Friday, May 19, 2006

Thanks but no thanks

Dominik Hasek appeared on TSN's "Off The Record" this evening, was on his best behaviour and said all the right things, but I still can't see any scenario that has him coming back to Ottawa as being wise, which is what Hasek says he wants. When asked if he will play anywhere else but Ottawa next season, he flat out said no. I'm glad you like our little city Dominik, but is that really a good idea?

While Hasek maintains he did not quit, it all still smells far too fishy for my liking. Everything played out exactly how those skeptics in Detroit and Buffalo said it would. If nothing else, you'd think Hasek would know better than to go to Torino, yet he thought it was nothing.

Besides, given how sternly Bryan Murray was about Hasek, can Dominik be with the Senators next season? His stance was pretty clear, and I don't buy Hasek's explanation of "it was less than 48 hours after the loss, his mind might not have been might". Murray doesn't strike me as someone who speaks out emotionally if that's not how he truly feels.

If John Muckler has to chose between his coach and Hasek, it's not a tough call from where I sit, and I'm not even a big Murray fan right now.

The bottom line is that Hasek cannot be depended on. Even if we are to take him at his word that he didn't quit, he's still a massive health risk. Do they bring Hasek back and then get another qualified back-up for Ray Emery in case he goes down again? So they then have to have three NHL goaltenders?

I admire your supposed wish to finish what you started in Ottawa, but this Sens fan doesn't want you back. You're simply not worth the headache.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

John Muckler should be fired

Three days removed from being eliminated, a lot of fingers are being pointed, but the crux of the blame needs to be put on one mans shoulders: general manager John Muckler.

This is not to suggest the players or the coaching staff should be off the hook entirely, but there is no doubt in my mind that Muckler is the #1 man at fault, and therefore, he should no longer have a job.

Muckler held a press conference today in Ottawa, which I assume means he’s been given a vote of confidence from owner Eugene Melnyk. This, I believe, it a mistake.

It’s time for John Muckler to fall on the sword.

It is the mistakes that Muckler made that failed this team.

The Dominik Hasek saga has been written about to death, but it deserves one final wrap-up. In short, it was an absolute clusterfuck of a brainfart on Muckler’s part. No other spin can be applied.

I’ve seen some try and defend the move by saying “well, if it worked out, we’d be calling Muckler a genius”. That’s true, we would. But he didn’t. And the same way that he should be praised for the good moves he’s done (and aren’t there a whole lot of them?), he has to be taken to task for his failures. This is a big one.

And it failed for all the reasons everyone said it would. He was a 40+ goalie with a history of bad groins (dress it up as an abductor if you want, it’s all the same to me). On top of that, he has a history of not being willing to play if he’s not 100%, and he decides that, not the team’s medical staff. When he’s not playing, he likes to stick around the team, however, and cause all sorts of drama.

When Hasek went down with the injury, and wasn’t back in the couple weeks the original diagnosis indicated he would, a move should have been made. The writing was on the wall, and it was becoming clear Hasek was done. Muckler refused to believe this, and I contend that this was by choice. He was so determined to have his Hasek roll of the dice work out he put huge blinders on. He told anyone who would listen Dominik Hasek would be back in time for the playoffs.

Ray Emery played well down the stretch, and so the urgency wasn’t there, but it’s the GMs job to have backup plans, and beyond “Dom will be back. No, really, he will. I promise!”, they had none.

By March, it was becoming clear to even idiots like myself Hasek wasn’t coming back. I said as much, and though I’d love to say I have some Kreskin-esque superpowers, the truth was even Stevie Wonder could see how this was going to play out.

I believe at this point they got worried, and realized they might need a better back-up to Emery than Billy Thompson. So got Mike Morrison off waivers.

At the press conference today, Muckler said that there wasn’t anything available in goaltending at a reasonable price at the deadline. Well no shit. The NHL knew they had you by the balls and demanded something solid in return, even for a rent-a-player. This wasn’t the first time this would happen to Muckler, but more on that later.

100% of the blame for Hasek shouldn’t be put on Muckler, though the majority of it belongs there. I question the wisdom of playing Hasek so much in the first half of the season. I’m no doctor, but I have to think an “abductor” doesn’t just get hurt overnight. The wear and tear of playing a lot of hockey had to contribute.

When everyone acknowledged that Hasek was brought here to win a Cup and perform in the playoffs, why was he played into the ground in October, November, and December?

The people who try to argue this team lost because of bad goaltending are off base, but even Murray now admits players told him having Hasek around all the time, and constantly being asked questions about his status, was a distraction. You can’t pin the loss on it, but those little things don’t help.

If Hasek went down with a shoulder injury, I could buy the “well, he got hurt, what can you do” nonsense. But it was by the book, and the only one who seemed surprised by it all was the guy who’s job it is to be on top of it.

Unfortunately for Muckler, the errors didn’t end in nets. Tyler Arnason was a disaster, and to hear Muckler say that he plans to qualify Arnason makes me question his sanity even more. He refuses to recognize it was an error and that Arnason’s reputation as a disappointment was not just because of the environment in Chicago as we hoped initially.

Arnason may have all the talent in the world, but on a team full of guys whose heart has been questioned, he looks to have the least. Tyler Arnason is the definition of a soft, perimeter player. Get rid of him and spend that money elsewhere.

Why Tyler Arnason was even brought in is just another example of John Muckler’s idiocy.

We knew this team needed a second line center for some time. Hell, even during the golden months of October and November, that hole was glaring. Bryan Smolinski was not up to the job and Mike Fisher, even with a career year, can’t produce enough to fill it. He’s almost too good for a third line center but not good enough to be a second line one. That should be a good problem to have, giving Ottawa the best third line in hockey (for a couple months, with Fisher, Peter Schaefer and Chris Neil, they did).

Muckler waited until the deadline to make a move, and by then, the pickings were so slim that Tyler friggin Arnason was the best option available. How sad is that? A guy who couldn’t even crack the playoff line-up.

And they gave up a pretty good player to get him. Though his pre-season hype was far too extravagant, I think Brandon Bochenski will end up being a pretty good NHL goal scorer sooner rather than later. Only now, with another team.

Muckler’s history as Sens GM is riddled with boneheaded deadline moves. In 2003, they traded for Smolinski, hoping to add a veteran who can score. In 35 playoff games with the team, he has 17 points. The prospect they sent to L.A. to get him, Tim Gleason, was a top six defenceman for the Kings this season. In ’04, the move to bring in Peter Bondra backfired horribly. The team, poised to face the rough and tumble Leafs for the fourth time in five years, needed toughness, not more scoring. Bondra, a 400 goal scorer, couldn’t even do that, as he went goalless in seven playoff games. The other addition for that run, Greg de Vries, was such a bust, he was a throw in in the Dany Heatley-Marian Hossa trade.

Muckler was able to avoid the hatchet two years ago by getting rid of Jacques Martin and making understandable scapegoats out of Radek Bonk and Patrick Lalime. Fans had been clamoring for the departure of those two, whether rightfully or not, for so long we let Muckler slide.

I won’t any longer.

Why Muckler was even hired perplexes me.

When Marshall Johnston left the Sens GM job to retire, logic might dictate the Sens would hire a young mind to take over. Instead, they hired a guy well into his 60s who had failed in Buffalo and New York already.

Many defended the move by pointing to his five Cups as part of the Oilers dynasty. To me, using those to rationalize Muckler’s job would be as silly as saying someone who scored 50 goals in 1987 and thus deserves a rich contract from a team in 2006.

Muckler is using his Oilers connections to this day. His old pal Wayne Gretzky has jumped to Muck’s defence, saying he believes he should not be held responsible for the failures of this team. Gretzky points to how long it took the Oilers to win a Cup as consolation for us hurting Sens fans.

Sorry Wayne, but I don’t buy it. I might have in 1999 after being swept by the Sabres despite a 100+ point season, or when he suffered the exact same fate at the hands of the Leafs two years later following another fantastic regular season. But no longer.

While I might subscribe to the theory that a team has to lose before they can learn how to win, surely at some point, enough losses have accumulated that the knowledge of how to get it done should be there.

It isn’t, and it starts at the top.

A GM’s job success is evaluated the same way you or I are assessed by our bosses: results. And John Muckler has zero. If anything, this team has taken steps back since he’s taken over.

The only thing Muckler has brought to the table, because a senility, is the attitude that we have to talk about winning before we can. Great. Talk about it all you want. ‘Till you’re blue in the face. Ultimately, talk is cheap, and results matter.

The only thing all that talk has done is create ridiculously high expectations within the fan base. The organization has benefited from these expectations, as we’ve set attendance records and made them a whole lotta cake in the process.

When the team falters do people say we expect too much and should accept our lumps. I will not. And nor should you.

Not when we’re here because of one man’s hubris and inability to get the job done.

Only when we get rid of this bum will the Ottawa Senators get to the next level. As long as he’s around, reminding us all he won Cups 20 years ago while refusing to accept blame for his errors, the Sens are fucked.

Monday, May 15, 2006

An easy choice

Edmonton Oilers fans, apparently sporting a nasty inferiority complex, have taken a unique approach to get the rest of us to root for their little team now that they're the lone Canadian team still alive: insulting the teams we cheerish.

Sorry boys, but no dice. I'm backing the Buffalo Sabres from here on out.

They're an exciting team to watch play, have three great players with local connections, weren't expected by anyone including themselves I'm sure to be in this position, and their fans are pretty nice people.

Yeah, they beat us out, but if anything, that just makes me respect them more. Buffalo did so in an honorable way.

