Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ottawa 6 Florida 0

THE GOOD:

Total domination. While they slipped slightly in the third period (as tends to happen with a six goal lead), I thought this was, all around, the best game the Sens have had in a long time. Their play in the defensive zone, save a few brainfarts that didn’t result in anything because of Ray Emery and some luck, was terrific. Every Sens forward was committed to the cause, backchecking with vigor and making it impossible for the Panthers to sustain any pressure. In addition, the forecheck was relentless. Every line maintained an aggressive forecheck presence throughout the game, which is what this team needs. It wasn’t just the third and fourth lines doing the dirty work. All four bought into the gameplan. It’s difficult to pinpoint one line as the best because each had their moment in the sun and spurts where you figured they were the best trio. I liked the game, in particular, of the Daniel Alfredsson line. Tremendous two-way games from all three. As well, the defence unit had an extremely strong game. Andrej Meszaros, Anton Volchenkov, and Chris Phillips deserve special mention. Meszaros followed up Tuesday night’s strong outing with an even better game. Two points, rushed the puck well, and was extremely effective in his own zone. Volchenkov is in a zone and playing his best hockey since, well, ever. When a guy is blocking shots in the third period of a game that his team is leading 6-0, you know he’s a team player.

Daniel Alfredsson’s aggression. I’m not sure if he simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or if there was something, away from the cameras, that we missed, but Alfie was PISSED off tonight. He came as close to dropping the gloves as I’ve seen him and even extracted some revenge on poor Stephen Weiss (who had a rough night) later in the game for a perceived cheap shot in the second. His play is coming around in a major way and I genuinely believe he’s a week away from breaking out huge. Speaking of which, um, can someone else step in for Daniel Alfredsson to punch Weiss in the face, please? I was glad he got pissed but after throwing a few blows he should be stepped away by someone else who pummels the other guy. A hilarious moment in the game was when Alfie and Weiss were tussling, color man Gord Wilson said something to the effect of “I bet Chris Neil is on the bench, standing this, watching, taking notes”. Camera cuts to Neil on the bench wiping his face with a towel, not even paying attention.

Ray Emery. Solid when called upon, he’s building more and more confidence with each win.

THE BAD:

Losing Wade Redden. There’s not much indication of the severity of the injury, but it didn’t look good. On the replays you could see him grimace after being hit by Jay Bouwmeester. If it’s any consolation, the fact it’s not another lower body injury (i.e. groin), but instead of the upper body variety. That of course is assuming the Sens are feeding us bullshit information about player injuries. Surely they wouldn’t do such a thing, right? Redden has proven himself to be quite the catalyst this season, and without him, the team, and in particular the powerplay, struggles badly. So say a prayer the Sens aren't without their most important blueliner.

Shattered glass. Let's also hope the kids who felt the wrath of Phillips and Weiss are alright. The word is that they were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but boy was that scary for a few moments.

THE OPPOSITION:

While the Sens caught them in a dry spell, as the Panthers are now goalless in three straight games, I'd be very concerned if I'm one of the couple dozen fans this team has. Compared to the spirited effort they displayed six days ago, this was a catastrophe of the grandest kind.

They had ZERO jump in the first period, and for a team on the brink of big trouble, there was absolutely no desperation. It's one thing to be playing poorly or not getting the breaks. To just have bad puck luck or no chemistry. But when there apepars to be minimal effort, that's bad news. Where Olli Jokinen for most of this game? Where was Jay Bouwmeester? Jozef Stumpel? Nathan Horton? Bryan Allen, who was awesome in the last meeting. The only time I noticed him was when the Sens were knocking him around. I'd say Todd Bertuzzi can't get back soon enough but I'm not sure he'll make a lick of difference.

And on paper, it might seem as if goaltending was the problem, but Alex Auld was awesome before he got the mercy hook. I remember saying I didn't know if Auld playing was a good thing or not. If it had been Ed Belfour from the start, the score might have been double digits. He made at least six huge game-saving stops and cannot be faulted on many of the ones that did get by him.

The game story, if you want it simplified, is that the Panthers D had no answer for the Sens pressure. They made the 'Canes blueline that I shit all over two nights ago look like the the d-men who backstopped the Habs in the 70's.

Are changes in order? Does it even matter?

UP NEXT:

Tampa Bay Saturday night. The Bolts took it to the Sens Sunday afternoon so there is, I'd hope, some desire for revenge. The big thing to watch will be who they have in goal. Johan Holmqvist stonewalled the Sens in that game and was a big reason for the result, but he got chased the other night.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ottawa 4 Carolina 1

THE GOOD:

Martin Gerber. He needed this one. More even than a W, Gerber needed a solid performance without any major costly mistakes, and we got that. Though it certainly looked like this would be a long night based on the early (and lone) goal he gave up, where he looked awkward and uncomfortable, Gerber managed to compose himself nicely and give a strong outing that hopefully builds some confidence not only within himself but also with his teammates. Because there can be no disputing that Ottawa played like a different team with Ray Emery between the pipes than they did when it was Gerber tending the goal. One good game doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods, and he’ll need to do the same the next time he gets tapped on the shoulder, but it was a good starting point. Fundamentally, a lot of the things that were killing him, and as a result the team, were much better. Primarily, Gerber didn’t look nearly as small. You could see, based on where the ‘Canes where shooting – high – that the book is out on how to solve Gerber, and as long as he was going down so quickly, so deep in the net, the opposition was going to continue to roof it with success.

The penalty killing. Awesome. Carolina had five powerplay opportunities and could barely build any momentum from all the man advantages they had. In fact, in a few instances, Ottawa was generating more chances and getting more energy from killing off all the penalties. Props to Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, and Chris Kelly, who were all terrific in this area.

The third period. The final 20 minutes has become a pretty sizeable foe of the Sens this season, which is a strange thing to say given how well this team was at protecting leads that season. We’ve already seen Ottawa shit the bed in the third and blow a lead a handful of times this season, and we’re only 25 games in. While it was when Ottawa scored their second and third goals to blow the game open, the truth was, Ottawa was the inferior team in the second period, as Carolina dictated the pace and dominated the majority of the frame, spending much more time in Ottawa’s end than vice versa. So, despite a two goal lead going into the last period, I was a tad nervous based on the various collapses we’ve seen this year. However, a different team came out for the third period.

The Patrick Eaves-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil line Terrific. Fisher scored a goal, registered an assist, and was the catalyst for his line’s strong play throughout. It was nice seeing Eaves score because he’s been due and they need him to be more of an offensive presence for this team to prosper. Whenever people would say “where is the secondary scoring going to come from now that Martin Havlat is gone?” I would tell them (after pointing out that Havlat only accounted for nine of their league leading 312 last season) that Eaves would be a big part of it. He scored 20 goals in 58 games last season, and in the process, demonstrated a tremendous natural goal scoring instinct that made me think a more seasoned and mature Eaves would rack up quite the tally in a full season. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunity, as Eaves spent significant time playing with some pretty offensively talented people. His overall game has improved since moving onto a line with Fish and Neil, but that scoring presence hasn’t come around. Let’s hope his first goal in seven games ends the slump and gets him scoring like we need him. Fisher’s skating pretty friggin’ well right now as well.

