Thursday, January 14, 2010

Goalie Contraversy?

Too early? I think so, but still it's a timely, catchy headline, yes? Mired in a 5 game losing streak with all sorts of Upper Deck trading cards on the mend, we randomly lose our #1 guy and backup to random injuries slash flu bugs. So here we go! Mike "Don't call me Marty" Brodeur to the rescue! And whaaaa? A shutout? Our second of the season and Mike's second NHL victory? Calder? Vezina?

Easy fans. The answer to those question marks is nope. Not that you thought any differently. But I want to examine...

We've all been super frustrated with the recent efforts of our hometown heroes. Under a big losing streak with minimal effort to show for it, we've been cringing for something, anything! With hope on the way, that being out recent success at MSG, we approach tonight with a fearful optimism that we can do it. And so we do! But my question is, could we have pulled that off with Snoopy or the BE Keeper in net? No Alfie just yet, can we get it together to pull off a road win without desparate optimism? I'll be honest, I doubted it. But just like we reached down and deep when Alfie vacated the line up, we did so when our 1-2 went down. And a W to show for it.

Great for the boys to dig in, play a strong road game and get a much needed win. Remember how we won games when Alfie and Spez got hurt? We seem to respond well when needed, but can Clouston keep this desperation alive? Let's hope so... Word is in that Snoopy has suffured a concussion. Uh oh. We all know that means long term. So what do we do? Keep the hot hand? Or the semi experienced yet troubled hand of Elliot? What a game, what a season.

Maybe there is a brewing goalie contraversy in Ottawa. Thank goodness we're used to this. So what do we do on Saturday? Go back to non-Quebec native Brodeur? Or give the game to non-Quebec native Elliot? Remember, Brodeur is a rook with AHL experience while Elliot has (minimal) NHL experience. A big 2 points are on the line. Let's hear your thoughts.

What a random blog from a handsome dude that didn't even watch the game. But we need to take a breath and get back into the current issues rather than worrying about out April golf schedule - there is lots to think about for today. For example, aside from this goaltending question, I wonder to myself, who is the last Sen to wear #23? Daugavins did tonight - but who was before him?

And while you're thinking, who starts on Saturday? Play the coach and have fun! I give the nod back to Mike. Keep it rolling bud. Am I wrong? I've been wrong many, many times before. Prove me wrong again!

We're starting Brodeur against the Rags!

Pascal was mildly hurt in practice today and Elliott has the flu. Mike Brodeur might be getting the start. He certainly can't be worse than what we've been doing lately, right?

Interesting question from the guys at Silver Seven Sens (link on the right banner): are Pascal and Elliott our worst tandem ever? Statistically, yes. Is it possible we've created a belief that Pascal is greater than he actually was? Or is he just in a slump?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eli Wilson Fired

From the Sun, Murray fired Eli this morning; hopefully have at least a consultant in the next week. He said it was based on goalie performance at the NHL and AHL levels.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Nightmare That Won't End - Sens Lose Again

This is like a bad dream that you can't wake yourself up from. Ottawa rolled into Atlanta on a four-game losing streak, including three straight to Southeast Division opponents. Wait, correction, it is now a five-game losing streak, including four straight to Southeast Division opponents. The lowly Thrashers have joined the lowly Hurricanes and the lowly Panthers to embarass the Sens.

It is heartbreaking and infuriating to see Pascal Leclaire struggle like this. Heartbreaking because I really wanted him to be the go-to guy. He came in with a similar story to Gerber - one great year and a big contract. Favouring Pascal, though, was that he had youth on his side. Another advantage is that Snoopy came in with a swagger that we hadn't seen since Hasek. Whereas Gerber was shy and unprepared for the heat of a Canadian market, Pascal came in ready to shoulder the expectations of a desperate fanbase.

But what has happened, it seems, is that Pascal has hit a roadbump. Time will tell if this is a mini-slump or a gross miscalculation by Murray and his staff. I am not ready to jump to conclusions here because Pascal has most definitely shown signs of brilliance in his limited time in our nets. What is troubling, though, is that it sure would be nice to look to our cocky goalie to bail us out of some rough patches in the face of adversity.

What is infuriating is that he can't do it right now. Why does he get himself so far out of position when moving across the crease? Why has he all of a sudden started to kick rebounds out into the slot instead of into the corners like he was earlier? Why has his performance dropped to the point that he's been pulled three times in the past few weeks since returning from surgery?

