Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That was fun! Thoughts on a wild night at SBP.

What a holiday treat for those at the SBP last night. The game was full of controversy and excitement, and best of all 2 big NE division points for the hometown Sens. Here are a few quick thoughts, before catching a train to Centre of the Universe...

Pascal "The Grinch" Leclaire
Sure it wasn't actually Christmas, but Pascal might have a new nickname after stealing a win from the Habs this Christmas season. Alternatively, Ottawa was full of holiday spirit and in the giving mood by offering Montreal continuous scoring chances in the first. However, the Grinch played his best period in barberpole pads to escape the frame only down a goal. In my opinion, the score should, well could, have been 5-1 at the end of one, and certainly out of reach. Leclaire was fittingly acknowledged as the first star of the game and definitely #1 in our hearts.

Next up - will Leclaire's new "Grinch" nickname stick? Ummm, no, it won't.

Senior Referees make Junior Calls
I won't dwell on the called back Fisher goal at the end of the second, though I certainly would if we had lost the game. Well, maybe I'll dwell for just a sec...or two...

1. Maybe it's a rule that you can't be too deep in to the crease, that's what they're saying so I guess I'll believe it. But if you're going to enforce it, you gotta be consistent. I've never seen that call before so how does a guy like Neil know what the typical boundaries are? It's not like he was sitting on Halak! And how will this affect our traffic in front of the net from here on in? I'll be interested to see if that call becomes more common throughout the NHL for the balance of the season.

2. If you're going to start making that call, don't make it in a 2-2 game between divisional rivals who are 1 point apart. Give me a break! Halak wasn't stopping that shot if Neil was behind the net. If you're going to introduce a call, make it at a meaningless blow out game.

Oh, one more....

3. If you watch the reply, Neil was parked at the top of the crease. When moving out of the way of the shot, his right leg moved back and his skate landed well into the crease (though still not making contact with the goalie). While the goal had already been scored, this is why I believe the call was made. If Neil's leg had stayed in it's original position, that goal stands. Pretty chincy...

Anyways, like I said, I won't dwell on it. But imagine if we had lost?

On the flip side, the refs partially made it up to us by not giving MTL a powerplay chance all night. While Ottawa played disciplined, I believe we got away with a Delay of Game penalty after clearing a puck up and over the boards. Some think it was deflected before going out, I don't.

Even the linesmen got into the action by calling Ottawa offside in the first as a 2 on 1 rush was developing between Kels and Cheechoo (I think). Looking at the replay, we were onside. That halted the rush and Montreal scored their first on the next shift.

Bizarre officiating on both sides. Hey, at least it was kind of even.

Kelly wears an 'A'
I'm not sure if this has been the case since Alfie got injured, but Kels sported an 'A' last night along side usual Alternates Fisher and Phillips. Interesting choice, don't ya think? I know Kels was captain in Bingo and has leadership qualities, but he's a struggling 3rd liner. My dad, who I got a chance to watch the game with, thinks Clouston is trying to bring the best out of Kelly - and I think he's right. Interesting decision nonetheless. Thoughts?

Side note - Ottawa has not given the 'C' to anyone in Alfie's absence and I like it. Alfie's our leader and that's why we have Alternates. Duffy disagrees, which may spark a war of words to come. While I like this, I still find it absurd that Toronto and Montreal are still without captains nearly half way through the campaign. Brutal, guys.

Kovalev's Quiet Production
At the beginning of the season, we all fell in love with Milan Michalek while our excitement for Alex Kovalev declined rapidly. Taking a quick peek at the stats, I was surprised to find the following:

Michalek: 39 games, 22 points, -5
Kovalev: 36 games, 21 points, +2

Now I know Michalek's been struggling with the loss of his two linemates while Kovy's had the benefit of playing game in-game out with Fisher, but I was still surprised to see his production has picked up so much (albeit, not in the goals category). 10 points in December may not warrant $5MM, but it's certainly encouraging to see l'Enigma pick up his production as of late. Next, we need both Michalek and Kovy to actually find the twine as it seems neither have scored since Halloween.

Let's just make sure nobody pinches Mike Fisher.

Ottawa's in for two tough games to round out 2009 vs. Colorado and the Islanders. 2009 has been a year of continuous improvement for Ottawa - from the losing days of Harsburg to a winning record under Clouston. Let's just hope 2010 is a great calendar year for the Sens, especially starting with 15 games in 29 days in January. Yikes!

That's it for me. Any more thoughts on last night's big win? Let us hear you, I've got some time this week... Gotta love the holidays!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sobering Egg Nog - We Might Miss the Playoffs

First off, Merry Christmas to everyone! It is a drizzling day here in South Carolina, far from the white Christmas weather I grew up with. Some traditions don't change, though, such as getting up early for a nice, big breakfast. Then, we make our way over to the tree and get into the presents. Without fail, the afternoon always turns into a quiet period where the family naps, reads the instruction manual of whatever big gift they received, or in my case, stops to pound out a quick blog.

Back to the headline: I said at the beginning of the season that the schedule can be broken down by points per month to help us determine how we need to do to make the playoffs. Read the article and argue with it here. We are rapidly approaching the first barometer and the news isn't good. I said we needed to have 50 points by the end of December to set a healthy pace to get to the 94 point magic number in April. Here at the Christmas break, we sit in 3rd place in the division with 40 points and only four games left this month. We have Buffalo on Saturday and we usually handle them well; we have Montreal on Monday and we've split with them so far; Colorado on Thursday will be a test and the Islanders on Thursday should be a win, given their recent struggles.

Either way, we're behind the pace. I know it isn't science, but it takes into account the opponents we've had thus far and the opponents we have coming up. For example, we have Boston three times in January. Do you want to wager a bet that Tim Thomas will be in the pipes for all three of those games? Here are a few other causes for concern:

- of the 37 games we have played so far, 21 have been at home. So of the 45 games we have remaining, 25 will be on the road. Problem - we're 5-10-1 on the road this year (compared to 13-5-3 at home). I can't remember a time when there was such a difference in home and away records. What I do know is that playing a lot on the road this spring doesn't bode well for wins, given how we've done so far.

- Alfie is hurt. We won't know until Saturday how bad the injury is and perhaps he'll be all ready to go. But the captain took a jarring hit from Adams - I personally thought that while the hit was clean, it was a blatant show of disrespect for a classy player in Alfie. I know that all players are fair game out there, but Alfie was fighting for the puck with Gonchar and Adams went out of his way to knock out one of the game's stars. Don't worry, I know that a similar discussion can be had for the Drury hit from Neil. I am not a pacifist and I still love fighting in hockey. I just think that there are players that you can hit and there are players that deserve more respect. The league continues to do NOTHING to protect its star players and they'll pay dearly for it when someone like Ovechkin misses half a season with a concussion.

But back to the other point - we stink without Alredsson. Completely terrible. I am expecting some beat writer to pull out our actual record without Alfie in the lineup, but I know it is so far below .500 that it is embarassing. Even the Leafs won without Sundin. Without Alfie, our players look lost and without purpose. If this injury keeps him out even 2-3 weeks, we're going to fall out of the picture and put ourselves in an uphill battle for the remainder of the year. (Update: we are 6-18-3 without Alfie. In a related story, I just threw up.).

- We still don't have a #1 centre. Stop ripping on Spezza for his slow start. He was coming along very well in the last two weeks and now we've lost him for two months. Regardless of his stats this year, it is insanely hard to win games without a number one centre. If nothing else, teams still have to put their top defensive pairing on the ice against him and Michalek, leaving more ice for Kovalev and Fisher. With Spezza out, teams can hone in on lesser players and stunt out already mediocre offence.

- Teams are getting to overtime at a striking pace. Can't remember the source, but games getting to overtime are up slightly over 20% this year. This means that those participation points are being thrown around to all sorts of teams. The 94 point threshold might not even hold up at this stage if teams have 10+ overtime losses.

And some quick hits:
- Our #1 goalie has a 2.98 GAA and .890 save percentage
- Our highest scoring defenceman has 14pts (Picard) and we're almost halfway through the year. Do the math - we probably won't have a single defenceman hit the 30 point mark.
- Our powerplay specialist has 5 points on the powerplay (1g, 4a).
- We will not have an 80pt scorer this year; possibly won't even have a 70pt player.
- Our powerplay number of 15.8% is fourth worst in the league

Listen, I'm the eternal optimist and love this team. I badly want to see us playing into April and May again and really think we can pull it off. I just see some disturbing trends that give me pause when planning trips to Ottawa for postseason games. If Alfredsson's injury is a few weeks or more and if we don't learn to win on the road, then dare I say our season ends in mid-April again.

Glass half empty? Maybe, but these guys better get back to winning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Duff spends extra day in Newark, Sens still lose.

I've spent the past two weeks outside of Newark on business and made the executive decision to stay an extra night to catch our heroes take on the Devils Friday night at the Rock. Obviously, I'll never pass on getting a chance to see the Sens play, right? But a win wasn't in the cards here.

If the Buffalo game was an example of how to play without Spezza, this game was one where we saw just how much we need him. 0 for 6 on the powerplay, including a 1:22 two-man advantage, was the difference. Forget the heartbreaker Salo-esque goal that Elliott let in to put us down a pair, it was the lack of a leader on the powerplay that I noticed the most.

Some will argue (effectively) that Alfie runs the powerplay, or Kuba, or Kovalev. I will say that they are critical elements in the equation, but it is Spezza's vision from the circle that starts the cycle and creates chances. Without him we're passing back point to point without the major threat of feeding it down low. 5 on 3 situations should be a goal 100% of the time and it is alarming that we've struggled so badly with it. I know we were playing a semi-decent goalie, aka the best in the world, but to not score in that much time is just plain dumb.

I'm still not sold on Karlsson, either. He sat idly by why Pandolfo scored what turned into the game winner and there is nothing he can do about it. He's small. He can handle the physical stuff decently, as evidenced by his battles with Langenbrunner, but I'm not completely sure why he's here ahead of Lee (I know he's hurt, but Murray chose EK before Lee's injury). I don't think he has earned a free pass and feel that from time to time, we are praising him for just not playing poorly. He needs to start helping this team!

