Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Montreal 4 Ottawa 2

THE GOOD:

Yet again, the penalty killing. While the powerplay remains ass (more on that soon, trust me), the penalty killers continue to bail out the Sens when they take thoughtless infractions. In particular, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Kelly, and Mike Fisher.

The return of Peter Schaefer. He wasn’t as effective as he is when he’s playing his best, but you saw the value in having #27 back in the line-up. He was his usual great self along the boards, showed no signs of a sore hip when he was throwing checks, and was good on the forecheck.

THE BAD:

The powerplay. At this point, criticizing the Sens’ PP is beyond redundant. It’s a complete clusterfuck. What was the one goal that Ottawa scored tonight? A puck thrown at the net. Why don’t they seem to realize these are the goals they need to start getting to get themselves out of this funk? Stop being blinded by your own individuals talents. Yes, you’re terrific players, but these cutesy highlight reel plays, with tic-tac-toe passing, are not effective. They haven’t been all season. Maybe it’s a good idea to cease attempting them? Bryan Murray needs to send a message and, for an entire powerplay, give some ice time to Denis Hamel, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, and more to Mike Fisher, because at least with know with those guys, this nonsense won’t occur. They may not score, but it won’t be because of hubris. Let the big guns watch from the bench. Oh, and another shortie scored against. Wonderful.

A lack of confidence. Ottawa is a team that, when things are rolling, boy are they ever. During that terrific three game romp of the Devils and then the Leafs twice, they looked like one of the best clubs in the league. They’re back, we thought. Boston was a bit of a reality check and tonight was the splash of water in the face we needed to realize, this team has a lot of issues. They can’t play from behind, for one. That was theme that reared it’s head at various points last season but is especially prevalent now. If they can score the first goal then all’s well, but this team cannot face adversity, it seems. Is it because they lack the character to dust themselves off after being knocked down?

Bad defensive zone coverage. It was common to see a Canadiens skater open and free throughout the game. On two of the Habs’ goals, a player was left all alone. Jacques Martin is rolling over in his grave. He died from seeing these games, you see.

Key players taking shifts off. Heatley, Alfredsson, and Spezza all had points in the game, and in some cases more than a few, where they looked to be coasting. This cannot happen. As cliché as it may be, this team’s best players need to be their best players. The 8-1 win over the Devils saw Heatley and Spezza in particular do all the little things well. Those things were ignored far too often tonight.

Taking early penalties. Going into Montreal is never an easy task. Even when the Habs are not playing especially well, the Bell Centre is a difficult place to get two points in. Ottawa has, historically, been pretty inconsistent when traveling to La Belle Province, and this season, so far, has been no different. The shootout win from a few weeks saw Ottawa play well but fall apart in the end. This game saw them play with little life for 50 minutes, score a goal, get back into the game, but ultimately fall short. And I believe it all stemmed from those first 5 or so minutes, when Ottawa took two very unnecessary penalties. Right away, Montreal had the momentum and, with the exception of a shift here or there, controlled the game the rest of the way through. Penalties are going to happen. Players are still adjusting to the new rules. But the ones that they got whistled for, a stupid holding penalty by Chris Phillips and then a really sloppy hooking penalty by Daniel Alfredsson six seconds after the Senators killed off the first one.

Denis Hamel only playing 3:33. If a team is struggling to score, is it not wise to throw a guy who scored over 50 in the AHL last season on the ice every now and then to see what he can accomplish? Shit, even Brian McGratton played more. Let’s remember that Hamel scored in the last Sens-Habs game, with a goal that’s just the kind they need right now: hard work and a big second effort. Hamel got one shift in the third period.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Saturday night shootout game between the Habs and Leafs was a treat to watch as a fan with no significant rooting interest, but truth be told, the Habs were badly outplayed and were lucky to get the single point. They rebounded well.

The big talk in Montreal, with that relentless media, was Alexei Kovalev being moved to center so Sergei Samsonov could play on the second line with Kovalev and another Russian, Alexander Perezhogin. Even Guy Lafleur chimed in with his thoughts on the high paid Ruskies. It was only one game, but I thought they played real well. In fact, both the Russian line and Saku Koivu’s group had strong games, with Chris Higgins being the best Canadiens skater.

As well, the much heralded freshman, Guillaume Latendresse actually looked liked the guy the French media has made him out to be. Without question, the best game I’ve seen of his thus far. Very physical, good speed in both ends, and generated some offensive spurts.

And how long before Montreal has a true, genuine goaltending controversy? David Aebischer wasn’t tested on a major level, however, he answered the bell when called upon.

UP NEXT:

The Sens don't play until Saturday night, when the defending Cup champs come to town. Carolina isn't exactly firing on all cylinders either, with a 5-5-2 record and having allowed 45 goals in 12 games. Has Cam Ward come back to Earth? Will be and Cristobol Huet fight it out for the 2006 Jim Carey Award? Last season, the games between the Sens and Canes were real barnburners, however, last season seems like an eternity ago for both clubs.

I haven't decided if having three days between games is a good thing or not for the struggling Senators. Clearly, there are some serious things that need to be worked on. Will three days of hard practice fix things?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Boston 2 Ottawa 1

THE GOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BAD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE OPPOSITION:

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

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

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

UP NEXT:

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

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ottawa 7 Toronto 2

THE GOOD:

Going hard to the net. Whether it was Dany Heatley or Chris Neil or Patrick Eaves or Chris Kelly, Ottawa forwards didn’t waste any time with the fancy shit, instead rushing right towards Andrew Raycroft and making his life miserable. The majority of the goals scored came from hard work around the net.

Smart play with a lead. It was pretty well over going into the third, with Ottawa up by four goals, but I was fearful Ottawa would get lazy and the Leafs would net a couple to come away with some momentum, leaving the Sens deflated in the final frame. That didn’t occur, which shows the maturity of this team, because even the team last year was prone to that quite often. No dumb passes, good effort in both ends of the ice, and a strong forecheck maintained throughout ensured the Leafs had zero chance of making a game of it again. Hell, they were even blocking shots with a five goal lead. That’s commitment.

Joe Corvo. When the Sens signed Corvo, I knew so little about what he brought to the table I had to solicit thoughts from Kings fans. I knew his name and some stats, but his game as a player was a mystery to me. So to say I was skeptical when Ottawa threw over $10 million on his lap would be an understatement. Thus far, I’m glad to be wrong. Since coming back from the injury, Corvo has been a tremendous surprise. He’s really completely turned the defence core around. On this night he racked up a career high five points, and those stats are in fact indicative of how good a game he had, in both ends of the ice. He was physical, he joined the rush and created offence, and in his own end was very responsible. And what a shot.

Dany Heatley & Jason Spezza. Considering they had a combined eight points, including a hat trick from Heatley, it’s fair to say they had a good game, but once again, their dominance extended beyond the numbers. When the pair started the season struggling, they were justifiably criticized by fans and media alike not just for their lack of offensive production but also all of the little things they were doing horribly wrong. Almost everyone of those little things have been rectified, and shockingly enough, their scoring has turned around. Coincidence? I doubt it. Spezza isn’t turning the puck over with as much ease. The handful of dangerous passes he made last night followed Jason at the very least surveying the situation. Heatley is finishing his checks and in his own end committing himself 100%. Spezza is battling hard in one on one puck battles. This really does show that those same little things are what contributes to big success.

Ray Emery. He wasn’t forced to be spectacular, obviously, but he made the timely saves when called upon and played with a lot of poise and confidence.

Darcy Tucker getting his just desserts. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Anton Volchenkov’s open-ice shoulder smash looked to knock the life out of Darcy, as he wasn’t much of a factor from that point on.

The PK. Continues to be the backbone of Ottawa’s success, even when the powerplay isn’t firing on all cylinders. They pressured Toronto’s dangerous point men Kaberle and McCabe, who once again weren’t nearly the impact players they usually are, and even generated a handful of decent scoring chances down a man.

Chris Neil. With his six hits, he takes over the NHL lead in that category. I’m sure Leafs players were cursing his name after each one, which is what he’s best at.

THE BAD:

Daniel Alfredsson’s finish. He hit two posts, so perhaps a Mulligan should be given to the captain, but he still does not have that January scoring touch just yet, and it looks to be effecting his confidence.

Finishing without Wade Redden & Chris Phillips. Are the Senators incapable of ending a game with their six defencemen healthy? Both left with lower body injuries, and that’s all that’s known at this point.

Magnetic goalposts. Ottawa hit at least four in the second period (a fifth one looked to occur, but could have just missed). Meaning, that explosive second period could have been even more ugly for the Leafs had they not gotten some luck with the steel.

