Friday, October 31, 2008
I didn't get to pay very close attention last night, but I did get to see the second and third periods at a local establishment. They were pretty boring, but that might be a good thing--definitely worth it if the team ends up winning more than they lose.
Good effor by Alex Auld, who gave the Senators the stops they needed and brought his record up to 3-2 on the season. He stopped 25 of 26, another game where he was close to a shutout. The one goal allowed was on another 5-on-3 powerplay, and Auld had little to no chance on the save.
It was tense going into the third, but the tension was slightly relieved when Dany Heatley scored a powerplay goal about 6 minutes into the third. Walking out of the corner, Heatley took a shot short-side that ramped up a defender's stick and snuck past Vokoun. The tension was further relieved when Chris Kelly hammered home some garbage after Chris Neil threw said garbage to the front of the net. It was the kind of goal that third line of Kelly, Neil, and Jarkko Ruutu can be expected to score fairly regularly.
The tension was fully relieved at the 20:00 mark of the third, when the game ended in a 2-1 result. Tight finish, but two points is two points. The way the Sens won, in a close, defensive battle, was pretty impressive considering the periodic defensive flaws in the last couple seasons.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
First off, Alexander Nikulin is definitely not going to stay with the B-Sens. After demanding a trade after being demoted from the NHL, he's apparently fed up, and will be gone to Russia if he hasn't been traded by this Monday (Nov. 3). This, obviously, doesn't make him very marketable, because if he's this willing to head off to Russia, there aren't many people who'd give up much in exchange. Not a great decision, but I guess we'll see how this works out.
And another story with a Russian angle: Sharp had reported that Brendan Bell had received offers--some very fruitful--from Swiss, Swedish, and Russian clubs, but is committed to fulfilling his contract with the Sens. A very interesting quote in the story from Bell;
"Yeah, there's some big money in other places," Bell said, "but I've got a contract with Ottawa and with Binghamton, and so this is where I am. I'm content here with the way things are going, and the way I've been playing. ... I know a couple buddies of mine have gone over there and done that, and now they're in some trouble. So, I don't look at that as an option right now."
In the same way that Nikulin would rather play in his home country, it seems Bell would rather play on his home continent. Although they would both rather play in the NHL...
The Sens are worth $207M, less than half the value of the league's top-valued Toronto Maple Leafs franchise, who are apparently worth $448M. Ottawa is, in turn, worth more than
On the Sens Army Blog rankings of most-valuable franchises, the Sens are the far-and-away leaders.
For that amount, Alfredsson has taken a pay cut of 30-50 per cent from market value--which would likely be anywhere from $8M to $10M, considering his recent point totals and comparable players. That is the sign of a player who really wants to take a discount to stay in a city. That is the sign of a player who wants to win, and not just get a big pay day. That is (one of the reasons) why Ben and I are championing the Pretire Daniel Alfredsson campaign.
TSN has the structure as follows:
"The contract, which includes a no-movement clause, pays $4 million in salary in the first year with a $3 million signing bonus, plus $2.1 million for the removal of the option years from his old contract for a total $9.1 million."I hope that whenever number 11 is raised to the rafters, there is a newly-minted Stanley Cup Champions banner alongside it.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Save % .891
Save % .922
(SA = Shots against)
Who do you think has the confidence of the team?
Auld played well against Buffalo, but looked no better than Gerber (on a bad night) against Toronto. It appears that signing Auld, and even Gerber being named #1 by the coach, hasn't solved any goaltending situation in the capital.
Still don't get what he was trying to do. Neil wasn't even off the ice yet. Luke Richardson and Jarkko Ruutu, along with some coaches or trainers or operations staff, got in his way. Richardson told him, 'That happens on the ice, it doesn't happen out here' or something like that. Good for Richardson, he's like the dressing-room bouncer.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"I heard about it," said Neil, who has a long history with Mair. "Maybe he was trying to take a 10-game suspension because he's already had two of those. He obviously doesn't like getting paid. I wish I had been here. He was mad because I was chirping at him."
Surprisingly hilarious. Between him and Jarkko Ruutu, the Sens are pretty darn pesterrific, by the sounds of things. Plus, according to the guys on Over the Edge this morning, Luke Richardson was outside the dressing room giving Mair some undisclosed advice. I haven't seen the clip yet (it was apparently on camera), but hopefully I will tonight.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Oh, and Dany Heatley just broke a four-game goalless drought with a second power-play goal for the Sens to make it 2-0 just 19 seconds into the second period. I don't want to get too high on this, because I don't want to screw anything up.
Too many men on the ice penalty for the Sabres, with Jason Spezza serving the infraction. Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette are killing the penalty to start, and did pretty well by the sounds of thing. It's always good to start a kill with a scoring opportunity. Plus Filip Kuba, whose defensive play hasn't been spectacular (although he's done fine) made a great PK play.
Another short-handed shot! Anyone else love the PK duo of Dean McAmmond and Jarkko Ruutu, the mirrored twosome (numbers 37 and 73, respectively)?
JASON SPEZZA SCORES, right after leaving the box. Deke, fake the shot, go the other way. You'd think Patrick Lalime would know Spezza never shoots, but I guess he doesn't. He does now. Quick two points for Spezza, giving him 11 (4G, 7A) on the year. Vermette gets the only assist, and now has two points on the season. Cha-ching!
Holding penalty on Nick Foligno. And a stupid series of commercials. At least we don't have to deal with Jungle's ridiculous Baton Rouge commercials... what are they thinking? This is supposed to be a classy place, not the kind of trashbag that makes plays on 'luscious racks'.
Gord, I realize you're trying to be colourful. But we're trying to listen to the game here. Let us know what's happening on the ice. And Dean, we realize that Teppo Numinen isn't from Seinfeld. Thanks for the clarification, though.
Penalty killed. Buffalo is 0-for-4 on the night now.
ANOTHER penalty? Holding on Vermette. And Jason Pominville got a scoring chance, but hit the side of the net. Phew. Okay, it was killed, and it's five-on-five. Shit, Daniel Alfredsson's hurt? Okay, he's back up, and pissed. What happened, Gord, please tell me? Oh, he got a shot in the gnads. Uncomfortable, but not likely to keep him out of the lineup. Sorry if you think I'm not sensitive enough, Alfie. Ales Kotalik gave him a shot between the legs, the bastard.
Special teams update: Sens are 2-for-4 on the powerplay, Sabres are 0-for-5. So far.
