Sunday, December 30, 2007

Frustrating, but exciting nonetheless

The Sens' 8-6 loss to Washington was pretty tough to watch at times, with the team scoring to get back into the game only to allow the Capitals a chance of their own. But it was pretty exciting, especially in the third period, where 7 of the 14 goals were scored.

I'm not going to go into too much detail, but somehow Daniel Alfredsson was +3 on the night. That was the best of the game, as not even one of the Capitals had a +/- that high. At the other end, though, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil were both -3.

Speaking of Neil, he got pummeled by Donald Brashear. Kudos to Neil for standing up, but come on, man. As for Brashear, he's a wuss for not standing up to Brian McGrattan while Grats wanted to fight him, but then fighting the much smaller Neil when he got the chance. As for the ice time situation, McGrattan got 3:17, exactly half as much as Brashear was given by Caps coach Bruce Boudreault. A coach showing confidence in his role players? No...

Martin Gerber looked weak on some of the goals. John Paddock didn't pull him to put Ray Emery in in relief, who knows why (maybe this week's drama?). But I think Rayzor might get a chance next game if he puts his words into actions and heeds his own advice:

“I got mad at myself because I’ve been having trouble getting motivated on the ice. I was more upset with myself. It was a coincidence that I slept in (Friday),” he said. “I have no one to blame but myself for the situation I am in. I’ve got to get it turned around.
“It’s one thing to say you want to do more. I don’t know why I’m not motivated right now, but it’s got to change.”

He was at practice by 8:30 on Saturday to work with goalie coach Eli Wilson, and hopefully he keeps actually getting work done at practice. And hopefully this is the end of the ongoing goaltending controversy, but don't count on it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bass back to Bingo

The Sens sent Cody Bass back to Binghamton Senators on Friday afternoon, but he won't be playing for the B-Sens in tonight's game. Instead, he's going home to Owen Sound for 'personal reasons', presumably to celebrate a somewhat late Chrismas with his family.

Unless someone is returning from injury, the timing of this is strange. BassMaster is coming off what might have been his best game, he was chosen by coach John Paddock over Brian McGrattan for two consecutive games, and he got an assist. He'd also worked well with Nick Foligno and Dean McAmmond to make the fourth line into a more stable and effective line.

Binghamton probably needs his help more than Ottawa, though, as they've been playing a few games short-handed with C-Bass out of the lineup.

The Emery situation gets more interesting

I didn't want to discuss the Ray Emery "meltdown" that happened yesterday. It seemed to be the expression of frustration from an aggressive, competitive player looking to get more ice time. With Daniel Alfredsson's advice for Rayzor and the goalie's subsequent dismissal from practice today, I figure I'll at least mention the whole situation.First off, Emery was visibly angry at the optional practice on Thursday, as described by Bruce Garrioch: of the Ottawa Sun:
After swinging his goalie stick and sending some Gatorade bottles on the club's bench flying, Emery tossed his stick into the stands before heading to the dressing room.
Obviously the mainstream media was all over the event. While I don't agree with his actions, and they seem immature, I can understand his distress. Anyway, afterwards, Alfie weighed in with his thoughts on the situation, also according to Garrioch in the same article:
"To get considered for a start, (the coaching staff) is looking for (Emery) to show that he wants to be in there," said Alfredsson, who didn't see the incident. "You have to work hard in practice to show that you want to play. That's what most players do when they're not playing and the goalies are no different."

Now, that seems like common sense to me. Everyone seems to be noting it as a shot that Alfie took at Emery, but it's simply a captain offering his thoughts into the situation. He didn't berate Emery, he just said that to get back in nets he needs to work for his shot. On, however, Alfredsson had some different--and more personal--words for Emery:

"If he was our number one goalie right now and we lived and die by him then it would be a different story," said Alfredsson. "We'd expect more from him at all times. Gerber is our goalie right now and I think Ray's mission right now is if he wants to get back in it he's got to show the coaches he wants to do it. That's where we are at."

Then today, Emery didn't practice. Early reports stated that he was not allowed to enter the building, but it later came out that it was due to Emery not feeling well:

Speculation around the team hit a fever pitch this morning when Emery was seen leaving the rink before the Senators hit the ice. Coach John Paddock says he is ill, and teammates echo that.
So... interesting. I'm not going to speculate on the situation. Obviously there are reasons that the coaching staff might be disappointed with Emery, but he did look like he wasn't his normal self (health-wise) in his last start. Draw your own conclusions.

The bottom line is this: Ray Emery is a good goaltender. So is Martin Gerber. A friend of mine (known as Hawthy in Sens circles) analyzed the dynamic between the two aptly: Gerber's best game is better than Emery's best, but Gerber's worst game is far worse than Emery's worst. The Gerber has been playing well, and that's why he's continuing to play; Emery hasn't been at his best this season so he hasn't been rewarded with too many starts.

It's highly unlikely either goaltender will be going anywhere. With the market for tenders apparently very tepid, and Emery's actions on and off the ice this season, there are few teams who would be interested. Even if teams were interested, keeping Rayzor as a contingency plan should The Gerber falter worked well last year, and would be a smart move. In the long-term, though, Emery needs to smarten up. His frustration must be channeled into his play in games and practices, just like The Gerber did last season, and Emery needs to wait his turn and play his best whenever he gets the chance. That's my two cents, anyway.

Stop stealing my headlines!

"Sens light up Dubie"

...are you kidding me?! Only a master headline-writer such as myself could have come up with that awesome headline... which I did, last night on facebook. But a little childish for an actual newspaper maybe?

In any case, Bruce Garrioch did a good job of explaining the whole "Ray Emery knocks over water bottle, therefore he wants to be traded" episode, without the idiotic implication that he did this because he was angry about his playing time. The TSN writer is a moron.
Emery, who has started just two games in the last eight, vented some frustration with his lack of playing time Thursday, slamming his stick on the boards before hurling it into the stands.
Sportsnet has an even more blatant and sensationalist interpretation.

Garrioch explained the situation without implying his own cause and effect... what real journalists are meant to do.

Even though the Sens soundly defeated the Islanders 5-2 last night (and not like the close 5-3-that-was-almost-4-4 from the Buffalo game on Boxing Day), the happiest moment of the night came in the first period.