Not much else to report on the game. It was entertaining and I thought we slightly outplayed and outchanced them. As was the case v Buffalo, we've gotta bury our chances! I know we've played two straight Olympic starting goalies, but our scoring chances are strong enough that these pucks need to find twine. Have we not seen what happens when we leave the result to goaltending? Time to finish, fellas.

Back at it tonight v the Wild and their new equipment. What a weird story!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sens Win! Pynch eats his words...and who's carrying the torch?

Did the Sens review the last ASB post in preparation for tonight's match against the Slugs? In my own personal dream world, I'd like to think so. But in reality, I'll eat my words and give credit where credit's due. If you scroll down, you'll read that I thought Ottawa's lack of offense was due to a lack of confidence in their goaltending. Well, as you saw tonight, Ottawa had their offensive swagger while the BE Keeper made big saves when needed. My own words taste delicious in a divisional win.

Anyways, a few quick thoughts...

- Elliot has 2 shutouts in 4 games. Nice! But don't expect him to keep his starting job once Leclaire is healthy. Snoopy is the better goaltender and constantly gives the forwards that confidence they need (I stand by it). Still, kudos to Elliot for a solid performance.

- Clouston looked once again like the saviour tonight. The typically high scoring and division leading Slugs had few shots and few chances against a system they couldn't solve. Not to knock Spez and Foligno, cause I'm big fans of both, but the Sens made it hard to miss them tonight. Great played, and coached, game all around.

- Breaking it down, our defence was rock solid tonight. Few mistakes and solid execution made Buffalo look like a non-threatening team all night.

- My only issue with tonight's game was scoring. Not offence, but scoring. Offensively, we might have had more chances than any game this season. And not only were the numbers high, but the quality of the chances were huge. The fact that our two goals weren't on their best chances is a little off setting. But, in a night like this, I'll move on and be pleased with the chances we had, those of which I was complaining about not getting 48 hours ago. Plus, I can't overlook that Miller is easily the best goaltender in the NHL this year. I've seen the numbers, but after watching tonight, I'm convinced.

- Take two: our forwards played very effectively tonight. I don't think there was a standout and aside from Ruutu's PIMs, I don't think there is anyone in the bad books. I'm interested to see who our friends at Silver Seven call Sens Zeroes in tonight's game.

- Campoli! A shoutout is deserved (in my humble opinion) to Camps who hasn't played forward since he was 5 or 6, according to him. I tried to watch him with each shift and he didn't seem out of place. Plus, he was able to chip in on the point on the PP. More than that, I also thought he brought a lot of energy to the 4th line. Good job that will hopefully continue as Foligno's out "indefinitely".

- To that point, Winchester and Regin stepped up big tonight in roles where they needed to. The top line is obviously less threatening without Spez, but Winnie played well and looked as if he might gel effectively in the games to come.

In a game where Clouston didn't name names, but said everyone needed to 'be better', we were better. We looked like a team united playing an effective system. Good. Now that we have that solved, let's practice putting the puck in the back of the net. Ok, ok, a bit unfair, but if we play like we did tonight and convert on those chances? I'm very happy.


Untraditionally, I'd like to quickly comment on an unrelated (slash, it's loosely related) topic in the sports world. On Saturday, Brian Burke will carry the Olympic Torch through Toronto. So, Burke is the Leafs GM. Fine. But he's also the GM of the American Olympic hockey team. Does that seem weird to anyone else but me? Aren't the Olympics in Canada? Aren't Canadians (both athletes and non-athletes) supposed to be honoured as torchbearers ? I'm confused. Please help!

While we'd prefer to read your comments on tonight's Sens game, and please let us hear them, we'd also appreciate any ideas as to the aforementioned torchbearer selection. It's just plain bizarre to me.

And, and, and, and GO!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is Leclaire the Key to our Offense?

Who wants to talk about the loss to the Leafs? I don't. Spezza was awful (yep, awful), Picard's a defensive liability and I hate Phil Kessel. But then again, I don't want to talk about the game, so I'll stop.

Wait. I have to talk about it to introduce my point, but only from a macro level.

Watching the game, I was continuously frustrated about our lack of offence. Listening to the Leafs feed, don't let Joe Bowen fool you that the Leafs defence is good. Leafs fans will say they are, but I'm not buying what they're schlepping. Instead, I believe our offence is bad...lately. Despite our offensive talent, we haven't seemed to have offensive excitement in recent games. A few good chances a game but not the flash that I think we are capable of - especially from our top two lines.

But why oh why do we seem to be clutching our sticks tight? It's easy to blame Clouston. Maybe he needs to work on the PP or try another coloured shirt than purple or orange, or is it violet and rust? Does he have a closet of those shirts? I digress. You could blame our D men for not being super good, but that's too easy and ruins my point. But I believe there is a strong link between our offence and our goaltending.

A few posts ago, I compared Elliot to having effective stats. And at the time, I wasn't wrong. And before the BE Keeper lovers set the stingers on me, I'm not here to rag on Elliot. But I am using stats that aren't in his favour. I must point out now that there are flaws in my argument. My stats are not in depth but are from a bird's eye view. This isn't golden but I'm not grasping at straws either. This is valid. Bare with me.

Before Snoopy was injured (and including the game that he was freaksihly injured), Ottawa was 12-9*, with 66 goals in 21 games.

After Snoopy was injured (not including the game that he was freakishly injured), Ottawa is 4-7*, with 26 goals in 11 games.

*Stats don't include OT wins

So what?

Goals per game with Snoopy = 3.14
Goals per game sans Snoopy = 2.36

I'm no mathmagician, but in the world of averages, this is crucial. With Leclaire healthy (I realize he wasn't always in net) Ottawa was averaging nearly a goal a game more than they are with Elliot at the reigns. Since his injury, we've only scored 4 goals in 2 games (and that's our goal maximum) twice - and that was against the lowly Hurricanes and Ducks.

With Leclaire healthy, we all saw a team that was willing to take offensive risks, rushes and chances but could rely on a guy who could make big stops and win games. We saw a more confident team with some flair and swagger. A winning team! Now, with every game Elliot plays, we appear to be less and less of a threat on the scoreboard. To me, this is a team that is well aware that a 2nd stringer is in net and are playing like it. A team that is gripping their sticks too tight and playing without a safety net. And yes, a losing team.

I like Elliot, I do, but as a back up. I just hope this is Leclaire's only injury of the season. If not, our boys need to play a little more desparate and let our keeper do his best to do his job. Hopefully when Snoopy returns, our team get exhale a little and focus on scoring more than the chance of getting scored against.

3.14 to 2.36. Ouch. We need more offence if we're going to stay in the playoff hunt. Confidence in goaltending = confidence in scoring. Am I wrong? Let's hear you. Or am I right? Then I really want to hear you!

Aaaaaaaaaand go!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big Week for Sens

Sorry for the lack of blogs from me lately (and thanks to Pynch for carrying the load).

This is a huge week for the Sens, not because the playoffs are close or because we're trying to snap a losing streak. It is huge because there are two key divisional games followed by a game in Newark that I'll be attending.

First, we have the Leafs on Monday. For the past five years, this hasn't been much of a contest. Either they are out of playoff contention or we're both out of playoff contention. It is no secret that the Battle of Ontario has become important only to people in...well, Ontario. That being said, I still get excited for these games because I see it as a game that we should just never lose. Toronto, while playing stronger over the past few weeks, should be our doormat. It is a team with one strong forward and so long as we stick our shutdown pair on Kessel, there shouldn't be an issue. Toronto will have line change advantage, but it shouldn't be a major problem for Clouston to get them on the ice, though we'll probably take a too many men minor for good measure. It would be nice to put this one away and get the week off to a nice start.

Buffalo games are always fun, too, as we have one on Wednesday. Buffalo is the division leader and boasts a top flight goalie in Ryan Miller, who should be in nets for the Slugs. I saw the Sabres beat the Rags at MSG on Saturday night (great rink, by the way) and they are skating well. Defensively, they keep you to the outside but they aren't as fast on the blueline and guys like Michalek and Fisher should be able to work their way back in to the front of the net. Beating the Slugs would give us a nice winning streak (assuming we handle the Laffs) and be a good barometer for this point in the season.

Friday night, I'll be risking my safety and health and going to the game in downtown Newark. I've been in NJ for a week and will be here this week for work, so I'm pumped about being able to sneak in a Sens game. The Devils have played us close (they play everyone close) and nothing is a guarantee against the greatest goalie in the world. It should be another interesting test for the squad before coming home to host the Wild on Saturday. 4 games in 6 nights is always a tough test but it doesn't make the wins any less important.

Remember, to be on pace for the magical 94pts in April, I said we'd need to have at least 50 points by the end of 2009. We have 36pts now and 10 more games this month. 7-3 is my math and it is no walk in the park. Winning at least three of the four this week would be a nice touch, eh?

Have a great week!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Karma or Statistics - Who Should Start in Net Tonight?

First off, congrats to Marty Brodeur for tieing Sawchuk's shutout record at 103 last night. It's only a matter of games before Marty seals his 104th, but hopefully he gets to do it at home in front of all 1,300 fans at the Prudential Centre. Let's just hope it's not on December 18th vs. the Sens.

As I watched the highlights of Marty's win, it made me yearn for a Sens shutout, of which we have yet to achieve in the 2009-2010 campaign. Back when obtained Leclaire I was very optimistic that he would return to his shut-em-out ways of the 2007-08 season, where he managed 9 shutouts in a career high 54 games played - 37.5% of his wins that season were by shutout!

Hold on...my head just exploded...

But alas, after 28 games this season we are still in search of our first goose egg between Snoopy and the BE Keeper. Now, I'm not coming down on our goaltending and think it's been very solid, despite a recent 3pt, 5 game road swing where the whole team seemed to be on vacation, with the exception of a few standouts. That all said, I keep itching to see a final score of:

Ottawa # - Visitor 0

Agree? Good.

