Saturday, October 18, 2008

Great start, poor finish: Sens 6 'Yotes 3

Sure, a 6-0 win would have been nice, but the Senators' didn't want to make it too easy on Martin Gerber. To keep Darth in the game, Alex Picard gave the puck away, Jason Smith gave up coverage, and Chris Phillips decided to give Olli Jokinen all the time he needed to get the puck in the slot. Each third-period error resulted in a goal, but the Sens had built a suitable lead in the first 30 minutes and came out with two points.

Heroic return for Daniel Alfredsson, whose two assists was part but not all of his contribution. From the moment the game began, you could see the Senators were energized, and looked very different from the team that lost to the Red Wings last week. Whether that was a week of waiting for hockey or Alfie's miracle comeback is unknown, but I'd be willing to bet the captain had a lot to do with it. Is it too early to nominate Alfie for the Hart Trophy? Maybe I'll wait until the fifth game of the season.

Evidence of the energization was in the play of both Jason Spezza (2G, 2A) and Dany Heatley (1G). Each of them had a real edge to their game, and were large in the Sens' ability to shoot out to a quick lead.

Any goalie would have had a hard time with the three Phoenix goals. The first was a defensive-zone giveaway right to Shane Doan, who launched a rocket high glove side. Second was a two-on-two where Smith lost coverage and let the puck float by him right to Enver Lisin, and the third was a sick one-timer off a Jokinen pass from behind the net. Gerber was able to hold the fort when Phoenix came on strong at the very start, and battened down the hatches (sort of) when peppered by 18 shots in the third. He deserves the credit he'll get for the win.

Big respect has to go to Jarkko Ruutu, as well. Not usually noted for his goal-scoring ability, Ruuuuuuuu had two pretty goals in just over eleven minutes played. Pretty effective, and his play with Shean Donovan (2A) and Dean McAmmond offered a rounded and effective fourth line that Craig Hartsburg would be wise to continue using to the extent he did tonight (Donovan 9:17, McAmmond 7:52, Ruutu 11:19).

Speaking of goals by players who aren't expected to score, where did that come from, Anton Volchenkov? He may not be able to properly enunciate 'give-and-go' in English (it would probably sound like 'gerve-rand-grow' or something), but he did it perfectly on the ice (with the help of Nick Foligno, and a serious lack of defensive coverage from the Coyotes). It reflects a trend I've noticed this year, and it's something both Bryan Murray and Hartsburg suggested would be necessary given the lack of a true puck-moving defenceman: Every blueliner chipping in where he can on the offensive side of the puck. Chris Phillips pinching in on plays, Jason Smith making solid breakout passes, and Filip Kuba averaging 1.5 assists per game (including the two he scored Friday night) dovetail nicely with my point, and if these players continue to do what they're doing without becoming defensive liabilities, then we've really got something here.

On the other hand, Brian Lee and Picard have some work to do together. They got a fair bit of ice time, granted, and they are still young, but they've got to work on their communication. And being strong on the puck when clearing the zone. I'm confident they'll pick it up, but you only get so many chances in this league before the other team capitalizes (cough*Shane Doan*cough).

Did anyone miss Christoph Schubert tonight? As nice as it is to occassionally see him throw a big hit on the forecheck, I'm really beginning to wonder where the underskilled defenceman/limited forward fits on this roster. And, although fairness isn't really part of professional sports, it seems wasteful (and yes, unfair) to allow a very tradeable asset collect dust (rust?) in the press box.

Get set for another game Saturday night. It's nice not to have to wait six days before the next game...

ADDENDUM: Oh yeah, and although Jesse Winchester is still waiting for his first NHL goal, he had another really smart game. So far, he looks like one of those players who you can always count on to play his game every night. He set up a few chances, and I'm sure he'll get his points if things keep going the way they're going for him.
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