Tuesday, March 30, 2010

That Was Unexpected

Well, what can you say? I was all set to blame the officials for repeatedly tilting the ice in favor of Washington, but for once they made the gutsy(*) penalty call with less than two minutes remaining in overtime, and for once Ottawa took full advantage.

But tonight's game was fun. Washington is fast, high energy, they pull the trigger hard and frequently. They never seem to let up. However, just like the run-and-gun Senators of old I like to compare them to, they keep getting caught in defensive scrambles and cough up goals at a high rate.

I was especially impressed with Karlsson's ability to stay in Olvetchkin's face. He made some mistakes, yes, but many far more experienced defenders have made more and been less effective when up against such opposition.

Overall I expected Washington to win. Their offensive pressure is relentless and Ottawa is not known for their solid, consistent defensive play. But Ottawa proved me wrong tonight. While mistakes were made, enough results happened at the other end of the ice (in the first 15 minutes of the game, no less) to keep them in it.

Bad officiating aside, I enjoy this game, even if I missed the OT power play.

(*) A calling of the rule book should never require the description of "gutsy". I hate this game sometimes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Almost Time To Tune Out

Both Friday's and Saturday's games were "playoff-style" hockey, in that there was a lot of grinding (ie hitting, clutching, grabbing, punching) and laughably inconsistent officiating.

The Saturday game, which I watched all the way through, was especially bad. I think there was only one penalty call the first 30 minutes, and that was waived when the play resulted in a Florida goal.

After that, it was like the refs discovered that this shiny thing attached to their hands could, you know, make actual sound or something and they began to use it -- mostly to Ottawa's detriment.

And they say the officials don't like "deciding" games by calling penalties. Horse s--t. NOT calling a penalty is even more as much "deciding" a game, in that the game being played stops bearing a resemblance to the actual rule book (passing though that resemblance may be during the regular season).

But it was good to see that no matter how hard the officials tried to hand the game to Florida, they just couldn't convert on it.

Each year I get tired of the blatantly bad officiating and figure that I'll tune out of the playoffs. Last year was easy since the Senators didn't make the post-season. I could watch what I wanted, if I wanted, and if it wasn't entertaining I had no problem turning it off.

But if the rest of the season is going to be like this, I just might wish the team good luck in the post season and tune out early.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ugly Game, Better Effort

So I did watch most of the Philadelphia game last night. It featured a better defensive effort from the Senators. Funny how your goalie does a much better job of stopping pucks when he isn't constantly hung out to dry. Elliot still managed to come up with some mega saves at the end when the Flyers were pressing.

The high point: that 2-minute 5-on-3 kill. That was... amazing.

The low point(s): the officiating was incredibly creative inconsistent bad. The first power play to Ottawa shouldn't have been called. It became clear that the on-ice officials were taking it to Philadelphia for some reason. For once Ottawa was the beneficiary, although at the end of the third there were some boarding and elbowing incidents that might have been made against the Flyers but were for some reason not worthy of being called.

Although I will say... "Instigating to the visor." Love it. Handing out a 10-5-2 with the extra five... love it. Too bad that the Senators could not capitalize on the resulting seven minute power play opportunity.

Interesting: the Flyer penalty-kill was mega. They managed to keep the Senators from getting sorted at all in the offensive zone. Five-on-five they were not so good, and I never felt that the Flyers were legitimately in with a quality chance to win. Between the effort shown and the officiating, this game was always Ottawa's to lose.

About Volchenkov's "save". I agree that it was in -- while it isn't clear from the overhead, there is enough evidence from the long-angle shot that the puck was over the line before Volchenkov batted it out. The Senators dodged a bullet with that one, although Toronto took, what, 10 minutes to sort it out? Because of that, the PVR didn't pick up the end of the game for me, although I did get to see the call. Basically even though the puck was in, I think Toronto made the right call. The evidence wasn't irrefutable, and there was no on-ice "no-goal" call to overturn. Therefore, no goal.