After goalie-on-fire Martin Gerber made a diving save, the crowd began to chant his name. Very Alfie-ish. And then... just when you thought the best was over, the game went to a commercial break. During the break, just at the end of the chanting, the Imperial March was played... Darth Gerber's official theme song!!

It was magical. The power of Darth Gerber is growing... he's making a believer out of me.

Still, I refuse to comment on the supposed Emery tantrum saga other than call the media on their shit.

Jason Spezza had another remarkable game and his insane point streak is now at 19 points in 9 games. Man, I am so glad we've got that guy tied into a 7-year contract.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sens beat Sabres - what else is new?

I can't blame John Paddock for sticking with this Martin Gerber kid, he sure is looking good right now.

Darth Gerber made 29 saves to defeat the Buffaslugs. The Sens also got goals from Antoine Vermette (his 9th) and Wade Redden (his 5th), Alfredsson, Fisher, and Heatley.

Jason Spezza collected two assists in the win, and has now accrued 15 points in his past 7 games - simply remarkable. He truly is the play-making centre that makes everyone around him better. Can we put these facts in an envelope and send them to Jacques Martin circa 2002?

I didn't watch too much of the game, as family gatherings take precedence, but catching the third period reminded me how much I hate Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret. His voice is like a wailing siren in the belly of a beached and diseased humpback whale, and I'm trapped in the throat, being forced to listen.

It also reminded me that Harry Neale does Sabres colour commentary, and lives in Buffalo - "Hockey Night in Canada - presented by Americans".

So the Sens are looking good at this point of the season, and I'm looking forward to kicking back and watching some World Junior Hockey Championship. In my opinion, it's the best hockey tournament on earth that doesn't end with a Stanley Cup.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Very Senators Christmas

Wow, I didn't even know they made that much Sens stuff. Who am I kidding, they slap a Sens logo on everything. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

Okay, not all of that Sens swag is mine. The stuff to the left of the jersey is my dad's, but I got the jersey--personalized with Dean McAmmond, of course; look for me at any Sens games soon--plus some kickin' slippers, fuzzy dice, socks, and a keychain.

Speaking of McAmmond, he wrote a pretty cool blog entry on the Sens Blog Central website talking about his experience at the 1993 World Junior Tournament (the 2008 version of which, conveniently, opens for Canada at 1:30 on boxing day). Interesting to note: he played alongside Chris Pronger--yes, the same Chris Pronger who threw a vicious elbow Deaner's way in the playoffs last spring. Make me like Prongs even less.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sens win into Christmas break

Hey Sens Army, happy holidays.

Now that the niceties are out of the way, let's get to business. The Sens played pretty well against the Rangers on Sunday evening, winning 3-1 to go into Christmas break. Which is always nice.

Martin Gerber had a solid game, and kept the Sens in it through the first period, while Ottawa was tremendously ousthot and outplayed by New York.

One good thing about having a farm team in New York is that in the rare occasion that a player gets injured the day before the Sens have a road game against the Rangers, a callup can get to the game relatively quickly. And that's exactly what happened after Joe Corvo suffered an injury against the Thrashers and Larry Nycholat was brought in to replace him. Nycholat had a solid game, and the team played pretty well defensively considering two of the top-six d-men were out of the lineup. In particular, Andrej Meszaros had a good game, and played a hard game physically.

Shean Donovan finally got rewarded for the hard work he's been doing, and it paid off. He looked pretty good alongside Chris Kelly (who scored a goal) and Antoine Vermette, and it looks like those two are starting to come out of their funk. Which is a plus. Unfortunately, Dean McAmmond was benched for most of the game, and only got two minutes or so in the game. I can almost understand benching young, unexperienced rookies like Cody Bass and Nick Foligno (almost, but not quite), but D-Mac is one of the most defensively responsible players on the team. He's made two mistakes in the last two games, and both have been costly, but he's also scored two points. When you refuse to give a player like McAmmond the opportunity to make up for the mistakes he makes, you're missing out.

The break the Sens are on right now will be a short one, and they'll be playing again on Wednesday. I'm not sure if Ben or I'll be posting in the meantime, but I have a feeling I'll have something to say.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the farm: Bingo picks up steam

While the Ottawa Senators have lost two in a row, Binghamton had a perfect weekend and has now won two consecutive. On Friday the B-Sens won 4-3 over the Norfolk Admirals and they followed that up with a 3-1 win over the Rochester Americans.

Matt Kinch opened the scoring against Norfolk and Tyler Donati scored the game-winner late in the second period. Defenceman Brian Lee and winger Niko Dimitrakos both recorded two assists, and Brian Elliott stopped 39 of 42 shots to record his sixth win of the year.

The next night, Josh Hennessy scored the game-winner and added two assists in the 3-1 victory over Rochester. Elliott was in nets again, and stopped 31 of 32 while Larry Nycholat also moved up the team scoring chart, netting one goal and an assist.

Binghamton is now 15-12-4 and tied for third in the East Division of the AHL. Denis Hamel is now tied for second in the AHL with 17 goals. Top scorers for Binghamton, as of Dec. 23, 2007:
  1. Denis Hamel: 28GP, 17G, 8A, 25P
  2. Lawrence Nycholat: 31GP, 5G, 18A, 23P
  3. Josh Hennessy: 30GP, 10G, 12A, 22P
  4. Ilya Zubov: 31GP, 7G, 14A, 21P
  5. Alexander Nikulin: 25GP, 5G, 14A, 19P

Sens drop two in a row

On Saturday night Ottawa lost 4-3 in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks because of goaltending. The other team got it, Ottawa didn't. It wasn't the first time this season that's happened.

Nikolai Khabibulin looked great while Ray Emery was not playing anywhere near his best. The Bulin Wall stopped all seven of Daniel Alfredsson's shots, and three of five from Dany Heatley. When players like that get stoned, a goalie is one. Rayzor, on the other hand, appeared sluggish--it kind of looked like his pads weighed 200 pounds each--and it looked like he might still have some nagging injury holding him back. I'm sure if he was given the opportunity to play a few games in a row he could bounce back--Rayzor's certainly not a bad goalie, although he didn't look good against Chicago--but the way Martin Gerber has played in his last five games (including the 3-2 loss to Atlanta, where he stopped 42 of 45) The Gerber has earned the start tonight in New York.