THE OPPOSITION:

Going into the game, I didn’t buy all the hype about this one getting out of hand and ugly because I figured in order for that to happen, the score would have to be lopsided and I didn’t see that occurring. I thought it would be a hard hitting, entertaining game that would be too close for either team to decide to take liberties with the other. For a while, I was looking correct. Then Ottawa blew it open and the Leafs, for the second straight game, had no response.

Which brings me to the same question I had after Tuesday night’s game: who are the 2006 Toronto Maple Leafs? Do you have an idea? I sure don’t. They were very much in the game in the first period, as it could have gone either way, and for much of the second gave as much as they received in the way of scoring chances. When Jeff O’Neill scored to make it 3-2, I thought, here we go. Yet once Joe Corvo restored the two goal lead, the Leafs seemed to collectively fold their tents, and this time, no one even decided to go down with a fight.

If I’m a Leafs fan, I’m yearning for Pat Quinn. At least his clubs would fight until the end.

Andrew Raycroft got lit up for seven goals, but he had no help from his defence, and if one were to make a list of those responsible for this defeat, he wouldn’t even chart. The blueline was terrible, again, with the big guns Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle struggling badly for the second straight night. They need help badly.

And up front, the guys who need to play well didn’t. As mentioned earlier, Tucker had the fight knocked out of him early. The top line of Kyle Wellwood-Mats Sundin-Alex Steen had a few strong shifts, especially in the first period, but they faded quietly. Sundin in particular looked to have thrown in the towel. Was he just frustrated with all this losing? In the third, when the Leafs needed to show some sign of life, he resembled the rest of his teammates by having no response. I’d be concerned about that.

UP NEXT:

The Boston Bruins on Saturday night. It’s our first look at the revamped B’s, who are in the midst of a slump that has some of their previously enthused fans wondering if their expectations were set too high. It will be strange, but fun, to see the Sens play against Zdeno Chara. I wonder how much it’ll hurt him to crush his former teammates, who I’m sure are still pals of his, in the corners, or in front of the net. Coming off a loss last night to the Habs, in heartbreaking fashion, you know they’ll be itching for the two points.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ottawa 6 Toronto 2

THE GOOD:

The big guns. It started in Saturday night’s blowout victory over the Devils, and thankfully carried over into tonight’s game. In addition to putting up points, both Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza had strong all around games. Spezza’s turnovers have been reduced tremendously, and when he did make the occasional drop pass, he figured it wise to at the very least look back to ensure the person receiving the puck was wearing the same sweater as he. Both men displayed an impressive defensive commitment as well, playing as hard in their own as they did in the opposition’s. A great example of this was how Dany Heatley basically saved a goal, as Mats Sundin had Martin Gerber down and out on a wrap-around in the second period, yet it was Heater who stuck with him and got a sick on Mats’ to block any shot attempt. And while he didn’t have as significant a game offensively, Daniel Alfredsson did all the little things right. He was good in transition, moved the puck well, and was a big reason the penalty killing was so good. This kind of effort from Ottawa’s best three players will pay dividends down the road.

Mike Fisher & Chris Neil. What a game from both men. Neil has probably been the Senators most reliable forward this season, which is remarkable in itself when you realize how far he’s come as a player. It wasn’t that long ago that Neil was used sparingly in a four line role, mostly filling the job of enforcer for the club. Now, he’s on the ice in key moments, often. And Mike Fisher was on fire. While officially it says he logged 17 minutes, it sure seemed like 30 to me. Every time I blinked Fisher was on the ice rushing the puck up the ice. How many scoring chances were generated strictly by Fisher? Half a dozen? He was in mid-season form, and needed to be.

Joe Corvo & Chris Phillips as a defence pair. Redden and Corvo was a nice duo in theory, as was Andrej Meszaros and Phillips, but it just wasn’t working. Credit to Bryan Murray for noticing this and making an adjustment. Redden and Meszaros had an average game, with shifts ranging from awful to excellent, but Corvo and Philly were steady throughout. They seemed to have a natural chemistry and had no difficultly finding each other on the ice.

Some powerplay goals. The PP is still very poor, and needs a ton of work, but some goals scored with a man advantage is a start.

The penalty killing. The Leafs didn’t do themselves any favors with their poor execution on the powerplay, as they just didn’t have it tonight, however, the Sens made it difficult for them. Ottawa clogged the neutral zone, making it extremely hard for them to penetrate the zone, let alone sustain some pressure.

Defence joining the rush. This was what we were told to expect when Joe Corvo was signed and Tom Preissing was acquired in the Martin Havlat trade. I like it.

THE BAD:

Complacency. Ottawa owned the Leafs in the first frame. The 3-0 score was flattering to the Buds as they were outplayed in every facet of the game. However, the Sens did not keep the foot on the gas pedal, playing quite poorly in the second period, allowing the Leafs to get back in the game ever so slightly. On the one hand, I’m glad they did, because it would have been a very dull two or so hours if they hadn’t, but it reminded me too much of the infamous FLU game between these teams.

Martin Gerber in the third period. I was getting flashbacks of Patrick Lalime, and it sure seemed like the Leafs were too based on how often they were firing the puck from any and every angle. Gerber had a decent enough game overall but was not very reassuring at various points and has pretty much established himself as the worst puckhandling netminder in franchise history. And considering we’ve had both Lalime AND Hasek, that’s saying a lot.

Losing Anton Volchenkov. The severity of the injury remains a mystery at this point, but it sure would be a shame for the A-Train to go down when he’s playing his best hockey in forever.

Darcy Tucker gooning Patrick Eaves. A dirty act that even the most diehard Leaf Nation members must have a hard time defending. Tucker’s vagina hurt because his team was down and went after a kid who doesn’t fight. What big balls he has.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Leafs remain an enigma to me. Does anyone know which team will take the ice each game, because I sure don’t, and I’ve seen more of their games this season than I haven’t. There are some old faithfuls, as Mats Sundin came to play as always and the aforementioned asshole Tucker who was his usually pesty self . But where was Kyle Wellwood? Mike Peca?

Don’t get me wrong, there were spurts where they were all over Ottawa, and points in the game when they were dictating the pace of the game, however, these moments could not be sustained for extended periods, and truth be told, most of them occurred as much because of Ottawa’s poor play as it Toronto’s good.

Their defence is in big trouble, and I’m not sold on the idea that it’s solely because they’re without Pavol Kubina, though there can be no disputing the fact it hurts. Are Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe burnt out or was this just an off night for the pair of workhorse rearguards? That was one of the worst games I’ve seen Kaberle, who is usually their one reliable blueliner, play in many years. Not only was he not a factor, even on the powerplay where he and McCabe shine brightest, but he routinely hurt his team in his own end.

And I hate to say I told you so, but holy fuck does Hal Gill suck. I believe I said as much when he was signed but too many of you were won over by size, overlooking the fact the guy really can’t play. It pained me to see Brendan Bell struggle because I’m a big fan of his. Ian White was the lone defenceman who didn’t embarrass himself. I become more impressed with his game each time I see him play.

Thursday night, the Leafs need to come out with a much better effort if they want to quiet the whispers that they’re an inconsistent bunch.

UP NEXT:

These same Leafs. You know their pride will kick in and they’ll come more prepared Thursday night. The last time Ottawa beat them up on home ice, they did much worse in response. It looks like Ray Emery will get the nod for the Senators. I have no opinion on that one way or another.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

They can't catch a break

As if losing both Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Havlat for at least a couple weeks each wasn't bad enough, the early word is that Michal Handzus will miss the rest of the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL.

That sound you hear? It's the Hawks playoff hopes dwindling away.

Better late than never

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up late this afternoon and find out the Philadelphia Flyers had cleaned out, ousting Ken Hitchcock while letting Bob Clarke retain some dignity by stepping down.

First off, make no mistake, Bob Clarke was fired as well. I have no inside knowledge telling me this, but you don't have to be a genius to put two and two together. In addition to his familial connection that seemed to give him carte blanche within the organization, in that city, Bobby Clarke is a legend within that franchise. I'm sure the last thing Ed Snider wanted to do was pink slip his son in law, the guy who captained their only Cup winning seasons, but he didn't have a choice.

I imagine Snider pulled Clarke aside sometime late this week, told him they wanted to move in another direction, and let him "resign" rather than get the axe. I can respect that.

