Monday, November 30, 2009

December Scares Me

I said before the game on Saturday that I didn't expect a win. A point would be nice, although it would have to be a stolen point. With the Senators playing their third game in four nights, and their fifth in eight, it had been a long week.

Tuning in for the third period showed me I was right. Most of the guys were just plain out of gas in a way that Washington had been on Monday. Boston played a very disciplined defensive game -- the dark shirts always seemed to outnumber the white shirts in the Boston end, and they always seemed to be between the white shirts and the Boston goal.

Michalek's goal with 18 seconds to go was grand larceny in the first degree. I love this guy's speed and instincts. He's dangerous whenever he gets on the ice, no matter who the opposition is or how the game is going.

So I think the team should be grateful for their stolen point as they leave Boston.

Looking to the immediate future, December looks like this. This month features a game every second night, except when that rhythm is broken up by a back-to-back. Most of the back-to-backs involve travel, too. The only time they have two consecutive nights off is during the League shutdown on the 24th and 25th. And they close out the month with another back-to-back.

It was nice to have several long gaps in October and November, but the team will pay for that this month and next, as the schedule is compressed everywhere to allow a gap for the Olympics.

This will be a long, hard grind that could be the measure of this season for the Senators. It does look like there are more home games than away games, which is probably good for the team -- but does nothing to help the team recovered from a tired home crowd that may be suffering a little from too many games too close together.

First Anniversary

Down Goes Brown lists the highlights of Brian Burke's first year as General Manager:
November 29, 2008 - While outlining his strategy at his first press conference as general manager, Burke delivers his infamous quote about "proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence". Confused Leaf fans rush to their dictionaries, and are disappointed to discover that every one of those words means "terrible goaltending".
One year in and I think it is safe to say that nobody expected that the Leafs would go in this direction. This year is a total write-off -- and thanks to the way the draft picks have been pissed away fallen, there isn't much prospect of starting the rebuild in earnest next year, either.

It is a shame, too. Despite all the glee we take in watching the troubles of the Leafs, I really think the NHL would be a better league if the Leafs were any good. I have long said I would rather the Senators beat the Leafs 3 games to 2 over a full season rather than this kick-the-puppy thing the Leafs have going now.

After this many years, I'm starting to feel sorry for the puppy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trending Bad Officiating

Well the Senator's braintrust had a meeting with the officials following last night's game, only adding fuel to the blogosphere (Sensay) (SensTown) (6th Sens). Now it is always the case that the home crowd complains about bad calls against their home team, and the absence of calls against the opposition. But I agree with the numbers, there is something going on -- someone has it in for the Senators.

The thing I don't get though -- is why. Why are the officials tilting the playing field? What would they gain by artificially weighing things against this team? Who might they be trying to punish -- Murray? Melnyk? Alfredsson? Leclaire?

Heatly? Nah...

Until we can understand the motivation, we really can't solve the problem.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LeClaire Watch, Day 3

LeClaire didn't show at practice this morning, and Mike Brodeur has been called up from Bingo to backup Elliot. So, this isn't likely to be a short injury.

We knew an injury-prone goalie would be a fun ride, but who saw him getting taken out while riding the bench?

(Update: TSN says a broken cheek bone that requires surgery -- he's gone until after Christmas. Nice.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

As Predicted

Listened to the third and OT on the radio. It sounded like Washington just ran out of gas in the third, and the Senators closed in, worked hard, and made the chances count when they had to. The shot count in the third was 18-3 for Ottawa, and 4-0 in OT. Even if they had fallen in OT I think the single point would have been a worthy reward of the comeback effort. However, the team got the goal in OT, so two points it is.

Caught the highlight reel on Sportsnet and that OT goal was something else -- Fisher redirecting the puck in the air into the net. But we'll take it.

Here's hoping LeClaire isn't hurt too badly from either the Saturday incident or the puck tonight. LeClaire can't buy himself any good luck, can he?

Next up: some well-rested New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, Columbus the night after that, and then Boston on Saturday. The Senators will roll into Boston in the same boat that the Capitals were in tonight -- the third game in four nights, and the fourth game in six. Given this schedule, it would be foolish to expect that this winning streak will continue. If the team can keep their heads down, play some simple hockey, they should be able to steal some points by the time the week is done.