Going to the net. Someone lit a fire under the asses of the Sens’ forwards (and Christoph Schubert). That’s the only explanation I have for why Ottawa skaters went so hard to the net, nonstop. The first goal, scored by Patrick Eaves, was a direct result of him skating hard through a bit of a clutch from a ‘Canes defender and getting rewarded as a result. Even Daniel Alfredsson, a former Lady Byng nominee, was going to the net, and got punched in the face as a result (would’ve liked some retribution for that, but that’s another issue).

Christoph’s Schubert’s shot. Holy fuck.

Andrej Meszaros. Over 25 minutes played, strong in all ends of the ice, good in every situation. This is the Meszaros we’ve become used to.

THE BAD:

Chris Phillips lack of discipline. The Big Rig’s new found habit of taking bad defensive zone penalties is starting to annoy me, mostly because they all result from Phillips not skating and instead resorting back to the “old NHL” ways of hooking. We’ve had these new rules for a little while now. I would’ve thought otherwise smart veterans like Phillips would’ve adjusted by now, but alas, that’s not the case.

Playing with fire. Both Joe Corvo and Wade Redden must’ve decided they just didn’t give a fuck because each guy threw caution to the wind. Redden threw the puck through his own crease more than once and Corvo thought he was Bobby Orr the way he attempted to pylon Carolina skaters.

The attendance. I realize the ‘Canes aren’t burning it up the way they were last season, and Ottawa no longer has that “must see TV” buzz around it (seems to have gone south to Buffalo), but less than 15,000? And that’s announced. It’s a good bet the real number was closer to 13K. What gives Raleigh? Was there a town hall meeting going on simultaneously?

THE OPPOSITION:

The one noteworthy observation I have to make about the ‘Canes, above all others, is that their defence is a mess. In comparison to the squad that backstopped Carolina to a Cup win in the spring, this one is ass. Pittsburgh-last-year ass. Now, a drop off of some sort had to be expected. They lost Aaron Ward, an unremarkable but important piece of the puzzle, to free agency and Frantisek Kaberle to a long-term injury, and that hurts. But the guys they have left who were so good last year, the Glen Wesley’s (looked 50 years old out there), Brent Hedicans and Mike Commodore were not the least bit effective. Hell, Anton Babchuck, a guy they got for almost nothing from the Hawks (nice trade) was their best rearguard. Now, no offence to Anton Babchuck. He’s a former first rounder and had a very good game, but they need the veterans to anchor the ship.

This was where the game was won. All four of Ottawa’s lines forechecked consistently and Carolina’s defence, which was praised by that old relic John Muckler for their puck moving ability and overall speed last year, couldn’t deal in the slightest. Carolina’s forwards were fine and in the second did a excellent job of taking it to the Ottawa defencemen in that frame.

Also, John Grahame stinks. I thought this much was known but the Hurricanes thought he would be a good backup to Cam Ward and, apparently, serve as their insurance should Ward suffer from a sophmore slump/Conn Smythe Curse. And here I thought Jim Rutherford was one of the best GMs in the NHL.

UP NEXT:

A game against Florida on a Thursday night may not seem like a big game, but I think it is. Sorta. Ottawa, like most teams, tends to struggle when they come back from lengthy roadtrips. There is a hangover that carries over and the first game back at home is often quite poor. So it’ll be especially interesting to see if they can keep it rolling after a nice win tonight to their home returns. The early word is Alex Auld is starting. I haven’t seen enough of Florida, nor cared enough about them to follow the team closely, to know if that’s good or not.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A confession

I didn't see last night's Sens-Sabres game. A previous engagement had me out and about, and my attempt to dust off the VCR and record the game (yes, I'm still behind on the PVR bandwagon) didn't go so well. As a result, I have no thoughts.

And since they won, I'm debating "missing" Monday night's game against Minnesota, watching it on a delay when doing so will have no effect on the outcome one way or another.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

New Jersey 3 Ottawa 2

Sort of an abbreviated version tonight. Blogger already ate my previous attempt and it's nearly 2am.

THE GOOD:

A strong third period. For the second consecutive game, the Sens elevated in the third period. Unfortunately, unlike Wednesday night, by the time they turned it up a notch, the hole they dug themselves was too severe to get out of. But still. It's reassuring to see that that hurdle looks to have been leaped.

Mike Fisher & Chris Neil. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these were the lone Sens skaters who brought it for a full 60 minutes. Fisher was skating like the wind, again, and generated a number of the team's prime scoring chances. He was also the only Sen who was able to penetrate the Devils trap they implemented from the midway point of the game on. He rushed the puck down the wing often and good some decent shots away as a result. Neil must have thought it was April because was stirring the pot the way he did in the Tampa series. I'm pretty sure the Devils want to kill him.

Ray Emery. 23 saves with three goals allowed may not blow you out of the water, so on paper it probably seems like Emery was quite ordinary but in fact it was the exact opposite. Emery was even better than he was Wednesday night and was probably the only reason the game was as close as it was after the Sens played so poorly in the second. Emery is providing Ottawa with something they were never getting consistently from Martin Gerber: steady, reliable goaltending with the big saves being made. Emery cannot be faulted on any of the three goals scored.

THE BAD:

The second period. Boy oh boy did they disappoint here. This was the 20 minutes where the game was lost. What I think is happening is that this team is so fragile emotionally that when they have a pretty good first period (still not outstanding, but certainly better than the Devils) yet go into the room down a few goals while having hit a post or two, they start feeling both dejected and bad for themselves. Then they come out feeling down and out and the other team takes it to them.

Daniel Alfredsson. He scored Ottawa's second goal but overall, where was the captain last night? It would be kind to say he was not a factor. #11 makes it difficult for us Alfie Apologists with games like this.

The powerplay. 0-2. Back it sucking it seems.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Devils came out pretty flat in the first, yet a lucky bounce (and a strong finish from Jamie Langenbrunner) as well as an effective powerplay had them up two goals after the first 20 minutes. And while Ottawa scored twice in the third to make things more interesting, the truth was, once they netted a third goal in the second period the end result was never really in doubt. The idea that the Devils would blow a three goal lead in the third period at home seemed pretty unrealistic.

The big surprise was how dominant the Langenbrunner-Zach Parise-Travis Zajac line was. They were responsible for all three of New Jersey's goals and were, far and away, their best players. Zajac looks to be a hell of a player and at 21 should have fans of the team excited.

Brian Gionta, invisible. Way to earn that paycheck.

UP NEXT:

Right back at it, which I think is a good thing. They can build on the good things from this loss and hopefully *fingers crossed* correct the mistakes. Buffalo didn't play their best two nights ago so you know they'll want some revenge and redemption while, ideally, the Sens want to prove Wednesday night and not the game we saw five hours ago was the real team.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

TSN vs. the Senators

The Ottawa Senators organization has a new number one rival, it seems. Though, geographically speaking, it was just a walk down the street.

There's a strange situation going on over at TSN, and right they're butting heads with the people at ScotiaBank Place.

I mentioned it in my recap of last night's Sens win over the Sabres, but Pierre Maguire, once Ottawa's loudest cheerleader, has since become their most vocal critic. Maguire has a daily segment on the local morning sports talk radio show on The Team 1200. It's an insanely popular segment on the highest rated sports radio morning show in the country. Meaning, when he talks, people hear it.