That brings me to my question of who should start in net tonight. Over the course of the dismal road swing, I kept reading people plead for Mike "Don't Call Me Marty" Brodeur to start a game, but Clouston kept with BE. Now that the Keeper has played 5 straight games on the road (and every game since and including the broken jaw incident), is it time for him to rest?

Now this is getting a little crazy, but imagine this...

December 7 - Marty Brodeur records his 103rd shutout to tie the NHL record
December 8 - Mikey Brodeaur records his 1st shutout in his first NHL game

Could fate be on our side tonight? Or am I crazy? Coming back down to Earth, maybe Mikey B is ready and he just deserves a start. Maybe he's jacked about his distant's cousin's success that he's pumped to play. Add that to the fact that MTL came off a 13 shot performance last night. Do you give this game to Brodeur.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that Ottawa returns to SBP tonight where Elliot is 4-0-2 this season with a 2.18 save percentage. Hmm, I like those odds.

The Habs are 2 points behind us. This is a good time to stretch our lead and a very important game following the road trip from hell. A first-half season must win if you ask me.

So who do you start??? Karma or Statistics?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Clouston: "Cory needs to be better"

How much further are we from getting this nugget from Clouston? Here is what we've heard from Cory in the past two weeks.

On Foligno:
- “Nick has got to be better. We’ve got to get him back on track and sitting back for a game might be good for him,” Clouston said before the game. “(Regin) has practised well. When he’s played well, he’s been very effective for us. We need him to come in and give us some energy.”

On Elliott:
- “Sometimes that’s the only difference in a win or loss,” said Clouston. “Any time you give up one or two goals you’d like to have back, you can’t be happy with it. His overall performance has been good, but in those key situations, especially on the road, you need your goalie to step up and be the best player on the ice at times.” "We needed a couple of saves, and to me, that was the difference. Brian’s fighting the puck right now. He’s having some adversity, or whatever you want to call it, but he’s got to find a way to battle through it.”

On Campoli:
- “There’s lots of reasons. He has to be better. It’s not always necessarily what somebody does wrong, but right now he hasn’t helped our power play as much as we need him to and he has to be more assertive 5-on-5. The big thing is the other guys don’t deserve to come out,”

On Shannon:
- "We need a little bit more from him, but it's not from a lack of effort,"

On Regin:
- “(Regin’s) not as assertive as we would like. I don’t know if the (shoulder) injury (he suffered earlier in the season) had played a part of it, but either way he has to be more of a factor in the physical department.”

On Lee:
- “I thought he kind of lost his game as of late. The last three or four games he’s looked a little indecisive and playing not to make a mistake. He’s got to go down and find his game again. He’s got to play important minutes, play bigger roles and be a dominant defenceman down there.”

So there are two different trains of thought here. On one hand, you can look at all of this and say how great it is to have organizational depth. There is legitimate healthy competition for icetime each and every night. Even with Chum hurt for a few months, we have an extra forward and can ensure that players skate hard every single game. Even on defence, we have 7 guys here and can make players earn their way into the lineup (or in Lee's case, try and earn his way onto the team at all).

On the other hand, I'm finding a bit ridiculous. We went into LA last night, a team loaded with hard skating youngsters that hit the corners and battle for pucks. So can you tell me why in blue blazes Nick Foligno was asked to sit in the press box in favour Ryan Keller? Instead of having a legit NHL player and occasional top six forward in Foligno fighting for pucks in a game that fit his style perfectly, we put in some useless, faceless, nameless AHLer to bang out 6 minutes of icetime.

There is a time to send a message and there is a time to try and win a game. You can't tell me that there are many Senators that work much harder than Foligno on a daily basis. Every time you hear him talk, he is praising the team, the organization, and the city. The kid loves it here and will fight to the death for his teammates. Does he really need to be cast aside in favour of Ryan Keller?

I like Cory Clouston. I think he's made chicken soup out of chicken shat here. I don't think he's a saviour and I don't think he's a Jack Adams person, though, and I'm starting to question some personnel decisions lately. Last night's game was perfect for Foligno and our team suffered because he wasn't in the lineup. What's worse is that Clouston seems to have a new player in his doghouse every single day. All those comments above are within the past two weeks. So every game when he scratches a player, he simply says that they need to be better and we move on.

What I'd like to see Clouston do is pull together a hard-working lineup of our top 12 forwards and let them have two weeks to work with the same linemates and see what chemistry comes of it. Apart from the top line of Michalek, Spezza, and Alfie (which is actually struggling in the backchecking lately), nobody gets two straight games together. Let the lineup stand for a few games and see the results.

Meanwhile, our powerplay has continued to toil in mediocrity (ranked 18th right now) and our penalty kill, while once a top five in the league is now giving up multiple powerplay goals per game. Add to the struggles of the special teams the fact that we're taking regular trips to the sin bin for TOO MANY MEN penalties and you have a problem. These penalties are unacceptable, people. Bench management can be an issue in minor hockey, but this is ridiculous to see at the NHL level. Whether it is Clouston or Carvel, someone needs to get their head on straight in running that bench. It's just dumb!

Finally, on Spezza: his point production is downright sad given his talents, and he looks like he's labouring out there. But is it possible that his presence on the ice has opened up space for Milan Michalek? I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt and in full disclosure mode, I'm a huge Spezza fan and will make excuses for him for a while (apart from the last post after the Sharks game). I'm trying to decide if he should be given some slack because his linemates are still putting up points. That being said, for $7M a year, you need to do more than make space. With the Savard contract official at $4.2M, it raises my expectations of Spezza to do MORE than just put up 80 points. I know Savard is older and the later years of that contract will stink. My point is that I want to find the positives in Spezza's season thus far, but with each passing game, it is becoming more of a challenge.

In the meantime, am I out to lunch on Clouston? I'd like him to stop telling the media who needs to be better each game and start actually making the players better!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Clouston, your highest paid player has a problem

Just wrapped up watching a rather pedestrian performance from the majority of the Senators in a game where you would really expect more. I know the players are saying all the right things with the 'we've moved on' bit, but those guys should have had far more fight in them. Leave it to Milan Michalek to provide our only spark out there, outside of some very strong shifts from Kovalev.

Before I get to my main point, I have to take one crack at Phillips and Volchenkov. I know A-Train has missed 14 games and to expect him back in game form against the top team in the league isn't fair. But these two guys lost EVERY SINGLE BATTLE tonight, whether in front of the net or chasing a puck in the corner. Our shutdown pair was downright awful. Our leaders didn't match their leaders, plain and simple. The second Marleau goal was a perfect example as both our guys are laying on the ice while Marleau essentially puts it away.

More importantly, though, and definitely more alarming, is the continued struggles of Jason Spezza. I threw so much support behind him this off-season coming off a very public divorce (ironic, as he was married, too). I even pumped up his tire when he had one goal in the first month and a half because he backchecked and was filling into form.

But to see him skate on the same pad as Thornton tonight was a blatant exposure that something isn't right with our young hero. Sure, Spetz doesn't have two other Olympians to feed all night (wait, he does, but they aren't Canadian...). But where Thornton outskated everyone in our zone tonight, Spezza too often was reaching with the twig. He was tapped off the puck on multiple occasions, and that is just when it wasn't already bouncing over his stick anyway.

I feel for the guy because he hasn't formed the chemistry with Michalek yet. If anything, it is Alfie and Watermelon Warrior that have meshed superbly. But if Spezza truly wants to get Olympic consideration (for 2014) and truly wants to be seen as one of the elite centres, he needs to rise up and make ANY linemate better. Right now, he's the anchor on that top line.

If his back is out, sit out the road trip. He's far more valuable to us in the stretch when teams really start to grind it out. Moreover, whether it is injury or he's got the blues, he is missing chances now to help us win games. 2 goals thus far is just not acceptable for someone of his talent, and fair or not, someone of his salary. I love the kid and hope that he can someday actually lead this team on a long playoff run in the post-Alfie era. But right now, he looks like a lost soul out there wondering if his ex is going to call and try and get back together.

One other thought on the Karlsson call-up. Okay, two thoughts. First, he played pretty well tonight and is very good at getting shots through from the point. Secondly, since nobody can really identify the main reason that he was called up and Lee was sent down when they really aren't playing that differently right now, is it possible he hated Upstate NY? He wouldn't be the first person to want to leave the city of Binghamton for reasons other than hockey. He goes from being a legend in Sweden, to living with the Alfredssons, to living in a shanty and riding buses. Perhaps he was homesick and asked openly about heading back to the SEL, which Murray should definitely decline. Ahh, maybe I just miss rumours...

Expecting a far, FAR more enthusiastic performance from our core players on Thursday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who Should Stay and Who Should Go

Update (1:58pm) - As reported on Silver Seven, Lee has been sent down. That answers the question below, right? Wrong! Erik Karlsson has been called up as A-Train will still not be ready. Can anyone take a stab at explaining this move? I thought Lee was going to be the odd man out, but why bring Karlsson up only to likely be sent back when Volchenkov's ready? Or, does Murray think that Karlsson's ready to take the next step and Picard is the odd man out? More defensive puzzles on this fine Friday...

First off, I already feel like to owe Jesse Winchester an apology. Before the season started, I played a little fortune telling on the expected production from our forwards. I won't bother adding the link as I don't want to easily expose my mistakes...and I certainly made some. I expected Spezza to fly out of the gate and have his best season ever, while I didn't expect Fisher to finally get his act together and become a "Scoring Machine". Oops. But, hey, mistakes happen! Right, Nic Cage?

The one prediction I'm feeling bad about this week is that I said Winchester couldn't make it full time in the show. I expected him to play well in Bingo but never get a good enough chance to be called up and make a valuable impact. Double oops.

After watching the past two games, it looks to me as if Winnie belongs. He's playing great! Working hard, winning battles and creating chances. After being injured at the beginning of the season, I figured he would never claw his way back to Ottawa's competitive 3rd and 4th lines. But, he's easily fitting into Clouston's system and making the best of his opportunity with the club.

