Friday, October 30, 2009


Well I turned on the TV last night, and found the Senators down 3-0 with about half to go in the third. In short order there were two more, and so even the goal each from Ruutu and Kovalev didn't really make much difference.

If I had to pick a word to describe the little hockey I saw, it would be "lethargic". Tampa had a much better jump, of course since they were up by so much it isn't surprising that they were. The Senators were always half a step slow or half a step behind.

Others have bemoaned the absence of our elite center (Spezza) and our elite defender (Volchenkov) and our elite goalie (Leclaire)... but the team has put in listless efforts even with two of those three on the ice before. (See also most of 2007-08.)

One commentator noted that there now appeared to be bad blood between Tampa and Ottawa, "expansion cousins" that they are... but really, it is more like bad blood between Ottawa and "any team with Steve Downie on it". Downie's joust with Ruutu was hilariously bad, even though Downie seemed to be getting the upper hand, he seemed to be appealing to the linesmen to put a stop to it. Just sad, really.

We all know there are going to be nights like this -- Tampa was on the receiving end of one last time they were in Ottawa. It was just our turn. Just forget about it and move on to the next game.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Karlsson's Development

The rumor of the day is that Future Savior Erik Karlsson is about to get sent somewhere, either back to the Sweden so that this year doesn't count against his three year rookie contract, or to Bingo.

Either way, the move would be good in the long run for the Senators. Karlsson is showing streaks of competence along with flashes of rookie nerves. Stepping down from the NHL would let him learn his skills, let him come back to the big league with more experience and confidence.

See, Karlsson is about the future. Let's be honest here -- is this group going to bring us the Stanley Cup? No? Then let's be smart about how we grow our talent.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bounces You Get...

You know, up until about the end of the game, the Senators played fantastically well. There was good pressure in the offensive zone as all four lines worked to create quality chances. There was none of this crazy-assed scramble in the defensive zone. Back-check was good. The defense took good risks at good times to jump up into the play. Elliot looked steady, and made the saves when he had to, even if he wasn't as sternly tested as his Bruin counterpart.

And Alfredsson even bagged himself another short-handed goal. What's not to like?

And then the third period came to an end. I'm going to be incredibly generous and say that we were treated to a text-book perfect example of how the empty-net sixth-attacker is supposed to work. And not once, but twice. The Bruins were disciplined, patient, and made the chances come to them. Say what you want about that "second" time-out, the Bruins made the effort work.

Now I'm not sure how you go about training to defend against the sixth attacker, but these guys are smart, I'm sure they'll think of something.

The Senators let the second point get away from them on Saturday. There are going to be games like that, where an opponent who has no business being in the game comes back to win -- the Senators were in that position last weekend in Montreal. So this is part of the season.

Overall, there's a lot to like from Saturday. And if they keep doing what they are doing, then the points will continue to come.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That's Two

OK, so I didn't see any of Thursday's game. But it seems to me that the Senators dug themselves a mighty deep hole in the first, thought about it for the second, and then came to life in the third -- although didn't have enough to actually get the second point.

I'll just observe that this this is the second game in a row where the Senators didn't play well at the beginning of the game. Worse, it sounds like they were almost eager participants in their own demise, what with turn-overs and bad deflections and... well.

It is nice to know that the team is capable of turning it on again when needed.

I'd just prefer that for once it wasn't... needed.

The sky isn't falling or anything, but it sure is looking a little lower than it did this time last week.

An Object Lesson In Demographics

The title of this Pension Plan Puppets article says it all: Would the CBC ever drop the Leafs from the National Broadcast? I doubt it, and I have numbers on my side.
On Average the ratings for HNIC Game 1 are in the 1.228 million range. When the Leafs play it is 1.262 Million. When the Leafs do not play it is 0.972 Million. That means on average the CBC loses approx. 289,000 viewers when the Leafs do not play. That is a drop of almost 24%.
...aaand of course, he's right. Toronto is, for better or worse, our "national" team. Lacking a detailed breakdown by region, we can guess that this is mostly due to the high density of frustrated Maple Leafs fans in Southern Ontario. But over all, these numbers explain precisely why we have Hockey Night In Toronto.

