Thursday, January 28, 2010

8 in a row

Busy busy elsewhere, but it looks like nothing here seriously needs my attention -- eight in a row including wins against teams which dominated the Senators earlier in the year.

Watching the game tonight on TV you could see the confidence in the guys playing -- Michalek's highlight-reel dangle was something the team wouldn't even attempt during the five-game slump they went through, but tonight both Spezza and Michalek were dangling pucks, while Kovalev continues his games of keep-away with the opposition.

And what's the key? Well Alfredsson has been counting up the points since his return. Spezza has a goal in five consecutive games now. And Michalek continues to look dangerous all over the ice. Combine production from your top players with a goaltender who is playing steady, steady hockey, and you end up with a team which is confident front to back.

The main thing is that the confidence has permeated back through the defense corps. These are still the guys who we were berating three weeks ago, and while their play has improved I don't think there has been any magical rehabilitation. The defense corps are clearly playing over their heads, which is fine while it lasts but expecting it to last through the rest of the season and into the post season is more than a little unrealistic. I'm sure that the commentators will be back to slamming our defense players before the season is over.

Of course now everyone is wondering if Elliot is "the guy", forgetting that at the end of last year he was "the goat". My view right now is that he is running a hot streak and benefiting from the discipline and confidence on the ice in front of him. He gave up the the first goal tonight, but Ottawa didn't get deflated and kept hammering back to take the lead, and the game. If the team in front of him sags, Elliot won't be the savior.

You have to think that the ninth in a row, which would be a franchise record, is really within reach when they host Montreal on Saturday afternoon. As long as the team doesn't get cocky, and continues to play with the discipline and confidence that they have been, it is possible.

But right now the team is on a hot streak. Even though the Senators are beating some mighty mighty teams, I still think the pendulum will even out a bit more before the post season. And realistically, the East is still to clogged to count our playoff spot before it hatches. Or something.

All that and some Leafs fans are having a miserable year -- what else could be better!

Friday, January 22, 2010

St.Louis at Ottawa: At The Game

About once a year I actually get out to a game. This is mostly because the time needed to go to a game is usually needed for family duties; having a young family will do that to you. There's also the considerable amount of money required to take in a game. Once or twice a year the stars align and I can make it out.

My philosophy regarding hockey games is: if you only go once or twice a year, get good tickets. If you only go, make sure you get to see something that you can't experience on TV. So I'm not interested in sitting up in the nose-bleeds, I can see more on TV plus have the convenience of the PVR's instant-replay. I have been up in the fourth-tier party rooms, and that's totally different.

So when I do go, I'll pay for the good seats. For example, last year at the Buffalo game, I was in the home end corner two rows up from the glass.

This year one of Jenn's friends was selling a pair of tickets to the St. Louis game last night. Section 114, row O. So higher than the glass, which made for a good view.

It seems tradition for me to miss the opening five or ten minutes of the game. It was about 7:15 by the time we drove up, and there was an almost complete lack of traffic waiting to park. The lack of people getting in late indicated to me that it was going to be another lightly-attended game, and I was right -- announced attendance was a bit over 16000.

When we got in, Carkner was having his tilt with Janssen, so I didn't see what provoked that. The rest of the game had the usual pushing and shoving, but that was it as far as the fighting went. Which was just fine with me.

The game. Through the first two periods, Ottawa had more jump than the Blues did. Most of the play seemed to happen in the St. Louis end. I read that St. Louis played the previous night, and you could see that they were tired. Ottawa kept the pressure on really well.

The only time the flow swung against the Senators was when they gave up almost three goals in less than two minutes. In the dying seconds of the second, St. Louis banged one in, then put the puck in the net a second time as the period ended. Only the video review showed that the horn had gone before the puck crossed the line. St. Louis came out strong in the third, and before 30 seconds had gone by had put a third puck in the net to tie the game.

For the next five minutes it was all St. Louis as you could see they knew they were back in the game. Ottawa hung tough with Elliot standing tall, and St Louis' effort eventually fizzled somewhat. This let the game open up into more of an end-to-end.

Watching in the arena let you appreciate some of the players a bit more. Having watched Karlsson over a couple of shifts, I see more of what other people see in him. He seems to be trying to do the right things at the right time, and with better defensive awareness from his forwards, some of his efforts should pay off. His stint in the AHL earlier this year showed that he can adapt to the North American game, and now he just needs NHL experience.

Another player I appreciated more was Kovalev. Most of the time he seems to be just floating through the game, not really rushing around like some of the younger guys. But more often than not, when there was a puck about to come loose, Kovalev would be in the right place at the right time to pick it up. And his puck possession skills are magnificent to watch. He almost seems to be putting on a clinic with his ability to skate around, under, or through the opposition players.