Besides, with the exception of a supposed shared Canadian identity, I'm sure I have more in common with someone from Western New York than I do those from blue-bleeding Albertans who would probably spit in my face after learning I'm from Ontario. They sorta hate us out there

I can't root against the Oilers in this series after the national anthem fiasco, but if they do get past San Jose, I might even jump on the Ducks bandwagon. I love the way they play.

Handing out grades

Before we examine how to go forward, it's only fair to address where we've been. On that note, it's time to evaluate how the roster performed in this most recent postseason.

Daniel Alfredsson C
Much will be written about Daniel Alfredsson’s performance in this series, and his future or lack there of with the organization, and I plan to give my two cents in due time, but if we’re evaluating how his playoffs went, the word that comes to mind, above all others, is disappointing. The effort was there, but he’s paid for execution, and he could not produce the way he’s supposed to. Alfredsson once again looked to be trying to do too much. The label of a choker is being to become more appropriate every year.

Jason Spezza B-
Spezza produced and tried, but too many of the same mistakes that we saw throughout the regular season and hoped he learned from reared their head for my liking. Ill-timed passes that lead to turnovers, bad decisions with the puck in the offensive zone, trying to force plays. All things I’ve written about throughout the season, and yet to see them emerge in identical forms makes me question if Spezza’s maturity level is where it needs to be for a #1 center.

Dany Heatley D
The most discouraging performance, his apologists are already pointing to his decent numbers as evidence he didn’t suck as much as we’re all saying. They’re wrong. Dany Heatley was terrible. He could not finish, was floating in his own end with regularity, and refused to be a consistently physical player. These are all things he was advertised as bringing to the table when Heatley was traded for Marian Hossa. I bet those of you would said Heater wouldn’t let us down in the playoffs the way Hoss did (he did?) feel pretty stupid, and you should.

Martin Havlat C
He was absolutely terrific in the first round against the Bolts, showing no signs of rust after missing the majority of the season with the shoulder injury, yet essentially disappeared in the second round. What happened? Havlat's playoff history is riddled with similar disappearing acts so you have to wonder about his makeup as a player. His return to the lineup was thought to bring the team another big scoring threat yet he was just another sniper who couldn’t score when it mattered most, and there is little else to Havlat's game besides offence. He doesn't hit, doesn't kill penalties, and doesn't take faceoffs.

Mike Fisher C+
Fisher had a breakout season, scoring 20 goals despite not playing all 82 games, and was thought to be one of the secondary scoring options who could chip in with timely goals when the big guns got shut down. Unfortunately, Fisher went down with them. I give him marks for never giving up and winning a lot of one-on-one battles but they needed more from Fisher, a guy who you would think would be a big playoff performer, and he didn’t come through.

Peter Schaefer C+
Schaefer's another who had a career year yet could not carry it over to the playoffs. Everything said about Fisher can be applied to him.

Bryan Smolinski C+

If I was able to look past my anti-Smoke bias, I might even grade him higher. Though Bryan Smolinski has never been popular in Ottawa and has been deservedly labeled a floater, I felt like he had a good postseason. Scored some goals, won a lot of the battles behind the net that led to chances, and was good in his own end.

Antoine Vermette C
Ottawa’s best penalty killer in the series, Vermette gets a low grade because he was given a shot to play on the big line and could not produce. This is not a new phenomenon for Vermette, as it’s happened basically every other time the team tried to give him an increased even strength role. Hopefully this quells the calls for Vermette to be on the top two lines. He’s proven himself to be most effective in a limited 5-on-5 role.

Patrick Eaves C
Eaves seemed overwhelmed for most of his first NHL playoffs. He didn’t go to the net with as much enthusiasm, wasn’t as physical, and joined the long list of Senators who were gripping their sticks too tightly and thus couldn’t score.

Chris Neil B+
Had a tremendous first round and tried his best to make an impact in the second. It was difficult when he was getting such limited minutes, and not used on the powerplay. Neil was probably Ottawa’s most consistent hitter and managed to get under the skins of the opposition, often drawing them into dumb penalties.

Christoph Schubert B
When called upon, he shined. Always hitting and relentless on the forecheck. In game 5 of the Sabres series, he missed a huge hit on a defenceman. You’d think after that he’d be gun shy but he continued to throw his body around throughout the game. He was good on the blueline in game 1 of the second round as well, subbing for the injured Pothier.

Chris Kelly C+
Reliable in his own zone and very good on the powerplay, Kelly was put into a position he wasn’t ready for when paired with Spezza & Heatley on the top line. Chris Kelly is not a top six forward, and try as he might, he can’t do what a top six forward is supposed to do.

Vaclav Varada D
Was pulled from the line-up for a reason. In the limited minutes he got, Varada wasn’t able to be much of a factor one way or another. If nothing else, you’d expect him to mix it up and cause trouble, but he couldn’t even do that. His time as a Senator is over.

Wade Redden B
Redden was the best Ottawa Senator in the first round, by a wide margin, and therefore, he gets a good grade despite a subpar second round, though in comparison to the rest of the D, Redden was superb against the Sabres. He still made too many errors with the puck, but when you handle it as often as he does, against a strong forechecking team like Buffalo, that’s to be expected. Redden was playing with a heavy heart, and perhaps the adrenaline he was running on for the first round was tapped out and he came back down to Earth.

Zdeno Chara F
If you would have told me six months ago that Chara would quit on this team, I would’ve found that to be incredibly difficult to believe, yet that is what it looks like took place. Some have theorized that he was playing with a bad hand still, but a hurt paw doesn’t result in a diminished effort, and that is what we saw. He wasn’t hitting, he was consistently being outhustled and outworked, and with the puck, was a nightmare. In game 5, every time he got the rubber, my heart stopped. Zdeno Chara’s mind was clearly on the big bucks he’ll be getting in two months rather than doing what it took to win the Cup. And frankly, it’s not as if Chara has a sparkling playoff track record with this team for those who maintain he was injured to fall back on. Chara had one great game of the 10 postseason contests the Sens had, that’s just not acceptable given the responsibility this team has given him and the paycheck he cashed this season.

Chris Phillips C+
While I don’t buy the argument that Chara was hurt, I do think “The Big Rig” was, just because he’s been such a great playoff performer in the past. Even when the rest of the team was crumbling under pressure, Philly shined. He tweaked his knee in the Tampa series and it looked to be effecting his game. He wasn’t skating with as much vigor and shied away from contact in the corners more than he usually does. Even though he had more goals (2) in the playoffs than he did in the regular season (1)

Andrej Meszaros D
Another one I didn’t see coming. Meszaros might be given a mulligan because it was his first playoffs, but he played like such a season veteran all season long that we sometimes forgot he was a 20-year-old kid who might be overwhelmed by it all when the level of play was elevated. He could not deal with it all and became a liability too often, yet continued to get big minutes. Like Chara, when the puck was on his stick, my anxiety level increase significantly. Let’s hope he got all the playoff jitters out of his system.

Anton Volchenkov C
He recovered with a better second half of the series, and is getting a bum rap as far as goats because of one (incredibly) bad play, but he still did not have the playoffs he should have, and unlike Meszaros, cannot use the excuse that he has no experience.

Brian Pothier B
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the playoffs for Ottawa was the way Pothier stepped up. He was one of their best defenceman, which tells you the problem with the team. When your 6th defenceman is among your top blueliners, something is wrong. He scored two big goals, didn’t get outworked very often, was good on the powerplay, and didn’t turn the puck over too much.

Ray Emery B
A lot of the blame for the loss is being placed at his feet, because that’s apparently what we do as Sens fans, but Ray Emery should not be held responsible for the loss. Yeah, he gave up some bad goals, but on almost every one, a Senator in front of him let Emery down. In the deciding game Saturday night, he was too timid on the first two goals, but why was Chris Drury allowed to walk out in front untouched like that? The OT winner was not a good one, but how did Pomiville beat Alfredsson with such ease? Ray Emery did everything you could’ve asked of him, and in the first round and a couple games in the Sabres series, more. He was asked to make big saves and he did in games three and four, and even in game five. It wasn’t enough. The problem in this series was goal scoring, not goaltending.

Dominik Hasek F
Just cuz.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

On this Mother's Day...

Anyone else feel like a defensive parent when watching the talking heads on the tube talk down the Senators?

We're allowed to call them spoiled, rotten brats because they're ours, but when someone else does, thems fighting words.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Buffalo 3 Ottawa 2 (OT)

Well I feel pretty shiity, let me tell you. I don't think I've left the building formerly known as the Corel Centre so quickly or so discouraged. The drive home was quiet and, frankly, depressing.

Rather than dissect the game in this state, I'm going to sit on my thoughts for a few days and have something up Monday morning on the playoffs as a whole. Hopefully by then, we'll all be able to think rationally and discuss things like people instead of the raging lunatics/manic depressives we're all right now.

Feel free to leave your own miserable, gloomy thoughts. Might as well get them out of your system now because it's going to be a long summer.

Congratulations to the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. They're a hardworking, deserving team and I look forward to watching them prove the hockey world wrong.

Now excuse me while I go out and get shitfaced.

Another must win

Wednesday night's game 3 wasn't quite a must win game for the Ottawa Senators, yet it was as close to one as you can get, and the response we saw was beyond discouraging. There was little reason to think they'd bounce back down 0-3, yet they played their most complete game of the series.

How much of that was because the pressure was off? Everyone had written them off and called the series already, so they in a lot of ways they had nothing to lose. Now that we've all gotten a ray of hope, will they break our hearts all over again?

