type to miss on those opportunities (though on this night, he might’ve, more on that in a second), but nevertheless, I was impressed with Chara’s move to score. For a giant, he’s got pretty swift hands.

Christoph Schubert’s physical game. It’s a shame he left the game early, because the big German was having one of his best outings of the season so far. For a rookie who’s natural position is defence, Schubert has made the transition to forward look so easy I’m wondering why they don’t try it with Brian Pothier. Is it a German thing? Do we have to send Pothier to Berlin for a week for it to be possible? Schubert won’t score a lot of goals, but as a fourth liner, that’s not really his role. Instead, his job is to make things happen, take the body, and mix it up, and boy did he ever before getting injured. Despite only playing a little more than two minutes, he finished with four hits, and that number seems low to me. When this team gets healthy this week, with both Spezza and Bochenski expected back by the weekend, I imagine Schubert will be relegated back to the taxi squad (assuming he’s not seriously hurt, as I’ve yet to see an update), which is a shame because he’s played well enough that he deserves to continue to play regularly. It’s reassuring though that we have a guy like this who can be called upon whenever there is an injury, which with this team this season is more a matter of when instead of if.

THE BAD:

The officiating. I know, I know, it’s getting tired, but this was not one for the ages as far as the work of the zebras. On both ends. It probably didn’t decide the game, as Phoenix sort of did that to themselves, but a lot of the calls made against both teams were borderline embarrassing. As Wayne Gretzky so eloquently said from the bench, they missed a high stick on Mike Johnson that busted him open for five stitches, yet called a Petr Nedved for tripping a few shifts later when Bryan Smolinski just skated over and tripped on his stick. Later in the period, Mike Fisher was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for taking a shot on ‘Yotes goalie Brian Boucher after the whistle, but as they noted on the broadcast, it wasn’t so late that it would’ve been called on its own and only got chalked up because of a scrum afterwards when Mike Ricci flipped out like a little girl and the referee felt he had to even it out. Brian Pothier got a holding penalty late in the game that was a joke.

Dany Heatley’s skates. I don’t know what it was, but Heatley must’ve fell three times in this game.

Dany Heatley’s finish. I don’t know what it was, but Heatley must’ve missed what would otherwise be sure fire goals for him three times this game. For a guy considered this team’s best sniper, he sure didn’t partake in the fun that was running up the score on Wayne Gretzky. He got one goal credited to him, yeah, but I mean, you or I could’ve scored that. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to try, what with the whole having-to-take a point shot from Zdeno Chara to get it thing. By the way, why is Chara only hitting the best players with these shots, or has he been doing it all year and we’re only noticing now in the aftermath of the Alfie scare?

THE OPPOSITION:

The Phoenix Coyotes really have no one to blame for this loss, or at least the degree to which they lost, but themselves. Because even though I’d say Ottawa outplayed them in the first, it wasn’t lopsided, and being down only a goal after 20 minutes against the rejuvenated Sens was something I’m sure they looked at as a positive.

Yet in the second, Phoenix folded, and badly. Some of the credit for that folding has to go to Ottawa, who were all over them on the forecheck, forcing turnovers, but a lot of the turnovers were also the result of sloppy plays from the Coyotes. In fact, all three of the third period goals that blew the game wide open were as a result of a Phoenix player coughing up the puck. Ottawa, when they’re on their game, is too good a team to be giftwrapping scoring chances to, and that’s exactly what they did.

I haven’t seen much of Phoenix this year, so judging them based on one game, and especially on this one, might not be fair, but I’m going to do it anyway. They appear to be a club with far too many floaters. They have a lot of veterans, or at least, guys with league experience, who aren’t performing up to par. Besides that absurd tripping penalty he was assessed, Nedved was not a factor in this game at all. The same goes for Ricci, who I only noticed for the nonsense he was doing after the whistle. Ditto Geoff Sanderson, Denis Gauthier, and Mike Comrie. These are the guys who, if the Coyotes are going to creep back into the playoff hunt, are going to have to play well, and they did not at all on this night.

Meanwhile, they have some young players who looked very good that fans of the team should (and likely are) be excited about. Fresh faced defencemen Keith Ballard and Zbynek Michalek both had strong games, and up front, even in defeat, I liked the games of Steve Gainey and Fredrick Sjostrom. Unfortunately, they’re probably still a few years away from being good enough that they can lead this club to some success.

