Sunday, November 07, 2010

Time Is On Our Side

Yes it is.

A tumultuous Sens start to the 2010-2011 campaign had many fingers circling the panic button, including my own. I like to remind myself that it's a long season, losses are inevitable and there's power in Clouston's healthy salad. Still, I found myself thoroughly disappointed in how we started the season. More than the 1-4-1 start was the way we played to land that early season record. Some of it was surprising, some of it expected, but all of it was frustrating. Add to that the fact that Leaf fans were framing screen grabs of the early season standings and emptying salt shakers into our gaping wounds. Serenity now!

Following those eye scratching first 6 games, the Sens have won 6 of their last 8, pushing their record above .500 and finally ahead of those pesky, back-to-reality Leafs. It appears we just needed time to sort out some kinks and realize Brian Lee is not of NHL calibre.

Here are a few game changers, from then to now, in my opinion...

Cory Clouston. After the horrid start, I began to question Clouston. This was surprising to me. While I've come to accept the routine too-many-men penalties, I had faith in Clouston after what he's accomplished in his short tenure behind the bench. Still, our entire game was subpar. Players were uninspired, the PP was awful and we forgot we needed to score goals to win games. But we can't fire yet another coach! Can we? No, we can't, and it appears we don't have to. Clouston has found a nice little duo in Kovalev and Spezza, who make Regin appear product (in the apples category, at least). The PP has picked up, we're more sound defensively and I don't even think we've been called for a 6th skater in these past 8 games! Huzzah! What I like most is the feeling that we're once again gelling as a team. It took time, but Clouston appears to have the boys back on track.
Alexei Kovalev. Earlier this season, I was kinda hoping Kovalev would take a hike in Gatineau Park, slip on some wet autumn leaves and wind up on LTIR. I couldn't stand his play. Then, suddenly, he appeared to change his outlook. As if he said, "well, if I want to play until I'm 50, I better make myself valuable to ensure I have a job for the next 12 seasons." I've found Kovalev has taken a 180. He looks younger, quicker and with determination. Now I realize this could be short term, but for now the guy's making a difference out there! He sits second in team goal scoring and is earning his $5 million.
Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson. The vet and the pet. While Sarge wasn't immediately as effective as expected, Karlsson was probably the biggest early season disappoinment. The kid, who ended last season with the confidence of, well, a Gonchar, he seemed slow, indecisive and bad at hockey. Turnovers, gaps, bad facial hair - Karlsson had me saying "Bingo!", and not in the fun, number stamping, legion hall, Friday evening kind of way. At the same time, I was waiting for Gonchar to lead our PP and do things like score goals. Nope. Didn't happen. But, alas, time has subdued my nausea and these two have been in recent fine form. Gonchar is becoming what I expected and I truly, honestly think that Karlsson has Norris candidate potential in his future (note: future does not refer to 2011). I think by the end of Sarge's 3 year deal, we'll be very happy with our defence. Give it time.

Of course, there are others. Peter Regin is still without a goal but appears to be showing upside. Nick Foligno is also goalless, but I'm ok with that as time has shown me he's not a 2nd line player. It is what it is. Big Rig has had a slow start but played very well last night, and with his experience, he'll be fine. Alfie is Alfie. I'll never be disappointed in him.

While still a lot of games to go, my panic button is back in its drawer next to those useless twist ties and an old glue stick. I, for one, must remember that it's a long season and this team is good. We won't win 'em all and we'll have bad stretches, but we have the assets to win. Just give it time.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Two Subjects, One Starting Goalie

It's my first post in a while and I find myself debating between two potential subjects. The first, is the question on whether Clouston realizes that there's a third period. For the second game in a row, the Sens went into the 3rd with a healthy lead after two strong periods. For the second game in a row, the Sens were outplayed in the 3rd, leaving me as uncomfortable as Zack Smith wrapped in his jersey. The kicker? Conceding two Isles' breakaways...shorthanded breakaways! Ugh.

That leads me to the second subject - Brian Elliot. Ells' back-to-back saves on those breakaways certainly gave Ottawa the edge they needed to carry out the remaining minutes of the game. If the Isles' score one of those goals, whole new ball game. Er, hockey game.