Here's 7 ways to not make it happen:

1. Start strong

Scoring the first goal would be ideal, obviously, but Ottawa needs a big first period in order to win this game. That was the case in game four, and one of the reasons they ended up with the W, I believe. Had Buffalo come out gunning, I'm not sure the Sens would have had an answer for it and getting down a few goals would have likely demoralized the Senators to the point that the sweep would've come to fruition.

2. Finish your checks
Ottawa has to make Buffalo work for everything they get. The perception of Buffalo as a soft team who can be intimidated has been shown to be incorrect (ask the Flyers), but I do believe if the game reaches a high level of physicality, they will not be able to keep up. It won't be because they pussy out, as I don't think this team has that in them, but rather simply that they're just not built for it.

3. Minimize the odd man rushes/eliminate the backdoor plays
Buffalo has proven themselves to be a team who can capitalize on errors. The Sens played with fire in the first period of game 3 when they allowed Buffalo a handful of 2-on-1s. Luckily for Ottawa, the Sabres were relatively snake bitten in that 20 minute frame and they got out of it only down a goal. The Sens caught a big break. Hoping that happens again is asking to lose. With the defence struggling on transition rushes (you can literally see the deer-in-the-headlights look on Andrej Meszaros' face every time a Sabres skater comes down the wing), the forwards need to man up and backcheck even more than usual. The coverage has to be on point.

4. Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, & Martin Havlat need to score goals
Pretty self explanatory. The goal scorers have to pick up the slack.

5. Hit the net with shots
This one is tied into #4, as Alfie missed two extremely juicy scoring chances. On on a 2-on-1 rush and the other when he came into the slot from the point on the powerplay. Buffalo's a team that does such an excellent job of minimizing golden scoring chances and collapsing around Ryan Miller that missing the net cannot be acceptable. If nothing else, put the shot on goal and hope for a rebound. Stop trying to pick corners, as some of you just don't have the touch you did in mid-season, and need to adjust your game accordingly. It's no coincedence the shots that got through Miller in game 4 were not highlight reel shots, instead blasts from the point that benefited from traffic in front. Missing the net also is connected the "prevent the odd man rush" gameplan, as often times a shot that misses gives the opposition a chance to rush it back the other way.

6. Make life difficult for Ryan Miller
As noted above, Miller's weakness in this series, if he has shown one, is that he has difficultly adjusting to a bunch of bodies in front. He's hardly alone in this, as most goaltenders are not fond of people in their kitchen. The Sens will have to walk the fine line between clean play and goaltender interference in order to be most effective, and perhaps even take a few penalties along the way. Avoid it if you can, but it might happen and that shouldn't deter them from the gameplan.

7. Get the powerplay rolling
Ottawa's powerplay was so friggin terrific in the first round that to think it would crumble so drastically in round two would have seemed so unlikely, yet that's where we are. Full marks to the superb Sabres penalty killing, who've done a masterful job of closing the lanes and forcing Ottawa to work from the perimeter. The Senators have to get back to simple plays. Stop forcing passes through the crease that aren't there.

If Ottawa follows all or even most of these, they'll put themselves in a good position to win. They win tonight, the seed of doubt has to be planted in the minds of the Sabres. Then we'll truly have a series again.

It can be done.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wow

I think I just watched the best, most exciting period of hockey thus far in the playoffs between the Oilers and Sharks.

Awesome.

Well this is surprising

According to a story on TSN.ca, Pierre Lacroix has stepped down as GM of the Colorado Avalanche but will stay on as team President.

Lacroix has been one of the most accomplished executives in the NHL over the last 10 years. It's impossible to say where the Avs would be without him but I feel safe in suggesting they wouldn't be as successful. The number of smart, crafty, well timed moves Lacroix has made are too many to list. His hosing of the Canadiens for Patrick Roy has to up there.

Avs fans should take solice in the fact this hopefully means no more ex-Lacroix clients being signed only to be disasters in the playoffs (yes, I'm talking about you and you)

Eyes on the enemy

The Toronto Maple Leafs may be out of the playoffs and golfing, but that hasn't stopped them from getting in the news for two very interesting yet completely different reasons.

The first of which has seen them hire Paul Maurice to be their new head coach. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Buds, as most saw this coming last summer when Maurice was hired to coach the Leafs' AHL affiliate the Marlies. Pat Quinn was never John Ferguson Jr.'s guy and try as he might to make it work it was a partnership destined to fail from the start.

Is Maurice the right guy for the job? Most pundits seem to think so. Despite having a sub-.500 NHL coaching record and no Cup ring on his finger, Maurice has been made out to the be the second coming of Toe Blake by the media, and not just the Toronto scribes either. Am I missing something?

Maurice did a lot of good things in Carolina, and the job he did to take them to the final in 2002 was masterful, but it's not as if he has a huge tradition of winning. A lot of that was because of the franchise he was in, but the point still stands.

How much of the "Maurice is God" mantra stems from the fact he and the 'Canes were the ones who beat the Leafs in the '02 Eastern Conference finals? Leaf Nation saw first hand what he's capable of, and often times, something like that sticks with you.

Apparently JFJ was Marc Crawford and Andy Murray, and personally, I'd think Crawford would be a better choice than Maurice, but maybe he needs some time away from the game to get his head straight before coming back.

The other news item, and it's more speculation than anything else, is that Mats Sundin is contemplating retirement. He's apparently put his house on the market, and Steve Simmons says it's not just another real estate move.

If Sundin does pack it in, the Leafs will be worse off for it, and that's suprising to say because at about the mid-way point of the season I thought it was something Sundin should've done the previous summer. After coming back from the eye injury, Sundin struggled horribly. He joined the long list of veterans who looked a step slower post-lockout, and you wondered if the game had pasted him by.

However, he turned it around in a big way, and if we're going to point to one man responsible for their late season surge, it would be Sundin. He played a man possessed, and did everything a captain is supposed to, taking the team on his back and leading the way. The troops, seeing the best player do all the little things that it takes to win gladly, followed suit, and sure enough, the Leafs started racking up wins.

It was too little too late of course, but I would've thought Sundin did enough to prove his doubters wrong and erase any doubt he had in his own mind.

Even though he's the captain of the team I've been sworn to hate until the day I die, the quiet truth is I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mats Sundin. I think he's a terrific player who has a lot of heart. I'd take him on my team in a second. Whenever his legitimacy as captain has been questioned by Leaf Nation, I always shook my head because I know how many other franchises would love to have a guy like Sundin wear their C.

While as a Sens fan, it would be wise to hope he does retire, because it'll make the Leafs an inferior team for us to beat up on all over again, my thoughts as a hockey fan overwhelm team allegiances, and the NHL is a better place with Mats Sundin in it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ottawa 2 Buffalo 1

It turns out there is some life left in this horse after all.

I’ll be honest: I expected the Senators to lose tonight. Based on how dejected they looked and sounded after the OT loss last night and the franchise’s less than sparkling record of combating adversity in the playoffs, I thought they would not have an answer for a hungry Buffalo team and would roll over to die.

I’m glad to say I was wrong.

With a few exceptions, Ottawa played the way I thought they would Wednesday night in game 3. Determined, desperate, and dire. Buffalo brought it for most of the night and Ottawa answered the bell.

Some idiotic errors still lingered, but they were reduced greatly in comparison to the first three games of this series.

Every game in this series has been unique. Game 1 was about each team making errors and the other capitalizing on them. Game 2 saw Ottawa dominate in every area but the Sabres once again exploit a couple mistakes for big gains. Game 3 was a clusterfuck.

Game 4 was the first that saw both teams play at a high level for more than a couple minutes. The momentum switched back and forth. Ottawa was the much better team in the first and Buffalo didn’t have an answer but the Sabres came out flying for the second period and Ottawa was on their heels with no response.

I questioned the Sens heart based on their disheartening performance in game 3. I still wonder how this team, with their backs against the wall, could underperform to such an extent, however, they manned up tonight.

How much of that was because the pressure was diminished greatly, with everyone having written them off as done? I said last night that might be a reason for optimism. Is that valid?

And now where do you place Ottawa’s chances of coming back to win this series? They’re still in a massive hole that will be difficult to get out of but taking it one game at a time is the correct approach. The goal of winning the series is too daunting an objective at this point. Worry about winning shifts and periods and games and things will go well.

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. My hero.Can we now cease with the “we need better goaltending” nonsense? And while we’re at it, the Dominik Hasek watch? Forget about that dick. Emery made all the big saves we’ve been clamoring for and then some. If it wasn’t for him, Buffalo would have been up big after the second period, a frame of 20 minutes they dominated. The Sabres could’ve been up four goals after the first period of game 3 if not for missing a bunch of backdoor plays. Ottawa got lucky. There was no luck involved here, but rather just a display of top notch goaltending from "Razor". He was positionally sound and in times when it looked like the rest of the team was panicking under pressure, Emery was calm, cool, and collected. It's said that playoffs are about goaltending and regardless of how well your team plays, if the other team's goalie is better than yours, your chances of winning are slim. Ray Emery was better than Ryan Miller.

Getting the first goal. Obviously, every team’s chances of winning a game increase when they get on the board first, but the Sens in particular are a club who are night and day when it comes to how they react to the first goal. It was an important moment in the game, and in retrospect, the most important of them all. Had Buffalo scored first, I’m not sure the Sens had the confidence to battle back the way they did in game three only to end up disappointed in the end. Buffalo is also very different with a lead versus how they play without it in terms of how aggressive they are and what that allows. When up a goal, they’re understandably much more conservative and have made it difficult for the Sens to get any sustained pressure. Starting off on this note again in game 5 will be of equal importance.