Statistical note: McAmmond is tied with Anton Volchenkov right now for most hits on the Sens (two). Are you going to take that, Jason Smith, Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Ruutu, Chris Neil... I could go on. Bottom line, not enough hitting. I guess people are too worried about scoring.
Why do people call periods 'stanzas'? Stupid, stupid thing. Anyone who's wondering what it is, as Dean (or was it Gord?) asked, it is a unit within a larger poem.
Ruutu has just been united with McAmmond and Shean Donovan on the fourth line. I guess Craig Hartsburg read my blog and decided to heed my advice. Be warned, Sens fans. Fisher is going after Mike Weber, the little puke who kneed Alfredsson! Good for you, Fisher. If you don't score, at least start some shit. Coincidental fighting majors, and Weber gets an extra two for tripping. Sens powerplay. Sounds like Fisher really went after him, which is one good thing about having him playing with Alfredsson.
Auld gives the puck away to comeback-player-of-the-short-season-so-far Thomas Vanek, and then he gets another short-handed chance. Someone knock him down, please? Now Derek Roy and Adam Mair are making short-handed magic. Score, guys!
YES! I told Spezza to do that! 4-0 Ottawa, off a scramble right after a Sens powerplay. Good stuff, CASH Line.
Now another penalty kill, hooking on Volchenkov. Tough not having him on the PK, but good start for Vermette sending the puck down the ice. Sounds like the key to the Sens' playing well is winning battles. That's a good place to start, anyway. McAmmond does the ol' pass-back-to-the-defence penalty killing tactic to Schubert, and it works.
Scramble in front of Auld, but the second period comes to a close. Sens are still up 4-0! They are also outshooting the Sabres 25-15, and I don't think that's a coincidence. The best defence is a good offence, so keep it up, guys.
Interview with Tim Murray, about the B-Sens: They are hard to play against. He says 'Pressure' exactly like Bryan Murray does, sort of like 'Presh-shure'. Zack Smith has apparently been inbelievable this season in the AHL: five goals in seven games, yeah, I think he's doing pretty well.
Third period starts, only 31 seconds in, and Chris Kelly takes a hooking penalty. Volchie is out now, so it's 5-on-4 for a little more than a minute. With Kelly in the box, it's a good thing the Sens have penalty-killing depth.
And now McAmmond draws a penalty on Toni Lydman, so the Sens are off to the powerplay. The Sens are 2-for-5 right now, which is pretty good considering the Sabres had killed off 94.3% of their penalties going into the game. Penalty over, no damage done.
SHEAN DONOVAN! What an incredible start to the season for the Sens' fourth line, and Jesse Winchester seems to be fitting in well enough with them. This line could easily play 10-15 minutes on a night; I say we bump them up to 'third line' on the depth chart. Assists to Winch and D-Mac.
Troy Kaleta smokes Kuba, and the Sens start a scrum. Andrew Peters against Neil, and Neil seems to have gotten a good shot in there. Naturally, Kaleta didn't drop the gloves when Smith challenged him, but I guess he just pulled a Ruutu. Third game in a row for Neil's fighting, and that includes two wins against heavyweights George Parros and Peters, with rookie Luke Schenn in the middle. Neil's effectiveness is hinged on fighting, and it's something he didn't do enough of last year, in my opinion. Peters got a 10 and a 5, Neil got 5 and Smith for some reason got a 10. I didn't see it, but he didn't sound unsportsmanlike.
A couple great stumbles in one sentence: 'Califlorida' and 'Eugene Owner'. Great job, Gord.
Remember how instrumental the Sens' fourth line was in the 2007 playoff run? We've got an effective one again, folks. Hopefully they keep getting rolled into games, because they've been huge in the past few.
Heatley gets a tripping penalty. Sounds like Alex Picard shied away from a hit rather than taking one to make a play, which is something that someone of his size hopefully won't do often. Now Volchenkov has taken a delay-of-game penalty, so it's a 1:55 powerplay for the Sabres. And Alfredsson's stick broke, but Auld came through with a rebound-free save. That's what a goalie has to do on a 5-on-3. Kelly goes out as the Sens' forward, but loses the faceoff. He blocks a shot. Auld makes a great lateral save, and then an even better save on Roy. Good for cueball: or, how about Alex 'Luthor' Auld? Get it? Lex Luthor? Kind of blends with the science-fiction theme that's been established with Martin "Darth" Gerber.
Damn! Drew Stafford ruins Auld's shutout bid with a 5-on-3 goal. Really too bad for him, but should be fine. Sens 5 Sabres 1.
Ruutu and Kaleta actually got into a fight! A couple of guys who like starting shit but don't usually finish it (Kaleta more than Ruutu), this sounded like a weak fight thanks to Kaleta's resistance. And Ruutu gets the extra two for unsportsmanlike, which sounds pretty bogus. Neil got a ten minute misconduct for some reason, powerplay number ten for the Sabres.
Well, it seemed like the penalties would eventually catch up to the Sens, and the Sabres just scored a second power-play goal. Numminen (not from Seinfeld) had his shot deflect off Schubert's foot, and past Auld. 5-2 now, 10 seconds left...
And game over. Sens 5, Sabres 2, and the Sens are back on the winning train. Sorry this live-blog was (is?) so long, hopefully it was enjoyable.
One sour note on the night: Kuba's assist streak to start the season is over at eight games; so much for an 82-game assisting streak. At least he set an NHL record in the process.
That's right, folks. I'm that crazy. I actually picked the 2-5-1 Senators to defeat the 6-0-2 Sabres tonight. Crazy? Stupid? Downright homer-ish? Maybe. But I hope it happens, because I gambled a twoonie on it. (It might be stupid to gamble a twoonie, too, but I make stupid picks with the heart and against the odds, so at least I'm smart enough to bet little money.)
As for the game tonight, Craig Hartsburg has once again shuffled the lines. And will, more than likely, shuffle them during the course of the game. We're going to have to get used to putting little to no weight into the line combinations, because Hartsburg seems like he'll be changing them often. Which is good in some ways, not as good in other ways. Although they'll change quickly, the forward lines as of now are (from the Ottawa Sun):
I don't get why Jarkko Ruutu, who played so well on the fourth line with Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan, has been bumped up, nor do I get why Jesse Winchester has been bumped down. But I guess we'll see what happens, because things change--and Winch might be subsidizing his even-strength time with powerplay time. Alex Auld will be in nets, and Patrick Lalime will be playing for the Sabres. Knowing the Sens' luck, Lalime will have the game of his life.