It was nice to see Michalek back in the lineup and for him to score a "welcome back" goal. He seemed a bit off his game, but there was one nice rush down the left in the second, even if it didn't pay off.

Finally I have to mention that Alfredsson's play is just as inspiring in person as it is on the TV. During one of the power plays Ottawa was awarded, Alfredsson was on for nearly the entire powerplay, even as the other attackers were changed around him. He puts in the effort, and the team is visibly better with him on the ice.

The officiating, in general, was its usual inconsistent style; early on it seemed like the penalties were being handed to the Blues a lot more than the Senators. In the third the pendulum seemed to swing back with Ottawa getting called on some iffy calls. However Ottawa got another too many men penalty, nullifying a potential power play. Overall the play was pretty clean from both sides, and there were not any hugely offensive missed calls.

So overall I call that a successful outing. I got to the game, I saw a game I enjoyed, and the Senators won.

I may have a line on a good seat for the upcoming Toronto game. Toronto is one thing on my "list of things to do" -- I want to go to a Toronto game. However with the premium that Toronto games usually commanded, I didn't think it would happen for a long time. But it just might come good this year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Sens beat Chicago, possibly the best team in hockey.

Elliot makes the highlight reel in a good way.

Fisher scores a goal that isn't an empty net.

The powerplay converts on an opportunity.


Of course, since I have tickets to Thursday's tilt against the Blues, I'm sure the magic will be gone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Return Of The King II

Alfredsson continued to make his mark on the Senators today with a hat trick. This led the team to a 5-1 romp over arch-nemesis Boston, a game which also featured previously invincible Tim Thomas getting pulled mid way through the second period.

Chronic underproducers Kovalev and Cheechoo provided the other two goals, and Mike Fisher had three assists.

With "No Relation" Brodeur fighting a flu, Brian Elliot got the call.

This again shows the effect a quality player like Alfredsson can have on the rest of the team. Alfredsson has six points in his two games back.

You gotta love it.

Return Of The King

So Alfredsson was good to go in Montreal on Saturday night. And was he ever -- one goal, two assists, including a nice little helper on Zack Smith's short-handed goal.

It is amazing how one guy can make so much difference on the ice. Alfredsson made an impact most of the time he was on the ice, and that dandy little poke-pass to Smith gave Ottawa the confidence that good things will happen.

But one guy I want to mention is Cheechoo. I thought that Cheechoo was definitely trying hard throughout the game on Saturday night. While his rushes seemed a bit labored compared to some of the other more fleet of foot on the team, Cheechoo was willing to put in the effort and I think generated some nice chances. I really want to like Cheechoo and I hope that if he keeps this kind of effort up that the goals will come.

In general I thought the Canadiens were faster on the ice than Ottawa was, but Ottawa held firm in discipline. "No Relation" Brodeur stood tall, including some scary looking scrambles in front of the net. Ottawa seemed to monopolize more time in the Montreal end than the other way around.

Overall it was a nice win on Saturday and a reasonably entertaining game. Word is that the team will continue to ride "No Relation" as his hot streak continues, although Boston seems to own Ottawa pretty well the last few years and we should not be surprised if this afternoon brings a loss.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Savior Has Come

If the rumors floating around are true, LeClaire is not just a fragile goalie, he is a ridiculously fragile goalie. The story is that during practice yesterday morning in New York, Mike Fisher fired a rocket into LeClaire's mask, with the result that LeClaire now has a concussion (or as it will be explained on the press releases, an "upper body injury"). This could keep him out indefinitely. Isn't having a fragile goalie fun!

(Maybe Mike Fisher just doesn't like LeClaire, as the shot which broke LeClaire's cheek in November came off his stick, too. I jest...)

So with Brian Elliot battling the flu instead of the puck for a change, the team made an emergency callup of Mike "No Relation" Brodeur. And lo, did the savior do his good work: Ottawa bounced the Rangers 2-0 in their own rink.

So from two career starts, Brodeur has two wins, one shut-out, a 0.5 goals-against average, and a 0.982 save-percentage.

Clearly Ottawa has found our new franchise goalie.


Both times Brodeur has been called up, the team has been struggling with a sudden injury. Most of the time such a shock will prompt a team into playing over their heads for a game or two, and I think that these examples fit this general scenario quite well.

If LeClaire is out for a while, clearly Brodeur will have to stay while Elliot acts as the primary goaltender. But my feelings about Brodeur are the same I had last year about Elliot: bringing him along too quickly will not be in his best interest.

If only Ottawa fans could tolerate some adversity without jumping up and down for immediate fixes.

Update: The word now is that yes, it is a concussion, but it is probably a concussion that was originally inflicted in the earlier injury and was just aggravated yesterday. So LeClaire is not fragile -- just hurt. And probably really hurt, which means he will be gone for a long period again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Suspect Officiating

We won't talk about last night. I will only remind you that I said it will get worse before it gets better. I don't think we've hit bottom yet, as awful as that sounds.

