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.