Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WC08: More Sens to world championships

Two more Sens players have been added to their respective national team's rosters, Christoph Schubert (Germany) and Martin Gerber (Switzerland). Both of them have played for their teams in the 2002 and 2006 winter olympics, Schubert's been to four world championships, and Gerber's been to five.

Apparently Gerber didn't play enough during the regular season and playoffs, he had to go and play some extra games in the world championships. Team Canada fans probably remember when he shut out Canada 2-0 in the 2006 Olympics. As for Schubert, it will be interesting to see whether Uwe Krupp, head coach of the German team, plays on the top line as well as the the top defensive pairing, and gets 40 minutes of ice time per game.

Also going to the tournament are Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, both for Team Canada. No other players have been announced to date, to my knowledge.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Brunnstrom Watch: Day one

Fabian Brunnstrom. The Swedish phenom. You may recognize his name. He's been called the next Daniel Alfredsson by The Hockey News. And he might be coming to the Senators.

A lot of sources had him all but confirmed to sign with the Vancouver Canucks, as reported by CBC's Scott Morrison. But, with the firing of former Canucks GM Dave Nonis, that deal is filled with uncertainty (reports indicate he's put off accepting an offer from Vancouver). Morrison said that the other front-runners in the Brunnstrom Sweepstakes are the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks. And some have mentioned the Senators as a possibility, as well, and what better place for the next Daniel Alfredsson than the home of the current Daniel Alfredsson?

According to The Fourth Period blog, who cited the Ottawa Sun (how did I miss that story?), Sens GM Bryan Murray made a pitch for Brunnstrom demonstrating the benefits playing for the Sens organization would bring. According to this story by Slam! Sports, though, Brunnstrom is looking for whichever situation gives him the best opportunity to break in right away, meaning the terrible, terrible Toronto Maple Leafs could be the front-runners.

The last time the Sens semi-committed to giving a player a spot without a tryout was the Alexei Kaigorodov experiment, and that failed miserably. (For those who don't remember, Kaigs was rumoured to be the Sens long-anticipated second-line centre, until he wasn't good enough, got sent to the farm team, refused to report, went back to Russia, and bashed the Sens coaching staff to Russian media for not giving him a shot. Not a great start.)

Although Brunnstrom started strongly, he fizzled as the season went on. Do we want to run the risk of making the same mistake we made with Kaigorodov again? Can we afford not to try, in case he really is as good as Alfredsson? I guess we have to put our faith in Murray to figure out if Brunnstrom is as good as people seem to think.

Here is what THN has to say about Brunnstrom:
"He's the first of a lot of players from Europe you're going to see in this situation," said the [anonymous] assistant GM. "It used to be you waited for European players. Lots of times you would draft them and keep them over there for four or five years to see how they develop. Well, you can't do that anymore."

Brunnstrom, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward, is a classic late bloomer. Last season he was playing First Division in Sweden, which is two steps under the Elite League and was a star at that level, which prompted Farjestad to sign him this season. He skates very well and his three goals and 13 points in 21 games are probably not a clear indication of how good he is offensively.
For anyone interested, here is a sampling of some highlights, courtesy of YouTube (as linked from THN):

Time will tell. We'll try and keep you posted on the developments as they come about.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

WC08: Heatley, Spezza head to World Championships

Turns out Steve Yzerman brought a few Sens players in to play on the Canadian World Championships in Halifax/Quebec City, and they're not slouches: Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza were named to the roster. (I guess Spezza's knee injury wasn't or isn't too serious.)

Seriously, though, this team is stacked. Here's the roster:

Goal: Mathieu Garon, Pascal Leclaire, Cam Ward

Defence: Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns, Dan Hamhuis, Ed Jovanovski, Duncan Keith, Steve Staios

Forwards: Jason Chimera, Shane Doan, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Chris Kunitz, Jamal Mayers, Rick Nash, Derek Roy, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Martin St. Louis, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Ray Whitney

Why the hell isn't Chris Phillips on his way? Maybe he said no. But if Ryan Getzlaf is headed, you've got to expect Chris Pronger was invited, he must have said no, too.

I was looking for the other team rosters, but was unable to see more Sens players who've been named. I imagine that if they're feeling up to it: Martin Gerber (Switzerland), Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden), Christoph Schubert (Germany), Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia), and Anton Volchenkov (Russia). Playing in the tournament can be good or bad (hopefully no one pulls a Dominik Hasek and gets injured), but it'll be fun to be able to watch some Sens players playing into May again this year.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Spezza on competition committee

The Sens' Jason Spezza was recently elected to the NHL's five-player competition committee. Will no-look drop passes be made mandatory?

Other witty quips welcome in the comments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Report Card on Sens Defence


2 Luke Richardson

Peter says:
  • C+
  • Started the year strongly, highlighted by a one-punch knockout against Brandon Dubinsky. As the year went on, however, his speed (or slowness) became a factor, and he was scratched for the playoffs. His leadership may have been good, but it didn't help the team.
  • Won't be back for next season.
Ben says:
  • B+
  • Did everything expected of his this year and more. Played significant minutes for an old guy, but according to the playoffs, didn't bring the leadership needed.

4 Chris Phillips
Peter says:
  • A-
  • The Big Rig played the way he plays. Reasonable physically, and pretty good at shutting guys down. He looked good with Anton Volchenkov at the start of the year, and once Mike Commodore started playign well he looked good with Phillips. His leadership will be counted on for next year.
  • At only $3.5M, he's a bargain.
Ben says:
  • B
  • Definitely a bargain, but did not have nearly the impact that he did last year in the playoffs. This could be because he didn't play with Volchenkov as much.

6 Wade Redden
Peter says:
  • F
  • Terrible. You could probably count the number of good games he had on one hand. Maybe even the number of good plays he made on one hand. If Redden really wanted to be back with this team next year, he sure didn't show it in his play.
  • Won't be back next year.
Ben say:
  • 'Nuff said.
14 Andrej Meszaros
Peter says:
  • C+
  • Started poorly, but played pretty well once Bryan Murray stepped back behind the bench. He had a decent playoff. His puck-moving and powerplay abilities are even more valuable on the Sens since they've lost Tom Preissing, Joe Corvo, and--in all likelihood--Wade Redden over the course of two years.
  • He's got too much potential to give away. Unless he's traded for a rarer commodity (part of a package for a franchise goaltender, say), the Sens should try and re-sign him for $2.5-3M, if they can.
Ben says:
  • C+
  • We should have expected more from Meszaros this year, and he didn't really deliver. An underwhelming season, but hopefully the exception in his Sens career.

24 Anton Volchenkov
Peter says:
  • A+
  • Amazing. The man is an absolute warrior.
  • Maybe the best deal in the league at $2.5M per year.
Ben says:
  • A
  • I would almost give him our #1 defender spot at this moment. Not because he's great, but others did not play as well. Can't fault him for that.
44 Mike Commodore
Peter says:
  • C+
  • Commodore looked terrible when he first got here, but once he started learning the system he looked better. Although he can be slow, a full year under whatever system the Sens employ next year would be beneficial, and he's a pretty solid playoff player.
  • If he'll sign for $2M or less, I'd like to see him around for another year.
Ben says:
  • D+
  • Looked slow throughout the regular season and the playoffs. Did not really make an impact on the team. We didn't even see much of a hair or beard 'fro. It would be a risk to keep him around, but not nearly a Hasek-level risk. I say do it.
55 Brian Lee
Peter says:
  • B-
  • The General played well in the few months with the team. He's really benefited from his time in Binghamton, and I'm only expecting better play for next season. He may even step into the top-four, if everything goes his way.
  • Still on his rookie contract.
Ben says:
  • A+
  • Although he resembles a zombie, I must say that Lee is the great hope for the Senators' defensive corps. No one could have asked more of Lee this year. He showed Redden how Redden used to play.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Goalies in Ottawa: A history of mediocrity

James Duthie wrote an interesting piece for the Ottawa Citizen last week about the Sens' historical problems with goaltenders, notably finding someone who can steal games for the team in the playoffs.