No, today's post is a link to another piece for the Bad Officiating Scrapbook.
"It was personal. It started in warmup, before the anthem," Burrows said of Auger's penalty calling. "(Auger) came over to me and he said I made him look bad in Nashville on the (Jerred) Smithson hit and he said he was going to get me back tonight."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slim Down, Not Bulk Up

Silver Seven Sens wants to know who you would trade for Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers.

My answer? No one.

Look, Kovalchuk is a talented player, of that there is no doubt. He even isn't "enigmatic" like Alex Kovalev is.

There are three problems with this idea. The first problem is he is in a contract year and he is going UFA over the summer. He is the very definition of the word "rental". In the unlikely event he does sign with Ottawa, it will be for big bucks, which will come at the cost of someone else.

The second is that right now Atlanta is very much the definition of the term "blow up your team" and so won't be looking for short-term skilled acquisitions -- they want more picks and prospects, something to rebuild around for longer term success.

The third is that such a trade does absolutely nothing to solve the issues in the defense corps.

The real question is: why are you considering this? Do you seriously think that adding Kovalchuk to the team, with the resulting immediate team loss of some kind of talent going the other way plus the inevitable combination of picks and prospects, is going to make this team go deep this post season? Because if you are not, you are wasting your time.

The time to sell your long term future to rent some additional skill is when you are making a run.

The Citizen has an article detailing an allegedly sorry state of Ottawa's farm system, dumping responsibility for the whole mess on previous GM John Muckler. Basically the conclusion is the larder is bare. If the future of the hockey club is in the farm team, then the Senators are still looking down, not up.

The Senators are still struggling a bit with high-priced talent that they can't use. This is the same generalized argument I made when I first proposed trading Dany Heatly. These players -- I am thinking of Kovalev, Spezza, Fisher, Michalek, and yes even his amazingness Daniel Alfredsson -- are assets that we can't leverage properly. As amazing as all these guys can be are can be, the Senators are not in a position to challenge this year.

I know I've been beating the drum about this less this year. That's been a deliberate choice. I've decided that even if Brian Murray doesn't know what he's doing, he's the man in charge and we should let him do his job.

Look at the state of the league right now. It is rare to see repeat contenders. (OK, last year was a bad example.) The consensus is that there are two teams which have to succeed this year if they are going to -- I am thinking of Chicago and San Jose here.

Chicago especially is going to be in a bad way because they have been blessed with three highly talented players all at the same time, all of which will be expecting big bucks next year at contract time. Once they lose some of these guys, and/or have to gut the rest of the team to keep these three guys, they are going to be rebuilding, no question about it.

See also Montreal, which was set up to peak last year for their centennial. This year, where are they? Nowhere. OK Montreal blew up prematurely for reasons nobody really understands, but this team now is going back to basics, back to rebuilding.

This I think is the reality that Senators fans have to face. Unless you can find a lot of guys who will play over their pay grades, or a lot of fresh young (cheap) talent, you won't have a solid chance because there will always some other team which either does have a lot of guys who play over their pay grades or a lot of fresh young (cheap) talent.

Our eyes should be on eventual success, not just passing some arbitrary bar this year. Trading for Kovalchuk now would give us a definite edge while chasing a playoff spot this year. However, it would cost us even more from our already depleted future.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Misfiring Aggression

OK, so it is the middle of the night, and I've neither been drinking or watching the game. Can't sleep -- whatever the kids brought home is now making a nice home for itself in my upper chest. Whatever. But here's something I maybe figured out.

The Senators are described as "an aggressive team". In practice, one of the things this means is that the defense players are more willing to pinch into the offensive zone in an attempt to make a play or keep a play alive. The consequence of this is that whenever the opposition gets a hold of the puck while the D is pinching, there is frequently one (or two) fewer defense players to, you know, defend and give the goalie some assistance.

So that means a couple of things.

First, you'd better have a major league goalie or two, because odd-man or worse rushes are going to be a fact of life.

Second, this aggression needs to pay off with more goals, because even a major league goalie is going to give up some goals on odd-man or worse rushes.

Right now the Senators appear to have neither consequence in hand. The offensive defense players are leaving the goalies hanging in the wind. This means that everyone scrambles back to help whomever is being hung out to dry, and the scrambles in the defensive zone can be downright scary. When LeClaire is there, the result can be highlight reel stuff. When he's merely just better than any of us, the result is "yet another momentum sapping soft goal" or other such media blather.

That's it.

It is clear to me that this team needs more offense, and that they are trying hard to get it. What isn't clear is why they seem to be sticking to a philosophy that doesn't work when you can't put pucks in the opposition's net.

But that's why I'm here and not running a hockey team.

