Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sens lose, despite moustaches: Habs 3, Sens 2 (SO)

Taken in isolation, this was a great game for the Senators, and an exciting game overall. As the most recent loss in a six-game losing streak it's disappointing, especially given Ottawa's continued impotence in the shootout, but there were a lot of positive things that will come out of the game. Ottawa played hard for sixty-five minutes, controlling a lot of the play and really deserving a better fate. Dem's da breaks, though; at least they're playing well defensively these days. And Alex Auld is likely playing the best hockey of his career.

The shootout; the bane of my existence (and that of most Sens fans). I don't know why the Sens can't win in the shootout, but they've apparently been working on it in practice and will need to continue doing so if they're going to get a few bonus points and improve the 7-20 all-time shootout record. A good start, though, would be benching Antoine Vermette in the shootout. I don't know if they keep track of whether or not a player gets a shot in the shootout, but I know that Vermette has a hard enough time getting a shot away, let alone scoring a goal, even if he is among the team's leaders. Jason Spezza made it look easy, and Jarkko Ruutu's shot would have gone in on most goaltenders not named Carey Price, but Vermette looked like he deked himself out. The puck may have been rolling, but it's just another piece of evidence filed under the shootout category. I don't know if Dany Heatley would be better, as Black Aces suggests, but anyone who gets a shot away has a better chance than Vermette at this point.

Anyway, back to the game; let's talk desperation. Let's talk Nick Foligno's goal tonight. The kid's been suffering through a terrible drought, and not just bad luck, but he hasn't even really been making the opportunities to score, and his ice time had diminished as a result. He was still getting an opportunity one the powerplay, though, and when he saw that free puck lying beside Price, he--literally--jumped at it. And I'm pretty sure I've seen Foligno dive for a loose puck stick-first earlier in the season.

Thanks, in part, to Foligno's intensity tonight, but in larger part to Cody Bass' intensity tonight, and in some part to Ilya Zubov's puck control, the Bingo line was likely Ottawa's most effective line on the night. Anyone watching knew when that line was on the ice, but for positive reasons, like a hard forecheck and an effective cycle. I was disappointed to see them get such little ice time in the third period after such a good first two, especially with Bass only playing 5:34 overall. It was a close race, however, as the third line of Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, and Ruutu generated plenty of energy for the team as well. D-Mac was, once again, very solid defensively, but I lost count of the number of times Donovan was breaking into the Montreal zone leading the rush. He may only have finished with two shots on net, but he certainly looked like he had more.

The defence, pretty much to a man, was very strong. They were usually able to keep the Habs to the perimeter, and cleared many dangerous pucks the odd time Auld didn't swallow the rebound. Of particular note was Alex Picard, who played what was probably his best game in a Sens uniform and earned two assists for his effort. The whole corps deserves credit, though, and Brendan Bell definitely looks like he fits on that second powerplay unit and that third d-pairing.

The least effective line was probably the CASH Line, but that's not to say they weren't working hard. Dany Heatley was backchecking (!) hard and laid a few solid hits, Daniel Alfredsson never seems to take a night off (and tonight was no exception), and Spezza seemed--at times--to have the puck on a string, their passes just weren't connecting. It looks like the line, and especially Spezza, are trying to make the perfect play, but often times the ones that go in aren't perfect, and tonight's two Sens goals are proof of that. Sometimes you've just got to get ugly, and they need only look to Jason Smith's fu manchu to see that fact.

Foligno's goal notwithstanding, the Senators powerplay was terrible on the whole. It might have had something to do with Price's ability to handle the puck and the Canadiens effective penalty kill, but it had a lot more to do with an inability to win faceoffs and poor--and poorly thought-out--passes.

What is wrong with Vermette? How many chances does this guy need? GAH! Sorry. I'm sure Vermette is even more frustrated than I or any other fans are, but it's so hard to watch. He failed on two glorious scoring chances, the first set up by Zubov on the powerplay after Vermette deked out Price but shot the puck behind Price across the front of the open net, and the second after Jesse Winchester passed to Chris Kelly, who passed to Vermette as he cut in front of Price--but Price stretched his legs out and Vermette couldn't get the puck up and over. The second one was an amazing save, but this guy's got to get it going.

From someone who can't finish to someone who's a bit premature: The refs need to get the rules straight. Or at least watch the play more closely, because Anton Volchenkov goal did not--absolutely not--see any possession by a Montreal player, and so the play should not have been whistled down on the delayed Alex Kovalev tripping penalty. It was a blown call by Don VanMassenhoven, and it cost the Senators the go-ahead goal at a pivotal point in the game. And even just for sentimental purposes, Frankenstein doesn't get that many goals in a given season; give him a break, will ya? And an interesting point was apparently made by the crew at RDS: Why didn't Craig Hartsburg absolutely lose it on the refs? It wouldn't have changed the call, granted, but it could have made the refs a little more sympathetic to the Sens later on, and it definitely would have charged up his players--all of whom are being asked to play with emotion. Lose it, Hartsburg. Just rip into the refs next time. Throw a bench or a stick or wave a towel or something.

Let's hope this is one of those games that sometimes happen when you're coming off a losing streak; you lose games that you should have won. Because then it means this losing streak might be over, and soon.

And holy shit, Smith's fu manchu looks amazing. In a ridiculously self-acknowledged ugliness sort of way.
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