In it, Duthie goes over a list of goaltenders that the Sens could have drafted, which is an excercise in futility. If you look at the list of 'could-have-beens', you'll be left with 29 teams that missed a diamond in the rough, and you'll spend days, weeks, or months examining it. The fact of the matter is that judging goaltending talent is not an easy task, especially when the players are at the young age of only 17 or 18.

Examining a list of recent goaltending prospects the Sens have drafted, you can see that the team has not properly assessed, or at least addressed, its most glaring weakness:
  1. 2006 (5): Ryan Daniels
  2. 2004 (3): Jeff Glass
  3. 2003 (9): Brian Elliott
  4. 2001 (4): Ray Emery
  5. 1999 (2): Simon Lajeunesse
  6. 1999 (6): Martin Prusek
  7. 1998 (1): Mathieu Chouinard
  8. 1997 (2): Jani Hurme
  9. 1994 (4): Bryan Masotta
  10. 1994 (9): Frederic Cassivi
  11. 1993 (3): Patrick Charbonneau
  12. 1993 (9): Tony Kvalevog
  13. 1992 (11): Petter Ronnquist
Maybe Glass or Elliott are going to be great NHL goaltenders. But they certainly aren't there yet. There is a glaring need in the Senators front office, and that is a department to focus on addressing the biggest need for the Senators: goaltending.

Any Goaltending Department the Senators set up should include one or more scouts for the sole purpose of assessing the talent of goaltending prospects, and making judgements on them. Not only undrafted prospects, but also individuals playing on other teams who haven't been given the opportunity to develop properly.

Secondly, there is a need for goaltending coaches. Not only for the NHL squad, but also--and maybe more importantly--for the Binghamton team. Ron Low may have been a good goaltending coach, but he failed to show his abilities. As for Eli Wilson, the gong show surrounding how he was brought in--seemingly on the whim of Emery--really makes me wonder how effective or appropriate it was to have him in the organization. Well-respected former goaltenders who've made a successful transition into coaching are certainly rare, but the Senators need to find a way to have their goaltending prospects developed into true NHL players, and to keep them at the top of their game.

In his search for a head coach, maybe Bryan Murray should look for someone who's friendly with a good goalie coach. And maybe Eugene Melnyk or Roy Mlakar should recruit for the formation of a Goaltending Department.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Emery good as done in Ottawa

According to a report on TSN.ca:

According to Ottawa Senators General Manager and head coach Bryan Murray, Ray Emery's tenure in the Nation's capital is likely over.

The Senator's top brass met with the media Friday to wrap up what turned out to be a disappointing season. When the subject of Emery was raised, Murray made his position clear.

"My plan is not to have him back," Murray told reporters.

Team owner Eugene Melnyk, who was part of the press conference refused to comment on the Emery situation.

It wasn't difficult to predict that one of Emery or Martin Gerber wouldn't be back for 2008-09, and Murray's choice to go with Gerber in the playoffs showed which goalie was his preference. Not to suggest that Emery isn't skilled, but he's run out of chances with the Senators.

Hopefully the Sens can trade Emery rather than having to buy him out, because say what you will about his off-ice behaviour, he's still an athletic young goaltender with a lot of potential. Another team will certainly take a chance on him if he becomes a free agent; every GM in the league probably has an idea on how to tame an unruly player.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How did this become about Emery?!

Just a quick post here to make absolutely clear that everyone talking about how Ray Emery is somehow to blame for the Sens early playoff exit is absolute insanity.

The man hasn't played a game since February, and he hasn't made a peep since then. On Tuesday, no one wanted to talk to him. On Thursday, he's TSN.ca's lead story. It makes no sense! Sure everyone is talking about the crappy end to the season, BUT WHY AREN'T THEY TALKING TO THE GOALIE THAT WAS IN NET?!

"Hey, uhhh.... Gerber... how come you didn't win more games? ...was it Ray Emery's fault?"

Sorry. The logic doesn't follow.

A short piece at the end of the CTV national news cast even profiled him as some sort of distraction. And guess who they talked to as an expert... Bruce Garrioch.

I'm not sure if my partner in blogging Peter will agree to this, but I am THIS close to putting Garrioch on notice.

Crazy ideas be a-flying!

Bob McKensie: What went wrong in Ottawa?
Now the team can't rest all the blame on the on and off-ice problems around goaltender Ray Emery, but nevertheless, it was a big problem.
...how about they can't rest ANY of the blame on him for these playoffs. You can thank Murray for that.
The idea of trading centre Jason Spezza or winger Dany Heatley is tough, simply because their trade value has lessened coming off a bad season and bad playoffs.
Anyone who dreams of trading Spezza or Heatley better wake up and apologize - there's no way we could get a good value for them. No... actually, I won't even entertain the idea. Won't happen.

Allen Panzeri - The End
The Penguins outshot them 14-5 and had so many good chances that Gerber deserved a first-star nomination just for 20 minutes of work.
Mr. Panzeri, you are mad. No 20-minute effort can get a first-star award, just like a solid 20 minutes can't win you the game. Maybe we should just hand him a Stanley Cup ring for "great effort!"
Whether he was the sole cause of the malaise - and it would be foolish to suggest he was - Emery will be the first casualty. His contract will be bought out as soon as Murray is legally allowed to do it.
Extremely presumptuous. Most members of the media have agreed that Emery should be bought out. Thankfully, they are not the general managers of this team. Like Eugene Melnyk, I trust in Bryan Murray.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sens played like shit: Report

This series was nothing short of a disgrace. In my mind, this loss was far more shameful than any playoff loss to the Leafs in modern Senators history.

There was no spark or motivation driving the Sens this playoff. From the start of game 4, there was not the same energy that gave the Sens a chance to win game 3.

It was painfully obvious that their best players were not motivated to perform. Though Daniel Alfredsson's round-1 return was indeed heroic, it seemed that his team expected him to win the series single-handedly.

Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley were barely noticeable on the ice. This led Bryan Murray to play Antoine Vermette and Dean McAmmond (deservingly) late in the game.

From TSN.ca
Martin Gerber's play has been solid for the Senators, but TSN hockey analyst Darren Pang believes he's got a serious flaw.
...He's not a great goaltender?

Certainly the whole team screwed the pooch throughout the series... including Gerber. He was barely in the net for the Penguins second goal. The Pens hit two posts and got numerous second chances from rebounds.

Couple weak goaltending with porous defence and invisible offence and you've just defined the Ottawa Senators 2007-08 playoffs.

Oh, and to end it on a nice note: Goodbye Wade Redden. I hope you die.

