Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sens lose opener 4-3 in OT

For a first game of the year, it was alright. The Sens had some good things to take out of the 4-3 OT loss to Pittsburgh in the season opener in Stockholm, Sweden--notably one point in the standings. But it still left something to be desired.

I will begin with the most obvious: Martin Gerber had a terrible game. All four goals were stoppable, and three of them were of the very weak category--including the one off the first shot of the game. I'm sure Gerber will be the first to tell you how disappointed he was in his performance. I assumed, however, the team would go back with Darth Gerber for today's rematch, but apparently the team has elected to start Alex Auld, instead. Apparently his play wasn't the deciding factor, but it must have factored in at some point. Let the haters hate, I still think (hope?) Gerber can bounce back. At the outset of the season I predicted 35 wins or more for Gerber.

After Gerber, it was evident that Brian Lee and Alex Picard struggled at times. They are both young, and I expect nothing less than some time to adjust to the speed of the NHL game and each other's style. Filip Kuba wasn't tremendous, although he wasn't bad, but Jason Smith was just as described. He was also a pretty good passer, which isn't why he was signed but is a nice bonus. Team defence was pretty good at clearing Gerber rebounds away from danger, which is one thing that Gerber needs to be an effective goaltender--his game is supposed to be sound positional hockey, stopping the first shot so the team can clear the rebound. All he has to do now is stop the first shot.

The second-most evident shortcoming was an errant Jason Spezza dump-in that turned into the game-winning goal. It was a poor play from a player who, up to that point, had a great game. It was the same kind of mistake Spezza has been making since junior. It is something he will have to learn from, and move forward without repeating it. I don't buy the argument that asking Spezza to make the smart play when in a vulnerable position is stifling to his creativity; it's simply smart hockey.

Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan were effective on the fourth line, and combined to score a great goal. Chris Neil had a good start to the season, drawing a penalty and showing good discipline in not retaliating. He'll have to keep that up. Nick Foligno had a solid game, but should be given an opportunity to play second-line minutes to be truly effective. And Jesse Winchester was rarely visible, but his game isn't flashy.

As much as some personal faults are to blame in this game, you've also got to chalk some up to adjustment. The team has had limited practice time, and is very different than it was last year. The season look ugly at the start, but Craig Hartsburg is implementing a new system that all parties will have to get used to.

So the rematch comes today, at 2:30, and the Sens will have an opportunity to turn this road trip around. With a win, the team will have earned 3 of a possible 4 points in a difficult road trip.
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