Yes it is.
A tumultuous Sens start to the 2010-2011 campaign had many fingers circling the panic button, including my own. I like to remind myself that it's a long season, losses are inevitable and there's power in Clouston's healthy salad. Still, I found myself thoroughly disappointed in how we started the season. More than the 1-4-1 start was the way we played to land that early season record. Some of it was surprising, some of it expected, but all of it was frustrating. Add to that the fact that Leaf fans were framing screen grabs of the early season standings and emptying salt shakers into our gaping wounds. Serenity now!
Following those eye scratching first 6 games, the Sens have won 6 of their last 8, pushing their record above .500 and finally ahead of those pesky, back-to-reality Leafs. It appears we just needed time to sort out some kinks and realize Brian Lee is not of NHL calibre.
Here are a few game changers, from then to now, in my opinion...
Cory Clouston. After the horrid start, I began to question Clouston. This was surprising to me. While I've come to accept the routine too-many-men penalties, I had faith in Clouston after what he's accomplished in his short tenure behind the bench. Still, our entire game was subpar. Players were uninspired, the PP was awful and we forgot we needed to score goals to win games. But we can't fire yet another coach! Can we? No, we can't, and it appears we don't have to. Clouston has found a nice little duo in Kovalev and Spezza, who make Regin appear product (in the apples category, at least). The PP has picked up, we're more sound defensively and I don't even think we've been called for a 6th skater in these past 8 games! Huzzah! What I like most is the feeling that we're once again gelling as a team. It took time, but Clouston appears to have the boys back on track.
Alexei Kovalev. Earlier this season, I was kinda hoping Kovalev would take a hike in Gatineau Park, slip on some wet autumn leaves and wind up on LTIR. I couldn't stand his play. Then, suddenly, he appeared to change his outlook. As if he said, "well, if I want to play until I'm 50, I better make myself valuable to ensure I have a job for the next 12 seasons." I've found Kovalev has taken a 180. He looks younger, quicker and with determination. Now I realize this could be short term, but for now the guy's making a difference out there! He sits second in team goal scoring and is earning his $5 million.
Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson. The vet and the pet. While Sarge wasn't immediately as effective as expected, Karlsson was probably the biggest early season disappoinment. The kid, who ended last season with the confidence of, well, a Gonchar, he seemed slow, indecisive and bad at hockey. Turnovers, gaps, bad facial hair - Karlsson had me saying "Bingo!", and not in the fun, number stamping, legion hall, Friday evening kind of way. At the same time, I was waiting for Gonchar to lead our PP and do things like score goals. Nope. Didn't happen. But, alas, time has subdued my nausea and these two have been in recent fine form. Gonchar is becoming what I expected and I truly, honestly think that Karlsson has Norris candidate potential in his future (note: future does not refer to 2011). I think by the end of Sarge's 3 year deal, we'll be very happy with our defence. Give it time.
Of course, there are others. Peter Regin is still without a goal but appears to be showing upside. Nick Foligno is also goalless, but I'm ok with that as time has shown me he's not a 2nd line player. It is what it is. Big Rig has had a slow start but played very well last night, and with his experience, he'll be fine. Alfie is Alfie. I'll never be disappointed in him.
While still a lot of games to go, my panic button is back in its drawer next to those useless twist ties and an old glue stick. I, for one, must remember that it's a long season and this team is good. We won't win 'em all and we'll have bad stretches, but we have the assets to win. Just give it time.
Free Agent Dossier: Chris Neil
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