Friday, February 24, 2006

I would've been more entertained watching grass grow


After much deliberation, I decided to watch today's semi-finals games without any allegiances. Instead of having a rooting interest in any team involved, I thought it wise to view the games strictly as a hockey fan. Boy did I pick the wrong day to do that.

Because I imagine the one way one could've enjoyed watching these games was if they were a fan of a country playing. If, like me, you were simply a Canadian watching a hockey game because it's hockey and that's what we do, it's probably a safe bet you were bored out of your fucking mind.

Neither game was especially close, and both were incredibly slow, uninteresting, and repetitive. The trap was out in full force. Somewhere, Jacques Lemaire was smiling.

A lot of people seem to be saying, in the wake of the disappointing Canadian exit at the hands of the Russians, that the problem with Canadian hockey is systemic. That we must be doing something wrong. They point to the success of the Finns and to a lesser extent the Swedes, who come from much smaller nations, and say "we have to start doing what they do, because it's clearly working for them."

No thanks. If that means Canadian hockey teams at this level will incorporate similar tactics to win, I'd rather they continue to win every other Olympics and play an exciting style of play. Obviously, I'd like the team to play better than this Team Canada did, but I don't want us to start implementing these bullshit European methods, because, however successful they might be results wise, they create terrible hockey to watch.

Call me a bitter Canadian if you must, but I sure won't be getting up early on Sunday morning to watch the Gold Medal game between the Finns and Swedes.

Help

So who do I root for now that Canada is out?

Even though a Canadian saying this publicly is asking to have his “Canadian hockey fan” card revoked, I like the way the Russians play. They battle hard, have a tough defence, and some very exciting players up front.

The Finns work their asses off, and as a team, are probably the most cohesive. You have to admire the way they play.

The Swedes have a lot of players I’m a fan of.

Slovakia had two Sens, and a former I’m still a big fan of. Why couldn’t they beat those damn Czechs?

I suppose one option is to not care at all, but unfortunately, I don’t think I’m quite that depressed about the loss just yet.

If I’m picking based on my NHL allegiance, then the fact Sweden has the Sens captain has to count for something, right?

What’s a confused Canadian to do?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Paul Kariya for Prime Minister?

In the wake of yesterday’s devastating loss to the Russians, second guessing the selections of Wayne Gretzky has been the popular method of venting.

Though I think some onus has to be placed on the players themselves, I’m okay with those in charge also being held accountable, because, as I’ve said before, it comes with the job, and those who take it know that should they lose, it will happen. Gretzky saw it first hand with Bob Clarke, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier after Nagano.

When making their argument about the mistakes made when picking the team, everyone is mentioning who should have been invited, and the consensus name seems to be Paul Kariya.

What’s funny is that I can’t recall too many people being outraged Paul wasn’t on the team back when it was selected. The fuss was about Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Eric Staal and to a lesser extent guys like Brendan Shanahan. I realize hindsight is 20/20, but damn, some of you in the media are out of your mind with this rewriting of history. “Oh, I thought Paul Kariya should have been there.” Really? Then why didn’t you say so?

The only guy I remember championing Kariya’s cause was Internet punching bag Pierre Maguire, who, in fairness, is a good friend of #9. He was saying all the things everyone else is today: Kariya’s speed is tailor made for the big ice. He was playing well with Nashville. He’s a king of the shootout (as if that was a factor in why they lost).

Looking back, it might’ve been smart to bring Kariya along, but let me ask you this: Do you think Paul Kariya, or any other single guy, would’ve made that kind of difference? If you put Paul Kariya on this team, and take off someone like Kris Draper, does Canada not lose to the Russians (or the Swiss and/or Finns)?

I believe they’d still take the L.

The problems with this team couldn’t be cured by the addition of one player, however fantastic he might be.

On paper, Paul Kariya should excel in this tournament, but this team’s 13 forwards have combined for 274 goals this NHL season. They have six guys with 20 or more goals. Even with the big ice factor considered, scoring should not have been nearly the issue it was, and so I have to think Kariya would’ve suffered the same fate as every other sniper on the team.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I feel your pain

If, six weeks ago, you would have told a Canadian that the men’s hockey team would be coming back from Torino without a medal, most likely they would’ve laughed in your face. Yet here we are on February 22nd, and that’s the reality.

So what happened?

I’m such pundits from all over, including the blosphere, will talk about how Canadian hockey is in trouble. That’s certainly what happened in ’98 after Nagano. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.

Point blank, the team did not play well enough to win. I absolutely believe it’s that simple.

There will be a ton of second guessing surrounding a lot of the selections made by Wayne Gretzky and Co., and so there should. There are definitely some guys who were picked that I scratch my head about (though most of them were questionable back when they were picked to me anyway).

However, I don’t think that’s a fair route to take in full. Some blame lies on the braintrust’s shoulders, the same way they got credit for Salt Lake four years ago, but in doing that, you’re the guys on the ice off the hook considerably and I’m not sure that’s right.

The team that was iced should have been better than this, even with all the factors (big ice, injuries, size, etc.) considered. There is no excuse for their lack of offensive production. They were shut out three times in their last four games, and let’s be honest, im that victory over the Czechs, a few of the goals were not NHL caliber. With the proven goal scoring this team sported, this should be unacceptable.

And so to blame Gretzky, and not talk about how so many of the guys on the team shit the bed, isn’t right.

In some cases, it looked to just be a case of being snake bitten (Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic) while others appeared not to be giving it their all Joe Thornton). Some even looked overwhelmed (Bryan McCabe) and a few made mistakes that were far too costly (Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Pronger).

Whatever the case may be, the team that was iced did not play up to their potential nor the expectations everyone rightfully had of them. To expect them to dominate the competition was not reasonable, however, to assume they would perform better than what we saw was not unjust.

Vancouver is only four years away, and if there is any positive that can come out this, it’s that the excitement and desire for those games will be even more heightened. Coming into Torino, it didn’t feel the same as it did before the 2002 Olympics. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled with the last Olympic win, our world junior dominance, and the World Cup victory in the summer of ’04.

So put those summit meetings where we talk about the changes needed on hold. They’re not necessary. The rest of the world caught up with Canada a long time ago, and so the days of us expecting to win and treating the championship as if it’s ours to lose are gone. Canada remains one of the best hockey nations in the world, and I still think, overall, we’re the best, but if we don’t play well against our peers, we’ll lose. That’s what happened here.

It hurts now, and I’m sure I’ll feel just as shitty when I wake up tomorrow morning and remember all that has happened, but maybe wake up calls like this are what we need to be reminded of how the competitive balance has changed.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another day, another sorrow

I really don't have too much to say about Canada's loss earlier today other than it was an incredibly frustrating game to watch. The team seemed out of sync for the majority of the contest, yet even when the were playing well (I felt like they were the superior team in the second half, but a part of that was because Finland got conservative), you never felt as if they were going to even the score.

They simply cannot buy a goal right now.

I'm sure tomorrow's morning papers will be full of second guessing and armchair coaching. That's to be expected, and to a certain degree understood. To those who will jump to Pat Quinn and Wayne Gretzky's defence, that they deserve better, this is part of the job. If you get the accolodates when they win, you have to accept criticism when they lose.

However, the time to push the big red panic button in the middle of the console isn't here yet. If they lose in the medal round, feel free to call them names and question their intelligence.

A loss to Finland in the preliminiary round isn't the time for that.

I saw a lot of good things in this game. I liked the chemistry displayed by the Dany Heatley-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis. Like the rest of the team, the finish wasn't there, but the trio was responsible for a lot of the team's best scoring chances.

Individually, I also liked the games from Shane Doan (very physical), Todd Bertuzzi (went to the net hard all game long), Simon Gagne (good transition play), and Joe Thornton (a lot of good playmaking displayed). I didn't like what I saw from Jarome Iginla (not enough of an impact for a guy with his role) and Rick Nash (overall, very piss poor game).

On the blueline, I thought Wade Redden, Chris Pronger, and Rob Blake had the best games. Redden was real good in both ends and was moving the puck very well on the powerplay, while Blake was their best puck carrying defenceman of the night.

The flipside saw Bryan McCabe, Robyn Regehr, and Adam Foote have pretty mediocre outings from where I sat. McCabe didn't see a lot of even strength time but when he did he failed to make much of an impact. Where he was especially ordinary was on the PP, where McCabe was supposed to excel. I imagine it was a big part of why he was brought in the first place. Perhaps it can be chalked up to nerves, but McCabe did not look nearly as comfortable out there as he usually does manning the point when the Leafs are up a man.

Regehr is someone who I didn't think would falter. He's not spectacular but he's absolutely consistently solid. As far as one-on-one, he's been one of the premiere defenceman in the league for some time. Not on this night. The faster Finns were able to pylon him on numerous occasions, and Regehr was often left in the dust. He also needs to up the physical ante.

Foote was a guy who I wouldn't have brought in the first place. In the handful of Columbus games I've seen this year, he's looked a step slower than usual and, with an inferior team alongside him, has been exposed as not exactly the elite rearguard everyone (myself included) thought Foote to be. But Gretzky and Co. like experience and are loyal, so he was picked.

It's too early to give the definitive "I told you so", because Foote could very well turn it around and have some big games when they're needed most, but as of Sunday night at just before 7pm EST, this selection doesn't look like a wise one. I hope he proves me wrong though.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shows what I know

So I thought I had a good little plan for today.