Maguire started the season picking the Sens as a favorite to win the Cup. In less than two months, he's done a complete 180. Every day he now refers to the team's lack of speed and talks about how much they miss Zdeno Chara (at the start of the season he said John Muckler made the right choice with Wade Redden over Chara).

It seems as if Maguire doesn't simply think they've been playing bad. He thinks they're an average team. This has drawn the ire of some, and it was showcased nationally last night. For the whole game he mused about the superiority of the Sabres. Buffalo was faster, tougher, wanted it more, etc. When Ottawa managed to pull out a gutsy win, there was much egg on his face. This morning on Ottawa radio, he said all the right things and the hosts did their best tapdancing performance, skirting the issue without confronting Maguire.

But it doesn't end with Maguire.

A few weeks back there was a report on RDS, rooted at TSN, that Ray Emery's arm injury was more serious than the team was letting on. That he might miss 8 weeks. Ooops. Not true.

This afternoon, Eugene Melnyk held a conference call to give everyone a vote of confidence. Murray, Muckler, Mlakar. All them. The first question of the call was from TSN's Darren Dreger and he didn't waste anytime with softballs.

Listening in, you could literally feel the tension when Dreger asked the questions about how Melnyk can tolerate losing. He managed to basically editorialize with every question he asked, making it clear HE thought pink slips need to be issued. Melnyk seemed thrown but handled them relatively well, issuing the token responses that I imagine his P.R. man had written up before hand.

Oh, and the story about a top level Melnyk aide, his supposed second-in-command flying on red eye to Buffalo last night for the game? The story about how this was the precursor to heads rolling? All nonsense. It's since been revealed that the trip was planned all along. Who exactly turned this into a big deal? Oh, right.

With the Battle Of Ontario fizzling out somewhat, it's nice to know the Sens still have some enemies in Hogtown.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ottawa 4 Buffalo 2

THE GOOD:

A spirited performance when it mattered most. Now, let me say this: the Sens are still not out of the woods. They’ve dug themselves a lofty hole with their play over the last month, and it’ll take more games like this before those parade plans get unraveled from the trash bin, however, this was a great start. There are a TON of positives to take out of this game. The team finally showed up, big time, in the third period. They finally scored a third period powerplay goal. They finally won a game after being scored on first. They didn’t blow it when a lead was established. Most of all, they came to play when it mattered most. Others called this a must win game, or a game seven type scenario, and while I was not nearly that dramatic, I did think this was one they needed as desperately as a game in November can be. But even more than the win, they need a strong outing. They needed to leave the game feeling good about themselves, and if that came because of a great effort in defeat, then it would be a worthwhile experience. Going into Buffalo and beating the best time in the league is more than even I expected. The question now is, can they build on this? Will we be looking back on tonight’s W as a turning point in the season or will they fall back into their rut? Let’s not forget we thought this club was out of the woods three weeks back when they beat up on the Devils and then the Leafs twice. It didn’t last.

Penalty killing in general, but in particular, the 5-on-3 kill in the first period. This was one of the key points in the game, I believe, as Ottawa established a lot of confidence from this kill. They didn’t turn it on immediately after shutting the Sabres powerplay down, and in fact it was just the opposite, but I think it told them that they could play with Buffalo. As well, Ottawa was a threat on the PK the way they were last season. They had two breakaways that, if this team had the bounces going their way, would have been goals. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but getting chances is a good step in the right direction.

The powerplay. For one, they didn’t get scored on with the man advantage. That’s a positive to take away. But in general, they were much better on the PP. Still not where I, and I’m sure every other Sens fan, would like them to be, but at this point, it’s baby steps. Murray made some subtle but ultimately smart adjustments. One of which saw Dany Heatley take Daniel Alfredsson’s spot on the point. I have to say, I didn’t think this was wise. While Heatley has a better shot than Alfie, making him a prime candidate to man the point, he’s also not a great skater, meaning, against a speedy Buffalo team, he might be caught should the puck bounce and a Sabres player get possession (ie, last year’s game 5 OT winner). But Heatley showed great poise when handling the puck back there and utilized the big shot. Also, Denis Hamel joined the first unit powerplay, getting the unglamorous but very necessary job of standing in front of the net and causing trouble. As someone who’s been clamoring for more Hamel ice time, it warmed my heart to see the coaching staff oblige.

Ray Emery. He looked shaky at various points, and gave me heart palpitations when he handled the puck behind the net, but in the end, Ray Emery provided this tea with something Martin Gerber has been unable to and that’s steady, reliable netminding. He made the big saves when they were needed and when Gerber has not been. Time to get on his back and ride him for a while because he looks to be up to the task.

Chris Phillips. A monster game from the veteran, and it was needed badly. He’s been struggling quite a bit this season and has been the subject of numerous trade rumors. And when a pillar of the franchise and a leader in the locker room is struggling it starts to effect the rest of the team. In his own zone, Phillips played like it was one of those must win, do-or-die game seven type situations, which is usually when he shines brightest. 28 minutes of game time and he was terrific in every bit of it.

Anton Volchenkov. He’s really hitting his stride. He too played like a desperate man, taking the body with much aggression (just ask Adam Mair) and blocking a shitload of shots. At the start of the season he was either 5th or 6th on their depth chart, but with Wade Redden out of the line-up, he’s their best defenceman right now to me. In the final seconds of a close game, there isn’t anyone else I’d want on the ice more than the A-Train because I know he’ll take a puck to the face if it means it’ll stay out of the net, and that’s the kind of commitment we need.

Throwing the puck at the net with traffic around the goalie. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here: don’t be fancy. Both the game winner as well as the goal that tied the contest came from a shot being fired from the point and someone redirecting it along the way. Full marks to the Senators for staying with it despite missing the net consistently in the second period while also getting shots blocked nonstop throughout the game.

THE BAD:

Andrej Meszaros. He redeemed himself slightly but getting an assist on the goal that made it 2-2, however, I think we can officially say he’s in the midst of a severe sophmore slump. After coughing the puck up on the winner the other night, he also gaffed on Daniel Briere’s goal and was almost responsible for another later in the first period when he didn’t get in position for a Ray Emery pass. Daniel Alfredsson bailed him out because if that had led to a goal as well he really would’ve been in the doghouse. Unfortunately, with Wade Redden out, Ottawa has to play him quite a bit anyway even though I’m sure Murray wishes he could sit the youngster for a bit to let him work through his issues from the bench and not on the ice, where he can hurt the team.

Giveaways. Ottawa had 17 of them, which is about 16 too many against a team as good and sizzling as the Sabres. Throw in Ottawa’s only slumps and they simply couldn’t afford to be that sloppy. It didn’t burn them in the end here but if they do so Saturday night when these two teams match up at ScotiaBank Place they probably won’t get the same result.

Francois St. Laurent. Terrible calls on both ends. He blew early whistles that fucked each time. The Sens more often, but late in the game, with the Sabres pressing, he whistled the play dead even though Stevie Wonder could’ve seen the rubber loose.