Truth is, if Clarke had a different wife, or played his NHL years with another team, he probably would have been canned years ago. The amount of executive brainfarts he's committed are many. Among them:
- how he handled Roger Nielsen's cancer
- the Eric Lindros mess
- all the goaltending misjudgements over the year
- Chris Gratton
- Derian Hatcher
& Mike Rathje

Clarke was also saved by the fact the Flyers organization has been incredibly good at drafting and developing young talent. Despite routinely drafting late, if they even hold onto their first round picks, Philly has built up an impressive crop of young players over the years.

As for Hitchcock, I feel bad because I genuinely think the man is a good coach, and I doubt he'll have a hard time finding a job. But based on how players played for him Tuesday night, it sure seems as if they've given up on Hitch. Perhaps John Stevens, a younger bench boss with (hopefully) some new, fresh ideas and a connection to the players that Hitchcock clearly lacked.

The Flyers have enough talent to pull it together and make the playoffs. And as we saw last season, once the postseason begins, anything can happen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And you thought we had it bad

No one is more disturbed by the Sens struggles this season than I, but watching the Flyers get bitchslapped by the Sabres 9-1 really puts things in perspective. As discouraging as this season has mostly been thus far, compared to the situation in Philly, the Sens are firing on all cynlinders.

While Ottawa cannot get its best players to answer the bell, it sure seems like that's all who is coming to play for Philadelphia. Beyond the Peter Forsberg line, they're not getting any offence, and are looking very one dimensional. And slow. Oh so slow.

Meanwhile, Robert Esche's relationship with Ken Hitchcock makes Jason Spezza and Bryan Murray look like best friends by comparison. That situation will only get worse before it gets better. If Esche was calling Hitch brainless before the game upon learning he was getting the start, he surely cannot think much of him after being left in the net for all nine goals. And was that retribution from the willy bench boss? Did he find out about Esche's comments and decide to pay him back by keeping him in goal? I'd say Esche might demand a trade ala Patrick Roy and Mario Tremblay 11 years ago, but really, who wants a backup with an inflated view of his worth and no ability to stop the puck with any consistency?

If I'm a Flyers fan, and that's as disturbing a thought as I've had today, beyond the bad goaltending (because that's not a new worry, I hope) and even the score, I'm most concerned about the absolute lack of heart and desire shown by the players once they were down by six or seven goals. By then, the game was out of reach, but you'd think they'd go down fighting. Nope. Somewhere, Dave Schultz is pissed off. I imagine even he was punching people just out of habit upon seeing the score. This may be where they miss the Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeaus most. With his shootout stick fiasco, Forsberg's leadership abilities have been called into question.Who's going to rally the troops and right this ship?

As is the case when I hear people calling into local sports shows here, demanding the head of the GM or a trade of that star player, I urge Flyers fans to show some patience. Be concerned, but don't fly off the handle. That said, I'm not sure Ed Snyder will show that same restraint. If I was wielding the axe, I know who I'd get rid of, but something tells me, a convenient family link will stop that from happening, again.

By the way, am I ever glad I have Maxim Afinogenov in my pool.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Calgary 1 Ottawa 0

THE GOOD:

The quality of the game. Someone who didn't see the match-up might look at the score and assume it was a slow, dull game. It was not. Despite it ending 1-0, it was a mostly exciting hockey game that resembled a contest in May more than it did an mid-October affair. There was tons of hitting, good end to end action at various points, and spectacular goaltending by both 'tenders. This just further cements the fact that scoring doesn't equal excitement alone. 1-0 games can be tremendous.

A strong effort. Though Ottawa did not come out with the W, we cannot be too disappointed with the game, as much as the end result leaves us unfulfilled. Ottawa brought it to the Flames for much of the contest, and I felt like were the better team overall. This is not to dismiss the Flames effort, nor their two points, because they played their game well, but Ottawa was the better skating team 5-on-5 and generated more chances.

Ray Emery. I truly felt bad that Emery not only lost the shut out, but ultimately takes the L, because he was terrific and matched Mika Kiprusoff, considered by most to be the best goaltender in the world, save for save. He did what Gerber hasn’t been able to do and that’s make the big timely stops when the team needs it. He was aided by some poor shooting by the Flames (Kristen Huselius missed two wide open nets) but regardless, when called upon, answered the bell, including an awesome kickpad save in the second that brought the crowd to its feet. The goaltending controversy continues.

Antoine Vermette & Mike Fisher. I thought this pair were Ottawa’s best skaters on the night, doing some great things both at even strength and when killing a penalty. They were responsible for most of the odd man rushes Ottawa got and were the only two Sens I can recall that, consistently, carried the puck through the neutral zone and into Calgary’s end without being impeded by their rigid fortress known as team defence.

Chris Neil. Registered six hits, but it sure seemed closer to 10, Neil was a thorn in the side of Calgary every time he stepped on the ice. He went hard to the net and stirred all kinds of shit.

Chris Phillips. A much better outing from the veteran who'd struggled badly in the previous games. Solid in his own end, good at moving the puck, and some physical play. Basically, the kind of game they'll need from him every night for this season to be an effective one.

THE BAD:

The embarrassingly bad powerplay.
To say it’s been awful would be a disgrace to the term. Awful doesn’t do it justice. It’s been absolutely abysmal. 1 for 25 thus far this season, and 0 for 8 on the night. They aren’t winning battles for pucks. they’re forcing plays around the net. They’re slopping with passes. They’re tentative and reluctant to take shots, yet when they finally do, almost always miss the net, and badly. Something needs to be done, but I don’t have the faintest idea what that something is. I figured five days between games, and many rigorous practices, would help, but alas, it did not. So I give up. They tried mixing things up by throwing some fresh faces on the ice with the man advantage, including Denis Hamel before he got murdered, and it didn’t make a lick of difference. Granted, some powerplays were more effective than others, and some chances were generated, but when you get eight powerplays, including two in the last six minutes in a game where you’re down a goal, you have to capitalize. When your PK squad generates more and better scoring chances than your eight powerplays, it says two things: 1) your powerplay fucking blows. 2) the other team’s sucks pretty badly.

Zero puck luck.
Even though Ottawa was the better team from where I sat, they were once again done in by getting no breaks around the net. As was the case in the last two periods in Saturday night’s loss to the Sabres, Ottawa had a ton of chances and yet couldn’t bury any of them. How many 2 on 1s did they have? Three, four? I don’t believe they even got a shot out of any of them except a shorthanded rush by Mike Fisher. A few of the occasions, the puck was literally bouncing. Dany Heatley continues to struggle, and with the rubber, doesn't resemble a sniper in the least bit.


Wade Redden. The debate all last season was Chara or Redden, Wade or Z. I always stood firmly in the corner of #6, because I felt like his skillset better suited the new rules as well as the fact I thought losing him would be more difficult to overcome. The fact that Redden had a monster first round against Tampa despite still grieving from the death of his mother, while Chara struggled horribly, only cemented my stance. However, that choice, four games in, isn’t looking so good. Redden had been average at best thus far this season but tonight’s game was truly his worst. Early on, things looked good, as he outmuscled Jarome Iginla for a puck. That turned out to be the highlight of the night for Wade. The rest of the night, Iginla, who was matched up against him for the majority of the game, dominated Redden. Firstly, who’s bright idea was it to put Redden against Iginla? Does Bryan Murray even know anything about his players? Wade Redden is not a shutdown defenceman. He’s (on most nights) a gifted offensive defenceman who’s among the best in the world at outlet passes as well as rushing the puck up the ice. He’s sound defensively, but only because he’s excellent positionally. He’s not physical and in one-on-one battles, he’s usually outmatched, even against average players. Against perhaps the best power forward in the NHL? Retarded. If he wasn’t pushing Redden around, Iggy was pyloning his ass every chance he could. I felt bad for Redden for a bit, because he was put into a role he’s not equipped to play, but after a while, that wore off. His poor efforts on the powerplay as well as some sloppy passes didn’t do him any favors either.

Daniel Alfredsson. A pisspoor game from the captain, again. This is becoming a pattern.

Jason Spezza's giveaways. Last season, when he was putting up big points, we could ultimately look the other way at Spezza's terrible brainfarts with the puck. However, when he's not scoring, those mistakes are magnified tremendously. He's hurting the team more than he's helping them right now.

THE OPPOSITION:

Full marks to the Flames. They played their style of game to a tee. They shut down the neutral zone, allowed Kipper to see whatever pucks were fired, and cleared rebounds very effectively. They won this game the same way I assume they will during crunch time in the postseason.