CASH line reunited

As reported in the Globe and Mail, Bryan Murray's search for answers has gone back to the old, reliable answer: reunite the CASH Line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley.

We're all hoping it will work for the Sens, because the team--and especially Spezza and Heatley--needs something to get them going.

I'm not certain it will do much, though. Neither one of Spezza nor Heatley have had much luck to date in the playoffs, and although they've showed a little bit of emotion at times, there has been barely anything in the way of offensive output. Putting Alfredsson, still a dynamic player, but hindered by injuries that are obviously still bothering him, might provide an emotional boost, but emotions are already running pretty high for everyone.

Past experience has shown that when reunited, these guys can definitely work off each other to make things happen. There's a lot riding on whether or not they can get back to that magic, so here's to hoping they score tonight.

I'm predicting eight goals. Each.

(P.S. The author of the story, Roy MacGregor, said the name 'CASH Line' was so-named "because they take up most of the Senators' payroll", which is erroneous. For anyone who doesn't know, it's an acronym: Captain Alfredsson, Spezza, Heatley. Just for the record.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Gladiator: Bad idea? Or... worst idea?

Everyone is talking about the Senators' pre-game debacle involving the Gladiator. It was embarassing, I won't lie. Jeremy Milks offered a pretty good description of it over on Black Aces, but here's the video of it too:

There are a lot of things that went wrong. You've got to give the actual actor credit; he was no Gerard Butler, but he did a half-decent job considering everything that was stacked against him. What on earth were the Sens marketers thinking, though? Why would you think one regular-sized guy, who wasn't even tremendously cut, wearing Greek garb, spouting rhetoric in a poor British accent, after a cheesy as hell opening video intro would get this crowd going? Why did you think you needed it, in what we're calling Hockey Country? This isn't Los Angeles or Nashville. The only reason we need for excitement is hockey.

Now, when I first heard it, this didn't seem like such a bad idea. A while ago I saw an ad looking for someone to be The Gladiator, I thought it would be another mascot, like Spartacat, who would walk around the bowls during the game and shout things during stoppages in play. Which would have been fine. But to have him as the main attraction of the opening ceremonies? Terrible.

If they do this again--and I won't be surprised if Eugene Melnyk calls and says that they can never, ever try anything like this again--they need an army. Give about 100 guys tickets and $50 or so, have them don this ridiculous clothing, and don't make them say anything.

Or, you know, you could just have had Daniel Alfredsson skate around the ice, and he would have had the whole crowd on their feet in a matter of seconds.

When the rage dissipates, the posting can begin

I feel as though I am the father of a child that must now repeat the fourth grade.

There's nothing terribly difficult about the fourth grade. Sure, you gotta overcome some challenges, but if you put the effort in, there's nothing to stop the average child from passing the fourth grade.

The Penguins are the fourth grade. The Senators are the disappointing child.

Through two periods, everything looked good. The Sens were re-energized by the triumphant return of Daniel Alfredsson, and they played like an inspired team for two periods. Every player on the Sens bench was trying to make a statement in those periods, and in the third period... I guess they forgot the words.

(btw: I totally called an Alfredsson round-1 return a full 10 days ago. EAT IT PROFESSIONAL WRITERS!)

What angers me isn't the three goals in two minutes, but rather the fact that the Senators gave up afterward. The team from the first and second period didn't return for the final 10 minutes of the game. Instead, Sens fans had to watch as their team waved goodbye to the series.

Who is to blame? Everyone. No one. By everyone, I include Martin Gerber. Some people may not want to hear it, but this game convinced me of how incredibly average he is. He makes easy saves look hard and that's his only selling point. I don't care what Bryan Murray does with him or his contract. Average is not good enough, especially for a goaltender in Ottawa.

I feel the anger rising again, so I had better stop typing.

Will I watch game 4? I don't know. Based on the third period of Monday's game, I don't think the Senators are looking forward to seeing it either.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Game 3: A hell of a hole

After a 4-1 loss on Monday night, the Sens have a hell of a hole to dig their way out of if there's any hope for us in Sens Army to make this ride last significantly longer. With the series now 3-0 in favour of the Penguins, the Sens would have to make history and become only the third team to recover from three games down to win a series. The key is to take the series one game at a time, however; it's a lot easier to win one game than it is to win four, so start with that.

This game was not nearly as one-sided as the scoresheet would indicate. The teams were neck-and-neck through the first two periods, with Ottawa outshooting Pittsburgh 14-12 in the first and the Pens responding by outshooting the Sens 13-12 in the second. In the third, though, the Pens scored twice in the first 90 seconds, and Garry Galley described it the best in saying it appeared the Sens just weren't ready to start when the puck dropped.

Despite the loss, a lot of Senators had very good games. For the first 30 minutes of the night, Nick Foligno looked absolutely amazing, and he was rewarded when he scored a really nice goal to kick off the scoring. Strange as it is to think, that might have been the turning point. The Sens looked to really step back a bit after the goal, culminating with the game-tying goal by Maxim Talbot just a few minutes after Foligno's marker. The Sens never seemed to get back the tempo they had in the first period after that.

Although his goals-against average remains 4.00, Martin Gerber had a decent game. He wasn't the same as he was on Friday, but he made some clutch saves while the Senators were struggling with defensive coverage early in the game. He stopped 34 of 38 shots, and it would be hard to blame him for any of the goals, although perhaps the first one was stoppable.

On the whole, Mike Commodore had a really solid game. He was really hard on players, doing all the behind-the-scenes physical play that you can get away with in the playoffs, and he was even making smart passes and appropriate pinches. Wade Redden had a pretty good game, too, probably his best effort so far (better late than never, I guess). It goes without saying that Anton Volchenkov played exactly as advertised, and he is just the kind of warrior every player wishes they could be.

In the forward ranks, not a lot of players looked amazing. Positively, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza appeared to have more jazz to their game, but they still have to outscore the top players on the Penguins for the Sens to win any games. Role players like Shean Donovan and Dean McAmmond also played the kind of games they had to, and did some great work while killing penalties.

The best player for the Senators tonight was Daniel Alfredsson. He had more impact than any other Senators' player in the game, led the team in shots on net with four, and played over 17 minutes despite the obvious fact that he's nowhere near 100 per cent healthy. More importantly, he made a huge point to the rest of the players on this team's roster: lead, follow, or get out of the way. When he was killing off a 5-on-3, I was amazed with the incredible leadership. Pretire #11.

A lot of fans will complain about the refereeing. Some of it might be warranted. The Sens too nine penalties (including a double-minor), and Pittsburgh took four, and I have a hard time believing the Pens were that innocent. The frustrating part of the calls, as Steve Warne of the Team 1200 elucidated in the post-game show, was when scrums around the net after the whistle, the refs only called a Sens player for a penalty. The most disappointing call in the game, though, was when Ottawa was on a powerplay mid-way through the third, and Heatley was given a double-minor by the back referee for high-sticking when Jordan Staal lifted his stick to get the puck. Although these penalty calls were deflating for the Sens, I don't think refereeing was the difference in the game.

The most disappointing Senator player, to me, was Chris Neil. I was really hoping that he would make up for an off-year by really stepping up his play in the playoffs, but he's been a liability on the whole. In tonight's game, he took three absolutely useless penalties (two for roughing and one for cross-checking), and that's unacceptable against an offensively powerful Penguins team. Including the six minutes tonight, Neil has taken 22 minutes so far in three playoff games. I'm not going to call for heads to roll, but he's got a lot to prove if he wants to stay with this team.