High Pressure

(Sorry, thought I'd pressed "publish" on this earlier.)

Watched the Sens game against Buffalo on Saturday. And that was a nice game to watch. I was worried after the first period, when the Senators appeared to keep Buffalo in their own end for most of the period, only to surrender the first goal of the night.

In the second it all came together much better, with good pressure through the end and no stupid mistakes. This carried through the first eight minutes of the third, after which point it got interesting -- the team sitting back more than a little bit, and Elliot being unable to stop to two quick goals that Buffalo put in. After that it was a race between the Senators love of the penalty box (we shall speak no more of this, thank you Chris Neil) and the Buffalo intensity to try and draw back into the game. At the end, Buffalo was pressing 6-on-4, but was unable to capitalize. Elliot made some scrambly looking saves to preserve the win.

Alfredsson had a stand-up game and was rewarded with two goals and an assist and was present at both ends of the ice. The captain continues to lead by example on the ice. Fisher and Michalek were both threats all night. And Kovalev was only conspicuous by his absence -- oh wait, he really was absent this time.

Spezza took it from Don Cherry at the first intermission. Personally I like this Jason Spezza more than last year's model. Yes, last year had more goals, but this year's is more concerned about making plays and then getting back to help out in his own end. Spezza's stats may end up worse on the point total, but on the whole the team is better off. Now if this year's Spezza can step up the goal scoring while keeping his new found discipline, well that would be a win all around.

LeClaire left after the second after taking a ugly looking stretch to his neck. Hopefully he'll be OK to return soon. (Update: Elliot starts against Washington, which is to be expected; but LeClaire is backing him up and there have not yet been any call-ups which implies LeClaire will be back in action soon.)

While the outcome was a good one, the Senators have to continue to win these kinds games. Buffalo was coming off of a loss the previous night, so they were a tired team playing their backup goalie.

Next up will be a stronger test, but still one the Senators should treat as winable -- Washington gave away the shoot out to Toronto on Saturday, and on Monday will be playing for the third time in four days. Washington should tire if the Senators press enough.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Veska Toskala's Shoot-out Win

Am I the only one who noticed that Toskala's shoot-out "win" against the Washington Capitals last night came courtesy of a broken stick and a complete miss?

Gerber could have "won" that shoot-out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

6-2 -- for the Senators? You sure?

Wow. A win against Pittsburgh, pizza, and the Leafs lose a shoot-out nail biter.

Cheechoo and Michalek each got another goal, and Fisher continued his points rampage with three assists. Oddly, Alfredsson ended up with only one point, while both Spezza and Kovalev had none on the night. Most of the production of late seems to be coming from the "lesser" lines, but it is nice to have production happening. If the top line can get it going again, we'll be better off.

(I have to admit, I'd have liked to see either game, probably more the Toronto game. The recap makes it sound wild. I mean -- tying goal to force overtime with 2.7 seconds remaining, less than 40 seconds after the go-ahead goal was scored! And Toronto comes away with a loss! Entertainment, plus the good guys win in the end.)

Wow. What a night. Wish I'd been there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We Sure Ain't Calgary

That third period was ugly. Sure, LeClaire did the job, but really, again, he shouldn't have had to. The Leafs carried the game to the Senators much more than the game went the other way, and the shot count shows that. Fortunately for Ottawa, Toronto has even more trouble finishing, but the fact of the matter is that the Leafs ran over the Senators several times.

Even with all that said, LeClaire sure made some super saves in the 3rd, even if luck played more of a factor than some might like.

At the other end of the ice, Toskala looked steady, but again, the Senators didn't seriously rattle his cage any.

I liked Kovalev's efforts to set up Mike Fisher; good on Fisher to finish some of his opportunities. I also like Spezza's defensive discipline. Too bad about his lack of offense.

The problem is that this really was a battle of mediocrity. Ottawa came up the winner tonight, but it was never a sure outcome. I didn't come away feeling like I had been entertained.

Monday, November 16, 2009


OK, so I only watched the last ten minutes of the third, plus the OT and the shoot out. But one thing springs to mind:

That one point that the team escaped with was a gift.

