Friday, May 12, 2006

ROUND 2 GAME 4 - Ottawa @ Buffalo - 5.11.2006

Die Another Day, starring your Ottawa Senators
Photo: espn.com (AP Photo/Dean Duprey)

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Ottawa wins 2-1
Ottawa goals: Pothier (1) with a seeing-eye puck from the point that fluttered in, Redden (2, pp) walking in from the point with a pinball shot that eventually went in five-hole.
Making Sens(e): Emery, Havlat,
Not much Sens(e): Volchenkov, Heatley
It was over when: Redden opened the third with a powerplay goal, giving his teammates another chance to protect a third period lead.
It was definitely over when: Emery absolutely robbed Dumont in the dying minutes by getting his paw on a puck he had no business finding. Huge save. That’s the one we’ve been missing all series.
Message in a Molson bottle: Don’t get your hopes up, Hockey Country. We didn’t play that well tonight. Our defence had major trouble getting the puck out of the zone and our best forwards were pathetic. Alfie skated hard, but we need much more from him at this point. Heatley played like Arnason. So we’ve got another two days to continue talking about the Sens and Hasek and have to wait until next week until we get into the off-season rumours.
1st Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/boxscore?gid=2006051102
2nd Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=260511002

Grab a Timmy’s double-double and listen to what really happened:
A random tribute to Led Zeppelin songs:

I can’t quit you baby
As frustrated and upset I was with this team, and as much as I wanted to protest their performance by watching repeats of Everybody Loves Raymond, my TV clicker naturally found its way to OLN and my rear end found its way to the couch. Shockingly, my Daniel Alfredsson jersey found its way over my back. I can rant and rave about how poorly this team is playing, but it is still our team and I’m going to watch this season through until the last minute. Ray Emery can’t quit either – he was stellar in this game, including his highlight reel save on JP Dumont in the last two minutes of the game with a glove save out of nowhere. The kid is alright and at only 23 years old will hopefully have all of his confidence in tact to backstop this team for years to come. All we ask of our goalies is to give us a chance to win the game (and occasionally stand on their head while our defencemen take the night off…). Good on you, Rayzor.

The Song Remains the Same
But was it all peachy for our beleaguered heroes? Absolutely not. Call me unreasonable, but I still thought Volchenkov, apart from one diving stop to break up a 2-on-1, was just horrendous and directly caused the Briere goal that proved to be the only glitch in Emery’s night. Heatley was invisible except for the few times you’d see him skating away from the puck on a forecheck. Chara was no genius either, and for the first time in his career in Ottawa has been exposed as just a tad immobile when someone takes him on the outside. But we did a lot of little things better this time. Alfresson showed a bit of energy, even if I cringed when he found a way to MISS the net on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break. Our defencemen were a lot smarter when they jumped onto offensive rushes and a lot better at clearing rebounds and bodies from in front of Emery. You’ll recall with displeasure that it was an idle rebound in front of Emery that sent this series spiraling out of control in the first place. Bottom line is this: we had just enough energy and skill to make this series go another game, but the way Buffalo has played so far in this series, don’t think that this same performance from some of our key players will lead to a Game 6.

Bring it on Home
At one time during the regular season, we were good at home. After losing the first two games of this series, Buffalo has certainly negated, or at least minimized that advantage. I’m sure the place will be booming on Saturday night and rightfully so because wouldn’t it be great to once be noted around the league as the building that visitors are scared to play in? Instead, we’re known as the building that doesn’t allow horns and cowbells and has easy access for those that want to leave the game five minutes early to beat the bizzaro rush hour back onto the Queensway. If for no other reason, I think people should come out in droves for this game because it is realistically the last time we’ll see this talented of a lineup in Senators uniforms for a while. As we try to not bow out like the playoff lambs we’ve become known as, John Muckler has some very difficult decisions on his hands this summer. First things first, let’s just hope these guys muster enough courage to give their fans something to hold on to this summer.

Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. Only 15 turnovers. Only? That’s gotta keep coming down. Chara led the way with four of them, all failed attempts to clear the puck out of the zone. The dude still cranked out 30 minutes of ice time, though.
2. How about the Spezz Dispenser at 73% in the faceoff circle. I hope people realize how important it is in a series with two possession teams like this to win the faceoffs. Letting Buffalo win the draw and crank it up from their blue line isn’t our best option, in my opinion.
3. Blocked shots title goes to Buffalo, 18-11. We’re getting better, but McKee is standing in there and blocking 6 on his own. Did you know he’s a free agent this summer?
4. Outshot 16-3 in the second period – yes, that was very fun to watch, wasn’t it?
5. Hey Alfie, some underground B-movie director called, he loves your new moustache and wants you to star in the bedroom scene of his latest movie.
6. Hey Volchy, Bill Buckner called and ruled your failed puck-grab an error.
7. Don’t even bother to check this site daily – http://www.northeasthockey.blogspot.com/.