I love what I'm seeing! Keep it up Jesse! And, I'm sorry...

With Winchester's recent play, it's going to make it hard for early season fan fave Chum Donovan to make it back in. That's a ways a way, so no need to start that debate.

Segue into the more looming debate!

A-Train should be, should be, back soon and hitting every rookie in sight. I for one, can't wait. In his absence, the Sennies have played very strong hockey taking them to 1st in the NorthEast (well, at least for today). Does this mean Volchenkov will have a tough time getting back in the line up? Will the Leafs make the playoffs? Is Duff better than me? The answer to all the above is obviously no.

So what happens with #24 is ready to come back? There needs to be an odd man out, but who? For me, it's a death match between Picard and Lee. I almost added Campoli's name to the hit list but I feel like he's coming around after a sluggish start, I don't want to see him go. Typically, I'd be ready to send Picard back to the buses, but I'm surprising myself when I think he's played well enough to deserve an extended chance. (Not to mention, he could be a nice addition to a trade, so long as he doesn't completely stink it up). And so, I'm left with choosing our blonde wonder to take the trip back to the Bingo hall, er, Binghamton. I still don't want to give up on Lee, but patience is growing thin.

As we welcome back Volchenkov (whenever that may be), who do you think should go? Do you agree? Disagree? Or should Murray pursue a trade?

You're the GM today...GO!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Must Read Hockey Articles

In light of the 4-game winning streak and the ridiculous news of Pascal's broken jaw (okay, so maybe he is accident prone...), here are two must-read articles.

The first has been out for a while (last April) and I think the good fellas over at 6th Sens and Ottawa Start have already referenced it. It is a piece from Bruce Firestone's blog about why they chose Kanata for the Palladium/Corel Centre/Scotiabank Place. In light of the complaints lately about the poor Sens attendance and the reminders of how long a drive it is, this article sheds some light on that decision. Bruce even references the parking/traffic situation. I remember as a kid growing up in Kanata, I had the chance to meet Bruce and even played a bit of street hockey with him and his son with a buddy of mine. He was a terrific person and judging by some of his other blog entries, he's pretty brilliant, too. Have a read here.

The second article is from one of my favourite writers, John Buccigross. We had a Q&A with Bucci over the summer, prior to him taking nationwide heat for telling hockey fans that Heatley was involved in a three-way trade with SJ and LA. There were two ways to look at his story - one is that he said it was a done deal, which makes him wrong; and the other way is that he said Heatley would be a SJ Shark by the weekend, which was right. Either way, Bucci is an incredible hockey writer and it is sad to watch him on Sportscenter having to sound interested in the reasons why the Notre Dame Irish suck. Anyway, Bucci blogs twice a week on espn.com and has put up a phenomenal piece on Brian Burke's son, who is a gay hockey man with Miami University of Ohio. As much as I dislike Burkie's status now as the Leafs GM, this is a truly touching story of the Burke family. Check it out.

Use these as a diversion while you wait for the NJ and Columbus games on Wednesday and Thursday.

Go Sens Go.

pascal out 4 weeks

Broken jaw, likely needs surgery, out 4 weeks. The Other Brodeur is up.

File this under 'are you kidding me'.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Apologies to Mike Fisher

Another game against a contender, another win, and another strong performance from Mike 'Scoring Machine' Fisher. What made this game even more interesting was that just moments before Fisher incredibly batted a pass out of mid air and bunted it past Varlamov, it was our expected top scorer Jason Spezza that couldn't bury a golden two-on-one pass from Alfredsson.

Prior to the season, Pynch had a piece up here asking who should wear the A in Ottawa this year. For a few reasons, I said it should be Spezza over Fisher. My main point was that one of the key characteristics of a leader is someone that can take the team on his back and win a game. Going into this season, I didn't think Mike Fisher was capable of doing that. Sure, he could swing momentum in our favour with a big hit or a strong shift. But did anyone think that he would lead the team in game-winning goals (4) and overtime goals (2)?

This isn't meant as a knock on Spezza at all. I love the kid and hate seeing him stuck at just one goal. For a while, I thought nothing of his slump because he was getting helpers and he was getting more defensive zone duties. It was as if his transition into a terrific two-way player was underway. But at this point, I think it is fair to say the Spezz Dispenser is snakebit. He'll snap out of it and I still expect that he'll tear it up and lead the team in scoring. True story, I think he gets red hot and takes the team scoring title.

Let it not take, though, from the heroics of Fisher. It isn't just his forecheck anymore. His shots are finding holes and he's scoring at insanely clutch moments. Tonight, when this team had taken complete control of the game for the third period, it was Fisher that took it to the next level and buried the winner. Not Alfie, not Spezza, not Michalek, but Fisher.

It is for this reason that I offer sincere apologies to Fisher for doubting his ability to win us games. Whether it is the 'A' on the shirt or the ladyfriend in his life, the kid is en fuego right now. Imagine if Spezza was finding his scoring touch again?

Sadly, our smallest crowd of the year tonight makes us look a bit shatty for a Canadian team on a winning streak and hosting Ovechkin.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ottawa Topples Champs, Pynch Enjoys Broadcast

Great game, from what I saw... Unfortunately I was only able to catch it from the last 5 mins of the 2nd. From what I saw and what I'm reading this morning, Ottawa looked good and certainly picked up their pace from a sluggish game vs the bads on Tuesday.

Scoring! Hooray! While I was hoping Spezz would get one, I was happy to see Kels finally plug one in and Cheech get his second. I think I'll feel relief everytime #41 lights the lamp this year. I find myself really pulling for him to succeed.

Of course, special shoutouts to Philly on two grapes his 800th game and the Watermelon Warrior who clinched the century mark. Well done!

A great home game can allow us to really enjoy the start of this weekend, especially for those who get a free lunch today!

On a side note, does anyone know who was calling the game on TSN2? It was the Pittsburgh feed and I really enjoyed it. First off, it was nice to listen to an American broadcast that didn't need to explain offsides and icing. But, what I really liked is that these guys weren't homers. They praised Alfie's skating, recognized Spezza's funk (along with his talent) and really celebrated Big Rig's big night. Aside from the pronunciation of "Pee-card", I enjoyed their call.

Another huge test on Saturday against the division leading Slugs. Do you think we can actually achieve a sellout?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

5 Thoughts on the Sens win over Toronto

Five things on my mind tonight:

1. Snoopy bounced back phenomenally. How strange is it when our goalie has a rough week, gets blasted in the press and at the water coolers, and then manages to play terrific hockey in the final minutes of a one goal game? We are a city that has not really been that fair to goalies over the years. I wouldn't go as far as to call us a goaltending graveyard, but we run guys out of town pretty quickly. To see Pascal come back so strong tonight was a breath of fresh air. After the Kessel goal (which I will admit, he'd probably like to have back), he shut the door and made some superb saves. I also like Clouston saying today, "he's our number one goalie." Please make sure the Sun beat writer buffoons get that note.

2. Let's not call our offensive prowess into question just yet, but there are a handful of players that have lost their touch in the past few weeks. The top line of Alfie/Spezza/Michalek was regularly outplayed by a much weaker Kessel/Stajan/Blake line. We also had numerous chances in close and didn't bury them behind Toskala. We aren't a 6-goal team anymore and we really can't afford to let good scoring chances in the crease go by without banging it in. Guys like Foligno, Neil, Ruutu, Kelly, and Cheechoo need to have the NHL-worthy hands to bury one. For crying out loud, Fisher is our leading scorer! And he's doing it without AHL phenom Peter Regin! If we're going to be getting anywhere between two and four goals a night, we need to make sure we are finishing those scoring chances. Tonight, we missed a few opps.

3. Are we out of shape? In the Jacques Martin era, when Randy Lee was the strength and conditioning coach, we were universally mocked for doing post-game interviews on the exercise bike. As lame as it was to watch Redden huff and puff while talking about nothing, there wasn't a single question about our conditioning. Ever since Jacques left and Randy Lee was promoted, our conditioning isn't at the top of the league. There were murmurs two years ago when we bowed out to Pittsburgh in four (did that series even actually happen?) when it was said that we were in terrible shape as a team. Tonight, we looked slow and tired for long stretches. We're at home and playing a rival and we've been off since Saturday afternoon. There is no reason to be slow and tired! I'm putting out a notice that this team needs to get back in game shape pronto. If that means post-game excite bike interviews, go for it. We cannot be outskated by the Leafs like we were tonight. Most teams would have annhialated us.

4. Kudos to the defensive corps tonight for a strong effort in our own end. I know Picard and Campoli picked up a pair of helpers, but it was the combined effort below the circles that impressed me. We didn't hear much about Phillips and Carkner out there, but they blocked a tonne of shots. Pascal has solid rebound control, but we still need competent players to scoop it up and play it off the window. Tonight, during many Toronto flurries in our zone, our defencemen calmly played the puck out of harm's way. Let's be honest - we're still a mediocre defensive team - but tonight, they played with heart and character. The less rubber that makes it into the crease, the more wins we'll get.

5. We still find ways to win games, but there aren't many fans out there that think we're a really good team right now. Our powerplay is nauseating. Absolutely disgusting. The top unit looks for the most difficult pass through the box and then goes for it. Our second unit, from a personnel perspetive, is atrocious. Go figure, it takes the lightest shot of the night from Picard and Watermelon Warrior pulls it to the right for the tying goal. Simple passes, simple shots. This isn't rocket science. Clouston and Carvel, get your shat together. Battles in the corners are an issue, too. Scary when our most consistent and hardest working line consists of Neil, Ruutu and Donovan. That's a knock on the top six, people. Sure Fisher had some beauty shots tonight, but those top six need to start winning a damn battle on the forecheck and get some shots. My point here is that we have a very long way to go and a lot of work to do before we're worthy of making a splash. We can sneak into the playoffs, but efforts like tonight will get us no more than the first two games of the first round. Coaches - over to you guys. Get it together.