I figured this morning's Canada-Switzerland game would be bore. Canada would toy with them a little but ultimately beat the Swiss by five or six goals on route to the more interesting and challenging game tomorrow afternoon versus the Finns. I know the Swiss beat the highly regarded Czechs, and for that shouldn't be taken lightly, but the Belarusians beat the Swedes in Salt Lake as well. I assumed it was 11:59 for this Cinderella.

As a result, I planned to sleep in a little bit and roll out of the sack in time to catch the last half of the game.

I do so. Turned on the CBC, hoping to find out how many goals Dany Heatley scored, how Wade Redden had fared, and which line had combined for the most points.

Obviously, I was shocked with what I saw.

2-0 for Switzerland. Okay, I thought. Canada's sleepwalking. They'll turn it on and pull it out. No big deal.

It only took me five more minutes of watching to realize that wasn't going to happen.

Canada did not look like a Gold Medal team. At all. Yes, they peppered Martin Gerber with a ton of shots, and probably outplayed the Swiss (certainly did in the third period I saw), but even still, as a team, they looked to be on completely different pages. There was very little in the way of chemistry. They looked like what they are: an all-star team. Great talents, little teamwork.

In contrast, the Swiss were ridiculously less skilled, but played as a team. Could be because they pretty much are a team, with a few NHLers added to the mix.

It's way too early to start pointing fingers or panicking, because ultimately the game did not mean very much to anyone but the Swiss, who, for most of the team, this was the biggest game of their international career. Canada couldn't match their intensity or will.

But going into tomorrow's game against Finland, a team that has looked quite good so far, and outplayed the Czechs by a wide margin a few hours ago, Saturday's outing by the Canadians doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

As let down as I was by what I saw of Canada's performance, I was equally as entertained by the two afternoon games. I thought both the Czechs-Finns and U.S.-Slovaks games were compelling hockey that restored by belief in the fact the NHLers should be in the Olympics. A Sens fan, after the Hasek debacle, I was having doubts.

The games were fast paced with few whistles/penalties to slow the game down. The officiating was far from perfect in either game, but I don't think the referees played a role in the results one way or the other.

I did have one major dilemma, however:

All of the broadcasts sucked.

On TSN, you had Jim Hughson and Greg Millen. Though I find him to a bit of a homer on the HNIC late game, in a neutral setting like this, Hughson's fine. Millen is not. I rid myself of the cancer known as Greg Millen this year when he did us all a favor and left the Sens broadcast team to go do LeafTV on digital cable for 75 people. The two were making contradictory points all game long and stepping all over each other. You'd think two guys who had been working together all season would have developed some chemistry. Nope.

Millen was up to his old tricks. At one point in the U.S.-Slovak game, the two were mentioning that Keith Tkachuk had not played a shift yet in that second period. They were wondering if he was hurt or even on the bench. Fair enough. A minute later, Keith's on the ice for a shift. Hughson makes this observation. Tkachuk stays out and even handles the puck a little bit. Then Millen says (and I'm paraphrasing) "Keith Tkachuk isn't on the bench Jim. [uncomfortable pause] Because he's on the ice."

Bravo, Greg.

Meanwhile, on the CBC, it was the Decrepit Duo: Bob Cole and Harry Neale. As a Sens fan, I'm legally obligated to dislike these two, for all the obvious reasons, but even with my own biases, I could not believe how dreadful Cole was on play-by-play. This guy doesn't sound like he should be allowed to drive a car, let alone broadcast an Olympic hockey game to millions of people.

There's an old Bob Cole drinking game that I'm sure you've all played: take a drink every time he incorrectly identifies a player. Usually, this will have you shitfaced by the middle of the second period. If that's not fast enough for you, take a drink every time he calls someone on the visiting team "the [team name] player." You'll be vomiting before Coach's Corner even begins.

He and Neale also sport incredibly laughable biases towards the Leafs. Nothing new. We've grown to accept it. Neale, I can sorta get. He is, after all, their color man on their local broadcasts.

In spite of all these deficiencies, Cole has usually been good for building drama and excitement. But even that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I was bored to tears listening to him broadcast this game. Was it because Canada wasn't involved that Cole couldn't at least pretend to be excited?

On the American side on NBC, you had Mike Emmerick and John Davidson, with Pierre Maguire in the foxhole. Emmerick's voice is very grating, but at least he seems like he wants to be there. Davidson, I've always enjoyed. By the way, have I mentioned how much I like this addition to the broadcasting universe? I realize it's a shameless rip off of what Fox does with their NFL telecasts, having lineman turned talking head Tony Siragusa on the sidelines, but nevertheless, I enjoy it.

I'm also in the minority in that I don't think Pierre Maguire is the devil reincarnated. In fact, I find him to be pretty good, even though he's sometimes too exciteable even for me. "ISN'T THIS NEW NHL GREAT!!!" Yes, it is. Oh, and who can forget "OH WOW THESE GAMES SURE DO STINK WITH NO RED LINE har har har". We get it, Pierre. You were right.

One problem with watching this broadcast: the NBC reception was terrible. The sound was staticy, the picture difficult on the eyes. It was unwatchable.

Hopefully, by the time the Gold Medal game comes around, someone, anyone, will have their house in order, because I really don't want to have to resort to turning the volume down all together.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Thank God

The Dominik Hasek situation took an abrupt turn this morning with word that he will leave the Olympics after suffering a slight strain to his adductor muscle Wednesday. Indications are the injury could sideline the Senators goalie for 10-14 days, so he is returning to Canada to be checked by Senators team doctors.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm doing my best NOT to panic

It's been hard, but I'm maintaining...

Goalie Dominik Hasek, who starred in the Czech Republic's surprise victory in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, left Wednesday's round-robin opener against Germany in the first period with an injured left hamstring.

Hasek, one of the NHL's top goalies again this season for Ottawa, will undergo an MRI exam Thursday in the Olympic Village to determine whether his hamstring is torn.

It's a good thing I wasn't watching this game live because I likely would have had an aneurysm.

At this point, it doesn't seem like the injury is life threatening, let alone season. That hasn't stopped the talking heads on local radio to talk about all the what ifs (as in "who do we trade for Dwayne Roloson...").

I'm hoping it really is just a pulled hamstring and nothing more. That's the story and I'm being very naive in believing it.

Having said all that, please, Dominik, come home. Forget this Olympic nonsense. Who cares. They'll be just fine with Tomas Vokoun. We however will not be okay with Ray Emery.

And also, you might want to reconsider this:

Hasek said he would not consult with Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler about whether he should try to play again or not in Turin

He's your boss. He deserves a lot some consultation, doesn't he? Ultimately, it's Hasek's call, as per the CBA (good job there Gary), but I do think the organization's opinion should at least he heard.

though he expects Muckler might call him.
I would hope so. If not, I will.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My turn at it

Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun has the lines Team Canada will be opening with in Turin (very bottom of the page if you just want to see what they are not read a whole lot of nothing)

Because I think I can do better, and really, don't we all, I would go with:
Simon Gagne-Joe Sakic-Jarome Iginla
Todd Bertuzzi-Joe Thornton-Rick Nash
Brad Richards-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Shane Doan-Kris Draper-Dany Heatley

Let's not go nuts, people

Though I rarely agree with his viewpoints on the Senators, J.P. Allard’s Smarting Sens blog is still a worthwhile read most of the time.

I’ve come to know Allard for his outlandish ideas, and he took it to another level last week with his desire to see them trade Wade Redden.

Let’s look at what J.P. had to say. First off:

Locking in Spezza to a multi-year deal is a no-brainer

Is it really?

When people talk about the need to lock up Spezza long-term, they often cite the Rick Nash deal as the blueprint. In case you forget, over the summer, Columbus re-signed Nash, their unquestionable franchise player, to a five-year, $27 million contract, but the two’s teams situations are incredibly different.

As J.P. even says, going into this offseason, the Sens will have a ton of players to re-sign, the most prevelant being Zdeno Chara and Redden. As well, Martin Havlat will need a new contract (if you believe Bruce Garrioch, Havlat might be involved in the Olli Jokinen deal should it happen.) The BlueJackets did not have nearly the same problem, mostly because there weren’t a whole lot of players they wanted back after sucking for so long.

For Columbus, who had a ton of cap space, signing Nash to that deal sort of made sense. It still remains to be seen if this method will work, but for them, having their franchise played locked in at $5.4 three years from now, when he’ll likely be among the league’s top goal scorers.

A case could be made that it was a risky signing because Nash had only been an elite player for one season, but it was probably a risk worth taking.

The Senators, however, are in an entirely different boat, and frankly, signing Spezza should be their last priority this offseason.

Because of his age and lack of seniority in the league, Spezza won’t be eligible for arbitration, so the threat of comparables isn’t a factor. If he was, obviously, this would be an whole different discussion, because Spezza would most likely be looking at top dollar based on the numbers he’s going to put up this season.

The only leverage Spezza has is the threat of holding out, and I’m sure he and his agent will use it. However, that will only go so far. There is the possibility that some other team will tender him an offer sheet (though those seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur). If they do, then you think about matching it, however, if it’s a deal that will handicap the Sens significantly down the road financially, it might be worthwhile to think about taking the five 1st round draft picks.

so it comes down to a choice between the team’s top two defensemen. Who do you keep and who do you say to, “Sayonara, it’s been nice, but we didn’t win the Cup with you?”

While it’s certainly quite possible the team will have to make a choice between the two of them, I’m not sure it’s nearly the foregone conclusion Allard seems to think it is.

Well, to start, Redden will be asking for a ton of money, based on the aforementioned qualifiers and also on the fact that the entire Western hemisphere seems to be in love with this guy.