Going back to Heater, he was apparently credited with 10 scoring chances. Incredible. He played a great game tonight, and he was rewarded with two goals. Alfie had all sorts of chances and shots, but Khabibulin was always there to stop him. I'm sure Alfie's getting frustrated after missing the net as time ran down on Thursday against Atlanta and then getting stoned repeatedly by Khabi to end his point streak at ten games.

After Heater, Alfie, and Jason Spezza (who also had a grest game), there was no consistenet support--which has been the case for a few games now. At times Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan looked like they could help, as evidenced by their assists on Heater's first goal and D-Mac's big short-handed tally, but they were only given 6:57 and 2:49 respectively to work with. Meanwhile, Antoine Vermette--who's been disappointing the last couple of games-- and Randy Robitaille--who has shown improvement, but not enough-- were awarded with 19:27 and 17:40 minutes of ice time. M.C. 'Ammer and Shean Don, along with Brian McGrattan (20 secons of ice time), were blamed for the 'Hawks first goal, and were left on the bench most of the rest of the game because of that fact. When Chris Neil takes two stupid, completely useless penalties, the second of which gets the 'Hawks back in the game, he should not be getting almost twelve minutes of ice time. And Neil should never play on the powerplay; while he's useful while standing in front of the net, he's a liability when breaking into the zone because he can't control the puck to save his life.

I'm really beginning to question John Paddock's tactics over the course of this season. Okay, not beginning, I've been questioning him for months now. Continually playing struggling players (Robitaille, Vermette, Chris Kelly) while benching those who are working (McAmmond, Donovan, McGrattan) and over-playing the first-line guys (Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson) is not at all proactive, and will more than likely hurt this team in the long run. No matter what Paddock says about 'doing what it takes to win,' I don't care about the regular-season. I want this team to have what it takes to win in the playoffs, and if that means playing McGrattan 10 minutes a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, let him have it.

On the other side of the puck, Chicago was great to watch. I had no idea this Patrick Sharp kid was that good, although I'd heard of him, but he had a great game. Obviously, so did Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but that was to be expected. And then there's Khabibulin, who kept the 'Hawks in it through to the end. Once Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith really develop into the defence corps they appear destined to become, this team will be something else. Didn't see much of Martin Havlat--aptly nicknamed "always injured" by Ben--because he got injured in the second period and left the game, but he did have one or two good chances. Every time I see Mach 9 (or is it Mach 24 now?) come back from injury with guns blazing, I think, "Man, it would be nice to have him here still... " and then I remember how unreliable he is because of his injury problems. When he's healthy, though, he's one of the most exciting in the game.

(P.S. Sorry about the lack of update from the Atlanta game. In my opinion, the Sens made three mistakes--Donovan, Christoph Schubert, and Andrej Meszaros--and paid for all three of them. The Gerber played well enough to keep the Sens in the game, but certainly didn't steal anything.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Darth Gerber now a brand

A nickname that rose from the blogosphere and then infiltrated CBC has now become a T-shirt. It was only a matter of time, and now Darth Gerber can be immortalized on your chest in logo form (I suppose a tattoo would also do it).

You can get yours at this website*.

In other news...

It should be a very good game tonight when the Sens take on Martin "always injured" Havlat, and a team of the very brightest high-school aged hockey players the NHL could find.

Patrick Kane
, Jonathan Toews, and Cam Barker will all do their best to defeat the much manlier Senators while waiting for their moms to drop off their lunches. I guess the Blackhawks are finally seeing the dividends of their "let's have a shitty team for 20 years" strategic franchise plan. It only took the Sens 5 years of absolutely horrendous hockey to get our draft picks.

What do you mean 'always injured'? Well, Havlat has played a total of 85 NHL hockey games since 2005-06. For comparison's sake, Dany Heatley has played 197 games in that same span.

Around the Bank...

Did anyone else catch Senators' rookie centre Cody Bass calling John Paddock "Mr. Paddock" in the Ottawa Sun yesterday? He is now one of my favourite rookies on the team. It seems he certainly appreciates the time he's spending with the big team. I wonder if Mr. Spezza has given the Bassmaster any pointers yet?

Patrick Lalime will make his glorious return to Scotiabank Place tonight, starting in net for the Hawks. I love Patrick Lalime. He was the first not-terrible to play for the Sens and still holds the team's record for most regular-season wins.

Mike Fisher will be back in the Sens lineup according to Hopefully this will shake up the second line and give the team a boost after a limp game against the Thrashers on Thursday.

*Sens Army Blog Inc. (a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group) does not endorse the quality, fashionability, or possible long-term mockability of these T-shirts.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Vermette is the next Schaefer - and that's not a good thing

There is no doubt that Peter Schaefer is a very talented player. In his rookie season with the Vancouver Canucks, he collected 31 points. We saw some of this same offensive potential during his four-year stay in Ottawa. Unfortunately, Schaefer didn't become that second-line goal-scoring threat that Ottawa consistently seems to need. He was traded in for the bigger, cheaper Shean Donovan this past summer.

The more-talented Antoine Vermette seems to be in a similar situation. Though he is on pace for 10 more points this season than Schaefer, it's unclear whether Vermette will ever become the consistent highlight-reel goalscorer that possesses his body on occasion. Five years younger than Schaefer, Vermette still has time to develop, but something makes me think that he too will be traded in soon for some more consistent secondary scoring, and probably a larger player (as seems to be the direction of the Sens).

A player like Chris Kelly can kill penalties with the same ease as Vermette, but doesn't demand the same salary or ice time. My perscription: trade Vermette, re-sign Kelly for 3 years and finally acquire the second-line scorer the Sens have been longing for.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Live blog: Sens 3 Bruins 2

First Period:

Decent period. Good first half, not-as-good second half.