So over all a good quality effort in an ugly game.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday Wasted

No, really, why did I give my Thursday night to watch that?

It didn't start out bad, really. The predictably terrible officiating -- the first penalty to Ottawa for tripping really should have been accompanied by one to Atlanta for diving -- and the predictable error leading to the opening Atlanta goal, those I can live with. That's part of being a Senators fan. But Ottawa spent a good deal of time in the offensive zone applying good pressure and getting good chances. "Keep trying boys," I told the TV, "they'll come."

But then the officials really got going. Three of the first seven penalties assigned to Ottawa were either iffy or flat out not penalties. At one point, we were five-to-one behind in terms of power plays. That's not clean play, that's poor officiating. And Sutton's two minutes for "elbowing" on a perfectly clean and legal check -- not to the head, not from behind, not away from the play -- THAT was PURE GARBAGE. Even someone like ME, who isn't keen on all the hitting and such that goes on, can see THAT.

Let's be fair. Neil's goal in the second should have been called back due to Kelly's presence in the crease. But with this kind of officiating, who the hell knows what you are going to get.

Through the end of two the Senators played well, getting most of the shots and the vast majority of the quality chances. And then the third started. The Senators just crumbled and gave up stupid goals due to poor coverage or running around in their own end. Again. Leaving Elliot hanging out there on his own, going the wrong way on the play because nobody's covering the guy sliding through the slot. Again.

Spezza getting that break. And. Not. Burying. It. Again. Dammit.

I don't blame Elliot for this. You can't, really. But for a(n allegedly) playoff-bound team, we shouldn't be talking about these kinds of miscues and collapses and all around bad hockey with the frequency that we are.

Saturday is an afternoon game, but fortunately for me I have something else scheduled so will be unable to watch it.

This isn't fun any more. I want my evening back.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Back To Reality

Well, that was awful, wasn't it? Hopefully this kick in the nuts will clear the dreams of Stanley Cup glory from anyone's eyes. It's over, ok? Just... over.

What is there to say? One of the worst teams in hockey comes to town against allegedly one of the better ones and we can't beat them. Bluntly the Leafs were just plain better, and the bounces didn't go Ottawa's way. Again. Several good chances; several failures to seal the deal.

At least Carkner kept his brains enough to avoid getting pounded again. I don't understand why he does it -- Ottawa loses every time.

And it is pathetic that the rink sounded more like Maple Leaf Gardens than the home of the Ottawa Senators. Not that the Senators did much worth cheering for tonight, but the crowd was definitely behind Toronto.

Friday, March 12, 2010

NHL Rule Book Is Flawed

(Still sick. You don't care. I know. Moving on.)

I have to admit I don't care much about the current controversy of head-shots in checking. I think there should be some kind of reasonable protection, but since physical contact is part of the game, any rule must take that into account.

But as a side effect of this discussion, Quisp at SBNation pointed out something interesting: there is already a rule which covers this situation.
43.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

Charging shall mean the actions of a player or goalkeeper who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A "charge" may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.
Quisp rightly points out that this makes absolutely no sense, because any check, and most physical contact, would be covered by this rule. And that's why it isn't called.

(It also begs the question -- when charging is called, exactly what is it that is being called? Is this the two-step rule?)

So finally I start to understand why the officials, both on-ice and off, "interpret" the rule book rather than just calling it: the rule book is inconsistent with the game, both as-played and as we would want it played.

I don't think that rules should be written around injury; Quisp's suggested replacement rule for 54.1 imposes penalties on plays which result in injury. This is a game for big boys, and it is fast. Guys will get hurt on some of them, that's the nature of game. I think the rules should be written around intent. That is, if someone intentionally attempts to injure another player, successful or not, that's at least a double-minor and a rapidly escalating number of games suspended.

If you don't like head-shots, then write the rule that says head-shots are not permitted the same way that knee-on-knee hits are not permitted.

But the bottom line is that the NHL rule book obviously needs more than a little tuning; this can't be the only rule which if called as-written would totally change the way the game is played.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Healthy Leafs Barely Beat Sick Senators

...or something. I didn't watch -- I was sick.

