Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sens Ground Lightning! Highlights, highlights and highlights.

Ottawa wins! Hooraaah! That may have been the greatest regular season game in Sens history. Disagree? Fine. But let's agree it was our best of the year. What a game!

Great to see the boys bounce back from a loss with a solid and strong (strolid?) home effort. Thankfully, Tampa Bay isn't a very good team and we were able to take bigtime advantage before heading down the 417, but despite Tampa being bad, Ottawa was good. Very, very good.

I was pulling what's left of my hair out for the first 4 minutes (I literally lost it to Duff before we turned it around), but aside from that there were few negatives (save for the early PP, Karlsson's flat feet on Malone's goal and Ray Ferraro's commentary), so I'm not going to get into the negatives (slash, I just did). On the flip side, lots of postives, lots. And so, for your reading convenience, I'll list a bunch and focus on a few...

Snoopy! Again, it's nice to see us with a bonafide #1. While heartbreaking not to see a shutout, he played well when he had too.

The offense. From 12 to 19 goals in 60 minutes. Scoring from more than one line. And three points from Ruutu? Love it.

The PK. Continues to be impressive. Nearly dominant, actually. While Kels couldn't bury one (just sayin'), Michalek...well...keep reading...

Fight Night in Ottawa. Count em, 1-2-3. Nice to see Carks handle Downie. A little unfair? Who cares! That one was for former fan fave Speedy Dean McAmmond. The message? We're not soft.

Spez. Only one point on the scoresheet but a heck of a game. And what a pass for the Watermelon Warrior! That was his best game so far. More to come as the season continues...

Hockey Fights Cancer. It's just good. And kudos to the wives and gf's for working to support this crucial cause. (But where was Carrie Underwood?).

Foligno. While quiet most of the game, we need a large shoutout to Nick's first of the season on an obviously emotional night. Congrats 71.

The third period. While probably the most boring of the three, we played it textbook to hold a strong lead, and even scored a powerplay goal! Cognos employees celebrate!

The SENS! Best team effort possibly since 2007-08 season. They were effective in all zones, in all situations. This gives me a lot of early season confidence in Clouston and the well rounded team. I've only mentioned a few guys above, but everyone did a lot of things right to contribute to a great game.

And now, let's focus on a couple of guys.


Rookies beware, the A-Train's coming through. In the pregame, a major understatement was made when Ferraro said Volchenkov was becoming one of the game's best open ice hitters. And no, he didn't lay out anyone open ice, but he nearly made Hedman a permanent rinkboard with the hipcheck he laid out. Textbook. Another rookie understand's that #24 is lethal. And while that hit was good, A-Train was better. A lot of credit needs to be given to his overall defence. Small things. Positioning here, a poke check there. Volchenkov looked like a Norris candidate tonight.

The "Watermelon Warrior"

Does anyone disagree that Michalek's one of the funnest players to watch, ever? And I'm loving this nickname for reasons unknown! In the four previous games this season, WW had one goal. Sure. But the chances this guy gets are amazing! If he could capitalize on all the chances he gets, he'd be a 50 goal scorer easily. And tonight he looked like one. Three goals, a first-time chapeau, and several other good, quality chances. So much speed, great reads, this guy is FUN. Sure, he didn't score 5 on 5, do you care? When was the last time we had a guy with 2 shorties and a pp tally? Don't look it up, it doesn't matter. It's just awesome. Pun intended - hats off to the Watermelon Warrior! He's here to play, he's here to stay. Get your #9 jersey's NOW!

We like to write to create comments and get your points of view. Tonight, I don't expect any contraversial reactions because this was just an amazing game. So, we ask that you give us your thoughts on the game. Let's celebrate it. What are the highlights we missed? Is A-Train the real deal this year? And are YOU getting a Michalek jersey this fall?

Long season to go fans, but this was a great preview of what's possible...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

UPDATED AT 3:03PM...The Karlsson Kwagmire/Quagmire

Update from Murray in the Citizen is that Karlsson isn't going anywhere for the time being and the ten game mark has no bearing on his job. Karlsson is going to get his chance. Stand by your man, as they say.

Alright, so it has already garnered much debate in Hockey Country, but let's take a more objective view at the season ahead for superhero Erik Karlsson. Here's a kid that we took 15th overall two years ago that came with a fair amount of hype, though some of that was because the draft was in Ottawa and we all wanted a look at the new kid. We knew he was a skater but we also knew he was tiny. The excitement really picked up during last winter's World junior tournament (again, helps to have it in Ottawa) when he won Best Defenceman honours.

