Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can we please pre-tire Daniel Alfredsson?

I randomly came across a SLAM! Chat with Daniel Alfredsson from March 10, 2000, and it was a lot of fun to read. A blast from the past, with each of Ron Tugnutt, Alexei Yashin, and Vaclav Prospal coming up in some of Alfie's responses.

The biggest revelation, though, came with this question, which I had never heard of before:
Mark Ward: ALfie, I heard a story that you got rid of your agent after he told you to hold out after your rookie this correct? I think it's great if you did...and perhaps other players( without naming name ) on your team should take note of what a classy hockey player should be like

Daniel Alfredsson: Yes I did change agents after my first year. He didn't tell me to hold out. We didn't have the same view on how I wanted to things to be dealt with. He wanted me to seek a trade out of Ottawa to get more monery [sic]. He was very good to me and I don't hold anything against him.
Wow. Is this guy the greatest player to be an Ottawa Senator ever, or what? He fired his agent for suggesting he demand a trade, has deferred paycheques to allow trade-deadline acquisitions, signs discounted long-term contracts, routinely leads the team at even strength, on the powerplay, and the penalty kill. Oh yeah, and he's the only Senator to have won a major trophy as a Senator, when he won the Calder Trophy.

Seriously... put his jersey in the rafters now.

Burning the midnight Oilers

I should have had a mouthguard in for this game, because the Senators had me grinding my teeth for the whole game. A solid game offensive game from Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson paved the way for the Sens first road victory in 12 games, a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

The Senators have put themselves through games like this far too often. Scoring the first goal was important, but allowing the Oilers to repeatedly climb back into this game put the Senators injury-depleted defence on full display. Without Filip Kuba and Anton Volchenkov the Sens were missing both an offensive contributor and solid defender. Luckily, the posts were kind to Martin Gerber tonight. Though he made some solid saves, Gerbs seemed to slide around his crease too much rather than lining himself up to the shooter, and wandering around the net in search of the puck was rarely a good idea.

I was certain the Sens were going to blow it in the final minutes. This is how they've trained me to think of late. But it's almost the New Year--time to be opptimistic, right?

The forwards did all they could to help defend the lead (why not just score another goal? But I digress…). Antoine Vermette made a heroic diving poke-check late in the game to prevent the Oilers from putting the puck on net. Nick Foligno made smart plays consistently in the neutral zone and offensive end to help kill the clock. Chris Neil played a physical game, checking the opposition and getting under their skin a bit. I saw Jason Spezza HITTING somebody in the DEFENSIVE zone. Wow. The fact that Brian Lee can handle 20+ minutes per game, as he’s done for the past three is a good indicator of both his potential and the faith that the coaches have in him. (I drool about him bring paired with prospect Erik Karlsson on the poweplay in the next couple seasons).

I’m sure the Sens will agree, it’s good to finally get the win on the road. The Senators have an opportunity to build some momentum (and maybe get a player or two back?) when they face the recently slumping (though they beat the Thrashers. Who can't do that?! Oh wait... the Senators) Maple Leafs on Saturday evening.

PS: I know I say this a lot. Best. Headline. Ever.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking back on 2009

The New York Times' Slapshot blog is usually a pretty good read. Today, Stu Hackell posted a preview of the 2009 Year In Review, running through all twelve months and making hilarious predictions as to what might happen in the NHL. It gets crazy and hilarious when you get near the end. Hilarious. The Sens don't come up as often as they could, but there are a few funny lines:
  • March 2009: "The Senators miss the playoffs, but G.M. Bryan Murray says that the team is only a player or two away from winning the Stanley Cup."
  • August 2009: "Senators Coach Craig Hartsburg says he’ll keep Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley together for the entire season starting in training camp."
  • September 2009: "On the first day of Sens training camp, Hartsburg breaks up Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza."
  • October 2009: "[Wayne] Gretzky’s Rangers get off to an undefeated start after sweeping their two games against the Thrashers in front of a sold-out 1,500-seat Miskolci Mûjégpálya in Hungary. Other sellouts at the 1,200-seat Podmezakla in Jesenice, Slovenia, and the 1,200-seat Poissompré in Epinal, France, reinforce Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and N.H.L.P.A. Executive Director Paul Kelly’s favorable opinion of European expansion. “I am still committed,” Melnyk says. “Let’s vote today.” Melnyk’s team splits two games against the Wild at the sold-out 2,500-seat Ijssportcentrum in Tilburg, Netherlands"
The best part is the ongoing Jim Balsillie storyline, which you can expect in the coming year:
  • January 2009: "Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is rumored to be buying the Phoenix Coyotes to move them to Southern Ontario, but since the ‘Yotes can’t get out of their lease, the deal never materializes."
  • March 2009: "TSN reports that Jim Balsillie is buying the Anaheim Ducks and will move them to Southern Ontario, but Balsillie backs out of the deal when he can’t get a commitment from either Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne to play the following season."
  • April 2009: "The Fan 590 in Toronto reports that Jim Balsillie will buy the Hurricanes and move them to Southern Ontario. They then report that the deal fell through when Balsillie learned of a secret agreement that mandates the team return to Hartford if it ever leaves Raleigh."
  • May 2009: "The Toronto Star reports that Jim Balsillie was negotiating to buy the Atlanta Thrashers to move them to Southern Ontario, but after he looked at the Thrashers’ roster, he decided against it."
  • June 2009: "On “Leafs Lunch” over AM640, Jim Balsillie announces that he is considering buying the entire American Hockey League and moving all the teams to Southern Ontario."
  • July 2009: "Abandoning his quest for an N.H.L team and the entire A.H.L., Jim Balisillie buys the K.H.L.’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk, which is bankrupt and whose players were not paid at all last season. Balsillie moves them to Hamilton, renames them Metallurg Hamilton and gets Alex Ovechkin to jump his contract for $20 million a season to join him. “It’s not about the money. I love the N.H.L. and I love Washington and I love America,” OV says, “But look how well I played after I visited my family last fall. Imagine how well I’ll do if I play half a season there. Besides, I must find new horizons and new boards to body slam.”"
  • August 2009: "The K.H.L. goes out of business and Jim Balsillie applies to the N.H.L. to admit the Hamilton Steelers as an expansion franchise. But the owners are still lost in Dubai and cannot rule on the matter. Rumors abound that Balsillie will be granted an N.H.L. franchise in Yemen."
  • September 2009: "Abandoning the Hamilton Steelers, Jim Balsillie tries to buy the Washington Capitals from Ted Leonsis. Leonsis demands that Balsillie first release Alex Ovechkin to return to the Caps, which he does. Leonsis then loses Balsillie’s phone number."
  • October 2009: "Jim Balsillie is rumored to be buying the Islanders to move them to Southern Ontario. He won’t buy the team unless [Sean] Avery returns to active playing status, however, and [Gary] Bettman refuses, saying Avery has been dispatched to the Middle East for United Nations-brokered peace talks."
  • November 2009: "Under Barry Trotz, the Sabres lead the Eastern Conference until rumors circulate that Jim Balsillie has again made a bid to buy the club from Tom Golisano and the Sabres will split their home schedule between Buffalo, Hamilton, Barrie and Guelph, putting the Sabres on an inexplicable tailspin. When Balsillie denies that he’s buying the Sabres but is in fact interested in buying the Colorado Avalanche and moving them to Southern Ontario, the Sabres win five in a row."
  • December 2009: "Jim Balsillie partners with Marcel Aubut to revive the Quebec Nordiques. The plan falls apart when Balsillie wants to move the team to Southern Ontario until the new Colisee is built in Quebec."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Three points each for Sens' Swedish prospects

Ottawa Senators draft choice Erik Karlsson
Each of Erik Karlsson and Andre Petersson, both draft choices of the Ottawa Senators, scored three points (a goal and two assists apiece) as Sweden routed Latvia 10-1 in WJC round-robin play. Karlsson's goal was on the powerplay, one of his assist was also with the man advantage (hello, PP quarterback... ) he assisted on the game-winning goal, had five shots, and was +2 on the night, while Petersson had four shots and was +1.