The game isn't on regular cable, exclusive to the NHL Network, but it is on the TEAM 1200. Or you could get extremely frustrated and listen to Rick Jeannerett (sp?) on Buffalo radio.
Dear Ottawa Senators primary, secondary, and tertiary scorers,
Listen, I'm sure you guys already know all this. Really. It's just... the way things have been going, it seems like you need a reminder. So here it is. Put the puck in the net. The more goals you score, the less each goal our netminder lets in matters. Seriously. Let's just do what we can, alright? And then a little bit more than that.
Oh, and just a clarification: The net in the above image is the opposition's net. Don't put it in our own net. Thanks a bunch.
P.S. Oh yeah, and quatertiary scoring: keep up the good work!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Coach, put the big three back together and let's end this losing streak. A win once in a while would do wonders for the team (not to mention my enthusiasm for blogging).
It also appears that Alex Auld cannot single handedly win a game for the Sens. I mean, he did okay, and no one is blaming him for the loss - and that's more than we have come to expect from Gerber this year.
I also want to add that tossing Chris Neil to the ice, then taking five fists in the face does not give you the victory in an NHL fight, Luke Schenn.
Filip Kuba continues to rack up the assists while his +/- remains stagnant. Despite his team-leading 11 points, he's a mere +1. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov have looked slow and pourous, allowing wingers to blow past them wide (especially Big Rig), they're a combined -11.
After a couple games with five or more days before their next match, the Sens are now in the midst of three games in four days, with their next coming Monday night against the Sabres. How many more games before our faith will be restored?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Speaking of Alfredsson and Vermette, they were two of the Senators' best players last night. Even though Dany Heatley was given second-star honours on the TEAM 1200, and scored three assists, he wasn't nearly as effective as he can be--he looked sluggish and disinterested. Jason Spezza, on the other hand, looked extremely into it for the second game in a row. If we could get Spezza and Heatley playing like they can on the same night, rather than apparently taking turns, then we'd be in good shape.
Other Senators' performances of note were Anton Volchenkov, who looked particularly solid and stepped up into a few rushes, and Chris Neil, who FINALLY got into a fight (and held his own against heavyweight George 'Stache' Parros) and popped in a goal for good measure. Although he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, Mike Fisher has a solid game--something will go his way soon enough. Filip Kuba tried the hitting game in the first and second period (he had two hits on the night, Brennan), and it didn't work out so well, so he went back to scoring points and got two assists in the third to continue his point-streak.
Luke Richardson looked bad, but I think it's more a result of Richardson trying to do too much to try and stay in the lineup. If he starts taking it easy and playing basic, positional hockey, his lack of speed won't be exposed as often. If he doesn't realize that, then he won't draw back into the lineup many more times.
Lowlight of the night: Having Jason Smith catch the puck in his chest, drop it, and watching Todd Marchant bat it out of mid-air and soar 45 feet into the net, while Alex Auld wasn't paying attention.
Highlight of the night: Alfredsson sort-of slew-footing Chris Pronger, forcing Prongs to slam into the corner boards in the fetal position. After that hit and previously firing a slapshot at the shins of Scott Niedermayer, you can tell Alfie really hates the Ducks. Like... really.
Onto a quick preview of tonight's game against Toronto: After Craig Hartsburg gave Auld the opportunity to steal a start from Martin Gerber, and Auld didn't quite shine (although the loss wasn't quite his fault), Gerber injured his leg in practice. As a result, Brian Elliott was recalled from Binghamton. Although I'm not certain, I imagine Auld will be starting.
Another roster change comes on defence Richardson is out, and Christoph Schubert will get his shot on defence. Although Schubert has a tendency to get out of position as much as Richardson, he's a lot more mobile, and he's got room to improve.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I mean, thanks for mentioning the Senators in a Toronto paper (normally, the Leafs nation has their heads so far up their asses that they can barely see the sun, let along Eastern Ontario). But, in this case, you're merely summarizing the obvious.
To Sens fans: don't panic. We're six games into the season. Don't be Cox-y.
He does have one legitimate comment though:
"Apparently, it wasn't all Emery's fault after all."You're welcome, Damien.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Goaltender Jeff Glass is second in the league in both goals-against average (1.00) and save percentage (.960), although he's only played on game, and started Brian Elliott has been extremely strong, fifth in goals-against average (1.68) and sixth in save percentage (.940).
Defencemen Brendan Bell and Tomas Kudelka have four and three points, respectively, and the defence will only get better if Brian Lee is down there for a little while.
Secondary scoring has become primary scoring, as Zack Smith, Ilya Zubov, and Ryan Shannon are outscoring Denis Hamel and Josh Hennessy--the latter two were last year's leading scorers.
As described so well by the big man in B-Sens land Mike Sharp, Bingo's enforcers are protecting their skilled players: Mixed martial-arts veteran Jeremy Yablonski (who I'd love to see up here for a game) pummeled Tim Conboy after the Albany defenceman kneed captain Hamel (who, unfortunately, is expected to miss 3-4 weeks after the event). And then to add insult to injury, Smith dangled around Conboy to tie the game in the third period, and then won it in overtime--make them pay physically AND on the scoreboard. Genius.
How come the Binghamton Senators seem to have addressed all the problems the Ottawa Senators seem to be dealing with right now?
At least it's reassuring that prospects like Elliott, Glass, Smith, Zubov, and Kudelka, along with guys like Mattias Karlsson and Peter Regin are developing as expected. They may be called on for help sooner rather than later.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I'm not going to try to defend Martin Gerber tonight. Contrary to his effort against Detroit, he didn't do anything to keep his team in the game tonight. The first goal was bad luck, and he had two or three players sitting almost on top of him, but it was stoppable. The second goal was inexcusable; it was a rocket by Nathan Horton, granted, but all Gerber had to do was stand up and play positionally and it would have bounced harmlessly to the corner. The third goal was certainly stoppable, too, even if Cory Stillman was allowed to walk out of the corner right on Gerber. It's going to be hard to win any game with that kind of goaltending.
Beyond goaltending, though, there are problems with this team. One is the work ethic, with different players showing up to play on different nights, resulting in a dysfunctional game. Craig Hartsburg is trying desperately to change this, but this team will be in trouble if his 'accountability' tactics don't work.
