Friday, April 28, 2006

ROUND 1 GAME 4 - Ottawa @ Tampa Bay - 4.27.2006

“Nature vs. nurture, Lodge – Nature always wins” Photo from (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Ottawa wins 5-2 (6-2 if you see the replay of Spezza’s breakaway goal that was never reviewed)
Ottawa goals: Spezza (2) on a great cutback move off a pass from Heaters, Phillips (1) with a great snap shot that had the OLN crew wondering why he wasn’t a 50-goal scorer, Heatley (2, pp) on the same tic-tac-toe play on the man advantage where he just puts his stick beside the post and the puck finds it for a beauty, Havlat (5) who is for some reason left alone in the slot for a wrist shot short side, Neil (1) coming out of the penalty box on a breakaway and knocking in his own rebound – his way of stickin’ it to the man,
Making Sens(e): Emery, Havlat, Schaefer, Heatley, Spezza
Not much Sens(e): Smolinski wasn’t great – he simply doesn’t mesh well with Alfie, and Chara wasn’t outstanding.
It was over when: Heatley and Havlat scored 40 seconds apart to put the proverbial fork into these guys – they’re done.
It was definitely over when: Neil gave a nice F-U to the kind folks at Coach’s Corner with a breakaway goal to ice it in the third.
Message in a Molson bottle: Sometimes, skill just takes over. As it is beginning to show in the series, sometimes physicality and experience just don’t make up for a blatant disadvantage in talent. Solid game that had us in a slight trap in the final 20 minutes and just suffocating the Lightning to the point that their big three became invisible. Meanwhile, Havlat continues to lock up the Conn Smythe and Spezza and Heatley race to the stick rack and continue picking up points. As Coach Murray says, if Emery is our weak link, then I like our chances.
1st Courtesy Boxscore:
2nd Courtesy Boxscore:\

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

1st period – What are playoff jitters?
If you ask people like Spezza, Heatley, and Emery, they probably wouldn’t have an answer for you. Through the first four games, Spezza is making Jacques look like someone that took his skill for granted, Heatley is making John Muckler look like a genius, and Emery is begging the question of John Tortorella, “who did you say was the weak link in Ottawa?” Spezza and Heatley are carrying their chemistry over from the regular season and the fact that they are doing it without having Alfredsson on their line is a good thing because it lets us put our captain on a “third” line with mooks and still have the potential to score. Don’t look now, but the three leading scorers in the playoffs are Spezza, Heatley, and Havlat. Granted we’ve been playing against the worst goalies out of the 16 playoff teams, it is still great to exonerate any playoff jitters now against a weaker opponent and a weaker goalie so that we’ll be ready for the likes of a Huet.

2nd Period – Yeah, well my bench could beat your bench up
The reason for this is because by the end of the game, we were still rolling 3 ½ lines and Torts had been playing with two lines all night. Brad Richards, their #1 centre, had 9 more minutes of icetime than Jason Spezza, our #1 centre (he only played about 15 minutes). What a luxury we have of being able to put out three to four competent lines that all have the ability to either put the puck in the net or help keep it out of ours. Torts said at the start of the series he was going to play his big three and ride them as far as they could go. Apparently, that was about two games, because those dudes are simply out of steam and are looking for a fill-up. Meanwhile, Havlat is giving a post-game interview. The deeper we can go into the playoffs using this long bench, the more of an advantage we will continue to see against teams like Tampa (and dare I say, Montreal) that don’t have the talent and depth we have down on the third and fourth line – hey, Chris Neil is a 16-goal scorer on our fourth line!

3rd Period – How has everyone else played:
Alfie – I might be in the minority in Hockey Country where people’s moods change faster than Tampa’s goalies, but I’m still feeling just fine about Alfie’s capabilities in the post-season. Some people might think that he is disappearing in the playoffs, but others like myself think that it is great we can be dominating a series without the obvious help of our leader. I repeat it for those that don’t believe me – this guy WILL take the team on his back if/when others cool off and we need his skill.
Smolinski – I’ve always stuck up for Smoke (most of the time) as a solid two-way forward that does his job for the 12-15 minutes he’s on the ice, but I’m beginning to wonder where he fits into the grand scheme of things. He has absolutely NO chemistry with Alfredsson and Eaves, leaving him with no apparent “natural linemate” like his friends have. His role is no doubt reduced because we don’t need him to score each night, but I just wish he and Alfie could find the chemistry to give us a lethal third line.
Eaves – fitting in pretty well so far, although he had a rough few minutes in the first period last night. After being coaxed into a roughing penalty, he came out of the box following the kill and took his spot on the backcheck. Instead of picking up Richards on the blue line (who had the puck), he finished a weak check and allowed Richards to fire a slapshot from so close I think his stick hit the net on the follow-through. Finish the checks unless it takes you out of position. He is still looking great for a kid out there and he plays like a mini-Fisher.
Arnason – Still in the press box. It will take two injuries to forwards to get him in there since Murray loves Schubie-doo.
Kelly – he’s back in his role of a fourth liner and he’s playing hurt. Still the first one over the boards on the penalty kill, but lost his job on the top line (rightfully so as he isn’t a hands guy anyway).
Vermette – this guy gets better with icetime. Now the third man in on the top line, he has the ability to finish the play and if he just leaves the fancy stuff to Spezz, he’ll excel up there.
Meszaros – Let’s write off Game 2 as part of the learning process, because this guy is getting better and better with each game. I think it just took a couple of games for the young kids here to really learn what it meant when people said they had to raise their game to a new level. He is starting to raise his game.

Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. I can’t believe our powerplay was only 25% last night, down from the 43% it was going into the game.
2. Not only was Chris Neil’s breakaway goal the first of his playoff career, but it sent such a great message that the most hated man in Tampa Bay put the dagger in their season.
3. Emery was Rayzor sharp – get it? Kept us in the game in the first period when we should have been down more than one goal.
4. We’re still not getting many shots off – only 25 last night. Not as noticeable when we win, but we were averaging around 35 during the regular season.
5. Phillips always manage to score one of those beautiful goals every year when he sneaks up on the rush and wrists it into the top drawer. I just liked the one against New Jersey in 2003 better and hope this isn’t the last one he scores this year.
6. Let’s put this one away Saturday and then get some rest and eat some ribs and watch if Ryder and Higgins can pull that series off without their captain – hope he gets back. By the way, is it ironic that the NHLPA is overly concerned with protecting their players wallets but doesn’t seem to care at all about their health and safety by enforcing visors? Alanis, put that one in your song and get your toque back on for the video. All four of you.
7. Don’t forget to check this site daily –

Upcoming Games
Saturday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00
Monday @ Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)
Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

R.I.P. John Graham, 2005 - 2006

The major concern for the Tampa Bay Lightning coming into this series was the lackluster play of their goalies. Gone were the glory days of the Bulin wall and on was the horror show of the John Graham / Sean Burke tandem. What’s nice about the playoffs is that it gives you a chance to re-write the script if you have had an off year. According to Tortorella, he was confident that Graham would turn the page and start fresh – how wrong he was.

Graham has let in a staggering 12 goals in 2.5 games played for a GAA over 4. He was chased from the net early in the second last night after surrendering his fifth goal and allowing the Sens to shoot 33%. To further prove that he can’t handle the tough shot, the Sens are a whopping 42% on the pp. – unheard of in the NHL.

Dear old Torts claimed last night that they found the Sens weakest link – Ray Emery. I think you better look in your own house old man – Your goaltending situation is dire – Emery has outplayed Graham in every game series (Granted, Goto with two couch cushions taped to his legs could probably outplay him). Emery has made the tough save and although he may not have been spectacular – he has been close. Although John Graham will start next game, I am confident in saying – RIP, your living on borrowed time and your career is, for all intents and purposes, over.

ROUND 1 GAME 3 - Ottawa @ Tampa - 4.25.06

Turtles, monkeys, and heroism - that's how to win the big games Photo: (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Final Score: Ottawa wins 8-4
Ottawa goals: Havlat (3) on a great move down the right side and into the middle, Redden (1, pp) on a top shelf blast while walking in from the point, Eaves (1) after he and Alfie worked and hit their way to a successful forecheck and turnover, Havlat (4) blasts it coming off the left side off that beautiful backhanded outlet pass from Redden, Vermette (1) knocking in a rebound from Varada's shot from the half boards, Heatley (1, pp) on a tic-tac-toe 5-on-3 pass from Spezza from Redden, Chara (1, pp) on a bizzare play off a Tampa defenceman where the puck just bounced over Burke, Vermette (2) earning his keep on the top line with his second of the night.
Making Sens(e): Spezza, Schaefer, Fisher, Havlat, Redden, Chara, Neil, more
Not much Sens(e): Alfie, but no worries here.
It was over when: Vermette's first goal officially iced this game and the third period was just a formality.
It was definitely over when: Neiler earned his spot by suckering Chris Dingbat into seven minutes of penalties in the third period when the Lightning were mathematically still in the game. We scored two powerplay goals over that span.
Message in a Molson Bottle: The mistake for the poor Lightning here is they tried to play a physical game against us when the score was spiralling out of control. We will always win a physical game against these guys and when we play a tight, sound game and keep all five guys in the same zone, Tampa will just have no room to start up their attack. To all those panicking people back in Ottawa, take another look at the scoresheet from last night and then make a decision if you are going to cheer for this team or continue to look for similarities to our previous teams. These guys are for real.
Courtesy Boxscore #1:
Courtesy Boxscore #2:

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

1st Period - Heroism

For anyone that still questions what terms like 'team unity' and 'sportsmanship' and 'values' mean, take a long look at Wade Redden's performance last night. Direct from a family tragedy, Redds turns in a 1st star performance in all three areas of the ice. He puts up three points, uses the body behind Emery, and shows us again why his outlet pass is so important to our team's offence. Mucks, please make this guy a Senator-for-life. His maturity and leadership are setting an example for the excessive number of rookies and young stars in our lineup - we shouldn't take for granted the effect of his style on their futures. Congats to Wade on what would be considered an amazing performance on an ordinary night and is all the more special given his circumstances.

