Monday, February 16, 2009

Spoiler warning; or, Exploits of a twelfth-place team

Going into tonight's game against the Nashville Predators, the Ottawa Senators are in twelfth place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points, which is 14 behind the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres. Ottawa's got 28 games left, making that 14-point gap highly unlikely to be made up, especially with three other teams in the way. There's no reason not to try and bridge that gap, though, and the Sens get to embrace a somewhat rewarding role in the process: The spoiler.
Spoiler (spoi'lər, noun): A team which is unlikely to make the playoffs, but maintains in-game intensity with the intention of making it difficult for other teams to make the playoffs.
So, while still trying to make the playoffs, the Senators will be certainly playing the role of the spoiler. And it has already begun: Minnesota head coach Jacques Lemaire was absolutely outraged when his team, fighting desperately for a playoff spot and currently sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference, bungled a three-goal lead to the Ottawa Senators and lost two very valuable points in the process.

Members of the Wild are vocal in their disappointment, and for good reason. Owen Nolan, as quoted in the Minnesota Star-Tribune, on the team's mid-game implosion:
"We get up three goals in the first period and basically just disrespected the other team," said veteran Owen Nolan, who scored two goals and an assist early in what looked like a destined Wild rout. "We thought the game was in hand, and they came out ready to work the next two periods and they gave it to us.

"There's no reason for the outcome."
And Eric Belanger, from a different article also in the Star-Tribune, on the four days off between games that Minnesota has to think about what went wrong:
"It's probably the worst timing ever having four days off," center Eric Belanger said. "You'll see teams playing games and winning and getting points. It's going to be key to come to work [today] with a positive attitude. It's crunch time. We have nothing else. We know what we did and we have to make sure it never happens again."
In a way, I've been using the No Habs No! Campaign for months now to play spoiler. But, not to downplay the significance of the Campaign, the Senators' players have a more immediate and measurable way to play the game, and that's by continuing to win games against teams in genuine playoff races. Tonight against Nashville is another opportunity, with the Predators right behind Minnesota and only four points out of the playoffs.

And the Senators have three more games this season against Montréal (Feb. 21, Mar. 19, and Apr. 6), so if they can play some significant role in keeping the Canadiens from making the playoffs... well, that would be just swell.
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