Again, a horrible assumption to make. I’m sure Muckler is more aware of what kind of money Redden is looking for, based on the preliminary decisions they’ve had, so he has a better idea than most as to what it will cost, but I can’t see it being that much.

Tomas Kaberle got $4.25 from the Maple Leafs over the weekend. I would make the case that Redden is a superior defenceman to Kaberle overall (though I do feel like Kaberle is pretty underrated), however, their importance to their individual team, which should be a factor in deciding how much money to pay out, is similar. I imagine Redden will get more, because it seems as if around the league he’s more highly thought of, but I can’t see it being a whole lot more.

And the reason why Kaberle got so much was because they were able to lock him in for five years. The more years, the more you have to pay. Common sense.

There’s no rule saying Ottawa has to be pursuing such a lengthy contract with either Redden or Chara. It would be ideal, sure, but because money will be so tight, it might be best to take a shorter commitment if it means less money.

But based on the fact that, after nearly 9 years in the league, he still gives up the puck much too frequently and that he seems to lose far too many battles in the corners or has difficulty moving away bigger and stronger forwards in front of the net, I say that his stock is currently overrated.

Ah, now we’re getting to the meat of the piece. Allard doesn’t like Wade Redden all that much. Strangely enough, he’s not alone in this city. Listen to any post-game show on the local all sports radio station and you’ll be sure to hear a gang of people will this exact point. Unfortunately, most of them also sound quite inebriated and usually say something about “needing to get tougher!!!!!” Meaning, you have to take what they say with just a tad of cynicism.

There was absolutely a point in his career when Redden turned the puck over a lot, but when I hear people use that point to criticize him, I usually make a mental note to take them off my “credible hockey people” list, because it’s just not nearly the problem it used to be, and frankly, not much of one at all.

Now, could he be more aggressive and strong on the puck? Sure. But that’s not his game. I don’t feel as though he’s a liability, and when someone brings all the things to the table that he does, you have to accept that there will be some downside.

And those things he brings to said table are plenty. For one, his outlet passing skill is second to none in the league. I can’t think of another defenceman better at it, and with the red line no longer being a factor, this skill will only become more useful as the years go on.

As well, Redden’s a powerplay horse. I realize, with their recent PP struggles, it’s not a timely argument to make, but why don’t you pop in a tape of how the powerplay looked when he was out of the line-up for insight into how essential he is. If you think this recent stretch is bad, prepare to lose your lunch.

While Redden is superior to Chara when it comes to offensive prowess, the Big Z is far more solid on defense than “Reds” and so if the Senators have to decide on one of those two rearguards, it should logically follow that they should base their decision more on the defensive ability of the two potential free agents.

If you were to ask me, tomorrow, which one I would chose assuming they came at the same price tag, I’d take Chara. As important as Redden is to this team’s success, I think Chara’s role is even greater.

But again, why is it assumed both cannot be brought back? Does J.P. know something we all don’t to be working under this profound assumption? If so, he sure doesn’t say what it is anywhere in this piece.

And let’s be real: if we are going to chose, price will be a factor. If J.P. is so convinced that Redden will get a ton of cake thrown at him by other teams, then surely Chara will get more, as he concedes he’s a superior player.

So let’s purpose a hypothetical situation: Redden costs $5 million and Chara costs $6.5. Is Chara so much better, so much more important, that he’s worth $1.5 million more?

Don’t kid yourself into thinking this won’t play a role in this situation. If you keep Redden, you can spend that $1.5 million elsewhere.

I’m not suggesting that that is the correct route to take, because I’m not convinced it is and frankly it’s not one I’ve given enough thought to (because, again, I’m still hopeful both will be back), but it’s worth looking at.

When people talk about the Marian Hossa-Dany Heatley trade, their salaries have to be brought up. Because for the price of Hossa, the Sens get Heatley and Mike Fisher. Which would you rather have?

Besides, the Senators have the luxury of having rookie Andrej Meszaros in their lineup, a Redden clone who is actually years ahead of the Sens’ assistant captain

I sure hope J.P. meant his development is “years ahead” of where Redden was during his rookie season, and not that he thinks Meszaros is a better player.

You’re not going to find a bigger Meszaros fan than I. I think he’s a phenom, and at barely 20-years-old, his play has been the welcome surprise of the season.

But to expect him to do what Redden does for this team is playing a mighty large weight on his shoulders.

While he has looked good when forced to play a larger role and log more minutes, that was only short term. The truth is one of the reasons Meszaros is so good is because he’s our 5th defenceman. He’s too good for that spot. But good enough for #2 at this point?

If not, then “A-Train” Volchenkov will gladly accept more responsibilities.

I’m all for an increased role for Volchenkov. I think he’s highly underrated and probably been their best rearguard over the last month.

However, the question still remains, can he do what Redden does? No.

Their games are so different that to suggest so is, frankly, displaying immense ignorance to this team because I can’t see how anyone who follows them closely could think he could.

Volchenkov’s offensive skills haven’t been utilized to the extent that they can be, and a part of that is because he’s lined up with a more offensive minded guy and thus he has to be the defensive conscience, but I’ve seen no addition his skills are anywhere close to Redden’s in that regard.

With Redden’s stock currently being as high as never before, it would be the perfect time to move him.

Is his stock really higher than it’s ever been? I sure don’t think so. That time was probably over the most recent summer. Now, because of his impending UFA status, team will be fearful that they’re only getting him for a few months.

Unless a club can sign him to a new deal, and based on the fact that Ottawa, where he allegedly wants to stay, cannot, I’d find it hard to believe that someone else could get ink on a new deal.

So what, really, would we would looking at getting back? If Doug Weight commanded what he did, then would Redden go for much more? A high 1st round pick in a draft widely considered to be subpar, a few depth players that aren’t even good enough to make the current Sens roster, and some prospects that may or may not pan out?

As Branch Rickey used to say, it is always better to trade a player one year too early than one year too late.

And as I say, this is ridiculous.

The bottom line is this: this season, however rocky the last month or so has been, is the Ottawa Senators’ best chance to win the Stanley Cup yet. I absolutely believe that. So having come to that conclusion, it makes zero sense to remove one of the team’s best, most important players before you’re hopefully about to make your big run unless you’re getting back something of equal or better value.

Trading Redden for the sake of it would mess with this team’s chemistry a whole lot, and not in the good “shake things up” way either.

In this new salary cap era, where keeping teams together for extended periods of time seems pretty unlikely, trading Wade Redden now would be the dumbest thing the Ottawa Senators have ever done.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ottawa 3 Philadelphia 2

THE GOOD:
”Playing to win.” During their struggles, it was often said that the Senators were not playing to win, but instead, playing NOT to lose. This, of course, is no way for a supposed top club to play, and the results indicated that, as it rarely worked. The Sens didn’t resemble the confident, borderline cocky club that dominated in October and November, instead looking very fragile and shaky. Once one thing would go wrong, like a few goals scored against, they would not be able to recover, and the L was registered. This is a characteristic of a bad team, so to see it being displayed by a club that was considered the Stanley Cup favorite by most was very frustrating for its fans. We would regularly say “they need their confidence back”, and the players would as well, but unfortunately, it’s never been like a lightswitch, able to be turned on in the blink of an eye. I think this game will do a lot to restore it. Not only did they win, but they beat a club that had previously beat they them, once rather handedly, and did so playing the way they used to. It’s one thing to get two points against Pittsburgh, and even score seven goals in the process, but when you beat the Flyers (albeit a very bruised and battered version), it’s another thing. That third period was key and to me, defined the game. Ottawa had given up two goals, one of which was a bad one and the other a result of a bad bounce of Chris Phillips’ shin, and, in theory, should’ve been on the ropes. Philly should’ve had all the momentum, but it was the Senators were the dominant team, dictating the play and, for the most part, taking it to the Flyers.

The continuing emerge of Antoine Vermette as an impact player. A case could be made for the fact that Vermette has been Ottawa’s most consistent forward in the last month. He seems to have really embraced his role with this team, and proven why he shouldn’t be just a throw in on any potential deal the Senators may or may not make down the stretch to strengthen their team. His versatility, and ability to play a “jack-of-all-trades” type of role on this team cannot be undervalued. He usually looks most comfortable when there is a lot of ice, allowing him to utilize his speed, and most often this means either on the PK or when it’s 4-on-4. When at even strength, Vermette was never able to consistently duplicate that success, as it appeared he would stifled out there. However, as of late, he’s gone above and beyond the role of the fourth line forward who kills penaltys and chips in with the occasional goal. He’s become an intregal player, and last night was the best example. On a line with Vaclav Varada and Christoph Schubert (probably Ottawa’s best forward trio), he generated a lot of opportunities on the forecheck and drew a couple of penalties by simply moving his feet and forcing bigger but slower defenders coughDerianHatcher*cough* to impede him.

Beating a very good team in a close game. Dominik Hasek’s criticisms from a while back about this team being unable to win close, tight games was on point, and since then, they haven’t been able to prove him wrong. Last night’s win will hopefully start a trend.

Patrick Eaves’ work ethic. There wasn’t a harder working Senator on this night. I can’t recall one battle the 21-year-old lost out there. He strength on the puck, and ability to win one-on-one battles for it, remains a large part of his game and a reason why the future looks so bright for him in Ottawa. As he gets older, and his offensive touch develops even more (he already possesses an uncanny ability to go to the net), he may just become one of this team’s best players. Until then, however, he’s found a nice little role as a secondary piece of the puzzle, and seems quite comfortable both in that spot and on this team in general.