One thing we can't measure is whether or not there is any inertia in these numbers -- that the national audience identifies with Toronto simply because Toronto has lead the national broadcast for so many years. Although I've just written that and I immediately discount it. For households where HNIC is a Saturday tradition, the majority of viewers probably don't care who is playing, they just care that there is a game on.

One question the article does ask, although perhaps more rhetorically:
Imagine if the Leafs were good!
I think if the Leafs were any good, the numbers would go up a bit, but only due to the bandwagon effect where fair-weather fans pile on. One could say that this season (so far anyways) marks rock bottom for the Leafs fanbase, and probably represents the absolute lowest that these numbers can go. And if MLSE can make money with this kind of team on the ice, it adds much more credence to my "Timbits" theory.

(You know, where MLSE could ice a team made up entirely of Timbits hockey players, and they'd still sell out.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hockey Night In Montreal

A few quick thoughts about the game in Montreal. Last year, Montreal provided two of the more entertaining pieces of hockey I saw all year. The whatever the team's failings, they always seem to be an energetic group which works hard and makes the other team want to win. So I had high hopes that this would be a good game, featuring speed and effort from both teams.

First. Pascal Leclaire, I am a believer. The Senators had no business being in the same area code as the Montreal Canadians for the first twenty minutes, let alone being ahead for much of the period. That frantic, seemingly disorganized scramble in front of the Ottawa net is becoming more of a routine -- and the more I see it, the less concerned I am, because I just know Leclaire will be there.

Leclaire didn't rob anyone in particular tonight. It is just the same rapid fire chances that the Senators are giving up. In previous years, enough of these would have gone in that we'd have gone into Coach's Corner down at least three.

For all the headlines about the rest of the team, my first, my only star of the night is Pascal Leclaire.

(But even so you have to shout out to the penalty kill performance. Leclaire can't stop five guys coming at him, he needs a little help, and tonight the PK showed patience and discipline.)

Second. I like how Montreal was a curious combination of classy and crass. Crass when Kovalev had his puck possessions for the first couple of periods, yet classy when Kovalev scored his goal to stand up and cheer for him.

I've been amazed watching him -- the details in his puck handling skills are phenomenal. I think once the rest of the team can learn to use his skills, good things will happen more frequently.

Third. Michalek -- fresh from a hat trick in Ottawa, threatening again in a short-handed situation. I love it. He could yet turn into an elite forward.

Overall. One of the commentators tonight noted that the Senators' recent good form can be attributed to a run of softer teams that they have been facing. The real test will come next month and the month after, where they will be playing teams somewhat higher up the food chain. But still, the Senators have traditionally struggled to pick the low hanging fruit, and it is nice that this team, right now, can pick up the so-called "easy" points when they are available.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Well due to various reasons I only got to watch the first period last night, and in keeping with the "it's still early days" theme, I'm going to be thinking positive today.

I think putting Michalek, Cheechoo, and Spezza together is going to look like a stunningly brilliant move in the long run. Their first game together and not only did they combine for the only goal of the night, I counted three quality chances that this line put together. Once these guys really click, the goals will come.

I think that Alexi Kovalev is going to be another player that other commentators hate but that I really like to watch. Kovalev was magic with the puck several times, carrying the puck deep into the Penguins' zone, or feathering a pass through the sticks of unsuspecting Penguins players right on the tape of a waiting Senators teammate. Oh, and a no-look drop pass to the left of the Penguins goal that a Penguins defender picked up. I think that again, Kovalev and Alfredsson will start to look very good together.

I still don't like the defensive scramble in front of the Ottawa net. It seems far too frantic and too uncoordinated. But LeClaire is there, most of the time. Commentary from last night blames three of the four goals on funny bounces. If we can get some defensive discipline then this team will look a lot better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brian Burke's Evil Plan

It occurred to me this morning -- maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs are Brian Burke's expression of genius. Maybe, just maybe... Burke is trying to tank his way into a decent draft pick.

I mean, what else could seriously be the goal here? He's made no bones about wanting tough players... who may be tough, but they sure can't play NHL-caliber hockey. He's kept around Toskala, who's play certainly isn't up to redeeming the failures of the rest of the team.

The entire team is untradable now.

Think about it.

Brian Burke is a frickin' genius.