The tournament has been a coming-out party of sorts for Karlsson, who has five points in three games so far (2G, 3A), tying him with Magnus Svensson Paajarvi for the points lead on Sweden. Petersson was a relatively unheralded fourth-round pick, but has four points so far (1G, 3A) and has likely been a pleasant surprise for Sens scouts and management.

For anyone who's been watching, Victor Hedman had one assist for Sweden, four shots, and was +2. He hasn't been receiving as much powerplay time as Karlsson, though; against Slovakia on Sunday, Karlsson was the defender on a 5-on-3 while Hedman sat on the bench. A commenter suggested he may be injured, which might explain why his performance hasn't been quite as dominant as anticipated.

Anyone watching John Tavares: Two more points (1G, 1A) in the 5-1 win over Germany, good for nine points (5G, 4A) in the tournament. He's apparently three goals away from Eric Lindros' record for career goals in a World Junior Championship, and still has likely two more games this year and, technically, will be eligible for the 2010 WJC.

Prospect watch in the WJC: Day four

After an in-depth look at Erik Karlsson in Sweden's 3-1 victory over Slovakia, I'm optimistic. He was poised all night, and had a wicked shot: He scored a power-play goal on a very strong snap shot that went top corner. He also assisted on the game-winning goal, had five shots on net, and was +1 overall.
About his game: He fills the role of powerplay quarterback very well. He's got good vision in the offensive end, and was often the only Swede on the point while the other four pressured the Slovaks on the powerplay. He has good foot speed, and is agile enough to avoid hits more often than not. I would have to say that Karlsson had more poise than Victor Hedman, his defensive partner, who is expected to be in competition for the first-overall pick this year. There is a knock on Karlsson, and that's his size: 5'11", 168 lbs. There were two times that come to mind where it was an issue (neither resulted in a good scoring chance, though), but his speed usually makes up for what he lacks in size. And the other positive note is that size is something that you can--and he will--improve.

Andre Petersson was alright, but didn't really stand out. He took a roughing penalty, and had one shot on the night. His line was not the Swede's best one.

The final Sens prospect in the tournament, Jim O'Brien, played his second game of the tournament for USA, a 4-3 win. He had no points, four shots, and was even.

As for the Hedman watch, he wasn't quite what I expected. The scouting report that I'd heard was he was big like Zdeno Chara, and as poised as Nicklas Lidstrom (although maybe not quite to the same extent of either). Overall, though, he looked a lot more like Chara than Lidstrom, more of a hulking physical presence (he's 6'6" and 220 lbs) than an intimidating offensive threat. Hedman was far less impressive than Karlsson, but his size and his speed were very appealing; he may have simply been trying to do too much on the night.

Finally, John Tavares: He "only" had four points (2G, 2A) in a 15-0 win over Kazakhstan, and was +2 with nine shots. But he's only second in tournament scoring, with seven points in two games: Teammate Cody Hodgson has eight points in the tourney so far.

'Nuck Off: Canucks 3, Sens 0

I'm going to level with you: I didn't really watch the whole Senators/Canucks game. It was boring. I missed the end of the first, all of the second, and some of the third playing NHL 2K9 on Wii, which I received for Christmas. (On the plus side, my Senators franchise team defeated the Islanders 5-2, although I have completely dismantled the team [assembling the best-ever power-forward line of Milan Lucic, Mike Fisher, and Dustin Penner in the process].)

Anyway, the Sens 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks was their twelfth consecutive, and it was far from pretty. Far from pretty. They barely managed 18 shots against Canucks backup Curtis Sanford, few of which were of the difficult variety. The powerplay was abysmal. Nothing really stands out positively on the score sheet.

From what I saw of the game, Dean McAmmond seemed to being some speed and energy to the game, although it didn't do much on or off the scoreboard. Antoine Vermette had three shots, but still isn't scoring. The penalty killing was perfect, including an extended 5-on-3 kill, but that's small consolation.

Bottom line: Ugly game, terrible road trip so far.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fight card: Sens v. Flames, Dec. 27, 2008

Cody Bass v. Eric Nystrom, 14:12 first period:

Verdict: Nystrom by a mile. Maybe it's because he'd just taken a slapshot to the kidney or because he separated his shoulder in the fight, but Bass got worked.

Prospect watch in the WJC: Day three

Ottawa Senators prospect Andre Petersson (#20, at left) celebrates with teammates Marcus Johansson (#11, centre) and others.
As mentioned in a previous post, the Senators have three prospects in the 2009 World Junior Championships, defenceman Erik Karlsson (1st round, 15th overall, 2008) and forward Andre Petersson (4th round, 109th overall, 2008), both playing for the Swedish squad, as well as centre Jim O'Brien (1st round, 29th overall, 2007), playing for the United States.

In their first game of the tournament, a 3-1 win over Finland, Petersson had an assist on the game-winning goal, and was +1 on the night. Karlsson, the much-heralded first-round pick, didn't record a point, but had three shots and was also +1 on the night.

Team USA's first game was an 8-2 victory for the Americans, and O'Brien had one assist with two shots on the night, and was +1.

As for the Victor Hedman/John Tavares sweepstakes, Tavares fared better in his tournament debut than Hedman. The two are considered the front-runners for the first-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft: Hedman had two shots and was +1, while Tavares had two goals, one assist, two shots, and was +3 overall.

I'm going to the Sweden/Slovakia game tonight, so I'll certainly keep an eye out for Karlsson (number 5 for anyone watching), Petersson (number 20), and Hedman (number 4).

Sens Flame out: Flames 6, Sens 3

Alex Auld of the Ottawa Senators makes a save on Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames
Losing a two-goal lead was obviously pretty frustrating, but it was even more frustrating when you have to listen to Greg Millen Craig Simpson and Jim Hughson host a Calgary Flames love-in (especially for Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla) all night long. Maybe I was just a little bit short because of the result, but did anyone else notice an obvious passion from CBCs commentators for Calgary?

Whatever. No scoring in the first. Two goals early in the second, the first with a slapshot from Chris Phillips at the point (with two goals in two consecutive losses for him, is this the end of the "Phillips mojo"?), and the second after some solid board work from Dany Heatley (I'm as surprised as you are) to free up the puck for Jason Spezza to take a shot (!) high blocker side.