Christoph Schubert. Placed in for Vaclav Varada, I thought Schubert provided a lot of energy and jump with each shift. Towards the middle point of the period I asked myself why he wasn’t getting more ice time and then sure enough, a few minutes later, with the game in a 4-on-4 state, Schubert was paired with Martin Havlat (an odd but interesting duo) and he was excellent. Schubert battles hard, finishes each and every check and is probably their most consistent forechecker. You sacrifice some finish by putting Schubert on the ice because he’s still not great with the puck however he more than makes up for it in fight.

Anton Volchenkov’s desperation. Maybe he’s still feeling guilty for the game 1 gaff, but Volchenkov was diving all over the ice to block shots and do anything in his power to stop the puck from going in. On Daniel Briere’s goal, Anton leaped across the ice to try (unsuccessfully) to block it. On Maxim Afinogenov’s shot that will invariably be replayed on highlight shows across the country, it was Volchenkov buried inside the net in case the puck got by Emery. And let’s not forgot his monster sprawl that brokeup a 2-on-1 after Chris Phillips decided it wise to pinch. Dany Heatley was doing a good job backchecking on that particular play, so there’s no guarantee the Sabres forward would have received the pass, but Volchenkov wasn’t taking any chances. Made me proud to be a Sens fan the way this big Russian played.

The Antoine Vermette-Bryan Smolinski-Daniel Alfredsson line. All three had strong games. All three won the battles along the boards that the team lost with such ease in game three. There were no defensive breakdowns when they were tapped for a shift. I give Murray a lot of credit because this was not a move I would have made. I would’ve left Alfie with Spezza & Heatley. He wasn’t afraid to mix things up and try new combos. Smolinski & Alfredsson have never been able to develop good chemistry despite playing with each other a lot over the last three seasons but they looked pretty respectable

Chris Neil. No one told Neil this series was over, that’s for sure. His fight was off the charts. He was mixing it up at every whistle and was always hovering around Miller. Neil does a great job of pissing off the opposition and has drawn penalties throughout the series. Early in the game, he got under Afinogenov’s skin and the two were sent off for offsetting minors, a trade off I’m sure Bryan Murray would take every day of the week. Neil’s development from a middleweight tough guy who sees limited minutes into agitator who can add the odd goal this season has been interesting to watch.

THE BAD:

More missed shots. Ugh. Buffalo allows so few golden scoring chances that the ones you get, you have to make something of. If not a goal, at least register a shot and hope for a juicy rebound or a lucky bounce. Daniel Alfredsson missed two huge opportunities and continues to struggle when the rubber hits his tape. One of them was on a 2-on-1 where he elected to shoot and missed big, and the other was on a powerplay when Alfie pinched in from the point. After these two it seemed as Alfredsson got the message and stopped trying to pick corners, instead content getting the puck on net. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Martin Havlat. Apparently “Mach 9” missed the memo that this was a do or die game because I saw zero from Havlat to reflect that state. I don’t think Havlat won more than a couple battles in corners or along the boards for the entire game. I realize he’s a finesse player, and is on a line with two guys who are better known for their grit, but Havlat’s going to have to match it every now and then for this team to prosper. This looked like a middle of November game from Martin Havlat. That has to change.

Lazy chops at the puck. Seriously, what is this? Dany Heatley, Peter Schaefer, Zdeno Chara and a few others whose names I can’t recall at this moment all fell victim to giving into the easy way. Instead of muscling a Sabres skater off the puck in order to end the pressure, they avoided physical contact, stayed away, and chopped at the puck hoping and praying it would be effective. It was rarely was. Shocking, I know. They cannot be afraid of a little hard work.

THE OPPOSITION:

Buffalo came to win, so their fans cannot complain about them lacking the killer instinct or the desire to stick the knife in the heart of the Senators. Ottawa, on this particular night, just wanted it a little bit more, and that’s the way it should be when they’re down 0-3 and are facing the end of their season.

The Sabres were all over the Sens in the last five minutes and it seemed inevitable they would tie the game, at which point I think they would’ve carried that momentum over into OT.

The Daniel Briere line really took their game to a new level once again and off all forward lines, on either club, they were responsible for the most scoring chances. I expect that to continue with game 5.

One difference I did see in this game as opposed to the last was Buffalo's defencemen were not as steady in their own end. Some of that was because the Sens came harder and more often, but mistakes were made by veterans like Teppo Numminen, Rory Fitzpatrick, and Toni Lydman that weren't there before.

As big a game as Saturday night's contest will be for Ottawa, obviously, it's also essential for Buffalo to win, I think. Ottawa racks up another W and suddenly the seeds of doubt are planted in Buffalo's mind. Can they finish the job? Have they developed their own case of chokeitis?

Even though they have a couple veterans, as a whole they're a young bunch and while that can be a positive as far as no baggage it also leaves them prone to doubting themselves. They don't have anything to feed off from their past beyond the last series.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Buffalo 3 Ottawa 2 (OT)

“We’re in big trouble.”

I said this to a person I was watching the game with about five minutes into the game. By this point, the Buffalo Sabres had registered a handful of solid scoring chances and were in complete control. The Senators looked lost on the ice. And though the Senators managed to make a game out of it with timely goals, at the end of the day, the result is the same as I suspected at about quarter past 7.

Though this game went to overtime, and even with the Senators outshooting the Sabres once again, make no mistake about it: they deserved this fate. They were badly outplayed by a team who wanted it more and were willing to do what it took to get it.

The first period was a disaster. I expected Ottawa to come out determined and take it to the Sabres yet the complete opposite happened. The Sens were lucky to get out of that first frame down only a goal. Buffalo hit a post and missed two or three open nets on those damned backdoor plays. The score could have easily been 5-0 after 20 minutes and it would not have been unfair.

The Senators were screwed in the first two games as they were the superior team and still took the L but they got what they deserved here.

The Ottawa Senators franchise and its players have been labeled chokers in the past, and I combated that characterization, but it applies here. 100%. This team cannot play under pressure. Period.

The odds of a team coming back from an 0-3 hole are so long its probably just better to write this series and season off as done and find something else to do tomorrow night. Perhaps watch that new episode of CSI. Run’s House is on MTV. Shit, go see a movie. Anything but torturing myself by watching this team disappoint me again.

I want to do these things but I cannot. I will not give up until that clock winds down in the third period. Call me crazy if you want, but I’m not prepared to throw in the towel just yet.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect too many players to be there with me. And that’s what sucks. I feel like we as fans care more than some of these guys do.

If there is any positive, and I'm trying to find one in this dire spot, it's that the pressure is off. Everyone rightfully thinks this series is over. Most of you do, I'm sure. The media certainly does. Perhaps with no pressure, the Senators will grip the sticks a little more loosely and play their game. Who knows.

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. I am certain even with his great game, many will place the blame on Emery because it’s easy to do and that’s what we in Ottawa have become comfortable with. Do so if you must but I will not hold him responsible for the loss. We talked about how Emery needed to make big saves and he did so many times over throughout the game, and especially in the later half. He made a spectacular save on Jochan Hecht (who was left wide open in the slot) and kicked out the toe in the later stages of the third. Ray Emery did everything you could have asked of him and they still lost. Some might look at the OT winner as a questionable goal but it seemed to be one of those wonky shots that knuckles in.

Martin Havlat. “Mach 9” didn’t score the goals that a sniper is supposed to, but he certainly created a number of chances. He used his speed to explode in the Sabres zone many times and drew a couple of penalties.

Bryan Smolinski. The local punching bag, Smolinski’s name is usually drug through the mud when people talk about why Alfie needs to be on the Big Line and off his. Yet Smolinski has been 10x the player Alfredsson has in this series as far as doing his job. He’s good at winning battles for pucks, doesn’t give the puck away, and is solid at defensive coverage. Offensively, his game isn’t what he used to be, but there are still a lot of good things about his game. Bryan Smolinski is probably not a top two center in the NHL anymore but he’s also not the useless slug a lot of us, myself sometimes included, have made him out to be. I’m certain this will be his last hooray in Ottawa, and it’s probably time for some new faces, but let’s not distort reality too much with how he went out.

THE BAD:

Daniel Alfredsson. If the Sens are in fact swept, a lot will be said about Alfredsson and I will have my own thoughts. Right now my primary emotion regarding Alfie is disappointment. Talk is cheap. Since Monday night he’s been all over the local papers talking about how it’s not over, they have some fight left in them, and yet the team shits the bed, and leading that charge was the captain. He had an awful turnover early in the game that would’ve been a goal if not for Jason Spezza’s backcheck, and Maxim Afinogenov had Emery down and out, and on at least five occasions tried to carry the puck alone and got stonewalled. He was with Spezza and Dany Heatley for the entire game so the excuse of him being brought down by inferior linemates is gone. In fact, much to my annoyance, Alfredsson, despite having a shit game, was being double shifted because, I guess, Bryan Murray thought he would snap out of it. I can’t fault Murray too much for that line of thinking because it’s one I’ve had for some time now. My patience has run out. By all accounts Daniel Alfredsson is a tremendous guy, and there’s no disputing that he’s a talented hockey player. But his time in Ottawa is up.

The Two Faces Of Zdeno Chara. Another guy who needed to elevate his game substantially, Chara failed to deliver. What was frustrating was that there were times when he would assert himself as a dominant player, usually when he was pinching. He was forceful along the boards in the Buffalo zone and basically impossible to move off the puck. Some chances were generated off this and a couple penalties drawn as well. Yet outside of these spurts, Chara struggled badly. He was awkward with the puck all night, especially along the blueline. When handling it, Chara seemed nervous and uncomfortable, and that spawned giveaways. He was also responsible for some absolutely boneheaded passes, including a couple right in the slot, and in his own zone, for most of the night, was running around as if his head had been cut off. Zdeno Chara has proven himself to not be a big game player.