UP NEXT:

Another team that, in theory, should be hungry in the San Jose Sharks. If their annihilation of the Boston Bruins last night is any indication, they’re starving, but haven’t we all learned this season that the Bruins are such shit they can’t be used as the barometer against any club? Except when Ottawa comes to town, sadly.

Even though he got kicked out, I doubt Joe Thornton will be facing any disciplinary action from the NHL, so he’ll be in the lineup and looking for redemption. Also expected back, assuming his owwie doesn’t hurt too bad that day, will be Spezza.

Even with all the ribbing I’ve done about his seemingly lack of interest in coming back to this team at a pace other than super slow, there’s no disputing Ottawa is a different, better team with Jason Spezza playing than they are without him, so that will be a plus. Finally, the Big Line will be reunited so they can reclaim their chokehold on the NHL scoring race.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Grey skies are gonna clear up

Tonight's game at the Corel Centre between the Sens and Wayne's Coyotes will be eventful for a couple of reasons:

One, Ottawa needs to snap their losing streak and get the train back on the tracks. Phoenix is a hungry, scrappy team, but if the Senators play their game, they should get the W.

And two, because your captain and mine, Daniel Alfredsson, comes back in the line-up, cracked ribs and all. He'll be wearing a protective flakjacket of sorts, and probably won't be at 100%, but an Alfie at 80% is better than no Alfie at all.

I wouldn't expect him to dominate right away like he did previously, because he'll be playing through considerable pain, and so if he doesn't go into the corners with the same vigor he usually does, we shouldn't hold it against him.

Having your best player, your leader, your captain back should, you'd think, serve as an emotional lift to the rest of the team, who in his absence played with visibly less desire.

If a guy coming back from an injury much sooner than he was supposed to doesn't motivate the Dany Heatleys and the Bryan Smolinskis to elevate their game, nothing will.

It also sends a message to the rest of the team, and that message is quite similar to the one I've been trying to spread: suck it up. Play through pain. You hear that Jason?

Some have commented that it's only January, and there is no need to rush anyone back. Fine. But these regular season games matter. You want home ice advantage throughout the playoffs and there's that little thing called momentum that you sorta kinda want going into mid-April.

The idea that you can simply turn it on is not something I subscribe to, regardless of how talented your club is.

We saw that last year with the struggling Sens, who for the majority of the regular season never quite got it rolling on a consistent basis.

Many said "oh, who cares, it's the playoffs that matter!" Yes, that's true, but don't you want to be playing well and have some confidence going into those playoffs?

In order for the Senators to be playing their best, they need their best players in games. If that means guys have to play with some discomfort, then it shouldn't even be a tough decision.

You don't want to risk reinjuring it, or making it worse, but you also don't want to sit on your ass because it hurts slightly when you skate.

Follow Daniel Alfredsson's lead. Man up.

Thankfully, "Mr. Glass" will be back on Thursday, or so he's aiming for. If he skates and doesn't feel good, he might not play, again. Apparently a chest pull really hurts :( More than a broken rib? I dunno, I've thankfully had neither, but somehow I doubt it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

THE GOOD:

Dominik Hasek’s play in relief.
Hasek made a handful of big saves that kept the team, theoretically, in the game, and allowed them to open up and take some chances in order to try and generate some offense because they have confidence the guy between the pipes would bail them out. As solid as he’s been this season, Ray Emery just doesn’t envoke that kind of confidence, so it’s yet another advantage to having a world class goalie in nets. Now we just have to pray he too doesn’t get hurt, though the way things are going, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Patrick Eaves. He had more than a couple opportunities to light the lamp, and didn’t capitalize, but the effort was unquestionably there, and from a rookie planted into a prominent spot on a top team, that’s all you can ask for night in and night out. He was good on the otherwise awful powerplay, despite the fact he was horribly undersized to be playing the role they assigned him of standing in front of the net, and was doing a lot of good things whenever he got time on the penalty killing unit.

Steve Martin’s goal. Leave it to the wily vet to show the pampered regulars how it’s done. Martin got a nice pass from Brian Pothier (who also had a solid game) to send him in on a quasi breakaway, and despite the save from Huet, he kept with it and got a goal on the sloppy seconds. Imagine that, going hard to the net and staying there when the puck is loose.

THE BAD:

Afternoon games. I don’t know what it is, but this team cannot get up for games in the day time. Are they still asleep?

