The Stars are Aligned...and Scoring!
The boys are back in town! Since the return of our idol Daniel Alfredsson, the Sennies have never looked back. After missing too many games, in our mind, and on the end of a 5 game (horrific) losing streak, Alfie returned to spark the team into a winning juggernaught. Is he not the most valuable captain, nay player, in the NHL? He's proving it now. And remember how yours truly discussed that Spezza's injury, leading to a 20 game absence, could have been the best thing to happen to him? He was able to put his awful start and relentless media attention to bed, watch some games, rest his back and return with a vengeance! Spez is on a 5 game tear and despite a terrible pp effort earlier in the game, has played inspired, smart and effective hockey. And with the Watermelon Warrior back after a short absence, we're once again able to field two strong, threatening lines. Oh, and shall I include Kovalev in this group? I wouldn'tve after his troubling first half, but our $5MM man has picked up his game and his scoring, which we've been waiting to see.
No Sinking in the Deep End
Maybe secondary scoring is a better place to bring up Kovy. And while he's putting up points, I don't think his are expected to be secondary. I'm more referring to our third and fourth liners, even if some of them step up on the second. But guys like, Kelly, Shannon, Regin and Foligno have been pitching in where they should and when they need them to make a difference. Superior teams are able to field effective depth. Think of previous dynamos like Detriot and Jersey, even Pittsburgh last year - these teams had all forward lines rolling and contributing and this Ottawa team looks the same. And it doesn't stop there. Guys like Neil andRuutu are working hard to keep a spot deep in our hearts by playing good, solid hockey. Now if only Cheechoo can pot 50 goals in the last 30 odd games...
What a turnaround for the back half! Where do we start? How about the most obvious and pleasantly surprising of the group in Karlsson. I'm not ready to give him the Norris, Calder and Hart like PMac was last night, but man he's looking great! Let's be honest, there was a lot of disappointment in our young hope early in the season. He looked small, out of place and with no flash of this 'awesome offensive ability' we were expecting. But the kid has made us all forget, hasn't he? He's playing with NHL confidence, showing some offensive flash but, more importantly holding down his own defensively. He's still a rookie, sure, but he's playing like the rookie we were hoping for the instant he was drafting. But it doesn't stop there. Big Rig and A-Train are once again the shutdown pair of two, or was it three, years ago. Not to say this is surprising, but I'd argue that Philly is playing some of the best hockey of his career, while A-Train keeps us relaxed whenever he's on the ice. While we remember than Karlsson's a rookie, does anyone remember that Carkner's technically still in his first campaign? I love that this guy consecutively kills penalties, plays his heart out and seems to make fewer mistakes each game. What a great story for the hometown kid. Even Campoli is finding his groove? When's the last time we bitched about Picard? Don't need to no more! Unfortunately Kuba holds that honour now, but I still have faith that he'll continue to find a steady game down the stretch.
Keepin' BE's and Winning G's
So, I'm very scared to board, sit down, throw on my iPod and order a $5 snack on the Brian Elliot train just yet - but even I can't argue that he's playing as best as any goalie I can remember in recent Sens history. TSN mentioned that the last goalie to put up such strong and consecutive numbers was Martin Prusek (which maybe justifies my hesitance to throw my eggs in the Elliot basket). The fact is that Elliot has been unstoppable. He's everywhere and seeing the puck through screens, it seems. And despite my concerns, I love it! This streak started with everyone jumping on the Mike Brodeur bandwagon and maybe that sparked Elliot's spectacular play. Whatever it was, who cares! The BE Keeper has been real, and he's been spec-tac-u-lar of late. Is he the backbone of this streak?
It seems Cory Clouston has finally become a legitimate NHL head coach. For most of us, this isn't a surprise because we all believed he could be the guy with the way he had the guys playing down the stretch of last years lost season. But now, he's certainl the real deal in the eyes of the media and hockey fans around the league, and for good reason. Clouston has had a heck of an uphill battle. From losing a bitter superstar to some awful (pre-winning streak) goaltending to a rash of heartbreaking and consecutive injuries, it would have been understandable if this team couldn't string together back to back wins. Despite these frustrations and hardships, the Sens record speaks for Clouston's success. Not all is perfect as we lead the league in too-many-men penalties and have the league's worst PowerPlay, but Cory is getting the most out of his guys...and then some. Everyone works hard, which is key to our depth and abitity to always fight. Lines have been mixed and matched and then thrown into a hat, but he's able to find successful pairs and trios game in and game out. Offence is rolling and the D is coming together. This success didn't happen overnight, but Clouston has made it all come together just in time, a crucial time in the season. Oh, and he rocks the best hair in the league, which rules.
So, there are five pieces of this team that have been crucial to this winning streak. But, I ask, what's the most important? Which of these factors has been the most valuable in the Sens playing as well as they are? Is it the return of Alfie and the Spez Dispenser? How about Regin and the secondary offensive efforts? The emergence or Karlsson and the steady play of the Freight Express? Do you like potential back-to-back first star of the week winner Brian Elliot (hope I didn't jinx it!)? Or, the voice behind the bench?
This is not a test, there are no wrong answers. I'm even going back and forth as I write this! But I'm gonna go ahead and say that it all starts with...Clouston! You don't just get these guys to turn a 5 game losing streak into an 8 game winning streak without great coaching. He's bringing the best out of our guys and it's fun to watch them. And as much as I love Alfie, it's Clouston all the way.
That's my take. What do you think?