Flames fans were kicking up a lot of dust over Alex Tanguay and his inability to produce on a line with Iginla in the first couple games, and as a result, he was taken off the trio, with Kristen Huselius put in his place. If I'm a fan of the team, I liked the look of that combo much more than the previous one, even if it's not as imposing on paper.

Oh, and Miikka Kiprusoff's pretty friggin great.

UP NEXT:

Saturday night against the Habs on Hockey Night In Canada. Sort of a big deal, and ideally, another outing where they'll get their spirits up. Montreal's rolling pretty strong, coming off a big win last weekend over the Leafs and a shutout victory against Philly last night.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

As important as a game in October can be

Much has been made about tonight's game between the Sens and the Calgary Flames. A lot of that is due to the long delay between games, however, there is a genuinely large level of discomfort in the city with the Senators right now. A lot of nervousness.

It's absurd to say a game on October 12th is a must win game. It'll only be the fourth game of thr season. It's still early. But they need this win. Before this ship sinks even further, it needs to be righted.

The powerplay needs to start rolling. Martin Gerber needs to make a number of big saves and instill some confidence in his teammates so they can play an aggressive game without worrying that every single mistake will result in a goal. Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden, and Daniel Alfredsson, the team's best and highest paid players, need to start playing like it. The team as a whole needs to display some sort of desire from the first drop of the puck.

We're gonna find out what this group's made of very quickly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Well that was quick

If you're one of the poolies who picked Patrick Eaves as a sleeper late pick because he was going to play with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, and thus rack up significant points, I've got bad news: he's been demoted.

At yesterday's marathon hour-and-a-half practice, Eaves was lined up on the fourth trio with Chris Kelly and Brian McGratton (rookie Alexei Kaigorodov also got time on the line, but odds are he's sitting again) while Heatley and Spezza practiced with Daniel Alfredsson.

Coach Bryan Murray is saying this doesn't mean he's disappointed with Eaves, however, the kid struggled badly the last two games and perhaps was in over his head.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Buffalo 4 Ottawa 3

THE GOOD:

- A sign of life. The most frustrating part of Thursday night's loss to the Leafs was the absolute lack of passion displayed by the majority of the Senators. With the exception of one player, the entire team displayed a terrible effort. What I wanted to see tonight, even more than a W, was, for 60 minutes, a determined team take the ice. We didn't get that. The first 20 minutes looked scarily similar to the 6-0 blowout defeat. There was zero urgency to their game, even when on the PK, which is unacceptable. Thankfully, a switch was flicked in the first intermission. I don't know how. If it was a veteran player (Chris Phillips is the likely candidate) standing up and setting the troops straight or a verbal lashing from the coach, but the result was a different team in the second period. They played with much more enthusiasm, which is all we can ask for. If they play this way every night, they'll come out with the two points 75% of the time. Let's hope it doesn't die a painful death in the four days between games. I also like that they didn't quit when Buffalo scored the goal to restore their two goal lead. Instead, the Big Line got right back at it. Often in the past, an Ottawa Senators team would pack it in then. Nice to see that wasn't the case, even in defeat.

- The Big Line. Include me in the converted group. Going into the season, I said they need to keep Alfie and Spezza/Heatley seperate so as to distribute the scoring over two lines. I thought, based on the chemistry displayed by Schaefer-Fisher-Alfredsson in the pre-season as well as how Patrick Eaves fared with Spezza & Heatley last year, it was the best road to go down. I was wrong. Alfie has been a mostly non-factor these three games while Spezza and Heatley struggled badly Thursday night. Yet when Murray put the three of them together in the third, magic emerged. This is no coincedence. So now I believe it's time, for the short term anyway, to keep these three together. It's clear there is an energy that develops when these three are on the ice that cannot be duplicated with any other line combos. I know the fear is, if that line gets shut down, where will the offence come from? It's a legitimate concern, but right now, it's not like we're getting a lot anyway, so what do we have to lose? If nothing else, throw them together for half a dozen games to get Alfredsson and Heatley rolling, because as it stands, they both look lost out there. Neither is playing with the swagger and confidence that allowed them to be so dominant last season. Then, once they're up and running, think about spreading the scoring around. When you're struggling as much as this team is, you can't reject the few things that are working.

THE BAD:

- The breaks.
For whatever reason, the Sens just didn't have them go their way tonight. I know that sounds like a cop out ("we didn't get lucky"), however, Ottawa truly didn't have an ounce of puck luck in this game. Shots were going wide, errant passes were beyond prevelant, pucks were hitting defenders who didn't even appear to be making an effort to block a shot. To say Ottawa is a team out of sync right now would be an understatement. They're not helping their cause with brainfarts in their own end though. Chris Phillips' decision to hit the Buffalo player instead of playing the puck, which led to the first goal, still confuses me. For a nine year pro to make that kind of rookie mistake is baffling.

- Tom Preissing.
Did he miss one game or 50? He's a defenceman billed as a speedy puck mover, yet he looked incredibly slow and awkward with the puck tonight. Preissing was responsible for a handful of poor plays with the rubber, including one terrible giveaway that led to a big scoring chance. Worse, Preissing's back check was non-existant. People can say what they want about Daniel Alfredsson's heart or legitimacy as a captain (and right now, a lot is being said) but at least when he turns it over he's the hardest skater back, determined to correct his error. Same went for Marian Hossa when he played here. Is there an invisible piece of quicksand on the ScotiaBank Place ice that explains why Preissing was literally in one place for 10 seconds while the Sabres player carried the puck down the ice? Very poor performance.

- Dany Heatley's finish. I touched on it above, but jeez, is Dany Heatley ever fighting the puck. Last year, when he had it on his stick, he could do no wrong. This season, he can't buy a goal, and with the $4.5 mil the team is paying him, you'd think that may be an option. He's gonna have to find that scoring touch soon because there isn't a whole lot else to his game beyond his tremendous ability to light the lamp, and so when he's not doing that with any regularity, there's little use for him.

- Special Teams/Undisciplined play. Not good. Ottawa's powerplay, which was so potent last season, has been depressingly bad so far. And don't you Monday morning quarterbacks, who are claiming the Sens plight is linked to no Chara or Martin Havlat, try and put it on those two, because, combined, they only put up 12 PP points last year. Ottawa went 0 for 8 with the man advantage, and a lot of the powerplay time was spent either in the neutral zone or in their own end trying to get their shit together. In a one goal game, a 0% PP is a killer. Meanwhile, they handed a sizzling Sabres team seven powerplay opportunities. The fact Buffalo only burned them for one goal in that situation is both a blessing and a tribute to the good work put in by the penalty killers.

- Anton Volchenkov. I don't have to say anything. Just read what I've written for the previous two games, because it's same gripes. Please trade this guy already. At least with Preissing back his ice time was down to less 15 minutes a game. The idea of him playing 20 again makes my head explode. It seems as if he's trying, so it's difficult to be too hard on the big Russian, however, his choices on the ice as well as his speed, or lackthereof, are awful right now. If Joe Corvo were to come back tomorrow, Volchenkov would be the odd man out, I'd hope. It's shocking how far he's slipped on this team's depth chart. One of the reasons they were able to unload Greg de Vries and his $2 million+ contract in the Hossa for Heatley deal was because they were certain Volchenkov could step in and be the top four d-man for nearly half the price. Now he's probably not even in their top six if all are healthy.

THE OPPOSITION:

Despite some turnover in talent, the Sabres the same kind of game that allowed them to rack up over 100 points last year and will likely have them tally as much this season. Their forwards were committed to a two-way game, they were great in transition, their defence was more than willing to jump into the play, and goaltending was clutch when it needed to be. They basically have a championship formula down cold.

They did slip a little bit in the second, giving up the puck more than I'm sure Lindy Ruff would have liked, thus allowing Ottawa to get back into the game, but fortunately, Martin Biron bailed them out. With his plain white protest goalie mask, he did himself big favors for getting dealt to the first time who decides their current goaltending situation isn't cutting it (the early favorites are Detroit and Philadelphia).

UP NEXT:

It's not gonna get any easier folks, as Calgary is next on deck, though not for a while. The game is Thursday, and in between now and then, the Sens will have plenty of time go over game tape and think about why they're in their current perdicament. I suspect it will be a long week.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Toronto 6 Ottawa 0

THE GOOD:

A much needed reality check. Every team has to hit some roadblocks in a season. Perhaps it’s a good thing Ottawa got theirs so early in the term. Tonight’s debacle was a harsh slap in the face that things won’t be as easy as last year, when they could play an ordinary game and still come out with a two goal win. The Sens are still among the NHL’s elite, I believe, but if they expect to be able to coast through 60 minutes and pull out two points, they’re in for a rude awakening. Let’s hope the 6-0 drubbing will serve as motivation for a team that seems to desperately need it. They should feel embarrassed. They got spanked at home opener by their biggest rival. If that doesn’t light a fire under their collective asses, then we’re in for a LONG season folks.