Too many floaters. It was quite obvious which team came to play Saturday about five minutes in. The Habs were taking it to the Senators, playing with an elevated level of intensity and desire, and Ottawa was unable to match it. Instead, with some exceptions, they folded the tent until the score was so lopsided it was too late to start actually demonstrating an effort of some sort.

The powerplay. They went 0 for 5, and are now 0 for something disgusting on this road trip. Stats like that speak for themselves and don’t really require any sort of analysis. I will say that there were a couple of instances where they at least looked to be generating momentum with the extra man, moving the puck well and getting point shots through and on net, something that hasn’t been happening a lot otherwise as of late, but eventually, you have to net some of these PP chances.

Ray Emery. He was bound to have a stinker, but this is now two games where he’s been less than spectacular. Monday’s blowout loss to the Thrashers had a built in excuse, as Emery only found out he was starting 15 minutes before the puck was dropped and had little time to prepare, but there is no such defense for Saturday afternoon’s performance. Emery was slow on the move for the majority of his time in net and three of the four goals should’ve been stopped. The last one especially. For a guy who a month ago was asserting himself as one of the more reliable backups in the league, and making a case for himself as the next starter of this team, Emery sure has slipped. The guy’s a rabid competitor so the best method to get him back on game might just be to throw him back in sometime soon.

Dany Heatley. Truly great players, when a team is struggling, put the club on their back and take over. With both Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson out of action, and the team needing someone, anyone to step up, Heatley has yet to do this. The reality is becoming obvious: Dany Heatley is a great player when playing with other great players, but lacks the ability to be a dominant player on his own. His linemates weren’t doing his any favors, as Bryan Smolinski had a stinker and Antoine Vermette continues to make me, and all the others who argued in favor of him, look bad with his terrible effort, but Heatley’s role on the team is such that they need him to be a world beater when undermanned. He’s yet to rise to the occasion, and looks lost out there more often than not. Start hitting and shooting and good things will happen regardless of who your linemates are.

Faceoffs. Winning draws has been a hole on this team for some time, yet this season, it’s been a whole lot better than in years prior, when they had no real dependable faceoff men. This season, a few guys have been pleasant surprises in that area, including Chris Kelly and Spezza, and so it hasn’t been the killer it as last year, but boy was it against Montreal. The Habs won too many of the key faceoffs in the Senators zone and put up goals on two of them.

THE OPPOSITION:

Even though Ottawa didn’t come to play for most of that first period, full marks have to go the Habs. They were a desperate team and played like one. They won the majority of the battles and simply wanted it more than the Senators.

It’s interesting to observe how the Habs have transformed into a scrappy club after being such an explosive team to start the year. It made their games very exciting to watch, and while I still enjoy seeing them play, it’s for different reasons.

Cristobal Huet had a sensational game, and though it might be a stretch to suggest there is goaltending controversy in Montreal, Habs fans should feel excited about the fact they have a backup capable of stepping in and standing on his head. I remember what that used to feel like.

UP NEXT:

Home sweet home. Wayne Gretzky and his Coyotes come to town for the first and only match-up between the teams for the season. Phoenix are battling for one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference, so you can be sure they’ll come to play, and like a lot of teams, will likely bring their best effort against Ottawa.

The question will be whether or not Ottawa can equal that. Based on this weeks games, the answer is no, but this is still a team with a lot of pride who will want to avenge this disasterous week. They’ll still be playing without a lot of key players so that excuse will still be there for the apologists who brush off the loses.

And yes, I know, when you're without three of your best four forwards, it's difficult to score goals, and thus, not easy to win games, but injuries happen, and elite teams battle through them and find ways to win. Look at how Philadelphia has played this season for proof, as they've been just as cursed in that area as the Senators.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Some WJC thoughts

By now, the tournament is over, so maybe I'm a day late and a dollar short, but looking back on the whole 11 day experience:

- On the booing soap opera: it happens. I've seen some bloggers apologize for the actions of those in attendance at GM Place, and I get that some of us are feeling embarassed as Canadians because of the actions of (I believe) the vocal minority, but at the end of the day, is this really a big deal? Jack Johnson cheap shotted Steve Downie and got an appropriate response. To those who say, he's only a kid - he's 18 years old. Far from some innocent schoolboy. He made a dumb decision and heard about it accordingly. This doesn't make him a bad person, but also doesn't mean those who boo are out of line. If Dion Phaneuf had done that to Phil Kessel last year in Grand Forks, would the response been any different? Well, maybe it would've, because to boo, you first have to care.