Pierre Maguire. I actually usually like the guy, and defend him often, but boy, when he’s bashing your team, it stings hard. Why do I feel like he enjoys seeing the Sens struggle? Is my vagina sensitive because the team is struggling and I’m being defensive when I shouldn’t be? It might just be a case of us being allowed to bash them because they’re our kids, but when other (bald alien-like) parents call them brats, them’s fighting words. It might just be karma because the Sens were getting the media blowjobs last season.

THE OPPOSITION:

Buffalo lost for two reasons, as I see it: their special teams didn’t deliver on either end and when Ottawa turned it on in the third period they couldn’t respond by elevating their own games. If their powerplay was effective we’d be talking about this game in a whole different light.

It’s also worth mentioning that Buffalo came in pretty undermanned. Without the pairing of Henrik Tallinder & Toni Lydman, Ryan Miller (bet you’re glad you held onto Martin Biron huh) and Maxim Afinogenov (who I desperately need back soon before I plummet even further in my office pool). When you’re without those kind of players, there will be a dropoff. And it's not as if their top guns underperformed. Brian Campbell was awesome, which really pleases me because I've liked the guy since he played under Brian Kilrea as a 67 and thought everyone was wrong when the accepted opinion was he wasn't an NHL caliber defenceman. Tomas Vanek looked like the guy who had all the hype coming into last season. Chris Drury brought the heart and leadership.

However, the bottom line is that Ottawa wanted it more than Buffalo. And so they should. Buffalo has the best record in the NHL. It'd be foolish to think they would be able to match Ottawa's desire when the Sens are fighting for their lives.

UP NEXT:

New Jersey Friday night. This one will be big as well because if they fall back into old habits, and the shit luck returns, they will feel even more dejected because the sentiment will be "damn, I thought we got this monkey off our back". I have to assume that Ray Emery will get the nod in nets, and that will make a difference. The skaters in front of him play with much more confidence than they have with Gerber between the pipes, and that matters.

The Devils are back their old ways, sorta. They're not scoring a lot, but now not giving up even more. They also have a middle of the road PK which might play into the Sens hands given how effective their powerplay is right now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Montreal 6 Ottawa 3

THE GOOD:

The first period effort from the Sens. Ottawa was all over the Habs in the first frame. Physically, they were dominant, and were generating far more offensive opportunities than the Canadiens as well as outshooting Montreal by a wide margin (17-7). It looked as if a fire was lite under them as a collective, and the kind of fire that would sustain itself for the full 60 minutes. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, and I think a big reason was because despite being, far and away the superior team, the Sens went into the first intermission tied 1-1, thus deflating them.

Coming back, sorta, in the third period. I must admit, when Lantendresse scored his second goal off the blast from Souray to make it 4-1, I figured, it’s a wrap. If I was there in person I probably would have headed for the exits, just based on the way this season has gone. There was absolutely no reason to think the Sens would claw their way back into this game, yet that’s exactly what they did. They had some assistance from the referees, who put the Habs in the box with some questionable penalties (perhaps making up for all the calls they missed earlier, including the hit from behind on McGratton), however, Ottawa managed to get back into the contest and for a few minutes, with the momentum decidedly on their side, it looked as if they would tie the game 4-4. Then Martin Gerber shit the bed, again.

Denis Hamel. He got a little more ice time than usual (over 9 minutes), including some shifts on the second unit of the powerplay, but there still wasn’t enough Hamel for my liking tonight, especially based on how well he played in the first period, where he went hard to the net with regularity while also finishing every check he could.

Patrick Eaves. Good drive to the net on his goal, Eaves played a great game, but just didn't get much help from those around him. Threw a ton of hits as well. If everyone came to play like Eaves, Ottawa would be 2 points better.

THE BAD:

Martin Gerber lets us down again. It’s a shame. It really is. I truly believe the guy is trying, and he looks to be taking this slump hard, however, the bottom line is, nice person or not, an NHL team needs a goalie they can depend on, and right now, the Ottawa Senators don’t have such a thing. Despite his big salary and supposed pedigree, Gerber is not that person. Now, it would be both incorrect and unfair to pin this loss entirely on his shoulders, because he made some strong saves throughout the game to keep Ottawa involved, including a gave-saving glove in the second period that looked to have the potential to rally his troops. Ottawa didn’t lose because of Martin Gerber, however, they do need him to come up with the saves, including ones on soft shots. The Mike Johnson goal to make it 5-3 and essentially ice the Senators’ chances should not be going in on any supposed NHL caliber starting goaltender. Some are claiming it was a deflection but it if so wasn’t significant. It wasn’t as if the puck changed direction drastically.

An inconsistent effort. Again. While the game was 60 minutes, the Senators only came to play for 30 and the result indicates that. As I’ve said time and time again, this team simply isn’t good enough, nor are they getting the lucky bounces that a team firing on all cylinders does, to not work hard for the full game and expect to get the two points. Certainly not against a team that works hard more often than not and is coming off a rather humbling experience in front of the country on Hockey Night In Canada and especially not without their best defenceman Wade Redden. Ottawa’s collapse could be seen coming a mile away. As soon as they didn’t leave the first period up three goals, they started having doubts, and the effort got worse as the game went on. By the mid-way point of the second, Montreal was dictating the pace of the game, outworking Ottawa, beating the Sens to all pucks, and even out muscling the bigger Ottawa team in the corners and in front of the net. That carried over into the third when the Habs were able to net two quick goals to put three goals between themselves and the Sens. Bryan Murray talked about being proud of his players despite the losses they took on this past road trip. That they worked hard. Nothing to be proud of here, coach. Your boys let you down, and I didn't see you doing much to change it.

The big guns not delivering. All three had decent games as far as effort and scoring chances, but Ottawa’s big three up front, Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza had to produce tonight and were unable to do so. People talk about secondary scoring, but what this team needs most, night in and night out, is for these to be factors on the score sheet. I’ve defended Daniel Alfredsson as vehemently as anyone in this city, yet my patience is running thing. There’s only so much effort and no production you can take, and I’m reaching my breaking point. And Dany Heatley’s act is getting REAL old. For a supposed natural goal scorer, he’s sure managed to make not scoring goals look easy.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Habs should have counted themselves lucky to get out of the first period not down a few goals. Some bad puck luck around the net by Sens skaters as well as good goaltending from Cristobol Huet keep them in the game and they built from that point to take over when Ottawa’s effort fell off a cliff. Montreal got strong games from rookie senation Lantendresse (who didn’t look a bit out of place alongside Koivu and Ryder) as well as, of all people, Radek Bonk, who displayed good chemistry on a line with Alexander Perezhogen. Suddenly the loss of Christopher Higgins doesn't look so crippling.

UP NEXT:

On the road again. Ottawa leaves town to visit, oh shit, the Buffalo Sabres. You know, the best team in the NHL. Buckle up friends, because this one could get VERY ugly. Either that or the team will get their shit together knowing if they do not the odds of being utterly humiliated are very good. If I was a betting man, and the guy at the local Quickie who sees me stumble into his store every Sunday at 12:50 knows I most certainly am such, I'd wager that the Sabres make the Sens look quite foolish.