2nd Period - Monkeys

There are two kinds of monkeys in the playoffs - the proverbial monkeys and the actual monkeys. If you play in the NHL long enough, your back sometimes becomes targeted for one of this little proverbial fellas as they latch on to you for a few seasons and bring you down and create bad press and angry fans. We are slowly exorcising these monkeys off of our backs, most recently with goals from Chara, Redden, and Heatley. The Pizza Boys are starting to put up points and we're winning physical games. Monkey be gone. In terms of actual monkeys, I am slowly growing a passionate hatred for Martin St. Louis. He is very talented but very annoying and plays the role of mini-pest too well. If I were Zdeno, I would slather him with bbq sauce and...well, you know where this is headed. Sorry, coach, I can't play tonight, it's da mini-Lightning.

3rd Period - Turtles

Rarely do hockey fans love when a player turtles in a fight. But rarely do hockey fans see that performance result in a seven-minute powerplay. If you were like me and beginning to wonder what Chris Neil's role would be on this team, you needn't do more than watch him in last night's game throughout his shifts. He had a handful of Lightning chasing him around the rink, he had Dingman getting kicked out of the match, and he had a photographic grin on his face. If he wasn't given a third star at the game, let me give him that honour now. His performance was playoff-esque on its own, but important to remember is that it also sparks the rest of the lineup. We have guys on our team that have played a lot in the playoffs and then we have the opposite - those that are playing for the first time. Classic performances like Redden and Neil in this game send a great message to these kids about raising your game and keeping your self-discipline. Neil adds to that lesson. Now we just have to find someone to centre is line with Varada. Can McGrattan win a draw?

Overtime - Loblaws Express Lane (10 items or less)

1. Fear not Alfie's performance thus far. I know he isn't our best player so far, but that should be comforting to fans to know that the best of Alfredsson is still in his pocket. At some point, Havlat might slow down and Redden might slip up. That's when we will see Alfie take the game into his own hands. Hear me now, believe me later - Alfredsson will be the NHL playoff scoring leader.

2. Tampa's big three had 3 points and were a minus-5. Our big three had 8 pionts and were a plus+2 (Alfie).

3. Did Vermette look great on that top line or what? With Kelly injured again, let's hope Murray keeps this talent up there and continue to stress team play so that this line isn't a defensive liability out there.

4. I love the 'all five guys in the same zone' style of Bryan Murray. All five are in Tampa's zone at once on the forecheck, or all five guys are in the neutral zone and slowing down their forwards, or all five guys are in our own end helping with the backcheck. Beauty. The rule of thumb here is that the losers have to adjust - we adjusted and won. Your move, Torts.

5. Check up daily and forward to your friends - we need visitors!

Upcoming Games

Thursday at Tampa, Saturday in Ottawa, Monday in Tampa (if necessary), Wednesday in Ottawa (if necessary). All games at 7:00pm

Monday, April 24, 2006

ROUND 1 GAME 2 - Tampa Bay @ Ottawa - 4.23.2006

Sadly, we’ve turned this into a series. Also, before going on, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Redden family. (Photo from and AP Photo/Fred Chartrand/CP)

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Tampa Bay wins 4-3
Ottawa goals: Smolinski (1) firing in a rebound from the side after Grahame poorly played Volchenkov’s point shot, Havlat (2, pp) on a shot from the slot so quick the OLN cameras couldn’t keep up – Spezza beat out the icing and Heatley fed it in front to Marty, Schaefer (1) sliding in a wrist shot from the slot after Havlat put on some great moves inside the Lightning blue line.
Making Sens(e): Havlat, Fisher, Schaefer
Not much Sens(e): Alfredsson, Spezza, Emery, Volchenkov, Meszaros, Chara
It was over when: Martin St. Louis scored the second of their two unanswered goals in the third (both weak shots) and we responded with nothing.
It was definitely over when: The twenty minutes of third period play went by and we had mustered up a whopping two shots. Two.
Message in a Molson bottle: While admiring Schaefer’s goal to give us a third period lead that we are never used to giving up, the Lightning have turned this into a series. They made us look lazy, they made Emery look vulnerable, and they made the entire lineup look like it was full of Bonks and Hnidys instead of Alfredssons and Charas. This was not the third period that fans expected when we have an opportunity to go to Florida in the driver’s seat. Instead, defensive turnovers and heartless forwards are the headlines as Tampa takes over home ice advantage.
1st Courtesy Boxscore:
2nd Courtesy Boxscore:

