Thursday, January 07, 2010

Red Pynch! Ottawa's PP is Powerless

Is Washington that good or was Ottawa that bad? While I realize that the Caps have a star studded line up, I'm going to go with the latter after that stinker. But mostly, I need to focus on the powerplay, which was downright awful. The only advantage in having an extra man is that the opposing team's player is off the ice for two minutes, and unless that player's a stud like Ovie, I'd wish Ottawa could decline their powerplays. Basically, we're better 5 on 5.

This is not an insightful post but rather just a forum for me to vent. In the words of Wayne Gretzky from Gold Rush 2002, "Am I hot? yeah I'm hot!". It's Red Pynch! It's at the point that when Ottawa draws a PP, I groan. A man advantage should mean a chance to score, but for me it's a continual source of frustration. Do we even have a system out there? It's not even like we're snake bit, it's borderline comical! Further to Duff's post below - we need to work hard, ESPECIALLY ON THE POWERPLAY! An extra man doesn't mean two minutes to breath. We should be desperate to get a goal with these opportunities. Instead, we are soft on the puck and slow moving. Ugh.

So Alfie and Spez are out, and that hurts like a kick to the shins, but we still have an extra guy out there. I can understand our unit finding problems versus an elite killing unit. But going into tonight's game, Washington's PK was ranked 15th in the league! We can't even pose a threat to an average penalty killing unit!

As this busy month of January is underway, it appears we have lots to work on - defence and goaltending being the most discussed amongst our esteemed blog community. But I'm going to state the obvious, well beg the obvious, that Clouston find a solution to this PP disaster. At least find something that makes us a threat. But with minimal days off this month, is there enough time to spend working on this issue? He'd better or it's going to get more and more frustrating and I fear a remote control will be launched at my TV.

That's just my two cents, entirely spent on mild rage. Anyone disagree? Feel free to vent along with me. It actually feels good.

On a completely separate note, kudos to Jonathan Cheechoo for potting one tonight. I don't care how inconsequential it was. I find myself constantly rooting for this guy to get some breaks and have some success. So thanks Cheech for leaving me with something to be happy about...

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.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Spezza's Injury is his Best Move of the Early Season

As we all know, Jason Spezza had a start to the disappointing season. Since the departure of Dany Heatley, Spez hasn't been able to find his swagger and be as effective we'd like. Sure his defensive game has improved but he hasn't found the twine that we pay for. He was able to answer a slow season by saying he's had slow starts before, but unable to pick it up, he'd been facing more media scrutiny along with a bad back.

And then he gets hurt. For a while. Shoot.

At first I was scared. Despite a slow start, I still expected our goofy gun to pick it up and take hold of our offense at some point. I thought to myself, "how are we ever going to win without our #1 centre?" Then our hero, our captain, our top forward Daniel Alfredsson goes down too! NOOOO! But I digress, since this post isn't about Alfie as I don't like to even think about him being out of our line up. Back to thoughts on Spezza - "how are we ever going to win without our #1 centre?" But so far, not bad. The team, and its balanced attack, is plugging holes and making it work. Phew.

So then I took a breathe - face it, I'm out of shape - and looked at the silver lining of it all. While we can't predict when a key asset will fall to injury, it may be the best time of all for Spezza.

First of all, giving time for Spezza's leg injury to heal, also gives his back a rest. While he missed minimal time due to this unspoken injury, it was clearly nagging. I love that he went out and gave it his all, but his all with a bogus back was obviously not working. Hopefully he's sleeping on a bed of nails - the old remedy will not only help the cause but might add some toughness. Bonus!

Secondly, and more obviously, some significant time out of the line up may be the breather Jason needs to regroup and get his mental game back on track. No matter how well or how poor we do with him in the press box, we're all going to be pretty psyched for his return. How will that not get him jacked? Plus, the needed rest from aches and the media will provide reflection time to get it going. Double Bonus!

This is all pretty easy to consider when we're winning games as we have been. But the month of January is going to be a beast and tough to stay afloat above the deep waters of .500 hockey without Spez and Alfie. But assuming they do, what does Spezza walk back into?