The city of Ottawa went to the polls tonight and made it clear they want a change. A fatcat politician was booted out in favor of someone who, hopefully, has new ideas and new vision. I can’t help but think that if such an election was held amongst the fanbase of this team, there wouldn’t be a single person within the organization left standing, from the President to the kid who rips tickets.

We’re now 17 games into the season. How long before the mentality that the team will right it’s own ship, that things will turn around on their own, is thrown out the window? In a conference as tight as the Eastern Conference, Ottawa cannot afford to fall too far behind early because we’ve seen what happens when a team has to dig themselves out for a big hole. 20 games just may be the magic number and with the next three contests against Buffalo, New Jersey, and Buffalo, John Muckler and Bryan Murray might consider it wise to call a real estate agent because they don't look to be long for this city.

You thought Bob Clarke had it good

Dear Doug MacLean,

Do me a solid: take some of those compromising photos of my boss that you clearly have on yours, because I sure would love to be a complete failure and have others, who I hired, take the fall while I coast with a fat contract.

Thanks pal,
Chris

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Like shooting fish in a barrel, I know, but I had to

Dwayne Klessel posted this bit on his "blog":

Shawn Horcoff for Chris Phillips. Would you do it?

Not if you are Edmonton in my opinion. All you need to do is look at last year's playoffs and how these guys performed. My memory of Horcoff was that Detroit series and the finals. I felt that Horcoff could have won the MVP in the playoffs last year. HE was the best player on the Oilers. He is the most well rounded player for sure. He is very similar to a young Steve Yzerman.


My Memory of Phillips was him allowing players to skate by him in the Buffalo series, including the goal that eliminated the Sens. I also remember that one goal by Drury where he was allowed to skate in from the corner and score without anyone touching him.

Now, I don't believe this rumor has any basis in reality, and probably started on a message board by some armchair GM, however, there are two points that are worth destroying:

1) Chris Phillips was NOT on the ice when the Sens were eliminated
Funny how memories can be such bullshit. How Chris Phillips can be held responsible for the goal scorer to knock out Ottawa when he was on the bench is beyond me. Daniel Alfredsson has been the goat on that one (and to a lesser extent Wade Redden) but now we're blaming people who were watching it like the rest of us? Was Phillips supposed to jump on the ice and tackle Jason Pominville? Use his superpowers to will the puck off Pominville's stick?

As anyone who's watched the Sens over the years would know, Chris Phillips has been, year in and year out, their most consistent playoff performer, and was still one of the few effective Sens in the Sabres series despite having a bum knee that probably should have had him on the shelf.

The odds are pretty good that Chris Phillips will leave Ottawa at the end of the year. Despite his struggles this season, he's still highly regarded throughout the league and will therefore get a rich contract on the open market this summer. Based on the contracts thrown out this past July, Phillips is probably a $3 million blueliner, and that's too rich for the Sens blood.

But I don't think they'll be moving him anytime soon. Phillips has what this team is supposedly lacking most, according to its critics, and that's heart and leadership. You think this is a soft, mentally weak team now? Move the Big Rig and you'll be yearning for the past month.

2) Shawn Horcoff is like a young Steve Yzerman
I hope I don't have to even say anything.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another day another struggle

I didn't see tonight's game because I'm too cheap to pay for CentreIce, but just listening to it casually this evening, in between other errands as well as the finale of Lost (what a jip!) frustrated me immensely. Seeing the highlights only heightened this emotion.

Martin Gerber, not such a great goalie after all. Those goals were Patrick Lalime-in-April-esque in terms of badness. Tommy Salo even said he could stop those.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It starts at the top

First, I have to make a confession. I woke up this morning very disgruntled. Watching the highlights of last night's collapse only frustrated me further. I was far too kind on this team in my wrap-up last night. I was blinded by the fact that the effort was improved, from embarassingly bad to just alright. There is NO excuse to let a three goal lead slip away like that.

And it seems as if a lot of you feel the same way. I haven't seen the fanbase this rilled up in many years. There has been discontent, even disapproval, but nothing like this. As a result, a lot of you are calling on a move of some significance, and the popular theory seems to be that a major trade is just what the doctor ordered.

I don't disagree. At this point, I'm open to any trade that makes this team better. With the exception of, perhaps, Andrej Meszaros, no player should be viewed as untouchable, and if you can truly get a good return, and are not simply trading for the sake of it, then anyone and everyone should be fair game. Jason Spezza? Make your best offer. Dany Heatley? What are you gonna give us? Wade Redden? Hey, I'll listen.

But there's one sort of significant problem: the Ottawa Senators GM is a moron.

If you want to see a trade, don't you want to make sure the guy deciding who to trade and what to get back knows what he's doing? Don't you want to feel a level of trust with that individual? How many of you trust John Muckler to do the right thing?

I felt, and still feel, that Muckler's head should have been on the shopping block after the Sens fell apart in the second round against Buffalo. I said as much at the time.

Nothing that's taken place this season has swayed me from that stance.

Muckler narrowly avoided the axe two years ago because the thirst for Jacques Martin's blood was so severe everyone, myself included, sort of overlooked his errors. But we've driven every other potential scapegoat besides the captain out of town already. Gone are Radek Bonk, Patrick Lalime, Zdeno Chara, and coach Martin. I'd hope the fingers would finally be pointed at the right man by now.

Let's, quickly, review the major moves John Muckler has made as the general manager of the Ottawa Senators that have made me question his ability to guide this team in the right direction:

Bryan Smolinski for Tim Gleason and the contract that followed
Made in the spring of 2003, when the Sens were the best team in the NHL, gearing up for a Cup run. Smolinski was supposed to bring scoring depth and a veteran presence, having played 60 career playoffs. Smolinski was paired with Daniel Alfredsson and Todd White on the second line and as a result tallied some points, but was never really a major factor. And that would be the best way to summarize his entire two-and-a-half seasons in Ottawa. On paper, it might seem like was very effective based on the fact he put up 94 points in 161 games after that. However, Smolinski was a floater on most nights and his major contribution, sound defensive play, wasn't enough to justify his salary. A salary John Muckler gave him. It was thought that Smolinski was a rent-a-player when he was traded for because his contract expired at the end of the season. Nope. Muckler signed the then 32-year-old to a four year contract worth more than $10 million. A contract so bad that, a year in, after the new CBA, the Sens came *this* close to buying him out entirely. Smolinski was basically a throw in in the Martin Havlat deal this summer, the same way Greg de Vries was a summer earlier. If the Hawks wanted Havlat as made as they said (and the equally ridiculous contract they gave him said they wanted him BAD), they'd have to take Smolinski off the Senators hands. Meanwhile, the guy who we gave up for those two magical seasons of Smolinski, Tim Gleason, has emerged into a top four d-man so competent he was the major piece the Carolina Hurricanes got back for Jack Johnson. 20 years old when they let him go, Ottawa essentially gave Gleason away. Yeah, they had (and still have) good depth at D, but can you ever have too many NHL calibre blueliners?

