Friday, February 10, 2006

Sens Game Report - Atlanta at Ottawa - February 9, 2006

Photo: and CP

Well, there’s always next season

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Atlanta wins 2-1
Ottawa goals: Meszaros (5) on a slapshot from the point
Making Sens(e): Varada, defencemen
Not much Sens(e): Neil, Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza, same as the night before
It was over when: Atlanta scored its second powerplay goal halfway through the third.
It was definitely over when: Varada was turned into a poster on the halfboards and we didn’t capitalize on the ensuing two-minute powerplay (which should have been five).
Message in a Molson bottle: Ring , ring. Hi, I’d like to speak to a role model or a leader please? Oh, sorry, I must have the wrong number.
Courtesy Boxscore:

Grab a Timmy’s double-double and listen to what really happened:

Different night, different score, same team
Before you say another word, please don’t write this game off as “a step in the right direction” or “a moral victory” or “a good effort that came up short.” We are not, I repeat, not the Toronto Maple Leafs. We don’t lose games that are moral victories and forward progress. If we don’t expect to win 82 games a year, then tell me now so I can start cheering for a different team that DOES expect to win every game. Sure, tonight, we had some chances to score and Lehtonen played a solid game, but who cares? Did we make up ground in the standings with our ‘solid effort’? Did we snap out of our scoring slump with this ‘moral victory’? No, we didn’t. And if any of those players are satisfied with their performance tonight, I beg John Muckler to trade them into oblivion immediately. I don’t usually read the player’s quotes before writing these insightful journals, but something shocked me tonight in TSN’s write-up: Dominik Hasek, the hardest working athlete in sports, seemed satisfied with the effort and the defensive play tonight. If this isn’t the final red flag, then I don’t know what we’re waiting for. This is the same goalie that complains about offensive production during close games while he backstops the most offensive team in the NHL. But unless that quote was taken out of context, it sounded like he thought we at least ‘took a step closer to regaining our success’. Unbelievable.

the Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less:
- Powerplay continues to struggle. Maybe we just aren’t that good. As of this moment, we have played sub-.500 hockey since 2006 began. Columbus has a better record than us in 2006. At this rate, we don’t make it out of the first round.
- Where is everybody? How come nobody seems really mad about our play lately? Alfie gave is miniature Swedish-rant the other night, but it didn’t translate on the ice. No player is bringing their game to another level right now, Coach Murray doesn’t seem to mind, and John Muckler has disappeared. Could he be replacing Loblaws shopping carts out of guilt? How come it is only the fans that seem concerned about this team right now?
- Bon Jovi was awesome.
- During the final two minutes and trailing by one, we showed far less enthusiasm and desire than the team that was beating us. Sure, they set up five men on their own blue line, but we’re supposed to be the Ottawa Senators, for God’s sake! Why could we not even gain the Thrashers zone in the final minute of the game?
- Pothier on the point on the powerplay seems odd to me. He is our #6 guy and his defence is less than great. I understand keeping Phillips off the PP since he is defensively-driven, but we have to be able to not have our sixth d-man keeping pucks in during crucial moments of the game.

Sens Report Card
Instead of continuing on with my negativity and glass-half-empty analogies, I thought it would be useful to go over each of our players’ performance since the turn of the new year. Remember, our first game of 2006 was a tidy little 8-3 loss in Atlanta after we had peeled off four straight to end 2005. These comments are strictly my opinions and I welcome all disagreements or differing points of view. Please write your thoughts on a piece of paper and mail them to: the town dump.

Here is what each of our players has done since 2006 began:
Pizza Line:
Daniel Alfredsson: Our beloved captain has mixed moments of brilliance with moments of mediocrity. We know how important he is to our lineup based on how the team fared during his absence (is there any irony that Chara loves ribs and broke Alfie’s ribs?). Since the turn of the new year, Alfredsson has been inconsistent and hasn’t shown that ‘rise to the occasion’ leadership that we saw in October and November. His biggest area for improvement right now is to begin trusting his linemates again regaining his composure while stickhandling – too many turnovers and not even rise-from-your-seat dipsy doodles.
Dany Heatley: He couldn’t have started his career in Ottawa any better, but lately, he has looked more lost than he has looked found. Skating without Spezza was a nightmare for the fans to watch – he actually looked aimless out there. He is at his best when his top line is together and clicking and that hasn’t been a regular feat in the past 6 weeks. His biggest area for improvement will be to get back to finding the open slot and firing those one-timers into the net. Spezza will set him up, he just needs to get into that opening and wire it home.
Jason Spezza: I’m not sure if I’m the appropriate agent to discuss this guy right now. He sat out 14 games (give or take one) with this mysterious chest injury and his rehab must have involved sending him into a time machine that put him back in 2001 – he is playing like the Jason Spezza that Jacques kept benching for lack of defensive play and failed dipsy-doodles. Spezz Dispenser looks like a freaking Junior B star out there lately, trying to save the world by himself, one inside out move at a time. His biggest area for improvement right now is to regain that confidence from October when he was going to compete for the Hart and the Richard trophies. He fancied himself a #1 centre but is playing like the pond hockey idiot that nobody wants on their team.

