Saturday, December 13, 2008

Necessary win: Sens 2, Lightning 0

One thing is for sure: I shouldn't be this relieved after a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. At least I don't think I should have, but it seems like this team may not be as good as I--and so many other fans--like to believe they are.

I'll use one sentence to describe Martin Gerber in the game, and you can extrapolate that to represent the way the whole team played: It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Gerber may not have been as deserving as Alex Auld for the team's first shutout of the season (Auld should have had it in game two), but he earned it on the night in stopping all 24 shots from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I've got a very strange feeling after this game. I'm not sure who was the best Ottawa Senators player on the night. Daniel Alfredsson had a great game (he scored the empty-netter), but it wasn't anything we haven't come to expect from him. Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba both played well on defence, and Jason Smith was solid in clearing the front of the net. I guess I'll follow CBC's lead, though, and give the first star to Gerber.

Dany Heatley definitely did not have his best game, or anywhere near it. I don't usually rag on stars because it's so cliché, but he looked bad. A lot of it likely has to do with his style, and it's inability to blend with the style this lesser-skilled Senators squad has to play: Heatley can't play a puck-retrieval game. It doesn't help that he's rarely skating full-out and always seems to have his stick 18 inches off the ice, cocked and ready to go, but some nights he forechecks hard and steals pucks. Tonight wasn't one of those nights.

Good on the second power-play unit scoring the eventual game-winner, with some nice passing from Antoine Vermette to Nick Foligno to Ilya Zubov to Brendan Bell to Alex Picard to mesh. It was like high school gym class or intramurals, where everyone had to touch the puck before you could take a shot on net. Great shot by Picard, that likely deflected off a Lightning defender, and was Zubov's first NHL point. (Although it meant Cody Bass was pulled out of the lineup, it was nice to see Zubov and it sounds like he's going to get a few games to showcase his skills.) It's too bad the first powerplay unit barely got a sniff offensively, though, because going 1-for-8 against Tampa Bay on the powerplay--no matter how well Bolts' tender Mike Smith plays--is not good enough.

And, part of the powerplay problems, Jason Spezza has to start shooting the puck, he looks afraid to at times. There was one time when he was in past the defenders (just barely, granted, but still), and he held up to wait for someone to pass to. Just because playmaking is his specialty doesn't mean it's got exclusivity on everytime he touches the puck. He finished the night with a single shot on net.

Zubov had a solid game on the whole, and Brian Lee played... well enough. It looked like he'd rediscovered that poise he had at the end of last year early on in the game, but a few defensive gaffes in the third period didn't make his case. He might stick around anyway, but I think he's more likely to head back to Bingo once Anton Volchenkov is ready to go. He wasn't a liability, but he certainly didn't outplay any of the Sens' other five defenders.

What does Craig Hartsburg do with goaltending for next game, on Tuesday against Atlanta? I think Auld has played well enough to keep the starter's reins, for now, and Hartsburg has handled the goaltending situation much better than John Paddock did last season. With two solid games in a row, though, Gerber is making himself a case if Auld falters. But please, don't falter, Auld. We all know what The Gerber Effect does to Darth once he's given something to lose.

Final note: Good to hear that Martin St-Louis only had eight stitches after the linesman's skate clipped him in the face. It looked like it might have caught him in the eye, but apparently it went along the bridge of his nose or something. Maybe he should think about wearing a visor, no matter what Don Cherry might say about him.
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