As I listen to the post-game show, there are laments for the season that was. As disappointing as this game three loss was, the Sens are still in the series. For the Sens to win game four, all they need is a little puck luck, some friendly refereeing, and for the best players to play their best. At this point, there's no reason for the Sens to leave anything in the tank, because it's the most literal of 'must-win' situations. I'll be at game four, and I'll be cheering as loud as I can.

And I promise if I see Gary Roberts around the arena, I'll cripple him.*

*not a real promise

Game 3: Spezza in, Alfredsson probable

As reported in the Ottawa Sun, Jason Spezza will play in Game 3 tonight, and Daniel Alfredsson is possible, bordering on probable, to return from his injury.

After the Pens scored that heartbreaking goal at the end of Game 2 and CBC cut to a shot of Alfie in the press box, I could see in his face that he was going to come back, no matter how bad this strange injury is.

A pressing question should both players return is whether or not Bryan Murray decides to reunite the CASH line, and starts Alfredsson with Spezza and Dany Heatley. Obviously, there are benefits to this; it was, after all, the highest-scoring line in the NHL during the regular season. When Murray split up Heatley and Spezza in practice, though, he did so to make a point, and to try and get them working independently to get some points.

Also, if Alfredsson and Spezza aren't 100 per cent, it might not be approproate to expect them to play top-line minutes. In practice yesterday, Heatley was playing with Antoine Vermette and Cory Stillman. That line has obviously got the skill to score, and would leave a second line of Spezza, Alfredsson, and possibly Nick Foligno, also a line with a lot of skill and Foligno's grit.

Whatever happens, the big names need to bring it tonight if the Sens are going to have any chance of winning this series.

EDIT: Murray just had a press conference, and it sure didn't sound like Alfredsson was probable--maybe I overstated things in the title. Murray said he wasn't going to close the door on the possibility, though.

More reinforcements from Bingo

According to Michael Sharp, blogger on the Binghamton Senators, the Ottawa Senators are going to receive three more reserve players from the B-Sens after they finished their season Sunday night.

Two days after Alexander Nikulin was recalled, Sharp quoted B-Sens coach Cory Clouston that goalie Jeff Glass as well as defencemen Larry Nycholat and Matt Carkner were also on their way up. Including all of our Black Aces and injured players, the Sens roster now has 29 bodies. That's a lot of spares, but I guess we've got a lot of injuries.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Alfie, no win...ie

Seems like a pretty obvious statement, but with the weekend off to rest this knee/back (has anyone actually confirmed what's wrong with him?) and the Sens down 2-0 and returning to home ice, a return by Daniel Alfredsson would be down-right heroic.

It's terribly ironic that now two games into the playoffs, the Sens got a great game from their grinders, but are now missing the rarely-labelled primary scoring. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley have combined for 1 point in the past two games. Alfie would bring not only a huge boost of spirit for his team, but also the offensive spark that the first line needs.

Don't tell me Spezza's out, too...

According to TSN.ca's Ice Chips, there is a question as to whether or not Jason Spezza will play in game three:
"First line centre Jason Spezza did not take the morning skate Sunday after reportedly jamming his leg in Friday's Game 2 loss to the Penguins. The Sens called up Alex Nikulin from Binghamton of the AHL to take his place in the lineup if Spezza can't play in game 3."
I do remember seeing Spezza go into the boards awkwardly at one point, and he did seem to be labouring for the rest of the game. If he's unable to play, it would be tough to take. With Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson, and Chris Kelly already out, the loss of Spezza would mean that only three of our top seven forwards would remain (Dany Heatley, Cory Stillman, and Antoine Vermette). Sputnik may have done alright in the regular season in the AHL, but the playoffs in the NHL are a totally different animal.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

B-Sens out, Nikulin recalled

With the Binghamton Senators officially eliminated from the AHL playoffs, the Sens have continued tapping their farm team's resources by recalling Alexander Nikulin as a black ace for the playoffs. With Nick Foligno, Brian Lee, and Cody Bass already taken from the B-Sens, it's no wonder they missed the playoffs for the third straight season. At least there was an improvement over last season; rebuilding a franchise's depth doesn't happen overnight. Look for the Sens to pick up a few draft picks this off-season to use at their home-town draft.

SputNik finished second on B-Sens' scoring with 50 points in 71 games for Binghamton. He didn't play much on his first stint with Ottawa, and it's mostly remembered for his 1-on-1 with Evgeni Malkin (he got smoked on it). I'm not sure where he'll fit in the roster if he plays a game, but it's worth bringing him up so he can be a part of the experience.

I would expect that after the B-Sens season finale on Sunday, a few more players might be on their way up. Goalie Brian Elliott is injured, so I doubt he'll come, but defenceman Larry Nycholat and forwards Niko Dimitrakos, Josh Hennessy, and Ilya Zubov all had pretty good years, and some or all could see themselves brough in as depth players.

Disheartening, but promising: Pens 5 Sens 3

Wow, Martin Gerber. Wow.

Despite allowing four goals in a 5-3 loss, Gerber was by far the best player on the ice for either team as he stopped 49 of 53 shots that he faced. Many of the shots were of the difficult variety, to boot. Most impressive was that Gerber's reaction play has improved; whereas in previous solid efforts Gerber's saves were because of solid positioning and knowledge of angles, Darth Gerber really had his act together on making second and third shots when his defence wasn't helping him out.

After the play of Gerber, the best thing about the game was the grit and tenacity the second-, third-, and fourth-lines played. Although the top two lines are still being outplayed by the Penguins top two, the third and fourth each scored an even-strength goal tonight and outplayed their opponents. And finally, thank God, the powerplay did something. And they did it by driving to the net and making Marc-Andre Fleury battle through bodies.

After going down 3-0 mid-way through the second, the Sens' second line of Shean Donovan, Chris Neil, and Dean McAmmond made some magic: they scored. I'm amazed at how exciting a single goal is to the highest-scoring team in the NHL's regular season, but there it is. On the play, Neil did the simple play--threw the puck on net--and Donovan did another simple play--drive to the net with your stick on the ice. And it worked. This whole line was powerful all game, and I've got to give credit to Neiler for playing a good game. It was his best effort in a little while, despite the fact that he took an unnecessary slashing penalty that led to a 5-on-3 that led to the first goal of the game.

Scoring in bunches

Going into the game, I had a feeling that once this team scored one they'd score a few, and that's just what happened. Less than five minutes after Donovan's goal, with the Sens on the powerplay, Cory Stillman did just what Donovan did for his goal and drove to the net, picking up a rebound and directing it into the net. It was a respectable 3-2 going into the third, and the Sens had all the momentum.

If you hadn't seen the third Sens goal, you can probably guess how Cody Bass put it in. That's right, by driving to the net. The common denominator here is that when the Sens drive to the net, Fleury can't concentrate and goals go in. End of story. So perhaps if Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza start driving that net, they'll start racking up the points and this series will take off.