In the last few blogs, I've been pretty hard on Randy Robitaille, and I think it's been with good reason. It's only fair, however, to point when when he plays well, and he did so in the first period. He actually won battles, threw a small hit or two, and set up some plays. He had a pretty bad giveaway, but I was pleased all-in-all.
Props to Martin Gerber. He faced 12 shots, including three breakaways, and the only goal he allowed was on a Chuck Kobasew breakaway, and I can hardly blame The Gerber for that one. If he keeps playing as he is, the rest of the team needs to step it up on his behalf.

It must be pretty frustrating to be Daniel Alfredsson right now. By no fault of his own, he's been demoted to the second line to toil with lesser-skilled players, and he's the only reason that second line is generating any pressure right now. Antoine Vermette and especially Chris Kelly really need to step it up if they want to show they deserve some respect as more than role-playing forwards.

On Boston's side, Alex Auld hasn't looked stupendous in nets, but he's made a few saves. One of the most underrated prospects in the league must be Milan Lucic; ever since his play as captain of the Canadian squad in the Super Series against Russia, I've loved this guy's play, and he's had a good game so far. And, of course, Zdeno Chara is dominant.

Second period:

Why isn't anyone shooting the puck? Ottawa got nine shots in the second, but should probably have twice that many if the players would shoot when they're in the zone instead of trying to continually set other guys up. Auld is playing well, but he can't stop them all, fellas; get pucks to the net.

Big Luke! Luke Richardson scored his first of the season. Awesome. Probably the best or at least most surprisingly effective off-season acquisition is now not only being the defensive stalwart this team needs him to be. He's thrown three hits--more than anyone else in the game so far--and has pinched a couple of times effectively. After receiving a beauty pass from Kelly and then sending another one to Vermette, he got the rebound and buried it. Awesome. Even if that's the only goal he scores all year, it's a bonus. And he's already one ahead of Bill Muckalt.

How effective is Chris Neil if all he's going to do is take penalties? His job is to draw penalties, not get called for them. In the last 5 games and two periods tonight, he's got 19 minutes (seven minors and one major) in penalties and two assists. Not really a good trade-off, Neiler. He's also got to work on his physical game, because his timing seems completely off.

Ropes has been demoted. And Brian McGrattan hasn't seen a shift since the first period. I can't say I'm surprised about either; Robitaille had a good first, but slowed down, and this isn't the kind of game Grats is really suited for.

Third period:

Great finish. Who makes it close? Lucic. I see pretty good things for that very big and very young prospect.
For the second time in three games, Jason Spezza finishes with two goals, and continues the search for his first career NHL hat trick. With six goals and thirteen points in the last six games, Spetzky has really stepped it up. As has Dany Heatley, whose one assist gives him nine points in the five games.

Alfie looked quite relieved to be back on the CASH line, and it showed on the score sheet. He demonstrated why it's no less effective to have that line together than to break it up, because that line is all but unstoppable when they're together.

The Gerber played well again and made saves when he had to, stopping 26 of 28 shots he faced. The winning streak extends to six games, and Ottawa plays in Atlanta Thursday night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fisher out for a few games

Turns out the oblique-muscle strain Mike Fisher sustained in the Sens' 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers is serious enough to keep Fish the Dish out of the lineup for at least a few games. According to the Ottawa Sun, he's not going to travel with the team through Boston and Atlanta and thus won't be back in the lineup for at least a week. At least he'll have time to recover from the dental work he's having to repair the chiclets he lost after Scott Walker's headbutt on Dec. 12.

The Sens, as we all know, are already missing Patrick Eaves and Anton Volchenkov, and I remember reading that Brian McGrattan is questionable if not doubtful for Tuesday's game against Boston.

If McGrattan is able to play, it makes it easy for John Paddock; he'll likely keep Cody Bass up with the big team (and maybe move him up, because JP seemed to be pleased with the work of BassMaster) and play Grats on the fourth line. If not, count on another call-up from Binghamton.

Prior to deciding on Bass, Paddock mentioned that his other options were Niko Dimitrakos, Ilya Zubov, or Alexander Nikulin. If the trend we've seen continues, someone other than Sputnik will likely get the chance. Zubov has a better offensive upside, but Dimitrakos likely plays a more defensively responsible style. While I'd like to see Zubov get a chance, I would lean towards NiDi getting the call and subsequent limo drive. Since the B-Sens game scheduled for Hershey tonight has been postponed until later in the week, whoever is called up will probably come straight from Bridgeport to Ottawa tomorrow, once the roads clear a bit.

Bill McCrears his ugly head

Is it just me, or is Bill McCreary a jerk? Aside from looking like Frank and/or Gordon from the Bell commercials, he's also a egomaniac who loves turning hockey games into the Bill McCreary Show.

Here's a tip, Billy: When a team is assessed for five of the final six penalties in a game, including two extremely weak calls (on Andrej Meszaros and Chris Phillips, two pivotal PK d-men) to leave them fighting off a 5-on-3 in a game that's closer than it should be, don't be surprised if someone bitches at you for making another call, this time on Joe Corvo, after missing the blatant cross-check he took. Maybe you should just toughen up a bit and shrug off Dany Heatley calling your mother overweight, because you're supposed to be a professional.

In the end it worked out for the Sens, and I think that's why Corvo and Heater were so freakin' excited after scoring the sixth goal in a 7-3 victory. But that doesn't make it any more fun to watch some jackass call brutal penalties.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Penalty killers subdue Thrashers, then give puck to Heatley

Which team is going to show up?

It seems that there are two versions of the Senators this season. One that is inspired, confident and resilient, and the other - weak, vulnerable and fragile.

In their 7 -3 win over Atlanta, the Sens seemed to bring the confident version of themselves despite some mid-game struggles. Dany Heatley supplied much of that confidence though he took an unnecessary penalty in the third period for aggravating the referees.

This nearly cost the Sens the game as it was the Thrashers' second 5-on-3 power play. Instead, the penalty-killers did their job and Heatley and Joe Corvo broke out of the sin bin and turned it into a 2-on-1. The resulting goal, Heater's 200th of his career, seemed ice the win for Ottawa.

Recognition should be given to Christoph Schubert, Antoine Vermette and Chris "Heart and Soul" Kelly for killing some crucial ATL power plays and preserving the win for Ottawa, in a game which Martin Gerber couldn't steal.