The thing I think is most interesting, is that after a roller coasting first 11 games, the Sens have managed to win two in a row and reach the .500 mark for the first time this year on Elliot's back (not to forget Spezza's 4 pts). And is it just me, or has Ells played remarkably solid since Saturday's 4-0 blanking at the hands of the B's. He seems to be well positioned, quick and cool. I first noticed this on Tuesday, and it dawned on me - I think Elliot plays better with Snoopy on the bench! I mean, after Snoopy's inevitable early season injury, Ells was good, not great, and inconsistent. Then, Leclaire returns to the bench and, huzzah, Elliot returns to his form as a true starter! Is it the pressure that Leclaire brings that fires Elliot up? I truly feel like there's something to this.

So what must Snoopy think! I feel like he's a real team first guy, and I'm sure he is, but can he not be hoping that Montreal pumps 6 past Elliot on Saturday night? I'll tell you what, if Elliot has a 3rd consecutive strong game, it will be hard for Leclaire to get back into the line up. This is a team that needs to win now, and Elliot has the job to lose.

The funny thing is that you don't really hear "goalie contraversy" this year, cause it's the same old thing. We're used to it. I just hope between the two of them, they can prove the preseason forecasts wrong and not be the worst goaltending tandem in the league.

So, is everybody happy to keep Leclaire on the bench while Ells keep winning? Let's just hope he keeps his eyes on errant pucks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Thoughts - Kovalev, Lee, and much more

So I was talking with co-blogger Pynch yesterday about what we wanted to do with this site and while we both want to keep blogging, we find it difficult to put in any effort to write about the shitshow that we've had to watch on the ice so far this season. I guess Kovalev and I have more in common than originally believed.

Some thoughts heading into a pretty important weekend with divisional games against Buffalo and Montreal:

1. Goaltending. Is there any surprise that this is one of our key issues again? I hate to say it, but the only time that we've truly had stability in our nets was the half season we got from Dominik Hasek. He was lights out that year and we've all just grown to hate him again for the whole adductor thing. But up until the Olympics, we all felt that a trip to the Finals was inevitable because of our goalie. I find it hard to believe that Murray sees us as a real contender this year at the same time he let us enter the season with Snoopy and Ells. I know his statements were that we'd be a playoff team and then anything can happen in the second season. But seriously, what the hell did we expect from these two guys? It doesn't make it any less frustrating that porcelain Pascal is out and Elliott pats himself on the back with praise after giving up five goals, but it isn't surprising.

2. On Karlsson, let us not forget that the kid kinda stunk up the joint last year in the early going, too. I'm not suggesting that some time in Bingo is warranted, but it might take some time to get some swagger going again. The reason that the sophomore slump typically exists is that rookies leave at the end of their first year full of confidence and a touch of arrogance. Sometimes, that can affect their off-season workout because they no longer have to fight for a spot on the team. I'm not insisting that is the case with Karlsson, but it is entirely possible that he didn't fight quite as hard this year compared to last year and thus is having some trouble catching up to the pace. He'll find his game, no question about that. Hope he moves back in with Alfie!

3. On Gonchar, he'll be fine. Special teams take time and our powerplay has an abundant amount of pressure to be top ten in the league with his addition. Let them learn how to move the puck around and find the good shots. Recall that Sarge just spent a few seasons feeding Malkin on the halfboards for one-timers, now he looks over there and sees Alex Floatalev. That is a massive adjustment! When he plays the left side, he needs to feed Alfie for the one-timer and it will take time to get that down.

4. On the other youngsters, there are what we thought they were. Remember when some morons thought Peter Regin was going to get a $3M offer sheet and we should match? As fans, we always look at the smallest of sample sizes to evaluate someone's performance. Just as we want this year's team blown up after six games, people thought Peter Regin was a lock for top line duties after the six playoff games last year. If we're lucky, he'll turn out like a Jiri Hudler (who is a p*ssy, so hopefully Regin is a bit tougher) and be a 45 point guy on the third line. Would anyone have a problem with that? I just don't see enough jam in this kid's game to see him regularly getting top line minutes with guys like Spezza and Alfredsson.