Mike Fisher. There weren’t a lot of Sens players who could fall into this category, but if I had to pick one, it would be ol’ faithful, #12. Fisher’s effort was where it usually is: top notch. He didn’t take a shift off and when almost every one of his teammates were half-assing it out there, Fisher worked hard every shift and maintained a strong forecheck presence. On nights like this, it’s a shame there aren’t 19 Mike Fishers in this organization.

Ray Emery. He didn’t look particularly good on the goal he allowed, but overall, I thought Emery was strong in relief of Martin Gerber and should get the start Saturday night when the Sabres visit.

The return of the Battle of Ontario. If we’re looking for positives after this mess, and that’s what I try to do instead of drowning my sorrows in hard liquor, we can at least celebrate the fact that this year’s season series looks to be competitive. That’s good. Because as much fun as last season was, and believe me, I loved every minute of it, these games are much more enjoyable when the two teams are at least a little bit evenly matched.

Dominik Hasek loses. Yes, I’m that vengeful.

The Lost season premiere. So The Others really aren’t hut dwelling peasants? Well I’ll be damned.

THE BAD:

Pretty much everything. This was as bad a game as I’ve seen the Sens play in a while. Maybe I’m forgetting some other headaches. The blowout in Atlanta last season immediately comes to mind, but yikes, this was ugly. Usually their stinkers take place on the road, so doing it in front of a home crowd makes it worse. Throw it who it was against and I feel like I got kicked square in the balls about eight times. To single out a particular player wouldn’t be fair, because, honestly, they all sucked. Some more than others, but the entire team played like ass. There was no jump to their step. No drive to their game. With the puck they were sloppy and thoughtless. In their own zone they were a nightmare. If you had a drinking game consisting of a Sens skater having the puck on his stick but not getting it out, you would have been ridiculously shitfaced by 8:30. To put it frankly, they just didn’t want it. Not half as badly as the Leafs did.

Martin Gerber. After pretty much stealing the first period for the Sens Wednesday night, allowing the Sens to rally in the second period and get the win, Gerber fell back to Earth and gave me, and many of you I’m certain, visions of Patrick Lalime. That first goal by Chad Kilger was vintage Lalime during the 2003-04 season, and unfortunately it didn’t get better from there. The Ottawa defence didn’t do Gerber any favors, as they had an equally awful night, however, when you have a $3.7 million goalie, you’d hope he could stop a lot of those shots that lit the lamp. The alleged goaltending controversy, sparked by his poor pre-season, was quieted 24 hours ago, but this is the kind of outing that gets that talked started all over again.

Special teams. Toronto’s powerplay, which failed them the night before, was on fire and Ottawa couldn’t handle it, while the Sens did zero with their own man advantage opportunities. Half the time the play wasn’t even in the Leafs zone. Brutal.

Anton Volchenkov. Hey Wayne, you like this kid so much? Throw some pucks our way and we’ll let you have him. And with Preissing still out, Volchenkov is going to have to continue to play big minutes. I fear what Daniel Briere and Maxim Afinogenov will do to this sad sack in two sleeps.

Undisciplined play. If the penalties are from infractions for going hard to the net, preventing a prime scoring chance, or just generally mixing it up and getting carried away, I don’t think Bryan Murray would rake that player over the coals. When they’re mindless mistakes, the way almost every penalty the Sens took tonight was, you know there will be Hell to pay. Peter Schaefer in particular will get it, and should. He took two terrible “new NHL” penalties, both of which occurred when the Sens had a powerplay.

THE OPPOSITION:

Give the Leafs full marks for this W. Some might try and dismiss the victory by saying it wasn’t as much as they won as it was that Ottawa lost (the way Leafs fans rationalized the thrashings we laid on them last season). That’s bullshit. The Senators certainly played awful, but Toronto came to play, took it Ottawa, and deserved the two points they left the nation’s capital with.

While on Wednesday night it was almost exclusively Mats Sundin providing the offensive jump for the Buds, tonight it was a team effort. Darcy Tucker, who I thought was strangely invisible except for a bad slashing penalty in the opener, was back to his old self, stirring the pot, scoring goals, and generally being a fucking dick. He has to play like this every night for the Leafs to challenge for a playoff spot, and if I’m Paul Maurice, I give him the most minutes of any forward besides Sundin.

As well, the defensive breakdowns that characterized Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss were largely non-existent tonight. Does Pavel Kubina make that much of a difference? Staying on the defence, Ian White impressed the shit out of me. He was terrific with the puck and played over 20 minutes.

So which Leafs team is the real deal? The one who, for 45 minutes of gameplay, sleepwalked through opening night, or the club that stormed into Ottawa and dominated the Sens? I’m not sure yet, but I do know that even if the answer is right in the middle, they’ll be a more competitive team than last year.

UP NEXT:

Buffalo, and just what this team needs, I think. If they can’t get up for that game, with the team that ousted them coming to town, then we can sound the alarms, even if it is only three games in. I’m not going to lay on the hyperbole too thick and say it’s a must win, because it’s not, but the Sens need a good outing for 60 minutes, and this fanbase needs something to loosen the ropes around our throats.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ottawa 4 Toronto 1

THE GOOD:

Martin Gerber. One regular season game won’t quell the concerns of an entire city, but at least we now know the Swiss netminder can play well in a Sens uniform. After that pre-season, such a thing seemed pretty unlikely. And not just well, but very well. Martin Gerber was the reason Ottawa was in this game early, as it was his big timely saves that prevented the much more assertive Maple Leafs team who were all over Ottawa in the first 10 minutes. Bryan Murray is right that Gerber is the anti-Hasek, and I for one like it. There are no sprawling snowangel saves, just sound positional play with minimal rebounds and few unnecessary risks. There were, literally, a dozen excellent saves made by Gerber.

Christoph Schubert. He came into the game their sixth d-man, only playing because of the foot injury to Joe Corvo, and yet by the end of the night, I thought he was one of their better players on the night. Schubert saw significant time with the man advantage, manning the point, was very physical, made smart plays with the puck, and pinched or joined the rush when the appropriate opportunity arose. Considering Schubert played only one pre-season game due to a vicious virus he picked up down in the Caribbean, his game was superb.

Andrej Meszaros. Tom Preissing’s injury, which I’ll touch on in a bit, forced heightened minutes by players who weren’t expected to play that much, Meszaris chief among them. The other sophmore rearguard was also very good on this night, and overall, may have been Ottawa’s best defenceman, playing overall 25 minutes due to t. He threw many big hits and was probably the only Sens blueliner who wasn’t running around like a madman in his own zone. He was the stabilizing force back there. With Chara gone, he’ll gave to log similarly big minutes this season and he sure looks up to the task.

Dean McAmmond. You wouldn’t know the $700,000 man was one of Ottawa’s most senior players based on his jump. The veteran was flying out there, and created plenty of chances with his speed. This is a signing that may end up paying bigger dividends than we thought.

Patrick Eaves. The whole top line of Heatley-Spezza-Eaves, who’s average age among them has to be like 23 years old, was good, but I loved the game of Eaves, who tallied a goal and assist.

Chris Neil. If someone would have showed you Chris Neil's goal three years ago, and said this is the kind of player he would become, I'm sure most of you would have thought they were a dirty filthy liar. Neil was, sometimes, overaggressive and could've taken a few more penalties on top of the one he got whistled for, but at least he was into the game. Why he didn't get more ice time confuses me.

THE BAD:

Anton Volchenkov & Chris Phillips. Yama hama, it’s fright night! Yikes. Who thought this pairing was a good idea? It seemed as if every time they stepped on the ice, horror ensued. I realize Phillips moving to the right side is a major adjustment, but Jesus Christ, the guy’s an eight year pro. Is it THAT drastic? And Volchenkov, what the fuck. He was terrible. Volchenkov was a step slower than everyone else on the ice, responding to plays five seconds too late and as a result was constantly out of position. Phillips and Meszaros were consistently solid in the pre-season while Volchenkov and Redden have had some success together in the past, so why not go with those pairings instead of trying this fiasco?

Daniel Alfredsson. I liked that he scored the empty net goal to shove it up the ACC faithful’s asses, however, overall, Alfie had a pretty ordinary game. Not quick with the puck and some uncharacteristally poor plays in his own zone had been confused. The chemistry that he and Mike Fisher had in the pre-season was non-existant here.