As for the international implications of the whole saga, I'm not sure there are any. While some have tried to tie it to the ever increasing gap between the two nations, I believe it's more rooted in hockey. The U.S. has emerged as a world power, and as Canadians, we're quite protective of "our game". The fact so many predicted the U.S. would walk all over Canada likely didn't do them any favors as far as winning people over.

- On the Senators prospects end, I really liked what I saw of Ilja Zubov. I'm sure playing with a world class player like Evgeni Malkin enhances your play, but even on his own, he looked quite good. Great wheels, a decent shot, and he seems to have no problem backchecking. Everyone appears to think he'll end up being an NHLer, so the Sens look to have stolen one by picking him 98th overall. Assuming, of course, that whole IIHF transfer agreement nonsense gets solved.

The other high profile Sens property I kept my eyes on was Brian Lee, mostly because I knew so little about him anyway. When he was selected by the Sens 9th overall in June, there was a collective "who?" sentiment throughout Ottawa. With more high profile names still available at that point, it was a puzzling pick.

What I saw of him here did little to win me over. He's a decent skater, I suppose, and based on the fact he got time on the PP, I guess he's considered a good passer, but he looked far too soft for my liking. The Sens already have one too many soft American defenceman. He was taken off the puck with hits throughout the tournament, and didn't seem to have any desire to elevate his game when the going got tough.

On the other hand, three blueliners who were still out there when the Sens picked Lee, Marc Staal, Ryan Parent, and Luc Bourdon all had monster tourneys and had me thinking each would look mighty good in the black, red, and gold down the line if only they had been selected instead.

I hate to make judgements on a young player so soon, and based, really, on so little, but I'm not too excited about this one.

- Leaf fans should be excited about their goaltending future, what with the two best goalies in the tournament being Maple Leaf property, but all this talk about Justin Pogge playing for the Leafs as soon as this year, and maybe even next, seems mighty lofty. Playing in Toronto is hard enough for a grizzled veteran. You want to throw a 20-year-old between the pipes and force him to deal with that pressure?

When was the last time a netminder that young made the kind of difference you're expected to achieve in Toronto? Patrick Roy back in 1985? You're hedging your bets that he'll be that?

You've got a tremendous prospect. Don't rush him into a spot he might not be ready for and shatter his confidence all together. Ask the Rangers how that went when they tried it with Dan Blackburn.

- How soon before Ottawa gets to host one of these things? No offense to Vancouver, as by all accounts they did a terrific job, but if this thing is awarded to the city that has best supported junior hockey in the past, I can't think of a more deserving region. The Ottawa 67's, even with NHL competition in the city, consistently draw some of the biggest crowds in the CHL and the Gatineau Olympiques have a loyal, borderline rabid following. The city certainly has the facilities to make it work, and the people in the community (Jeff Hunt, Cyril Leeder, Roy Mlakar) to run it professionally.

Ottawa was apparently the runner-up when Vancouver was awarded this tournament, and they will likely bid again the next time around, even though the early word is Montreal is the favorite because of the whole Canadiens anniversary thing.

Montreal is less than a few hours away, so I wouldn't be too mad at them hosting it, but I believe it's time the nation's capital got their shot.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Boston 3 Ottawa 2

I didn't see much of the game, because, like a lot of you, I'm sure, I spent Thursday night watching Team Canada take apart the Russians to win the World Junior Championship, but what did I see, I didn't like. However, based on all reports, it wasn't a lack of effort that led to the loss, so there isthat positive.

The fact is, the team is horribly undermanned right now. They played without Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Martin Havlat, Brandon Bochenski, and Brian Pothier, who was a late scratch due to a foot injury. On the TV broadcast, it was reported that both Chris Neil and Peter Schaefer were playing through a flu bug that, if the team wasn't so banged up elsewhere, likely would've kept them out of the line-up all together.

This is one of those gut check moments. The great teams find ways to win regardless of the fact they have several key players on the sidelines hurt. If Ottawa is truly the great team many have labelled them, they too will find that way. The road won't be easy, though.