5. On Alfie, he's incredible. I'm going to cry and weep like a two-year old when he retires. But let's not talk about that, let's talk about how he is still one of our best skaters. That's both a testament to him and a knock on some of the rest. No way that a 37/38-year old should be one of the top skaters. C'mon, Foligno!

6. On Brian Lee, there is little doubt that his time in Ottawa is about done. Hale is called up to take his spot for now and Kuba is starting to skate. What surprised me is how nobody tied him in with trade rumours back to Minnesota. First, people always assume that every Minnesota-born player is destined to play for the Wild (see: Matt Cullen). Then, we know Lee is garbage and we want him gone. Finally, Murray admits that he was on the phone for a very long time with Chuck Flether talking trades. Lee for Havlat? No. Lee for Burns? No. Lee for Clutterbuck? No. Minnesota needs energy, too, so don't bother with the Lee + Kovalev talk. What we have to remember here is that Lee's trade value is very low unless there is some GM out there that feels he needs a fresh start and points to an Alex Steen or something.

7. On Spezza, I just saw on Andy Strickland's website that Murray is still shopping him. Strickland is normally pretty reliable and connected, but can we drop the Spezza trade talk? He's our most talented player and the future of the Senators. Trading top line centres never works and Murray will not make a job-saving desperation trade involving someone as talented as Spetz. Move on, Andy, and find out who we are REALLY shopping.

8. On Clouston, if I see one more too many men penalty, I want him and his staff having to go through a bag skate. Sure, the players know when to come on and off, but there must be something going on with the coaching staff that is causing this chaos on the bench. Are they changing wings? Changing linemates? It just blows my mind how this can happen so often. Clouston has insisted he won't call out names of the culprits but it has happened so many times now that we have nothing else to do but to call out the coach. Get your shit together on the bench and learn to play with five men instead of six! Or seven.

9. On the scoreboard, heard that Eugene is hoping to get a new one for the All-Star Game. I'm indifferent.

10. On Murray, I just hope he doesn't make any desperation moves. His track record with trades his floating between failure and disaster. I was trying to think of successful trades and can point to the Meszaros deal (which was quite good for us) and the Schaeffer/Donovan trade, just because Chum was decent for us and it got that little douchebag Schaeffer off our payroll. Besides that, not much to write home about. Sure his drafting has stocked the cupboards, but that is only a part of building a winner. The Pascal trade hasn't worked out. He took a chance and tried to address an issue and it didn't work. The Kovalev signing was and still is one of the worst moves we've seen just based on the cap hit and the wasted icetime. More on him next. He signed Emery and then cut him; he signed Heatley and then traded him; he's had three coaches; his most successful signing has been Jarkko Ruutu.

11. On Kovalev, I can't stand him. My good friend and former co-worker Peter at Silver Seven Sens has a good piece on the bright side of the player (link) but I'm still having a hard time accepting his spot on this team. Stubborn, I am. I also don't buy the long-held theory that he is always making his linemates better by giving them more space. Who in God's name is double-teaming Kovalev at this point? If anything, this guy should be wide open on the ice and Fisher is the one battling for time and space. Does anyone think that maybe Fisher was just due for a good season, with or without Kovalev? I wouldn't be happy with Kovalev at $2M right now and I'm sure as shit not happy with him at $5M. He has KHL written all over him next year, seeing as how there is no way Ghost brings him back to MTL for his goodwill season.

12. After six games, Murray's argument that losing Volchenkov isn't a problem hasn't worked out. Small sample size and nothing to discuss in great detail yet, but giving up 40 shots on the weekend doesn't sound like a team that is dominating in puck possession and taking more shots on the other team. Defence needs to improve.

13. Elliot has never lost to the Sabres. We're all pining for a Lehner start, but Ells has their number. Let Lehner have the Montreal game back at home.

And just win!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Question for Day 1

Why doesn't Brian Burke tie up his tie?

I realize this is a Sens blog, and sure, I haven't blogged about the Sens in a while, and yes, there is a lot of Sens topics that can be covered, talked about and questioned. All of this is true. But as this NHL season opens today, sans Sens, the one thing that's bugging me is Brian Burke's refusal to tie his tie.

This shot is taken from an interview that Burke did with Sportsnet. Sportsnet is a major sports media outlet in this country. Brian Burke is the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. You think the combination of the two previous sentences would warrant a the 10 seconds it takes to tie a tie. But no, Burke gets in front of the camera with his tie draped loosely around his neck.