Sens Need to Score Early, Often

What's the most important thing tonight for Ottawa versus their provincial rivals? Offense. While we all snicker about the Leafs lack of offense this year, we only have 3 more goals (and one fewer game). Toronto is, not surprisingly, sputtering with a dismal group of forwards, our guys have been disappointing so far this season. The difference for us is that we have scoring talent, or supposed scoring talent. I don't need to name names here, but the fact is we need to get it going, and tonight's the perfect night to do so. Here are my reasons:

1. Having our old rivals in the SBP is always special. It's always a perfect opportunity to stick it to all the Leaf fans that come our in flocks. Let's score early and often.

2. The "monster" gave it away that the Leafs are likely starting Toskala. While once a good starter in SJ, Vesa has struggled in the lights of TO and his confidence appears shot. We need to get under his skin. And if it's Gustavsson between the pipes, he's coming off a shaky start and I'd like us to take it to him again, making Burkie look bad.

3. Toronto's D corps is truculent, belligerent, and...overrated. Schenn is having a typical sophomore slump, Beachemin has been exposed, Komisarek's hurt, and so on. We should be able to take advantage of this group with all of our 4 lines.

4. And frankly, Toronto's bad offense gives us a chance to take advantage of our breakout - move the puck quickly out of our zone and counterattack effectively.

Offense is key in tonight's win, but also to finally get it started this season.

Personally, I'd like to see a 14-1 win (expecting Leclaire to give up one softie). Delusional? Yes. But what's your prediction?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Late Day Thoughts

So, we all saw the stinker last night. It is what it is. What I wanted to discuss today was the fact that Clouston left Snoopy in for 60 minutes.

I've been a huge Leclaire supporter this season, and I'm not jumping off the bandwagon after his worst game of the year. But that's what it was, he was awful. He looked lost, allowing weak goals and playing the puck horribly. Yet, he was kept in the entire game. I had had enough after the 3rd goal, but he stayed in. Then I knew Clouston would take him out after the 4th, but nope! Wrong again.

In case you're wondering, I don't think goalies should be pulled after letting in 3 goals. I'm ok with leaving goalies in, unless they look bad. And Snoopy looked bad. He looked shaken, rattled, not himself. Taking him out of the game wouldn't have been a punishment, it should've been done to give Leclaire a break. It also gives Elliot some work. And who knows, it could've triggered the team that a much better effort was required, and maybe they would have a chance at a comeback. However, after the third goal, Leclaire let two more in, and we're all wondering who should start tomorrow afternoon.

If Leclaire had've been pulled, then I'd say to start him for sure. Despite a bad game, we could've reminded him that he's our guy and we want him in. But now, I don't know what I would do. On one hand, do you go back to Leclaire to give him confidence? Or do you sit him and give Elliot the work?

What would you do?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We won a shootout? And other thoughts...


1. Snoopy looked slow in the first, brilliant in the second and most of the third, and terrible on the Brule goal. That thing had shades of Martin Gerber. Bad goal at a worse time. I hate when the guy makes some unbelievable saves on breakaways and turnovers throughout the third period only to let one slip in like that. He stopped the two that he needed to in the shootout (though I could have stopped the Comrie wrister). Oddly enough, you can make an argument that we won because of Pascal or you can say that we won in spite of Pascal.

2. Alex Picard is awful. I know that we're going to get a cryptic response from Canucnik that I don't know that I'm talking about and don't know hockey, but he needs to learn from Carkner and the 'keep it simple, stupid' approach. Too many dipsy doodles equals too many turnovers. He shows up on the scoresheet for a strong offensive pinch on the Neil goal and I'll give him full credit for knowing when to go in, but his defensive play in our end was far too lacklustre.

3. Nice to see Ryan Shannon get some open ice to use his speed. I've made no secret that my expectations are low of him and think he's a product of the salary cap, but he had a hard-working game and made a nice pass on the Foligno goal.

4. I had no problem with the refs putting their whistle away tonight. Sure, there were some hooks and grabs in overtime, but it went for both teams. Games like that allow both teams to get into a flow and roll some 5-on-5 lines. I'll take our lineup against Edmonton's lineup anyday in 5-on-5, though we all decided to make it interesting.

5. Quote of the night from Galley, "the Senators equipment manager is taking the piano off of Cheechoo's back and taking it to the locker room." What a weird play! What was Visnovsky doing letting Kovalev just take it away? Cheechoo roofed it so quick that nobody really knew if it went in or not, plus the guy has scored so many goals that he didn't want to jump around like he just won the Cup. Then again, we all know that inside, he probably wanted to fly around the ice for a minute or two after getting that insanely huge monkey off his back. Perhaps he read the blog on Monday?! I'm pretty sure that Another Sens Blog is Clouston's homepage.

Strange win, flashes of solid hockey mixed with flashes of ugly breakdowns and turnovers. In the end, a win is a win is a win...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Cheechoo? We hardly knew you!

Here we are at the 14 game mark, closing in on a time in the season where it is completely fair to judge individual efforts. Some guys just take longer to get going and in Jonathan Cheechoo's case, he also has to learn the chemistry thing with changing linemates. We did an evaluation of the ever changing Cheechoo last week (link) and noted that he doesn't seem to be getting to the slot as much and he can't get his shot off as quick anymore. But perhaps there is more to this, which has become the worst start imaginable. For the numbers people, Cheechoo has appeared in all 14 games, registering 2 assists (no goals) and is a minus-2. The only worse statistical performance so far is Ryan Shannon, who makes a fraction of the salary and enters the season with far lower expectations. Plus, Shannon didn't get half a dozen games with Spezza and Michalek.

I wondered if Cheechoo was just a slow starter and typically finds his groove as the season goes on. Here's a look at his numbers the last few years, split by pre-All Star Game and post-All Star Game:

Pre ASG, 33 GP, 7g, 11a, 18pts
Post ASG, 33 GP, 5g, 6a, 11pts
That doesn't look good.

Pre ASG, 42 GP, 9g, 7a, 16pts
Post ASG, 27 GP, 14g, 7a, 21pts
Okay, so that one paints a picture of a slow starter

Pre ASG, 42 GP, 16g, 18a, 34pts
Post ASG, 34 GP, 21g, 14a, 35pts
Again, leaning toward the 'slow start'

Pre ASG, 56 GP, 34g, 22a, 56pts
Post ASG, 26 GP, 22g, 15a, 37pts
Even in his career season, he stepped it up considerably in the second portion.

I wish I could put more weight on this theory, and there is no question that we all want this story to end happily. Sadly, though, I think looking at his past numbers might be useless. While there is validity to those that say he is a late starter and that it will take him more time to get used to his role on this team, he just doesn't have that luxury on this team with his salary.

Cheechoo's cap hit is $3M, but his actual salary is $3.5M this year and next year. So we're paying this dude $7M (since this contract is not trade-able). I want to play another numbers game here:

Dany Heatley's salary last year: $10M
Dany Heatley's July 1st bonus: $4M
Jonathan Cheechoo's salary this year: $3.5M
Jonathan Cheechoo's salary next year: $3.5M


Ladies and gentlemen, not counting the efforts of Milan Michalek, Eugene Melnyk has paid out $17.5M already for 74 total points (the 72 pts last year from Heatley and the 2 assists from Cheechoo this year). Mr. Melnyk, we'll completely understand if you follow through on your grievance with the Heatley bonus. If nothing else, it reminds all of us how this situation is incredible FUBAR and you're still pissed about it. Outside of Michalek, you'll essentially end up paying $21M for close to nothing. Twenty one million dollars. One more time - $21,000,000.00 USD.

Okay, back to Cheechoo. I'm going to make a bold statement here that some fans won't agree with and will make Eugene cringe a bit more. We're basically playing all home games for the next two weeks, save one quick trip down to Philly on the 12th. I opine that Murray gives #41 until the end of this homestand that wraps up on the 23rd against the Caps to get his game looking like it is NHL-caliber. If he hasn't turned a corner, dare I say, he needs to go to Binghamton.

Benefits of Cheechoo going to Bingo:
- Cap Space. Right now, we have less than a million. Demoting Cheechoo early in the year gives us a good portion of that $3M and gives us flexibility at the deadline. Cap space is gold in this league.

- Easier line combos. Right now, we have a few guys in the press box each game. With Cheechoo out of the fold, there isn't that 'unspoken requirement' to have the expensive guy on the ice. Either the kids get the icetime or we have room for someone new. As it stands today, Cheechoo doesn't bring anything to his line. At least Winchester and Donovan hit the corners and Shannon can stickhandle...

- Cheechoo can find himself. Think about how much fan and medie attention Erik Karlsson has gotten since he was demoted a few weeks ago. Basically nothing. He was under immense pressure here but now he can play top minutes with zero fanfare. The same can be said for Cheechoo. Being sent to Binghamton might be the perfect recipe for a guy that can't find his role on a new team. Let him get some icetime, some speed, some hands, etc. Most important, let him find some confidence.

The obvious downside is that Eugene is dropping NHL money for a guy to play in the minors. It is just more salt on the Heatley wound. But he's a smart guy and he needs to look at that $14M as a sunk cost at this point (even if we, as fans, will still point it out). Move past the money you've spent because it isn't coming back. Focus on the team going forward and the handful of benefits that can come from Cheechoo being off the books. For all we know, he might hit it off with Denis Hamel or Zach Smith and pot a bunch of goals and get some mojo back.

The other argument is that it has only been 14 games. By giving him until the end of the homestand, he'll have 21 games under his belt. A quarter of the season is enough time to say yes or no on the guy, especially with that salary.

So what do you think? Am I being unfair? Or do you agree that we need to cut away from him for a bit?

Sorry, Cheech. Go find yourself and your game on the buses of the A. We need the cap space and you need the head space. Get it?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

ASB Happy Birthday Edition

As the Sens get set to face the Devils tonight, ASB would like to recognize Leclaire and his 27th birthday.