UPDATE: The only problem with this theory is the fact that Toronto no longer has a first round pick in 2010:
The Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round pick will go to the Boston Bruins as the result of a trade on September 18, 2009 that sent this pick along with a second-round pick in 2010 and a first-round pick in 2011 to Boston in exchange for Phil Kessel.
So I really don't know what's going on in Toronto. Could you really make a worse hockey team if you tried?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Would You Like Fries With That?

Quick, cheesy links dump with extra cheese:
  • Sensay wants to know: where are the goals? Because, you know, you'd like the top line to actually behave as if it was the top line. So far, basically all we have is way more secondary scoring than we had last year -- and a penalty shot.
  • The 6th Sens wishes the Battle of Ontario was a little more relevant. I've long said that beating Toronto would be far more satisfying if it was hard-earned, and Toronto wasn't a bag of pucks truculent bag of pucks.
  • Sensay again, this time musing on the difference between the instigator rule and unsportsmanslike conduct. He basically comes to the same conclusion that I have on the subject of fighting -- that is, if the reffing was any good at all, there wouldn't be a "need" for fighting in the game.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not As Expected

So up against a "truculent" Leafs team back-stopped by a rookie goalie, the Senators managed to score two: one ugly high-sticked goal, and one penalty shot goal.

The high-stick was ugly. I sure hope that it was clearer in HD, because I couldn't follow the puck through those replays one bit. I said while it was "under review" that I wouldn't be upset if it was called back. But it ended up counting, so onward we go.

The penalty shot was another iffy call (check out Why Have A Rulebook? for all the angle-shot details), and I agree that it should have been two 2-minutes instead of a penalty shot and two minutes... but crowd favorite Alfredsson did the business on Michalek's behalf, and again, onward we go.

I've commented before on the poor quality of the ref'ing, and I think that Toronto would be fully justified in being upset about the way the calls went. But for better or for worse, this is the way the damn game is played right now, and as a Senators fan I like to see the bounces coming our way for a while. We all know that on another night the bounces will go against us.

But back to the game. The Leafs seemed very timid through most of the game; one wondered if they thought that "truculence" was a reference to someone's truck. There was not very much smash and grab on the ice at all -- well Volchenkov's smash excepted, of course.

The Senator's defensive discipline was better this time out. Again the PK did well, only being beaten once. I thought the game was played well, limiting the number of chances served up, and LeClaire coming up with the big saves when he needed to.

I find this goalie growing on me the more I watch him. Nothing builds confidence like actually doing what needs to be done. I don't think he'll be any better if the team just hangs him out to dry like they did so often with Gerber, but while the team is intact in front of him, he's building a good track record of reliability.

No, my concern comes from the opposite end of the ice. Through two games, we've scored four goals, only one of which can count as a "quality" chance -- Spezza feeding Alfredsson in New York. Ugly scrambles in front of the net are a fact of life, but the goals are not pretty. I like pretty, but it looks like I'm going to have to settle for ugly.

If anything, the offence was better in New York than it was in Toronto. To my eye, there were more quality chances available in New York, and it was mostly Lundqvist's play that kept the Rangers ahead. Had some of those chances gone in, the momentum would probably have swung the other way and the result would have been different.

But still, the team has generated very little in terms of offense so far.

It is early days, yes. But I think more was expected against a Toronto team which is not expected to feature in the playoffs this year.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Game 1: Ott 2 NY 5

Well, that went a lot better than it could have.

No, really. I liked what I saw. Ottawa stood pretty firm in the opening frame of the game, and the first two goals came from small lapses in discipline which can be fixed with a little work. Ottawa ran up the shot clock pretty well, even if most of those shots never really had a serious chance.

I liked what I saw of the Ranger's powerplay -- which means the fact that they went 0-5 is a huge achievement by the Ottawa penalty-kill. Obviously LeClaire was a huge part of that, but since the power play is a big part of scoring in today's NHL, having a competent PK is a big part of being able to stay in a game.

Spezza and Alfredsson rang up the first goal to bring the Senators back into the game -- somehow the Captain always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

After watching Kovalev go to work for an entire game, I think that his puck-handling is going to infuriate the same people who love to ride Spezza. When it works it is going to be brilliant, but when it doesn't...

So overall, I'm optimistic after having watched all that.