Corvo (2 pts), Vermette (3 pts) and (surprisingly) Kelly (2 pts) supplied most of the offence for the Senators. Now on a five-game winning streak, the Sens should show up a similar each night, and they would be able to beat any team in the league.

Reinforcement(s) for game against Atlanta

The Sens brought Cody Bass up from Binghamton today as a replacement for Brian McGrattan, as Grats seems to still be recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered against Pittsburgh.

Bass has eight point (3G, 5A) in 24 games with the B-Sens, and is 6'0" and 211 lbs. Not the same size as McGrattan, but his style of play is probably more suited to a fourth-line shift than either of the Sens' blue-chip Russian prospects, Ilya Zubov and Alexander Nikulin. I'm not sure why Danny Bois wasn't called up, though; he's got more points than Bass, but it may just be to give a younger player a chance (Bass is 20, Bois is 27). It could also be that whoever is called up will be limited in their role, and so bringing an important player like Bois up to play 3 minutes a game is unnecessary when he'd be playing significantly more for the B-Sens in tonight's game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It would also have been fun to see Jeremy Yablonski up on this team, just to see Yabo smoke someone mixed-martial-arts style.

For some unknown reason, is reporting that the Sens also called Jeff Glass up from Bingo to back up Martin Gerber tonight. I'm not sure where this information comes from, but no other news source is reporting it--and, in fact, reputable news sources are reporting that Ray Emery is going to be the backup--so I find it hard to believe. Now, I don't want to be overly harsh, but if this in fact turns out to be false, you have to wonder where 'information' like this comes from:
"Jeff Glass has been re-called from Binghamton of the AHL to back-up Martin Gerber tonight when the Atlanta Thrashers come to town. The limo was waiting for Glass immediately following the Baby Sens 4-3 win over Syracuse."
I guess time will tell. All the best to BassMaster in tonight's game, although John Paddock has said that he's going to get limited ice time--if any.

Friday, December 14, 2007

One game for Walker's headbutt

You've really got to wonder what goes on in the head of NHL disciplinary whatever Colin Campbell. He dishes out huge suspensions at the beginning of the season to set the tone, and then completely disregards that precedent when other stupid crap happens.

In the wake of Scott Walker's headbutt to the mouth of Mike Fisher, costing Fisher a tooth and a crown on another tooth, he received a 1-game suspension after a telephone call with Campbell. It's hardly even worth the call.

People might remember that at the start of the season, Philadelphia's Jesse Boulerice was given a 25-game suspension for cross-checking Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in the face. That was a good length, and certainly warranted. By handing only one game to Walker, Campbell is essentially saying that it is 25 worse to cross-check someone to the face than it is to head-butt them. How is that, exactly?

Some people (not Campbell) said that Fish deserved it, because he didn't remove his helmet and visor when the fight started. That's a ludicrous statement. First of all, nothing justifies a head-butt. Second of all, Fisher started shoving Walker after he ran over Martin Gerber; once Fisher shoved him, Walker dropped the gloves and started the fight. I guess Fisher should have allowed himself to take a few extra punches while removing his helmet before starting to throw his own haymakers? Give me a break.

What made it even worse is that the headbutt was with the fight ended and the linesmen had started to separate the two. And as if a head-butt wasn't enough, Walker threw an extra left for good measure. He was just pissed because he got smoked and wasn't expecting to have to pay the price for running a Senators' goaltender. Although it might seem an arbitrary number, he should have gotten at least five games, if not more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gerber steals a win

Well, Mr. Martin Gerber, you sure have a way of making people wonder. You start the season off like hellfire, tear up the league, and then decide to take a few games off. And, after taking said games off and being usurped as the number 1, you bounce back and play amazingly in consecutive games. Possibly his best game of the year on Thursday, when he stopped 26 of 27 to backstop the Sens to a 4-1 win over the Penguins.

The Gerber showed up for the first period when pretty much the rest of the team decided to take it easy. Two weeks ago, he would have allowed a goal or two (or three) on the 13 shots he faced in the first, and the team would have become dejected and given up. Instead, The Gerber stops all of them and the Sens come back hard in the second and even harder in the third. Most notable accomplishment for The Gerber: stopped nine shots from Sid the kid Crosby, including two breakaways. It simply looked like Crosby was frustrated because Gerbs gave him nothing to shoot at.

You know who else had a great game? Chris Phillips. Who am I kidding, of course you know that; post-game coverage has been all about Big Rig. He's been awesome at controlling the puck and protecting it from opponents, and his pass out of the zone is getting to be very valuable. He has almost single-handedly offset the liability that Andrej Meszaros can be at times, when he makes poor decision with the puck or commits to make a hit.

Joe Corvo, on the other hand, didn't have a great game. He had an okay game, and I've liked seeing him alongside Wade Redden, but he made some mistakes in the first period that would have been costly if not for The Gerber. He finished -1 (because his assist, which was a great shot, was on the powerplay), and although he was tagged with no official giveaways, he continued to take low-percentage shots that get blocked and turned over. I'm no Corvo-hater, though; I'm confident he'll rebound, and his value is more than the cost of a few turnovers.

One thing I've noticed since Anton Volchenkov went out with his finger injury is Luke Richardson stepping up, receiving more ice time and responding with great play. Richie played over 14 minutes of ice time against the Pens, and kept it simple in the defensive end--which is exactly what he's got to do. Although Shean Donovan has been playing well of late, Richie has been the most valuable acquisition since the off-season, including Randy Robitaille. Ropes has potential, but he needs to be a little more defensively accountable and get into battles to win them, instead of letting opponents take a cake-walk.

Seven points over two games for Jason Spezza and five for Dany Heatley in those same two games. As frustrating as it is to see Spetzky try and force passes here and there (and, sometimes, everywhere), when he connects on one it usually works. I laughed when he kept the puck to score the empty-netter instead of setting up Heatley for the hat trick. He needs to take a shot once in a while.

Brian McGrattan only played 11 seconds. After those 11 seconds, he faced off against Georges Laracque in a fight, and appeared to separate his shoulder. It is unknown what the degree of the injury is, but if it's bad someone from Bingo will be on his way, likely a role player such as Josh Hennessy or Danny Bois.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What a game! Sens 6, Canes 0

Wow, that was a game that sent a message to the league that these guys are ready to play. And it probably simultaneously sent a message that Carolina is not as good as advertised.