After those goals, though, the Flames brought it to the Sens, and the roster holes left by Anton Volchenkov and Filip Kuba on defence were abundantly clear. Some defensive foibles and the Flames had three goals in 2:07, and the Sens were behind. On defence, it was obvious the Sens were going to have problems without the aforementioned stalwarts, who are arguably the Sens' two most consistent d-men so far this season. As good as Brian Lee has played since his recall, he played 25:18 on the night. I'll give him credit for how clean his game was, but that's just a sign of how desperate the Sens were on defence on the night.

Cody Bass tried to spark the Sens late in the first by dropping the gloves with Eric Nystrom, but he just injured his shoulder and left the game. It seems unlikely that he'll be back, but--as unfortunate as his injury is--I think Ilya Zubov (who was a healthy scratch against the Flames) will offer more of what the Sens need.

People will lay plenty of blame on Spezza for Rene Bourque's second goal of the game, but I don't think it's necessary to crap on him. As Kelly Hrudey pointed out, this wasn't a blind errant pass; Spezza simply lost control of the puck, and actually slid face-first to try and block the shot afterwards. It's shitty that it happened, but it wasn't the kind of stupid mistake that people usually rag Spezza for.

Then Alex Picard scored his fifth goal of the season to tie the game. (Five goals, by the way, ranks Picard higher than Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, and Jarkko Ruutu in goals scored this season.) One thing about Picard's goal, that you can say about most of his goals this season: Instead of looking for a perfect pass or a howitzer slapshot, he simply focussed on getting the puck on the net. Christoph Schubert could learn a thing or two from the kid, because a slapshot isn't much use if you fan on it or miss the net.

Did anyone else see Daniel Alfredsson throw some lumber towards Phaneuf after the Flames' neanderthal jumped at a Sens player in the corner (I think it was Nick Foligno)? Maybe, after getting the cold shoulder from his teammates, Alfie's trying to lead by example.

Not much else to say, really. The Sens are scoring some goals now, but they've lost the defensive responsibility that was their strong suit at the start of the season. If I've got to choose between a 2-1 loss or a 6-3 loss, I think I'll go with the latter, so maybe it's better this way.

I'm not sure when the roster freeze thaws, but Bryan Murray is sure to be making plenty of phone calls in preparation for that day. We've all heard how difficult it is to make a trade in the salary cap era, but the roster right now simply isn't working as a whole, no matter how hard the individual components might be working.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gearing up for the Flames

After taking in the WJHC Germany vs Kazakhstan game this evening at 7:30pm (possibly dressed as Borat and spouting the inferiority of both Canadian potassium and Canadian hockey), I will settle down this evening and catch the Sens vs Flames at 10pm. I'm sure that Sens fans will experience the usual emotions of watching a game lately: hope, disappointment, resolve, anger, sadness, self-pity, and acceptance.

The Flames are 19-11-4 heading into this game, and the Sens are at 12-15-5. If you want to look on the bright side, the Sens are 4-5-1 in their last ten games, but haven't won one of the past ten road games. Oh sorry, I forgot about us being optimistic.

It's the same old crap on the Sens' bench. Craig Hartsburg can't decide whether Spezza and Heatley should be on the same line, Bryan Murray can't find anyone to trade with, and Sens beat writers have exhausted all possible talking points.
"Time for the players to take some of the blame. They are the ones not performing."
-Bruce Garrioch.

Don Brennan, in a few sentences, became my favourite sports writer:
"So you think they should deal Spezza? I don't. They do and they'll spend the next five years looking for a first-line centre who can score 100 points. I don't think you win without one."
Let common sense reign.

Injuries have cropped up for the Sens recently. Anton Volchenkov may not play tonight and Filip Kuba is not expected to dress. I'm going to keep a close eye on Brian Lee tonight to see if there's any chance he will play all of next season with the big club.

Jesse Winchester didn't travel with the team... and I hate to say it, but his year with the Senators is looking a lot like Randy Robitaille last season. He was expected to perform in the top two lines, but has only got 7 points in 29 games this year (Robitaille scored 29 points last season and signed with a Swiss team in the off-season).

Now I'm off to the Civic Centre to watch the Germans and Kazahks compete for 8th! The real thing I will be observing tonight is how bad the Kazahk goalie is... hmmm... will the Canadians score 4-7 goal? 8-10?9-12? or 12+ tommorow afternoon?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Voices on the Alfredsson incident

After Daniel Alfredsson was knocked out of the game versus Dallas a few days ago, I posted a column on el capitano and the need for his teammates to stand up for him--and other players--when they're victims of cheapshots. Whether intentional or unintentional, or legal or illegal, I think there's definite value in terms of team dynamics when one teammate sees another stick up for him.

A couple of days later, former Senators and league enforcer Andre Roy agreed with me. A number of commenters agreed with me, as well, although some didn't--which is fair. Another member of the Senslogosphere disagreed with me, too, in Graeme Nichols over on The 6th Sens. He wrote, in fact, two posts about: The initial one, expressing his disappointment that fans such as myself were still sore over the lack of "retributive justice" after the hit despite the team getting the full two points, and a second one in response to a comment I made on the first one. Here's an excerpt of his second post:
Envision the Senators falling short of the Playoffs by one point? It might not seem like it at the time, since Ottawa stinks right now, but the two points against Dallas could wind up being worthwhile. When you way the potential consequences of the future, retribution should never win out over a potential playoff birth. Well, unless you're Eugene Melnyk and believe that this team will finish as a top four seed in the East. Otherwise, this team can ill-afford to lose any points.
That's the beauty of the balance of the blogosphere; a variety of voices, with equal rights and platforms to express them.

My only question, though: Why couldn't the Sens get retribution on the scoreboard, in terms of the two points, as well as in the retributive-justice department?

P.S. Funny comment I heard about the incident: Everyone knows how far into the doghouse (Craig Hartsburg's, the media's, and a lot of fans') Jason Spezza is; imagine he jumped Jere Lehtinen right after that hit? It's like drawing a get-out-of-doghouse-free card.

P.P.S. Oh yeah, happy holidays, too. My Christmas wasn't as Sens-tastic as last year's was, but it was great nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Alfie's back, but Kuba is out

According to Sportsnet, Daniel 'golden god' Alfredsson is back from his 'upper body injury' already, and will play tonight against Philadelphia. Is this guy a freakin' robot? Barely a couple of days to rehab arthroscopic knee surgery, and now he only missed a period and a bit from an ugly-looking hit. Amazing. He's playing with Ilya 'first-liner' Zubov, and Mike 'big money' Fisher.

Dean 'underrated' McAmmond is back from his bout with pneumonia, as well, but Filip 'Bobby Orr' Kuba will be out of the lineup due to a groin injury. In his place, Christoph 'rover' Schubert will play defence. Each of Chris 'fighter again' Neil and Dany 'blame-free' Heatley are expected to play despite missing practice yesterday.

Alex 'Luthor' Auld will play in nets.

Andre Roy on the Alfredsson injury

Andre Roy of the Calgary Flames might not be the most respected player in the league, but you've got to give him credit where credit is due: He'll never back down from a fight, and he'll always stand up for his teammates. In a recent article about the Flames' eagerness to stick up for each other in the Calgary Sun, the hit by Dallas' Jere Lehtinen on Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson came up, and Roy expressed his disbelief at Ottawa's inaction after the incident:

On Saturday night, Ottawa Senators sniper Daniel Alfredsson was pasted into the boards by Stars veteran Jere Lehtinen. There was some pushing and shoving as Alfredsson was helped off the ice, but nobody dropped the gloves.

