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.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sens Game Report - Ottawa at NYR - February 8, 2006

Tonight, we spell humiliation O-T-T-A-W-A

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: New York wins 5-1
Ottawa goals: Kelly on a rebound after a nice play by Meszaros
Making Sens(e): Kelly, Eaves, Meszaros
Not much Sens(e): Neil, Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza, mostly everyone
It was over when: Ward scored shorthanded on us to give NY a 3-0 lead.
It was definitely over when: we didn’t manage a shot for the first 18 minutes of the third period, ensuring that a two-goal deficit was just too much for our feeble souls.
Message in a Molson bottle: a complete lack of effort from everyone involved – if you weren’t starting to worry if the Sens are going to be up for a long playoff run, you should start being worried now.
Courtesy Boxscore:

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

Time to refill the Spezz Dispenser
If you think I’m going to go easy on the kid because he had his lights turned off mid-game, you’re wrong. In fact, the biggest contribution Spezza made to the Sens tonight was being out of the lineup in the second half! Tough peanut gallery tonight. As Pierre Maguire kept saying, Spezza needs to show some spark – it never happened. His lackluster performance should be earning him time on the bench. Since his giveaway in New Jersey last week, Spezza’s performance has remained right along the line of mediocrity. If he is supposed to be the playmaker of the top line, then I think I’ll go with the calzone, because this pizza stinks. Not to be outdone, Alfredsson and Heatley owe money back to the organization for not fulfilling their contractual duty to show up and play. Ask Yashin. The top three guys tonight might as well have been holding out and living in Russia – at least we wouldn’t have wasted ice time on waiting for them to get going.

Turn the ambulance siren off, nothing urgent going on here
What we have grown to love about Bryan Murray is his ability to take his team into the locker room for an intermission and come out of there with what looks like a totally different team. You can always tell when he has torn them a new one because they come out hard in the first five minutes of the next period. But what did he say to them tonight? After Kelly scored to actually make a game of it, we should have gone into the third period looking to get some quick goals and work our butts off. Instead, we played our worst period of the night and didn’t record a shot through the first 18 minutes or so. If you are losing by two goals going into the third period, and you manage all of two shots during that same third period, are you going to win the game? Stop, don’t answer that, it was a rhetorical question. The Rangers scored five different goals on us, one on the powerplay, one shorthanded, a couple going off our players, but none of it mattered. We had zero response to everything they did. Spezza went after Malik and ended up with a pair of jello legs and being helped to the dressing room. While Spezza made this bed, is it not out of the question for someone like Neil to maybe go drive Malik into the boards in the corner? Maybe Alfie could take over the game and show us why we once mentioned his name as an MVP candidate. Or do we have to count on Kelly and Eaves and Vermette and Varada and Schubert to be our top performers? Smolinski referred to these games as the dog days of the season – by my calculation, shouldn’t that make every other team THAT much easier to beat? Why is it the other way around for us?

What is a management team to do?
So what do we do about this issue of inconsistency and lollygagging? Well, perhaps we’re overreacting. Maybe Ferris isn’t such a bad guy; after all, I got a car, he got a computer…there I go again. If anyone out there is 100% comfortable taking this exact lineup into the postseason, then I suggest you check to see if Lalime and Bonk are available, because they’ll know how to play in our next first-round exit. I understand that Havlat should be back and would give us a second line scoring threat. I understand that there is the Olympic distraction and this point of the schedule becomes a lull, and I understand that sooner or later teams will learn how to defend our top line. But what I don’t understand is why we continue to rest on our reputation. Not only do teams get fired up to play against us, they now are having a pretty easy time beating us, too. The Rangers simply looked like a different caliber team tonight that the one that we dressed. The same can be said of the Devils game, the Ducks game, the Sharks game, the Bruins game, should I go on? Here’s my two cents – if we play as terrible as we did tonight in our next two games, then John Muckler will have the spotlight in the first week of March. Atlanta and Philly made us look stupid when we were playing great and if we can’t get fired up for these two games, then I simply can’t see how we can get fired up to win 16 playoff games. Is Joe Sakic available?

The Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
- Phillips still played a solid game, even after learning that Bouwmeester and Boyle were chosen ahead of him for Torino. I was really hoping that Wayne et. al. would keep McCabe out of the lineup and bump these other two into the open spots. McCabe is a major liability and his fake injury against Atlanta last night was teetering on the edge of classless.
- Did anything go right for the Sens tonight? Great question. No. Highlights for me were that I didn’t have to watch the game live (taped it and lost sleep watching this disaster) and instead rocked with Jon Bon Jovi. Can we sign Tommy and Geena for the playoffs?
- Potential trade targets – who knows if there is really someone out there available that can help us with what we need. Is Jokinen a playoff-ready guy? He’s never been there! Ditto Marc Savard. Perhaps Barnaby wouldn’t be a bad idea after all.