Enter this summer, when Bryan Murray brings the kid back over from Sweden and signs him to a 3-year entry level contract. We aren't sure if he'll crack the roster, go to Bingo, or get cut and go back to the Swedish Elite League (sorry, we've been burned by the Russians...). Murray squashes the discussion and says early and often that they expect the kid to make the team.

So we're now five games into the season and Karlsson has been average. What else could we have expected of a 19-year old who is living halfway around the world from home and playing 7 days a week against players that are bigger, stronger, and faster than anything he's ever seen? The fact that he's held his own is a testament to how good this kid will be for us for the next 15-18 years (just don't give him a NMC).

Now what? He's spotted one assist and is tied with Kovalev at the bottom with a minus-4. Again, I'm not picking on him, just pointing out the stats. The Kuba injury has left him without a mentor on the ice and that has been a factor, no question. But what do we do with him approaching his ten-game mark?

When I first saw the discussion about sending him down after nine games, I thought that it only applied to players being returned to junior hockey. For those that don't know, a player on an entry-level contract that signed at 18 or 19 years old can be sent down before playing their 10th NHL game and it won't count against a year of that entry level deal.

Quoted from CBA Section 9.1(d)(i): In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC.
-- Summary: any player signing their ELC at age 18 or 19 will have their contract extended a year if they do not play in at least 10 NHL games. Players originally signed at 18 can be extended a 2nd time [at age 19] if they do not play in 10 NHL games again the second year. Once a player reaches the 10 NHL game threshold their contract cannot be extended in a future season. e.g. an 18 year old signs and plays 20 NHL games, then the next season at age 19 he plays zero NHL games: the contract cannot be extended. This rule is not restricted to only players returned to the CHL juniors, for example a USHL 18 year old player could be signed and assigned to the AHL. Teams can also use this rule to give draftees a taste of the NHL at the end of the season. For example Phoenix signed Kyle Turris out of college to play the last 3 games of the 07-08 NHL season. Because Turris didn't meet the 10 NHL game threshold his 3 year ELC contract originally signed for 2007-2008 through 2009-2010 was extended until 2010-2011.

I actually did read somewhere that it might hurt his ego/confidence as he'd see it as a demotion if he were sent to Binghamton. I actually agree with this - he is very confident and he would take this hard. But this isn't a new path for rookies. Last year, Phoenix gambled by bringing all of their kids up to the big boy squad with mixed results. They hung around in the West for a while but in the end, the kids weren't ready for the full season. This year, Don Moloney (under guidance from nobody, I guess) made the decision to bring in some vets like Vrbata, again, and Aucoin and they've sent Kyle Turris (19 years old) and Viktor Tikhonov (21 years old) back to the AHL. The team is doing fine and they're telling those two players to work hard, listen to your coaches, and we'll see you when you're good and ready for full-time duty.

Back to our kid - how do we handle this? From a contractual standpoint, there is merit in sending him down before the 10 game mark as it keeps him on the ELC for another year. From a performance standpoint, we might miss the offensive game that we all know he will find sooner or later. From a development standpoint, will he grow more in Ottawa with the big boys throwing him around, or in the AHL where he could dominate and adapt to the North American style? There are certainly strong arguments for both sides.

My opinion is to give him until the 9 game mark, including one or two paired with Kuba. If he still looks like he's a ways off, then have Bryan sit him down for a man-t0-man talk about how critical he is to the future of this team, and then give him a list of things to work on in upstate New York. I love the kid and know that he'll be a top pairing player for us in the near future. But for every Matt Ryan there is in the NFL, there's three Alex Smiths. Let the kid work his way up the system and we'll be better in the long run. In the meantime, let's enjoy the four more games we're guaranteed to see him. And hopefully Bibi and the boys pack some tupperware of Swedish meatballs for him to take on the road, because I don't think Binghamton is IKEA worthy just yet.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Domage; Sens lose and head back to drawing board

Sometimes, after a game like last night's loss to the Penguins, I wonder if Coach Clouston puts on a little accountant's visor and climbs up to a big drawing board like Wile E. Coyote would do after once again being duped by the Roadrunner. If he can find an ACME product that can solve our powerplay woes, I'm sure Eugene would spot the cash.

With regard to the game, we had to know the Hockey Gods would get us back sooner or later for the nice bounces we've been getting during the three-game streak. Last night, we cleared that slate as the puck just wouldn't go our way.

Credit to the team for keeping two of the game's best players off the scoresheet. It was a test to see how we'd handle a more prolonged attack (as opposed to the one line attack that Atlanta brings) and apart from some bad bounces, we held our own. There is no question we're a strong team and playoff calibre. We just need to iron a few things out, starting with a horrific powerplay. There is never a reason a team shouldn't go 100% on two-man advantages! And remember that Kovalev is a dominant PP forward. No excuse.