Vaclav Varada for Jakub Klepis and the contract given to Varada
The only thing that makes this trade not look absolutely awful is the fact Klepis has never developed into the solid NHL the Sens appartently thought he would when they picked him 16th overall in 2002. Varada, traded for the same spring as Smolinski to add some grit and toughness to the squad, achieved short-term success with Ottawa. He played with Marian Hossa and Radek Bonk on the top line (think about that for a second) and was effective in the superpest role. But as time went on, his role diminished, as did his contribution. Last season, he was one of the league's highest paid fourth liners. Who signed him to that deal? Oh, right. Perhaps the President of Varada's fan club. Muckler threw a charity deal his way. A two-year deal signed just before the lockout, it ended up being $1.2 million after the rollback. Varada. One year of it withered away due to the lockout but we still had him taking up that cap space while playing six minutes a game for much of last season. If he wasn't on the fourth line, Varada was up in the press box, a healthy scratch, a spot he occupied for two of the team's playoff games this past April and May. No NHL team wanted him so now Varada's in Switzerland.

Peter Bondra
Another move that was salvaged because Brooks Laich, the guy who went the other way, has yet to materialize into much of a player. This one is hard to criticize because it would be insincere. I don't think too many of us thought this would go so badly. Surely no one thought a guy who'd scored over 450 career goals, widely considered one of the best pure snipers in recent NHL history, would struggle so badly once in a Sens uniform. In his 30 games, regular season and playoffs combined, with Ottawa, Bondra scored a total of six goals. None of them came in the seven playoff games the Sens had that spring. Bondra was held scoreless entirely for that series loss to the Leafs. While I'm sure everyone of us would have made this trade if it was an option, ultimately, a GM has to be held responsible for his failures, even if they were wise ones at the time.

Greg de Vries for Karel Rachunek

Rachunek, then 24, had found his way into Jacques Martin's doghouse. Despite having a very good season the year before, mostly as Wade Redden's partner, he fell out of favor with the coach, which is a surefire way to get traded. I was disappointed that Muckler gave up on the kid so soon but everyone seemed to think de Vries and his 94 career playoff games would bring a calming veteran influence, what with his Cup ring, to the team. Wrong. De Vries played 20 games as a Senator, and while he collected one more point in the postseason than Bondra, he had one of the worst series I've seen a supposedly credible NHL rearguard have. He was awful, and as I said above, was a throw in the Hossa-Heatley did, mostly because he was paid over $2 million, a New York Rangers Glen Sather contract. He's since rejuvinated his career in Atlanta, but his run in Ottawa was the definition of a clusterfuck.

Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa
This is one that a lot of people are taking Muckler to task for right now, and with Hossa at the top of the NHL's scoring race, it's easy to see why, but I don't think this one is as bad as some of the other brainfarts our fine GM has been a part of. The reality is, Marian Hossa wanted too much money for him to stay in Ottawa. He wanted to be paid like Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier. I don't blame him, because when he's on his A game he's every bit the player they are. However, Ottawa just couldn't make that salary work within their salary structure, and something had to give. He's struggling badly now, but let's not be so quick to forget all the things Heatley did for this team. He's not the complete player Hossa is, and never will be, but he can score with the best of them, and comes at $1.5 mil cheaper. Meaning, for the price of Hossa, we get Heatley and Mike Fisher.

Signing Dominik Hasek
Another one that looked good at the time, it's since been rationalized by the handful of Muckler defenders still left in this city (most of them work for The Team 1200 it seems) because Hasek got hurt, which was out of his control. This is sort of true. He did get hurt, but he got hurt how we all thought he would. This was the primary reservation when he was inked to a deal. They could dress it up as an abductor, but we all knew he hurt his groin. This was a guy who had a history of pulling the chute when he was hurt, and the odds of him getting injured had to be considered pretty good considering his history. So counting on him, with no real back-up plan, was asking for trouble. I think anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I'm a big Ray Emery fan, and I came to his defence when the blame for the loss to the Sabres was placed at this feet by far too many people, but he wasn't ready to be Plan B. And worse than having no Plan B, Muckler turned a blind eye the obvious until it was too late.As soon as Hasek when down, a call should have been made to Doug Riseborough in Minnesota, or some other GM with a competent veteran netminder, and made something happen. Instead, he convinced himself that Hasek was a week away from coming back. He was always a week away. By the time they realized Dominik Hasek might just be done for the season, it was too late, and apparently, the best option was Mike Morrison, a goalie less talented and qualified than the rookie they already had. John Muckler had Hasek in Buffalo and saw firsthand what he's capable of, both good and bad. If Hasek would have stayed healthy and the Sens won the Cup, Muckler would have been proclaimed a genius. But when it didn't, he has to be held accountable.

Tyler Arnason
Does this even need an explanation?

The Martin Havlat trade
I'm not the biggest Martin Havlat fan. Let's get that in the open first. I think he's an immensely talented player but when the going gets tough, he has routinely gotten going. I don't believe he can be counted on and I don't think he's an elite player all things considered. So when it looked like he was on his way out of town, I didn't shed the tears many of you did. At the time, I even defended the return, because at the time I was under the impression Tom Preissing was a good defenceman, an assumption that has thus far proven itself to be false. Even with Havlat not having a contract and asking for a big payday, and Muckler's options being pretty limited as a result, I have to think he could gotten than all that. It might be unfair to judge this trade so soon, having not seen what kind of NHLer John Hennessy becomes, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Jason Spezza's new contract
How much of Spezza's apathy is linked to a level of comfort he got when he got the new deal? I didn't like the contract when it was signed and I sure don't right now. It was signed just days after Eric Staal got the same contract from the Hurricanes and one couldn't help comparing the two. Staal has just led to his team to a Cup and played like a seasoned veteran during their run while Spezza performed an impressive disappearing act in the second round against Buffalo. It's carried over into this season. He had a couple of good games to pad his stats and give the impression to those who aren't watching the game that's it's not all bad, but trust me, it is. When you're paid what Spezza is, $4.5 million, there are certain expectations, and Spezza has shown no ability, or willing, to play at that level. The excuses about his age are bullshit. He's 23 now, and having played 179 games in the NHL, is no longer the greenhorn he was five years ago when he first came to the city. The mistakes that were easy to overlook when he was 20, 21 are no longer acceptable. You'd expect some maturity as a player, and every now and then it emerges, but he continues to be crippled by the same mistakes that made him ineffective as a rookie. The contract didn't make a lick of sense. Spezza had no arbitration rights and his only leverage was holding out. So why throw the bank at the kid, and not even get a long-term deal out of it?

So what have we learned tonight class? Point blank, John Muckler is an incompotent GM. He's shown little ability to decipher the right trade, and the right fit, from the wrong one. This is the man you want making this blockbuster trade?

Before a single player gets ship in or out, the trigger puller has to changed. As long as this man is the primary decision maker for this organization, the Ottawa Senators will continue to underachieve and disappoint when it matters most.

A sweeping change is needed, and it's long overdue. Hand this old, tired, washed up relic his pink slip and in his place put someone who has a vision, who's contemporary, and who isn't so stubborn that, years later, he still defends his mistakes as if they were something else.

Fire John Muckler.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Washington 4 Ottawa 3 (OT)

THE GOOD:

Daniel Alfredsson. Scored a goal, registered an assist, was in mid-season form skating wise, and ultimately generated the majority of the chances the team got, it was another solid effort from Alfie. His finish still doesn’t look to be where it needs to be. This is where he needs better linemates. Peter Schaefer does a lot of good things along the boards and in his own end but is lacking that explosiveness that made him so effective last season. Dean McAmmond can skate like the wind but he’s just not, night in and night out, a second line center. Point being, Daniel Alfredsson needs more to work with.

