Friday, March 21, 2008

Too close for comfort: Sens 3 Blues 2

Hey, it was a win, right? Right? I guess it all counts for two points. But if that's how the Sens play for the rest of the season and the playoffs, it will likely be a short post-season.

The biggest problem for the Sens was defensive coverage. Both of St. Louis' goals were of defensive gaffes, where a cross-ice pass forced Martin Gerber--who played well and had little to no chance on the two goals--to stretch out, but was unable to stretch far enough. The first one was all thanks to Wade Redden, who gave the puck away and then gave up his check (Jamal Mayers), and it was Mayers who tipped the puck in.

I don't know that Redden had a bad game, though. He had three or four terrible shifts, though, and they were really terrible, so it made his whole game seem abysmal. Also struggling on defence was Mike Commodore, again, but there are signs that show he's on the verge of coming around. One good sign was a decent pairing of Commodore and Christoph Schubert, which is an experiment I maintain Bryan Murray should try for a game or two. Luke Richardson could probably use some rest, anyway.

Speaking of Schubert, he had a solid game whether at defence or on forward, and I'm not just saying that because of the goal he scored. His goal was huge, though, and that fourth line of Schubert with Dean McAmmond (who had a beauty pass for Schubie's goal) and Shean Donovan (whose forechecking never seems to cease) is turning out to be just as useful as the fourth line Murray constructed in last year's playoffs. Which will be valuable. On defence, Schubert--who was playing with Redden on the powerplay--actually looked really good controlling the puck along the blue line with the man advantage, and when he was killing penalties with Commodore he looked positionally solid.

Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov played as reliably as they seem to do on every night, and both finished +2 in less ice time than they usually have to play (largely thanks to Barret Jackman's four stupid penalties). Volchenkov blocked three shots, and added an assist for good measure.

The best defenceman of the night, though, was Andrej Meszaros. He threw two huge hits (and three total, according to, played more ice time than anyone else on the Sens, threw two shots on net and blocked a Blues shot, too. His powerplay control was great, and he was bumped up to the first power-play unit alongside Cory Stillman for good reason. He appears to be regaining the form of his rookie season (knock on wood), and it couldn't come soon enough.

Well, enough about defencemen. (If you couldn't tell, I was once a d-man, which is why I talk about them so much.) Now I'll move onto forwards. This is going to be a long post, I guess. It's because it was the first game I've seen in quite a while.

I'll start off with Randy Robitaille. He wasn't bad tonight; he was just Randy Robitaille. Which means he shied away from all physical play, was soft on the forecheck, controlled the puck well but was unable to make time and space that he needs to make plays. When he plays alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, those two are rendered less effective in the offensive zone because the opposing team can allow Robitaille some leeway and focus on checking Heater and Spezza more. And in the first period especially, it was evident that the two marquee guys on that line were getting frustrated. Robitaille's role on this team is quickly diminishing with the acquisition of Stillman, and I have a feeling he might be the odd-man out when Chris Neil is ready to return.

Part way through the game, the CASH line was reunited, and it seemed to reinvigorate Daniel Alfredsson. It's obvious that he benefits greatly from playing with Spezza and Heatley, and those two use his skills well. And while playing on a line with Stillman and Mike Fisher, Alfredsson looks a little out of place; those two have a chemistry that is independent of Alfie, and I think that Neil might fall on the second line with Stillman and Fisher when he does return. Speaking of Fisher, he played incredibly, despite the fact that he had no points. On his way to recording a game-high seven hits, Fisher suckered Jackman into a penalty, and then the former rookie of the year (why did he ever win that?) Jackman took an unsportsmanlike penalty, to boot. A team composed of six Christoph Schuberts on defence and twelve Mike Fisher's on forward would be a lot of fun to watch.

The third line was outstanding. I'm not sure what it is, but Martin Lapointe seems to have changed the play of Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly, and I think this line is really making a case to get themselves a lot of bonus ice time at even strength situations. While Lapointe's skill set is limited, he has a pretty good shot, and his speed and tenacity on the forecheck mean a lot of pucks get coughed out into open spaces, where Vermette or Kelly are often buzzing around and are able to pick them up. This line was the best through two periods, maybe through the whole game. While I'm unsure about Lapointe's role on the powerplay, he sure is a sucker for punishment--he must have taken a dozen cross-checks while standing in front of the net in the second period.

The fact that nine different players registered a point for the Sens is a good sign to me. Although it was only Hannu Toivonen in nets at the other end, the knowledge that each line has the potential to contribute offensively was a huge part of last year's team's success, and is a necessary asset going forward.

One final note: I never gave Eric Brewer much credit, but he was the most effective St. Louis player during the game. And Paul Kariya was invisible except for a couple of shifts in the third period. And that's probably enough rambling "insight" for one day. I'm sorry if it was too long. If you think it would be more effective to write in bullet-point format, let me know.
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