Your first-place Ottawa Senators put up another W tonight, defeating the Atlanta Thrashers 4-2. Goals came from AK27, Ruutu, Fisher, and Neil. What's kinda funny about this is that you don't see any huge names in that list, but their combined salaries are actually is nearly $12.5M. Perhaps we just need to understand that this isn't a team of superstars anymore.
Think about it - for the past few years, we were criticized by fans and pundits for being a one-line team. All anybody had to do was shut down the top line and we were very ordinary (read: beatable). We, as fans, picked on the the second and third line for not carrying their weight and we were never taken seriously because we didn't have the depth. Now, we have plenty of it and people are going to criticize the top line for not earning their salaries.
Guys and girls, this is a team game and the Ottawa Senators now play a team system. We have one superstar in Spezza and we have one really heroic captain in Alfie. After that, we are loaded with very capable forwards that make anywhere between 500K and $5M. Some nights, the 500K guys are going to carry the load and put up some goals, while other nights, it is going to be the $5M guy. Either way, that's gravy for us. Instead of wondering when Spezza will get going, why don't we bask in the satisfaction of having scoring depth throughout the four lines? What a delight to be able to roll all the lines through the first 50 minutes of a game and know that anybody out there might pot a goal? This has got to be a massive weight of Spezza's shoulders! Again, instead of waiting for him to earn his $7M, why don't we just admire the support that he's finally getting from the lower lines? This is awesome!
Now I'm not going to sit here and praise the Clouston defensive system and talk about how he's a genius of hockey. To be honest, there really aren't that many different 'hockey systems' available to coaches. Clouston didn't invent anything here, but what he has done well is get the players to buy into it. Where his predecessors failed, he has shown his players that a high tempo style on the forecheck creates changes, and a collapsing defensive zone strategy helps the blueliners and Pascal (Elliot, in tonight's case) handle their duties. Paddock and Hartsburg just let the guys fly around the top line and backcheck when they felt it could help. Clouston has shown all 18 of these skaters that putting five guys in the zone together, whether it be our defensive zone, the neutral zone, or in the opponent's zone, we can use our speed and make things happen.
But your question is valid - we've beaten the Leafs, Islanders, and Thrashers, all whom finished below us in the standings last season. Our test comes Monday night, when we host a clicking Pittsubrgh Penguins team that just dismantled the Leafs tonight. Malkin and Staal were playing together with Crosby on his own line. This means Coach Clouston will have to decide if the Rig and Train play Geno or the Kid. Either way, it means that someone like Carkner or Karlsson is going to go up against a 100 point player. If our boys pull it off, then we can say with confidence that the winning record has some legitimacy to it.
And while I just praised the scoring depth of this team, is there anyone in Ottawa that isn't pulling hard for Michalek and Cheechoo to snap home some goals? We're uber-sensitive when we see Heatley get off to a hot start in San Jose, even if we know they'll collapse in the playoffs. Our cure is to see Milan 'Watermelon Warrior' Michalek bang one home on Tuesday. Ditto Cheechoo.
On a side note, Regin left the game in the third period with an upper body injury. We'll find out tomorrow or Monday if it is serious, otherwise Shannon might work his way back into the lineup. Clouston has said that nobody in the forward ranks should come out of the lineup right now, so injuries are the only way that Shannon (and Winchester) are getting in right now.