Upcoming Game
Saturday in Ottawa

Monday in Buffalo
Wednesday in Ottawa

Thursday, May 11, 2006

ROUND 2 GAME 3 - Ottawa @ Buffalo - 5.10.2006

Miracle on Ice. It’s a miracle this Ottawa team won the Eastern Conference. Tomorrow night’s game is strictly to save our Season Ticket Holders.

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Buffalo wins 3-2 (OT)
Ottawa goals: Spezza (4, pp) banking it in off the boards into an open net on a 5-on-3 – at least someone can score on a half open net; Spezza (5, pp) on a tip shot from the point with 90 seconds left in the third to tie it.
Making Sens(e): Havlat had one or two good shifts…
Not much Sens(e): the Ottawa Senators
It was over when: Dominik Hasek pronounced he wasn’t ready to play and Ray Emery, apparently fresh from a pep talk from Patrick Lalime, skated nervously out to the crease to start the game.
It was definitely over when: The puck dropped to start the game and we left our skill and effort in October. Yes, that’s right, a period of time. How this was a one-goal game is truly astonishing.
Message in a Molson bottle: Did anyone else think that Team Canada looked terribly lost in Torino a few months back? Team Canada would have demolished Ottawa tonight. I kept asking myself why Buffalo hadn’t pulled away from us and had no answer, because it certainly had nothing to do with us slowing them down. Top to bottom, we put in one of our worst postseason performances in modern day history, which is actually much more harsh considering our tendencies to be terrible past mid-April.
1st Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/boxscore?gid=2006051002
2nd Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=260510002

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

Short and Sour
Please excuse me if I don’t have the heart to go into detail on this game because it only makes me angry. Apparently, I’ve forgotten how to deal with losing games and so I pace around aimlessly for a few hours wondering what I should do this weekend, even though these same thoughts go through my mind every spring right around this time. Am I being pessimistic about the whole thing? You bet I am. If anyone in that Ottawa locker room tells you their lame clich├ęs of “why not us” and “we just need to find the net” and “we still expect to win this thing”, then they need to be let go of this team during the summer for being full of it. As a somewhat passionate fan (ahem) and I’m just tired of being lied to by my heroes on the ice. Coach Murray said he thought they played with a lot of effort but just couldn’t put the puck in the net. Murray has been honest with the media and fans all season long until he made this comment. Our best players on paper were our worst players on the ice. Our captain found a way to have even less of an impact. Our careless #1 centre found new ways to turn the puck over. Our shaky starting/backup goalie played like a guy that wants to lose his job to a 41-year old, our “best in the NHL” defensive group played like they figured they’d have a better chance to assist on a Buffalo goal than one of our own. To a man, the Ottawa Senators played an absolutely terrible game tonight. You know the outcome probably won’t be favourable when Bryan Smolinski is your best forward and has been for the entire series.

I don’t want to get into the swan song season summary stuff here. I’ll give them the opportunity, at least once more, to convince their fans, and most importantly their GM and owner, that they really believe that they are playing for something here. And you know what? This isn’t a European thing anymore – only three of our forwards are European (and one is Varada). This isn’t an experience thing – we’ve been in the postseason for the last nine seasons and were a couple of minutes from the Finals in 2002-03. This isn’t a grit thing – we hit bodies left and right. While people will spend the rest of this week and month and summer pointing fingers at who is to blame, I’m going to sit back on a lake somewhere with a bucket of beers until I can figure out exactly what this team is trying to accomplish. When I discover that truth, I will share it with each and every one of them and perhaps sometime in our lives, they’ll enter the postseason on a real mission. Not just the mission that shows up in print in the Ottawa Sun that looks real confident and cozy in September. Not just the mission that has us waving inflatable Cups around the city. But the mission of understanding why we’re there, why we want to be there, and what we will do to stay there as long as possible so that we are the last team to leave the ice. The impact of tonight’s loss and the loss of this series may just be pointing to a bigger issue in this lineup – they’re all just lost out there. Who are they playing for? What are they playing for? Why do they show up at the rink over the summer for conditioning? Why do thousands and thousands of people spend their vacation money just to see them work? Why do people hand them a pen and ask them to sign a piece of paper and wish them luck? Why are they our heroes? Again, what are they doing here? Can a single person in that locker room look me, a fan, in the face and answer that questions?