Roy, a former Senator, could hardly believe his eyes.

"You look at Alfredsson -- he gets smoked against Dallas -- and nobody came in, did anything. He's their captain, their elite player," Roy said. "And I've been on teams like that.

"I think here, guys always stick up for each other and it brings the guys closer, for sure, because you can always rely on your teammates coming in if something happens."

Monday, December 22, 2008

No Habs No: Tuomo Ruutu

In recognition of his awesome game-winning goal against the Canadiens on Dec. 21, 2008, Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes is the eighth recepient of the No Habs No! bursary. He will receive the following letter:

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Fight card: B-Sens v. Crunch, Dec. 19, 2008

Holy shit. I don't usually do fight cards for Binghamton Senators games, but this is just pure insanity. Thanks to the anonymous commenter who brought it to our attention, with two of the AHLs best heavyweights going head-to-head.

Jeremy Yablonski v. Jon Mirasty, 20:00 second period:

Verdict: Neither? Both? Draw? I don't know. I can hardly imagine how either of these guys can be said to have 'won' the fight, since they both probably lost ten pounds throwing all those punches, and maybe 10% of their brain cells from receiving the others. I counted 60 punches thrown from Yablonski, and 64 thrown by Mirasty. Sure, only a small percentage of the throws actually landed, but holy shit, these guys are crazy.

That wasn't the only fight of the B-Sens/Crunch game, but I couldn't find videos of the Trevor Hendrikx v. Danny Bois fight, but it probably wasn't as exciting. Instead, here are some videos of legendary Yablonski bouts, starting with a 19-second mixed martial arts victory (the guy's a YouTube legend):

And a friendly-fire battle between Yabo and Chris Neil:

And finally, Yabo jumping Toronto Marlboro Kris Newbury and then indiscriminately throwing punches at whoever skates by:

So... when is Yablonski going to make his debut for Ottawa?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alfie's worth more than two points

Daniel Alfredsson is the Senators' best all-time player. On and off the ice. He is the most popular player amongst the fan base, and--as the Sens' record without him indicates--he's the most pivotal cog in the Senators' machinery. So why don't the Senators' respond when Alfredsson gets run by hack players on the opposition?

I'm prompted, of course, by the most recent manifestation of a disturbingly un-team-like attitude: Jere Lehtinen's hit from behind on Alfie last night against Dallas. Although I haven't found the clip on YouTube yet to embed it, you can find it in all the highlight reels and on CBC's Satellite Hotstove last night. Alfredsson, while keeping the puck in at the blue line, pivoted and turned his back to the oncoming pressure of Lehtinen, who--despite calls for bringing respect amongst players back into the league--continued to run at Alfredsson despite plenty of time to change his course. Alfredsson's neck snapped back, and he fell forward about a foot into the boards. Did anything happen as a result? Not really; Brendan Bell skated towards Lehtinen and gave him what looked like a stern talking to, but no one jumped the guy.

The Senators might claim that they got back at the Stars where it counts--on the scoreboard. Post-game, coach Craig Hartsburg said they did something about the hit by stepping up the physical play for the rest of the night. Chris Neil, Cody Bass, and Jarkko Ruutu did throw some nice hits in the aftermath, and the Sens out-hit the Stars 42-27, but they should be doing that, anyway. General physicality is a statement that shouldn't require provocation, this entire team--and especially the three aforementioned players--should be finishing every check possible. When your captain and best player gets run, you do something else. Something more explicit, so that when other teams play against you, they know there is a price they will have to play for running the team's elite.

Look back a couple seasons, and see what Jack Adams Trophy winner Lindy Ruff did in response to a blindside-hit from Neil on Chris Drury:

Throw out your fighters. Show a lot of emotion; not just a little. Swear, and yell at the refs. Give them obvious instructions that they aren't just going to hit their opponents, they're going to jump them. Ottawa is, apparently, a team built with gritty, character-laden guys; where were they on the ensuing play? The fact that it was a powerplay in a tied game would have underlined the statement.

At the end of last season, the Sens did little when Alfredsson was blindsided by Mark Bell, either. What will it take for his teammates to finally step up and stand up for their team, and their teammates, and have a little respect for themselves?

Is it a chronic problem with the Senators? Fans and media have certainly spoken about it being a problem, and if so, how do you solve it? It certainly needs to be instilled by a coach; this is a team. It appeared that Hartsburg was underlining that fact earlier in the season, but it hasn't worked. There have been plenty of team meetings, maybe they need a team-building excercise or getaway to instill the fraternity winning teams need. We thought that a trip to Sweden at the statr of the year might do that, but it sure doesn't look like it did. Is it a problem with the Sens' roster? Maybe. It might be one of those, a combination of them, or maybe there's something else. Whatever it is, there is one bottom line: The Senators' skilled players are more valuable than a win. And there was plenty of opportunity for Ottawa to win the game even if they had made a statement through fighting the Stars. Sacrificing one game is an acceptable price to pay in the defence of your team's captain and best player, and--more than that--in the defence of you self-respect.

Setting Spezza up to fail

Hey, I have an idea: Let's take one of our most skilled guys, put him on a line with two of our least skilled guys, and tell him that if he doesn't produce he's getting benched.

Apparently that's what Craig Hartsburg is doing with Jason Spezza. According to the Sun:
"I know you all want to know about Jason Spezza and 'When do we sit him on the bench, when do we sit him on the bench?' Well, he's playing with two guys now that are honest, hard-working guys," said Hartsburg. "To me, if I'm on that line as Jason Spezza, I want to play my heart out because of those two guys who are with me.

"If he doesn't do it there, you know what? We probably have no other choice now (other than) to say, 'Sit down.' This has got to be a group decision to work. Not 19 or 18 guys. It has to start to kick in here or else it's not going to work. It's not working the way it's going."
Does that sounds like a remotely good idea to anyone else? Doesn't sound very rational to me. In Bruce Garrioch's Cheapseats column on Saturday, he said that Spezza's "lack of production" could get him riding the pine. SPEZZA's lack of production? What about an entire team's lack of production? Spezza is not alone in this, it's an entire team that's having problems this season. So why is it Spezza who is receiving the lion's share of the blame?

The Sens' top-ten scorers, an analysis of futility:
  1. Heatley: 14G, 15A, 29P
  2. Alfredsson: 9G, 18A, 27P
  3. Spezza: 13G, 10A, 23P
  4. Kuba: 1G, 21A, 22P
  5. Picard: 4G, 7A, 11P
  6. Fisher: 3G, 8A, 11P
  7. Foligno: 4G, 6A, 10P
  8. Ruutu: 3G, 6A, 9P
  9. Donovan: 4G, 3A, 7P
  10. Kelly: 3G, 4A, 7P
Is it news that Antoine Vermette isn't performing? No. But his six points (3G, 3A) in 31 games is farther below relative expectations than Spezza's 23P in 31GP. Antoine Vermette's goal last night against Dallas was his first point in eleven games. Mike Fisher, making more than half as much as Spezza, has four assists (and no goals) in his last ten games. Dany Heatley, making $1M more than Spezza, has one goal and one assist in his last seven games. Spezza has two goals and no assists in those seven games.