Fishing Line:
Mike Fisher: What is there not to love about Mike Fisher. He is the best role model we have right now. You’ll never have to question his work ethic or his desire to win on the ice. If we dressed 20 Mike Fisher’s each night, we’d never lose. He is seen as one of the most underrated players in the NHL and we like that just fine. His game has risen to a new level in 2006, but sadly there isn’t many people for him to play with at that level. Areas for improvement are to get his shots on net more. He puts amazing moves on defenders using speed, strength, and stickhandling. I hate to see it wasted when he misses the net on a wrister.
Peter Shaefer: Shaefs has established himself as one of the best board players in the conference. The problem is he spends the entire shift behind the net or along the glass, just stickhandling his way in and out of whatever comes in front of him. He has begun to follow Fisher’s lead and his effort has risen dramatically. Areas for improvement right now are to work more on getting the puck in front of the net as opposed to waiting out that perfect feather pass. Waiting too long leaves him behind the net and an odd-man rush going the other way.
Chris Neil: the poor man’s Tie Domi. In the past month, Neil has neither won a fight nor has he played a great game, either on the scoresheet or in the effort department. I like the guy a lot because he was the sandpaper when we were made of silk, but his role on the team right now is completely unknown. His stickhandling is atrocious and he has made up for it by taking ridiculous penalties, like the four minors he took in the Atlanta game. Areas for improvement for Neiler are to simply get back to the basics – work hard in the corners and get your red-headed arse in front of the net and park it there. Dirty goals are still goals.

The Others:
Bryan Smolinski: What is your deal? One night you fill the roll of top line center without missing a beat and the next night, you look like a marginal ECHL second-liner. Smolinski’s problem appears to be a lack of motivation. He is a great dressing room guy and is always in a good mood. But he hasn’t turned that attitude into leadership or drive. He doesn’t take over any games and he doesn’t seem to kill for the win. Don’t get me wrong, he has won us a couple of games when we needed a big goal. What everyone needs to figure out is our level of expectation for this guy – is he a second-line center for us, or third-line checker? Areas for improvement for Smoke are to get the puck up high more often and improve his passing. He shoots the puck down low way too often for easy pad saves and seems to score often when he roofs it. Also, his passing on the powerplay is a guaranteed 20-second runoff as our defencemen chase down the puck he just coughed up.
Chris Kelly: He’s shown us where the NHL is headed – teams are going to need their 4th line guys to play like 2nd line studs on some nights. The world of salary cap hockey has made it possible for Kelly to have a chance here and like a good boy should, he has earned every second of it. He is a young Shaun Van Allen with more skill, speed, heart, toughness, scoring touch, hands, and a lot of other things. (just comparing 4th line centers here). Areas for improvement are to crash the net more often. Eaves does it to perfection, but I’ve seen Kelly on the outside edges of the circles too often and he just isn’t the type of guy that can score from out there. Get down low and make it an ugly one.
Patrick Eaves: Thank you, Brandon Bochenski and your shoulder. Eaves was destined for a year in Bingo, but Bocho’s injury combined with Hamel’s errant mouth landed #44 with the big boys, and he hasn’t disappointed to date. He works hard and is smart as hell out there. For a kid, he understands the game as well as anyone in his age group. I wonder if he is still the odd man out if Havlat makes it back this season? Areas for improvement are to get that wicked-awesome wrister down a little. We all know he is going high near side, but he lifts too may of them too high. Getting that puck down would make him a 20-goal scorer this year (he has 11 now).
Vaclav Varada: I just have to say this – I’m a Vaclav Varada fan. For my money, I don’t know if it gets any better than we this guy lines up the opponent’s superstar for a monster hit. This might be why he is known as a super-pest and rarely draws penalties despite being attacked on a nightly basis. What is so strange about Varada is that he never seems to care about what is going on out there – he just skates around and hits people and occasionally feeds a setup pass to Eaves or something. I like him and want him around. Areas for improvement are to develop a stronger chemistry with Eaves and Kelly. I want to see these three eating dinner together or something – anything to show that they get along and have jelled into a great energy line for us.
Antoine Vermette: Now I’ll be the first to say I was a little hard on the kid earlier in the season and as recently as a month ago. But lately, he has shown signs of improvement in both his skating ability and his scoring ability. The kid has a great shot, a ton of speed, and his confidence is finally start to grow with his increased ice time. Doug Weight would not have brought out team any closer to winning the Cup – especially if it would have cost Vermette and more to get him. Areas for improvement: keep skating hard and get in positions to get high-percentage shots on net. His dipsy-doodles are all out just inside the blueline – he can’t shoot from up there.
Brian McGrattan: I actually love what this guy can do out there. He strikes so much fear into the opponents so that when he actually does have the puck, everyone backs off because they either don’t expect any offence or they are worried he might knock them out. Either way, McGrattan has shown that he can do a little more than just find the Brashear’s of the league and throw down. Areas for improvement are to continue to smarten up – not just about the appropriate fighting times and techniques, but also about pinching in and forechecking, etc. He has earned a spot on a salary cap team. That’s impressive.
Christoph Schubert: This kid has never EVER played forward before in his life, but to stay in the NHL, he had to learn quickly. On some recent nights, he has been our top highlight out there. His bodychecks, dare I say, are the hardest dished out by our team. He forechecks well and backchecks like a champ. With the effort and desire he leaves out there, I’d imagine Coach Murray will find a way to keep him around the lineup. Areas for improvement are to learn his position. It is tough when he goes back and forth between forward and defencemen, but he must continue to learn his own role out there.

Defencemen, goalies, and off-ice personnel to come soon.


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