The first period, both from an entertainment factor and as a Sens fan. I realize organizations like doing those pre-game ceremonies, honoring this legend or that one, but can we keep the players in the room for them? Because every time they take place, one or both teams end up losing their steam and the quality of the game suffers. Next time place some sappy sentimental video with some ass Sarah McLachlan song in the background to pay tribute to Red Kelly.

Ottawa’s faceoffs. Draws have been a problem for as long as I can remember, and they were awful here, only winning 36% of the draws. Chris Kelly, who’s usually money in the circle, won a pitiful 2 of 14 faceoffs and Spezza won 7 and lost 15. Mike Fisher and Dean McAmmond were slightly better but the other two really hurt the team. Michael Peca himself carved the Sens up on puck drops.

Denis Hamel. Not bad by any means, but I expected more enthusiasm and energy out of a guy who you'd think would be superpsyched for what seems like his first steady NHL job in a while. Hamel seemed tired and played with a lackluster effort. Did he blow his load in the pre-season, just winning the job?

Tom Preissing’s injury. The last thing the Sens needed was another defenceman going down hurt. The extent of the injury isn’t known. As of 11:30pm, all we know is that he left with a lower body injury. Apparently the Sens training staff are still in playoff mode. He looked good in the first period, and was a big part of their first goal, but it’s a shame we didn’t see more of him. Cross your fingers that it’s not serious because if so we might be in trouble.

THE OPPOSITION:

Toronto would have been up a few goals if not for Martin Gerber during the first 10 or so minutes of the game, and were the dominant team in the first period, however, they were unable to sustain that pressure and fell apart in the second, allowing Ottawa to blow the game wide open by capitalizing on their mistakes.

Mats Sundin was sensational. He’ll need to be for the Leafs to have any shot at a playoff spot this season, however, we saw proof positive that even he can’t do it alone. He needs help. Kyle Wellwood provided spurts of offence alongside Sundin and Alex Ponikarovsky had a handful of decent shifts, but beyond that, Toronto’s forwards were very impotent past the 10 minute mark. Most of the chances that came after were generated by Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe who had good games both on the PP and at even strength. As mentioned, Mike Peca was a beast on the draws and was busting his ass, but he’s just not much of an offensive presence. I hope they’re not counting on him to be a major contributor when it comes to goal scoring, because they’re in for a major letdown. He provides excellent defensive play, can kill penalties, and, but he’s not the cure to their goal scoring woes.

I have no clue what happened to Darcy Tucker, but I can’t remember a Leafs-Sens game where he was such a non-factor. Besides his slashing penalty on Patrick Eaves, he wasn’t involved in the game at all. The scoresheet says he played nearly 19 minutes, third among Leafs forwards, but I would’ve thought he played 10 or so. When the Leafs were struggling in the second, getting manhandled by a rejuvenated Sens team, I was waiting for his usual act of foolishness in an attempt to rally his teammates. Alas, it didn’t happen. Has Sideshow Bob been tamed?

Hal Gill played like Hal Gill, which is to say slow and prodding. I’d hope this isn’t news to the organization. Meanwhile, the other new face, Andrew Raycroft was strong but ultimately outdueled by Gerber. Still, besides the Schubert goal that had him looking quite silly, he looked good in nets, including two big stops on two breakaways, by two pretty good snipers in Spezza and Heatley.

Also, the Leafs powerplay let them down big time. They certainly had their chances, but had to have buried some of them if they wanted to win.

UP NEXT:

The Leafs again! Fun.

Slim pickins

It’s every bloggers job to make lofty, grandiose predictions about how the coming NHL season will develop. So I’m not gonna disappoint you. Here they are. Are they insightful? That’s for you to decide. If it makes you feel better, I’ve spent many bored hours at a desk on someone else’s dollar thinking this over.

Unfortunately, here’s the downside: it turns out I’m not very good at these. Last season, I predicted Boston would win the Eastern Conference and that Buffalo, the Rangers, and the Hurricanes would miss the playoffs. Oh, and the Calgary Flames would win the Stanley Cup. So by that logic, call Vegas and put good money on Florida to be drinking from Lord Stanley eight months from now.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Buffalo Sabres
Having learned from their exit in the conference final, the Sabres will a better team for it. Should they stay healthy, they’ll be the best club in the Eastern Conference, able to roll four lines that can hurt you, six d-men that can play 20 minutes, and one of the best goaltending tandems in the league. What will be interesting to observe is how they respond in their new role of consensus favorite. They were able to sneak up on a lot of their opponents last season because no one considered them a threat, but once you go to the final four, those days are over. And Buffalo fans, you better hope this year is the one, because with both Daniel Briere and Chris Drury eligible for UFA status in July, this might be your lone kick at the can with this core.

2. New York Rangers.
No one saw this team succeeding last year, yet building around Jagr paid off big time. Adding Brendan Shanahan and Matt Cullen will take their powerplay over the top, and Aaron Ward provides a much needed veteran presence on the blueline. Oh, and all three bring Cup rings, which ideally translates to the others soaking in their wisdom. I’m picking Henrik Lundqvist to win the Vezina and backstop the Rangers to a 100 point season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes
There will be some hangover, which is to be expected, however, the ‘Canes remain the cream of the crop in the Southeast. They still have six likely 20 goal scorers, a balanced blueline, and a goalie who has proven himself capable of carrying a team on his 22-year-old shoulders. The fear those down in Raleigh should have though centers around the scenario where Ward struggles or goes down with an injury. John Grahame is not able to be a number one goalie.

4. Ottawa Senators
People in this city don’t give two shits about regular seasons. We know this. So where the Sens finish is irrelevant as long as it’s in the top eight of the conference. Losing Chara and Havlat hurts, but a full season of Patrick Eaves, an increased role for Antoine Vermette, and the additions of Tom Preissing and Joe Corvo should help alleviate that almost entirely. Can Mike Fisher be a second line center? Is Martin Gerber the answer? These are the pressing questions that will make the season intriguing.

5. New Jersey Devils
Lou Lamorello finally solved the cap issue, and with Brian Gionta back in the fold, the Devils have to be considered a lock another playoff birth, and should give the Rangers some competition for the division title. New head coach Claude Julien leads a team that tore up the second half and largely remains in tact. Having Patrick Elias for the majority of the season will aid their scoring needs, as with a gamebreaker like that, there’s no way they’ll finish 22nd in goals scored again.

6. Atlanta Thrashers
If they actually had NHL caliber goaltending last season, Don Waddell’s guarantee of a franchise first playoff birth would have been realized. The mess that was their netminding situation is the kind of fiasco that, hopefully, only occurs once in a lifetime. They put up 90 points last season. If they have Kari Lehtonen, 95 isn’t out of the question, and 100 isn’t as absurd as you might think. Losing Marc Savard isn’t great, however, it also won’t hurt to the extent you think, and his replacement of sorts, Steve Rucchin, brings leadership that Savard just doesn’t have in his makeup. They’ll score a ton of goals, with the one Achilles’ heel possibly being in the backend, having lost Jaroslav Modry’s 38 points and 20 minutes a game.

7. Philadelphia Flyers
Owner Ed Snyder put out the word that his patience was running thin. Ken Hitchcock’s job is on the line and the unthinkable, Bob Clarke being removed, isn’t so silly as it was previously. Philadelphia is entering a crossroads season and I don’t see it going particularly well. Their goaltending situation remains unsteady, especially with Antero Niittymaki’s questionable health. Taking Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau’s presence out of that room will hurt and the kids (Jeff Carter, Joni Pitkanen, Mike Richards) aren’t quite ready to take over. Enjoy the one year of Forsberg you have left.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning
Many have theorized that trading for Marc Denis solves Tampa’s problems, but I believe that’s a simplification. Goaltending was certainly their primary issue last season, but it extended beyond that. Despite being loaded with talent on the top lines, they struggled with scoring and their defencemen didn’t go the netminders any favors. Shuffling out Dary Sydor and Pavel Kubina, and replacing them with Filip Kuba and Luke Richardson, has recipe for disaster written all over it. They’ll need monster years from Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier to even finish this high.