A bigger in-game problem, however, is the defenceman: The corps as a whole has become much slower than in recent years, and is rarely able to get pucks cleanly up to forwards. The finesse players on our team are effective when they have the puck, but if every pass is rimmed around the boards, it's pretty easy for opposition players to read and react to that. Bringing Luke Richardson in tonight didn't help mobility, speed, or offensive abilities; questionable move, to be certain. Still, despite Filip Kuba's ongoing assist-streak (six games now!), and Alexandre Picard's potential (potential some people might wonder about after his giveaway tonight), this group definitely needs some help. Big time. I'm not sure how soon Bryan Murray might be able to work out a trade to acquire a player of this calibre, because they're hardly dime-a-dozen, but the sooner the better for this team.
Back to this game in particular: Some individuals looked pretty good. Obviously, good on Kuba to continue his point streak. Antoine Vermette responded to some recent criticism (at least within the blogosphere) by playing a solid game, and leading the Sens with seven shots on net. Although Picard had that one very, very terrible gaffe, he played pretty well on the powerplay and was tied for second on the team in shots (5). Daniel Alfredsson was his standard Alfie, and also had five shots on net.
The line of Jesse Winchester, Nick Foligno, and Jason Spezza looked like it might have something if Hartsburg's willing to give them some more time. Winchester's puck control and ability to work along the boards will have to pay off sooner or later. Foligno took two penalties, both as a result of his high-level of intensity in the game--there aren't penalties you like, but those are penalties you can live with. I was especially impressed with Spezza, who demonstrated some good physicality, a willingness to battle, and he had a few takeaways (although only given credit for one). He responded, and hopefully he keeps it up. Counter that with Dany Heatley, though, who was lacking a certain panache tonight. If they could both get going, and both their lines could get going, then this team would be in a much better situation.
How aggravating is it to see Stillman, who the Sens had every chance to re-sign (I think), score a goal and an assist for the Panthers tonight? At about $3.5M per year, he's really not that expensive, either. Might have been tough to swallow the three-year length, but it sure would have been nice on a night like tonight.
I don't know what to think. Maybe after seeing Alex Auld on Friday I'll have a better idea; I wonder if Gerber is running out of chances with Hartsburg. He's already run out of chances with most Sens fans. I'm hoping Shean Donovan draws back in, because it must be frustrating for Dean McAmmond playing on a line with two brick houses in Chris Neil and Christoph Schubert. Plus he's actually playign the kind of game Hartsburg is asking people to play, so benching him kind of sends the wrong message.
While I am a little surprised by the move, I don't think it's a bad one. Lee hasn't looked quite as comfortable this season as he was at the end of last year, and there is little doubt that he will benefit from some more seasoning in the AHL. It's also a huge boon for the B-Sens, who were already benefitting from tremendous goaltending and will now get a solid mobile defenceman to add to their corps.
Lee may have been a victim of his two-way contract, because every other Senators has an NHL deal. He did look out of place at times, and Alex Picard was slightly more impressive, but the Sens have a lot more invested in Lee.
I'm curious to see how this affects the makeup of the defence corps. The Sens will now have four defenceman who are seriously limited in their offensive abilities--Richardson, Chris Phillips, Anton Volcehnkov, and Jason Smith, and only two reasonably mobile, puck-moving defenceman--Picard and Filip Kuba. What the heck will our second powerplay unit look like?
EDIT: What the shit? Turns out that I missed something in the same release from the Sens: Shean Donovan is sitting out, and Christoph Schubert is in on the fourth line. I guess that a goal and two assists in barely five minutes a night for Donovan isn't good enough, while Chris Neil can dance around doing nothing and stay in the lineup.
So... you're basing an entire article criticizing the Sens' far-and-away highest-scoring defenceman on a flawed statistic measured by often biased and subjective statisticians? Are you trying to run another player out of town, Don? I don't even get it... it's not like Kuba refused an interview like Joe Corvo (who I believe Brennan or Bruce Garrioch dubbed 'Uh-Oh' Corvo) might have last year, because you've got quotes from him on the very subject. I guess you just want to be a jackass. Here's an excerpt of the story:
"Not for a second did Senators GM Bryan Murray believe he was getting a reasonable facsimile of [Zdeno] Chara when he obtained Filip Kuba in the Andrej Meszaros trade before training camp. But they do have their similarities. They are from neighbouring countries. They are the same age. They play the same position.I can think of another big difference, Don, one you apparently missed: One is making $7.5M (Chara), while the other is only making $3M (Kuba). There's a pretty big difference. Oh yeah, and one is expected to lead the charge in virtually every facet of the game (Chara), while another was acquired to be a complementary piece (Kuba).
"And they're both tall.
"A glaring difference is the way they play the game. One is so physical, the other is so not."
As Ben mentioned, a lot of players have a hard time dealing with slobbering fans (and slobbering bloggers) staring at them whenever they go out in public. But I think it's a lot harder to deal with reporters who generate baseless controversy out of nothing.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Short answer: No.
Medium answer: Probably not.
Long answer: Courtesy Greg Daurio of 90:00 Soccer Magazine,
"Three Canadian cities submitted expansion applications last week (Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver). As I’ve said before, an expansion team in Canada is not only going to struggle like every other expansion team in recent memory, but it is going to make TFC that much weaker.Sorry, Ottawa soccer fans, but don't hold your breath. What does this mean for Ottawa's great outdoor stadium debate?
"That being said, people are all but giving Montreal a five star lock for this round of expansion. Montreal and Toronto are natural rivals in other sports, and Stade Saputo just needs to be expanded in order to make it MLS ready.
"It’s not quite that easy though. Stade Saputo was built on the cheap and would need a massive facelift to meet MLS standards, which wouldn’t necessarily happen overnight. Also, MLS is looking for a national television rights deal in Canada, and choosing a city a few miles up the road from Toronto isn’t exactly a national footprint to attract coast-to-coast viewers or sponsors.
"Ottawa is in an even worse position, tucked right between Toronto and Montreal, and lets be honest, if MLS chooses to put a team in Canada, it’s not likely that Ottawa is going to get chosen over either Montreal or Vancouver.
"Which brings us to Vancouver. Vancouver certainly gives MLS a broader Canadian footprint, and with Yahoo money involved, there is no questioning the wealth involved in the ownership group. The problem is the stadium issue. The Vancouver group is hoping to get approval for a waterfront stadium, but that has been caught up in red tape for years. In the interim, Vancouver has already signed a deal to play at BC Place, a gargantuan stadium that holds nearly 60,000 and houses artificial turf."