Spezza is not scoring as we'd all like him to, granted. In my opinion, though, he's playing as hard as he ever has. The bottom line, though, is that Spezza is certainly not the only problem the Sens have right now, and he's not even the biggest one.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Isotopes win a game!

Somebody must have photoshopped this together. Or the Senators recently acquired someone named "Termette" or "Shermette". That's a puck in the back of the net. And that's what appears to be Antoine Vermette celebrating. Couldn't be!

Whomever #20 on the Sens roster is these days, he or she helped Ottawa pull out a 5-4 OT win over the Dallas Stars.

Don Cherry says that the team is bonding after this win and will 'turn it right around'. It's Cherry. I'm cynical. But here's hoping. The celebration after the win seemed like a joyous relief to the players. The guys have certainly got the beatdown from the media and fans, and maybe this Christmas miracle could lead somewhere good.

The game was not on TV, but refreshing every few minutes was absolutely riveting.

Jason Smith scored his first point of the season (what?!?!) with the overtime goal.

Daniel Alfredsson was hit akwardly and little information has been released yet online about the possible injury. (update: After the game, Alfie said he doesn't believe the injury is too serious and he said he would likely be 'day-to-day'. What a guy! Even does his own diagnosis!)

Martin Gerber picked up the win, but without watching the game, it's difficult to say what variety of Gerbs showed up for the game. I'm waiting for the tsn summary. Auld allowed five goals against the Devils and didn't start the next game. Gerber allows four tonight, but picks up the win. Who will start on Tuesday against Philadelphia? Has Auld #1 status evaporated in the recent confusion?

Fight card: Sens v. Devils, Dec. 19, 2008

Chris Neil v. Jay Leach, 12:02 first period:

Verdict: Neil, although it wasn't a great fight. Neil landed glancing blows, but Leach didn't even get a sniff. The end came as Neil was trying to remove Leach's helmet, but just took him down instead.

Not working: Devils 5, Sens 1

It didn't work. Juggling the lines, keeping them that way, playing the guys with a relatively equitable distribution of ice time, playing Alex Auld, reintroducing Anton Volchenkov, benching Jason Spezza, whatever. Nothing.

Earlier in the year, we could at least say we'd solved our defence problems, even if we weren't scoring. Right now, neither are going right. Nine goals against in two games, two goals for. Ottawa went 0-fer again on the powerplay, and New Jersey was 3-for-4 (even if the Sens did score an SHG; good on Jarkko Ruutu for scoring a short-handed goal, off a nice pass from Chris Kelly).

Let's forget about this game. Bring on the Dallas Stars, maybe while they're in town Bryan Murray can lay the groundwork for a deal once the roster freeze is... thawed?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Scanlan says time to rebuild Senators

The Sens Army Blog wasn't the only organization to put the Ottawa Senators on notice yesterday. Ottawa Citizen columnist Wayne Scanlan wrote a scathing article about how the Senators seem to be on a road to nowhere, and should begin the rebuilding ASAP (Time to blow team up).

I'm not sure if The Scanner has it right on this one. The Sens are not like the Maple Leafs or the Blackhawks, who had no hope and no talent respectively around 2006--there isn't a team in the league that wouldn't kill for a trio of players like Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson. It's only a matter of time before the Big 3 tear up the league once again.

The other components, however, are where I take issue. Gerber's been a bust from day 1, and the rest of the team seems to have gone down the wrong avenue (character, or wins? - what's the objective here Bryan?), including Mike Fisher, in case you were wondering. It starts in goal and the Senators need to get it right in the off season with a solid acquisition. Picking away the other diseased pieces will be easier as some prospects like Cody Bass and Brian Lee join the big club full time.

Everyone can agree that the Sens need some changes. The only question is: Do we start at the top of the score sheet or the bottom?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Senators make ugly mutants

An hilarious Flickr page called "NHL Mutants" came about on Puck Daddy Thursday, and I've got to say: The Ottawa Senators make ugly mutants. I'm just going to go ahead and post the photos, with zero permission from the creator, assuming that since he stole the base images from ViewImages that he has no copyright problems. Here goes, from hilarious-est to ug-fugliest:

Jason Neil (Jason Spezza + Chris Neil)

Dion Gerber (Dion Phaneuf + Martin Gerber)

Antoine Emery (Antoine Vermette + Ray Emery)

Peter Alfredsson (Peter Forsberg + Daniel Alfredsson)

Martin Phaneuf (Martin Gerber + Dion Phaneuf)

Brian Alfredsson (Brian McGrattan + Daniel Alfredsson)

And the ugliest girl of the ball? It's got to be Chris Soppel [sic] (Chris Pronger + Brent Sopel):

New lines released: Bass up, Lee down, Zubov out

According to Sportsnet, the Sens have released line combinations for the Sens' game Friday against the New Jersey Devils:

Vermette - Fisher - Alfredsson
Foligno - Kelly - Heatley
Ruutu - Spezza - Neil
Schubert - Bass - Donovan

According to the same report, Ilya Zubov will not be making the trip because his work visa has expired (how does a professional hockey team let that happen?), Jesse Winchester has an upper-body injury and didn't travel with the team, either, and Dean McAmmond is close to returning after a bout with pneumonia that has kept him out of the lineup for nine games. Which is why Christoph Schubert is dressing as a forward, and why Cody Bass was recalled from Binghamton.

I get that there are people who don't like the way Jason Spezza plays. But he's not a third-line player. He's been playing harder then I remember ever having seen him play before, but maybe this is just a sign for him to wake up and start generating--and capitalizing on--his own scoring chances. But playing him with Chris Neil? That's just not fair. Jarkko Ruutu can at least receive a pass, but I don't understand the idea behind putting Spezza with a couple guys who can hardly finish plays at all. If he is going to succeed, he's got to keep it simple: Send the puck to the front of the net, and hope that--if it doesn't go in on his shot or a deflection--Neil and Ruutu are right there to hammer home some garbage.

On defence, Anton Volchenkov is back from his injury. I guess they had to special-order some replacement pieces from Russia or something, because the robot had missed two games with his lower-body injury. As a result, Brian Lee is back to Binghamton after a solid two-game stint with the O-Sens.

I guess we'll see how it all works out. Hopefully one of the lines steps up and scores a freakin' goal.

Ottawa Senators now on notice

The Sens Army Blog On Notice status is a place where entities go to die...

Mark Bell, Steve Downie, Alexei Yashin, Bob Cole, Gary Bettman, Sportsnet Television, Andrew Peters, Stephane Auger

...none of these people or TV stations were ever heard from again (okay, except sportsnet, which I watched the game on last night. Damn Ian Mendes' reconcilatory demeanor!). The above list is a collection of entities that have somehow wronged either this blog, or the fans of the Ottawa Senators.

In recent weeks, it has become clear that the Ottawa Senators is now itself an entity that is wronging its own fans. After last night's 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers, the Sens are now the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. Combined with allowing the fewest goals in the league, our home team is producing some of the most boring hockey seen on NHL ice in the past decade. The team sits 12th in the Eastern conference, only six points out of a playoff spot, but still so far from the expectations from its fans.