But really, the first two games back from the Olympic break have had the terrible dialed up to "10" here. I was watching the New York game, and the color guy was talking about the New York coach's decision to call a time out after an icing call to rest his guys... he says: "this is a smart decision, he knows this game could break out either way any time now."

And I said, are you and I watching the same game? Yes, the Senators are pressing, but it is a disorganized pressure -- the Rangers are playing smart, simple, steady hockey in their end. And when the pressure starts to go the other way, the Rangers are still playing smart, steady hockey, while the Senators are running around in their own end. And the Rangers then get rewarded with what, two or three quick goals?

I watched LeClaire's return two nights later, all seven minutes of it before he got the hook. I didn't blame LeClaire on either of those goals, they were clearly the fault of the guys ahead of him on the ice. Unfortunately for LeClaire, Clouston can't hook the rest of the team... Elliot played well in relief, but showed what kind of night it was when he left his net for the sixth attacker late in the third and the empty net goal goes in before Elliot even gets off the ice. (Was Karlsson laughing or crying at that?) Add in both Alfredsson and Spezza being unable to convert on a break, and it just wasn't the Senators' night.

I still can't believe that Murray thinks this team is set for a deep playoff run.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Learning From The Olympics

StayClassy discusses how the NHL could learn from the Olympics. I'm going to cherry-pick his list:
  • 4-on-4 overtime: I like this idea. I've always liked 4-on-4, because even in the "gritty" NHL the players can't piss around hitting each other when it is 4-on-4. Also usually when you get to overtime in the regular season both teams want the win, so they put in the effort. I consider this a compromise between the there shouldn't be any difference between playoff OT and playoff regulation except sudden death victory camp and the dude just do the penalty shots and give me my winner now camp.
  • Less is more: Again I approve. Instead of sending 16 teams to the playoffs, just send 8. And drop the stupid division-leaders seeding, let's get the teams which can do the business to do the business. The hockey will be better and we'll start our summer two weeks earlier. This will never fly because the playoffs are not about hockey, the playoffs are about revenue.
  • Shorter broadcasts: I like the reduced TV time-outs and the general flow of the play. Again, this won't happen because of the lost revenue that fewer TV time-outs would cost. If I had a choice between fewer TV time-outs and shorter breaks between periods, I'd take the fewer TV time-outs because I can always go to the fridge while Don Cherry is on. Lets face it -- the talking heads talk during the intermissions because there's nothing else to do. What would you prefer -- a live shot of the lineup to use the can?
Overall I didn't care about the olympics. I think I watched the gold medal game more from withdrawal than any other factor. That said, it was a pretty good game.

Monday, March 1, 2010

This Is Not A Rhetorical Question

OK, so congratulations to Team Canada for their gold medal (mens and womens). I'll even suffer the cliche-in-the-making Sidney Crosby scoring the overtime goal to win it (although I am not looking forward to the next few months of Tim Horton's ads that this will undoubtedly spawn).

But I have a question.

Look at these two fine gentlemen:

These men picked and managed a USA team that wasn't rated highly. Know how much confidence they had in their team? Everyone was scheduled to fly out Sunday morning at 9:30 AM instead of staying for the gold medal game. And yet, their team managed to school the highly-rated Canadians in the round-robin and worked their way to the gold medal game where they came within a hair of winning an upset victory over said highly rated Canadian team.

The USA team was the best kind of opponent: a highly skilled, motivated team that can beat you. They were, in the best sense, a team worth beating. A team you had to bring, and keep, your A-game for, and hope for some lucky bounces on top of that.

So, having accomplished all that, these fine gentlemen are obviously nobody's fool. They know their business and can compete at the highest levels with an eye towards success.

So my question is:

Why on earth are the Maple Leafs so bad?

No, seriously.

Why have these two not been able to bring the same kind of success to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Why have they not been able to turn the Leafs into a team that can win regularly? A team that, in the best sense, is worth beating?