Alex Auld is going to make his second start of the season against Anaheim on Friday, and then Gerber will be back in nets Saturday against Toronto.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Notice a few things in particular:
- A big promotion for Nick Foligno, who was on the third line for most of the weekend.
- A message to Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley that their pairing isn't invulnerable, and they're going to have to prove they can compete every night to play together.
- A renewed call on Mike Fisher, who is with Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, to realize his importance is not just in physicality, but also in producing offence.
- Memo to Chris Neil: Get back to what you were doing in the pre-season, because 0 points and -4 on the season just isn't good enough--especially if he's not drawing penalties or making a physical impact (as Black Aces pointed out).
- Christoph Schubert may step back to defence, but that's only speculation at this point. Being benched for two games is certainly a wake-up call, as would the scratching of whichever defenceman might make room for Schubert (likely Brian Lee, who's had some weaknesses exposed).
I guess Hartsburg wanted to prove he's not afraid to make changes if things aren't working. Considering how coaches in the past have often been afraid to do so, it's a nice thing to see.
Why are the Leafs soooooo especially far from winning a Stanley Cup?
These are very important questions to Canadian hockey fans, and Cam Cole addresses them in "Stanley, come home" a somewhat self-loathing assessment of why Canadian teams have a hard time of signing the best players and an even harder time of bringing home hockey's biggest prize.
"Why don't more big-name free agents want to play in Canadian cities? Because we strangle them with our passion, cover their every twitch and misstep, examine their private lives, call in to talk shows to discuss ad nauseam every minute happening in their season."Then he gets all economic...
"In the States, with the newspaper industry in free-fall and reporting staffs being stripped to the bone, the hockey beat is among the first to be sacrificed. Which means that as thin a slice of newspaper space as hockey used to get, it's a whole lot thinner now. In many markets, hockey is a "starter" beat for interns or fresh-from-journalism-school kids, so the level of analysis is understandably superficial, and TV reporting on hockey has to fit into such a tiny hole, it barely scratches the surface.So the question that follows is: Are the teams that are most successful in other professional leagues also the least followed? Answer: Hell no! The New England Pariots have a rabid fanbase, incredible scrutiny, and the paparazzi follow around Tom Brady like he's a movie star.
The newspaper business isn't any healthier here, the difference being that papers in Canada will cut anything but hockey coverage because survey after survey of readership tastes keep coming back with the same results: give us more hockey, we'll live without the rest. And radio and television have all kinds of time, and staff, to devote to hockey."
So why are hockey players so damn whiny sometimes? Take Joe Corvo from last year as an example, he couldn't take the scrutiny of 3 or 4 beat reporters, four TV channels, and being asked politely for an autographs at the grocery store.
To be honest, I'm getting a little tired of the Mr. Nice Guy hockey player. Sean Avery speaks his mind about how the NHL is failing to properly market its players, and it gets all over TSN. He may not be the most articulate guy in the NHL, but he's right. The NHL needs better media training for its players in order for them to make the Sportscenter (or Sportscentre) highlights and to get headlines in the US -- to say something real without being a jackass. Instead, we've got players that shy away from the spotlight and only give the "110%" answer -- and those that move away from the a little criticism. There's got to be more to Jerome Igninla than the smile and forehead wrinkle, but he, and the rest of the NHL, is afraid to reveal it because they're not given the tools to deal with the pressure.
This might be costing Canadian teams their best players, because in Tampa, you don't have to answer tough questions, and no one cares if you make it on Sportcenter, and no one cares if you win the Stanley Cup.
Props to Cole for saying what's on the tip of the media's tongue, but combine it with a Sean Avery rant, and you've got the real answer to why the Cup hasn't reached Canada in 15 years.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The strange tandem of Jason Smith and Filip Kuba again hit the ice and surrendered the first goal of the game. Those two should find new partners immediately. On the other side of the defensive coin, I found that Brian Lee and Alex Picard rarely screwed the pooch.
Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov have not been their normal dependable selves so far this season. I've seen Phillips struggle to keep up with opposing forwards on a couple of occasions this year. He's got a -3 rating this season and Volchenkov is a team-worst -4. Not a good sign. (Who leads the team in that category, you ask? None other than #37, M-C-Ammer at +3.)
The defenders regularly stranded Martin Gerber and did not do a good job of sweeping rebounds of of harm's way (and that's a huge part of playing D in front of Gerber!).
Nick Foligno continues to impress this season with a fantastic goal to tie the game at 1 against the Bruins. If he continues to improve, I see him adding some grit to the Senators top line in a year or two.
Five games in the season now, we've seen a totally new style Senators team when compared to late last season. However, it remains to be seen whether this will result in a better record.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
- Thought 1: Are the Coyotes that bad? The Sens gave them far too many chances to make this game interesting after leaping out to an early lead. The Senators' defensive lapses would have cost them a lot more against a better team like Detroit. That sort of effort won't produce a win tonight against Boston either.
- Thought 2: What a weird photo.
- There was some strange stuff going on for the Sens on defence last night. What was Jason Smith doing paired with Filip Kuba? Those two guys seem to be on the opposite ends of the grit and offensive capability spectrums.
- Apparently there's a new "thing" at Scotiabank Place. Fans now yell along with the announcer as he says the last name of the player who scored the goal. Especially fun saying "Ruutuuuuuu", not so much with the Heatley, but whatever.
- Jarkko Ruutu can score goals too?! Huh.... cool.
- Jason Spezza hit people last night! I noticed it at the start of the game especially. He was knocking people around!
- Martin Gerber went from facing no shots at all to making a few good saves near the end of the game. He shut my Gerber-hating mouth on a couple of occasions. Nice work.
- No more Senators theme song at games anymore. That song made me giddy with anticipation most nights. Bring it back!
- Final thought: Alfie = Jesus.
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.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I'd really like to see coach Craig Hartsburg split Spezza and Heater up, just to see how they respond, but I guess he's not interested in doing so just yet. I think that they could really work well with some of the other depth players on the Sens, something like Heatley with Chris Kelly and Jesse Winchester and Spezza between Nick Foligno and Antoine Vermette. That leaves a killer third line of Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, and Jarkko Ruutu and preserves the underused but effective fourth line of Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, and Christoph Schubert. Solid four lines, if you ask me, and only solider (?) whenever Alfie comes back.