Andrej Meszaros. In some ways I feel bad for the kid because he's been in way over his head. No one could have seen this coming. Meszaros looked like a seasoned veteran throughout the year and when put into positions where he had to play well, he shined. Rookies are expected to struggle a bit but no damn way did I think Meszaros would be such a weakness on the blueline. He followed the lead of his countryman Chara in his own end with his play. A lot of times it looked like Meszaros was in a trance, standing around watching the play instead of getting involved. He was definitely playing without any confidence.

Defensive zone play. I have no explanation for what happened. I’ve never seen this team play this poorly in their own zone for extended periods of time. They were outworked for pucks, missed assignments leaving opposition players open, and made countless poor passes. I must have screamed “JUST GET IT OUT!” about 100 times throughout the game. Why this thought process was not going on in their head makes me question the makeup of this club. If the other team is pressuring you, ice it. Even with the new rule forbidding line chances on icings, it’s better to force them to win a faceoff than continue to run around clueless.

Backdoor plays. When a player or, collectively, a team makes a mistake, one thing we as fans can usually take out of it is that they learn a lesson and won’t let it happen again. So why these backdoor plays were allowed to develop time and time again is beyond me. I am certain each instance was dissected by the coaching staff via video for the entire time. What happened?

Officiating in OT. Maybe it was payback for some of the questionable calls Buffalo got in the game that gave Ottawa powerplays, but twice in OT a Sens player was tackled without the puck. And does Daniel Briere have pictures of the officials. He got away with not one but two hits from behind, one of which on Alfredssonwas close to be incredibly dangerous. Do not get me wrong. Ottawa did not lose because of these calls but they rubbed me the wrong way.

Missed shots. Frustrating.

THE OPPOSITION:

While I was wrong in assuming a determined Ottawa Senators team would take the ice at the HSBC, I wasn’t off base in thinking we’d see a different Buffalo Sabres team than the one who left Ottawa lucky to be up two games. We never saw their A-Game with any regularity during the first two games but it was only logical to expect it to emerge eventually.

Buffalo looked very much like the 100 point team that roared back after a slow start to push Ottawa for the Northeast title. They were relentless in their pursuit of the puck in the first, established themselves as the dominant team, and sent the message that they would not lose. Ottawa lost confidence very early and could not recover.

Their transition play was so far beyond was Ottawa was capable of.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's not over

By now I’m certain you’ve seen the daunting statistics. The Ottawa Senators, in their modern history, have yet to come back from a 2-0 series deficit in four tries. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are 11-1 when up two games.

Pay these stats no mind. Yeah, they make for nice newspaper fodder, but this is a different year. I’ve never put much stock into statistics that deal with stuff from five years ago because so much has changed on both sides.

The Ottawa Senator can win both games in Buffalo, which at this point has to be the objective.

They can be better.

That has to be remembered. This is a team that has buried all those chances they missed in game 2 and who didn’t make the mistakes that defined game 1.

We’ve said it before, especially after the game 2 loss to Tampa Bay, but the first step is the best players, the guys who’ve carried the load all season long, have to take this team on their shoulders.

Zdeno Chara has to be so much friggin better its not even funny. He needs to be an A and right now he’s a D. A B game from him, though much better than what we’ve gotten so far in this series, is not enough. This player gets praised heaped on him like he’s the second coming of Doug Harvey, and he’ll be paid as such this offseason, but when the chips have been down, he’s shit the bed. In the 2004 playoff loss to Toronto, he wasn’t a factor, and he certainly has not been thus far.

Daniel Alfredsson has to take his game to a new level. I remain divergent to the Don Cherry’s of the world who say he’s not trying, but something is not working, and this isn’t the first time this has happened in the playoffs. He’s been accused of trying to do too much before and once again that looks to be the case. Alfredsson’s holding onto the puck much longer than he should and when carrying it is making retarded decisions.

Ray Emery has to be better. Yes, we can’t fault him for the loss, but at some point he has to make the big saves he did in the Tampa Bay series. The opportunity in game 2 was the breakaway goal scored by Hecht. That was the difference maker, and he could not come up with it. He has to, because that’s what great goalies are made of.

Jason Spezza has to be smarter. He made a lot of good plays with the puck but they were all overshadowed by that boneheaded drop pass that nearly went the other way for a goal. Don’t be so cute with the puck. Highlight reel goals mean as much as a cheap one. Fire the puck and make the passes that are there instead of trying to force them through.

Bryan Murray has to stop being stupid. This nonsense with the lines has got to stop. Beyond simply putting Alfredsson on the first line, Murray needs to adjust in other areas. Chris Neil was probably Ottawa’s best player in the first period. Every time he was on the ice he made something happen, whether it be a big hit or drawing a penalty. Yet where was he in the second period, when the game was ultimately decided? As much blood as there will be on John Muckler’s hands if this season ends this week, Murray will justifiably be held responsible.

The powerplay has to be better. Try new things. It’s no coincedence the most productive PPs occurred when someone like Chris Neil or Patrick Eaves were parked in front of the net. Yet Murray did not go back to this, instead putting all the big guns on the ice. This is not working. They’ve lost two games now and the struggling powerplay has been a big reason why. What has to happen for Murray to question his decisions? If not Neil or Eaves then someone. Mike Fisher, Zdeno Chara. This approach of working along the perimeter and waiting for the perfect shot before trying to fire it from the point has proven unsuccessful.

Now let’s talk about what they did well.

The role players all had good games. They did their jobs. Perhaps you’d like more finish from Patrick Eaves but he was certainly creating his share of chances. Antoine Vermette was solid. Vaclav Varada did what he was supposed to. Chris Kelly had another strong game. Brian Pothier was good on the blueline. Unfortunately, these aren’t the guys who the team depends on, but at least someone’s rolling.

Physically, Ottawa punished Buffalo, and the word is the Sabres are a hurting bunch. This has to continue, but be smart about it. Don’t run around looking for hits that aren’t there, but if you have the opportunity to finish a check, do so. This goes for the entire team, including teri cloth players like Spezza and Martin Havlat. This has to be a team attack.

Put simply, the team has to get back to playing Ottawa Senators hockey. We haven’t seen it with any regularity in this series.

What’s strange is that as much as we’re panicking, Sabres fans, when not rightfully rubbing the wins in our faces in as nice a way possible, are quietly expressing concern of their own. They have not played well this series either. They got the wins, and good for them for that, but this is not the same Buffalo Sabres that they saw down the stretch either.

Buffalo will want to elevate their game and now that they’re up 0-2 a fanbase who might have been content with just a second round appearance now have visions of Stanley dancing in their head. Suddenly, there is a bit of pressure on a team who had none of it all year because of such low expectations all around.

Can Buffalo finish the job is a legitimate question. Doing it in the first round against an overmatched Philadelphia club is one thing. Against Ottawa is another.

Without Tim Connolly and with a banged up Daniel Briere (who needs to be hit at every turn), the Sabres are undermanned and might just be ripe for the picking, assuming Ottawa doesn't hand them golden chances and is able to bury some of their own.

Another factor that could end up being in Ottawa's favor, as absurd as this may sound to those who don't live in a Canadian city and thus can't comprehend the pressure cooker that is the NHL playoffs in these places, is the change of scenary. The move to Buffalo, a building that has been very kind to the Senators in recent history, could be a positive.

They're away from the media frenzy that Ottawa has become. Despite what players say about not hearing what's said on local radio or written in columns, I have to believe enough of it trickles down to them that it becomes an annoyance. I'm sure they're as sick of hearing about the failures of years past as we are with writing about them.

The back-to-back games issue, something that I found to be highly absurd initially, might also turn out to be good. If Ottawa can win Wednesday night, the momentum shifts back just a bit, and they have the opportunity to strike again very quickly.

The Carolina-Montreal series showed us that coming back from this very hole can be done. But it requires big games from big players. The clock hasn’t quite struck 12 yet but for the 2006 Ottawa Senators it’s a little past 11:30. It’s now or never.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Buffalo 2 Ottawa 1

After all those goals in game one Friday night, only three were scored here. It was a tighter game, not nearly as exciting to watch, but in the end, I feel just as discouraged.

So what now?

Once again, the Ottawa Senators outplayed the Buffalo Sabres badly, but could not bury their chances while Buffalo pounced on the few they were given like a good, opportunistic team does.

The shot count says a lot but I don’t even think it was a fair reflection because Ottawa was terrible at getting shots through on the many powerplays they had. The Senators could have easily had over 50 pucks on net.

This was an incredibly frustrating game to watch because you knew Ottawa would not score. At least I did. Call me a downer if you must but as I was watching the clock tick down I was losing faith. The hockey Gods have been cruel to this organization in the past and got their licks in tonight. The Sens could not buy a goal.

At the end though, games aren’t awarded based on who had more shots, who had the puck in the other team’s zone more often, or who was better. It’s about goals.

I plan to dissect where we go from here soon, but I’m not very optimistic. I wouldn’t take down my car flag just yet, but I can understand those of you who do. This team’s heart has been questioned time and time again, and now more than ever.

THE GOOD:

Taking the body. While Buffalo fans are, predictably, calling for Peter Schaefer to be crucified for his hit on Tim Connolly (*shrugs* I thought it was clean), they cannot dispute that Ottawa took it to them physically. The Sabres, to their credit, didn’t back down but throughout the night you began to see it have an effect, as on more than a few occasions a Buffalo played bailed out instead of taking another hit.