1. A team that's found chemistry and a way to win without their star players.
2. The media, and fans that aren't desperate for his return, taking pizza-loads of pressure off his rested shoulders.
3. The luxury of pacing his way back into game shape without the urgency to perform immediately.
4. A giddy Milan Michalek who can't wait to resume his scoring touch.

All that and a healthy body and rested mind to boot? Spez, why didn't you get hurt in early November? I'm kidding of course. But this injury may be the best thing to happen to Spezza since winning the Ring Toss at the Ex.

Now for question period....

Am I crazy? Can Spez's injury actually be positive? Or are would it have been better to have him in the line up this whole time, and for the month to come?

Can the Sens keep the train rolling in until the Olympic break without Spez (and, of course, Alfie)? Our friend Gerald Norton at SenSay suggests we need a 0.618 winning percentage (26 points) from Sunday until the Olympics. Love the enthusiasm, but can this line up do it?

And finally, do you think Spez will regain his scoring touch/dominance once fully healthy?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Matinees and Hat Tricks and Blown Leads, Oh My

Well, we've seen it all today - two starting goalies being pulled, a blown 3-goal lead, and a converted touchdown worth of goals from the home side. If I told you that we put in seven goals and the Campoli/Carkner pairing was a minus-3, would you believe me?

I won't bother with the game recap because the guys at other blogs like Silver Seven do a far better job. I will say that it was fun watching Kovalev this afternoon. I haven't made a secret of my disappointment in the Kovalev signing and still think that the $5M could have been better used elsewhere. What I will admit, though, is that he put on a clinic today of how to be in the right place at the right time. Two of his four goals this afternoon were a result of standing on the weak side and waiting for a rebound to trickle over to him. Part of that is puck luck but part of that is knowing where to go in the offensive zone. It was nice to see the guy throw up a five point night.

Also good to see was the continued development of some of the role players. Guys like Shannon (who has been given a great opportunity to play with Kovalev and Fisher), Regin, Foligno, Neil, and Ruutu are all picking up the heavy lifting left by Alfie and Spezza's absence. I'll even admit that my optimism for this team is picking up. When the top two guys went down and we beat Buffalo, I didn't think much of it because we have their number. Beating Montreal was a nice comeback story but might have just been catching a team being complacent. But the resiliency this afternoon to put in three more after blowing a three goal lead in embarrassing fashion, that actually means something to me. Players are skating hard into the corners and are really filling in the holes on offence. The odds are still stacked against us given the tough January we have and the injuries, but we've looked like fighters lately.

Huge tests this week as we host the Bruins and then flying to Washington. I don't want to just state the obvious, but these two games would be a nice chance to grow the confidence and pad the standings against two top teams before getting some easier contests against Florida, Carolina, and Atlanta as we head into next week.

Finally, on Pascal - while I thought he was interfered with on the 3rd goal (his last before being replaced by Elliott), I think the message was more for the rest of the team to pull their socks up. Many coaches use the goalie change as a wakeup call for the team and in this one, it actually worked for both teams. Laviolette pulled Leighton and the Flyers responded with three goals to tie it. We pulled Pascal (before the tying goal) and that, combined with a tongue-lashing in the second intermission, propelled us to dominate the third period.

I really would like to see Pascal string together some consistent games here this month. We've probably overstated the importance of players stepping it up until Alfie and Spezza return, but we really need Snoopy to keep us in games. Against Montreal, you can argue that he is the sole reason that we were even close enough to come back and win it. Great! But this one was forgettable for him. He'll get the nod in two tough games this week and, mirroring the rest of the team, a strong effort would go a long way to building confidence for the stretch into the Olympic Break. When Pascal is hot, the defence gains mobility and the forwards can break out better. When he's porous, or you can watch video of Gerber's three years, the unit needs to hang around in the defensive zone longer and the outlet is lost.

And as we said in the summer - our playoff hopes rest almost entirely on Pascal. At this point in the season, does anybody disagree with this statement?

(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)