Happy Birthday Snoopy!

And as he blows out his pregame candles, you can bet he is wishing for nothing more than a big W Marty Brodeur and David Putty's Devils. NJ is on fire right now (pun intended), winning their last 4 and sitting in 5th in the East. Saturday night at home is a perfect opportunity to take them off their stride and give us a 2 game streak. An older, wiser Leclaire should be ready to make that happen.

As we wish Snoopy a happy day, it leads me to wonder what the other Sens would wish for when blowing out their candles. Here are some thoughts, just for fun...

Spez was all ready to wish for his first grape, but with that behind him, I'm sure he's wishing for a public speaking coach. But don't do it Spez! You're awful interviews are part of your charm.

Spez's new linemate/boyfriend, Milan Michalek, would be wishing for a mild Ottawa winter. This ain't watermelon country, warrior! At the same team, Cheechoo is not even thinking about adjusting to the change in winter weather, he's just wishing for an identity on the team.

AK27 would be wishing for your patience, while we all wish he came to play every minute. Now Kels is mad cause Kovy stole his wish, so he'll be wishing for new stick with goals in it, before having to resort to the old 'blade down the toilet' trick.

Winchester, Donovan and Shannon would all be wishing for a permanent spot on the team, while Lee is wishing people stop comparing him to Marc Stall.

Phillips would wish Volcheckov would heal faster, and that also goes for the balance of the D core. Picard would also wish to become captain someday, only to have the coolest nickname in the league.

Carks, who's birthday was this past week, wished to not be woken up from the dream. Campoli wishes to wake up from his early season nightmare.

Neil would be wishing to keep seeing his hit on Hedman, but also that all Sens road games are moved to SBP for the rest of the season.

Fisher would wish that he doesn't mess up the year he's having. Then we would thank God. Alfie would wish to retire as a Sen and have his number retired before his final game, matching my wish.

Clouston, of course, would wish for less penalties, a winning record, and that he never goes bald.

What am I missing? Who else needs a wish? Have some birthday fun and let us know what you think the boys would be wishing for if they were blowing out the candles today!

Oh, one more, his wish would be that I don't do this, but I'd like to wish my good friend Duff a very Happy Birthday today! Happy sweet 16 buddy...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Unfair InFLUence? Calgary and Toronto get the shot, we don't.

H1N1 is all the rage these days, and the Flames and Leafs decided they wanted none of it. Jumping the "high priority" line up, these clubs were offered the vaccination and the media is all over it. I'm not debating the morality from a public health point of view (well, maybe a little), but I'm wondering if this is fair from a hockey point of view.

The Leafs and Flames have been offered the shot, but what about the remaining 28 teams in the NHL, specifically the other 4 Canadian teams including your Ottawa Senators. Does the H1N1 shot give those teams an advantage while the others are left susceptible to a nasty flu virus? I think it could.

But then again, do we want to rally that the Sens and their families get the shot? I think not. And why not? Frankly, it's unfair to those high priority Canadians that just can't get it in time. We hold these hockey players and teams in high regard - they provide us with entertainment, debate and endless blog fodder; while working their butts off and traveling at a wild pace. For that, we thank them. But do they deserve the H1N1 shot over you and me?

Or, are you of the camp that the Flames and Leafs have opened the door and the Sens need to follow. Given what's at stake in the world of hockey (for the fans, the sponsors, the city, etc.) should our team not naturally be offered the shot to ensure a fair playing field? Imagine the virus sweeps the Sens dressing room and wipes out 5-6 players for a week. Egads! All the while, Toronto manages to collect three more OT losses with their healthy club. It just ain't right.

We've got about 10 hours to kill until game time, so what do you think of this issue? What side are you on?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What if our AHL team played in Ottawa?

When Erik Karlsson was sent down to Binghamton last week, I started wondering what would be the pros and cons of having the AHL team right in town. On the surface, you see the benefit of letting the kids hang around the big boys, see what it is like playing in an NHL market. It would also let management be very hands on in the development of the players. And Brian Lee could drive himself to the rink when he gets called up. But for every positive spin, I can start naming off many problems with the scenario. Here's a basic breakdown:

Benefits of having the AHL team in Ottawa:

1. The Murray Bros. could actively manage the system.

Some might see this as micromanagement and something that would take the elder Murray away from his attention on the big team, but that's nonsense. These are big boys and I think there is significant value in baing able to watch the minor league team first hand on a regular basis. The coaching staffs can work together, pool resources, share training facilities, etc.

2. It builds chemistry with the players.

Injuries happen (like the ones right now) and we're going to be calling players up throughout the year. By having the team in the same city, these players could potentially build some chemistry off the ice, as well as shorten the learning curve for the call-ups. The entire organization can work on the same system.

3. Logistical Eureka!

Brian Lee gets called up and drives down the Queensway to the rink. Brian Lee gets sent down and drives to the Civic Centre as planned. Every time a player is called up now, a car service is sent to Binghamton to pick up the player and make the 5-hour drive to Ottawa. That ends. And as I said earlier, Murray is at arms length to all of the organization - players, coaches, etc. Cancel the conference call number, just keep the Eugene Red Phone.

Drawbacks of having the AHL team in Ottawa:

1. Pissing off a fan base

Binghamton regularly is above 90% capacity in their arena (holds 4,717), which ranks them in the top 10% of the AHL. While we aren't sure if all Binghamtonians are Ottawa fans by default, it is safe to say that they do have an interest in what the parent club is doing. By taking away their team, we lose that fan base. Considering our footprint really goes from Stittsvilly to Vanier in terms of fan base, are we really in a position to turn our back on fans?

2. Can Ottawa support a third (fourth) team?

This is the big one, folks. The Sens will continue to pack the place. The 67's have become an amazing alternative for hockey fans as the community shows its love of minor hockey. The 67's are one of the top draws in the entire CHL, averagine over 8,000 a game. The 67's have sort of become the anti-Sens, almost like a first choice for fans that want to spend $15 on a ticket and stay in the city. Don't forget the Hull/Gatineau Olympiques across the river being a decent draw in the Q. Can Ottawa really support a fourth hockey team? Would it take fans away from the 67's and Piques?

3. Logistically nice, but financially awful.

For all the benefits of having the minor players down the street, the travel costs will undoubtedly skyrocket. Oh, they'll still jump on the bus, but add hours to every trip, add outrageous gas costs to every trip, and add another meal to every trip. They'll go through customs far more often and spend a significant number of additional hours on the bus, which isn't that fun. The costs of travel alone might rule this out.

4. It's been done and hasn't worked.

Okay, so we've looked at how the 67's have solid attendance and the B-Sens have solid attendance. That is reason enough to not mess with this. I then started to look at the rest of the AHL affiliates and their proximity to the parent club. With the Philadelphia Phantoms moving to New York after the team was sold last year, the Toronto Marlies are the only AHL team that is in the same city as their parent. The Marlies, from an attendance perspective, suck. Part of this might be because Leafs games aren't filled with hockey fans, but rather corporate suits that are hob-nobbing. This would mean that an AHL game isn't quite as glamorous as a client appreication night. But the Marlies had around 2,800 for their first playoff game and are quickly finding out what others in the past already knew - minor league hockey in city limits won't work for Toronto. There are some franchises that are 'close', such as Grant Rapids and Detroit, Pittsburgh and Scanton/Wilkes-Barre, but others are nowhere close. Buffalo was affiliated with Rochester in the past, but are now tied with Portlant, while Rochester feeds Florida. If the benefits of cost savings were so critical, don't you think teams would be interested in lining up the closest AHL franchise as their affiliate?

Conclusion - don't do it!

As much fun as it would be to have the feeder team right down the road, it just looks like it won't work. First, Bingo loves their team and it makes no sense to abandon them like that. Second, there are as many logistical and financial drawbacks as there are benefits. Third, it just hasn't worked around the league, so why not leave it alone and learn from everyone else's mistakes?

Any thoughts? Would you check out AHL games at $17 a ticket in Ottawa, in addition to the 67's, Piques, and Sens?

Here's a list of NHL/AHL affiliates, though this is a year old:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Lowell Devils (NJ)
Manchester Monarchs (LA)
Portland Pirates (BUF)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
Springfield Falcons (EDM)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)

East Division

Albany River Rats (CAR)
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (TB)
Philadelphia Phantoms (PHI)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

Western Conference

North Division

Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Manitoba Moose (VAN)
Rochester Americans (FLA)
Syracuse Crunch (CBJ)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)

West Division

Chicago Wolves (ATL)
Houston Aeros (MIN)
Iowa Stars (ANA)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Peoria Rivermen (STL)
Quad City Flames (CGY)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)
San Antonio Rampage (PHX)

Available: DAL - They will spread their players around the AHL for the 2008-2009 season.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Deep is our Depth?

Our first true test of the season isn't a certain opponent or a difficult road trip. It is battling the injury bug. These things are inevitable over the course of a long season, especially with the lunchpail style that Clouston has us playing. Each team battles the bug and so I'm happy to see the team isn't using it as an excuse for the complete bush league effort they put forth in Tampa on Thursday.

The test that will be presented to the team will be to see if our depth is just as good as we all think it is. The Michalek trade brought us two forwards (though only one of them has actually played so far this season...). Add this to the Kovalev signing and the emergence of Peter Regin as a decent player and we're advertising ourselves as a 4-line team that isn't nearly as top heavy as in the past.

Well, a pair of injuries are going to test just how deep we are. First, Jason Spezza is out (day-to-day) with what is believed to be a re-aggravated back injury. These things can be tricky and Clouston has eluded that this has been nagging Spezza since before the season. He has been ruled out for the Atlanta game Saturday and we aren't sure when he'll return. That means Ryan Shannon is pressed back into duty. After watching Thursday's game, it didn't feel like our 'depth' was quite where we thought it would be. Taking away one player, even if it is our most talented skater, shouldn't mean that the offence shuts down. I know it is one game and they travelled the night before, rah rah rah, so let's see how this goes in the next week.