Patrick Eaves. He’s far too inconsistent this playoffs, going from average to downright invisible, however I thought the rookie winger had his best outing thus far. He was a shit disturber around the net all game long and was finishing checks on much bigger, stronger, and more experienced defencemen with regularity. Finished with six shots and as many hits. If every Ottawa forward played with his desire the result would’ve been very different, I believe.

Chris Neil. Also very good physical, Neil was responsible for a lot of chances, much of them through him hitting. Every time Neil got on the ice he caused havoc.

Chris Phillips’ redeeming himself. The Big Rig was poised to take Anton Volchenkov’s spot as the resident goat with his awful turnover that allowed Johan Hecht to light the lamp however he scored a much needed goal to cut the lead in half and breathe some life back into the team and crowd. Phillips had another strong game overall, aside from the sloppy giveaway.

Benjamin Harper. His father the Prime Minister isn’t my favorite person in the whole world as it is, and learning he’s a Leafs fan, though hardly surprising, made me like him even less, but at least his kid has some sense, draped in a Sens jersey and banging those stupid thundersticks together. Anyone else find it funny that it looked like Ted Saskin was assigned to be the babysitter while Gary Bettman and the PM talked about who knows what? I can totally picture Saskin being sent to fetch the kid one of those big chewy pretzels and then being asked to go back when he forgot the mustard. You’d never see Bob Goodenow do that, that’s for sure.

THE BAD:

The powerplay. For the second straight game, the Sens powerplay, what I thought would be on the factors that would allow them to beat Buffalo, has failed them miserably. The Sens went 0 for 7 if you count the one in the last 15 seconds, and frankly, got some breaks because a few of those calls were questionable. And they could do nothing with them. The problems with the PP are too numerous to list. For one, they were terrible moving the puck along the blueline. The pointmen played with fire all night long and nearly got caught on a few occasions. You’d think, after giving up two shorthanded goals Friday night, they would’ve learned their lesson, but you’d think wrong. As well, the recurring problem of being too cute with the puck reared its ugly head. And finally, and most frustrating to yours truly, was when they were able to get point shots through, there was usually no one in front of the net to make it difficult for Ryan “Hasek” Miller to see the rubber. There were a couple instances where Bryan Murray threw out Patrick Eaves or Chris Neil, but they were few and far between. Full marks to Buffalo’s penalty kill who were strong on the pressure but Ottawa has to score on some of these.

Daniel Alfredsson. He’s struggling folks. Badly. I wouldn’t agree with Don Cherry’s assessment that Alfie isn’t trying, because I don’t believe his character allows him not to give 100%. But he’s making poor decisions, both with the puck and without it. He was responsible for a giveaway at the Sens’ blueline that nearly stopped my heart in the first period and then late in the game, when desperation had set in, Alfie continued to falter with the puck. Along the boards he was holding onto it for too long and when he would get the puck in transition instead of throwing it at the net or passing he would put on the breaks, allowing the Sabres forward caught out of position to recover. Oh, and let’s not forget that puck he fired over the net with the thing wide open and Miller down and out. That’s not a play a guy like Daniel Alfredsson is supposed to miss. Alfie has one goal in seven playoff games, and that one was an empty netter. Something needs to be done, and I suspect Alfie will be thrown on the Big Line to start Game 3. Murray better hope its not too late because the second guessing on that decision has been prevelant all playoffs.

Jason Spezza’s behind the back pass in the 2nd period. Utterly unacceptable. This kind of bullshit should’ve stopped in November. In May, when you’re down a goal in game that’s sort of important, these kind of plays are enough to warrant a benching. On this play in particular, Spezza could’ve thrown it at the net and let one of the forwards hop on a rebound, but elected to be a jackass instead. The puck was taken by the Sabres and Wade Redden was forced to take a penalty to stop a near breakaway. The excuses of “he’s a young kid, he’s learning” are out the window. He is this team’s number one center. In the past, he talked about wanting to carry a big load and has supposedly welcomed it this season. Yet he continues to make terrible plays. Someone needs to remind Jason this isn’t pee wee or even the AHL. This is the National Hockey League, and you’re playing an incredibly talented team who has proven themselves quite capable of burying the chances you give them. People always say you don’t want to stifle his creativity, and the truth is if that pass is made, we’re probably all calling him a hockey God, however, the odds on that play are not good enough to justify attempting it. At any point in the game.

Spezza & Heatley’s chemistry. Did it miss the afternoon wake up call? Usually these two can find each other with crisp passes, but boy was that not the case here.

Defensive errors. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Buffalo’s two goals were on shitty turnovers by the Senators. We can talk all we want about two goals on four shots in the 2nd period but when those two shots are a breakaway and an odd man rush. It was better than the disaster that was game two but still too many for my liking.

Zdeno Chara. This is the guy who is likely going to get $8 million+ in the offseason from some team? If that’s his pricetag, you guys can have him. He has yet to assert himself as a factor in this series and is routinely pinching. Pinching! What the fuck are you thinking! Buffalo burns pinchers, and you’re a 260 pound guy and you’re pinching? Pinching! What the fuckity fuck. You’re too big and slow to be taking these kind of chances because we all know you won’t be able to catch up to correct your mistake. Oh, and wanna start hitting somebody, please? I know you’re probably planning your move about now and your mind is clouded by visions of dumptrucks filled with Benjamins being backed up to your house, but you’re still an Ottawa Senator, and we need you to win. Thanks in advance.

THE OPPOSITION:

Buffalo fans should, and probably are, thanking their lucky stars, because they’re going back to Western NY up 2 games without playing very well. In the first game Ottawa gave it to them and the second was stolen by Ryan Miller.

To say Miller was sensational wouldn’t be doing his performance justice. He gave one of the best playoff goaltending exhibitions I’ve seen in some time, and that’s saying something because Ottawa’s franchise history is full of being stonewalled by redhot netminders. Usually, they wear blue and white rather than black but the Devil comes in many forms I suppose.

In contrast to Emery, who though once again not the reason they lost could not make the big saves when called upon, Miller seemed to have a countless array of them in his back pocket.

Buffalo found a way to win, and that's all that matters, shot count disparity or not. I still don't think we've seen the best Buffalo Sabres in either game, and that's what scares me most. I have to believe they'll be much better in game 3, and with a red hot goalie, it's difficult to see how they can be beat.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Did you people even watch the game?

Right on cue, a lot of the so-called experts in the media, as well as a couple boneheaded blogsphere inhabitants, have started up with the "Senators are in trouble!" nonsense. You guys are nothing if not predictable.

They lost. They blew a golden opportunity to go up 1-0 in the series. It sucks. But it's not the end of the world.

The Sens were the better team. They deserved to win. They didn't win, sadly, but it's not as if they got blown out the way New Jersey did this afternoon. Some people try to argue it's better to lose big than lose a game you should've won because the latter can deflate a team greatly. I'm not one of those people.

There were a lot of good things the Sens can build on by the time Dora leaves town. They played a good physical game, were skating well, the PK did an excellent job of shutting down Buffalo's potentially potent powerplay, and Ottawa responded well to getting scored on.

And the things that need to be fixed can be. If Ottawa lost and it was painfully obvious they don't belong on the same ice as the Sabres, then I'm be right there with you on the doom and gloom stuff. That was not the case. Buffalo didn't win the game as much as Ottawa lost it.

This is not meant to be disparaging to the Sabres, because they too can and will play better. And the sign of a good team is winning even when you're not supposed to. But even their fans know they got lucky with that one.

The same way the game 2 loss to Tampa was good wake up call for the Senators, I believe Friday night will serve a similar purpose. Maybe the Sens were too confident. Why, I have no idea, because winning a first round, even with ease, is no reason to get all high and mighty. Not with the expectations everyone has of this group.

A point was made about how Ottawa almost knew they could score at will, and thus, the errors that Buffalo capitalized on to routinely tie the game. It was as if they said "well, we can take this lead back, so big deal."

I doubt they feel that way now.

I still believe Ottawa is the better team and will win the series. I don't think they'll fold like this again.

Some apparently do though.

Much of the criticism is downright retarded. Nick Kypreos on Sportsnet talked about how terrible Chris Phillips and Wade Redden were. What game was he watching? Phillips was terrific, and though Redden finished -4 on the night, by no means did he have a bad game. He was just on the ice at the wrong times. Both of the shorthanded goals took place when Redds was out there, and Wade was the lone Senator back on both of them. His partner on the blueline is the one who fucked up.

Now, you might say Redden didn't play the rushes wisely, but as I remarked when someone said as much in the comment section, Ray Emery is not a strong one-on-one goalie. It's one of his primary weaknesses. So the traditional approach of playing the shooter and letting the goalie handle the pass if it happens was out the window. Redden did as well as he could've in the circumstance.

Kypreos' idiocy didn't end there. He took the Sens to task on the OT winner, almost to the point of absolving Anton Volchenkov. He said the Sens skaters messed up by leaving Volchenkov all alone. Excuse me? What were they supposed to do? Hold his hand when he touched the puck? He's a three-year NHL pro. When a defenceman of his salary, experience, and track record handles the puck, is it not common practice to skate up so he'll have someone to pass it to?

All those punches to the head have clearly taken their toll on Kypreos. Where was Bill Watters to smack the shit out of him?

And his Sportsnet collegue Gord "I used to be a GM once, remember?" Stellick had some genius insight of his own when he announced Ottawa has a goaltending crisis. It's one game Gord. That's the kind of thoughtful discourse that should get him shipped back to that unwatchable AHL show TSN used to run in between Motoring '89 and Calgary Stampede wrestling when I would come home from school and have my snack.