Pretty strange game to watch, everything considered. We had a winning team switch goalies, a fight which included a head-butt, pucks bouncing beyond belief, and, at one time, a line which consisted of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Brian McGrattan.

Obviously, Heatley and Spezza--with three points each--both had great games. They looked to be toying with the Hurricanes at times, and Spezza even got into it with Erik Cole at one point (and gave Cole some pretty good shots, too). Obviously, in a 6-0 game, a lot of players had great games. I'm going to focus on a few: McGrattan, Martin Gerber, Dean McAmmond, and Mike Fisher, all of whom played exceptionally well.

To start off with, Grats got some ice time. Coach John Paddock must have read this blog and realized that McGrattan is indeed useful in moderation, but useless when he's sitting on the bench. In just over five minutes of ice time, McGrattan scored an assist (albeit a lucky one) and, although shoddy NHL statistics don't show it, had a couple of hits and skated harder than I've ever seen him backchecking in the first period. At one point, as mentioned, he was alongside Spetzky and Heater, in my opinion to ensure no one took liberties with our top guns (Notable point: When Grats was up there, Randy Robitaille was demoted to the fourth line).

The goaltending situation was... interesting. While, as Ben pointed out, Ray Emery started the game, he had suffered some hip injury earlier in the week and decided after five minutes of Senators dominance that it wasn't worth the risk to stay in the net. The Gerber came in to relieve Rayzor, and played exceptionally--which was great to see, after his last few disappointing starts. He always seems to play his best against the Hurricanes, and if Emery is unable to start tomorrow night, hopefully The Gerber will be able to continue this against the Penguins. He stopped all 31 shots he faced, including some great saves, and--to demonstrate his confidence--scored an assist when he blockered the puck to Spezza, who knocked it to Heatley, who schooled Canes tender Cam Ward. For his efforts, though, The Gerber only receives a shared shutout; since Emery was on the ice for the game-winner, he gets the win, and they both get a shutout with an asterisk. If Emery isn't able to play, it's distinctly possible that Brian Elliott will be on his way from Binghamton tonight.

Deaner was back tonight. And, I'm not a doctor of hockeyology or anything, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that he logged over 10 minutes of ice time. M-C-Ammer notched a great assist by making Eric Staal (who skated right past the puck) look like an idiot and dishing the puck to Shean Donovan in the slot. Shean Don roofed it, and that made it 5-0. D-Mac (yes, that is a third nickname) also scored a goal, but it was a fluke that Ward directed into McAmmond's chest, and then it bounced in.

Finally... Mike Fisher. He was a beast, albeit a good-looking one (at least according to my sources, or every woman I know). The goal he scored was just pure determination, muscling past the Canes defender and lifting it over Ward in what probably was the defining point in the game. If that wasn't the defining point, though, it was Fish absolutely demolishing Scott Walker at the beginning of the second period. After Hartnell blatantly ran over The Gerber, Fish the Dish added a second dimension to his nickname and dished out some serious rights into the left side of Walker's face. Leaving Walker battered, bloody, and embarassed, Fisher was then headbutted and hit with a cheap left after the linesmen had broken up the fight. Real classy move, Walker. Have fun explaining that one to the disciplinary committee of the NHL.

All in all... the best game in a while, and of of the most exciting of the year. A great game to have on TSN, and Glenn Healy didn't even ruin it too badly.

The White Mask!

To further distinguish himself from Gerber? That would be pretty funny.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is Emery #1?

With 3 consecutive starts and one coming up on Wednesday, it appears as though history is repeating itself on the Sens' roster.

Martin Gerber currently has a record of 13-4-1 and 0-2 with a GAA of over 6, while Ray Emery is 4-3-2 and 2-0-1 in his last 3 games. Emery has looked okay in his last few games - nothing outstanding, but it seems that the same confidence issue as last year has resurfaced.

When Gerber is in net, the Sens grip their sticks too right and don't seem to trust that the opponents' weak shot won't go in. Is it a purely psychological issue? Yeah, it sure seems that way, but it's hard to argue with results. At this point in time, the Senators need the wins to back up their talent or else the suck spiral will continue.

Against the Hurricanes on Wednesday, Emery needs to keep us thinking about his status. The longer it's up in the air, the longer that he will continue to play... and hopefully, along the way, the Sens will keep winning.

New look for Rayzor

According to, Ray Emery is going to get the start on Wednesday (big surprise). More importantly, though, Rayzor's got a new mask:
Ray Emery was sporting a newly painted mask at practice. Sticking with his boxer theme, he has two pictures of Muhammad Ali at different stages of his career on the mask.
About time, too. Emery still had the old-style logo at the bottom of the mask he's been wearing so far this season. We still haven't even seen Martin Gerber's mask in game-action yet. Updates and hopefully a photo when they become available.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

McGrattan deserves better

Last night's game against the Dallas Stars, where Brian McGrattan did not play an entire shift, really put an exclamation mark on a trend that coach John Paddock has taken all year: treat Brian McGrattan like shit. And it's getting really old, Paddock.

Grats has been scratched in favour of underachievers, benched for an entire game, and simply ignored for the things he does well. Instead of pouting, though, McGrattan has played well on the next shift, if he got another one. Just the fact that he's on the ice makes the other team a little hesitant, but there's also the fact that he can forecheck well and recently has been creating scoring chances, even. Do we forget how valuable he can be? Let me offer an excerpt from a story from from December 2005:
But the longstanding belief that the team is soft has been obliterated this season. Rookie Brian McGrattan has helped make sure the team won't be trifled with, most notably demonstrated in a tilt with Toronto's Tie Domi earlier in the season.
I remember that fight. It pretty much ended Domi's career, and was the beginning of the end for the Leafs physically pushing around the Sens in regular-season play.