9. Montreal Canadiens
While it’s hard to believe the Habs won’t win the Cup based on the hype surrounding “Guy” Latendresse, I think the Habs are in for a tough go at it. A lot will depend on Cristobol Huet. I don’t see him collapsing entirely, but I also can’t see how he’ll be able to replicate last season’s successes. And if Huet doesn’t stand on his head, the Habs don’t win. Their D, even with the addition of Janne Niinimaa, is still way too weak and their forwards not committed to doing their part in their own end. You won’t find a bigger fan of Guy Carbonneau than me, but I see his first season being a tough one.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs
I’ll save you the time now Leafs Nation. You don’t even have the write those comments or the nasty emails: I have a bias, I’m a Sens fan, I’d never admit the Leafs will do well. Strangely, I went against the grain last season and thought they’d make the playoffs, and we saw how that went. This time around, I’m not making that mistake. An improved blueline helps, and Andrew Raycroft could rebound in a new environment, however, there just isn’t enough scoring up front. They’ll need huge seasons from Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen, and Alex Ponikarovsky, and I’m not convinced they’re up to the challenge. JFJ will survive the season though, for those of you in GM death pools.

11. Florida Panthers
The Panthers desperately need a playoff birth to re-ignite a dwindling fanbase, but it’s not gonna happen. They’re moving in the right direction, and adding Bertuzzi means they’ll at least be interesting to follow, however, ultimately, their weakness lies in goal, which is a strange twist of fate for an organization that has been dependent on their goalie for so long. Ed Belfour won’t be able to stay healthy and Alex Auld doesn’t have what it takes to get the job done.

12. Boston Bruins
Talk about hype. The B’s finally throw some paper around and suddenly they’re back in the Cup hunt. Chara will make an already strong defence good, and I like their first line, but scoring beyond those three will be hard to come by. They’re praying Marc Savard rejuvenates Glen Murray, but I don’t see that happening, and after those three, where is the secondary scoring going to come from? Also, Hannu Toivonen is a few years away for starting status while Tim Thomas was an aberration.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pens fans, take relief in the fact that things are getting better. Malkin gives you another weapon, Colby Armstrong looks to be the real deal, and Nils Ekman was a nice addition. But onto the bad news: Marc-Andre Fleury is a flop, Jocelyn Thibault is done as a starter, and the defence that struggled badly last season won’t be much better this time around, unless Mark Eaton turns into a Norris. If you’re expecting that, I got some land to sell you.

14. New York Islanders
The circus in Uniondale continues. Not enough scoring, an overrated and overpaid defence, and a ridiculously overrated goalie make this one of the worst Islander teams since the lowly teams of the mid-90s. Strap in Long Island. It’s not gonna be fun.

15. Washington Capitals
There still isn’t much to this team behind A.O. and Kolzig, which explains why they had to pay Brian Pothier, Ottawa’s sixth defenceman $2.5 million to come there, however, as long as the fans of this team can be patient, there shouldn’t be any major issues. Even if you do end up losing 50 games, you still get to watch the most exciting player on the planet every night, so it’s hard for me to feel too sorry for you.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Anaheim Ducks
Consider me one of the many who’s drank the Kool-Aid about the no-longer-Mighty Ducks being loaded for success. While all the talk is about the Chris Pronger-Scott Niedermayer combination, let’s not forget that have a pretty potent offence that can bury whatever opportunities arise. If Selanne and McDonald can replicate their ’05-’06 campaign, the stage is set for the kids to be the sporting cast, and I believe they’re up to it. And they better, because I have Corey Perry in not one but two pools so if he fails there will he hell to pay. Might want to do something about the potential goaltending fiasco though because I see that going sour very quickly.

2. Calgary Flames
Alex Tanguay might be getting too much pressure placed on him, as anytime savior status is dropped onto a player, it has the potential to go horribly, but if nothing else, he gives them a dangerous weapon who can play with Jarome Iginla and not drag him down. Everywhere else they’re set, and should Tanguay bring 30 goals, you’re looking at another 10 points. This is a team that lost a shitload of one goal games last season, and he has the skill to change those situations. I’d feel more comfortable with them if they had Sutter behind the bench still though.

3. Nashville Predators
I may have been a year early predicting it, but the changing of the guard in the Central is in full effect. The Preds have, slowly, built a tremendous team around a core of young players while ushering in some big name veterans to provide the scoring they previously lacked. Jason Arnott may have the biggest single impact of an player signed as a free agent this past offseason, giving them the #1 center they’ve lacked since inception. Finally Paul Kariya has someone to play with, and it’s a guy who will create a lot of open ice for the speedster. I’m still not sold that they’re mature enough as a group to win in the playoffs but they’ll be there during the first 82 games.

4. Dallas Stars
Many are predicting their demise, and I was with you last season, but I see the Stars still being a top team until April. Marty Turco may fold like a cheap tent in the postseason, however, you cannot deny his regular season successes. A big part of that is a loaded defence that remains mostly in tact, as well as a forward group committed to strong play in their own zone. However, they’re gonna have to start winning when it matters most or there will be changes much grander than a new captaincy.

5. San Jose Sharks
The other team in California turned things around wonderfully and are well positioned for another run this season, including plenty of cap space to add firepower where it’s needed. And should they ever decide to stop demanding the farm for Vesa Toskala (did he win a Cup and I missed it?) and get something for him, they instantly get better. I am somewhat skeptical about their blueline, because it’s largely untested, and the ease in which they moved Preissing would concern me a little if I was a Sharks fan, but Doug Wilson has proven himself to be a master of his trade, so who am I to judge?

6. Detroit Red Wings
Like Philly, they’re a team in transition. Not quite yet Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg’s team, the old faces from the better days still linger. There’s way too much talent here for the Wings to fall flat on their faces, but I believe the days of 100 point seasons are, for the time being anyway, gone. Good luck with Dominik Hasek. I’m sure that won’t end horribly for all involved, again.

7. Minnesota Wild
No team improved themselves more than the Wild, who finally paid their dedicated fanbase back for their patience and passion by spending some money to get better and return to the playoffs. They brought in two 30 goal scorers in Mark Parrish and Pavol Demitra and improved their powerplay by signing Kim Johnsson, two major holes that hurt them horribly last season. The question is, can Jacques Lemaire coach this team? There’s no point in bringing in offensive minded players, at a high cost, if you’re not going to let them run wild, and I’m not convinced he’s able to adapt. They may need a new bench boss to reach the heights their new lineup allows.

8. Phoenix Coyotes
Besides Minnesota, the ‘Yotes were the next most improved club, and like Florida, they too desperately need a playoff spot ASAP, as they’re on the cusp of being entirely irrelevant. I was very cynical about Wayne Gretzky’s motives when he took the coaching job, thinking it was more about selling tickets than anything else, but the fact he came back after a year from hell says a lot. Curtis Joseph is 39 years old, so to expect him to play 60 games again and contend for the playoffs isn’t rationale, so they may need backup help, but an improved defence (Nick Boynton and Ed Jovanovski instantly make them better) should make his life easier. They may not score at will but won’t struggle to light the lamp as badly if Ladislav Nagy can stay healthy. Oh, and I’m nominating Owen Nolan for comeback player of the season.

9. Edmonton Oilers
It’s a sad state of affairs Edmonton, I know, but after coming within a few goals of the Stanley Cup, they’re gonna miss the playoffs. Dwayne Roloson is in for a wakeup call because I think he’s gonna hit the wall, which won’t be helped by their awful defence. They have cap space and forwards to spare, so it may be shortsighted to judge this team and not the one that emerges in a few months, but as it stands, I think this is a club that’ll lose a lot of 5-4 games.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets
Still a year away, Doug MacLean is collecting a juicy core of ultratalented youngsters who will make this team dangerous in a few. They’ll be able to score at will, but moving Denis placed a lot of pressure on Pascal Leclaire, who’s yet to prove himself as a starter in the league. It would’ve been wise to invest in some blueline help to make the transition easier, but that would require basic common sense, something this franchise has proven to be devoid of time and time again.

11. Vancouver Canucks
For a franchise that’s been a lock for the playoffs, and always mentioned among Cup contenders, it’s got to be strange to now be considered on the outside looking in. They’ve finally solved the goaltending problem, and for many years to come, but in the process sacrificed a ton of goals. With a new coach that has historically placed an emphasis on defence, they may be moving in a new direction. Unfortunately, a lot of the same old faces remain from the previous regime, and the transition to a new system could be a difficult one. Perhaps they need to move out those players before they can take the step in the right direction. The excitement that defined GM Place may now be replaced by low scoring, dare I say dull games.

12. Los Angeles Kings
What are the Kings doing? Are they rebuilding? Are they trying to compete? Do even they know? The Demitra for Patrick O’Sullivan trade, as well as the request Jack Johnson acquisition and rookie Anze Kopitar getting top line duty, would indicate they’re going with a youth movement. However, they also spent significant money on Rob Blake and Alyn MacCauley, as well as signing Dan Cloutier to a pretty silly contract extension. Purgatory is never a good place to be in, and the Kings seem to have a bad identity crisis.