When you take out Spezza, Kovalev floats all night, and Cheechoo has proven useless, the forward ranks seem to lack the depth we're praising. Fisher, Alfie, and Michalek have all looked solid all year long. Foligno really needs to step into a full-time role right now. Shannon needs to earn his icetime. Kovalev...ahhh, I have nothing to say about him. And Cheechoo, we're just hoping for any sign of life.

But the issues run back to the blueline, too. Anton Volchenkov is out a few weeks and not only does it mean we're missing our best shutdown player, it changes the makeup on the ice. First, the pairings get skewed and Campoli gets stuck playing with Brian Lee, who looked awful Thursday (full disclosure: I'm pulling for Lee, but he wasted a big opportunity in Tampa and stunk it up). It also means the forwards have to backcheck even harder because we don't have a warrior blocking the shots. Don't underestimate what A-Train does for the transition, as forwards don't all have to crash their own net and can focus on breaking out, knowing that the Russian will stick his body in front of anything.

The Volchenkov injury can expose a major weakness on the blueline. Phillips and Kuba isn't really a shutdown pair or a transition pair. I was hoping Carkner would get that spot with Big Rig so Kuba could stay with Campoli and spread out the task list. Instead, Campoli babysits Lee out there while Picard and Carkner hold their own in the third pairing (dare I say anything bad about Picard and risk feeling the wrath of canucnik).

Hey, I think we've got more depth than in years past. We roll four lines better than ever before. Our defencemen aren't quite up to snuff as we start leaning on four guys in the last 15 minutes, but they're getting by. But as long as Spezza and Volchenkov are out, our depth is tested. First assignment - facing a Thrashers team going through the same problem with Kovalchuk being out with the foot thingy. If the Sens are really capable of beating an opponent with all four lines, Saturday afternoon would be a nice time to show it off. Table is set. My guess is that Murray reaffirms his need for a better defenceman and realizes the forwards are good enough so long as they all show up to play.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Volchenkov out; Brian Lee in

Make us proud, Lee!

A-Train out for a while with an elbow injury sustained in the late third last night, crashing into the net. Carkner is expected to jump up with Big Rig, which would leave Lee with Picard on the third pairing.

On another note, we're 6-1 with Donovan and 0-3 without him...what an impact...and he didn't even get 5 minutes of icetime!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murray reads Another Sens Blog; then demotes Karlsson

From Brennan in the Sun, Karlsson has been sent to Bingo. This is after Murray confirmed with the league that the AHL demotion would NOT count as a year of his entry-level contract. Murray must read this blog. Or perhaps, he just knows how to do his job and the due diligence that accompanies it.

Murray said Karlsson was 'emotional' during the meeting, which clearly is code for crying. He is still 19 years old and chances are this is his first setback, if you can call it that, in a long time. I'm happy with the move. He isn't critical to our success this year, he can get more icetime down there to adapt to the game, and IT SAVES US A YEAR ON HIS CONTRACT! Add those up and to me, this was a no-brainer. We'll be thankful next year when the kid is ready to roll.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Point Taken, One Point Given Back; Plus, My Take on Cheechoo (with video)

Just 48 hours after stealing an undeserved point against the Predators, we graciously give one back by blowing a two-goal lead in the dying minutes before succumbing in overtime to the offensively-struggling Bruins.

I was preparing to write a really heartfelt blog about puck possession in the third period and how this team has really turned a corner. It turns out that we just made four left turns and are right back where we were a few days ago. This was ugly and there is just no excuse for it.

On one hand, some fans will look at this and call it even steven - we shouldn't have gotten any points against Nashville and we should have gotten two in this one, so we come out of it with two points. Statistically, that's fine but there are some psychological ramifications in this one, folks. This is two overtime games we've lost in a row and a brutally blown lead against a team that is missing Savard and Lucic and hasn't replaced Kessel. Sure, they've got a world-class goalie that robbed us a few times, but this was in the bag and we pulled it back out and handed it to them.

A quick shout out to Carkner's two fights and Neil's one wrestling match. Nice physical game from the whole team tonight.

A few highlights:

- Nobody was benched tonight! Hooray for Picard and Cheechoo! Ruutu had the least amount of icetime at 9:03, which means we rolled four lines for the better part of the game. This works better than draining the top six forwards and top two pairings when we get to the grinding days of March.

- Michalek is an amazing player. I said on the day of the trade that this guy was going to become a fan favourite and after a game like tonight, he should really start selling some jerseys soon. His speed is already known to be unreal, the best on the team. Add to that aspect that Watermelon Warrior is a very skilled penalty killer and we gain a nice edge. Also go ahead and add that he is enthusiastic and passionate out there. I love a guy that scores a go-ahead goal and jumps off the glass, cheering with the fans. Be happy that you scored, right Grapes? The kid is clearly fitting in well. Obviously, he doesn't take any heat from a hockey market when he keeps scoring, so that helps, although would it kill the kid to get an assist? Cy is gonna have a tough time, though, when his two linemates haven't scored in nine games, eh?

- Alfie was flying today. Not only did he show his skill on that shorthanded goal when he took a pass between his legs on his skate and withheld the reach on the way in, but he just had his poise back tonight. I thought he had a tough time corralling the puck Thursday, but it appears it was just a 24-hour bug for him as he was back on his game tonight. He's gonna have nightmares about the save that Thomas made on him on that great feed from Kovalev.


- I know that the last one was tipped in, and I know that we gave Leclaire a free pass after the six-spot, but I kinda hoped that BEe Keeper could have stopped one of those damn goals late in the third. It's hard to say that Pascal would have won that game, so I'm not going to say that (or did I just say that...). Still, you want your goalie to make that one huge save when you need it the most and we didn't get it tonight.

- Mike Fisher's clearing attempts. Sure, the ladies in the city will be blinded by those eyes and half the fans will be happy that he scored a dirty goal to get the edge, but his failure to clear the puck in the final minute is completely unacceptable from a professional. Puck on your stick, one goal lead, last minute, GET RID OF IT!!!! Fisher instead banked it off the boards in our zone and the puck stayed in, only to end up in the back of our net 15 seconds later. That's the tying goal, people. I just hate seeing fundamental hockey blown like that. Fish knows better. Sorry, Carrie, I know you don't like reading this stuff.

- I know that the local papers picked on him today, but I want to try and solve the riddle of Jonathan Cheechoo. Seriously, this is a guy that scored 56 goals. We have never seen a 56 goal scorer, so we don't even know just how often a guy has to put it in the net to accomplish this. In Heatley's two 50-goal seasons, he scored so damn often that you called him out if he went two games without a goal. Add six to that and it is Cheechoo's Maurice Richard Trophy winning season. So why can he not score a single goal in nine games this year, adding to a vicious downward trend since that season.

That's our transition into the Cheechoo piece.

Here's a 10 minute look at most of his 56 goals:

So here are some notes from that video:

1. Just about every single one of those goals is from the slot right in front of the net. Whether he's there receiving a pass (from Thornton, usually) or he is there in position to capitalize on a rebound, he scored a ton of goals in that zone. How often have you seen him there this year in Ottawa? This isn't rocket science. Spezza plays such a similar style to Thornton and has the puck on a string when they gain the zone, so there shouldn't be much of an adjustment.

2. He has a lightning fast release on that snap shot one-timer. Most of his shots this year - he has 20 shots in 9 games - are from difficult angles or with guys in his face. He hasn't found open space to be set up like he was in San Jose. Again, there should be so much open space when his linemates draw defenders and backcheckers, but he doesn't find the open ice.

3. He was semi-fast. He actually had enough speed to keep pace on a breakout or to fly down on a two-on-one odd man rush. I know he won't keep up with Michalek and Spezza, but he looks slow as hell out there right now.

Possible excuses/reasons for the slowdown:

1. The injury bug. Sure, I hear that. But we all heard he has done the recovery thing, worked out very hard this year, and is 100% healthy. Plus, injuries don't change how a guy like this scores goals in the slot. If it slows him down a bit, I get that, but it doesn't stop him from getting to the front of the net.

2. It was a fluke. I don't buy that. It WAS NOT fluke. Watch that video and tell me this guy didn't get in the slot and hammer home a ton of goals. He was an elite goal scorer and that doesn't happen by chance. On any given night, an average player can put up a a few goals and play out of their skates. Cheechoo had FIVE hat tricks in the 56 goal season. Five hat tricks. That isn't a fluke. He is good enough to score goals at this level.

3. Spezza is a rightie, Thornton was a leftie. I read this in the paper somewhere today and it is kinda valid, I guess. Thornton gains the blue line and veers to the right wing while looking for a pass. With Cheechoo being a right-hand shot, he's set up very well for a one-timer. Spezza gains the zone and heads to the left wing, meaning the one timer has to go across Cheechoo's body, which basically takes it out of the playbook. There is some merit to this, but again, watching that video showed that there were so many goals on broken plays, rebounds, and passes from behind the net from Thornton. Spezza gets behind the net a lot, as well, and Cheechoo needs to get his stick up in the slot and get something to eat.

I know Clouston has been working with him on driving to the net again and until he regains the knack for the crease, the dude is going to continue to struggle. As it stands today, he is a $3M forward that doesn't score, doesn't assist, doesn't play on the top powerplay, doesn't kill penalties, doesn't fight, doesn't forecheck, and doesn't make saves. I am a huge fan and would love to see this guy break out and get his career back on track, not just because it helps us but because it makes a great comeback story. He's going to get a free ride from fans for a while, but the more goals that Michalek puts in, the more we're going to wonder why Cheechoo can't do it, too. Hit the slot and start banging some home.

What do you guys think? How do we solve the riddle of Jonathan Cheechoo?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Being a Sens Fan

There you have it, in 63 minutes, we all see first hand how our season is likely to go. There were moments of brilliance, like Spezza flying end to end before flipping it back to A-Train for one of three tying goals we had. There were moments of humiliation, like Picard tipping it into his own net or the Kelly turnover behind the net (those are two of many, many turnovers and I'm sorry for picking on those two alone). Reasons to cheer and reasons to scream. Yep, that's what we're in for all year long. We are not a first place team but we are certainly far from a last place team. Much like we did in this game, we're going to have to fight for our lives until the bitter end, though we hope for a slightly better result than we saw tonight.