There is some good news on the way. Alfredsson has resumed skating and the most recent projections have him back maybe by next week, but more likely in two. That's more time than anyone, Alfredsson included I'm sure, would like, but considering how scary the injury looked when it occured, three weeks can't be seen as too severe.

There remains no timetable on Jason Spezza. To say I, as a fan, have grown tired of this soap opera would be a bit of an understatement. What frustrates me most about it, frankly, is the general shrug-of-the-shoulders "we'll see how it feels" attitude everyone seems to be taking. Yeah, it's not March, and there shouldn't be a rush to get him back if he's not healthy, but at the same time, the team is struggling on nights when he's not in the line-up. Jason Spezza has become a big part of this team, and asked for that role, yet doesn't seem willing to play through pain and show the toughness truly elite players have to display throughout a gruelling season. Man up already.

The fact the franchise isn't willing to bring in help for the team when they're playing shorthanded is also something that doesn't sit well with me.

Basically, the Ottawa Senators have a budget, and apparently, there is no exceeding it. That budget, right now anyway, is about $35 million. The $39 million salary cap doesn't apply in the nation's capital because we have one of our own, and thus, an increased cap next year will likely have little implications on whether or not the team can keep the key players around.

Back in the spring of 2003, when Eugene Melnyk bought the team, I recall many a times when he lamented that he was willing to spend whatever to win. That he viewed this team as a loss leader, and that his passion for the game exceeded his desire to have this organization be yet another profit earner for the billionaire.

Yet here we are, not even three years later, and Melnyk has changed his tune considerably. I don't think you have to be Kreskin to see what has happened. Back then, Melnyk was just a fan. One with a whole lot of money, true, but at his core, just a fan. He's since been around the rest of the NHL owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman, for whom the idea of willingly losing money has to be crazy, for a while, and has likely bought into their philosophies hook, line, and sinker.

So now Melnyk wants to make as much money as possible with this team. The Ottawa hockey fans have responded tremendously post-lockout, setting all sorts of attendance records. They're averaging over 19,000 a game at the Corel Centre this season and have already packed more than 20,000 into the building on a few occasions.

How has the organization responded? By saying, this is the team, like or not, we're not going to add any pieces, nor will we keep any extra players around. That has resulted in a few games this year where Ottawa had to play with only 17 skaters. Tonight in Boston was one of them.

The same way I want Jason Spezza to suck it up and get in there if it truly is a matter of his pain threshold, I want the folks who run this team to realize this kind of season isn't going to come around too often, if ever, and it would be foolish for them to squander it because a billionaire owner doesn't want to spend a few extra bucks to make sure there are enough players around to actually ice a full team every night of the season, let alone give the GM some money to improve the team when they become crippled with serious injuries.

I'm not panicking about the team's recent inconsistent play, because every year has peaks and valleys, and when you lose the kind of manpower they have, you're bound to struggle, but it should would be reassuring if the suits and ties of this club showed some desire to stop the bleeding before it spreads.

Ottawa 3 Washington 1

THE GOOD:

The effort, and getting the win. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty, at all, and by no means was this game an entertaining one, but when a team is as undermanned as the Senators are, you take the two points wherever and however. It seemed like a lot of the little things they were doing oh so wrong Monday afternoon were corrected last night, and on the whole, the work ethic was worlds better. The Sens actually looked like they cared and wanted to be there. Imagine that.

Zdeno Chara shutting down Alexander Ovechkin. Chara showed why many consider him to be the top blueliner in the NHL with the way he neutralized the dangerous Russian rookie, who wasn’t much of a factor for most of the game save for a few shifts here and there.

Chris Phillips. Not only did he get his first goal of the season, getting a gorilla off his back, but Phillips, like his defence partner Chara, rebounded from a poor game against the Thrashers with a much more impressive outing. He was a physical presence, moved the puck well, and also was a part of the shut down of Ovechkin. He finished a +3 with three hits and five blocked shots. A monster game.

The Vaclav Varada-Chris Kelly-Patrick Eaves line. Without question, the best forward trio Ottawa had for this game, this pair of misfits and outcasts have come together to form a chemistry that makes it hard to believe they’ve only been playing together for a handful of games. There’s not a lot of finish on this line, as neither Kelly nor Varada are known for their offensive prowess, but they always give 100%. Varada seems especially energized with his increased role on the team and Kelly has stepped up huge with the injuries that have sidelined three of the team’s best four forwards. Eaves scored his 6th goal of the season, in only 15 games, and with each game, continues to make a case that he should’ve been on the team right from the start. If there a one-on-one battle to be won along the boards, or a fight over a loose puck that’s going to take place, I’d put this line out there with a whole lot of confidence that they’ll come up on the winning end.

