For all the doubts that still exist about this Ottawa team, there is a palpable feeling right now that things are somehow different from the confused and unconfident group we saw at the start of the year.
Just listening to Daniel Alfredsson's post-game interview on the Team 1200 would have allayed the fears of even the most hardened pessimist.
He seemed almost jubilant at times but it wasn't just the afterglow of a single good game. You could hear the relief in his words as he traced back over the past 7 or so games and pointed out that there had only been one average effort in the whole lot and that was the loss against the Islanders last week.
When the captain is happy, the rest of the team must be too. For a change, they look like they are having fun again.
Despite everyone's brave words, it was clear that the negative atmosphere from the second half of last year was still weighing on the core players and that the new additions were too busy trying to adjust to a new team and city to do anything about it right away. But slowly, a hardened team is starting to emerge.
I really like how Craig Hartsburg is not too proud to change his mind, altering some concepts he brought in from the start.
The first was the idea that Martin Gerber was the number one goalie and that all he needed was a vote of confidence and a stretch of games to prove himself. Hartsburg let Gerber play himself out of the spot and that was that. Alex Auld has taken over and Hartsburg hasn't played around since. The rumours of trading for the expensive Nikolai Khabibulin seem almost absurd at this point.
Hartsburg also paid lip service to the notion of having to break up the top line to spread the offense around. Even when they were losing, he kept them apart to try and see if the team could come through it. When it became clear that this team needed some offense, he changed his course and now the Senators are inching their way up the standings.
Hartsburg could have extended the misery of this team if he was too hard-headed but he's shown that he's of the modern variety of coaches - adaptable and capable of motivating his players without resorting to the bag skates and the media call-outs (his early mistake of putting public heat on Spezza aside).
I said after the Atlanta win that the contest against the Penguins would be real test for this team and they came through with top marks. Now with some careful moves by Bryan Murray to bring in a little more skill, this team has the potential to do some damage down the line.
Eric Duhatschek has a good quote from Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn on how the NHL can break through into the American television market:
“I talked to the NFL guys last year,” said Quinn, “and I asked them: How did you change your game from the off-tackle, three-yard running play and scores that were 13-10 to what you have right now? And a wise old guy said to me: It's very simple. Roone Arledge walked down the street and said to Pete Rozelle one day: Listen, I have this idea. It's called Monday Night Football. I can make you lots and lots of money, but here's what I can sell: I can sell quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. That's what I can sell to the American public.
“Well, if you look at what we do, we sell goaltenders. I think it's fair to say, both Canadians and Americans, that's not what they love about the game. They love Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Guy LaFleur and Jean Beliveau.”
According to Kelly, if the NHL could get goal-scoring up in the seven-per-game range, that might be enough to make the long-awaited breakthrough on television in the United States."
He's right. The goalie worship, which started around the time Patrick Roy won his first Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986, is way overboard. How else can you explain Roberto Luongo, despite winning zilch in his NHL career, being more of a star than any single player on the Detroit Red Wings roster?
More goals might help the ratings, but is it too late for the Phoenix Coyotes? According to the Globe and Mail, the franchise is on the brink of bankruptcy. ... Jim Lang of Sportsnet actually hissed and booed at the Senators third jersey's when showing highlights of the Pens-Sens game this morning. Then again, this is the guy who thinks "slobberknocker" is a catchy phrase which must be repeated every time a home-run has to be described during the baseball season. ... Ron Maclean and company probably want their first-intermission commentary back as they went on and on about Jason Spezza using an all-composite stick and said it was the reason he was having trouble controlling the puck. Except Spezza uses a wooden blade jammed into a composite shaft and ended up with a hat-trick by the end of the afternoon. Whoops......While he had another great game, Spezza might have the ugliest moustache on the team. That thing is brutal.....If you ever feel the need to torture yourself, just listen to the post-game show on the Team 1200. It is the worst collection of phone callers outside of the weekday Over The Edge show. Unbelievably, people still found opportunities to vent their Spezza hate, saying that his latest scoring exploits only increases his trade value. .... How many of you at home for the game were contemplating making an irate phone call to CBC when 2:00 rolled around and they were still showing a curling match? Only a play or two was missed but you can bet that the Toronto Maple Leafs would never have to endure a similar problem. .... The Penguins are good now but wait until they get Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney back from injury. At that point, they may become Eastern Conference favourites.