Anton Volchenkov. It might seem foolish to suggest that Alexander Ovechkin, who scored two goals including the tying one, was shut down, but relatively speaking, that’s what Volchenkov did. Now, truth is, there is no way to shut down A.O. entirely. He’s too good, too explosive a player for any rationale person to think he can be made a complete non-factor. What you can only hope to do is minimize the damage he does to you, and a big reason Ovechkin didn’t dominate was because of the fine play of Anton Volchenkov. He was all over A.O. anytime the sophomore touched the ice (how was Glen Hanlon not trying harder to avoid this match-up?). He was physical, blocked shots, and managed to stay with Ovechkin. Talent wise, Ovechkin vs. Volchenkov is a horrible mismatch of the David and Goliath variety, yet Volchenkov managed to come out of it for the better. Simply not being embarrassed by Ovechkin is an accomplishment.

Martin Gerber. He gave up four goals, so I’m sure some trigger happy fans will be quick to point the finger, however, can you really fault him on any of those goals? Two of them were powerplays goals and all four were deflected and were a result of the defence not doing a better job of neutralizing Capitals skaters who roamed free in front of the net. Gerber fought the puck a little bit in the third, and the rebounds were juicier than I would have liked, but he made the big saves when called upon. I’ve seen some say it’s time to hand the reigns to Ray Emery entirely but I don’t think Gerber’s play has warranted this. If you’re gonna go with Emery because, for whatever reason, the team plays better in front of him, so be it, but I don’t think Gerber has been any more inferior for the last little while than Emery.

THE BAD:

Another inconsistent effort that leads to a collapse. The first period, the Sens came out like gangbusters. They were all over the Capitals, outworking them to every puck and driving hard to the net while remaining committed to the defensive side of the game. Once again though, that 3-0 lead, the alleged worst lead in hockey, did them in. They got up three goals and stopped skating as hard and didn’t keep the foot on the gas, allowing Washington to get back into the game. To their credit, Washington didn’t give up, and got a lot of momentum out of their goal late in the first to make it 3-1 and then were bailed out by Brent Johnson in the third. When Washington made it 3-2 you could see the lack of confidence the Sens are currently crippled by rear its ugly head. Ottawa is beating themselves as much as any opponent is, and that’s a dangerous position to be in. If they were losing because the other team was outplaying them while the Sens were giving 100% effort, then I’d take this losing streak much better. But that’s not what is happening. They’re losing to inferior teams who are outworking them, and it’s become completely unacceptable.

Chris Phillips brainfart. I sympathized with him on Saturday night but the tripping penalty with a minute left in the third period was not characteristic of a usually ice cool veteran. Is the pressure getting to him? Washington was all over the Senators and it felt like they would score but Philly has to know better than to make such a costly error. He’s a leader on this team and sets the standard for the rest to follow.

Special teams. We’ve gotten used to the powerplay letting us down, but I was thoroughly disappointed by the play of the penalty killing unit, who’ve been one of the few consistent brightspots throughout the season. If the PKers had been better, Ottawa would have come away with the two points.

Tom Preissing & Christoph Schubert. The third defence pair struggled badly. It seemed like every time they got tapped on the back and leaped the boards, something bad happened. I don’t think they track this statistically, but it sure felt like each shift saw them pinned in their own for the majority of it. Schubert in particular had a bad night. He fumbled with the puck more often than not and took two pretty bad penalties, one of which resulted in a goal.

THE OPPOSITION:

Washington looked completely out of it and at one point it sure seemed like a blowout was imminent. But they stayed with the gameplan, maintained a strong effort, and got a massive boost from an unlikely source in Brent Johnson, who came in in relief of Olaf Kolzig. Brent Johnson apparently thought he was Dominik Hasek, as he was making pad saves like the Hall of Famer in his prime.

The Sens were trying to blow the game wide open in the first five minutes of the second period. They had a half dozen prime, golden scoring chances and Johnson stonewalled them every single time. This lit a fire under the asses of the Caps, who realized they had a goalie in a once-in-a-season type zone in between their pipes, allowing them to open it up, take more chances, and thus claw their way back into things.

I talked about Ovechkin, who despite a gladiator-like effort from Volchenkov was still a factor, but the Caps also got great games from the other Alex, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, and Matt Pettinger up front while their defence unit as a whole is MUCH better than they appear on paper. A unit who’s top four consists of Brian Pothier, Jamie Heward, Mike Green, and Shaone Morrison might not strike fear into you, but they sure brought their A-game from the second period on and outmatched a much more skilled Ottawa forward core.

The Caps continue to plug away, get better, and be a difficult W. I’m sure times are tough for fans of this team but they should take solice in two facts: 1) they’re going to be very good very soon and 2) they don’t quit. When a team is undermatched, that’s all you can ask for.

UP NEXT:

A pretty big trade or a pink slip, I think. I'm not panicking as much as most of you are, but I have to think the top brass can sense the level of discontent and they'll do something, even if it's not necessarily the right move.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

This is the best y'all could come up with?

When a team struggles, rumors run rampant. This much is to be expected. In a hockey craze market like this, it's what 24/7 sports talk radio stations and hockey columnists live on.

But really people, if we're going to spread nonsense, let's at least make sure it's sensical nonsense. Because what's making the rounds right now certainly isn't.

Firstly, "Eklund" is reporting that the Sens and Flames are in trade talks for a deal that would see the much maligned Daniel Alfredsson go to Calgary for Robyn Regehr.

Now, hopefully, we've all realized long ago that "Eklund" is full of shit. Kinda goes without saying I know. But even a broken clock is right at least two times a day, and one of those times was last summer when he broke the Dany Heatley-Marian Hossa. So when he talks about the Sens, I sort of perk up just a little bit.

All of that said, I have to believe this is total B.S. The Sens are a team that is struggling offensively. Their problem is not on the blueline. So how does this deal make a lick of sense? If you move Alfie, that's even more pressure on Jason Spezza and Heatley, who've folded like cheap tents many times this season already.

The other isn't quite as absurd but it still feels like complete drivel, and that's Bruce Garrioch's report in today's Ottawa Sun that the Sens are seriously looking at Brendan Morrison as a solution to their center-ice troubles. These rumblings aren't new. Over the summer there was such talk, but it never materialized, and it's origins likely laid in the same lame chat rooms that spawn the majority of these things.

I do believe that Ottawa needs an upgrade in the middle. Dean McAmmond and Mike Fisher have both been solid this season however each are more suited for the third line spot. Over the long haul, I'm not convinced either are up to the job. But Brendan Morrison?

Is he really much better? He hit the jackpot by getting paired with Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund when they were at their most dominant and reaped the rewards statistically. Hell, if you or I was in the middle of those two for those seasons, we would've tallied 50 points. Don't get it twisted, he's an above average player that, for the right price, would be a nice addition. $3.2 million is not that right price though.