Bryan Smolinski’s play on the PK. Not exactly known as a special teams specialist, “Smoke” manned up when the Senators were shorthanded. He won some key faceoffs, worked his ass off along the boards to get puck possession, and on one sequence, dove to clear the puck and force the Capitals to lose momentum.

Hitting the net with shots. Instead of 22, it was only 9 missed shots. A vast improvement.

THE BAD:

Undisciplined play. It’s been a common theme, but once again, the Senators gave their opponents to get back into the game through the penalties they took. They were fortunate that the Caps don’t have much firepower, and thus, their powerplay is very impotent, because a more loaded club might’ve iced Ottawa with all those PP chances, and primarily those two 5-on-3 shots Washington had.

Antoine Vermette’s game. I’ve been a big supporter of Vermette and have lamented for weeks that he’s earned a shot at a more prominent role on the team with his play as of late. He’s been a valued foot soldier on the penalty killing unit and whenever he got an even strength shift, even with less than talented linemates, tried to make something, anything, happen. So I was very disheartened to see #20 play such a poor game. He was given a shot on the top line with Smolinski and Dany Heatley, and ended up logging almost 18 minutes, twice what he’s used to, and shit the bed something terrible. He wasn’t skating with his usual enthusiasm out there, and instead, almost looked lost, skating around aimlessly, and his passing was off the mark consistently. Was it too much pressure?

Glenn Healy on commentary. Did someone in the Sens front office fuck Healy’s girlfriend back in high school? Because that’s the only explanation I have for his blatant bias against the Senators. I realize he’s a former Leaf who lives in Toronto and thus probably panders to Leaf Nation, but some of those comments were absurd. He saw penalties that weren’t there and was snarky all night. Put him in the booth with Bob Cole and Harry Neale on HNIC to make it a trifecta of favoritism the next time the Leafs play Ottawa.

THE OPPOSITION:

What you see is what you get with the Washington Capitals. They’re a team full of other team’s throwaways, with a few promising prospects, one disgruntled veteran defenceman, and an all-star goalie in nets. Not a recipe for a contender, but if you give them room, they can hurt you.

Ovechkin didn’t live up to the hype, but as said above, that’s more due to the job Chara and Phillips did on him than anything AO himself did. He was working hard but there’s only so much a 20-year-old can do against a 6’9” defenceman who thrives when playing against great players. The fact he kept coming all night long, and didn’t throw in the towel, says a lot about his character.

Beyond Ovechkin, there’s not much, but they’re scrappy and have a few players who can create chances through their hard work. I liked the games of Matt Pettinger in both ends of the ice, Brian Sutherby offensively, and on the blueline, Mathieu Biron.

What perplexes me is why Olaf Kolzig wants to stay in D.C. They’re a team going no where anytime soon and yet he maintains there’s no where else he wants to play. Wouldn’t this veteran want a shot at winning the Cup? Apparently not. I guess you can’t underestimate the appeal of being someplace familiar and comfortable.

UP NEXT:

A familiar foe and a team who they will want some revenge over. Ottawa travels to Beantown to face the Bruins. The last time the Sens went into Boston, they were facing a team in turmoil, who 24 hours earlier had traded their captain and best player, yet it was the Bruins who came out with the W. They outworked Ottawa and made them look like a second class club.

I doubt Jason Spezza will be back in the line-up. What else is new. Are you tired of this saga yet? I’d think Ray Emery will get the nod in nets because of Hasek’s bad back and the whole two games in two nights thing.