There is no time to sulk in our sorrows right now. We head to MSG to take on the Rags and then to Montreal to play the Habs. As we sit in 7th place, the Rangers are in 6th and the Habs are in 8th. I believe the importance of these next two games is pretty much implied at this point. 5 straight losses and the next two games against our direct competition on the bubble. If that doesn't make you cringe, we have the Bruins twice next week, and then have the Pens and Devils the week after that. Alfie might be back for that first Bruins game next Monday, but let's not expect one player, even if he is a God to us, to come in and all of a sudden turn 6-1 losses into instant wins.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Five Reasons Why the Ottawa Senators Will Miss The Playoffs

How cryptic, eh? I, superfan, am writing about how after 46 games, I can promise that we will fall short of the post-season. It is with a heavy heart that I share these details and please know that I've had many sleepless nights thinking about this (and more to come). I will still watch every minute that I can and cheer on this group until the final buzzer on April 10th against the Slugs. I wish our fate would be more positive, but we're once again looking at a decent draft pick, a long summer, and likely a new General Manager.

Let me add that this isn't an overreaction at losing four in a row this week. This isn't jumping off the bandwagon. I still love this team. I'm just saying that we were in tough to make the playoffs to begin with, and recent indications are that we've dug ourselves into too deep a hole. This is just my pure, honest opinion of this team right now.

Reason #1: The remaining schedule is tougher than the first half.

Not only do we have more road games in this second half, where we really struggle, but we will also be facing tougher opponents. Of the ten games left this month, eight of them are against teams above .500. Five of the seven games in February are against teams above .500, then we play 9 of 14 on the road in March, including a West Coast swing that usually burns us. Road games, stronger opponents, bad news.

Reason #2: We have NOT solved our goaltending issues.

Our 134 goals against is good enough to put us in 22nd in the league, the 2.93 GAA is good for 21st, and worst of all, our .893 save percentage is good for 28th in the NHL. Teams below us in that category - Toronto and Carolina, who sit 14th and 15th in the East. It isn't even so much the number of goals, although that is a problem, it is the type of goals and the timing of the goals. Pascal and Elliott have gone back and forth taking turns giving up back-breaking Gerbage goals. Is this from the struggle of playing goalie in Ottawa? Is it our ruthless media of the dreaded Ottawa Sun? Is it the ineptitude of goaltending coach and fashion diva Eli Wilson? Whatever the reason, goaltending is a major problem. To quote Pynch from the summer: WE CAN'T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WITHOUT GREAT GOALTENDING FROM PASCAL!!!!!!! Can anyone argue that we're getting great goaltending?

Reason #3: Our top players are missing.

This isn't an excuse, people, it is a reason. We've lost our top line and quite simply, we don't have the depth at forward to fill that gap. Hell, not many teams could do it either. The bottom line is that we are a God awful group without Alfredsson. Winning the first two without him against Montreal and Buffalo was hard work and emotion, but now reality has set in and we're hoping to get him back on Saturday at the earliest. Spezza is still out three weeks and Michalek hasn't set a return from what appears to be a concussion. No team replaces its top three players internally and so we have to suffer through this period with even more AHLers than we already have under normal circumstances. Losing Alfie for any extended period of time means a string of losses for this team, something we can't afford to do in a playoff race.

Reason #4: Our defencemen suck.

Plain and simple, they aren't good. Anybody that was overly optimistic about this group in the summer has hopefully come to realize that we actually lack a top two defenceman. Phillips and Volchenkov are nothing more than a solid 3-4 shutdown pair. They earn their salaries through hard work in their own zone; they'll never win you a game and they'll never lose you a game. Then there is Kuba - he is also a great #3 defenceman. He has cooled off a bit lately and struggles in his own end, but he is at his best when someone else is carrying the load. In Ottawa, that person is...nobody. Alex Picard and Chris Campoli are bottom 5-6 guys on just about every team, including ours. When either has to play 20+ minutes, we're in trouble and we're shallow. They don't appear to have what it takes to get a permanent spot in that top four, which says a lot about just how bad they can be. Erik Karlsson is hanging around and is holding his own fairly well, but also isn't ready for top four minutes. I hope that he continues to build into a very good player, but he'll always be at a disadvantage fighting for pucks in our end. Matt Carkner, who appears to be growing out the shaggy afro, is a real nice story about a minor leaguer that made it with the local pro team. He, too, is a 5-6 guy that is being thrust into more minutes than he should get. Bottom line - not only do we lack a #1 defenceman, I would argue that none of these guys are a top two defenceman. It has been a need here since Chara left and one that has never been addressed.

Reason #5: What have we done since the Cup Finals to make you think otherwise?