I'll say that I did like the forward lines tonight, especially Cheechoo with Spezza and the Watermelon Warrior.

It isn't critical, but it would mean a lot to end this homestand with a W on Thursday against the Lightning. This team is too good to drop to 3-3 right now. Plus, we only beat non-playoff teams!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cheechoo rides to the top line

Per Chris Stevenson in the Ottawa Sun, Clouston has again reconfigured the top line (or second line, depending on how you feel about Fisher/Alfie/Kovalev). Cheechoo joins Spezza and Michalek, the Watermelon Warrior, to see if any of the three can pot their first goal of the season. I personally look forward to seeing how Cheechoo does with both a familiar face in Michalek and an elite playmaker in Spezza (no offense to Regin). Speaking of the Dane, he's out hurt tonight and Ryan Shannon will return to take his spot, flanked by Foligno and Neil. The fourth line of Donovan, Kelly, and Ruutu naturally stay in tact.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Got Me Some Playoff Fever! A statistical look at the schedule

ASB Disclosure: we said from before training camp that this remains a team that will fight and scrap for a playoff spot and will get in somewhere in the 6-8 range. No home ice advantage and no clinching until sometime in the early days of April in the final games. The 3-1 start is encouraging and shows us some key strengths, but we still have a tough conference schedule with teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, and Carolina all being solid opponents.

Okay - so we know that 94 points is our magic number to crack the playoff barrier. The last two seasons, 94 gets you in, 93 doesn't guarantee it. Let's approach our study with this variable in place.

Games per month:
October: 12 (only 4 against teams that were in the playoffs last year)
November: 12 (8 against playoff teams)
December: 17 (9 against playoff teams)
January: 15 (13 against playoff teams)
February: 7 (4 against playoff teams)
March: 14 (7 against playoff teams)
April: 5 (1 against a playoff team)

So what does this tell us? December is a critical month. Not just because we want to close out the year with a feel good story and not just because it is our busiest month. It is critical because January could be downright awful. I know we're a good team but nobody can be looking forward to a month when just about every game is against a team that played postseason hockey last spring, including the Bruins three times.

By my estimation, we need to be around the 50 point mark (at a minimum) going into the New Year. That would mean a record of 22-16 or any other combination that includes overtime losses (hard to estimate those so we'll just go with a conservative approach and each OTL is gravy). Given that we're off to a decent start, we have a few games against Eastern bottom feeders (sorry TB and FLA), and a pretty easy December, getting to that 50 point mark would set us up well for 2010. Repeat - October and December have to give us winning records with November being a 50/50 month. Especially important is a stretch around Christmas when we visit the Sabres (we owned them last year), then home to Montreal, Colorado, and the Islanders. We should win all four of those.

I see January being our only month with a losing record. As I said, we're a solid team but we're just facing superior opponents during that stretch. The two weeks in February isn't much of a breather as we'll have Vancouver, Calgary, and Washington coming to town, plus a trip to Detroit. Second barometer: we need to be at 70 points by the Olympic break. First, it would be nice to go out with some momentum before sending players off to Vancouver, hopefully protecting their adductors. Second, it sets us up for a strong March and April to hit that 94 point mark.

We come back and open tough with the Rags and the Canes, then get a token Leafs win before going to Western Canada. Insomniac Sens fans will remember that we typically win the Oilers game and lose the Flames and Canucks games. After that trip, we should rattle off a nice streak as we play Toronto, Atlanta, Dallas, and Montreal. By the end of the month, we should be in the upper 80s and enter the final five games of the year.

More good news - our final five games aren't that tough. We host the Canes, then have the Islanders, Panthers, Lightning, and Sabres to wrap up the year. If we can be in the high 80s going into April, it isn't out of the question that we go 4-1 to end the year and hit the magic number. Like I said earlier, we're good enough for playoff hockey but I don't think we're good enough to get home ice advantage.

So if you want to take down some notes to put into your wallet to remember how many points we need each month to hit 94, here's what I've got:

Points at the end of each month:
October: must have at least 16 points
November: 28 points
December: 50 points
January: 62 points
February: 70 points
March: 86 points
April: 94 points

Again, this is strictly looking at wins and losses, not overtime losses. Those are hard to predict, plus there will be games that we should lose that we end up losing in overtime, just like there are games that we should win and we end up losing in overtime. All we need to remember is 50 points by the end of the year and 70 points by the Olympic break.

In the meantime, let's sit back and enjoy this nice start to the year and see how the boys do against the Cup champs Monday night. It will be a great game to see how our defensive system holds up against a team that has more than one star player.