Sunday, September 28, 2008

CASH in the bank: Sens 3 Habs 1

Mark it down, fellow Sens fans. It took just over one game before new Sens coach Craig Hartsburg gave up on the 'spreading the offence' idea and re-united the CASH Line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza. And, once again, it worked in sparking the Sens to come back from a 1-0 deficit and beat the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 3-1.

I have a feeling that after watching Alfredsson play like he was 10 years younger gave Hartsburg all the proof he needed that the reunion would work. Alfie had a whale of a game, turning pucks over, forechecking hard, and just playing the 'accountable, responsible, blue-collar' game that Hartsburg is trying to build into the team culture. When the captain buys in and leads buy example, others are usually to follow. Heatley seems to be buying in, and he's been playing a more responsible game so far this season--it brings to mind the game he played in this summer's world championships.

Last night, however, demonstrated the incredible frustration that comes with watching Jason Spezza. He played his typical game: pretty soft on the puck, quick to concede battles in the corners or along the boards, throwing blind passes into the slot (and, inevitably, down the ice back into the Senators' end), and trying to deke through players instead of around them. He was only tagged with one giveaway, but he lost the puck a bunch of times. But then he makes an incredible play like the 120' pass he made to spring Alfredsson on a breakaway, and that's all anyone will be talking about the next day. Hence the frustration.

Why did the CASH Line reunion work? Well, it was mostly the inspiration that comes with watchign your three best players dominate on the ice, I think. But it was also the play of the second and third lines, who scored the other two goals on the night. Nick Foligno continues to impress, and scored a beautiful goal--while falling down--on Habs goalie Marc Denis. Foligno is proving why he's been slotted to play second-line minutes, and definitely looks like he'll be a valuable asset to the Sens. Chris Neil did take a stupid penalty early on in the game, but he settled into his normal hard-checking role later on, and was rewarded for his efforts with a pretty nice garbage goal while taking punishment in front of the net. The Sens' fourth line was also effective, and although Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, and Zack Smith didn't get on the scoresheet, they played good, hard hockey and got some good pressure on the Habs.

The Sens' defence, thankfully, was stronger than it was in Friday's 5-0 loss. Although the Habs were missing some (okay, most) firepower, the Sens still held them to 19 shots, and Martin Gerber kept his head on pretty well. He probably should have stopped the one Habs' goal, which was just a straight shot that beat him, but Chris Phillips shouldn't have pinched to create the 2-on-1 that led to the goal.

The powerplay has to be a huge concern for Hartsburg. The Sens' tried Alfredsson with Filip Kuba on the point with Heatley, Spezza, and Jesse Winchester on forward, but nothing doing. The Sens' are now a pathetic 1-26 (I believe) on the powerplay in the preseason. It underlines the urgency in GM Bryan Murray's quest to find a puck-moving offensive defenceman, because even if the Sens make it through the regular-season without one, you need a good powerplay in the playoffs.

The penalty kill was at least solid for the Sens. The Sens used four pairs of solid killers last night, Alfredsson and Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Cody Bass, Donovan and McAmmond, and Heatley and Spezza. Each pairing did a great job, and at least that can take a load off Hartsburg's mind while he tries to figure out the powerplay.
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