Man to man, these players need to ask these questions of themselves and each other, coaches and management included. Personally, I idolize John Muckler, I think Roy Mlakar and Eugene Melnyk have done wonders for this organization, and Bryan Murray is a stern coach that gives us an exciting product on the ice. Our captain is said to be one of the most talented players in the league. Our young forwards like Heatley, Spezza, and Havlat, are all so good that they are said to be leaving us at some point because they’ll be worth the league maximum at their current pace. Our defencemen are sought after by 29 teams as Norris-worthy All-Stars. Our starting goaltender was the most accomplished goalie both in the league and in the world. Our role players were seen as the grinders that took this team from great to exceptional. Somewhere in all of these previous statements, something terrible happened. Who wants to take a guess? At this point in time, I have opinions just like everyone else. And you can bet that our owner, Mr. Melnyk has an opinion, too, and his opinions will quickly turn into answers. Billionaires can do that.

Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. 23 turnovers. Did we learn one F#$%^ing thing in the first two games? In a word, no.
2. We missed the net on 22 shots, 4 alone from our sharp-shooting captain. If you were about to say that his last shot hit off the post and would have won the game, stop talking and think again if you really want to be praising our captain right now. That’s what I thought. I continue...
3. We blocked 8 Buffalo shots. They blocked 19 Ottawa shots. McKee and Numminen combined for 10 blocked shots alone. Is it possible to acquire intangibles in the off-season?
4. Alfredsson led the team in hits. How’s that for playing our physical style here. Nice work, morons.
5. In all honesty, if you were fortunate enough to NOT watch this game but wanted to know what all the fuss is about, think back to Ottawa games in the Civic Centre when we were a mere expansion team. Remember those days? We played like that, except we have millionaires now and we win Conference titles in the regular season.
6. Hey Zdeno, Shane Hnidy called and he said you were terrible. Ouch. You know it is bas when our worst defencemen ever (Ottawa Silver Seven included, I would guess) just called you out.
7. Hey Spezz Dispenser, Jacques Martin called; he said you’re still a boy. Spezza looked great for the split second he tipped the puck in. He was one of our worst players for the other 59:59.
8. Hey Alfie…nope, too easy and I’m only allowed 10 items. I’ll save a few for the summer.
9. Hey Rayzor – Lalime, Barrasso, and Tugnutt called and said your membership card is in the mail, although they are worried that their club is starting to lose its feeling of exclusivity.
10. Don’t even bother to check this site daily – http://www.northeasthockey.blogspot.com/.

Upcoming Game
Thursday in Buffalo

Saturday in Ottawa
Monday in Buffalo
Wednesday in Ottawa

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fan Poll Time Again!

Ok minions,

We all know that Mr. Murray has got to do something to shake up the team. Why you ask? Because we need to make the Sabres second guess themselves ; We need something to rally around ; we need to inject some confidance etc. Simply put, sometimes change for the sake of change is a good thing. So let's hear it, what is Murray going to do to add a spark to this team.

A) Throw in Mike Morrison
B) Throw in Arnasen
C) Throw in McGratton
D) Scratch a big Name player

Monday, May 08, 2006

ROUND 2 GAME 2 - Buffalo @ Ottawa - 5.8.2006

A lesson on how to protect a one-goal lead

Photo: sports.yahoo.com/nhl (AP PHOTO/CP, Jonathan Hayward)

The Balance in the Bank:

Final Score: Buffalo wins 2-1
Ottawa goals: Phillips (2) on a weak wrist shot from the point
Making Sens(e): Nobody. Fine, Spezza a bit, but not always
Not much Sens(e): Emery, Alfredsson with a capital C, Heatley, Schaefer
It was over when: Phillips became the latest Senator to turn the puck over, this time allowing Hecht to go in alone and beat Emery with a weak move on a clearly rattled goaltender.
It was definitely over when: Alfredsson chose to not take the team on his back and showed zero sense of urgency in the dying minutes, instead hoping Spezza would do everything himself.
Message in a Molson bottle: Disregard the fact that we totally outshot the Sabres tonight, because that isn’t the storyline. What is really becoming apparent here, is that we might be able to throw our bodies around a little bit but we still can’t seem to find a way to elevate our games to the caliber of our playoff opponents. Lots of scoring chances don’t mean a thing when you lose two games and then go to Buffalo to try and find a way to extend the season. Make no mistake, some players haven’t earned their playoff stripes yet and as a result, the Ottawa clock is ticking.
1st Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/boxscore?gid=2006050814
2nd Courtesy Boxscore: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=260508014

