Daniel Alfredsson is the Senators' best all-time player. On and off the ice. He is the most popular player amongst the fan base, and--as the Sens' record without him indicates--he's the most pivotal cog in the Senators' machinery. So why don't the Senators' respond when Alfredsson gets run by hack players on the opposition?
I'm prompted, of course, by the most recent manifestation of a disturbingly un-team-like attitude: Jere Lehtinen's hit from behind on Alfie last night against Dallas. Although I haven't found the clip on YouTube yet to embed it, you can find it in all the highlight reels and on CBC's Satellite Hotstove last night. Alfredsson, while keeping the puck in at the blue line, pivoted and turned his back to the oncoming pressure of Lehtinen, who--despite calls for bringing respect amongst players back into the league--continued to run at Alfredsson despite plenty of time to change his course. Alfredsson's neck snapped back, and he fell forward about a foot into the boards. Did anything happen as a result? Not really; Brendan Bell skated towards Lehtinen and gave him what looked like a stern talking to, but no one jumped the guy.
The Senators might claim that they got back at the Stars where it counts--on the scoreboard. Post-game, coach Craig Hartsburg said they did something about the hit by stepping up the physical play for the rest of the night. Chris Neil, Cody Bass, and Jarkko Ruutu did throw some nice hits in the aftermath, and the Sens out-hit the Stars 42-27, but they should be doing that, anyway. General physicality is a statement that shouldn't require provocation, this entire team--and especially the three aforementioned players--should be finishing every check possible. When your captain and best player gets run, you do something else. Something more explicit, so that when other teams play against you, they know there is a price they will have to play for running the team's elite.
Look back a couple seasons, and see what Jack Adams Trophy winner Lindy Ruff did in response to a blindside-hit from Neil on Chris Drury:
Throw out your fighters. Show a lot of emotion; not just a little. Swear, and yell at the refs. Give them obvious instructions that they aren't just going to hit their opponents, they're going to jump them. Ottawa is, apparently, a team built with gritty, character-laden guys; where were they on the ensuing play? The fact that it was a powerplay in a tied game would have underlined the statement.
At the end of last season, the Sens did little when Alfredsson was blindsided by Mark Bell, either. What will it take for his teammates to finally step up and stand up for their team, and their teammates, and have a little respect for themselves?
Is it a chronic problem with the Senators? Fans and media have certainly spoken about it being a problem, and if so, how do you solve it? It certainly needs to be instilled by a coach; this is a team. It appeared that Hartsburg was underlining that fact earlier in the season, but it hasn't worked. There have been plenty of team meetings, maybe they need a team-building excercise or getaway to instill the fraternity winning teams need. We thought that a trip to Sweden at the statr of the year might do that, but it sure doesn't look like it did. Is it a problem with the Sens' roster? Maybe. It might be one of those, a combination of them, or maybe there's something else. Whatever it is, there is one bottom line: The Senators' skilled players are more valuable than a win. And there was plenty of opportunity for Ottawa to win the game even if they had made a statement through fighting the Stars. Sacrificing one game is an acceptable price to pay in the defence of your team's captain and best player, and--more than that--in the defence of you self-respect.