Games this week
Thursday hosting Atlanta
Saturday hosting Philly
That’s it before we cross our fingers that everyone makes it back healthy from the country that resembles a boot.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sens Game Report - Pittsburgh at Ottawa - Feb 6, 2006

No pizza? Terrible

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Ottawa wins 5-2
Ottawa goals: Schubert on a nice 4th line charge, Chara streaking for a rebound, Smolinski tipping in Meszy’s point shot, Shaefer on the powerplay, and Shaefer again going down low on Fleury.
Making Sens(e): 4th line, Shaefer, Smolinski, defence
Not much Sens(e): Neil, Alfie (sort of)
It was over when: Schuby scored in the first and we only let ourselves get down one goal before taking over.
It was definitely over when: the Penguins continued to pay for undisciplined penalties in the second, leading to two powerplay goals in just over one minute.
Message in a Molson bottle: a must-win for Emery and a must-win because it was the Penguins, the Sens just played a solid all-around game tonight.
Courtesy Boxscore:

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

How to win a game without good goaltending
Make no mistake, Ray Emery wasn’t that great tonight. The first shot the Penguins took made it through Emery before Malone banged it in. Later, scoring juggernaut Eric Boguniecki crossed the blue line and put a slapshot over a poorly positioned Emery to bring Pittsburgh to within two. However, I would expect that this win would do a ton for his confidence and he’ll be back eating cockroaches again before you know it. The big question is when he’ll play next – Wednesday against division leading New York, Thursday against the Atlanta team that lit him up for eight to start his negative trend, or Philly, the only Eastern Conference team we haven’t beaten this year. I wouldn’t mind giving him the chance to shut down the struggling Thrashers on home ice on Thursday. The defencemen had bailed him out a lot throughout the night when rebounds kicked aimlessly off his pads. His positioning still leaves a lot to be desired but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

How to win a game without your top line
Here’s an analogy to explain the Pizza line, if you’ll just bear with me. To make pizza, you need dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and any toppings you like. Now imagine Alfie as the dough, Heatley as the tomato sauce, and Spezza as the cheese. If you eat any one of these three on their own, it isn’t much of anything. But put them together and you have a lovely pizza pie. This was the case tonight. In the rare instances that the three of them played together to form a delicious pie, they created chances and skated circles around the Penguins. But for the better part of the game, the cheese went in alone or the dough stickhandled his way into nowhere or the tomato sauce tried to go inside out and missed. Our top line is best when it performs like a pizza, not a bunch of individual ingredients. Not to worry tonight because the Smolinski line (with Shaefer and Neil) and the Martins line (with Varada and Schubert) carried the play.

How to win a game without Mike Fisher
With Fish out with the flu, our secondary scoring had to fill his ever-growing shoes. But if Fisher IS our secondary scoring, does that make Vermette and Shubert our tertiary scoring? Would we then become the only team with tertiary scoring? Once again, I digress. Shaefer played his best game of the season, bar none, and showed that he deserves to be on the second line. His wrist shot is lethal and with the duties of the second line catalyst, his game rose to a greater level. Smolinski also filled in admirably and fired six shots on net. Vermette is out of my doghouse (you NEVER want to be there) and is earning every minute of additional ice time he’s been getting. Funny what a little extra confidence can do for these depth players. And Schubert is still one of the hardest hitters on our team. Loving him out there!

The Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
- I believe this was the first game all season that Varada was finally rewarded by drawing a penalty. He took a sucker punch in the mouth from Andre Roy and reminded us of why we picked him up a few years ago.
- Outshot the Penguins 46-24. That typically wins games.
- Neil continues to be very sloppy out there. Poor passing and a general lack of purpose is making us forget about the little sparkplug that scored with ease in the first half of the season.
- Chara completely shut down Wunderkind Crosby. Sid even managed a terrible turnover that led to Chara’s goal and instead of getting back in the play to make amends, the kid skated off on a line change. Please, Wayne, don’t give in to the media. Crosby is good but he’s not ready for an injury replacement spot in Italy. Meanwhile, off in the distance, a 6’9” Slovak demolished a plate of ribs.
- Phillips continues to make a solid case for a taxi squad position. He stays back at the right times and he pinches in on the rush at the right time. He has finally adapted to the new style of the NHL and is in fact starting to take over. Good timing, buddy, but you still missed that cab in 2002! That one was mine, sucker.

Games this week
Wednesday in New York vs. the Rangers. I’ll be at the Bon Jovi concert in Greenville, SC wearing a jean jacket and mullet wig and taping the game. Where will you be?
Thursday hosting Atlanta
Saturday hosting Philly
That’s it before we cross our fingers that everyone makes it back healthy from the country that resembles a boot.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Razor - Theo - Biro

Although I could really care less, there is no doubt in my mind that Seattle got jobbed yesterday night - furthermore that is the last Superbowl I will ever watch - has there ever been anything so boring?

Anyways, after speaking to a reporter in Buffalo, it has been confirmed that Montreal wants Biron - The problem is that Buffalo does not want Theodore. Montreal is going to have to do some manuevering to pull this off. Personnaly I think Biron would look great in a Habs uuniform - a great French-Canadian boy - he would be a darling in no time. I am also a big fan of Biron's and I beleive he is too good to be sitting behind Miller.

There is also a bit of Panic in Sens land right now but Muckler is commited to Emery and will not make a move for a netminder. Emery has had some ups and downs this year but its important for us all to remember his age - this is a young man who has some growing up to do and will be just fine down the road. Do I think we need to take out an insurance policy on Hasek - no! If need be Emery will be fine.