First off, while the offensive sizzle and physical battles were not quite there in the game tonight, I didn't find it too boring. Pardon me if I respect a team that plays a great road game and completely shuts off the neutral zone. Furthermore, if we were worried about defensive zone coverage, all we needed was a bad opening night loss followed by three days of practice to fix it. Centres did a helluva job backchecking down to the slot and corners tonight and very rarely did we have trouble with the outlet pass past their truculent defencemen. Obviously we chased them around a bit in the late third, but that's more about Toronto facing hometown pressure to salvage pride and we still only gave up the one powerplay goal. All in all, I don't care that we only scored a pair tonight as the focus appeared more on helping out in our own end and holding them in line. The challenge will be to see if we can do that on a team that is completely effing awful like Toronto is.
I'm not an 'I told you so' person, but my knocks on Francois Beauchemin in the summer weren't out of jealousy or anger the he signed down the road. He truly was overrated and while I'm not surprised fans had clouded judgment and neglected to credit his defensive partner, the almighty Scott Niedermeyer, I thought Burkie would have known better. But focus was on truculence, right? And making the playoffs? Burkie fell victim to his own hypocricy and the only person that will enjoy it more than Habs and Sens fans is Peter Chiarelli.
But back to us - some other thoughts:
1. Erik Karlsson - I like him a lot back there. I will be the first to say that he has his defensive lapses, but he's in his SECOND NHL GAME EVER! In my opinion, so long as he isn't costing us wins, he is best served playing in the big leagues against the fastest skaters and hardest hitters. What is he going to accomplish in Binghamton, learn how to stick check Denis Hamel? Luke Schenn made it through last year as a decent player and we are all led to believe Karlsson, while of a different style than Schenn, is supposed to be the better player. He isn't going to lose us a game because he won't see much ice late in the close games, but he'll learn the speed and vision so much better at this level. I truly hope he stays.
2. AK27, l'Artiste, can be a magician with that puck. It's a shame that nobody cares to finish off his plays. I was talking with Pynch about this during the game and we agree that Clouston is kinda cornered here. Michalek is a better complement to Spezza and Alfie up front because of his speed and finish (though he could have finished the game off on the Schenn turnover...). So Kovalev, who is basically another Alfie, is stuck with guys that can skate fast and go to the corners, but lack the hands. It is night's like this that make me wish Cheechoo can quickly rediscover his mojo. Kovalev has the vision and the hands to feather a pass through legs and onto the net. Cheechoo and Clouston have talked about how the player needs to start driving the net and getting garbage goals again. Did the light bulb go off? First, Cheechoo needs to earn the icetime by showing some courage out there and working his way off the third line. After that, look out.
3. Phillips and Volchenkov looked very strong tonight. There were a couple of times where the former had trouble clearing the puck, which is unacceptable from a player of his experience, but their physical play tonight was a breath of fresh air. I can't wait to see Tavares try to cut in on A-Train on Thursday night like Stralberg did tonight.
4. Even knowing that Canuknik will disagree, I have to take a shot at Alex Picard. Dude gets back into the lineup based on the Kuba injury and shows his coach his value by fanning on passes and taking a lame hooking penalty in the third period. Contrast that with Donovan, who also made it into the game because of an injury - all Chum did was skate his ass off and score the first goal on a scramble in the crease. Alexandre - get your act together. Stop reinforcing what we already know in the only reason Lee was sent down was a dollars and cents thing. At least try and be an NHL calibre player; otherwise, you're another bad cap hit like Schubert was. You know who else proved his mettle tonight? Carkner. Solid game all around.
5. Pascal! I have a feeling most nights will end with me praising this guy. Perhaps it is his personality from his interviews that makes me love this goalie, or the barberpole pads. You can argue that he stole one for us tonight. They cranked it up in the third and his pad save on Stajan (is he supposed to be their goal scorer?) in the dying seconds was huge. In the face of oncoming pressure and momentum, all he did was make a huge save and freeze the puck. I know the last Kaberle shot looked harmless, but that is more because Pascal anticipated the play and bolted out of the crease to cut off that angle. Kaberle wound up and all he saw was this big, smiling French face a few feet away. Brilliant. There isn't anyone in Ottawa that isn't pulling for this guy to have a huge year and his first two games are kicking off the season great.
Final thoughts: It shows that there is a big difference in the style of preseason (open skating) and the regular season (far more grinding). Guys that excelled in the preseason need to make the adjustment now. Let's hope for old time's sake, we light up the Isles and get Garrioch off our backs about the goal scoring. And how great was Alfie's move? In earlier shootouts, he always took the shot but it sounds like he's been going all backhand deke in practice. Whatever, just score! Finally, what about the Kovalev saucer pass to Karlsson? That thing was five feet off the ground and landed flat in front of the kid for a one timer. I always thought Alfie had the best saucer pass in hockey, but I stand corrected. Kovalev looked superb in the second half, so poised with the puck. That's gonna help us so much in these one goal games.