The physical game from Mike Fisher. Fish led all Sens in hits with five and that number seems low to me, because when watching, it sure seemed like it was more than that.

Not allowing Philadelphia to win the season series. If the Flyers had won last night, regardless of the result of the fourth and final meeting between the teams on March 25th in Philadelphia, Philly would’ve won the season series, something they haven’t done since 1997. As I mentioned the other day, Ottawa is a team that Philadelphia looks at as a dragon they need to slay, similar to the Leafs for the Sens (though I doubt to the same extent). It was Ottawa who knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs in both the 2002 (first round) and 2003 (second round) editions. Though it is very early, and a lot could change, these two teams look like the two favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference final (Carolina’s up there as well, of course, but they’re less playoff tested as a team), so it’s good Philly won’t have the psychological edge that they would’ve had they beaten Ottawa in the regular season series.

A better night from the key players. While not quite as dominant as they were earlier in the season, all of Ottawa’s best skaters had solid improved games. On the blueline, both Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden had strong games, making very few of the mistakes that have been far too prevelant during this slump. And most importantly, the Big Line had a much better game. Again, don’t break out the champagne just yet and plan those parade routes, because it was a far cry from where they were when they were the toast of the NHL, but I thought all three had good games, and importantly, had them together, unlike Thursday night against Atlanta where it wasn’t until they were broken up did their run of shitty play end. I also think it was important that Dany Heatley got a goal. He’s a goal scorer, and scoring is a massive part of his game, and so when he’s not scoring, he’s not effective. Frankly, the other parts of his game aren’t good enough that he can go four games without a goal and still be one of the team’s most played forwards. Hopefully, this opens the floodgates for Heater, and he goes back to being on a tear. Spezza wasn’t offensively as impressive as he can and should be, but his mistakes were kept to a minimum, so it was absolutely progress.

THE BAD:

Having to play Dominik Hasek. Back in December, when it became clear that Hasek was the real deal this year and all those who said he still didn’t have “it” were wrong, one major point Bryan Murray made was that he wanted to be careful not to burn the 40 (now 41) year old netminder out with too many games. Looking at the schedule back then, it seemed as if these couple weeks before the Olympic break would be prime time for Ray Emery to get in there and allow Hasek some rest, seeing as how, if Hasek is the starter for the Czechs, he could play as many as eight games in 12 days should they go to the gold medal final. However, the combination of Emery’s unsteady play and the team’s overall slip in quality of play gave Murray no other option. In order to keep Ottawa a top the Northeast, he had to put the best possible line-up on the ice in the majority of the games. We can only hope Hasek doesn’t hit the wall because if so we’ll likely look back on this past month as a key turning point in their season. And if Alois Hadamczik, the Czech head coach in Turin, is reading this: please be a pal and make Tomas Vokoun the starter. Please?

A return of the “old NHL”. The referees must’ve got a memo to forget everything they’ve been doing for the past four-and-a-half months because there was more hooking, holding, and obstruction out there than I saw in a lot of games during the last season. That’s the only explanation I have for why so little was called. It was the Flyers who set this tone, and once they were getting away with it, it seemed as if the Senators said “well alright, now that we know the standard, we can do this too”. And they did, adjusting accordingly. To the referees credit, they were consistent with their calls, as they didn’t really resort to the old rules, but this wasn’t what I thought the “New NHL” was supposed to be about.

Another goose egg with the powerplay. It was a shame that Vermette was drawing these penalties because Ottawa wasn’t able to do shit with them. Bryan Murray may want to tinker with some of the pieces because it’s just not working. It didn’t end up costing them the game the way it did Thursday night because they were able to score at even strength but they were playing with fire.

THE OPPOSITION:

The MVP for the Flyers was, without question, Antero Niittymaki, who was terrific in relief of Robert Esche. If not for him, the score would’ve been far less flattering to them. He made a handful of big, highlight-reel caliber saves that kept them in the game. Unfortunately, the team in front of him couldn’t keep their foot on the gas pedal with any regularity.

It’s worth noting that this was not the real Flyers. Playing without Peter Forsberg, they’re a much different team, and with Foppa in the line-up, Simon Gagne is a whole lot less effective. Their middle, considered their strength going into the year, has also been handicapped by the loss of captain Keith Primeau, and now recent acquiree Petr Nedved went down. All these injuries forced Michael Handszus, a guy who’s probably the best third line center in the league, to be their top line middle man. On a team that’s contending, it’s a stretch to have him as the number two center. When you ask him to be on your top line, you’re asking for trouble. This isn’t to say he had a bad game, but rather that he’s just not equipped to handle this role. Especially when they have so little scoring along the wings.

As well, the injuries throw three rookies into the fire. On this night, I felt like all three of them (Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger, and Mike Richards) had good games, but it’s a big thing to ask of guys who, collectively, have maybe 100 NHL games played.

Their defence has also been mangled by injuries, as they’ve been without Kim Johnsson for some time now, and recently lost Mike Rathje. Again, this challenges their depth, and on this night, boy was it challenged. It didn’t help matters that Derian Hatcher took two bad penalties and, in general, struggled against the speedy Senators. It’s strange that in a game which so resembled the old NHL, one of the guys who was thought to struggle with the rules didn’t have a better game.

If you want an indication of how much their defensive depth was challenged, rookie Freddie Meyer IV played 23 minutes. Meyer is a good young player, and he has a bright future, but he’s not nearly good enough to handle that kind of load just yet.

UP NEXT:

The Olympics, and a nice break.

Friday, February 10, 2006

O.T.: R.I.P. James "J. Dilla" Yancey

"Clap your hands to what he's doin'!"

In case you wanted to...

It's too late for them to do anything about televising Saturday night's game at ScotiaPlace between the Sens and Flyers, but if you feel like letting the folks at the CBC and Hockey Night In Canada know you're not pleased with the decision and would like to see more Senators games on HNIC (locally at the very least), write them here.

Atlanta 2 Ottawa 1

THE GOOD:

A vastly improved effort. The Senators still didn’t get the W, but as a fan, you have to at least be pleased that the overall effort was worlds better than it was the night before at MSG in the loss to the Rangers. There were still a lot of things that need to be rectified, including the inefficiency of the special teams (which I’ll touch on in a minute), and as a whole, they’re still not where they need to be. Having said all that, they played a solid game that they deserved to win. They didn’t win, and those things will happen over the course of an 82 game season, so you can’t get too discouraged at the end result when the work done for the 60 minutes prior to that last buzzer was pretty damn good.

The mixing up of the lines. I’ve taken the Big Line to task for a while now, but never did I suggest breaking them up. The reason being, I felt like the best way for them to break out of their slump was to play through it. But perhaps Bryan Murray’s method (assuming it wasn’t just a one game thing to send a message) of breaking them up and getting them hot that way, and then reuniting them, is a better route to take. Long term, I do think that for the Sens to achieve what we all want and win the Stanley Cup, they’re better off loading up that number one line. By then, Martin Havlat will be back and let’s hope they’ve added some scoring help via a trade as well. I thought both of the top two lines did a lot of good things and, for their first game together, looked promising. Antoine Vermette finally got the promotion everyone has been clamoring for by being placed with Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. They did a lot of forechecking and brought significant speed when on the ice. At even strength, I thought Alfie was the worst of the three but he didn’t have a bad game by any means. They also reunited the number one line from opening night by putting Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza with recent call-up Brandon Bochenski. Talk about a lot of pressure for a rookie to walk into. Put on the top line on a team that hasn’t been scoring and has struggled with consistency for far too long now. They too looked mostly good when playing five on five. Heatley in particular was very strong on the puck and Bochenski, showing an attribute of a natural goal scorer, was in great scoring position all game long. Though neither line got on the scoresheet, it might be beneficial to keep them together for one more game. Saturday’s contest against the Flyers will be a big game and I know the natural inclination is to go back to the Big Line, but I would try this gameplan one more time to see if it gets better.

Vaclav Varada Before going down due to a cheapshot from Ronald Petrovicky, Varada had another solid game where he did the things he has to in order to fulfill the expectations the club has of him. He was real nasty in the corners, threw one of the biggest and best open ice hits any Senator has delivered this year on Serge Aubin in the first period, and was making a lot of things happen when on the forecheck.

Zdeno Chara’s meanstreak. Chara hasn’t been playing with his usual meanness for some time now, and I don’t think it’s any coincedence that his overall play has diminished in quality as well. Put simply, Zdeno Chara is at his best when he’s a pain in the ass to play against. A lot of that was seen against Atlanta, where he was crushing Thrashers forwards with hits, getting involved in scrums, and generally pissing the other team off. Chara also did so while logging nearly 28 minutes of ice time. I do wish Chara was taking the Olympics off however. Despite what Jes Golbez might want you to believe, Slovakia doesn’t have much of a shot of winning a medal in Turin, let alone a medal. Stranger things have happened, sure, but how likely is it? So why go. Sit at him, rest, and get ready for games that do matter.

The warm response Marian Hossa received. I previously talked about how I was somewhat worried about how Ottawa would react to Marian coming back. A lot of the reason was because I was fearful they would feel like they should based on how Dany Heatley was treated when he came back to Atlanta. Thankfully, they showed that, among hockey fans at least, we’re classier up north. Hossa did a helluva lot for the Senators organization in bringing them from a pretender to a contender and their growth might not have been possible without him. Yeah, there were some things at the end that were not great for his image, but that doesn’t take away from all the good things he was a part of. And by the way, if you’re a Thrashers fan and want to comment about how Heatley is a “conviced killer” and he “betrayed the fans”, at least have the decency to post under your name or I’ll take you as seriously as I do most hockey-related comments from someone below the Mason-Dixon. Hey, I can be ignorant too. How you like that.