I'm sure Brian Burke ties his tie most of the time, and I'm even ok with him not tightening up his tie around his collar, but to have it hang loosely? Why even bother with the tie? And the thing is, this isn't the first time I've seen this. It's becoming a "thing", which is ridiculous. Sure, he's busy, I get it, but c'mon. I mean, c'mon.

Would we be ok if Murray talked to the media with tie untied? Or better yet, his shirt unbuttoned or his fly down? It's all the same thing! Finish getting dressed!!! The answer, of course, is no. It's ridiculous, tie your tie.

Go Sens.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sens Leafs Video Analysis from Toronto

So I missed the first period of last night's exhibition game last night and heard that Foligno scored a nice little number after passing Phaneuf. Youtube, though, only has video of all the three fights, but I also found this beauty of a video giving real-time, in game analysis. I just wish Ottawa would play fair. Enjoy.

Also, Ron Wilson on their powerplay: "First off, we haven't worked on 5-on-3 yet..."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Random thoughts as camp opens

What a long off-season. Here we go:

- Love that Snoopy is telling reporters to find something new to talk about other than his injury history. Our media is boring as hell and lacks any kind of original thought. I watched the interview clips of Spezza and Alfie at the All-Star Game announcement and the inability of our media to ask one sensible question amazes me. "Jason, do you want to play in the All-Star Game in Ottawa?" No, dipshit, I want to sell hotdogs in the stands. "Will you stuff the ballot box to make it?" Yes. "So does that give you motivation to play hard so you can be in the All-Star Game in Ottawa?" Are you still talking about the ASG that is 500 days away in a totally different season? Get a job, man! You guys can't even manage to get good sound bytes anymore. This childish work is in the same week that CTV announces that Pat Burns is dead. Great work, fellas.

- All the Gonchar talk seems to be on improving our powerplay. While I agree that he does add credibility to special teams, he's also a #1 guy on 5-on-5. You don't pay a guy that much money just to work the powerplay (outside of Kovalev, of course), you pay him that because he is our top defenceman, the puck mover that Murray has been longing for during the past three seasons. I'm excited to see these guys move the puck up the ice 5-on-5 and catch our opponents on a lazy backcheck. As great as A-Train and Big Rig were, forwards didn't exactly have to fly out of our zone because the puck never really left. With Sarge, we should be able to get some odd-man rushes. If Michalek can get his speed back that he did in the beginning of last season, we're in for some awesome end to end plays just using his breakaway ability with Gonchar's outlet.

- While I do hope that a guy like Butler or Wick can have a stellar camp and make the squad, it is a bit strange that we would turn down the offer of having a Lang or a Guerin come on a tryout basis. I know that cap space is a major issue and that we need the youth in our system to prepare for the departures of Kovalev and Alfie in the next couple of years, but would it hurt to see how those free agent vets could do in our camp? I guess it might not be fair to them knowing that we don't have the cap space to pay for them, but it would be a shame if we missed the boat on a guy like Guerin that can still hang around in the top six ranks because we think Wick might be able to do it. Then again, youth needs experience, right?

- Excited to see if Kuba can regain is 40+ point form that he used to bring. He's a good dman that won't have to play 24 minutes anymore so hopefully he brings a second wave of offence with Karlsson on the second pairing.

- Does anybody anywhere expect Brian Lee to crack the top six?

- Pardon me for being in the minority on this one, but I just don't give a shit about our scoreboard. When I'm at a game, I look up to see time remaining, shots, and penalty minutes. I just don't need some flashy HD screen. If I wanted a great TV picture of it, I'd watch from home where beer is cheaper. Garrioch says some scoreboards show who is on the ice. So do my eyeballs. To me, scoreboard is nothing more than a status symbol and I'd personally rather we spend the money on hiring the best scouts, the best trainers, the best nutritionists, the best training equipment, the best doctors, stay in the best hotels and fly in the best planes, and then go win a fecking Cup. And when Alfie hoists Lord Stanley's mug and parades around the ice, I'll be watching him and not the scoreboard.

- DROP THE PUCK! We're ready to roll.