Okay, that is just plain Debbie Downer there, but it's true. Since the Finals, we have had a monumental collapse that has only been eclipsed by what the Carolina Hurricanes seem to do every year after having a long playoff run. Bryan Murray was given a Cup finalist and in less than three years, has gone on to win zero playoff games, lose our top scorer, preside over three different coaches (not counting himself as the fourth), fail to land an elite goalie or top defenceman, and continue to parade in local Ottawa guys that may or may not deserve a job in the league. I have been scratching my head at Bryan Murray's tenure here for a long time and I think it is fair to question the direction of this group. For as much flack as Muckler took, Murray seems to get off pretty easy and even gets labelled as a saviour from time to time. I don't think it is out of line to say that we aren't very good anymore, is it? I'm not pitching this as a 'fire Murray' thing at all; I am just tired of people praising him for 'restocking the cupboards'. If he wanted to rebuild, he should have told the organization that we were going through a rebuild. It is clear now that it was necessary, but we're getting into Leafs territory when we start getting mediocre draft picks, no playoff games, and then still sign 35-year olds to multi-million dollar deals.

If he had told us this summer that in light of the Heatley saga, he was going to go get prospects and picks and we were going to push the reset button, I think we would have been okay with that. A bit pissed, but at least we could have saved the $5M on Kovalev, perhaps would have taken a different approach with the Heatley dealings, and focused on trading up in the draft for a top player. Instead, we're going to finish up in 9th or 10th place, be outside the top ten in the draft, and go into the summer with the same cap problems as we have right now. Pessimistic? You bet, but that's just because the Sens have taught me to be this way after the past three years.

Honourable Mention: Our powerplay is a beautiful 30th in the league.

Recap of the five reasons:
1. Tough schedule
2. Goaltending
3. Key injuries
4. Defensive weaknesses
5. We just aren't that good

I'll sit back and allow you to tell me what a bad fan I am and how I've given up on the prospects too early. Sorry, folks, I just call it like I see it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


When teams are struggling and nothing is going well, teams often look at their schedule and try and find that one opponent that just plain sucks. Someone that, even on their best day, will still often lose. For the Ottawa Senators, that moment is this evening, a 5pm puck drop in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The injury list that already includes the entire top line has just added Jesse Winchester for a month with a knee issue, and Filip Kuba, who is day-to-day with an upper body injury. I'm not as concerned with the Winchester injury as I am with the Kuba one. I know he hasn't played to his paygrade lately, but his absence means that Campoli/Karlsson draw in as the second pairing. Let's be honest - that's bad. As weak as Kuba has been over the past month, he is still far more experienced and valuable than what we're left with today.

As Carl from the FedEx commercial says, "but I digress". Today needs to be that game where Fisher starts to tweak the twine again. The game where Regin starts to look like the player he was earlier in the year when he won a starting job here. How about Chris Kelly a few years ago when Spezza went down and he stepped into a top line role? Granted he had some Hall of Famers flanking him, he excelled in that role. And for God's sake, Cheechoo! I'm not in the camp that takes a deep breath when he scores; I'm tired and angry that the guy isn't going to have 10 goals this year. That defies any explanation! These guys are not bad players. They are NHL regulars and they need to start playing like it. We used to always fall into the same trap when Alfie was hurt - we skate around in circles waiting for him to come back to the lineup. In our case now, he's said to be a week away, but that doesn't mean that we should shat it up for the next week til he returns.

Dump the puck in deep, paste their defencemen into the third row, cycle the puck, and score some freaking goals. Nobody is asking you to do anything you aren't capable of doing. We're just reminding you how to do it. Skate hard, win a battle, and act like you are a playoff bubble team, because that's all we are. At this pace, it might even be worse than that. I've said quietly to myself and friends that we're not making the playoffs. I wish I were wrong or that I were more optimistic, but this past week has just highlighted why I feel that way. If the boys can put up a nice effort today and lay a new foundation to build from, perhaps my attitude will change a bit.

One more thing that Erin Nicks brought up that doesn't get much attention - what is the deal with Eli Wilson? I thought he was brought in as goaltending coach to satisfy Ray Emery. He was Emery's guy and it seemed that when Rayzor signed his extension and was the go-to goalie, Murray might as well get his coach on staff, too. But Emery is long gone and we've had multiple goalies struggling over the past few years. Perhaps Wilson is truly a great coach, but I just figured we took him on primarily for his relationship to Emery. Whatever he's been working on this season hasn't really been clicking, anyway. As Murray's decisions continue to bomb, I wonder if Wilson is the first to get a pink slip.