THE BAD:

The ineffective special teams. Ottawa’s powerplay Wednesday night against the Rangers was more frustrating than especially bad. They had puck possession for most of the time they had the man advantage, but could not get shots through. In that sense, it was better last night. Shots were going through easier, and that probably has to do with the fact that Atlanta has an inferior penalty killing unit. However, other things were the problem. For one, Atlanta was winning far more battles along the boards than they should’ve. Jason Spezza in particular was beaten with regularity, and often it would result in them clearing the puck, forcing Ottawa to regroup. As well, the passes were not crisp in the least bit. As is often the case when Ottawa’s powerplay fails, the passing was forced. It’s one thing to try and force those crease-crossing passes when you’re playing well and gelling with your teammates. But when you’re struggling, keeping it simple is off the essence. And unfortunately, in addition to the powerplay not performing, their penalty killing also failed them. Atlanta was able to score twice when on their PP. A lot of the time it looked as if Ottawa was more concerned with scoring shorthanded than just killing the penalty before Atlanta nets a goal. I realize that their ability to score when down a man is one of this team’s beat features, and makes them difficult to play against because you have to be especially careful, but it seems as if Ottawa’s goals when shorthanded come from pouncing on the other team’s mistakes rather than forcing them.

Allowing Atlanta second and third swipes at the pucks. A big difference between the two teams was how they handled rebounds. Kari Lehtonen was making all the big saves, and his defencemen did a super job of clearing the puck on most occasions, ensuring the Sens did not have opportunities to bounce on loose pucks. Meanwhile, Hasek was every bit as strong as Lehtonen when called upon (which was, admittedly, far less often), but he didn’t get that same support from his teammates.

The calls on Chris Neil. I don’t know what it was, but it sure seemed as if the officials had a hate on for Neil last night. Now, he was doing his fair share of chirping, but regardless, those last two calls were quite questionable. In fact, in seemed as if from the point where he put Ilya Kovalchuk on his ass after eating a few gloved fists to the face from him, he had a target on his back.

THE OPPOSITION:

For a team like Atlanta, you take any wins you can at this point, as you’ll need them all two months from now when those last few playoff spots are handed out, so for them, it was a good night, but I don’t even the most partial Thrashers would have to admit they were outplayed.

Howevber, as I said above, special teams were the difference, and their powerplay came through when it mattered most while Ottawa couldn’t say the same.

What was disappointing, however, was that a game which featured four of the league’s top five goal scorers, and two teams that can light the lamp, played a 2-1 game. Atlanta didn’t show much in the way of offensive, and in only registering 22 shots, looked quite impotent scoring wise against a team that played last night and had to have had less gas in the tank.

However, in their own zone, even though Ottawa outplayed them by a wide margin, they were terrific at ensuring Ottawa didn't get second and third chances on rebounds and also took away a lot of opportunities through shotblocking. Their defence blocked 12 in comparison to Ottawa's D only getting in the way of 8.

They too have been struggling as of late after putting together a nice run that put them into a playoff position. If they need Lehtonen to play as well as he did last night to win, then Don Waddell is probably going to be eating a whole lot crow come mid-April because they won’t be a playoff team.

UP NEXT:

One of the bigger games of the season, I think. Philadelphia comes to Ottawa for a Saturday night contest (and once again, no HNIC coverage. Thanks!). The Flyers are a team that has owned this season, and in the games, seems to really get up for the Sens.

In the past, Ken Hitchcock has talked about using Ottawa as a measuring stick for where his team is, seeing as how it has been Ottawa who knocked them out of the playoffs two of the last three years. Ottawa better start preparing for the games as much as the Flyers do because if not, the result will be the same.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What The Hell Part II

It took a little work, but NBC managed to acquire superstar sportscaster Al Michaels in a blockbuster trade from ESPN that will shake up the Monday Night Football broadcast booth and see Michaels reteamed with John Madden on Sunday nights.

Michaels didn't come cheaply. The Peacock had to come up with a package deal that included making expanded highlight clips available to ESPN of such events as the Olympics and Notre Dame football, selling ESPN Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cup golf tournaments and, the coup de grace, giving ESPN parent Disney complete rights to the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series. The short 'toons were created by Walt Disney in 1927, and Oswald is considered a precursor to Mickey Mouse.
So now broadcasters are being traded? I've truly seen it all.

Full story.

How does this happen?

Gary Bettman has to be pulling whatever is left of his hair out today. Here's what we learned:

- Phoenix GM Michael Barnett, who formerlly served as the agent to Wayne Gretzky as well as other top NHLers, allegedly placed a bet with Rick Tocchet on this past Sunday's Super Bowl 40. Talk about bad timing. That's like being the guy who buys drugs from the dealer just before the FBI breaks down his doors. Apparently, it was a one time bet.

- Accoring to the Newark Star & Ledger, who are serving as the best source for the latest in this disaster, Gretzky was caught on a wire tap discussing the gambling ring run by Tocchet with Rick himself. Gretzky never placed any bets himself, but he knew about the operation.

- Another NHLer, this time from Team Canada's preliminary list of Olympic hopefuls, tested positive for a banned substance. We don't know his identity yet but it's safe to assume he's a top player if he was on that list. What substance it was, and whether or not it was a steroid or simply one of the many cold medicines the IOC has on its banned list, is also unknown. But this doesnt do a lot to silence Dick Pound's rants.

Getting back to the Tocchet story, as the whole thing unfolds, and as I get more time to digest it, I still can't make sense of it all.

Gambling is a prevelant part of society. This much we know. I talked about how the NHL has wet it's beak in the world of gambling before. So nothing new there.

But if you're Michael Barnett, a guy who is in a prominent in this league, why on earth do you put yourself in a position like this by placing illegal bets? Why, when there are so many legal avenues available, whether it's on offshore company or a Las Vegas based operation.

The argument that those betting, from Barnett to Janet Gretzky, didn't know it was illegal is absurd. When they're making a $500,000 bet, as allegedy Mrs. Gretzky did, do they think Rick Tocchet will pay them from his own pocket? That he's using his salary as an assistant coach to pay them off? Or what he made as a player?

Even the most naive, turn-a-blind-eye person in the world knows of the connection between gambling and organized crime, and has to know that when these kind of bets are being played, something involving them, or at least the activities that they've been known to engage in (money laundering, etc.), is a part of it.

Some have dismissed this as a non-story, saying "oh, wow, hockey players aren't perfect. Big deal. Who cares?"

If you want to be that dismissive, go ahead, but you're only kidding yourself. If YOU don't care, fine. But don't make the mistake that because you don't, the rest of the world won't as well.

And yes, it matters what the rest of the world thinks. The NHL has been on thin-ice as far as public perception for some time. The ramifications of this all being true, and now Wayne Gretzky being involved, are so immense that anyone who brushes it off as an insignificant situation only makes themselves look foolish.

The latest dilemma, is, does Gretzky go to Turin? Everyone is weighin in, it seems. Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated says he shouldn't. Kara Yorio of the Sporting News agrees.

At this point, I see no other solution, unless there is some revelation in the next few days that makes what the Star & Ledger wrote today incorrect. This is not to say Gretzky is in fact guilty of what they say. Like the rest of you, I'm sure, I'm hoping it's all false allegations and Wayne will come out clean like he always has when it looked like he might get some dirt on him.

But at this point, it doesn't matter if it's true or not. The story is out there, and it would serve as such a distraction that Wayne would be better off staying in Phoenix and away from the team. Even though they're considered the favorites to win Gold again, it'll still be a tough enough tournament to win without this circus going on in the midst of it.

I'm sure they'll still be asked about it, but to have one of the people supposedly involved leading the team from the top, would be something no one needs.

And Wayne, if you are going to stay home, you might want to sit down with your wife and her bankbook. Just a thought.

POSTSCRIPT: A big thanks to Kuklas Korner, which have pretty much kept me informed on this situation with their neverending updates.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Well, now I'm relieved

Eklund on the Rick Tocchet saga.

I will however get to the bottom of this situation..

NY Rangers 5 Ottawa 1

THE GOOD:

The break’s almost here. Despite what they say in the media, it sure looks as if this team can’t wait for the Olympics to start so they can get away from this mess for a while. The players that are will be over in Italy will, hopefully, get a second life from playing in best-on-best games while those who aren’t participating have to chance to recharge their batteries. A whole lot of the guys appear to need it.

Chris Kelly. One of the few bright spots for the Senators was the rookie center who’s role with the team continues. Unfortunately, unlike the majority of the team, the effort from Kelly was there all night long. He played physical, was relentless on the forecheck, and was smart in his own zone, which can’t be said for most of the other forwards.

THE BAD:

The powerplay. Ottawa’s play with the man advantage has been a sore spot all year. To say it’s streaky wouldn’t being doing it justice. It makes Ray Emery look like a consistent goaltender. Some games, they can do no wrong on the PP. Crisp passes, excellent work along the boards, getting shots through and (and this is key) on net. And some games, they suck. There is no other descriptive necessary. This was one of those suck games. The Rangers gave the Senators the chance to bury them in the first period by taking three straight penalties, none of which were particularly good infractions to take. Unfortunately, Ottawa could not capitalize on these opportunities and the Rangers stayed in a game the Senators should’ve had in hand. Oh, and they gave up a shorthanded goal in addition to their 0 for 8 showing.