The time for individual blame is over. The lowest scoring team in the league cannot blame its second-line wingers for not producing, nor can it blame its third line for not checking hard enough. The chemistry is wrong and the will to win is not bubbling to the surface. Defenders are not communicating amongst themselves or with forwards in order to decrease scoring chances, or even checking the opposition. Coaching has been inadequate, failing to find a solution to the scoring woes of a potentially talented team. Recently suggested changes to the lineup have already been tried in past weeks and failed conclusively.

In the past few games, the Senators have tried to dance their way through opposition defenders. They've tried to cycle the puck endlessly, looking for an easy tap-in. They're tried shots from the point, with very little success. The powerplay opportunities look listless, and the boo-birds have taken note.

Chris Neil recently said that the Senators are a better team than their record (). That might be the case if the Senators had recently played some of the top teams in the league. Unfortunately for us all, the Sens have even been losing to the worst teams in the league as well as the mediocre ones. That means the Sens are exactly as bad as their record shows right now.

Sens fans demand success from their team. Right now, there is no one to blame but our own team. That is why the Ottawa Senators are now On Notice.

When it has been demonstrated by the team that they are back on the right track, and can bring their record back to respectability, they will be removed from the On Notice list. A short love-in will then be followed by a prayer to the Golden God, and all will again be right in the world. It's like the War Measures Act, extreme times call for extreme action, and let's pray it doesn't last for long.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And the line juggling begins anew

According to TSN, Craig Hartsburg--in his desperate mission to get his team to wake the shit up--has resorted to the old tactic: Split up the CASH Line. I'm not trying to suggest it's a bad idea, because it's not like they were producing anyway, but it's just so cliché.

He did complement the move, however, with a 12-minute (that's it) bag-skate to try and get their attention. And his reasoning was sound:

"I think the fact for all three of them, and I don't like to talk about money and all that, but they are paid a lot of money," Hartsburg noted. "They should be able to make players around them better and in the past they have counted on the three of them playing together to carry the team. From what I have seen so far that's not going to happen."

He's got to do whatever he can to get things going. Although his complaint was that some players aren't working hard enough, I would argue that a lot of players are working incredibly hard--they just aren't working smart. Daniel Alfredsson is working his ass off, but he's using up so much energy in the defensive end that he's got next to nothing left when they get offensive. Jason Spezza is working as hard as I've ever seen him, but he's not taking shots for himself or taking advantage of the chances he generates. I haven't been impressed with Dany Heatley's play the last few games, so maybe the 'no-work-hard' comments were directed his way, but he's definitely frustrated.

The line combinations didn't include Alfredsson, Jesse Winchester, or Chris Neil, but were as follows in practice (according to TSN's Ice Chips):

Heatley - Kelly - Foligno
Zubov - Fisher - Donovan
Ruutu - Spezza/McAmmond - Vermette

You may notice that the pairing of Ilya Zubov and Mike Fisher stayed together, but were playing with Shean Donovan on the right wing. I think that, if the CASH Line is to be split, let's throw Alfie out there with Zubov so the youngster has someone to set up.

Still, no matter how hard a player is working, the offensive specialists need to score goals. If I could offer my two cents to the situation, I think a benching might be in order. But I'm not talking about a punitive benching, I'm talking constructive benching. Take a player like Antoine Vermette; he's working as hard as ever, but not getting results. It's not because he's somehow lost the skills that he scored 92 goals in the previous four seasons for, it's because he can't catch any breaks, and isn't playing smart. So scratch him for a night, ask him to sit in the press box and take notes on the way the plays are developing, and how/where his teammates would be better suited to be playing.

Explain to the media that it's not an attempt to punish Vermette or to wake him up, because he--along with most of the Senators--already realize that they have to play better and score more. Rather, it's an attempt to give Vermette an idea of the greater scope of the way the team is playing, and hopefully see some simple change that he has to make in his game in order to rediscover his ability to score goals (even if it is only 20 on the season).

No Habs No: Joe Corvo

Our relationship is so bittersweet with Joe Corvo. He plays an exciting brand of hockey for the Sens, then demands a trade and becomes a Senator-killer. But now he's scoring game-winning goals against Montréal and endearing himself to us all over again. So here's the letter he'll receive in thanks from the No Habs No! campaign:

No Habs No: Joe Corvo

Still plenty of ways to support the campaign:
  • Join the 100+ fans on our Facebook page.
  • Donate some amount via PayPal to
  • Visit our swag shop (not that I'm surprised, but no one has actually purchased anything yet).
  • Express support and solidarity by commenting on the blog.

Fight card: Sens v. Thrashers, Dec. 16, 2008

Jarkko Ruutu v. Jim Slater, 18:37 second period:

Verdict: Ruutu. Unanimous, even on HockeyFights. Ruutu kicked it off with an uppercut, then a hard right, then another uppercut, and even made sure to keep Slater on his feet at one point to continue feeding him knuckle sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Puck + net = happy fans: Thrashers 4, Sens 1

What... is... going... on? How can this team be so different from night to night? I've almost come to accept that the Senators aren't as good as I hoped they would be. But how can they beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-1 one week, and then lose to them 4-1 the next week? It doesn't make any sense to me.

I guess 4-1 score aside, though, the game was actually pretty close. A powerplay goal by Vyacheslav Kozlov on an iffy delay-of-game penalty (the play-by-play folks though it hit the glass and then went out) was all that separated the Sens from the Thrashers until the start of the third period. Then all hell broke lose, as Dany Heatley took a lazy hooking and Colby Armstrong scored on the powerplay, and then Armstrong scored again 31 seconds later. Chris Kelly--after hitting the cross bar earlier in the third--scored off a sweet pass from Chris Phillips with Nick Foligno screening Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. But then Todd White scored an empty-netter one the powerplay and the game was over for realsies.

Special teams was the difference. Atlanta went 3-for-6 on the powerplay, and Ottawa was 0-for-4. Same old story for Ottawa: Their only goals at the start of the year came on the powerplay, but it's cooled off to absolute zero and the team is now 19th in the league with a 16.7 per cent efficiency rating.

The onus lies on the CASH Line to get their play going for the team's powerplay--and overall success--to improve. Daniel Alfredsson needs to realize that, as valuable as he is in the defensive zone, he's more valuable in the offensive zone; I love to see a player backcheck, but it's not unusual to see Alfie behind the defensive goal line--causing turnovers and taking control of the puck, granted, but his true value lies in creating turnovers in the offensive zone. Heatley is obviously showing his frustration, but he needs to channel it into positively creating chances and maybe skating a bit more quickly into the offensive zone. And Jason Spezza needs to keep playing with the hustle he is playing with, but start taking his own shots on net and stop cutting back to look out for the Heatley pass. Score a goal, no matter how it happens or who gets credit.

On defence, I've got to give loads of credit to Alex Picard. He played over 20 minutes, and he looked to have the poise combined with physicality that Bryan Murray expected when the deal was made. If his play continues this way, the deal could be a steal for Ottawa, because on this night Picard looked better than Andrej Meszaros did on many nights last season. And Brian Lee, who scored an assist, played with the confidence he was lacking earlier in the season.

