Wednesday, January 06, 2010

This Just In - We Actually Have to Play Hard

Newsflash - This isn't your father's Ottawa Senators team that could put Martin Havlat on the third line because he was lower on the depth chart than Alfie and Hossa. This isn't the same team that could phone in some games against lowly opponents and still send fans home with a pizza voucher in their pockets. This certainly isn't the team that could get a lead and fall into a trap with third liners and lock in the win basically after 40 minutes.

As we learned tonight, good teams will destroy us if we don't play a very tight, very fundamentally sound game. Boston isn't great. They have a top flight goalie and a Norris Trophy winner, but they are the third lowest scoring team in the league. I repeat - only Carolina and Tampa have scored fewer goals in the entire NHL than Boston. So why did we let them pot four in the first? Shaky goaltending, for starters, but porous defensive zone coverage an questionable work ethic might fit the glove a bit better. Filip Kuba, who has been getting some major slack on the blogosphere lately (I can't believe I just used the word blogosphere), was on the ice for all four goals against. Karlsson continues to play to his size without learning how to move bodies from in front of the crease. Picard and Campoli lack consistency, evidenced by their turnstile in and out of the press box after exchanging minus-3 efforts each. Carkner, Phillips, and A-Train have carried their weight, but our defence looks pretty bad when you can only trust three defensive-minded players. What has happened with Kuba lately?

From an offensive standpoint, we have some role players that are playing above their paygrade, no question. I've been hard on Ryan Shannon, but he's done well lately. Regin, Neil, and Ruutu have all played better while Fisher and Kovalev have earned their paycheques in the past few weeks since the injury bug came. We aren't going to put up 7 goals a night, but we should do better than the one we got past Thomas tonight.

But more importantly, when will a defenceman step up for this team? Think about it - we've been waiting for two entire years now for this elusive PUCK-MOVING DEFENCEMAN to come and save the day. A failed trade attempt for Boyle, pulling out of the Campbell sweeps (both smart moves by Murray), and we continue to look to Kuba to be our top offensive defenceman. But what happens when he sucks? He leads the blueliners in points with a modest 15, but has shown some major weaknesses lately. Alex Picard was supposed to be a 7th defenceman and comes in with 14 points, second among defencemen. Doesn't that bother you?

Our weakness, and we knew this going into the season, is on defence. As much as Canuknik wants to stick up for the Picard/Carkner pairing, they still exemplify our shortcomings back there. We haven't had a defenceman lead our blueline out of the zone since the big guy. That, my friends, is a major problem and given our cap situation, it is one that cannot be addressed in the near-term.

Erik Karlsson...I don't even know what to say here. If I criticize his play, I'll be labelled as a Sens-hater that is too hard on the rookie. If I stick up for him and talk about his development, I feel that I'm giving him too much credit. He is playing decent but it doesn't change the fact that this kid should be in the AHL learning how to take a hit, how to move a forechecker, and how to get shots through the seams. But Sens fans are so damn defensive of this kid that if he makes an outlet pass that hits a stick, we all look around and wink at each other about how great our future is with him. Let's be honest here - he's very small and it will always restrict his effectiveness. For every Brian Rafalski that makes it, there are tons more guys that size that get banged up and squeezed out. Karlsson obviously has unreal skill and the organization will do whatever it takes to help him be successful. I'm just pointing out that we're still YEARS away before we can anoint him the saviour of this blueline.

Speaking of defencemen - Jared Cowen. Poor guy had a terrible tournament with the junior team. When he was playing, which couldn't have been much because I hardly saw him on the ice, he struggled. He was slow getting back and he looked very uneasy with the puck. And no, I will not chalk it up to his knee surgery. He had that operation a year ago and was well enough to play a freaking NHL game in September. He was probably nervous, but he looked nothing like what Karlsson was doing out there last year, and we know Karlsson is a bubble guy now. I wonder if he will in fact be ready for the Fall.

Am I a doomsday fan? I know it appears like it after my past few posts, but I really am a total homer for this squad. I have such blind optimism for the group, but I've been hit with a bolt of reality lately. The injuries, the lack of a top defencemen, and the inconsistencies in net have me truly worried. Knowing that we have to play at a very strong pace in January against tough teams, the jury is out on if this team has what it takes. I said in the summer that we're going to be fighting until the 82nd game for our spot. My fear now is that with the adversity we are now facing, we're gonna be knocked out by then! Please prove me wrong, boys.


Anonymous said...

you know what's wrong with hockey fans? absolutely no patience. many in the blogosphere are quick to lash out on a team that has performed well above expectations up to this point. Let's ask ourselves this: will karlsson and cowen be the franchise d-men we want? YES!!! Will they be those guys next year? NO!!! It took Chara four years to even emerge as a solid dman, let alone the star he is today. Here are his stats for his first 4 years in the league: 231 GP, 6 G, 23 A, 29 Pts, and a -61. Those stats are not really indicative of a future norris winner are they? These guys are going to be great in a couple of years (I firmly believe the sens are gonna win the cup in Alfie's final season), just let them get their growing pains sorted out and they'll be fine.

duff said...

So we drafted 'franchise d-men' with the 15th overall pick and the 9th overall pick? Whatever GMs that picked before us and didn't take franchise players must surely have been fired already for the blatant oversight, right? One thing we Sens fans are great at doing is overrating our prospects. Hell, some fans still think players like Caparusso are NHL bound. I'm far from convinced that any of our three prized rookie dmen (I add Wiercioch here) are franchise players. NHL regulars? Yes. Future Kings? Let's hold off on the crowning.