Zdeno Chara’s “shut down” of Jaromir Jagr. In the “Up Next” portion of Monday night’s wrap-up, I said a big thing to watch would be the Chara vs. Jagr match-up. Chara is one of the league’s best at one-on-one battles. We can safely chalk this one up to Jagr, who scored three points and registered five shots on net. Chara, meanwhile, was a –4.

No fun. No fun at all. As a fan of the team, the Ottawa Senators haven’t been a lot of fun to watch for some time now. We’ve gotten some fun out of seeing them beat up on the Leafs, but aside from that, the team that was once the most entertaining club in the NHL has become frustrating and boring, to the extent that I don’t even want to watch them play. I’d rather watch paint dry. At no point, despite what the TSN broadcasters said about “the game not being over”, did I feel like this team was going to come back from the hole they dug themselves, and I probably would’ve been better suited to just turn it off at 3-0, save myself some heartache, and pop in a DVD.

The Big Line. Again. I commented last game about how this trio failed to deliver. They were even worse last night. The effort was questionable, the chemistry was non-existant, and they once again hurt their club more than they helped it with their lazy attitude. While you do need a secondary line of attack (and help is, hopefully, on the way in that regard), for Ottawa to be successful, they need their best players to be their best players on a nightly basis, and a big part of that is this line. Missed shots, bad passes, terrible backchecking efforts. An inexcuseable game from guys who better shape up soon if they want to get some wins. Alfredsson is the straw that stirs the drink so it starts with him. He needs to get his game together, because if he plays well, so will those around him. That’s the kind of effect he has on his teammates. Alfie has been horribly sloppy in his own end, prone to giveaways, is either missing the net with his shots or getting them blocked with regularity, and doesn’t seem to be the defensive monster he usually is. Dany Heatley’s been even worse, and what makes it most disturbing is that looks like he’s not even trying out there. He spents a lot of time on the perimeter, not battling. He’s a big body who can make a difference physically yet he seems content standing around and watching everyone else fight those battles until the puck gets on his stick so he can score. Heatley has to be more than a sniper, and really, he’s not even that right now. If you want to just concentrate on offense, then you better damn well be netting every single one of your chances. And it would be nice if these guys agknowledged their poor play instead of shrugging it off in the press and saying “well, it happens”. No, it doesn’t JUST happen. You’re struggling because the effort is not there on a consistent basis. Try working a little harder, Dany, and you might see some results. Just a thought. And Alfie, you’re the captain. While you’re not known to be a “rah rah” type leader, maybe now’s the time to become one.

Another Jason Spezza injury. If his last boo-boo was any indication of his healing powers, Spezza’s concussion will keep him out the rest of the regular season. Get well soon Jason. See you in a few months.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Rangers came to play. As a result, they won. It’s really as simple as that. While Ottawa’s top line faltered, the Rangers number one trio of Martin Straka-Michael Nylander-Jaromir Jagr dominated the game and played the way top players on a team are supposed to. They made a positive impact almost every time they got on the ice, and in most instances, took the play the Sens when their names were called for a shift. They were a combined +7 on the night.

I was also very impressed with the overall team defence they brought to the table. Their blueline has often been criticized as their big weakness because, on paper, they lack that true #1 guy, or even a solid #2, but from 1 to 6, their defencemen get the job done. Outside of New York, there hasn’t been much made of Michal Rozsival. He might just be the best kept secret in the league this season. He logged a ton of minutes (24:52) and, when against Ottawa’s best players, was terrific. He and Fedor Tyutin both had tremendous games.

And in nets, Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding. Square to the puck, never out of position, and rarely giving out juicy rebounds, the rookie netminder looked like a season vet in there, and the kind of guy who’s capable of taking on his back and carrying them a long way in the spring.

UP NEXT:

Hopefully, redemption. Atlanta comes to town. Remember the last time these teams played? As much as we all want to forget it, I know, it’s impossible. The Thrashers beat up the Senators, made mince meat out of Ray Emery (starting his slump), Dany Heatley was invisible and booed mercilessly, and Marian Hossa reminded us all just how fantastic a player he truly is.

It was Ottawa’s most humiliating loss of the year. There were games when they placed worse (that afternoon weekend affair in Montreal has to be right up there as well maybe as the one we just saw in NY), but the 8-3 score takes the cake.

So Ottawa will want to do the same to them. Hasek will be in nets, and he’s been playing quite well as of late, so it’s probably not too likely Atlanta will run up the score for a second straight contest, but they still do have enough firepower to keep up with Ottawa. They’re 5th in the league in scoring, averaging 3.42 goals a game. On paper, their big flaw seems to be team defence and goaltending, because they’re also 5th in most goals scored against, but that stat might be deceiving, because they played with an AHL goalie for a large portion of the season.

I’ll be especially interested in seeing how Hossa is received in his first game back in Ottawa. If you remember back in August, when he was traded, there was a lot of bad blood. People forgot all he did in Ottawa and his role in this team’s growth as a contender and shit all over his play (a lot of it based in the usual European-bias crap).

I didn’t like the way he conducted himself and how much money he wanted, and I still maintain he priced himself off the team and essentially forced a trade, but let’s not make asses of ourselves the way those dicks down in the ATL did by booing him. I’m not suggesting we cheer him, because after all he is on the opposition, but don’t make a story out of something that shouldn’t be.

And if you want to see him get what’s coming to him, assuming you think it’s anything at all, cheer for the Sens to do to him what the Thrashers did to Heatley, and that’s embarrass him and his team.

With Spezza expected to miss the game, it will be interesting to see who Murray puts between Heatley and Alfredsson, if he even keeps them together at all. Also, who will be in nets? I suspect Dominik Hasek will get the nod, because Ray Emery doesn’t look anywhere near ready anymore.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gambling and the NHL have been in bed for a while

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the NHL's latest saga: the Rick Tocchet gambling story.

It's still incredibly early, and everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, but this is about the last thing hockey needed.

This will be on the cover of a whole lot of sports sections and be on national news telecasts on all networks. When was the last time that was the case for the NHL? The announcement of the new CBA?

If I'm Gary Bettman, the thing that makes me most upset is that this story leaked before all the facts have been discovered. What has resulted is a frenzy of speculation. How many players are truly involved? We don't know. They say half a dozen but if the investigation is still ongoing, will more be outed?

Were they betting on hockey? There doesn't seem to be a consensus even from within those who are doing the investigating. One individuals says they believe the bets were placed strictly on baseball and football, while another claims it's too early to rule anything out.

Who is this owner involved? Is it Mario Lemieux, who has close connections to both Tocchet and the Gretzky family as well as being geographically close to where the alleged ring was based. Is it Gretzky himself, who due to his stake in the Coyotes could be described as an NHL owner?

All of these questions are the NHL's worst nightmare.

For them, this can't end soon enough and the truth cannot revealed a minute too soon.

Beyond the legal ramifications of this, the moral aspect deserves mentioning. Is gambling wrong? Society as a whole seems to have no consistent answer to this question. Generally, we see nothing wrong with going to the casino and bets on dice, but if these bets are placed underground, those involved are shady. It's a thin line.

Many regard gambling as a sickness or disease similar to alcoholism or drug addictions. There isn't as much scientific evidence, that I'm aware of anyway (anyone who knows otherwise, please, leave a comment and correct me), that veries this theory. The number of "problem gamblers" is apparently quite low, as in 1 or 2%, but nevertheless, they're out there. It's an issue.

And what you often read in studies is that compulsive gamblers aren't strictly at casinos or in illegal card games. There are all sorts of gambling activities available to someone with a problem. And a few of them have already had NHL involvement.

The league is involved with the OLGC, allowing Ontario residents to place bets on NHL games via the Pro Line games. One has to assume they're getting a piece of some profits from the OLGC, or they would go the NBA route and not allow their games to be involved.

Two years ago, the two Alberta NHL clubs partnered up to create a scratch lottery ticket, "Breakaway To Win". They handled the marketing of the project and shared in the revenues.

Scratch tickets don't have the same stigma as other methods of gambling, and whether or not they're "bad" can be debated (I don't think they are), but really, that's beside the point.

The latest example is the desire of the Pittsburgh Penguins to obtain a licence from the state of Pennsylvania to build a casino consisting of slot machines, with the profits going to the Penguins club. They say that without it, the Penguins will not be able to survive in Pittsburgh.

I realize, with the alleged involvement of organized crime, this Tocchet instance is much worse and should be treated more seriously than the examples given above. My point, however, is that the NHL and gambling have been intertwined for years. Now that it's gone one step too far, the suits and ties will be outraged. What else is new.

Ottawa 5 Pittsburgh 2

THE GOOD:

The play of the fourth line. I don’t think there can be any disputing what forward trio was the best at even strength last night. The game Antoine Vermette-Steve Martins-Christoph Schubert had was superb, and has to come as a bit of surprise. Vermette has stayed hot for the past month or so, and now has four points (three goals and one assist) in four games. Maybe all that trade talk light a fire under him? He seems to excel when his role is minimized, so I’m not even going to suggest that the Sens should elevate him to a line that gets more five-on-five ice time. We’ve been down that road a few times already this season and know how it goes. Keep him where he’s working. And I really liked the game of Steve Martins. He brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to a team that hasn’t had much of it on a steady basis in the last month. I don’t know if Martins would work as a full-time guy, but he’s about the perfect player to have on reserve. He works his ass off, can play all forward positions, and has a lot of NHL experience for an AHLer. He and Vermette in particular are a combination I like as they bring a ton of speed. Schubert brings a different dimension to the line, as he’s more of a physical presence (he lead the team in hits with six despite only getting 11 minutes of ice time).