Kudos also goes to Ottawa's pests, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu. Although I still believe that Neil has been improperly slotted into a third-line role, he did a number on Atlanta's Bryan Little in--make no mistake--a completely clean open-ice hit, and Little (after being shaken up) appeared to get out of it without an injury. His hit did what Neil has to do: Use his physicality to turn the tide, and get the Sens going. And Ruutu, the shift after Neil's hit, stood up to the Thrashers' Jim Slater and really took it to him. It looked their actions had changed the momentum, but the Sens couldn't cash in on it in time.

I hate to say it, but Shean Donovan is going to take the fall for the Thrashers' first goal. It was his first--and may be his last--penalty killing shift in quite a while, and he was over-committal and too aggressive. In the end, when Ron Hainsey had the puck at the point on Donovan's side, Shean Don was in front of the net, checking no one, screening Martin Gerber. Donovan was great with Foligno and Ruutu on the fourth line, but he needs to settle down on the PK.

And that brings me to Gerber. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a wrap-around that squeaked in, and the third was after Heatley lost his check and then the puck hit Armstrong, dropped right down and towards the open net. Darth Gerber only stopped 21 of 24, but the fault on the goals shouldn't lie on his shoulders. Still, go back to Alex Auld next game, because he's earned the start.

Sigh... callers on the Senators' post game show are proposing the Sens acquire players like Sean Avery and Alexei Yashin in order to help add some scoring depth. The only thing more disturbing than that fact is that--because they won't likely cost much in a trade or signing--I almost think there's some merit to the ideas.

Fight card: Sens v. Bolts, Dec. 13, 2008

Chris Neil v. Zenon Konopka, 7:10 first period:

Verdict: Neil, by a mile. Konopka held himself up admirably, and waved off the mercy linesman split-up, but Neil probably landed a dozen punches over all--some of the punishing variety. Unfortunately, it looked like Neil's best shots missed, including that one where he smoked the glass about three-quarters of the way through.

Fight card: Sens v. Hawks, Dec. 10, 2008

Chris Neil v. Troy Brouwer, 4:39 second period:

Verdict: Neil, but just barely. It wasn't much of a fight, really. Were there even any punches landed? I don't really think so. But Neil came closer to getting one in, so he'll get credit.

Does anyone care what Grapes says?

Holy shit, are people even talking about this? On Saturday Don Cherry had a rant about the way the Senators and Lightning dressed while walking into the game, because they were wearing toques and long jacket in an Ottawa winter. He said that Mike Fisher and former Senator Andrej Meszaros looked like thugs that were "going to break into your car" and/or steal your hubcaps. Don Brennan wrote a column devoted to the Coach's Corner segment, and the waste-of-time 'funny' Blackberry column between Brennan, Bruce Garrioch, Chris Stevenson, and Tim Baines was devoted to it, too.

I have a question for you: Is Cherry even relevant anymore? It doesn't make sense. Maybe it looks nice if a team dresses for success, but they really only have to look good on the ice. I wouldn't care if the Sens wore skirts on game days, if it meant they'd play better on the ice.

Here's the video, if you want to waste your time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gerber to play again Tuesday

Martin Gerber to play again Tuesday
According to the Sens' official website, Martin Gerber will get his third start in four games tomorrow, after going more than a month between starts. It means, obviously, that previously de facto starter Alex Auld will play the role of back-up for the third time in four games, despite being eighth in GAA (2.21) and twelfth in save percentage (.919) in the NHL (Gerber's GAA is 3.40 and his SP is .880).

Despite struggling at the start of the season, you can't say anything bad about Gerber's play in the last three games. He's allowed three goals in those starts, which include his 2-0 shutout win over Tampa Bay on Saturday and two losses: 2-0 to Chicago (with an empty-netter) and 2-1 to Carolina. So you can't make any complaints about his play of late.

The peculiar thing about Craig Hartsburg's decision, though, is that you can't really complain about Auld's play at all this season. He has allowed nine goal in his last two games played, but his team hadn't given him much help--particularly in the 5-1 loss to Washington (which, for the record, never happened). Still, it's rare for a goaltender to lose the starting role without actually playing poorly to justify that loss.

Plus, there's what I've taken to calling "The Gerber Effect." It seems whenever Darth Gerber is given something to lose, he overthinks his job, gets nervous, and loses it. At the start of 2006-07, he played terribly and lost the position to Ray Emery. He played well to begin 2007-08 (when Emery was injured and there was no one to challenge him), but once Emery came back, he started playing poorly again--and, in the playoffs, the team was so bad that he really had nothing to lose, anyway, which explains his solid play against Pittsburgh. And then again, at the start of this season when he was announced the unchallenged number one, he spoiled somewhat good goaltending with absolutely abysmally weak goals. His solid wins in the supporting role have been because he's fighting from a weaker position, and he's got nothing to lose.

Then again, this may simply be a way for Hartsburg to get both goaltenders in form and yet also well-rested for the upcoming extended road trip. From Dec. 23 (partially interrupted by the Christmas and New Year's breaks), the team embarks upon an eight-game, 17-night road trip through Philly, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, back to Ontario (Toronto) and then three games in the northeastern United States--and both goalies will most certainly be used on this road trip.

However, let's not forget the game on Tuesday is against the Atlanta Thrashers. Not that Ottawa--25th in the league right now, five points ahead of last-place Tampa Bay--is in much of a position to take any opponent lightly, but there is really no excuse for a loss to Atlanta. And if Hartsburg decides to use his backup (or at least 1B goaltender) for such a game, it might be a good decision.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how this thing works out. I don't want to call it a goaltending controversy yet, and I don't think that either goaltender will complain publicly enough to turn it into a bona fide controversy, anyway. But Auld hasn't played himself out of starter's position yet, and I--after defending Gerber at the start of the year--am not quite ready to put my weight behind him again. Twice bitten, third time shy, I guess.

Wiercioch cut from Team Canada

Sens prospect Patrick Wiercioch was among the final cuts for Team Canada's 2009 World Junior Championships roster. Unfortunately.

And that's all there really is to say about it. Maybe he'll turn his disappointment into motivation and become the next Bobby Orr. That would be sweet.

EDIT: The Sens' official site has a bit more on Wiercioch, including a scouting report from Al Murray, head scout for Hockey Canada. The good news is that Murray's criticism of Wiercioch is all on thing that he can improve with relative ease, namely his physical conditioning and his confidence:
"For his first time involved in the program ... you're never sure what to expect when you come into that," Al Murray, Hockey Canada's head scout, said as Team Canada assembled at the Bell Sensplex for media photos and interviews. "He looked a bit tentative, then seemed to get a little bit more comfortable as the week went along."

With a little bit more physical strength, Murray believes Wiercioch could be a part of the team Hockey Canada sends to the 2010 WJC in Regina and Saskatoon.

"He needs to gain more strength so he can handle the physical battles," Murray said of Wiercioch, the Senators' second-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place. "When you're playing against the best players your age in the world, you've got (have) a lot of physical strength on some of the those guys.