The Sens payroll is at about $41.8 million. Alexei Kaigorodov leaving (probably for good) cleared about $1 million of room but not nearly enough to bring in a salary of that size. And the guys supposedly going back the other way (Anton Volchenkov or Christoph Schubert) don't help that cause either.

The major problem the Sens are facing is who do you deal? Alfredsson? That would be a disaster. Spezza? He's still too young to give up on entirely. Heatley? It's only a matter of time before he turns it around. Antoine Vermette? That won't sit well with the French Sens fans who maintain the franchise has a conspiracy against players of that ilk.

The team needs scoring, so moving any of those guys doesn't seem plausible. And while some stretch lies on the blueline, as they have seven NHL calibre defencemen, one major injury can change that in a hurry, and it's never a bad thing to have one d-man too many.

A trade wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. A change might be what this team needs. But I just don't see where you deal from and how you make it make sense, both from a hockey perspective and economically.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Carolina 3 Ottawa 2

THE GOOD:

Daniel Alfredsson. Yeah, I said it. And those of you who started booing the captain tonight when the team was falling apart before our very eyes in the third need to check your hockey IQ. If not for Alfie, this one would have been much uglier. In addition to scoring the goal which I would have thought would've quieted the critics, Alfredsson played determined all night. Strong on the forecheck, relentless in battles for pucks, an agressive attitude to playing the body, and a sound defensive game. Contrast that to Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley and then decide who should be shipped out of town if you're wanting a big shake-up. And while I'm at it: if you want to play the "hindsight ISN'T 20/20 game", one I know we all love, let's go a little easy with the "BOY THE TEAM SURE MESSED UP BY TRADING MARTIN HAVLAT INSTEAD OF DANIEL ALFREDSSON" nonsense. I expect that kind of idiocy from certain bloggers, whether it be on their own page or when the local paper gets lazy and decides to devote two pages to reader comments and ol' faithful chimes in so he can say he writes for that particular publication, but really people, think about that one for a second. You question Alfredsson's heart but praise Havlat? He's a tremendous talent, a great scorer, but has the heart of the tin man pre-Yellow Brick Road walk and the durability of a Pinto. If he was the captain, this team would be in such trouble we'd be yearning for a 5-7 record.

Chris Phillips. He'll take some heat for the unsportsmanlike conduct call in the third. I'm sure of that. But aside from that mental lapse, the Big Rig had a strong game, I thought. Very physical, excellent work on the PK, and led the team in blocked shots with 7. On the penalty itself, I thought the first call for the hit on Brind'Amour was total bullshit, but I don't think it made a lick of difference between the 'Canes were pressing as it was and probably would have scored regardless, however, it sure left me leaving the building with a sour taste in my mouth. I believe Phillips' outburst was as much about the team's struggles this season as it was about that particular call. You won't find a guy who cares more about this city, this team, and these players than Chris Phillips. If someone stood up after this game to rally the troops, to call out those who aren't carrying their load, I'd bet good money Philly was the guy doing it. So you know he has to be taking this recent stretch hard, and I believe that stick smash was him letting it all out.

Chris Kelly. Another one who shined on the penalty killing and was a big reason Denis Hamel got that goal to make it 2-0.

Martin Gerber. Started fighting the puck a little in the third, when the whole team started playing like shit, but overall, it was another solid game from the 'tender. He was good positionally and gave minimal rebounds (until the third period anyway). On the goals, the only one I'd say he should have had was the winner, but when you're down two men it's sort of a given you'll be scored on. Unless, of course, you're the Sens.

THE BAD:

A collapse.
It hardly came out of no where, but it's still discouraging to see the Sens fall apart with such ease.

Jason Spezza.
You want to point fingers? You want to lay blame? Here's as good a place as any to start. Jason Spezza is playing dreadful right now and if this is the first line center we're expecting to carry us this season, this team in a heap of trouble. Right now, Spezza is coasting off of a three-game run where he tallied a shitload of points. If you try and criticize him, his defenders point out the fact he's leading the team in scoring. That's all fine and well, and I'm glad he decided to show up for those three games, however, game in and game out, he's a mess. There is zero committment to his game. The excuses of him being a young kid went out the window when they dished out $9 million to this apparently pimply faced, high pitch voiced centre. If you want to be paid like a top level player, you better come to play like it night in and night out. This does not mean he won't go through dry spells. But these games where the effort is non-existant demonstrate why this team will never win a Cup. It's not because the Captain is Swedish as you armchair Don Cherry nationalists. It's not because Zdeno Chara is gone, lest you forget what a slug he was in May. It's not even because we don't have a supposed #1 goalie. It's because one of our key pieces of the puzzle is unreliable. You never know which Jason Spezza you're going to get. Will it be the guy who can take over a game or the slow skating pylon that is invisible despite playing 20 minutes? Spezza is still making the same mistakes he did five years ago, when Jacques Martin "insulted" him by suggesting he wasn't mature enough to play in the NHL. At 23, he's still not, it seems on a lot of nights. I have to think Bryan Murray and his staff have sat the guy down, played video, and pleaded with him to correct his errors. Yet he continues to make them.

Dany Heatley. Not much better. My frustration with him is only at an 8 though, because I still see some effort on most of his shifts.

That fuckin' powerplay.
Kinda goes without saying at this point. The Sens were literally handed this game by the referees and the Hurricanes lack of discipline, and for what seems like the billionth time this season, failed to make anything of it. In the third period of a 2-2 game, Ottawa had four powerplay runs and didn't score a single goal. They even had another 5-on-3 for more than 40 seconds and nothing came from it. The effort was there, in most cases, and they did a nice job of distributing the puck, but at some point, you have to score. I'm hoping and praying that when Wade Redden comes back, things will get better, because I'm beginning to think it's a matter of if this PP will turn it around, not when.

Antoine Vermette. A poor effort from the usually steady winger. On the game winner, Vermette has to be held responsible for the gaff in his own end.

Alexei Kaigorodov. Look, you seem like a nice kid. You're very talented. You will probably be an excellent NHLer some day, perhaps soon. But that time is not now.It does you no good to play three minutes and watch most of a game from the bench. If you were smart, you'd go to the AHL, play a ton of minutes, get aclimitized to the North American game, and come back ready to tear it up next season. I understand if you're homesick, and maybe you're not cut out for hockey on this side of the Atlantic, however, not reporting makes you look very unprofessional.

THE OPPOSITION:

Carolina's a team that needed the two points as much as the Sens, and at some point in the second period, started playing like it. A switch was flipped, and they resembled the team that ripped through last season. Cam Ward was terrific, Erik Cole was awesome (three points and very physical), Rod Brind'Amour was dominant in both ends of the ice, Eric Staal was excellent with the puck, and their defence, while lacking a star, was strong from start to finish. Are they back or was this their version of Ottawa's three W run where they scored

Because be sure, they were far and away the better team. They outshot the Senators 40-26 and dictated the pace of the game for the majority of the contest.

UP NEXT:

It may look like a gimme, but the Sens cannot afford to take the Capitals lightly when they travel to D.C. Monday night. The Caps are not good team but they come to play and if Ottawa takes the night off , the end result will be the same as it was tonight. That guy Ovechkin is rolling, having scored two goals tonight. He might just make the Sens look foolish.

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