Peter Schaefer shooting the puck. Maybe it was because he wasn’t playing with the red hot Mike Fisher, but Schaefer, who is notoriously stingy about taking shots, actually fired the puck, and as a result, got two goals. He’s on pace for 20 this year, and if Peter actually decided to try and score more often, he might just emerge into a goal scorer. Imagine that.

Anton Volchenkov, again. “The A-Train”’s hitting his stride, so fans of Russian hockey have to be excited because I’m quite confident he’ll have a monster Olympics. Hopefully he can maintain this level of play as the team goes down the stretch. Because the big guns, who play more, will begin to run out of gas and it’ll be essential the Volchenkovs, Meszaros, and (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) Pothiers step their games up to carry the load. Volchenkov’s play often goes unnoticed because he plays with a more offensive-minded defenceman and thus has to do the things that don’t get press, but his development has been extremely rewarding to watch. On this night, he made a number of great passes, was especially chippy (first in scrums, not backing down in battles, etc.), and blocked four shots. Easily their best defenceman.

Superpest Vaclav Varada. Varada had the kind of game he needs to have if he wants to remain an important part of this team. He was feisty, physical, and I’m sure by the end of the night, the majority of the Penguins wanted to choke him.

The physical tempo of the game. For those who say the “new NHL” no longer contains hitting, I present to you exhibit A: the February 6th game between the Sens and Pens. A number of big, open ice hits, tons of races for pucks in corners that climaxed with a big collision, and countless hits along the boards when players were battling for a loose puck.

THE BAD:

The Big Line. In a game where Ottawa scored five goals, none of The Three hit the scoresheet and were hardly factors at all. They did register a combined 10 shots on goal on a awful defensive team, but few of them were good scoring chances, and the couple they did get they were not able to sustain. Fortunately for Ottawa, the second line of offensive attack came through, but the big guns need to step it up. And if you’re not going to help your team, at least don’t hurt them. There were many occasions where one of those three made errors that could’ve (and likely would’ve) been fatal against a team better than the Penguins. Alfredsson was uncharacteristically sloppy with the puck. The game’s “Super Stats” say he only turned it over twice, but it sure seemed like much more than that to me. I can recall two in particular in his own end in the third period that made me cringe. By that point the game was in hand, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it wasn’t a good sign. Dany Heatley wasn’t much better. He took two terrible penalties that were just the result of his own laziness. I can understand taking a penalty if it’s to prevent a scoring chance (see Bryan Smolinski’s on a Pens odd man rush). Neither of these can be applied to the calls he got busted on. Heatley has a propensity to take bad penalties.

Ray Emery. Only two goals were scored, so that’s a start, but “Rayzor” still did not look comfortable between the pipes. He was fighting the puck for most of the night. In addition to the goals that were scored (both of which can’t be described as anything but soft), Pittsburgh hit two posts, and one puck laid in the crease after he stopped it and it creeped through. Getting a win is a positive for him as it gets a monkey off his back, but the actual game Emery had will not induce a lot of confidence from Sens Nation in him.

Too many odd man rushes in the first period. Ottawa got caught on a handful of occasions early in the game and if Pittsburgh had more finishers on their team, it could’ve gotten ugly.

THE OPPOSITION:

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: the Pittsburgh Penguins are a mess. This isn’t news to most of you, I know, but you can only really discover it if you witness it first hand.

This is not to suggest they played a shitty game, because they did not. By no means was it good, but for a last place team, it was a noble outing. The effort was there.

However, what becomes abundantly clear when watching this team is how brittle this team really is. They make one mistake, and not only does it result in the lamp being lit, but their entire gameplan goes out the window. Gone is their confidence.

Obviously, there are some pieces in place that will be helpful down the line. Sidney Crosby didn’t have much to work with, but in spite of it, he still had a good game. He was responsible for a lot of their chances, due to his creativity with the puck. I was also very impressed with how strong he was on the puck.

In addition to Crosby, I thought (until he got hurt) Maxim Oulett had a strong game, Marc-Andre Fleury, despite giving up five goals, was solid, and Rick Jackman, who wants out of town, was their best defenceman.

Unfortunately, that won’t be enough for them to get wins on most nights this season. Just be excited about Evgeni Malkin and the Steelers, Pittsburgh.

UP NEXT:

Another test, as the Sens travel to MSG to face the Rangers, who continue to prove me wrong. Not only did I pick them finish dead last in the Eastern Conference when I made my retarded predictions back in September, but I've been saying for months this run they're on is a fluke. Maybe it's about time I stop saying that and just accept that they really are this good.

It appears as if the European experiment has worked wonderfully. They have a bunch of dangerous weapons who can bury chances. The most obvious, of course, being Jaromir Jagr. Jags lost one of his linemates when rookie Petr Prucha went down but they still have Martin Straka (57 points), Michael Nylander (51), Martin Rucinsky (41 points in 40 games), and Petr Sykora (31 points). As well, their defence has a few guys who have put up points this season.

The big matchup to watch will be Chara on Jagr. When the teams played earlier in the year, on Boxing Day, Jagr managed to put up two points before being knocked out of the game after a collision with, of all people, Chris Kelly. Hopefully he stays healthy long enough to play a full game so we can see how this matchup plays out.

As a team, the Rangers don't score a lot of goals (13th in the league averaging 3.11 goals a game), but they manage to keep a lot out of their nets.

It's worth noting that the game will be televised nationally on TSN. After starting the season red hot with two wins over Toronto, Ottawa hasn't played especially well when on the network. Hopefully, that changes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I'd like to oblige, but...

Kevin over at the BFLO Blog, a weblog that covers all things Buffalo, which right now means the Sabres, as well as the Best Show On Television, wanted something from me I can't provide.

(by the way, why is it that the Sabres have two good blogs about them while I can't find a decent blog about 15 other teams?)

Hockey Country usually has a very complete wrapup of every Senators game. For an outsider opinion, you may want to go visit there later and get their take on tonights game.

My prediction: they probably won’t make as big a deal out of a shootout loss as we will out of a shootout win. And rightly so. This game meant much more to Buffalo than it did to Ottawa.

I'm not sure who "they" are, but the truth is, because the game wasn't televised locally, I didn't see it. Yes, I am too cheap to spring for the CentreIce package. Join the 50 other people I know who've told me I need to if you must.

I was prepared to rip those pricks at the CBC a new one for not carrying the game, because on paper it seemed like a great matchup, however, based on all accounts, it was a pretty dull game that failed to live up the lofty expectations I had, so I can't be too mad at them. It wouldn't be a bad idea to add a few more Sens games to their schedule though.

What's more disturbing than the fact Ottawa lost, because really, losing in a shootout to maybe the hottest team in the league isn't a big deal, especially when it was their third game in four nights, is that Ottawa once again choked in the shootout.

If you were to rewind the clock to the first week of October, this would have been hard to believe. After all, it was then that they beat the Leafs in the shootout twice. Ottawa was able to score and had a goalie who looked to be unbeatable in nets. Sens fans were basking in the reality that should the game go to the newly instituted decider, their team would be fine.

My oh my how things have changed. Ottawa has now lost their last three shootout appearances. Fine. You're not going to win them all. However, in all three, they have failed to score a single goal.

The highest scoring team in the NHL, with two guys in the league's top five goal scorers, can't score in the shootout.

And the truth is, I have no explanation for why this is the case.

Daniel Alfredsson is usually money on a breakaway. Almost all of his shorthanded goals have come that way. When he is in all alone, you can basically cue up the celebratory song because the red light is sure to be lit. Mike Fisher, though not as dependable as Alfie on a breakaway, is still usually quite good. So why can't either of them score in the shootout?

Logic would dictate that it's more difficult to score on a breakaway. The player usually has to worry about a backchecking defender as well as the prospect that, if he misses, it might create an odd man rush the other way.

One theory I've seen thrown out there is that the Sens practice their shootouts on Ray Emery, who's notoriously shitty on one-on-ones, and thus, haven't really had to work hard to score on him. Therefore, their shootout skills aren't up to snuff. Suggesting they practice on Dominik Hasek, widely considered among the best in the league on breakaways and shootouts, isn't worth your breath, because why risk an injury in practice?

Another is that they miss Martin Havlat. They do. He's a dynamic player and was quite good on breakaways. But he's solely responsible for their woes? Did he take the team's ability to score in shootouts with him when he went under the knife?

I'd love to say I have the cure to what ails this team, but unfortunately, that's not the case. I have no explanation, other than they haven't scored in a while there and thus their confidence isn't strong.

How to correct it? Who can say. Maybe bring in a beer league goalie for a few hours and let the entire team take runs at him to boost their self esteem in one-on-one situations. I know a few guys who would gladly volunteer to be humiliated by the guys if it means they'll start netting some goals.

Thankfully, there are no shootouts when it matters most.

Did I mention I'm now on board with the "take this foolishness out of the game!!!!!" cause?

So sorry Kevin, I have no thoughts. Apparently this pleases Christina Abt though.

Who cares what they think or how they wrap it up…
I'm crushed.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What the hell

Did Doug MacLean take over as the GM of the San Jose Sharks and I not get the memo?

In the case of Nabokov, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the tentative agreement is said to be worth about $5.3 million per year on a four-year contract...

Huh?

Next season, Nabokov will be paid more than Miikka Kiprusoff, Martin Brodeur, and Tomas Vokoun, all of whom you have to think are superior netminders.

So what's going on here?