McGrattan deserves better than this, Paddock. Sure he may not be offensively gifted or defensively responsible, but he gets in hard on the forecheck and has played well in his limited ice time he's received this season. In fact, after assembling the statistics, McGrattan is fourth on the team in points-per-minutes-played (ppm). See the chart below:

  1. Daniel Alfredsson: 0.06 ppm (40 points, 635 minutes played)
  2. Jason Spezza: 0.06 ppm (29 points, 476 minutes played)
  3. Dany Heatley: 0.05 ppm (34 points, 633 minutes played)
  4. Brian McGrattan: 0.04 ppm (2 points, 49 minutes played)
  5. Mike Fisher: 0.03 ppm (18 points, 569 minutes played)
    Seven others tied at: 0.03 ppm

I'm not trying to suggest McGrattan is the fourth most valuable player on this team offensively, and his numbers would likely go down if he played more. But the fact of the matter is that he's not nearly the liability Paddock seems to think he is, and his +/- rating of +2 is better than Mike Fisher (-2), Dean McAmmond (-2), and Randy Robitaille (a pathetic -7). The numbers for Fisher and McAmmond are likely aberrations, but why reward Robitaille (0.02 ppm) with almost 13 minutes of ice time per game, and bench McGrattan? I can guarantee you that if McGrattan was on a line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, he would have more than four goals to speak for it. He could just stand in front of the net, piss people off, and knock in rebounds.

Give him some freakin' ice time. I realize this isn't house league, but he's earned it and he's not nearly as much of a liability as you seem to think.

Sens super-nova the Stars

Two in a row! Man, that was a great game to watch. And the SensTV HD feed didn't even cut out! They're starting to spoil us! Actually, I guess to spoil us they shouldn't charge $12.99 to watch a game, but whatever.

Best game for the Sens in quite a while. Although it didn't really take much given the way this team had been playing.

The game started off interestingly enough. After Dallas' resident cretin Steve Ott ran Ray Emery (and received a subesequent facewash) and then hit Dany Heatley after the whistle despite the fact that Heater didn't even touch the puck, he lined up with Chris Neil at the faceoff dot, agreed to fight, then turtled when the puck was dropped. Plays like that will get you in trouble sometimes.

Also, plays like that make me wish John Paddock had played Brian McGrattan, even if only for that one shift; if he had challened Ott, you can be guaranteed Ott would have dropped the gloves or been punished a lot worse than the love-taps Neil threw at him. Seriosuly, you couldn't even give Grats one freakin' shift? What the hell! I'm going to post another entry about the value that McGrattan has, but I'll keep this to a game review.

Also in the first period was a great play by Christoph Schubert to offer puck-support, carry the puck in, protect it, and just shoot the puck on net when he couldn't make a play. He was rewarded with a goal, and he's probably got as many points as a defenceman as a forward. Maybe not yet, but it's getting close.

And Antoine Vermette had an incredible goal. I guess once a year he'll score something that makes you wonder how it is even possible... last year's through-the-legs-from-behind-the-goal-line goal, and now this. Wrapping the puck around the defenceman, jumping around him on the other side, losing the puck but then kicking it back up to your stick, and tapping it in five-hole. One of a few consecutive games he's played well, and last night he single-handedly turned his line with Chris Kelly and Neil into a scoring threat.

Emery played well. He only faced 25 shots, but he made some big saves at key times, and wasn't going to take any shit from that hack Ott.

Nick Foligno had another great game, that line with him and Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher is really looking like a great combination. Speaking of Fisher, he scored a great goal with a rocket of a wrist-shot that had the play-by-play guys on SensTV drooling on the mics. It was a little awkward.

Now we get to wait a few days for the continuation of this discontinuous road trip, which will happen in Carolina on Wednesday. I think Emery should start, although last year Martin Gerber played well against the 'Canes. We'll see what Paddock does.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Finally! That elusive 17th win

Well, it took seven losses, but the Sens have finally won their seventeenth game. It's about time... I was getting pretty sick of this whole losing thing. It had better not resume again on Friday against the Stars.

The final was 5-4 over the Florida Panthers. Fans everywhere were once again nervous when the Sens surrendered more leads: Up 2-0 (YES!) until Florida tied it 2-2 (shit... ); Then it was 4-2 (alright!), and then 4-3 (AHHHHHHH!), then 5-3 (phew... ), then 5-4 (AHHHHHH!), then over (thank God).

Ray Emery got the win. He looked alright, but not stupendous. He played better than Gerber has in recent games, so he deserves the start on Friday. Strange note: Despite the fact that Emery has helped the Sens earn three of a possible four points in the past two games, his goals-against average has gone up and his save percentage has gone down. But what really matters are the points in the standings, so whatever.

I don't think I've praised Daniel Alfredsson enough of late. Heroic, as Ben stated, on Tuesday against Tampa Bay, and similarly heroic against the Panthers with two assists and making his line with Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno look like a pretty good line.

Speaking of Foligno, he played his best game yet. He looked comfortable, and could have had a couple more points if things had gone the Sens' way.

Randy Robitaille finally did something. He actually played alright, but he still lost at least as many battles as he won, and he's got some work to do to get back in my good books. I still don't think he's earned a spot on the top-line. He's on the right track, though.

Memo to Chris Kelly: Take it easy. Loosen your grip on the stick. Just play typical Kelly style, and things will turn around over time. For a little while, focus on making smart, defensive plays, and when that's going right again, try a little flair offensively.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Finger nearing panic button

We saw a few positives in the Senators' loss last night to the Tampa Bay Lightning:
  1. Lots of scoring chances for Heatley and Spezza
  2. Daniel Alfredsson kicking ass once again - 3 points
  3. A great comeback to force overtime
  4. Emery strong in overtime
But there were also a ton of negatives:
  1. Wade Redden giveaways... *sigh*6 million a year? Muckler!!!!
  2. Emery looked weak on high goals - didn't seem like he was trying too hard to stop them
  3. Schubert giveaway ... okay, he hasn't played D for a while and he's not making 6-freaking-million dollars a year!
  4. The chart at right... where has Mike Fisher gone?
  5. Where has the once-great pickup Randy Robitaille gone?
Just like last season, this is the test that will inevitably make the Senators a better team down the stretch. It's the teenage-years of the season and, after finding their #1 goalie (whomever it is), and the coach giving the team a well-deserved verbal (and maybe physical) smack down, this team will be better for it.

This is the challenge of John Paddock's career; it's been the same for most Senators coaches in the past decade: turn a good team into a great team. Flashes of brilliance are not enough.