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

1st Period – Hotel Captaincy. Yes, we have vacany
Well, he’ll still have the title on Wednesday, but I’m officially jumping off the Daniel Alfredsson bandwagon. Frankly, it makes me borderline nauseous when I see him coasting up the ice in the dying minutes and making a flaky saucer pass that gets broken up in the neutral zone. For a guy who learned the NHL in a trapping system, you’d figure the guy might have an idea of how to get past it. If you figured that, then you’d be wrong, just like me. Whether Alfie is coughing up the puck as the last man out of the zone on the breakaway or shooting it two feet above a half open net, our beloved hero seems to believe that all we ask of him is to play like he did in the regular season. It is because of this mindset that you won’t find him putting home a single game winner in this and past editions of our postseason perils. By no means do I think our season is over, but by no means do I think our captain has done a single thing to extend it. A caller on the sports radio today thought that maybe Alfie has been hurt this playoffs and that is why we don’t see him much – if only we could believe this story. There is a reason why Derian Hatcher (an American) is the only non-Canadian to EVER captain a Stanley Cup champion. I don’t mind saying that Alfie has Wednesday and Thursday in Buffalo to prove to our no nonsense owner in Barbados that he does in fact want to lead this team in the future. There’s no time like the present, oh captain. Besides the empty-netter you scored in the first game against Tampa, you really have just one goal in your past twenty postseason games. I want you to be a Senator for life, now you just show me you want the same. Breaking up attacks in the neutral zone won’t cut it anymore. For those of you that think I’m out to lunch on this one, take a second and really think this one over, because I guarantee to you that John Muckler is.

2nd Period – The Big Save
In 1997, a puck went through Ron Tugnutt’s glove and trickled far too slowly through the crease and into our net as we lost out first ever playoff series in seven games to the Sabres. In 2003, New Jersey broke out and scored past Patrick Lalime in the second to last minute of the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final, holding us a game away from the fourth round. In 2004, Joe Nieuwendyk ended Lalime’s career in Ottawa by floating in a pair of first period goals in another seventh game that wasn’t meant to be. Our solution, brought to us from the great John Muckler, is now roaming around a training room for a third month and doing it to a third team. The alternative is Ray Emery, who played well enough to get by an inferior Tampa team that didn’t was probably the worst of the sixteen playoff teams. But here in the second round is a scene that the faithful in Hockey Country have become all too familiar with – goaltending shortcomings. I’ll be the first to say that these goals aren’t possible without Junior B turnovers by supposed NHL-caliber players. But I’ll follow that up immediately by pointing out that we’ve never had a goalie in the playoffs that can BAIL US OUT from these giveaways. Ray Emery was hung out to dry twice tonight – and he looked absolutely terrible both times. He may look calm and collected when he shows up, but if he really is carrying as much swagger as when he won his twelfth game in March, then he either has the mental toughness of a rhino or the mental memory of a housefly. I just hope that he has one or the other and he finds it in his talent to finally help this franchise with the big save. That is something we the emotionally over-attached in Ottawa have never seen.

3rd Period – Now what, genius?
Sure, I can sit here and point out who didn’t do their job while I tune in from a couch. Sure, I’ve come up on the complete opposite end of every single prediction I’ve made this calendar year. And sure, my expectations are said by some to be out of control at times. But that is neither here nor there, because all that matters now is what our coach can come up with for what will be the biggest 30 hours in the history of this franchise. For starters, the Pizza Line MUST be reunited. I’ve torn Alfie apart just two paragraphs ago, but he must now be given ample opportunity to take over this series with our other two top players. Second, it appears that Volchy is out after his body hit the boards and his noggin continued down the hallway on the half hit on Gaustad. That means that Schubie-Doo will be back on the blue line. He needs to play smart and use his 102 mph slapshot because it is apparent that the physical game didn’t win us the game. On that very note, I think it is time to try something new and put Arnason in for Varada. Vaclav was one of our more exciting players tonight, but gone is the need for the big hit and here is the need for the big goal. What better time for Arnie to show that he is worth a second look then by scoring in Buffalo? This one is a stretch, but our coach is a smart guy and knows that we have to have some sort of shakeup to knock this team off its underachieving course this round. And last but not least (and nearly impossible), imagine the shock in Buffalo if #39 skated out there in the pregame warmup? My thought process is that if your career is over (he’ll be 43 next year and unemployed), why not waste your groin/adductor in saving the season of your team? Go down and make a few incredible saves so that our team gets that fire in its eye to win a couple of games across the Falls. But since that won’t happen, does Murray consider that major shakeup of putting Morrison out there? Thus far, it has worked for Carolina and Anaheim, who both lead their series 2-0.