On Bass' goal, Randy Robitaille made me eat my words by cutting into the slot and firing a pass to the BassMaster, who reeled it in and tucked it under Fleury. To clarify, my qualms with Robitaille are not that he's lacking in skill, because when he's got time he can showcase some offensive creativity. He seems unwilling or unable to use his body to protect the puck, however, and has a hard time finding the time and space necessary. When he cut in on Hal Gill and exposed Gill's slowness, he made some space for himself, and used it to get Bass the puck in front of the net.


Off the score sheet, leading the way in hits for the Senators were Christoph Schubert and Mike Commodore, both of whom had seven on the night. No Penguins player matched that game-high number. Commodore, who played over 22 minutes on the night, finished a remarkable +2 and had one of his best games to date (Although he was on for the Pens' two powerplay goals, which don't count against +/-). Maybe he really is a playoff warrior.

Speaking of warriors, Anton Volchenkov didn't change his play one bit. This guy is absolutely amazing. He played over 21 minutes and had 4 hits and 4 blocked shots.

Referees always suck for both sides

On factor that fans always complain about is refereeing, but I'll try and make my case for two of the Penguins' goals. First off was the goal by Sergei Gonchar; Neil took a chincy slashing call when he gave Georges Laraque a tap on the shinpads, and--although it could easily have been overlooked--it was illegal, so I'll leave that there. The call on Chris Phillips to put the Sens down two men, though, was ridiculous. Phillips lost his stick so he pushed Sidney "the league's favourite person ever" Crosby down, a perfectly legit defensive play, and got called. Murphy's Law prevailed, and Gonchar scored about 16 minutes in.

Then, with just over a minute left in the third period, Martin Lapointe got his stick up on Jarkko Ruutu. Somehow, this mild contact--which I'll admit was a penalty--sent the stick flying out of Ruutu's hands, and he went soaring through the neutral zone as if thrown from a trampoline. It was the definition of a dive. In a game as close as this is, there should have been a call on both players. It's not as if Ruutu isn't a known diver; that's his game, and don't tell me the referees aren't familiar with his antics. Although I'm absolutely sure this is simply a conspiracy theory, on thing is certain: the league wants Pittsburgh to move on. Whether or not that's affecting the way the referees see the game--consciously or subconsciously--is another story, but there's no hiding the fact that the league would benefit more from the Penguins in round two than the Senators.


Looking at the Sens' four most impressive players, a lot of heat that has been put on Bryan Murray may have been lifted. He was leaned on by many to play Ray Emery instead of Gerber, but the way Gerber has been playing has been outstanding. I think we all realize that Peter Schaefer could never have scored the goal that Donovan scored, and that's why Murray traded Schaefer to Boston for Donovan. Cory Stillman made that second goal happen, with a great pass to Heatley and a solid drive to the net. Finally, although the Robitaille experiment has been a failure so far, it all comes out in the wash and if Ropes finds a way to make the fourth line an offensive threat than we're back in business. Now all Murray has to prove is that he can out-coach a hack like Michel Therrien and everyone will love him again.

The Sens made some good strides in this game, and they showed that there's some emotion and some pride in making this series respectable. While they are in a huge hole, I'm not sure I'd go so far as to agree with Milks from Black Aces and suggest that "their chances of coming back in this series are slim at best." The Sens lost two in Pittsburgh, now they just have to win two in Ottawa. If that was the best effort the Penguins can put forward than the Sens are in good shape going into game three; I only hope that Sens fans come out in droves to cheer on our team, because community support has a funny way of getting players on top of their game. Just look at game three of the Stanley Cup Finals last season, when the team played out of this world.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Seriously? We can't beat these guys?

Hilarious feature on Sports Illustrated comparing hockey players to their celebrity look-alikes (although not all are really celebrities). Some of them are hilarious, and some of them make me feel bad for the player (notably comparing Jarome Iginla to Mike Tyson and Alex Ovechkin to Richard Kiel).

And these two kids are who's intimidating our Sens? Come on...

Give me a break. Although I guess we're fighting back with at least one unfortunate comparison of our own...

Hilarious. Although they missed out on the Martin Gerber - Dominic Purcell comparison:

Alright, fine, this is just a distraction to help us forget about the Sens terrible loss. It's okay, when the Sens realize they're just playing against Andy Samberg and Nick Jonas (some kid in some band) and Martin "Dominic Purcell" Gerber breaks out of his proverbial mental prison and kicks some ass.

(Note: Propers to Kukla's Korner for finding this gem of a web page.)

Lineup changes for game two

One thing I bet Martin Lapointe wasn't expecting when he was traded from Chicago was a spot on the top line with two of the most dynamic players in the league. Must be a nice change when you're a healthy scratch on a poor team to a top-liner alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. I guess Bryan Murray didn't like Randy Robitaille's play in game one, or simply wanted to add some grit and forechecking to the top line, so he threw Lapointe in Robitaille's place.

Robitaille drops down to the fourth line, and he'll be playing with Christoph Schubert and Cody Bass. If this line gets in a line brawl, it'll be tough; I'd still like to see Brian McGrattan slotted in on that line. Robitaille just can't play the kind of physical style that a fourth line needs to, especially as this series no doubt picks up intensity.

Nick Foligno's also getting a promotion, moving from fourth to second line alongside Cory Stillman and Antoine Vermette. I assume he'll be asked to park his keister (sp?) in front of the net, and make life unpleasant for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Finally, Shean Donovan moved up from fourth to third line, reuniting with Dean McAmmond and Chris Neil. This line has to do something, even if it's just forecheck hard and apply some pressure. If Neiler can't or doesn't start muscling guys off the puck, it's going to be hard to justify paying him $1.2M for next season, especially since we can probably sign both Cody Bass and Donovan for that much combined.

As Ben mentioned, Anton Volchenkov should be ready to go for game two, so no changes to the d-corps.

Game 1 aftermath

I'm trolling the internet for some perspective on last night's game.

Good news:

  • Some say Martin Gerber's not playing too poorly. His remarkable glove save in the third period was Highlight-of-the-night-worthy.
  • Anton Volchenkov is probable for game 2. The shot he took to the face only caused a cut. When I was watching the game, I heard a fellow game-watcher say "orbital bone". I cringed.
  • Jim Hughson doing play-by-play for a Sens game?! I must have died and gone to heaven! Or Bob Cole must have died and gone to hell.
Bad news:
  • The Sens hardly ever win game 2. You'll hear all about that on Friday.
  • The CBC still (and forvever) has a man-crush on Gary Roberts. Despite being thrown out of the game in the third period, he was able to be tracked down for a post-game interview.
  • Cody Bass was born and raised to kick ass. I love the fact he's not afraid to take on anyone. He nearly jumped through a referee to get at Roberts.
  • Brian Lee had 17 minutes of ice-time. Pretty darn good for a rookie. He even hit people. Still not body-checking people: Wade Redden - 18 minutes of ice-time - $6.5 million.
I really wish the next game was on TSN. Damn Canadian socialistic public broadcasting policies!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Take the good, learn from the bad

While a 4-0 loss is not the ideal way to start a series, I do think that there is some good stuff this team can build on, and some bad stuff this team can learn from. There's still a chance of earning a split on the road, as long as the Sens pick it up--big time--for game two.