Starting in goal will be Martin Gerber, who--despite stopping 38 of 41 shots last Saturday--remains unproven due to a few bad goals in this young season. Ilya Bryzgalov will guard the goal for Phoenix. The 6th Sens made a bold prediction on Brian McGrattan's return to Ottawa (and season debut): that he'll try and show the fans here that he can play by dumping the puck in or getting called on an icing or something. A slapper from the red line. I think he might throw his weight around, but he won't likely get very much ice time.
Although the Senators only ever beat the pre-Phoenix Winnipeg Jets squad once (in four seasons), they've handled the team since they moved: The Sens' record is 10 wins, 4 losses, with one tie, and 56 goals for versus 30 goals against.
Ottawa is, according to Vegassports-odds.com, the favourite tonight. We'll see what that means, if anything.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Newly-acquired forward Ryan Shannon (1G, 1A) and defenceman Brendan Bell (2A) are tied with the 2008 third-round draft pick Zack Smith (1G, 1A) for the team-lead in points with two apiece. Josh Hennessy and Ilya Zubov each have one goal, while Bell and captain Denis Hamel scored in the shootout victory.
Disgruntled forward Alexander Nikulin is back practicing with the team, although it is unclear if and where he fits into a strong forward lineup for the B-Sens. Rumours are that some team(s) are interested in his skill, if only they could be assured SputNik would remain in North American rather than return to his native Russia.
Centre Peter Regin has returned from his concussion, and is slotted at centre with Hennessy and Hamel on the B-Sens' top line. According to Binghamton beat writer Michael Sharp's blog, the depth chart looks like this:
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
"People talk about turnovers, this and that ... great offensive players live on the edge. I'm not saying you have to live with it, but there are some ways you can try to teach them or promote, OK, you do this a little different and maybe that puck won't get turned over.
"His practice habits and the way he's approached everything for me have been great. He's been as hard a worker as we've had in practice. There will be some rewards for him as a player."
I took some heat for criticizing Spezza a little over a week ago, but I definitely think that if he picks his spots, he'll cut down on turnovers. And by playing smart hockey, Spezza can make sure that any turnovers that are committed are in low-risk situations. And if he adds a little gusto to his game, playing stronger on the puck and harder on the forecheck, he'd become one of the league's great players, not just one of the great playmakers.
How far does Spezza have to go? I don't know. Post comments with your thoughts, if you think you know.
- 100 or more: 42 (31%)
- 90-99: 74 (54%)
- 80-89: 14 (10%)
- 70-79: 2 (1%)
- 60-69: 0 (0%)
- 50-59: 1 (0%)
- Less than 50: 2 (1%)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Speaking of HNIC, I've got to hand it to them for a job well done on the new HNIC theme song competition. The entire show was solid, George Stroumbolopoulos and Don Cherry did a good job hosting. The competition did a solid job building momentum for a new season, too. All five finalists were really good, but the winner is epic--all else (you know, things like history and sentiment) being equal, it's probably even better than the original. To see the award ceremony and hear the song along with the new intro video, visit the CBC website.
Also, Craig Hartsburg announced that Martin Gerber will be starting on Friday. That means that, in all likelihood, Alex Auld will be starting against his old teammates in Boston on Saturday (although it has not been confirmed).
Should Alfredsson not return, Hartsburg is toying with the idea of Nick Foligno playing on the wing with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Although he's not against changing things with a moment's notice, Hartsburg is giving Foligno a fitting award for his hard play. He's been one of the Sens' best players thus far, continuing his solid play in the 2008 playoffs, and scored a terrific goal on Saturday.
Maybe we can get the best of both worlds. Alfredsson plays with Jesse Winchester and one of Chris Kelly or Antoine Vermette, while Foligno plays with Heater and Spezza. Bam.
"The booing drowned out the cheering when Martin Gerber was announced as the second star of last night's 3-2 home opening loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Place."I was at the game. As disappointing as Gerber's last-minute bobble was, I don't at all remember this happening. Maybe Brennan was sitting directly above a Red Wings booster club or something, but Gerber's 38-save performance kept Ottawa in the game for as long as they were, and he was deserving of a second- or third-star award. If anyone else who was at the game can either confirm or correct my recollection, it would be appreciated.
A lot of people are riding Gerber right now. Maybe I am an "apologist", as Black Aces has criticized some for being. Maybe I'm more patient (or more naive) than Sens Chirp. Maybe I'm not ready to throw Brian Elliott--who has been playing well in the AHL, but it's still the AHL--into the Sens' starting role, as the 6th Sens is looking forward to. Bottom line, I'm fine with another half-dozen games for Gerber. If he hasn't picked up his game by then, well, then I'll admit there are serious problems.
I'm sure Martin Gerber would like nothing more than a game right away, to try and help fans and teammates forget about the last-minute loss to the Red Wings. I'm sure most of the players want to see how the system works in game action. These players want to get into a rhythm, and not playing doesn't help that much. It also means that there is going to be some tough runs later in the season, with back-to-back games or series of 5 games in 7 nights or something like that.
At least it gives Daniel Alfredsson some time to rehab his injury without missing too many games.
Anyone else think this is kind of ridiculous?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
In the leadership department, Jason Smith showed us why Bryan Murray went out of his way to sign the 34-year old. Smith was intimidating the opposition and making life tough for them in front of the Senators' net.
Antoine Vermette played an excellent game, skating like the wind, being crafty and smart with the puck, and even hitting people on occasion. Combined with a smart, subdued game from Chris Kelly, Vermette appeared to kill penalties with ease. Nick Foligno's outstanding goal was merely the evidence of a gritty game well played. His development over the past two seasons has been remarkable and I now consider him an asset on Ottawa's third line.
I really want to get the 'Ruu-tu Ruu-tu' chant going at Scotiabank Place this season because Jarkko Ruutu has been earning his money being the pugilist that Murray signed him to be. He's an asshole, and I think it's helping the team. When my brother asked me if Chris Neil was the goon on the Sens, I told him, "Yeah, he's a goon. But there's some goonier goons now." Remember when Chris Neil was the toughest guy on the Sens roster most nights? Those days are long gone... well, by 3 games.
Top line? Spezz and Heatley were -3 combined and had 1 point (a minor assist for Heatley on the Picard powerplay goal). Are they ineffective without Alfredsson? Yes. Very much so. Time to break those two up, Hartley. Just until Alfie comes back.
Gerber looked pretty good at times, but the critique of his game remains. A soft goal each game, poor rebound control. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I saw several points in the game where he made the save, but didn't know where the puck went in (off or though) his pads.
