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?