Monday, February 13, 2006

Sens Game Report - Philly at Ottawa - February 11, 2006

Photo: and CP

At least we can rest on a high note

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Ottawa wins 3-2
Ottawa goals: Vermette (12th) hammering it in on a wraparound, Varada (5th) on a wrist shot that Esche would like to have back, Heatley (34th) on a rebound after Eaves hit the post.
Making Sens(e): Vermette, Eaves
Not much Sens(e): Neil, Spezza
It was over when: Heatley put us up by three only 19 seconds into the second as one of those momentum stealers.
It was definitely over when: Hasek stood on his head throughout the third and kept the lead.
Message in a Molson bottle: The 10-4 and 8-0 games are gone now – we need to continue to find ways to win these tight games with solid goaltending, stingy defence, and well-timed goals. We took a solid lead and held it – playoff style hockey.
Courtesy Boxscore:

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

How to win a tight game
A “solid” win requires standup performances from most areas of your game. Some of those may be great goaltending, shutdown defence, opportunistic offence, an effective penalty kill, and a dominating powerplay. Well, our powerplay is still an issue (no goals in our last 24 man advantages), we got the other four in the Philly game. Hasek was great, the defence crashed in front of Dom, and our offence scored when we needed to. It could have been a bigger win had it not been for Nittymaki’s great play (he replaced Esche late in the first period as a shakeup move), or the three posts we hit. We also won more faceoffs and landed more bodychecks. This matchup is a likely Conference Final matchup and this win goes a long way in showing that we can beat the league’s elite. These are going to be the types of games we’ll need to win if we want to win this thing.

Not everything was working
The win is nice, but it didn’t exactly bring all that October confidence back. Spezza is still not the same #1 center, Alfredsson hasn’t been Alfie-like, and our powerplay continues to be shut out. It is still a cause for concern that our most consistent lines include such cats as Eaves, Vermette, Schubert, and Kelly. It is a nice feeling that these guys can get us through scoring slumps, but we’d all feel a lot more comfortable is the powerplay unit was knocking them down early and often. It is quite clear that this team is best when the Pizza line is intact and clicking. Otherwise, we’ll lean on these 3rd and 4th lines and Hasek to pull out the wins.

Sens Report Card (part deux)
The second half:

Here is what each of our players has done since 2006 began:

Zdeno Chara: The big guy. Big Z has dominated a couple of games and has stuck out on a few nights, as well. I don’t think his inconsistency is a cause for concern going forward as this guy gets better by playing. He will continue to log tons of ice time and, in my opinion, is someone we need to re-sign before the other 29 teams have a crack at him. Chara is best when he’s hitting bodies and crashing his own net. He is at his worst when he hangs back and doesn’t get his nose dirty. So, his area for improvement is to build the consistency to play like a 6’9” Slovak for the entire 28 minutes he’s on the ice.

Wade Redden: the master of the outlet pass has been consistently good lately, but he hasn’t been consistently great. But some might argue that is partly why Redden is so valuable to this team. Redden isn’t a spotlight type guy like Chara is, partly because he isn’t a tall tree and partly because we are just accustomed to Redds doing his job properly. I guess I had a problem with Redden as captain because he isn’t a take-over-the-game type of player and it just didn’t look like his game had risen to a new level. No matter, Redden will be a rock in the playoffs as he continues to build experience in high-pressure games, such as his upcoming stint in Italy. An area for improvement for the guy, in my opinion, is a sense of urgency. While I understand that his style of game is one of calamity and poise, there have been too many occasions late in the game where we need a leader to step up and start a game-tying attack – and he hasn’t done that. I’d like to see him get an assist on a late goal to tie it up sometime.

Chris Phillips: Well, what can I say about this guy other than that he is once again getting better as the season goes on. The first half of the year, he was almost expendable as he had a terrible time adjusting to the new rules and keeping up with the wingers coming down the side against him. Now, he has been our most consistent defenceman over the past month. He has also proven himself in the past as a solid playoff performer and there is no reason to doubt that this year will be any different. Phillips’ area for improvement is to continue to be physical – he is best when he is hitting his forecheckers in the corner and he gets beaten when he is standing around trying to poke at the puck from three feet away. Get the uniform dirty (not really a hockey phrase) and clean out your area.