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

1st period – Standing small on the blueline
Everyone has their opinion on why we lost this game. That includes me – and I hope John Muckler agrees with this. We are simply not the same team without Wade Redden in the lineup. Sure our top line isn’t matching their top line and sure Emery let in some weak goals (more on both), but I don’t think anyone can disagree with the fact that we would have won this game with the simple presence of Redds in the lineup. His 25 minutes of icetime would have eliminated at least one (maybe more, I’m not sure how Murray would have had them out there) of the defensive turnovers of Meszzy and Volchy that directly led to Lightning goals. It is no secret that Redden has the best first pass in the NHL, but he is an Olympian and All-Star also because he is simply one of the most solid and consistent defencemen in the league, as well. He’s back Tuesday with a heavy heart and fans should be thankful for his strength during this difficult time in his life.

2nd Period – Do the Lightning hate us?
Martin St. Louis says that yes, they do hate us. After watching Sunday’s game, the feeling is mutual – I detest Martin St. Louis for his scrawny stature and stupid peach fuzz and the way he hits Volchy and skates away while the other 9 skaters muck it up. It’s official - #26 in black is fair game now. In the meantime, people are starting to compare our top players with their top players. Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson were shown up last night by Lecavalier, Richards, and St. Louis, no question. At the same time, though, I don’t think it is quite time to bang the gong on our captain and company. If people are questioning whether or not Daniel Alfredsson will take this team on his back, stop it right now. Our expectations are that Alfie will see us through to the 16th win, not the second win. While I agree with everyone that it would be much nicer to see him lighting the lamp throughout the first round, I’d much rather he be at the top of his game in the third and fourth rounds. We are a good enough team that we should be walking through this series (yes, I’m overconfident) without worrying about whether or not Alfredsson and Spezza and Heatley are going to “finally” step up. For those that are still confident – great. For those that are ready to turn the captaincy over to Fisher and the alternate assignments to Havlat and Schaefer – listen to your captain’s words from before Game 1 and “relax”.

3rd Period – All we are saying….is give Ray a chance. Everybody now…
And on the same note as the last paragraph, let us not worry too much about a few weak pucks getting by Emery this time around. The dude won 23 games in half a season, breaking a couple of records and receiving a couple of awards and we still can’t let a game go by without throwing him to the wolves? While Emery could have come up with some timely saves on less than impossible shots in the third period, it is simply too soon to re-approach the training staff for a Hasek update. Emery is a confident young man with the confidence of his team. He played better than we asked him to on Friday night and a little worse than we wanted last night, but I’m sure for the remainder of this series and however far he might take us, he will give us the game that we need of him. That game is to keep us close and give our forwards, including Alfie, a chance to put one away. Chris Osgood, known through many circles as the worst goalie to win a Stanley Cup in the past 25 years, won his championship with a lineup much like ours – superior in every category over its opponent. Given the choice, I’d take the 2006 Ray Emery over the 1998 Chris Osgood ten times out of ten. Join me in supporting Ray Emery for every single minute of every game going forward.

Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. There goes another guarantee of us sweeping the first round. 0-for-2 and counting. Go Habs Go! Make one come true for me.
2. It is expected that Chris Kelly may not play tomorrow as Arnason was practicing today with the team. Also Vermette jumped up onto the Heatley/Spezza line. Could be fun to watch Vermie with the ice time again.
3. 2 shots in the third period. That is a storyline in itself.
4. Did anyone think that Martin Havlat would be the unquestionable leading player on our team after two games? He is absolutely flying out there.
5. Jason Spezza – 1 assist and 4 giveaways. When will be the day that he has one amazing pass for every bad turnover he gives up? The ratio is still way too far from the 1:1 that I’d like to see.
6. Richards turns it around and wins 70% of faceoffs, most against Smolinski.
7. Speaking of Smoke – I thought he was completely zoned in during the first period and was one of our top players. That was the first period.
8. Gone is the last line change and here is the dubious task of Chara hopping over the boards every chance he gets to match Lecavalier on the road. So far, I’d give the edge in this series to Vinny as Chara really hasn’t slowed him down too much. This needs to change ASAP or Baton Rouge will start closing early.
9. Don’t forget to check this site daily –

Upcoming Games
Tuesday @ Tampa Bay, 7:00
Thursday @ Tampa Bay, 7:00
Saturday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00
Monday @ Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)
Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, 7:00 (if necessary)