First off, Martin Gerber is not the reason for the loss. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Gerber kept the Sens in this one through the second period. He made some solid saves, and can't really be faulted on any of the four goals:
  1. Wade Redden got brutally muscled off the puck (and it probably should have been a penalty) twice, and the puck squirted to Gary Roberts in front of the Sens net; Gerber had two guys lying in the crease and a third standing there.
  2. Mike Commodore made a terrible pinch, and Chris Phillips didn't play the 2-on-1 well at all. Gerber was set up perfectly for the shooter (Evgeni Malkin), while Phillips left the pass receiver (Petr Sykora) wide open. You learn it in Atom, Phillips; take the pass, let the goalie take the shot.
  3. This was just the case of a young rookie, Nick Foligno, makign a rookie mistake and losing his check, Malkin. When you let him get in the open, he'll make you pay.
  4. Write-off. Powerplay goal that went in off a foot, this was a fluke that any goalie could have surrendered.
If Gerber and the rest of the team can build off his play, then that's one question mark we can check off going into it.

After Gerber, there was some good work from the grinders. Role players like Dean McAmmond, Martin Lapointe, Cody Bass, and Christoph Schubert were all very physical, and they'll need to keep that up. Ottawa's fourth line was tremendously outplayed by Pittsburgh's, and George Laraque was able to make too much room for himself. Although Randy Robitaille had his moments, he fizzled when the game got more physical; I suggest throwing Lapointe on the top line in game two, and bringing in Brian McGrattan to try and contain Laraque. Even if they just fight and McGrattan brings him back to the box every five minutes, I'm fine with that.

Bad points were common. Obviously, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza need to develop more of an interest in the outcome of the game. Heatley looked particularly out of whack, even though his chirping was in fine form. They threw 12 shots towards the net, but they're going to need to get better shots if they think they're going to score some goals. This team is only going as far as those two take it, no matter how well the grinders play.

The play of the big two was part of a bigger problem: the Sens' powerplay. When you're given almost two full minutes of 5-on-3 time, you need to take advantage. Especially in such an urgent situation, because the Sens were down 2-0 at the time, and this game would have been very different had the Sens cut that lead in half on one of those powerplays. As it was, the team went 0-for-7 on the powerplay, which is unacceptable in the post-season. Things need to get dirty. And shots need to get smarter. Andrej Meszaros can't try and shoot through people; he fired two one-timers that were right into shinpads, both of which would have given the Pens breakaways had Meszaros not gotten back quickly enough. And the team can't fire 21 shots wide of the net. When you're winding up, make sure yo know where you're shooting. It's simple.

I still think the Sens have a shot to split this series in game two. The score made this game look a lot worse than it actually was, the Sens allowed a couple of bad goals early and a couple of bad goals late; between those, there was som great play. Keep playign hard on Sidney Crosby; he was limited in his ability, and good on Redden and Chris Neil for riding him around the net. Most of all, get right up in Marc-Andre Fleury's business. Make it hell for him to try and stop pucks, throw yourselves towards the net, and let your stick fly around him (without taking penalties, of course). He's rattle-able, so shake it up. Hopefully Anton Volchenkov is back for game two, and he makes some opponents feel his pain. And maybe Antoine Vermette will pull something out of his bag of tricks.

Game 1: Did you expect it to be easy?

The eternal optimist in me wants to focus on the positives, but let's get the shitty stuff out of the way first.

The Sens looked like a team that was missing some of their best players tonight. The team didn't flip the effort switch until the third period, where they began to follow my advice: If you can't play well, play dirty.

The well-deserved frustration boiled over late in the game and the Senators began to play rough. Good! Next game, start this in the first period. Get in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's face and let them know that you'll be coming after them all game.

I was happy to see Wade Redden drop the gloves. Get riled up for God's sake. Do not go quietly into game 2. Let the Penguins know that they're in for a fight. Hopefully, this attitude will translate into aggressive forechecking and maybe, a goal.

There appeared to be no leaders on the Senators in game 1. Dany Heatley was jawing at Crosby quite a bit, but he did not come lead with an offensive spark. Randy Robitaille accompanied Jason Spezza and Heatley on the top line, but none of these three players had an impact. One of the players I did notice, however, was Christoph Schubert. Playing smart, physical hockey I hope whatever advice he got from Bryan Murray is passed onto the rest of the team.

Well, I guess I'm not an optimist. Let's hope that game 2 can turn me into one. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to seeing Ray Emery in game 3. (That comment is only half sarcastic).

Penguins line-up, Sens defence update

You can find the Senators' lineup tracker in the left bar. This is the Penguins lineup for tonight.

Dupuis - Crosby - Hossa
Malone - Malkin - Sykora
Ruutu - Staal - Kennedy
Roberts - Talbot - Laraque

Orpik - Gonchar
Whitney - Scuderi
Letang - Gill


Bryan Murray told TSN that the defensive pairing of Chris Philips and Anton Volchenkov would be reunited to take on the Malkin line. That means Mike Commodore and Wade Redden (if God doesn't answer my prayer and render him temporarily paralyzed) will make up the second pair.

Plenty of motivation for Senators

Going into the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ottawa Senators have no shortage of motivation. From no respect in the media to no respect from the opponents, the list goes on.

First off, no one in the media is giving the Senators a speck of respect, and many are predicting a cakewalk for the Penguins. Maybe the Sens have made this bed; the way this team has been playing they don't really deserve much credit. But they way we all know they can play, and the way they have played at times this season, and the penchant for players like Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Cory Stillman, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, Dean McAmmond, Mike Commodore, Christoph Schubert, and Antoine Vermette to step up their game when the going gets tough is enough to at least give the Sens a shot at making some waves in the series.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there's the possibility that Pittsburgh chose their opponent. Although fans of the Penguins are vehemently denying this, the scratching of Sidney Crosby if the regular season's final game, and the lacklustre performance by the rest of the squad in that 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, all with the Eastern Conference regular-season title on the line, smells a little funny to me. The mentality, as pundits and Sens coach Bryan Murray has suggested, is that the Pens preferred Ottawa's style to the punishing play of the Flyers, so they made it happen. If that's true, there could be some unpleasant surprises in store for the Pens.

On an individual basis, plenty of players have a lot to prove, and it starts in the net. Martin Gerber has been knocked for his unreliable play for the last six weeks, and especially for his unproven playoff record. If he steps his game up a notch and steals a game or two, he makes a great case for himself; if not, he might have a hard time finding a job for next season (as the Sens might simply buy him out).

After that, Wade Redden has had a forgettable two seasons, and he's playing for a contract for next season. If he really wants to stay in Ottawa, he's really going to have to pick up his play and lead by example--and make his breakout passes count without turning over the puck.

Staying on the blue line, Commodore has been tagged since Murray picked him up as a playoff warrior, and most people have looked past his struggles in the regular season by looking forward to the playoffs. If he fails to step it up when it counts, it won't look good on him or the general manager.

Moving up to the forward ranks, both Heatley and Spezza can go a long way in earning the long contracts they've both been signed to. The team's slide was suspiciously timed shortly after those two were signed to their multi-million dollar, long-term deals, and both of those players need to show that it wasn't a mistake.

Randy Robitaille and Chris Neil have had terrible seasons. Robitaille hasn't been the producer he was expected to be, and he's getting one last chance to play on the top line; if he does nothing in the first 20 minutes of the game tonight, count on him being bumped down to the fourth unit in favour of a physical presence beside Heatley and Spezza. Neil hasn't been the pest presence he's suited to be, except for the annoyance Sens fans feel when he takes penalties instead of drawing them. Not to mention his offensive fall-off, Neil really needs to prove himself this playoff run.