"As the week went on, he got more comfortable in the offensive situations, better in his positioning, used his stick well and I thought he handled himself very well. We're anxious to see him here again and if he's not in the National Hockey League, I think he's got a real good chance to be a part of our program."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Habs No: Michael Nylander

The Capitals are now 2-0 against Montréal since the advent of the No Habs No! campaign. Thanks to all the Washington fans who have supported the movement, financially and personally, including Caps Kremlin. In appreciation of his game-winning goal on Saturday night, the following letter will be sent to Michael Nylander of the Caps first thing Monday morning:

And anyone who's looking to support the campaign can do so any number of ways:
  • Support us on our Facebook page, which now has 79 fans.
  • Donate some amount via PayPal to
  • Visit our swag shop (great for holiday gift-giving!).
  • Or just comment on the blog and defend us from those ever-defensive and always-attacking Habs fans.

Bass back to Bingo (again)

Not that Cody Bass did anything wrong while he was in Ottawa, but he's back to Binghamton of the AHL once again. He did an admirable job replacing Chris Neil while Neil was nursing his knee injury, but this team doesn't need them both on the roster, and Bass is a lot cheaper in the AHL.

Late last month he was sent down, only to be re-called for the next game in early December. I think this latest reassignment, however, might be longer-term, pending injuries. It looks like, at least for a little while (maybe until Dean McAmmond returns), Ilya Zubov is in the lineup to give a bit of scoring depth and a lot more speed. It's not likely very easy for B-Sens fans to swallow, but when the big team calls, the farm team can't hang up.

Product review: XMp3 satellite radio

***Full disclosure: This is a sponsored review, for which I received an XMp3 player from XM.***

A couple of weeks ago, a representative from Matchstick Marketing asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing an XMp3 satellite radio if they sent me one for free. Never one to say no to free swag, I accepted, and have been exploring the features the unit offers. There's a lot of them, some of which are great, some of which are somewhat useless.

There's lots of content. Lots. There are channels for every major sport, and every hockey game is broadcast in its entirety. (Although you can find every game's radio broadcast on, too.) On the NHL Home Ice channel, there's constant hockey talk; it's not always about your favourite team, and they run a loop of the recap overnight, but it's nice to listen to during the day. Some of the shows are great, I found that I particularly enjoyed Gretzky's and The Hockey News shows.

The biggest problem I found was reception, though; if you're walking around, you'll lose the feed, especially if you go under a roof and sometimes I even lost it when I put the unit in your pocket. The kit I received came with a home base and external antenna that you could set up to get perfect reception, but being tied down kind of defeated the purpose of having a hand-held, portable radio. Pre-recording programs (you can set the unit up to record up to 75 hours of programs from up to 5 channels at a time) was a great option, and so when I was moving around I listened to pre-recorded content quite often.

The whole thing was pretty straight-forward to set up. The battery life hasn't been a problem at all so far, and the thing's got a remote control that comes in handy if you've got it plugged into the dock with speakers alongside. To see more about the unit, and pursue a special offer for a free SD card and $50 off your plan with purchase , click here.

To be honest, though, I thought the sports coverage paled in comparison to the musical content offered with an XM subscription. I have a hard time listening to the NHL Home Ice station when I could be listening to E Street Radio (all Bruce Springsteen, all the time), or Caliente ("salsa, pop, merengue, bachata and reggaeton music. The classics you know and love, with a sprinkle of the newest breakthrough artists direct from Latin America"), or Chill ("a place that pulses with exotic and cerebral music"), or any of the other genres there are. There's also the ability to record live radio and listen to it later, more useful for music than it might be for time-sensitive sports news, and an SD card reader to store a personal collection of Mp3s.

I think there are definitely some sports fans who could totally use the product. If you're a Sens fan out of Ottawa, or a fan of any team outside of their home city, the live streaming game coverage of the whole league would be huge. Or someone who's just a nut for all things hockey, because I often found myself listening to the soothing sounds of Western Conference matchups while dozing off to sleep. All in all, it's a pretty cool machine, but--personally--I don't think I'd use it enough to justify the cost.

***Not sure how many product reviews we might be offered on this blog, but feel free to let me know what you think about the idea--or about XM Satellite Radio--in the comments.***

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Necessary win: Sens 2, Lightning 0

One thing is for sure: I shouldn't be this relieved after a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. At least I don't think I should have, but it seems like this team may not be as good as I--and so many other fans--like to believe they are.

I'll use one sentence to describe Martin Gerber in the game, and you can extrapolate that to represent the way the whole team played: It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Gerber may not have been as deserving as Alex Auld for the team's first shutout of the season (Auld should have had it in game two), but he earned it on the night in stopping all 24 shots from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I've got a very strange feeling after this game. I'm not sure who was the best Ottawa Senators player on the night. Daniel Alfredsson had a great game (he scored the empty-netter), but it wasn't anything we haven't come to expect from him. Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba both played well on defence, and Jason Smith was solid in clearing the front of the net. I guess I'll follow CBC's lead, though, and give the first star to Gerber.

Dany Heatley definitely did not have his best game, or anywhere near it. I don't usually rag on stars because it's so cliché, but he looked bad. A lot of it likely has to do with his style, and it's inability to blend with the style this lesser-skilled Senators squad has to play: Heatley can't play a puck-retrieval game. It doesn't help that he's rarely skating full-out and always seems to have his stick 18 inches off the ice, cocked and ready to go, but some nights he forechecks hard and steals pucks. Tonight wasn't one of those nights.

Good on the second power-play unit scoring the eventual game-winner, with some nice passing from Antoine Vermette to Nick Foligno to Ilya Zubov to Brendan Bell to Alex Picard to mesh. It was like high school gym class or intramurals, where everyone had to touch the puck before you could take a shot on net. Great shot by Picard, that likely deflected off a Lightning defender, and was Zubov's first NHL point. (Although it meant Cody Bass was pulled out of the lineup, it was nice to see Zubov and it sounds like he's going to get a few games to showcase his skills.) It's too bad the first powerplay unit barely got a sniff offensively, though, because going 1-for-8 against Tampa Bay on the powerplay--no matter how well Bolts' tender Mike Smith plays--is not good enough.

And, part of the powerplay problems, Jason Spezza has to start shooting the puck, he looks afraid to at times. There was one time when he was in past the defenders (just barely, granted, but still), and he held up to wait for someone to pass to. Just because playmaking is his specialty doesn't mean it's got exclusivity on everytime he touches the puck. He finished the night with a single shot on net.

Zubov had a solid game on the whole, and Brian Lee played... well enough. It looked like he'd rediscovered that poise he had at the end of last year early on in the game, but a few defensive gaffes in the third period didn't make his case. He might stick around anyway, but I think he's more likely to head back to Bingo once Anton Volchenkov is ready to go. He wasn't a liability, but he certainly didn't outplay any of the Sens' other five defenders.

What does Craig Hartsburg do with goaltending for next game, on Tuesday against Atlanta? I think Auld has played well enough to keep the starter's reins, for now, and Hartsburg has handled the goaltending situation much better than John Paddock did last season. With two solid games in a row, though, Gerber is making himself a case if Auld falters. But please, don't falter, Auld. We all know what The Gerber Effect does to Darth once he's given something to lose.

Final note: Good to hear that Martin St-Louis only had eight stitches after the linesman's skate clipped him in the face. It looked like it might have caught him in the eye, but apparently it went along the bridge of his nose or something. Maybe he should think about wearing a visor, no matter what Don Cherry might say about him.
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