Loblaws Express Lane – 10 items or less
1. Outshot the Sabres 44-17, including 32-8 in the last two periods – can you guess who the first star was?
2. Eaves led the team with six shots on goal, most of them as he was banging away on scrambles in front of the net. Can you guess how many went in? Enough with the questions – here’s a fact: going 0-for-7 on the powerplay won’t pose well in your attempts to win a hockey game.
3. Hey Rayzor, Jason Giambi just called and he wants his slugging percentage back. No, wait, disregard that call, he just noticed your save percentage in this series.
4. Hey Alfie, Dora the Explorer just called. She wants her stupid little monkey back for her tour but he seems to have attached himself firmly on your back. Can you get him off and return him to Dora? Thanks.
5. Hey Chara, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters just called and said that he can turn around faster than you after watching you get burned on the outside yet again. And Baton Rouge called and said someone just ate your ribs because you didn’t get back there fast enough. It’s gotta stop, eh?
6. Hey Chara, Glen Kulka called and said he liked your form when you went down into a completely ineffective three-point stance in trying to break up the Dupont/Briere two-on-one in the second period.
7. Hey Chara, Darcy Tucker called and said you could have used one of his patented dive moves to break up that play. But I guess since we all hate him, you chose the football move instead. Fair enough.
8. Hey Senators, Phil Mickelson just called and he said part of the role of being the lovable loser is that you eventually win the whole thing. He suggests you watch a tape of the 2004 Masters to learn more because winning is a hell of a lot more fun than always losing.
9. Hey Geoff, Dennis Miller just called and he said your random references are weak and not very funny. If they’re going to be lame, at least make them so obscure that people don’t even know who you’re referencing, he adds. In the meantime, we need to dig down and win a pair. As I said with absolutely no exaggeration, Wednesday at 7pm is the beginning of the biggest 30 hours in the history of this franchise.
10. Don’t forget to check this site daily – http://www.northeasthockey.blogspot.com/.

Upcoming Games
Wednesday in Buffalo
Thursday in Buffalo
Saturday in Ottawa
Monday in Buffalo
Wednesday in Ottawa

GAMEDAY!

What to look for tonight in Ottawa:

1. Ray Emery will steal some goals back - this kid is one cool cat and he will rebound nicely tonight. Having the ability to shake off a bad game and to adjust after losing is what makes winners stand out. Ray will do it.

2. Daniel Alfredsson will score - there comes a time when a captain recognizes what he needs to accomplish. He has been playing well enough to not be torn apart throughout the city for not finding his way onto the scoresheet too much. Solid neutral zone and defensive zone play has been his style thus far while the other stars are lighting the lamp. But it takes a deflating loss to ruffle the feathers and I would imagine Alfie knows this city needs to see him pot a quick goal to keep the scoring balanced.

3. Martin Havlat will dominate - this kid is one fire and has scored with relative ease on the Sabres in the few games he HAS been in. Count on more tonight as his speed and skill is just too much for the Sabres defencemen, who also have to deal with the Spezza/Heatley combo and a dangerous Alfredsson.

4. We'll have 18 checkers - this just in, Buffalo doesn't have a response to our physical game. Philly lost out because they were too slow to finish a check. If you add physicality to our speed, we should be punishing this team every chance we get.

5. Wade Redden has a positive plus/minus - does anyone question his mental endurance? Redds will continue on with the outlet pass but will have better luck in his own zone with a smarter Meszaros and an entirely more conscience team.

Keep this in mind - losers adjust. We lost and now we have to adjust to fix our mistakes. Every game is the most important one of the season, and tonight's edition is no different. Gotta win this one to go into Buffalo with some momentum and a shutdown mentality.

Enjoy the game!