Although Robitaille is probably playing for a job next season, Vermette is playing for a big pay increase. If he can finally prove once and for all that he has the ability to step into a second-line centre role and continues to play like he did in the final two games of the regular season, he's due for a doubling or perhaps tripling of the salary he's making right now.

However you cut it, the possibility is there, and the Sens have plenty to prove. All they have to do is make it happen.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Playoff beard precursor

Here I sit, beardy. In preparation for my playoff beard, I have not shaved in a few days. It's not really bothering me at the moment, which I think is an indication that last year's ridiculous playoff beard toughened me up for this season.

Tomorrow, I will shave pre-game and begin the wonderful journey of itchyness and annoying comments. I will document my progress as I become more homeless-looking over the course of the playoffs.

Here's last year's progression:

ewwww... that last Amish one was not a good look. Anyway, this year I expect to keep my beard for a long, long time. Meaning, I expect the Sens to win. Do it for the beard Sens - do it for the beard.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The word out of Pittsburgh

FrankD from the Pittsburgh Penguins blog PensBurgh contacted us to collaborate on some cooperative stories on our respective teams, and he answered a few questions we asked him in anticipation of the first-round series against the Pens:
  1. What's the Penguins best asset?
    Everyone knows that Pittsburgh has the 'big name' offense. Personally, I feel the key asset to Pittsburgh's success this season has been hugely effected by their depth. At one point the Penguins had eight guys out with injuries - that's eight starters on the IR. Gary Roberts, Mark Eaton, Rob Scuderi, Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa, Kris Beech, Adam Hall and Marc-Andre Fleury have all struggled with some setbacks this season. In their absence, assistance from the minor league Wilkes-Barre squad has produced some mainstay players like Tyler Kennedy and Ty Conklin. There's even been a few games this year powered ahead by guys like Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque--guys not exactly known for offensive prowess. It's been exciting to see the Pens play this year because really, anyone can hit the mesh. Then again, in the case with Philly the other day, sometimes no one can.

  2. The Pens' biggest liability?
    Liability - hmm. I place liability on a few things. First off, the penalty kill. Last I checked they were ranked 22nd in the league in killing penalties. When you have a team with guys like Gary Roberts, Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque, you run a pretty decent risk of taking penalties; more often than not 'dumb ones'. Jordan Staal is one of our biggest penalty killers but really lacks on the draw. Pascal Dupuis has turned into a huge pickup since the trade deadline moves and is really making his presence known on the kill. It's hard to say really - the PK has been a bit tighter in the last 10 games or so - but if it has and the Pens are still ranked 22nd, then that also goes to show you how well it performed beforehand...
    The other thing, as touched upon with Staal, is face-offs. This is definitely not the Penguins' strength. I'm convinced guys like Adam Hall have only found their way back to the club after injury because of their percentage on the draw (he's slightly over 50%). Crosby is decent, [Evgeni] Malkin is OK and Staal is probably one of the worst.

  3. What intimidates you about the Sens?
    The biggest threat is, and I don't mean this as a jab, thankfully not playing. Daniel Afreddson is probably my biggest fear as far as the Sens go, but that's not to say I'm writing them off at all. [Jason] Spezza and [Dany] Heatley won't go down without a fight, this I know for sure. In addition to players, I think I speak for a lot of Pens fans in that away games against Ottawa aren't always the most welcoming events of the year. Nothing beats an intense Canadian hockey crowd. Add in the playoffs on top of that and you may break the sound barrier.

  4. What makes you think the Sens are in trouble?
    Well, as far as trouble goes, I'd imagine not having your captain for the playoffs is a pretty big hit to the team's morale. But I also don't doubt he'll find a way into the locker room to try and rally the troops. I've felt Ottawa's slide into the playoffs doesn't help, as evidence has often shown that teams do better in the playoffs coming off a streak (i.e. Washington). I can't say for sure what Ottawa's biggest problem may be, although I'm hoping you'll answer that when I come back around to you.

  5. Seriously... Marc-Andre Fleury? Is he an answer?
    You'd be surprised. Fleury started the season off a bit shaky, started to heat up and then went down with the ankle sprain. That kept him out for nine weeks. While rehabilitating in the minors he went 3-2-0, but the two losses were merely no thanks to his offense as both were 1-0 finishes. He's been phenomenal in net. It has worked out well for the Penguins, as Ty Conklin started to go cold just as Fleury was coming back around again. MAF is 10-2-1 with two shutouts since his March return and has only allowed more than two goals a game on one occasion (three on March 6th against Florida). He may wind up being the Pens' biggest asset heading into the playoffs. I know this sounds insane with names like Crosby, Malkin, Hossa and [Petr] Sykora but it's true. Stat sheets would say that as long as Pitt puts up two goals, they have a great chance of coming out on top. That's what I'm mentally shooting for in every game against the Senators.

  6. Do you like the idea of mailing in the final game in the season against Philadelphia? Were most Pittsburgh fans and pundits in favour of playing Ottawa instead of Philly in the first round?
    There has been a lot of talk about whether or not Pittsburgh gave a lackluster effort against the Flyers to take on Ottawa in round one. Personally, this is what gives a coach the nod for strategy. If you know you've struggled all season against a team (5-3 series) against a team like Philly, why would you want to run the chance of wasting a phenomenal 82-game season in the first round? Not to mention, why run the chance of having your guys subjected to foul play? If every game this season against Philly was evidence to one thing, it was that they weren't ready to man-up and play straight hockey. It was going to take cheap shots and late hits to give them the edge. So Coach Michel Therrien must've decided, "You know what? Let Washington and Philly duke it out and mess each other up. We'll take a rematch with Ottawa."
    I put up a survey one day at Pensburgh.com asking readers who they'd rather play: Philly, Ottawa or Boston (still factored in at the time). Overwhelmingly, 56% of people chose Ottawa, while Boston and Philly both came in even at 21%. I think revenge was a bigger factor than anything else.
    Overall, if Pittsburgh is going to be perceived as a team that mailed in the last game of the season then so be it. If sacrificing the conference title increases their chances of taking home the cup, then I think I speak for many Penguins fans when I say "Good job."
Thanks to FrankD for his enlightening comments. Keep your eye on PensBurgh to find Sens Army's answers to whatever questions he sends out way.

Denis Hamel named AHL's Man of the Year

Denis Hamel, long-time Binghamton Senator, was awarded the Yannick Dupre Memorial Award as the AHL's Man of the Year, according to the Sharp on the Sens blog.

According to the AHL website, Hamel's off-ice exploits this season have included fundraisers like the Toys for Tots dinner, Spaghetti on Ice campaign for muscular dystrophy, the Magic Paintbrush Project, the Step for a Healthier New York program, a Face-Off Against Cancer, as well as visits to schools and hospitals. What a guy.

In the better part of four seasons with Binghamton, Hamel has played 299 games and accumulated 155 goals and 135 assists, good for 290 points. He's leading the B-Sens in scoring this season with 54 points (31G, 23A). He's the type of player you love to have in your organization, and he can't be anything but beneficial to be leading the charge in the Sens' training grounds.

And I'm not going to lie, I'm a little disappointed he's just on a one-way contract. Even though his NHL success has been limited, Hamel would be pretty valuable for the Sens considering the injury problems we've run into leading up to this playoff run.