Anton Volchenkov: When the A-Train broke into the league with decent play and bone-crushing open ice hits, we all we thrilled that he donned our colours. But as I’ve seen him play this year alongside Redden, I really see Volchenkov at his max – a 3rd or 4th defencemen. Whereas Redden and Chara are bona fide number ones and Meszaros and Phillips are great number twos, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Anton having to fill one of those roles. That’s just me. I like him out there with Redden because he is prone to mistakes but is still too good to just give up on. His play in 2006 has mirrored that of the entire defensive corps – up and down. His biggest area for improvement is to increase his presence out there. He’ll never be the hero and he’ll rarely be the scapegoat (that’s good, though), but someone like the A-Train that can change momentum with a well-timed hit needs to become more noticeable out there for his strong play. If teams begin to see that our fourth defencemen is better than the number one or number two, then that is a major advantage to us.

Andrej Meszaros: There aren’t enough good things to say about this kid right now. He makes it okay to think of life on the Sens without Redden if we lose him to free agency this summer. Meszzy has been incredibly solid for his age and experience has really shown that speed and skill is important for defencemen, as well, in this new NHL. I would have to say that one area for improvement for the kid might be to master the Redden outlet pass. Meszaros is never going to be the hitter that Phillips, Chara, and Volchenkov should be, and his style mirrors Redden in a lot of ways. What better skill to learn from #6 than the ability to get the puck out of the zone and onto your forwards tape in mere seconds after a dump-in. If we can have two guys that can make that pass on our team, we’re better than most.

Brian Pothier: Hmmm. As I’ve said earlier, we often get upset with Pothier because of unfair expectations. Compare him to any other 6th defencemen in the league and we should be thrilled that we have him on our team. He makes the occasional mistake and I think he is pretty weak at keeping the puck in the zone on powerplays, but he has still done a solid job out there considering the role he plays. He will never be anything more on this team than a 5th or 6th guy out there, and that should be fine with everyone. An area for improvement for Pothier is his stickwork – nothing fancy, but he is definitely the most awkward of all our defencemen when it comes to handling passes and clearing the zone. It hasn’t burned us yet, but one of these days a puck will hop over his stick on a powerplay pass to the point and our opponent will walk around him and score shorthanded. Let’s try and not let that happen.

Christoph Schubert: Can we really call him a defenceman anymore? I’m starting to believe that he is better at forward, anyway! One thing that has helped him on the blueline is the confidence he has gained from his ice time as a forward. He is noticeably better now than he was at the start of the season and is a good filler on the third pairing. An area for improvement for him on defence is just like the area for improvement for him as a forward – continue to learn the system and buy into it and touch up your game.

Dominik Hasek: Our MVP. Throughout the sometimes awful play this past month and a half, Dominator has kept up in games and given us a chance to win – that is why we signed him. I think we all cringe when he lies on the ice a little longer after a play is over and don’t breathe until he gets back up, but so far this year, the 41-year old has always gotten back up. Hasek will need to continue to be our MVP over the next few months and I really don’t mind him speaking his mind about the team’s performance and what it needs to do to win. This guy has won everything there is out there and it helps to have that experience in our room. An area for improvement, apart from his command of the English language, is his stickwork behind the net. For the most part, he has been patient and effective moving pucks out, but there are too many occasions when Phillips is coming back to play the puck and Dom fires it right past him along the boards. It isn’t a trust factor, it is just Dom being Dom and we will continue to let him get away with that kind of stuff.

Ray Emery: Yikes. The 8-goal shellacking that kicked off the new year has basically been the story line for Emery in the past six weeks. His positioning has been terrible, his reflexes are slow, and his confidence must be at an all-time low. To make matters worse, he actually gets negative press OFF the ice for his cute blonde hair, his love and respect for a convicted rapist, and his diet of roaches. It is very scary to think that Rayzer is one injury away from being our #1 goalie for a Cup run and Emery needs to do his best in the last portion of the season to calm our fears in this respect. His area for improvement could be one of a number of things, but I think focus is the most important. He needs to focus in practice at getting his body in the right place, he needs to focus on rebounds that are sitting in the crease or rolling behind him, and he needs to focus after he gives up a goal to get back in his groove before another one gets by him.

Games this week
None – Olympic schedule starts the 15th.