I'm looking forward to watching this year's Sens all season, because it's far from last year's team. If we actually want to score some goals though, pray for Alfie.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
A few notes on the game: As mentioned, Daniel Alfredsson will be out of the lineup. Dany Heatley will be captain. Jarkko Ruutu will be (or at least start) first-line right winger. Mike Fisher will return. Martin Gerber will start in nets.
Friday, October 10, 2008
First name up is Mats Sundin, who apparently had a chat with Sens owner Eugene Melnyk while the Sens were in Sweden. He's also got the same agent as Alfredsson, so maybe there's a price break or something we can swing. Sportsnet has reported that Melnyk wants Sundin on the Sens. Really? Wow, that's surprising. I think there might be 30 teams in the league who want Sundin.
What would signing Sundin require? First of all, he'd want to return to the NHL. Then he'd have to decide to sign with his long-time team's arch-nemesis. Then he'd have to decide how much, somewhere in the range of $7-10M are the common estimates. Then the Sens would have to clear that cap space (they've got somewhere between $2.5-3M available now), something that wouldn't be easy. I don't know who the Sens would trade to dump it, because the only significant contracts the Sens could get rid of are Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza. I don't see those happening, and trading one top-six forward for another wouldn't help our depth too much.
The other names is Marian Gaborik. Would it be nice to have such an energetic, dynamic player on the Sens? Absolutely. Would it be likely? Not really. Even if Minnesota is really trying to trade him, which seems unlikely, they're not going to give him away for nothing. The Sens do have a first-round pick from the Andrej Meszaros trade, which is nice trade bait, but the Wild will need some scoring help in return. And Gaborik's cap hit is $6.3M, which isn't easy for the Sens to swallow, either.
It would be great to see either of Sundin or Gaborik (or both!) in a Senators' uniform by the end of the season, it doesn't seem very likely. Crazier things have happened in the world of Bryan Murray, though.
Before last season, the Red Wings had not won a cup since 2001-02, when they were coached by Scotty Bowman. The pre-salary cup era of the NHL. As any NHL GM will tell you, when the cap was introduced, the league changed.
The Wings have remained strong for many years now, but the so-called Stanley Cup hangover phenomena did not begin until the 2001-02 season, when it affected the team the Wings beat to win the Cup, the Caroline Hurricanes, who failed to qualify for the playoffs the following season.
In 2001-02, the Red Wings had a combined salary of $66.6-million. These days, they're working with a little more than $56-million. In both instances, they have among the highest payrolls in the league.
The following season, the New Jersey Devils won the Cup, but were beaten out in the first round as defending champions in 2003-04. The Lightning won that season, but have been shit since then. Then the lockout and the salary cap, and no Cups for the wings since that time.
You gotta fall pretty far to lose to the Leafs, and maybe the Wings are feeling the modern-era hangover. Put on your salary cap.
Sorry for the not-Sens-centric post, readers. If the Wings handily beat the Sens on Saturday, all this goes out the window. Just a theory. Like I said, file it under 'reactionary'.
The Ottawa Senators announced Friday that Daniel Alfredsson will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and the team doesn't expect him to miss more than a couple of weeks.Great! Well, I guess it's better to get what seems to be minor surgery now than wait a little bit and see if it gets worse. Two weeks isn't too bad, given the fact that the Sens play tomorrow and then have almost a week off until the next game (Oct. 17).
With Alfie out, Dany Heatley is captain? Step it up, Heater. Jason Spezza, you'd better step it up, too. Missing Alfie won't be easy.
Oddly enough, TSN said that Jarkko Ruutu will step up to the front line. Despite the fact that Ruutu is a natural left winger. And despite the fact that Jesse Winchester did pretty well on that line in the pre-season. I guess it's a worthy experiment, anyway.
It remains to be seen whether or not Mike Fisher will return from his injury, but if he doesn't look to Cody Bass to re-join the Sens.
So... not great, but not bad, either. I couldn't figure out the Bodog or Sportsbook websites, but Ottawa was tied for tenth-best odds on SBG with Philadelphia (and after teams like Washington, the Rangers [tied for sixth 15-1], and Pittsburgh [second, 13-2]). The Sens also had 10-1 odds to win the Eastern Conference by both SBG Global and Sportsbook's measure.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Good on Bell and Shannon, two newcomers who must be making good impressions. And Yabo? I guess he's expected to lead the charge in pugilism.
The Vancouver Sun reported today that the NHL's six Canadian teams accounted for 1/3 of NHL revenues last season. Although that had a lot to do with the strong Canadian dollar, some analysts expect Canada's economy to lead G7 countries with growth of 1.2%.
Do I know what that means? Hardly. But I think it means that Canadian cities--like Hamilton, Quebec City, and Winnipeg--may be better poised to host an NHL franchise than the above-mentioned American cities. Which would be nice.
Imagine Phoenix relocated back to Winnipeg? Shane Doan would be a hero.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Sens fans should note.
Heatley: 45G 46A -- 91 points (7th overall)
Alfredsson: 37G 52A -- 89 points (11th overall)
Spezza: 33G 55A -- 88 points (12th overall)
|Vermette: 26G||33A||-- 59 points (76th overall)|
I expect Spezza will score more goals than that though. Just a hunch.
Amusing statistic: Dany Heatley is on pace for 123 goals this year. 50? Yawn.
- Peter Schaefer, LW, Boston Bruins: 556GP, 98G, 161A, 259P
- Kyle McLaren, D, San Jose Sharks: 719GP, 46G, 161A, 207P
- Matt Pettinger, LW, Vancouver Canucks: 354GP, 56G, 49A, 105P
- Jason Krog, C, Vancouver Canucks: 198GP, 21G, 37A, 58P
- Aaron Downey, RW, Detroit Red Wings: 239GP, 7G, 9A, 16P
- Boyd Devereaux, C, Toronto Maple Leafs: 604GP, 61G, 107A, 168P
- Gilbert Brule, C, Edmonton Oilers: 146GP, 12G, 20A, 32P
- Aaron Johnson, D, Chicago Blackhawks: 146GP, 7G, 21A, 28P
I don't really see much help for our NHL squad, but if any of those players were to play in Binghamton that could really help that squad--they're pretty short on defence in Bingo.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Going into the season, Gerber was announced as the team's number one goaler. One poor performanec this season isn't enough to change that, Hartsburg seems to be saying. According to the above-linked story, Hartsburg says there's no issue here: "We brought Alex in here to be a real good goaltender and in that game he was. He's here to support and be that guy behind Martin and he'll give us quality games."