It will be interesting to see if Ottawa can sustain some of the momentum they got out of this win. We can at least hope the game is more entertaining than the one who saw Wednesday night, because if not, I doubt many people will be tuning in, what with that other game going on in Vancouver that you might have heard about.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Atlanta 8 Ottawa 3

THE GOOD:

A nice, big slice of humble pie. Sometimes games like this are needed. Needed to show a team riding a high that they’re not invincible and that even if they are more talented, they have to bring their A game or they’ll be on the losing end of the stick. This was one of those instances, I think, though truth be told, I’m not sure the score is indicative of how the game was. Even though they went into the first intermission down 3-0, the Sens didn’t play a bad period and had a bounce or a break gone the right way they could’ve been up. Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize on all their chances and the Thrashers did. Every time. That second period was what really decided the game. After scoring two goals to lower the score to 4-2 you could feel the momentum swinging away from the Thrashers and over, even if only slightly, towards Ottawa. However, the Senators weren’t able to sustain this, and quickly gave up another goal. This deflated them thoroughly, and it might as well have been called a game right then and there because none of the guys on the ice showed an indication they had an interest in playing a competitive game from that moment forward.

The Binghamton Senators are doing very well. There’s some good news for ya!

THE BAD:

More injury troubles. While I doubt it’ll end up being a serious matter, the last thing the Ottawa Senators needed was another important played on the sidelines hurt. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Hasek’s back gets better soon, and that the hockey gods don’t continue to send bad luck this team’s way.

22 missed shots. Compared to Atlanta’s 6, this was massive. Mike Fisher alone had four (as did Patrick Eaves) and three of them were excellent scoring chances that had Fisher in the slot. I’ve been groaning about this team’s propensity to miss the net for a while but it sure hits home in a game like this. Bryan Murray really needs to get this corrected ASAP.

Playing without Daniel Alfredsson. The Senators have had to face their face share of adversity already this season, from when Martin Havlat was suspended for five games to his season ending injury, to losing Wade Redden for two weeks, to this recent run without Jason Spezza. Throughout it all, however, there was one force present who was able to calm the waters most nights: Alfredsson. And so without him in the line-up, they’re a very inferior hockey club. In that aforementioned key moment where it was 4-2, Alfredsson would’ve stepped up in some way, put the team on his back. You could see without him there, the club was lost.

The effort from most of the key players. I’m looking at you, Wade and Zdeno. I can’t recall a game where these two, collectively, played so poorly. Neither were finishing their checks and often got exposed in their own end. Not like everyone around them performed admirably either.

Ray Emery. I can’t hold him too close to the fire, because he only found out he was playing 15 minutes before the puck was dropped, but this game did not reassure me that the Senators will be okay if Hasek goes down with that serious injury everyone else in the hockey world seems to think is inevitable.

The Atlanta fans booing Dany Heatley. I get that fans can be disgruntled about a player leaving, as we all get a lot of fun out of booing the shit out of Alexei Yashin whenever the Islanders come to town, but did this situation really warrant such a response? Yeah, he asked to be traded, but surely most of us can understand why. Heatley did it in a respectful manner and did not go to the media and make a fuss. It was disappointing to see him received so poorly by people who, 18 months ago, embraced him so warmly. Let’s hope Marian Hossa gets a warmer homecoming whenever Atlanta comes to the Corel Centre.

THE OPPOSITION:

Atlanta can score goals. This much we knew already. What we didn’t, however, was that they can against the alleged best team in the NHL, and the club that had allowed, up to that point, the fewest amount in the league.

Much props have to go to Marian Hossa. He proved why so many in Ottawa were disappointed to see him leave town. We’re happy with Dany Heatley (though not as much as we were, say, 48 hours ago), but some of those moves would’ve looked good in a Sens uniform still instead of those fugly Thrashers sweaters. Hossa showed regardless of where he’s playing, he can take over a game, and boy did he.

His ability to take over a game remains second to none in the league, and though it hurt me deeply to see him blow by Wade Redden the way he used to defencemen on every other team in the league, part of me is happy to see him doing so well down south.

Atlanta beat the shit out of Ottawa, yeah, but this was hardly the Sens’ A game. Hell, it wasn’t even their D game. Far too many guys didn’t come to play and those that did just didn’t have it around the net to make it a game. Atlanta was outskating them, outworking them, and just wanted it more.

UP NEXT:

Hopefully, a severe tongue lashing from the coach. But truth be told, it may not even be necessary. The embarrassment of getting blown out the way they did, in front of the entire country on TSN, should be motivation enough and hopefully doesn’t require any additional ingredients.

The team travels to Washington for a Wednesday night affair, once again on national TV, and in theory, you’d think it would be a cakewalk for them, but without Daniel Alfredsson, likely without Dominik Hasek, and with half the people in the line-up playing like they should be in the press box, it could be another humiliating experience.

Please Daniel, come back. Save us.

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