It is hard to really touch on all the highs and all the lows because there were just so many twists and turns tonight. Let's try and rattle off a few and you guys and girls can all add your own in the comments.

Things we can hang our hats on

1. Even though Jason Spezza had a few dumb passes in this one, he still flew on the ice. That was easily the fastest he has looked all season and he continues to backcheck harder and harder. I couldn't care less if he doesn't score a single goal all year if he plays like he did tonight (he'd also be on pace for 200+ assists...). Again, not excusing the dipsy doodles in the neutral zone, but he hardly looked like a guy with a nagging back problem. See that, Stevie Y?

2. Pascal. Can we honestly say enough about this guy? I have never before had great things to say about a goalie that just let in six goals, but this one easily could have been 10-0 after 40 minutes. Pascal is such a calming influence out there that it allows the defencemen to use their natural instincts to play to their fundamental ability instead of trying to overcompensate for a weak goalie that they don't trust. You can absolutely tell out there that those skaters know what they have in their nets. He's been very sharp and if he keeps this up, he'll be a huge reason for us making the playoffs.

3. Chris Campoli played his best game of his season. This goes beyond his goal on a 5-on-3 because those things should be automatic. He was second only to A-Train in icetime, putting in over 24 minutes and really looked like he had settled down when he was away from Karlsson. That isn't an intentional knock on the kid, and I know it is still early, but it does need to be pointed out that good players have looked bad when playing with Karlsson so far. I still believe he could do for some AHL time because expectations are unrealistically high (he's not a top ten pick, he's tiny, he needs to be in an environment with less consequence where he can get his mojo back). Full disclosure here, I'm a Campoli fan and think he rounds out our top four (I know that isn't a popular belief). Tonight, he proved that he can handle those minutes and that responsiblity.

Things that make you want to pull your hair out

There were a bunch. The first period was utterly disgusting. Top to bottom, the skaters looked like hell. The only notable performance out there was Snoopy, who for 40 minutes managed to keep this ONLY a three-goal deficit.

1. Turnovers. For the love of Pascal, can a brother get a breakout pass? In the first period, our best chance at getting the puck out of the zone was when the freaking linesman was fishing it out of our net for a centre ice faceoff! Unacceptable performance from professional hockey players. Picard, Phillips, Carkner, Karlsson, Campoli, Alfredsson, Fisher, Kovalev, Kovalev again, Kelly, those are guys that I can think of off the top of my head that turned it over in the first period alone in our end. Snoopy kept us in this.

2. Alex Kovalev, L'enigma. Alright, I'm not going to be the type of fan that does the 'I told you so' each time Kovalev and Carkner have bad games because I truly love these guys and want to see them succeed. I just thought Kovalev as awful tonight. Careless with the puck in all three zones. I get it, though, that's what he's going to be like all year. Then why did we give him $5M? I'm sorry, Sens fans, but for that amount of money, you have to be held to a much higher standard than a guy like a Carkner or a Shannon or anybody else making in the thousands. He's our third highest paid player and he played like hell tonight. It is fair as a fan to call him out for it.

3. Sorry to say it, but Alfie was off his game tonight. I know he finished with two assists (both second assists), but the puck wasn't staying on his blade tonight. Love the guy, but again, as a fan we're allowed to point out the highs and lows and this was an off night for the saviour.

4. Alex Picard stunk tonight, and he ruined Matt Carkner's night. He scored the first two himself on Leclaire and turned over the puck for the third. Picard finished a minus-3 while Carkner was a minus-4 and took the overtime penalty that led to the winner. I'm not going to get too down on this pairing because it is just one game, but now you'll excuse me when I don't soil myself if they have one good game, okay? They're regular players, both that have not played a full NHL season. They'll have great nights (and they have so far this year), and they'll have awful nights. Don't be shocked when I don't rush to the Sens Store for a Picard jersey if he has a multi-point night. Remember - I'm a Sens fan, too, and want nothing more than for all these guys to be superstars!

5. Picard and Cheechoo were notably benched late in the game. We expect that guys like Ruutu and Kelly are going to see less ice in a crazy third period when we need goals, but Cheechoo was pulled off the top line after 20 minutes and I don't remember seeing Picard hardly touching the ice in the third period. I do like how Clouston will send a message, though I don't want him to do it based on salary. If Kovalev is playing like shat, sit him down. This isn't the guidance counselor's office and we aren't handing out stickers. If you stink, you sit. Picard should know to get his stick out of the way of that shot and if he thought it was a pass, then he needs to clear it to the corner, not bury it in our own net.

6. One more - the penalties! Phillips missing the window on a clearing attempt right after we've tied it up is brutal. Then taking a too many men penalty is inexcusable! 4 guys out there at one time, folks, this isn't your first rodeo. We miraculously escape by getting a shortie of our own (Phillips comes back and TOTALLY redeems himself), then Carkner does the old 'kneel down behind the guy and flip him over' play. I have no problem with getting aggressive in the offensive zone, but it was a poor decision and we either would have lost on the 2-on-1 that he created for the Preds, or like we did on the ensuing powerplay from him taking the man down. Bad penalties at bad times and we made their powerplay look legit.

For practice - discipline and breakouts.

On a final note, so we can end this sandwich on a high, you've gotta love how they fought back so hard with five goals in the third period. It shouldn't have gotten so out of hand, but they tied it up three separate times in the third and earned a tough point that will go a long way in April when the dust settles. Commendable effort from the boys in the third period, especially that sickening wrister from Foligno. I love that kid! Also, we're now 0-2 without Chum Donovan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Midweek Hodge Podge

A few quick hits:
- Spezza left practice early with bumps and bruises and is still probable for tomorrow night. I like to see that the new Spezza gets bumped and bruised - it means he's battling.

- Kuba is still out. Healthy salad Clouston says it is groin/hip/pelvis and they can't seem to fix it. To me, this is sounding less of 'day-to-day' and more like 'indefinite'. Meanwhile, Picard, Campoli, and Karlsson can continue their extended tryouts.

- Ilja/Ilya Zubov is 'on loan' to Russia for the year, awaiting his inevitable trade to the Coyotes.

- Earl McRae continues to maintain the low, low standards of all Sun writers. His comments about Ottawa fans aren't controversial, they're just dumb. Maybe that earns him a spot in their Digital Faceoff. Roy McGregor, please come home!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I Don't Like The Carkner Signing...Today

It is a great story about perseverance, a local boy turned hero, the kid that worked through adversity and paid his dues. Matt Carkner, after 7 games with his hometown Senators, has been given a two-year extension at a modest $700K per year, and on a one-way deal.

Carks has showed his worth to this team in his short time here. He has great work ethic, he's a smart hockey player, and he's got that grit that we love. As Murray put it today, Carks will be a great influence on the new players on 'how to show up at camp, earn a spot, and keep it'. I really like the guy and think he's been one of our most consistent players. If it weren't for the incredible rebound years of A-Train and Big Rig, you could make an argument for Carkner being one of our best defenceman.

What stinks about this signing, though, is the timing of it. What does this accomplish? Why are we handing out one-way contracts to a guy with two weeks of service? In my opinion, there is nothing to lose in hanging out until the second half of the season to see how he does over the long haul? Hell, why not wait until June after the season, before he hits 'free agency'? I like the signing, but I definitely don't like it being done today. There was no need to do this now, long before we saw how he AND the rest of the defenceman perform over the season.

But his value can only go up during the season, Murray got him for a good deal
How much could his salary possibly have risen this season? He is a 28-year old rookie that has toiled in the minors. He isn't going to hit 20 points. His role is a stay at home defenceman in the second pairing at best. What is he possibly going to accomplish this year that will put his salary over a million dollars after one year in the league? I love the way he's playing, but let's not pretend that he's going to turn into a top pairing player and command in the millions. He'll continue in this role all year, getting PK minutes in the second or third pairing and we could sign him for the exact amount in June as we did today. I don't think we saved a paramount dollar figure by getting this done today.

But it is a small salary and a short term - it is movable, if necessary
Sure, it isn't a major hit on the cap, but it is money out of Eugene's pocket. If Carks needs to go to Bingo for any reason and he gets through waivers, we're paying him a fair amount of money to ride buses. Can you really tell me that Carkner wouldn't have accepted a two-way deal? I know that is kind of a slap in the face to a guy that just made it, but to get $700K in the bigs but keep the door open for a stint in Bingo shouldn't have been off the table. We already had to deal with Schubert for too long and finally moved him for nothing on waivers. While Carkner is a far better defenceman than Schubert, we could easily find ourselves in that same position.

But it creates healthy competition for Picard/Campoli/Karlsson/Lee to work harder
Why? Carkner doesn't play the same style as any of those guys. We know Phillips is a Senator for life and we know that Volchenkov is far too valuable to let go - they're both here for years to come. Carkner is now taking up a spot, as are Kuba, Campoli, and Picard. That makes a cool six, boys and girls. No Brian Lee, no Jared Cowen, and no Patrick Wiercioch. Oh yeah, and isn't there some Swedish kid that Murray says is going to continue getting playing time? I don't see how giving him the deal now, thus guaranteeing that Lee isn't in the regular lineup all year, creates healthy competition. Our options now become to either sit Picard, who has been playing solid hockey, or to sit Campoli, the guy that we gave up a first round pick to acquire and probably our second best offensive defenceman.

Listen, folks, I really like Matt Carkner. I'm glad he's got a contract and I'm thrilled with the way he is playing. I just think the contract is far too premature and was pointless to get done in October. He wasn't going to drive his price up over the season and it takes away a lot of flexibility on that blue line from both a coaching perspective and a management perspective. Glad he's here but am not thrilled at giving him a one-way contract so soon. It just doesn't make sense to me.