What seems incredible is that Auld, Gerber, and Hartsburg all seem to be on the same page. Auld understands his role on the team--to push Gerber whenever he gets the chance. It's a nice change after what we had to live through last year.
Other roster notes include the assignment of Cody Bass and Brian Elliott to Binghamton today. Elliott is no surprise, as he's expected to be the number one goaltender on the B-Sens. Going into the season, though, many had pencilled in Bass--who played a lot of NHL time last season--as the fourth line centreman.
Not sure about Bass. I think his demotion might be temporary, because I still have a feeling there might be a trade for another defenceman soon.
ADDENDUM: In other roster moves by former Senators, the Boston Bruins placed former Sens winger Peter Schaefer on waivers today with the purpose of assigning him to the AHL. Or, more likely, with the purpose of hoping that someone else will pick up the two years and $4.6M remaining on his contract. Which makes me think we were lucky to dump his contract and still get Shean Donovan in return, but then I remember that Vancouver has gotten a lot of miles out of Sami Salo, who was traded by Ottawa to acquire Schaefer.
Monday, October 6, 2008
I can't answer that; it depends on what your priorities are as a hockey fan. More accurately, it depends on what Craig Hartsburg's priorities are as a head coach, and what Bryan Murray's priorities are as a general manager. Hartsburg made sure to state that the team has be be safe with the puck and make the smart play, so it's obvious he wants Spezza to be less reckless with the puck. And examining the contract specifics of Spezza and Heatley, you can sense that Murray is looking for something more from Spezza: while Heatley was given a no-trade clause from the start, Spezza's no-trade clause doesn't kick in until after this off-season.
The challenge that Spezza faces is nothing new. Since trying to break onto the Sens' roster under Jacques Martin, Spezza has been told that his game suffers from a lack of defensive awareness. Many critics, including Mike Milbury (not that his opinion means much) and Kelly Hrudey recently suggested that Spezza desperately needs to improve his game.
What is being asked of Spezza is not difficult. Asking a slow player to get faster, or a small player to get bigger, is one thing. Asking a skilled player to demonstrate some defensive awareness while executing offensive prowess is far from impossible, and when that player asks for more responsibility on the team--as Spezza has--they need to prove that responsibility is well-placed.
A positive sign is that Spezza has responded well to criticism and adversity in the past. In the playoffs under Martin while Spezza was trying to get into the league, he played very well. Returning from injury in 2006-07, Spezza was forced to play his way back onto the top line after returning from injury, and he did. Even last season, when Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson were out with injuries, Spezza changed his game to account for that. While he's failed to permanently understand the lesson he says he learned on Saturday (the one where you don't give away the puck with seconds left in overtime), his teammates and his coach will be pressuring him to adapt his game to fit into the system.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
A great all-around effort for the Sens made it a positive weekend, and the 3-1 win over Pittsburgh gave Ottawa a very respectable 3 out of 4 possible points in Swedish premiere.
To a man, the Senators had a very good game. It was an effective shut-down system, and I have to agree with Jeremy of Black Aces in saying Craig Hartsburg deserves a lot of credit for the Sens' solid all-around good game. The way the Sens were able to shut down the Penguins, especially the powerplay, brought me back to the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs, when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were so frustrated at their inability to generate chances. It's still very early, but there are good signs, and it's a good feeling.
First off, Alex Auld played incredibly well. He was about one second away from a shutout, and anyone who comes that close to shutting out Crosby and the gang is in pretty good shape. Ben and I were watching the game together, and beforehand he mentioned that with the Sens' goaltending luck, Auld would play the best game of his career. I'm not sure if it was his best-ever, but it definitely throws a wrench in the plans for Martin Gerber to take the starting role and run with it. But this controversy is much cleaner than last year's, because Auld has earned another opportunity to start, whereas last season Ray Emery didn't even earn a shot. Gerber may not like it, but he's made his bed. Hopefully Hartsburg can manage this situation a little better than John Paddock did last season.
Apparently giving Dany Heatley the 'A' was a tremendously good investment for Hartsburg and Co. He played out of his mind today, and not just because he scored two powerplay goals (giving him three on the season). He was hitting, blocking shots (including a really solid block at the end of the second), and just playing a good all-around game. His rounded game might be rubbing off on Jason Spezza, too, as Spezza seemed to have learned from his mistake yesterday (please, God, let him retain this lesson) and made the smart plays when they were called for. One thing that Hartsburg will have to watch out for, though, is not wearing out the big guns too early in the season. Each of Heatley, Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson played over 21 minutes on the game, while Shean Donovan played an effective game once again, his second in a row, but was given less than three minutes of ice time. Donovan was one of the Sens' best players in the playoffs last year, and certainly has a role to play. Jesse Winchester has a solid game considering it was his third in the NHL, and made some really smart plays. I'm very excited to see what he'll be able to do once he really gels with whatever linemates he plays with--especially if that is Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette, who might end up being the best two-way line in the league.
Defence is obviously a key part of Hartsburg's plan, and the defenders didn't disappoint. To a man they played well, and combined to block nine shots on the night. Auld looked better positionally than Gerber, and his big size means that a lot of his saves are lining up so the puck hits him (rather than acrobatics); with the defence able to clear rebounds and forwards collapsing down low, this system plays right into Auld's style. Filip Kuba got another assist (three on the year) and three blocked shots in just under 25 minutes, and looked very comfortable alongside Jason Smith (who also had a solid game). Toughness is a huge part of the Sens' d-corps this year, with all players over 200 lbs and 6', and Chris Phillips demonstrated it--along with a newfound team pride--when he ran over Maxime Talbot after Talbot ran Alfredsson. Brian Lee and Alex Picard both showed some great poise in the game, particularly when Lee deked around Crosby on the powerplay to get a shot on net.
One concern has to be the number of penalties the Senators took. Although the penalty kill was very effective, the team can't afford to take as many penalties--15 short-handed situations over the course of the weekend--and expect to continue to stay in games as well as they are. As it is, though, killing off 14 of 15 (93%) and offsetting that one blemish with one shorthanded goal is a pretty good way to start the season. And 27% on the powerplay (3-for-11) would have led the NHL last season, even if the sample size is pretty small.
So the Sens have to be very happy with three of a possible four points, even though it was very realistic to have gotten four. They fly back to Ottawa tonight, presumably to readjust to the time difference as soon as possible, and will be playing the home opener Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. As I said earlier, it's very early, but it's good to see some solid, unified, team play.