The dying seconds of that last penalty kill featured a mad scramble with two or three juicy rebounds and a cross-crease patch to a Ranger who was standing there looking at a wide open net and somehow managed to miss.

It should have been over right there and then.

The OT was played reasonably well by both teams and I have no complaints, really.

As for the shoot-out: Elliot stood on his head to take things to the seventh round. (Has Elliot ever won a shoot-out?) And no less than three Senators had the opportunity to win this. But they failed to do so, for the same general reason that the team can't win: they can't put the puck in the net.

We should take our point and be thankful.

Friday, November 13, 2009

One Thing I Don't Get

One thing I don't understand is how people can slam Pascal Leclaire while at the same time admitting that our defense corps is not up to scratch? Take this missive about last night's game:
You can point the finger at Pascal Leclaire and Alex Kovalev for having another bad game but to me, the Senators are carrying an inept set of defenseman who have zero defensive acumen and zero character on the ice.
...ok, that's a bit more even-handed than I first read it. Here's a better one:
Holy crap Pascal Leclaire. I thought I kind of put you on notice about those soft goals. I get that they’re going to happen, but they shouldn’t be happening to us first! That’s Martin Gerber Bush League Goaltending. You’ve got to step it up a bit here buddy. I understand there’s a lot of pressure to playing in a Canadian market, and I get that you had the flu, but there was a reason we were so excited only 15 short games ago. You seemed to deflect everything; point shots, criticism, redirections, invitations to the orthodontist. You name it, and you just weren’t having it. Find your mojo Pascal, and do it quick. Brian Elliott is chomping at the bit.
Really, how can you blame Leclaire for failing to back-stop the team when he is being put in situations that he shouldn't be in?

This has long been a pet peeve of mine. I never thought Gerber was the incompetent clown that many made him out to be. I have long thought that Gerber was a solid, if unspectacular goalie who didn't get the necessary support from the guys in front of him.

There are many nights when Martin Brodeur couldn't win with these guys on the ice in front of him. Blaming Leclaire for everyone else's failings is just short-sighted.

Conspiracy Theory

Sensay examines the suspicious penalty record of this year's Ottawa Senators.

This all feeds into the "fighting" debate because the single best argument in favor of fighting is that it is required so the players can regulate the rules-breaking that the officials don't call penalties on.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ottawa as a Sports Town

Ugh, maybe I didn't need to see the Philly game tonight. Perhaps the less said about that the better -- I'm sure the usual suspects will trot out the usual saws. Instead, lets poke some bears.

So Out Of Left Field is muttering that the attendance drop at Scotiabank Place is the end of Ottawa's romance with the Senators.

The thing of it is: Ottawa isn't a Sports town. Never has been. What Ottawa is, is a government town. And as such, the residents treat their recreational pursuits as entertainment. As in, the pursuit of fun.

And losing, as we all remember from those gym classes in primary school, isn't fun.

Now there are some people in this town who are truly passionate about their sports. The thing of it is that there are not enough of them to maintain a sporting enterprise through the inevitable rough spots.

Anyone doubting this can only look to the parade of people who stepped up for their opportunity to own the Ottawa Rough Riders or Renegades or whatever. And then lost their shirt, and stepped aside for the next group in the parade. Heck, some owners even came around twice (hello Gleibermans!) When the team was winning -- at least, according to the history books, there is some suggestion that it was winning -- the fan base was there. Once the wins started to dry up, so did the fan base. The end result was the CFL left Ottawa not once, but twice.

Similarly, the triple-A baseball team. When the Lynx were winning, people flocked to the stadium. Once that ended, so did the fans. And now we have a fine baseball stadium that stands empty with insufficient parking and isn't on any major transit service.

The hype surrounding attempts to bring back the CFL or baseball to Ottawa is always interesting, because after the prospective ownership group, the most "support" seems to come from the municipal politicians and the media. What makes this interesting is that both of these groups end up being the loudest supporters, but probably expect to go to the games for free -- or even, as is the case of some sports reporters, get paid to go. If you ask the average fan in the city (forget the average citizen) you get indifference, at best.