Ray Emery had a bad game, and yeah, perhaps I'm more concerned than I was 48 hours ago, but if we were to make a list of those responsible for last night's collapse, his name would not be at the top of my list. He is, after all, still a rookie. I'm confident Emery will bounce back big only because I know he's beating himself up even harder than the tools who make a living out of offering useless hockey insight in order to fill the gaping hole that is Canadian sports cable programming.

Hockey pundits, please follow these simple instructions before offering your opinions:
1) Watch the games. Really, watch 'em. Don't just look at the score, the superstats on NHL.com, or solely rely on what some other equally unintelligent analyst has to say. This might be asking too much, as I'm sure a lot of you Colin Farrell lookalikes have better things to do and are sacrificing much time with the ladies to honor us with your thoughts, but this is after all the NHL playoffs. The games are sorta important.
2) Use your brain. I know, common sense, but apparently a lot of you have overlooked this essential step.

You'll thank me later gentleman.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Buffalo 7 Ottawa 6 (OT)

I can hear you panicking now Ottawa Senators fan. Calm down. Breathe.

Take relief in this fact: Ottawa was the much better team. They outshot the Sabres by a wide margin. Buffalo had the lead for less than 3 minutes for the entire game.

Basically, the game story is that Ottawa had the W and let it slip away, not once but twice. They were counting their lucky stars when Bryan Smolinski regained the lead, but allowed Buffalo back in with bad plays.

This series was advertised as everything the new NHL wants to be. I’d have to agree. I didn’t like a few of the calls, and some of the non-calls (you know which play I’m talking about, Dimitri Kalinin), but on the whole, the game was very exciting. To be on the losing end sucks very much, let me tell you, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

THE GOOD:

The first 18 or so minutes of the third period. When Buffalo scored with less than a minute left in the second period to tie it at 4-4, I was concerned. Often goals in the last minute of a period deflate the team that got scored on and shift the momentum in the favor of the goal scoring team. That didn’t happen as Ottawa came out guns a blazing in the third and dominated the Sabres.

Mike Fisher. Ottawa’s best player on the night, he led all forwards in ice time, hits, and scored a big goal. It seemed as if every time Fish took the ice electricity occurred.

Peter Schaefer. Everything said about Fisher could be applied to Schaefer, who continued his point streak.

Chris Phillips. Great with the body, smart with the puck, good positionally, Phillips did not look a bit rusty nor hurt.

The penalty kill. Buffalo was not able to mount much with the man advantage and the sole reason for that was because of how effective the penalty killers were. Especially Antoine Vermette, Peter Schaefer, Chris Kelly, and the aforementioned Mike Fisher. They routinely stopped the Sabres from entering the zone at the blueline and seemed to generate more opportunities than Buffalo did despite the Sabres having one more man on the ice.

Christoph Schubert channeling Wade Redden on Martin Havlat’s goal. I could’ve sworn #6 made that pass. A solid game from the German who, with some of his teammates struggling, might get more ice time in games to come.

THE BAD:

Anton Volchenkov’s giveaway. Goes without saying, I know. After a much improved game, the A-Train did the unthinkable at the worst possible time. It was terrible, but let’s not make him the complete scapegoat. This game should not have went to overtime in the first place.

Allowing odd man rushes. 5 of 7 Buffalo’s goals came on these. If you turn the puck over to this team and allow these situations to develop, they will murder you. Every time. Hopefully the lesson was learned.

Andrej Meszaros. Throughout the game, I was beginning to wonder if the rookie rearguard was playing hurt like his fellow freshman phenom Dion Phaneuf was in Calgary’s first round. He was not skating with the same velocity he usually does, yet still joined the rush with regularity. See the problem? Meszaros also made a number of absolutely boneheaded decisions out there. Throughout the season, one of the most amazing things about him was that he played like a 10-year vet of the NHL. That has disappeared in the playoffs. What the fuck he was thinking when he thought it wise to pinch, with less than 2 minutes left in the game and Ottawa up a goal, is beyond me, but as soon as he did, I smelt that red line coming. If Meszaros continues to struggle Murray must consider diminishing his role. He does not look like a top four d-man, so continuing to play him as such, hoping and praying he’ll snap out of it, seems pretty misguided to me. Of course, they did do that for the OT, putting Volchenkov back with Redden, and that didn’t go so well. Filip Novak, you game ready?

Not shooting on the empty net. When Bryan Smolinski scored to make it 6-5, Buffalo pulled their goalie. Ottawa got possession of the puck, carried it into the Sabres zone, and yet did not send a shot at the net. It turned out to be costly. You have to bury your chances instead of trying to be fancy.

Allowing two short handed goals/the powerplay. Unacceptable. I said special teams might be the deciding factor, but I could not foresee the Sens losing this way. The powerplay did not get shots through with any regularity, as once again, they fell victim to trying to be too cute with their plays. Get a guy in front of the net, park him there, and fire shots at the net. It’s not difficult. Now that Martin Havlat has been put on the powerplay with his return, Patrick Eaves sat on the bench, and that’s his role. Havlat is a marvelous player but he’s not the type to stand in front and take a beating. Dany Heatley isn’t. Jason Spezza sure isn’t. Daniel Alfredsson tried but he’s not built for that job.

Ray Emery. Emery was not the reason Ottawa lost, so let’s not start that nonsense, but he also didn’t make the big saves when they needed him to. The OT goal was not a good one and Tim Connelly’s should not have gone in when you remember he was on the goal line. The goals have to shine in this series, and Emery did not. He was mediocre. Perhaps he was rattled by Buffalo scoring so early because he never quite looked right.

Not being able to build a lead. A lot of credit has to go to the Sabres, who bounced back and were relentless in those final minutes, and it’s not as if Ottawa didn’t get a ton of chances, however these are all excuses. They gave up the lead too often.

Daniel Alfredsson’s production. I’m sure you’re getting sick of me bitching about this but I will continue to do so because it’s driving me nuts. Get this man on a line with some people who will do something. Bryan Smolinski finished with two goals, and deserves full marks for the first as he went hard to the net, but the second was just a result of Alfie, as he drew the Sabres to him, leaving “Smoke” alone in the clear to net a goal. Patrick Eaves was not a factor and joins a long list of rookies who have folded like cheap tents in the playoffs. Alfredsson is making the best of what he’s got but when he’s on the third line you can’t expect him to be the MVP.

THE OPPOSITION:

Buffalo were outplayed in every way, but got the timely goals when they needed them and lead the series 1-0. That’s all that matters if I’m a Sabres fan.

I talked about how it was wise to neutralize the Daniel Briere line and the Senators did so. The pesky little Gatineau native wasn’t much of a factor. However, the other guys stepped up when it counted. Tim Connelly had a great game, Chris Drury was terrific, Mike Grier played his role, and Derek Roy had the game of his life in front of his friends and family. On the blueline, Henrik Tallinder was terrific, and is much faster than I ever remember him being.

There were a lot of things Lindy Ruff will want corrected. Bad penalties from the Sabres occurred throughout the game and Ryan Miller wasn’t sharp.

UP NEXT:

Dora The Explorer comes to town, so no games until Monday. Whether or not that’s a good thing I can’t decide. On the one hand, I’d think the Sens would want to get right back out there and make good on their fuckups. However, maybe it’s good to have time to reflect on all the things they did wrong.

Game 2 will be another one of those characters tests, because I am positive a whole lot of people throughout the hockey world will jump back on the “Ottawa can’t win the playoffs” bandwagon after tonight.

It's going to be a long series.

A team we know

If you would have told me, before the season, that it would be the Buffalo Sabres who the Ottawa Senators would be fighting for the division title down the stretch drive, I would've had a hearty laugh. In fact, proving how little I thought of the Sabres, I picked them to finish fifth in the division.

Their journey this season has been very fun to watch from a far, even as a fan of one of their rivals. To see how far they've come from the team that got humiliated 10-4 on national TV, and beat by multiple goals with ease in previous meetings, should give hope to a fan of any down and out franchise. With a lot of hard work, good management, excellent coaching, and the right breaks, your team could be the next Buffalo Sabres.

While Ottawa's primary rivals have become Toronto, Philadelphia, and Montreal (Philly for playoff reasons, Montreal for geographical ones, and Toronto for both), once upon a time, the Sabres were actually one of their chief foes. Ottawa's first playoff series in modern day history was against the Sabres in the infamous series that saw Dominik Hasek pull the chute and ultimately kickstarted the demise of Ted Nolan. It was a fantastic series. I remember the electricity in the city being off the charts. It was the good ol' days. When just a playoff birth was enough.

Buffalo, thanks to riding Hasek, won the Northeast division while Ottawa squeeked in, yet when Hasek went down and the relatively unproven Steve Shields was put in his place, Sens fans thought the odds had been tipped in our favor. The series ended up going to OT of game seven and was decided by a chinzy goal from Derek Plante. The slapshot from the blueline ripped through an old glove of Ron Tugnutt's. I'd be lying if I said I didn't wonder, for years, what if Tugnutt had a new trapper (watch the video of my nightmare here). It was heartbreaking, but back then, at the end of the day, to take them to game seven was satisfaction enough to Sens Nation. The sky looked to be the limit.