The first obstacle is getting that first win, and there's no better time than tonight against the Florida Panthers (did they share a plane with the Lightning?). If Emery starts tonight, I would have to conclude that all faith in Martin Gerber has been shattered.

Monday, December 3, 2007

On the farm: weekly Binghamton update

If Alexander Nikulin was angry with being assigned back to the B-Sens of the AHL after a forgettable two-game stint with Ottawa, it sure didn't affect his performance. After missing a game due to visa problems (how do the Sens let that happen? Come on, Tim Murray!), Nikulin scored once and set up three goals in a 4-0 blanking of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Denis Hamel scored twice, while Jeremy Yablonski rounded out the scoring and Ilya Zubov notched two assists. Jeff Glass got the shutout.

The next night must have been an amazing game to watch, and ended with an 8-5 victory over the Norfolk Admirals. After going down 5-4 in the third, the B-Sens rallied to score four unanswered in less than nine minutes to settle the score. Yabo extended what must be a career-high goal-scoring streak to two games. Hamel scored another two goals, giving him an AHL-leading 16 on the year. Larry Nycholat scored once and added three assists, and Niko Dimitrakos assisted on three consecutive goals, including the game-tying and game-winning goals.

As mentioned, Hamel now leads the league in goals, and his five goals over three games earned him AHL player of the week honours.

Binghamton earned 5 of a possible 6 points this past week, and is now 5-0-1-1 in he past seven games. Their record is 11-8-2-1 overall, worth 25 points and good for fourth in the AHL's East Division.

Top five scorers for Bingo, as of Dec. 3:
  1. Denis Hamel: 22GP, 16G, 6A, 22P
  2. Alexander Nikulin: 16GP, 4G, 11A, 15P
  3. Larry Nycholat: 22GP, 2G, 13A, 15P
  4. Niko Dimitrakos: 17GP, 8G, 6A, 14P
  5. Josh Hennessy: 21GP, 5G, 9A, 14P

Six strikes before Philly's called out

One week ago, I posted a blog entry stating that the league has to reprimand the Philadelphia Flyers organization for their lack of respect for other players. My rant was precipitated by the fourth questionable hit and subsequent suspension of a Flyers player (where Scott Hartnell elbowed Andrew Alberts of the Bruins in the head). Instead of issuing any sort of warning, the league simply handed Hartnell a slap-on-the-wrist two-game suspension.

Then on Saturday night, Riley Cote added to the growing list of brutal hits from Flyers. After an elbow to the head of Dallas Stars' d-man Matt Niskanen, becoming the fifth Flyer to receive suspensions in just over two months of NHL hockey (Steve Downie, Jesse Boulerice, Randy Jones, and Hartnell being the other four). Cote jumped, led with his elbow, and knocked Niskanen's helmet off with the hit--luckily Niskanen had prepared himself to get checked.

What I said last week was that the league had to warn the Flyers that further infractions would be penalized with increasing severity. Instead, Cote--a career minor-league enforcer who is likely only in the NHL because of other Flyers' suspensions--received three games. There is no excuse for such a light penalty for such complete disregard for the rules of the game and the health and well-being of the other players. In fact, something should have been done after the third event committed by a Flyers player; instead league executives watched as a fourth and fifth infraction occured.

According to The Globe and Mail, the league--more specifically Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell--has spoken with Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren and suggested that there will be ramifications in the event of further infractions.

"We were kind of put on notice more than anything and that's fine," Holmgren said from his Philadelphia office. "We understand the consequences and we've just got to be a smarter team."

Apparently in the NHL, it's six strikes you're out. The first five are okay, but God help you if there's a sixth elbow-to-the-head-wth-intent-to-injure committed by one of your players.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Could Emery bring us out of the rut?

Despite a 5-2 loss to the suddenly-surging New York Rangers, it looks like there might be light at the end of the tunnel for the Senators. About time, because it seems like it's been a damned long tunnel.

It all started with a terrible first period. Terrible for everyone, including (and probably especially) Martin Gerber. Good decision by John Paddock to leave Gerber in to finish the first period, and then start Ray Emery in the second.

Despite an early goal by Brendan Shanahan, the Sens began to turn their game around in the second, peaking with a goal by Joe Corvo after a rarely-successful Jason Spezza drop-pass. In the third, Dany Heatley tipped a pass from Spetzky right of Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder, but it was once again too little, too late for Ottawa and the Rangers added an empty-netter.

Rayzor played a good two periods of relief, and it looks like he may--once again--be answering everyone's calls for one of the goalies to snap us out of this streak. While we won't know until Tuesday's game in Tampa Bay, if Emery is able to play like he did Saturday then we'll be alright for a while.

To avoid confusion, I'm neither pro-Gerber nor anti-Emery. I'm pro-winning. As I said in my last post;
Last season, when The Gerber faltered, Rayzor earned the starter's job and ran with it. If he wants it this year, Emery is going to have to work a lot harder than he appears to be right now to get it.

I don't care how it happens, but this team has to win. I'm still skeptical as to Emery's value when he's playing poorly and upsetting the dressing-room dynamic, but as long as he starts winning we won't have to worry about that happening.

Mike Fisher snapped out of his one-game funk and played well, laying a total of seven punishing hits, including two painful-looking ones on defenceman Joe Girardi in the same shift. Christoph Schubert took a couple of shifts, but he eventually got his goove back on defence and looks to be alright alongside Chris Phillips. And finally starting to live up to his agitator billing was Shean Donovan, playing hard on the forecheck. It was also nice to see Chris Neil get under the skin of Scott Gomez, taking the Alaskan Wonder of his game for much of the latter stages.

On the other side of the coin, Wade Redden looked pretty bad on the first three Rangers goals. He and long-time partner Andrej Meszaros were split up, and Corvo played well beside Redden when the Sens were looking for offence, while Meszei--through little fault of his own--was demoted to playing third-set defence with Luke Richardson. I also have to agree with Jeremy of Black Aces on the Randy Robitaille front, as Ropes continued to look completely disinterested against the blueshirts.

As previously mentioned, look to Emery to start on Tuesday. If his play against New York is any indication, he might be starting to get back into his game.
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