Why I'm confident the Sens can beat Pittsburgh

  1. The lame effort the Pens put in against Philadelphia on Sunday; it means that when they don't feel inspired, Pittsburgh sucks. Chris Neil, get out there and cross-check Sidney Crosby all night long. He'll start bitching, there goes their confidence.
  2. We beat them last year; all they've got now is Marian Hossa - and we know how well he does in the playoffs.
  3. The Sens are tougher than last year; our team has gotten bigger and more capable to deal with a grueling series. Look at Martin Lapointe, Mike Commodore, and Shean Donovan - Ottawa sure could have used them last year.
  4. Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza; when those two heat up, it doesn't matter who they're playing with - even if Daniel Alfredsson doesn't return in round 1 - which, as I've previously stated, he will.
  5. Ray Emery - He'll be fired up when he starts game 3. Trust me.

First round schedules released

The schedules for the first round were unveiled, and the Sens are playing on the first night of the playoffs in Pittsburgh. Here is the Ottawa schedule:
  1. Wednesday, April 9, 2008, at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m., (CBC, RDS, Versus)
  2. Friday, April 11, 2008, at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. (CBC, RDS)
  3. Monday, April 14, 2008, at Ottawa, 7:00 p.m. (CBC, RDS)
  4. Wednesday, April 16, 2008, at Ottawa, 7:00 p.m. (CBC, RDS)
  5. Saturday, April 19, 2008, at Pittsburgh (if necessary), time TBD (CBC, RDS, Versus)
  6. Sunday, April 20, 2008, at Ottawa (if necessary), time TBD (CBC, RDS)
  7. Tuesday, April 22, 2008, at Pittsburgh (if necessary), time TBD (CBC, RDS)
Why are the final three games start time to be determined? Why, because NBC might be interested in televising them, of course, and the NHL will do anything for them. So look at an afternoon game on both days.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

It's Sens versus Pens again

This year, just like last year, the Sens will face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. With the Philadelphia Flyers beating Pittsburgh 2-0 on Sunday afternoon, Montreal has first-place clinched and the Sens will finish in seventh place.

Differences from last year to this are many, including the fact that Pittsburgh will have home-ice advantage. I'm going to post this video-recap from YouTube, but it is in no way a promotion of Linkin Park from Sens Army Blog. Maybe just turn the speakers down or something while you watch it.

I just want the damned playoffs to start.

Playoff opponent update: No Montreal in first round

Conference Quarter-Final Opponent Watch, Day Four: As it now stands, there is no way the Senators can play against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. With Carolina officially officially eliminated from the playoffs, the only possible opponents now are the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals.

Fresh off a 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, Montreal now sits at first in the Eastern Conference with two more points than Pittsburgh. The Penguins have a game in hand, and would have more wins should they win that game--which will be against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Should Pittsburgh win the game (whether in regulation time or in overtime or a shootout), the Senators will remain in sixth place with one more point than seventh-place Boston and eighth-place Philadelphia. If the Flyers win the game (regardless of regulation time or overtime/shootout), though, they leapfrog over Ottawa and the Bruins and would finish in sixth, dropping the Sens down to seventh place into a matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would remain in second overall.

So it boils down to this:
  1. Philadelphia win: Sens v. Pittsburgh
  2. Pittsburgh win: Sens v. Washington
Cheer as appropriate in order to achieve desired result. The only other order that can change is between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers, who are basically playing each other on Sunday to determine who will get home-ice advantage in an all-Atlantic 4-5 series matchup. By scheduling these divisional matches for the end of the regular season, the league did good in planning out its schedule to keep the playoff picture murky right to the very end.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


That is definitely not something I thought would be in question when the season was in its early stages. It's disappointing that it took until the last gam of the season, but I'm still damned excited about the playoffs.

Despite the 2-1 loss the Sens suffered at the hands of the Bruins, the Sens made it into the playoffs through the back door. In what I can't describe as anything less than a playoff-like game--probably because both teams had their playoff lives on the line--the Sens came up short against the Bruins. Whatever. I don't care. Thanks to a 4-3 Florida Panthers victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the 'Canes are now officially eliminated (EDIT: Actually, if Washington loses their last game against Florida, then they finish tied with Carolina and the Hurricanes would win the most-wins tie-breaker) from the playoffs and Ottawa will finish in either seventh or eighth (EDIT: The Sens could technically jump into sixth if Boston loses their last game, thanks to that most-wins tie-breaker). Thank you, Jacques Martin!

Speaking of the game against Boston, Antoine Vermette continued to step it up. He had a great game, made all sorts of chances, and scored the Sens' only goal. He's now got 4 goals in the past two games, the kind of offensive step-uppability that will make it difficult to consider letting him go as an unrestricted free agent this season. A bunch of other players had great games, too, but none of that matters anymore, because now the real season starts.

As it stands, the Sens will play either Pittsburgh or Montreal (EDIT: Or, depending on what happens with the earlier scenarios, Carolina or Washington). Without further adieu, here is an impromptu playoff preview, which will likely be elaborated upon once we figure out who will actually be the Sens' opponent.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Insane offensive firepower. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar, Petr Sykora, among others. Goaltending has been up-and-down, but both Ty Conklin and Marc-Andre Fleury have had their moments. Defense is questionable; one hilarious comment I heard on the Team 1200 today was the accurate point that the Pens picked up Hal Gill at the deadline as a defensive upgrade; this guy would be lucky to crack Ottawa's top six if it weren't for his size. Pittsburgh will probably also benefit from the return of Gary Roberts when he returns from his injury, but they lost some serious depth when they acquired Hossa. The Sens handily defeated the Pens last year, but this Pittsburgh team has had one full year more to develop, and Malkin kind of scares the shit out of me. It wouldn't be an easy series, but if Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza step it up as they can, Vermette continues the way he's going, and the role players... well... play their roles, the Sens have what it takes to beat the Pens.

Montreal Canadiens

What an amazing series this would be. Montreal is always such a hard team to predict, however. The resurgence of Alexei Kovalev is nothing to scoff at, but he has been known to lose interest in games if he's punished physically. Thomas Plekanec can also be controlled if you pressure him, and Ottawa's shutdown defencemen like Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Mike Commodore, and Christoph Schubert (should he drop back) should be able to make his life difficult. Carey Price is an unknown quantity; if he steals games, there is very little the Sens can do aside from continuing to get to him with everything--shots, bodies, snow, verbal abuse--to try and knock him off his game. Nothing's worked so far, but Price hasn't had to deal with the same guy in his crease, stepping on his toes, for 4-7 games straight. That means Chris Neil, Martin Lapointe, Shean Donovan, and Cody Bass will have their work cut out for them, and they'll have to do so while staying out of the penalty box to avoid Montreal's punishing powerplay.

I don't really care who we play at this point. Whichever team it is poses difficulties, but every team in the league also has vulnerabilities that can be exploited if the coach can find a way to pick them out and take advantage. I think the Sens should be able to take down just about any team in the East, especially if they get Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, or Daniel Alfredsson back from their injuries sooner rather than later.

(EDIT: Sorry, I wrote this late last night and I apparently missed a few things. I added in edits wherever I made mistakes. I'll add in a preview for the Washington or Carolina scenarios later this afternoon if I can.)
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