Now in some respects hockey is an exception to this rule. The 67's have a built-in fan base of hockey parents plus kids who are hoping to be the next generation. They also have very modest costs, which means they can live within their gate receipts. And the Senators will always have a value intrinsic to the NHL franchise that they represent.

However, as far as the fans go, there is a real possibility that a lack of production on the ice will be reflected in a lack of fans in the arena.

The more we look at this season unfold, the more the Senators start to look like a mid-field team, one which at best can be described as hoping to sneak into the 7th or 8th place for the playoffs. Management isn't giving me the feeling that they know they should be rebuilding the team for a run a few years down the road -- Murray's actions seem to indicate he thinks that he can still "tweak" this team back into a contender. And I really think that ship has sailed.

The problem is that the average fan has to be asking himself: will I be entertained if I go to this game? And if his definition of "entertainment" is "winning", then he is less likely to get the money together and go. I mean, if I'm dropping $200+ on a seat and parking (or the required hour on a bus) and "food", I damn well better get a win out of it, right?

Ottawa has neither the deep tradition of hockey that provides a large number of people who love the game such as Toronto. They also don't have a fan base used to supporting their team through long, painful droughts such as... well, Toronto. And they don't have the sheer numbers of population within travel distance of the arena to ensure that even if the percentage of people who fall into the above two categories starts to dip, they will still be likely to sell enough tickets to make money on the whole exercise no matter what the product on the ice is like. Such as... ok, I'm going to say Toronto again.

In the short term, Ottawa fans will return when the results on the ice return.

If the team lasts into the long term, eventually there will be a tradition of following the team. The kids today will turn into the fans of tomorrow, and as long as the team can hold their attention they have a really good chance of building a more robust (and failure-tolerant) fan base.

As a business, the Senators' ace is the value of the NHL franchise. And since that franchise can be moved (it is possible), there will always be a lineup of people willing to put money down to own it. They may prefer to move the franchise to another market, one where they think the team might be more viable... but they won't just blow away in the wind like so many CFL teams have.

Now personally I think this is overblown hype at this point, yes, even after I've written all the above. Looking at the state of the economy, with people worried about their jobs and all is not conducive to $200 trips to the hockey arena. I think any attendance dip both here in Ottawa as well as Toronto can be traced more to people (and businesses) worrying that they can't afford to spend the money than to a drop in interest in the team. At this point, it's a warning, not a disaster in the making.

Make no mistake about it, a prolonged drop in gate receipts will be a stern test of the current team ownership. But really, to succeed in this town you have to be a winner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sensay on hitting in hockey

SenSay talks about hitting in hockey.
I love this GAME. I don’t love the idea of a person suffering a life long injury for no good reason, and least of all for my entertainment.
I'm still grinding through the backlog in my RSS reader, so there are likely to be a few more quick-shots like this in the near future.

The "Hot Goalie" Excuse

So yeah, I went away for a week. Sun, sand, private pool, and the single biggest cockroach I've ever seen (who cooperatively went away for the rest of the week after he'd been tipped).

But before I went away, there was this game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Maybe you remember? If not, let me refresh your memory:

October 31 2009, Atlanta at Ottawa: 3-1 (Final). Shots on goal: 21-51 -- not including those blocked or redirected enroute to the net. In other words, Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 50 saves, permitting only a single Mike Fisher offering into the net.

And lo, did the commentators say: The Senators were stymied by a hot goalie.

This is what, the third time that this particular excuse has been trotted out? I remember the first game of the year in New York, when Henrick Lundqvist was granted the dubious honor of being dubbed the first "hot goalie" that the Senators ran into this year.

The thing is, it is just an excuse. It only works if the lack of scoring is unusual. If the Senators of early 2007 (who could seemingly put the puck in the net at will) had been stymied by a goalie, then yes, THAT would be a hot goalie.

But if you just can't score, and that state of being is a regular situation, then you can't just hand wave the whole thing off as running into a "hot goalie". The whole point of the game is to put the puck in the net. If you can't do it, then you have a problem.

And the Senators can't do it regularly, which means they have a problem.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NHL Suspension Flowcharts

Down Goes Brown reveals the NHL's secret flow chart for handing out suspensions.

...I need a "Hilariously Bad Officiating" tag.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Time Out