13. Colorado Avalanche
The shit’s gonna hit the fan in Denver. Pierre Lacroix’s exit truly marked the end of the era, though the fact only two players remain from their cup win five years ago should’ve told that story on it’s own. Colorado’s been hit hardest by the salary cap, losing key players are replacing them with laughable pylons. I thought Patrice Brisebois and Pierre Turgeon was as bad as it could get, but when you realize they have Tyler Arnason as their second line center, you know all you need to about their prospects this season. Jose Theodore will have to commit hockey robbery on most nights for them to reach the playoffs, and I think those days have passed him by.

14. Chicago Blackhawks
When they traded for Martin Havlat, I thought you could rationale the big contract by realizing that it would provide excitement to a fanbase which needs it pretty badly. Alas, that excitement lasted all of a few weeks, and reality set in. The Hawks still aren’t good enough to compete. They don’t have any scoring depth, which can be seen by either Bryan Smolinski or Michal Handszus on their top line, and Nikolai Khabibulin’s been exposed as all hype. Expect plenty of empty seats in the United Center once again.

15. St. Louis Blues
What are they doing? I have the utmost respect for John Davidson, but surely you’d think the last thing they needed was a team full of veterans on their last legs, yet by bringing back Doug Weight and signing Bill Guerin, that’s exactly what they did. And the worst part is, beyond those wrinkled vets, they have very little offence. They’ll get another top pick at least. That’s something to look forward to.

Cup Pick:
Anaheim over the Rangers.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Others think I'm smart too you know

Chris Young seems to think I still have something to offer and included me in his hockey blogger's roundtable along with Tom Luongo, Lyle Richardson and James Mirtle. It doesn't suck, so read it.

Muckler gets it sorta right

The Ottawa Senators trimmed the final layer of fat today, making the last set of roster cuts.

The point of interest for everyone for the last week, and the primary debating point on Ottawa sports talk radio for that period, was the decision between disappointing Russian rookie Alexei Kaigorodov and journeyman AHL sniper Denis Hamel. They had polar opposite camps. While Kaigorodov struggled during his first chance to shine, Hamel made the most of the opportunities given to him. For me, it was a no brainer. Keep Hamel and let Kaigorodov develop his North American game elsewhere. Turns out, there was a C option I didn't think existed.

Ottawa has decided to carry 22 players, among them both Kaigorodov AND Hamel.

What does this mean? I haven't figured it out yet, but my initial response is that it’s pretty foolish.

What’s clear is that the Sens didn't want to lose either. The fear is that if Kaigorodov doesn't make the team, he'd go back to Russia and with as hard as they fought to get him out of that mess, they would never get a second chance to bring him over. Despite my best attempts to dig deep into the situation and get the truth, I'm still clueless about his status. The initial reports were that if he didn't make the big club, the agreement with his Russian Super League team was such that he would have to go over there. However, reports floated that this was not the case and he was over here regardless, AHL or NHL. The fact he's signed a contract seems to make me think it has to be the latter.

If that is the case, the Sens have made what I consider a pretty big mistake.

They tried Kaigorodov on the Alfredsson line. They gave him a chance and, while it was only the pre-season, to say he failed would be putting it lightly.

And let's be real: given his skillset, the only place for Kaigorodov to play would be on the top two lines. Where they currently have him penciled in, on the fourth line, is a complete waste of both his time and the clubs.

We saw with Jason Spezza what a few years in the AHL can do for a developing player. As much as the comments may have stung, Jacques Martin's remarks back in 2002 that Spezza was still a boy playing with men was 100% on point. He went to the AHL and his balls dropped hockeywise, and he came back a man. There are still kinks, but the difference is vast. In the A, he was given the ball to run with and built up a tremendous amount of confidence dominating that league.

This is what Kaigorodov needs. A spot on the fourth line, playing 7 or 8 minutes a game does him little good.

There is a theory out there, and one that I think holds some weight, that the Sens, regardless of how poorly he played, were going to keep "Kai" around. Given how much hype was heaped on him, they couldn't admit defeat and send him packing.

If that's the case, Hamel has sure made a clusterfuck of their plans. Make no mistake, he played his way onto this team, and did so despite the organization wanting otherwise. And if he could've cleared waivers, I absolutely think they'd have sent him on his merry way to upstate New York with the rest of the them.

Because while Ottawa may have made up their mind about what kind of player he is, I have to assume some other team, a club not as talented as Ottawa, would've taken a run at him. That may be where Serge Payer lies. He had a strong camp and improved his standing within the organization. I wouldn't be shocked if another team scoops him up and gives him the fourth line checking center job that was pretty sewn up with the Sens.

Still, kudos to the organization for not cutting Hamel. I was certain they'd find a way to fuck it up, and they proved me wrong. Bravo.

Now that we know the team sorta, what's the line combos we go into Wednesday night with?

There is a significant divide amongst the fanbase as to the first line. I'm of the opinion that, for the time being, it's better to keep the Big Line apart. The first line is, obviously, going to be Jason Spezza at center with Dany Heatley on his left side. I'd pencil in Patrick Eaves to play right wing. It's a trio that played together, off and on, throughout last season, and Eaves rose the occasion every time. Despite being much smaller than both Spezza and Heatley, Eaves brings a physical, balls-to-the-wall attitude that seems to allude his more high profile teammates. Some might make a case for Dean McAmmond given how well he played with Spezza and Heatley in the pre-season, and the veteran presence as well as defensive responsibility he'd bring, and it's hard to argue with those points.

The second line is set in stone. Mike Fisher stepped in when Kaigorodov flopped and was terrific with Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Schaefer. He and Schaefer are no strangers to each other, as along with Chris Neil they made up Ottawa's third line for most of last season, a line that on a lot nights was Ottawa's best, and on almost every, was the hardest working. Some, myself included, questioned whether Fisher had what it took to be a true #2 center. You can't deny his work ethic or his dedication, but I was unsure if the natural skill required was there, and desire doesn't make up for that entirely. I always viewed Fisher as not quite good enough to be a #2 center, but too good to be a #3, which in theory is a perfect situation to be in. Fisher will get his shot and you'd be foolish to bet against him. Schaefer is coming off his best season as a pro, and there's no reason to think he can't do better with more ice time and an increased role. And Alfie is Alfie.

All of this doesn’t mean the Big Line is dead. There can be no disputing the chemistry that those three players have, and it would be foolish to let it waste away. It has to be used appropriately. In situations where the team needs a big goal, those three should absolutely get tapped on the back.

The third line needs to provide a lot of energy. That's what Schaefer-Fisher-Neil did last season, and the trio of McAmmond-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil, on paper anyway, brings a lot of jump, significant offensive capabilities, and, ideally, plenty of fight. Vermette had 20 goals last season playing on the fourth line. As a result, his fans called for the French Canadian to get a bigger role. Yet everytime he did, he played poorly, leaving many to assume that he worked best in a minor role. I was one of those people, and part of me still is, but at some point, he has to be given a shot to prosper or plummet, and for an extended period. Neil scored a career high 16 goals last season, and though some of you downplay those goals by saying half of them were tips or juicy rebounds with gaping cages, the reality is, Neil got his goals by doing something we've all been clamoring for from this team: he stood in front of the net.

The fourth line, I think, should be Hamel-Chris Kelly-Brian McGratton, leaving Kaigorodov on the outside looking in. Hamel can play D reasonably well, is physical, and has proven himself to be a capable goal scorer. Chris Kelly is one of the more useful players on the team, and when there's an injury he can move up, but for even strength I like him on the fourth line. And, crazy as this sounds, I believe McGratton will have a very good season. Okay, stop laughing. He's worked his ass off to develop his game and, yeah, he'll never be a top six forward, I think he's capable of a regular shift without hurting the team.

So that's how it breaks down. We'll know the answer to these questions Wednesday night, but it's pretty cut and dry from where I sit.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why does God hate me?

I just realized Wednesday's opening night in the NHL conflicts with the season premiere of Lost. Great. As much as I love the Sens, a choice between Spezza or Sawyer, Heatley or The Hatch, Fisher or Freckles isn't as easy as you'd think. For the past week my personal life has taken a back seat to late night DVD marathons catching up on season 2. Hopefully by the time 9pm rolls around, Ottawa will be up by six goals and my interest will have diminished, so I can watch Jack bitchslap The Others without any distractions.

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