Is Doug Wilson so worried that the new contract Marty Turco signed with Dallas a few weeks ago, and the one Olaf Kolzig is expected to sign any time now with the Capitals, will drive Nabokov's price up so much he doesn't want to risk letting him try the open market?

Wasn't it a few weeks ago that Nabakov was being sat for his inconsistent play? I haven't seen a whole lot of Sharks games since then, but I know the team sure hasn't gotten any better as far as wins are concerned.

He's a good goaltender, but for a team that has already committed over $10 million to two players, $21.2 million over four years seems like a big committment from a guy who's never won a Vezina and never took his team to the finals.

Oh, and that sound you heard? It was Roberto Luongo's agent yelling "CHA-CHING!"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Homerism?

The Hockey Dirt blog has a poll about who should be the additions to Team Canada's blueline for Turin with the injury to Ed Jovanovski and maybe Scott Niedermayer.

As of the time of this post, Chris Phillips has one more vote than Ottawa-born Dan Boyle, who's most definitely my pick (I had him on the team in the first place).

Are Senators fans flodding this poll?

I like Chris Phillips a lot. He's a solid, two-way defenceman who's very dependable. He's not spectacular, but rarely does he have a bad game either, and is a big game player, having played the best hockey of his career in the playoffs. However, him over Dan Boyle, when you look at what the team will be missing with no Jovo? Really?

Then again, Jay "The Most Overrated Player In The NHL" Bouwmeester is second in this poll, so perhaps the voters are just stupid.

Ottawa 7 Pittsburgh 2

THE GOOD:

The apparent restoration of the team’s confidence. Though it was only one game, and really, half of one game, for the last 30 or so minutes, it sure appeared as if the Ottawa Senators of old are back. How much of that can be attributed to the utter implosion of the Penguins in the second half of the game can be debated, but there is certainly no question that the things Ottawa hasn’t been doing well consistently since the New Year. One can only hope that the flurry of pucks in the net and their comeback gives them some juice down the stretch because they’ll need it.

The shorthanded goals. It’s probably no coincidence that it was the team’s two straight shorthanded goals that gave Ottawa a boost and both put them back in the game and took the wind out of the Penguins’ sail. A lot of credit has to be given to Chris Phillips, who’s hard work battling through was the reason that first goal was even possible.

Peter Schaefer’s amazing penalty drawing skills. Schaefer is notorious for his tremendous work along the boards, where, despite his average size, he almost always comes out victorious in battles for loose pucks and is nearly impossible to move off the puck. On both of the calls he drew, Schaefer was doing good work along the wall and forced the Pittsburgh defender to take him down.

Wade Redden showing some emotion and fighting. I’m not a pugilist by any means, but it was refreshing to see the usually stoic, non-confrontational Redden engage in some fisticuffs. Redden’s play has been hot and cold for a while now, and in most of the bad games, it seems as though Redden is a robot out there. Almost as if he doesn’t care. Going through the motions. I actually don’t know what sparked the fight (the game overall was pretty chippy and scrappy, so it might have just been the result of all the previous incidents where fists were almost thrown), however, I thought it cool that Redden would stand up for himself that way. He’s one of the best defenceman in the league, and not exactly known for his ability to scrap, so he could have easily skated away or let one of the other players to handle it. He didn’t. For that, he’ll be in my good books for a while, and I’ll forgive a couple of turnovers whenever they occur. And I gotta say, he handled himself pretty well for a pretty boy All-Star Olympian likely Norris Trophy candidate.

Anton Volchenkov. Redden’s defence partner was probably the best Senator besides Hasek for the full 60 minutes. He took a bad penalty but besides that was solid for the entire game, finishing his checks all night and making smart passes in transition.

Timely saves by Dominik Hasek. It almost goes without saying, but having Hasek in nets makes such a difference with this team, because when they were playing like shit in that first period, he made a number of big saves that kept them in the game and made their comeback possible later on.

THE BAD:

A tale of two teams. What became apparent with this game is that the Ottawa Senators have been an overconfident bunch. Probably blinded by their own hype and success, there have been many times where they did not give it their all, and on most nights, the end result saw them take an L. On this night, they got lucky. They faced the worst team in the NHL who were without their best and most valuable player while also putting their back-up goalie between the pipes. This allowed them to play like shit for the first half of the game and still come out with the win. They were able to turn it on when it looked grim and blow their opponent out. Good for them. Just know, boys, that if you try this against almost every other team in the league, you’ll end up without the two points, because they won’t do the things that Pittsburgh did which allowed you to get back into it. They won’t make those same mistakes. I sure hope the fact they were able to come back and get the win doesn’t give this team a false sense of confidence that they can do this with regularity, because they cannot.

Giving up the first goal. During their tear in the first two months of the season, Ottawa almost always scored first. And when up a goal, they’re a completely different team. They play with much more confidence, and when the other teams begins to open up in order to even the score, they capitalize on the opportunities given and blow the game open. When down, however, they don’t play with that same level of coolness. Of their last 10 losses, eight saw the other team score first. Against Pittsburgh, allowing the first goal isn’t a big deal because they’re bad enough that you can claw back in. But when the schedule begins to get tougher after the Olympics, the Senators will have to rectify this if they instead on overtaking Carolina for the top spot in the conference.

Bad penalties. It’s been a reoccurring problem all season long, but the majority of the infractions called on the Sens were the result of a player taking the easy way out through a hook or hold instead of applying effort.

For the first two periods, Jason Spezza. #19 redeemed himself somewhat with his play in the third period, but by that point, the game was pretty much in the can. When it was close, and Ottawa needed a boost, he was terrible. Even worse than being invisible, Spezza was hurting his team out there. And it was the same way he always does. Trying to do too much (forcing plays and passes), making bad turnovers as a result of these cutesy plays, and very little in the way of backchecking. You have to give Jason credit for that. He is consistent when he sucks.

Chris Neil’s lack of production. Neil hasn’t scored in over 10 games now. The effort is there, so it’s hard to criticize him, and even with his slump, he’s still having the best season of his career offensively. However, if he wants to keep his spot on the third line and not return to the fourth squad where the minutes are much more limited, he’ll have to start putting the puck in the net again. With Martin Havlat coming back next month, and the team possibly trading for a forward, he’ll have to play well if he doesn’t want to be demoted.

THE OPPOSITION:

If Ottawa looked like two teams out there, then certainly so did their opponents. For the first 30 or so minutes, Pittsburgh looked like a pretty good team. Without Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, they had managed to be up 2-0, and while the absolute dogshit performance from Ottawa has to attributed to that, the Pens were also doing pretty well for themselves.

They were winning most of the battles along the boards and were out hustling Ottawa. Pittsburgh was creating much of their chances, and for a while, looked like they were going to win.

And then they choked. Horribly. They took way too many penalties. While Ottawa’s PP was looking quite pathetic early on, when you’re the worst team in the NHL, you can’t afford to give a team with Ottawa’s weapons as many chances as they did. Eventually they were going to snap out of their slump.

And once Ottawa got up, Pittsburgh seemed to fold the tent. Few of the players who were playing so well earlier (up to that point, I liked the games of Ryan Malone, Kostantin Koltsov, Colby Armstrong, and Michel Oulette) elevated their game to get the Pens back into it, and the ones who were wishy washy out there became liabilities (*cough*SergeiGonchar*cough*).

All in all, I imagine it was a tough night to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Just when it looks like the sun might shine on them and they’ll get a win, they shit the bed. But at least you have Evgeni Malkin coming. And a team in the SuperBowl.

One player I wanted to keep a particularly close eye on was Mark Recchi. Someone mentioned his name as a guy who Ottawa might want to persue if they can’t land a good second line center, as although he’s a winger, Recchi would at least give them someone who can score on that second unit. And he’s got a ton of playoff experience and a Cup ring.

When watching Recchi, I noticed two things: one, he’s still competing out there. Even with Pittsburgh in the NHL basement, the veteran isn’t phoning it in. It’s a shame for Pens fans the same can’t be said about a few of their other elder statesmen. And two: he’s clearly annoyed with the situation. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why he was so chippy out there. Recchi’s not a pussy, but I’ve never thought of him as a particularly feisty player either. In this game, he was in all the scrums and at one point looked like he was going to drop the gloves with Zdeno Chara. If you’re a team looking at acquiring him, all of this is a good thing,because it means if you bring him into an environment where they can actually win, he’ll bust his ass.

UP NEXT:

A team that Ottawa cannot afford to lay dormant for a period and a half against, the Buffalo Sabres. Ottawa travels to upstate NY to face the red hot Sabres. My expectations are that it will be an exciting, entertaining game because, when playing well, both teams are exceptionally fun to watch.

Ottawa has handled Buffalo pretty easily in the previous three meetings, including the 10-4 drubbing on TSN, but that was before the Sabres turned it around. It really does look like an entirely different team now. It’s amazing what a winning streak and some confidence can do for a team on the bubble.

Considering that Ottawa has beat up on them already this year, you know they’ll come to play and want the win quite badly. Ottawa has had to get used to teams taking their games to new levels against them all year, as they’ve had a target on their back since the first game due to their terrific pre-season and all the hype about them being the Cup favorites. So far they haven’t responded well on a consistent basis to this. It will be interesting to see if they match Buffalo’s desire.

Not only are the Sabres themselves readying for the game, but I have to imagine so are fans of the team. Tom L. over at Sabre Rattling has repeatedly talked about how he hoped the rejuvenated Sabres could compete with Ottawa. So it’s clear Buffalo fans will be using the game as a measuring stick for how good their club really is.

All in all, it has the make up for an extremely enjoyable hockey game. So of course the CBC isn’t carrying it.

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