Fast forward two years. The 1999 playoffs. The roles were now reversed. The Senators had their best regular season in history, finishing with 103 points, third most in the NHL. The previous season, Ottawa as the 8th seed upset #1 seed New Jersey in the first round. That victory, combined with the excellent regular season, had expectations much higher. Too high, we soon learned. This would be the first year of Ottawa's many playoff disasters. The Sabres swept Ottawa in four games, and though the series was closer than you'd think based on the 4-0 win, it turned the fortunes of the franchise around. Once the upstart underdogs, they were now labelled chokers, and haven't been able to shake that image since. Franchise player Alexei Yashin finished the series with no points, a trend that would continue throughout his career.

I remember going to game two of that series. The building was beyond loud for the entire game. They handed out these cheap little foam swords that glowed in the dark, and the excitement was so high we didn't even take notice of how incredibly corny it was. Ottawa lost the first game but most felt they could bounce back. When the Sabres won in OT, we shuffled out of the Corel Centre deflated. It was an awful feeling.

This time, we have a unique scenario. Ottawa is the favorite, sure, but there is no wide gap in the standings. One disappointment is no Dominik Hasek, if only because I would love to have him drive Sabres fans nuts the way he did us for so.

These teams are evenly matched and it all has the makings of an exciting series.

FORWARDS:
Both the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres had tremendous seasons from their forward cores. Each team had six 20-goal scorers so clearly neither can be accused of being a one-line team. In fact, what makes the Sabres so dangerous in my eyes is that they can roll four lines that can and will bury any chances they get. Shit, their fourth line has a 25-goal scorer in Thomas Vanek. As it stands, Ottawa will not load up their own forward lines by putting Daniel Alfredsson back with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, with Bryan Murray's logic being that it's better to spread out the scoring over three lines by having Alfredsson on the "third line" with Patrick Eaves and Bryan Smolinski. As a Sens fan, I believe they need to reunite the Big Line, but with Buffalo rolling all four lines, I suspect Murray will not bite. Alfie will have to find his offensive game though, which means Smolinski will have to play at a level he hasn't with any consistency this season. Buffalo's top line of Johan Hecht-Daniel Briere-J.P. Dumont will see a lot of Zdeno Chara and none of the three are physical forwards. If Chara takes that game to them, can they respond?
EDGE: Slight slight slight to Ottawa

DEFENCE:
After the first round, I no longer think the desparity between these two teams D is as large as I previously did. I perceived their top six to be average by NHL playoff standards, but the Philadelphia series saw guys like Brian Campbell, Toni Lydman, and Henrik Tallinder have monster series. Jay McKee has proven himself all season long, so there's no second guessing him. Teppo Numminen is about as consistent as it gets, and Dmitri Kalinin is a solid 5th or 6th defenceman. Having said all this, I still believe Ottawa's defence is superior. Buffalo doesn't have anyone who can match what Chara brings to the table nor do they have a puck moving defenceman the quality of Wade Redden. Chris Phillips' health remains a question mark, as it's still not known if he'll play tonight, but he brings a dimension to the line-up that can't be overlooked. He and Chara routinely shut down the opposition's top line. In this instance, I imagine they'll be assigned the Briere line, even though Buffalo's other lines are dangerous. A key in this series will be how Andrej Meszaros and Anton Volchenkov bounce back from mediocre first rounds. Each will have to elevate their game if Ottawa is to win this series.
EDGE: Ottawa

GOALTENDING:
There isn't much to go on to put one over the other. Neither Ray Emery nor Ryan Miller were forced to be great in the first round, but each guy was occasionally called upon to make a big save and each time they answered the call. Miller spent more of the season as "the guy", and thus, has more experience being a starter in the NHL than Emery does. Miller is also thought to be the better of the two by most hockey pundits. Emery has proven himself to be an incredibly streaky goalie and right now that streak is a hot one. Can he maintain it?
EDGE: Slight to Buffalo

SPECIAL TEAMS:
This proved to be one of the deciding factors in the series win over Tampa Bay for Ottawa. The Sens' powerplay, which went 33% in the series, destroyed the Lightning while their PK shut down whatever powerplays Tampa had. On the other end, Buffalo's powerplay was never quite able to find it's groove in their first round series. Luckily for them, it didn't have to be, but to beat Ottawa, the Sabres will need to sharpen their play with the man advantage. Based on the fact that their powerplay was ranked 3rd in the regular season, only one spot behind the Senators, they're clearly capable.
EDGE: Ottawa

TOUGHNESS:
The Tampa-Ottawa series got a lot more rugged than anyone could've expected going in, and Ottawa more than held their own. As well, Philadelphia tried to throw the Sabres off their game by emphasizing physicality. It was not successful, as Buffalo battled through it. So both teams are tougher than they probably appear to be on paper. Martin Havlat was rightfully accused of folding under physical pressure in previous playoffs, yet that no longer looks to be the case. Jason Spezza showed a lot of chippiness in the first round. We know what Chara does. For Buffalo, the Daniel Brieres and Chris Drurys are not the posterboys for toughness, but each can hold their own, and that pretty well applies for the entire line-up with the possible exception of Maxim Afinogenov. I don't see this series getting too dirty or chippy but being that it's the second round of the playoffs, expect a certain level of battling.
EDGE: Even

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE:
Unquestionably the Achillie's heel in the first round for each team, it didn't end up being much of a factor. Tampa and all their Cup rings weren't able to beat the much greener Sens and the Sabres, who have even less experience in the postseason than the Senators, knocked off the Flyers who went to the final four the year before. So are we putting too much emphasis on experience? It clearly doesn't trump talent, but if two teams are pretty equally matched, can it be the deciding factor? Buffalo has only one player with a Cup ring, Chris Drury, to Ottawa's zero. The Sabres only had four forwards with at least 20 games of playoff experience, but their defence has some playoff proven players. Ottawa has the edge, but will it even matter?
EDGE: Ottawa

COACHING:
Lindy Ruff's a finanlist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the season and has done a remarkable job this season. Bryan Murray doesn't get credit for what he's accomplished in Ottawa this year because the perception is that anyone could have success with this team. Ruff took an equally average Sabres team to the finals in 99 and is thought to be among the best coaches in the league. Each guy believes in matchups, but Ruff appears to focus on matching up forward lines while Murray is about defence vs. forwards. We'll find out which is the correct approach soon enough.
EDGE: Even

PREDICTION:
With little to go on when picking a winner, I believe it will come down to Ottawa's ability to shut down Buffalo's scoring. Not completely, because with that many weapons it's foolish to think you can prevent them from scoring all together, but if they can neutralize Briere's line and force the others to take on a bigger role, then I believe the Sabres' chances of winning diminish. Buffalo's powerplay must improve from the first round for them to compete, and each goalie will have to shine, because tons of shots are coming their way.
Ottawa in 6

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Round 2 predictions

A reminder on how I fared forecasting the first round:

Ottawa over Tampa Bay in 5 YES!
Carolina over Montreal in 6 YES!
New Jersey over NY Rangers in 6 YES!
Buffalo over Philadelphia in 7 YES!
Detroit over Edmonton in 5 NO!
Dallas over Colorado in 6 NO!
Calgary over Anaheim in 7 NO!
San Jose over Nashville in 6 YES!

So, clearly, I know what I'm talking about in the East, but those Western Conference matchups had me stumped. Fortunately, I wasn't alone, as I don't think anyone picked both Edmonton AND Colorado.

(1) Ottawa vs. (4) Buffalo
More on this tomorrow.

(2) Carolina vs. (3) New Jersey
The Devils made much quicker work of the Rangers than I thought, but how much of it was because New York shit the bed? There can be no disputing that the Devils are the hottest team going into the second round, however I expect the 'Canes to put up a much bigger fight than Jaromir Jagr and Co. did. I don't believe Carolina has hit their stride just yet, but they seem to be on the right track. Their goaltending took an interesting turn in the Montreal series and as strong as Cam Ward played can he maintain that high level of play for another series. We know what Martin Brodeur will bring. Carolina will have to get some of their supporting players rolling. In the last series, Mark Recchi, Doug Weight, and Josef Vasciek combined for 6 points and collectively went -4. Expect the Devils to focus on Eric Staal, which means those three will have to get it together.
Prediction: New Jersey in 6
Rooting Interest: Don't care, as long as they beat each other up

(5) San Jose vs. (8) Edmonton
I admit, I underestimated the Oilers greatly. They've made me, and a whole lot of other people, look very foolish. So you'd think I would've learned my lesson and would pick them, right? Wrong. I think they've had their fun, did very well for themselves, but will run into a train called Joe Thornton. San Jose's a much trickier matchup for the Oilers than the Wings turned out to be. I expect all the games to be close, but ultimately, the Sharks will prevail.
Prediction: San Jose in 6
Rooting Interest: Edmonton

(6) Anaheim vs. (7) Colorado
As little a chance as I gave Edmonton, I thought even less of the odds the Avs would beat Dallas, who were my pick to win the Cup. Like with the Devils series win, it's debatable how much of it all can be attributed to Colorado, as Dallas didn't come to play. In a lot of the games I saw, Colorado looked like a team who would've been ousted had they been matched against any other club. Meanwhile, Anaheim showed a ton of heart in their victory over Calgary and look to be the most well rounded team left standing in the West. Full credit to Brian Burke for transforming his team into a contender via the most unconventional methods imagineable. Throughout the season he traded away the team's number one center and two of their top four d-men, and somehow, the team is much better for it. The one thing that distinguished both of these teams from most others in the first round was that their young players performed tremendously. Rookies like Andrej Meszaros, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, Henrik Lundqvist all struggled and looked out of form, but the Corey Perrys and Wojtek Wolski elevated their game.
Prediction: Anaheim in 5
Rooting Interest: Anaheim, I guess.

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