Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Surviving the second: Sens 3, Caps 2

On the post-game show, Dean Brown suggested that the Sens' biggest challenge over the last few games has been surviving their own play in the second period. Again tonight, they had dominant first and third periods, but bombed in the second. If not for Brian Elliott stopping 17 of 19 shots in that second period, including plenty of decent scoring chances, this game would have been all Capitals.

But Elliott was there. And Dany Heatley's two first-period powerplay goals were enough to give the Senators the lead they needed to stay in the game until Brendan Bell could score another powerplay goal to give the Sens the win over Washington, 3-2. Ottawa's powerplay was a very impressive 3-6 on the night.

On the night, Heatley played like the superstar he's paid to play like. His 'demotion' (although I shudder to call it that) to the second powerplay unit has given the Senators two powerful units, and as a matter of fact, Heatley's line--with Antoine Vermette and (tonight) Nick Foligno (it had been Chris Neil in previous games, but he was out with the flu)--was and has been more dangerous than the first unit of Mike Fisher, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson. Heatley's first goal was a pretty passing play, with Vermette dishing the puck through a few opposition players to Filip Kuba at the point, who set Heatley up perfectly. The second was a bit of luck, as it bounced off a Capitals defender, but they all count--and, don't look now, but with four goals in the last two games, Heatley has 23 on the year and is on pace for almost 42 on the season.

Vermette looked solid on the night, as well; he's one of the Senators who has gone back to what had worked for him in the past, and--surprise!--it's working for him again. He assisted on all three goals, and had a couple shots and a couple of takeaways, to boot. On the topic of streaks, Vermette has ten points (2G, 8A) in the last ten games, the same number of points he had in the first 35 games of the season. It's nice to see, as a fan of the team that's now finding ways to win and after watching him work so hard to start the year without much in the way of results.

Bell scored the winner on the powerplay with less than two minutes remaining, and it was a huge goal. Somehow, Bell's already got a goal song ("Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward), despite only having four goals on the season; I guess that's cool. He had four shots on the night, as well, but was often caught in the defensive zone with partner Jason Smith, unable to clear the puck cleanly. It didn't cost the Sens on the scoreboard, but it was still pretty unnerving to watch.

With Anton Volchenkov suffering a shoulder malfunction, Kuba was given the unenviable assignment of containing Alexander Ovechkin. It seemed like a pretty risky decision by coach Craig Hartsburg, but Kuba's mobility and reach were enough to contain AO as much as AO can be contained, as only two of Ovie's six shots were even-strength opportunities. Kuba, as mentioned, also had an assist, three shots on net, and three blocked shots, and was once again a very solid powerplay quarterback.

I'm pretty sure I've realized why Christoph Schubert doesn't like playing forward: Tonight, with Schubert starting as a forward, he only played 6:14; that includes 1:15 of penalty-killing time as a defenceman, which means Schubert played less than five minutes as a forward. In those five minutes, though, he played effectively as a forward; his line with Dean McAmmond and Jarkko Ruutu was a lot of fun to watch for those five minutes. He can take more than five minutes as a forward, but hopefully he'll deal with it, because he's always fun to watch out there bangin' bodies on forward.

I've also got to mention Peter Regin, who looked surprisingly comfortable in his first NHL game. Of all the Senators prospects who have played their first NHL games in the past couple of seasons (Foligno, Cody Bass, Jesse Winchester, Ilya Zubov, Alex Nikulin, Brian Lee, and probably others I'm forgetting), I'd say Regin was the most effective and the most comfortable in the first game--with the exception of Elliott in his first game last season (but goaltenders always seem the exception). He was a little light on is skates, but he played over 10 minutes, had one takeaway and one blocked shot, and just buzzed in the offensive zone. He warrants another opportunity, if not next game then in the near future.

With the All-Star Game in Montréal on Sunday, Jan. 25, the Sens have the week off, and don't play again until next Tuesday when they host the New Jersey Devils. It will be a break for every Senator except Heatley, who has looked like an All-Star in the recent half-dozen games. Although the timing of the break is not optimal, hopefully Ottawa can carry the momentum of seven of a possible eight points in the last four games into the post-All-Star season.

Now, to write a letter to Richard Peverley of the Atlanta Thrashers, newest hero of the No Habs No! Campaign...
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