Friday, January 8, 2010

For Those Of You Keeping Track At Home

Milan Michalek is out indefinitely with an "upper body injury".

For those of you who missed the first half of the season and the entire Ottawa media machine, you might not have caught on to the fact that this means Ottawa's entire top line, Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson, is now out injured.

Since Spezza's injury on 14 December, the team has gone 4-6-2, for 10 points out of 24. Since Alfredsson's injury on 23 December, the team has gone 2-3-2, or 6 points out of 14.

(Since Michalek's injury last night, the team has gone for a ride on an aeroplane, and presumably someone's picked up some frequent flyer points out of that.)

Now some of these losses are attributable to the loss of these key players. But some of them are attributable to the mix of stronger, better rested opponents that the schedule has been producing for the team to face.

Honestly, at the beginning of the season very few people expected the Senators to even be in with a chance at the playoffs; yet here we are. I think that the "success" that the Senators have enjoyed is more attributable to softer, tired opponents playing in the Senators' rink. I don't think that in the long run this team will continue the overall level of results they have achieved thus far.

This season is going to get grim before it is over.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Attention Boo-Birds:

Stop booing Zdeno Chara every time Boston comes to town.

There's no reason to. Ottawa made a decision to go with Wade Redden instead. Chara went somewhere he was wanted, somewhere he could grow into a leadership role.

You can't blame Chara for Redden's lack of performance.

Booing Chara makes the city look like it is populated by a bunch of ignorant hicks.

Just. Stop. Doing it. Thanks.

That said, let's again pretend the first period didn't happen on Tuesday. Letting the Boston players set up camp totally unchallenged in front of Elliot was inexcusable. The Boston players had a good, leisurely look at every incoming shot and inevitable rebound, and the resulting chaotic scramble was always going to end badly for the Senators. I don't think Elliot was totally blameless, but I think that nothing short of a miracle worker could have prevented them.

At the Boston end, their defenders kept pushing the Senators to the edges of their zone, and gave up only a few real opportunities, with Thomas being adequate to the challenge most of those times.

For the second and third periods, the Senators played tighter, but one never got the feeling that Boston was in any serious danger of being challenged.

Kovalev was one bright spot on Tuesday. While I am not a fan of this "flip the puck into the goaltender's pads" that he has been doing in response to "put the puck on the net" exhortations that everyone is fond of making, Kovalev made a few opportunities happen, one of which resulted in Kuba's goal. On a night when few Senators stepped up, Kovalev continued his improved play.

I've been waiting for the shoe to drop on this Senators team. Their run since Alfredsson's injury has been nothing short of incredible, but with Spezza gone Michalek is misfiring, and while you could say Alfredsson's leadership isn't being totally missed, it goes without saying that things would be better with him.

Things don't get any easier for this team -- Washington is next on Thursday. I'm not hopeful. Florida visits on Saturday. That one could go either way. But in the short term, things are going to get challenging for the Senators, and they need to be producing a little better effort on the ice than they did during the first on Tuesday.

(And then I watched the Juniors OT. I'm just everyone's lucky charm tonight, aren't I.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Did they tilt the ice?

Seriously, ten of the eleven goals scored went in the "visitor" side net: 4 Ottawa goals in P1, 3 Philly goals in P2, and 3 Ottawa goals in P3. Only Philly's opening goal in P1 went in the "home" net.

What's that phrase: "fans of exceptional goaltending should look away now?"

I missed the first period and after the collapse in the second seriously reconsidered staying inside to watch when there was a driveway that needed shoveling. The Senators seemed to keep the pressure on pretty well in the second, but those little mistakes and scrambles in front of the Ottawa net kept adding up. In the third it started to come together again as the mistakes in the Ottawa end were reduced somewhat while the Flyers seemed to just run out of effort and discipline.

Nice to see Alex Kovalev get four goals on the day. Now if he could only do some of that a bit more regularly the fans would be a little happier with the $5 million he is getting paid. I like watching him play, his puck control is incredible and he seems to be creative in generating chances. You can write some of his reduced results off to the opposition paying strong defensive attention to him, something which creates more opportunities for his team mates, but really he is the caliber of player who should be able to deal with that and produce a little more often.

Chris Kelly had an up afternoon -- his stupid penalty to cause a long 5-on-3 (that resulted in a Philly goal) was compensated somewhat by his two goals. Nice chance at the end of the game too, ringing one off the post -- plus I think he banged the cross bar with one shot earlier in the game too? It must be frustrating to get that close to a hat trick and not bag it.

Since both Alfredsson and Spezza went out, this team has really put in some fabulous efforts. Words like "depth" and "secondary scoring" can be applied to them without qualifiers. The results thus far have vastly exceeded my expectations. Hopefully when the big guns return the rest of the team can keep up this kind of pace.