Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Life Is Better Without The Pigeon

The always informative and entertaining Empty Netters blog points out that the Penguins are on a 17 game playoff win streak - without the "corporate pigeon" logo.

The Penguins ended their 1992 championship season on an 11 game winning streak. The next year, they incorporated the "Howard Baldwin pigeon" into the uniforms and it's been a living hell ever since in Pittsburgh - fittingly the home of George A. Romero, the director of Night Of The Living Dead.

With the new uniforms introduced this season, the pigeon was booted entirely from the organization and now the Pens have gone 6-0 to start the 08 playoffs.

And George A. Romero now resides in Toronto where it's cheaper to make movies.

What does that have to do with anything?
.
Nothing.

Ping-Pong On Ice


According to Daren Dreger of TSN, Dan Craig, the man in charge of ice conditions around the NHL, wants an investigation into the pucks the league uses. He claims that pucks are "bouncing" more these days and that it's not the condition of the ice that's the problem.


"How many times have you heard a coach or player follow a loss with, "we just didn't get the bounces."

Equipment in hockey has changed over the years, sticks have evolved from wood to composite, so the NHL's ice guru wants a full investigation into how to make a better puck.

Maybe a puck that bounces less.

Craig also wonders if the existing puck has been altered over time, the chemistry somehow changed.

Inglasco, the NHL's manufacturer didn't immediately return calls. "

- TSN

I've noticed that pucks seem to be more like ping-pong balls lately but I always thought it was the fault of the composite sticks. It seemed to me that players had sacrificed control in passing and shooting for sheer velocity that the composite provides. That's what we've been told by everyone but maybe Dan Craig has a point here.

Think of how many more goals could be scored if the players felt they had better control of the puck. Despite this, the NHL seemed to throw cold water on the idea.

They should reconsider.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hartley To Be Interviewed By Sens


According to Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun, Bob Hartley (ex-Colorado, Atlanta) is being considered for an interview to replace Bryan Murray as head coach of the Senators.

Hartley has won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001 and was head coach of the Hershey Bears when they were AHL champions in 1997 (see his career stats here).

Stevenson mentions that there have been rumours that Hartley and Dany Heatley weren't friendly during their stint together in Atlanta but Hartley fully denied this.

Interviewing Hartley makes sense on a couple of levels for Murray. The obvious reason is a Stanley Cup ring and the fact that he's available, but it's also relevant that Hartley is from the Ottawa area and Murray has made it a point of his administration to bring in local people.

Shean Donovan, Luke Richardson and Randy Robitaille were all local Ottawa players brought in by Murray and only Robitaille didn't work out as planned. Perhaps Murray is thinking in the same terms as Hartley.

If this is the case, then Pat Burns will get consideration as Stevenson notes in his article. Burns used to be a cop across the river in Hull, Quebec.

It's a tricky situation when you bring up coaches with past glory like Burns and Pat Quinn. To fans, these names are gold. They have a sense of trust in these names. But are these candidates still relevant in today's NHL?

Burns won a Stanley Cup as recently as 2003 with the Devils so that's an argument in his favour. But Quinn was receiving a lot of criticism during his final days with the Leafs for not being good with young players and not having a strong handle on today's modern coaching techniques.

Burns and Quinn are as old school as they come but can they be successful in 2009?

I'm quite skeptical about both of these coaches and in particular Quinn. Are Ottawa fans really ready to accept a guy like Quinn who kicked their favourite team all over the ice four times in the playoffs? Wouldn't that be the biggest sellout of all time?

Well, in a town that allows its captain to be booed on home ice, the notion of Pat Quinn coaching the Senators is not that far-fetched.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Horror, The Horror...


It's true. Music fans across the world rejoice.

Patrick Roy's son is putting out a hip-hop album. That's the same son, Jonathan Roy, who was suspended for 7 games in the QMJHL for imitating a scene out of Slapshot.

According to Kukla's Korner, Celine Dion is helping him out with the recording.

Welcome To Hell.

In case you need a reminder of the Roy family antics ...



Parking Lot Blues In Motor City


Colorado goalie Jose Theodore had to bail on his team last night because of the stomach flu. The unfortunate thing for the Avs is that Theodore told his coach that he was good to go before the game and then proceeded to stink out the joint before pulling the chute.

Not only did Theodore leave the game, but he was whisked off to his hotel through the back parking lot at Joe Louis Arena with GM Francois Giguere leading the way, leaving the Avs perilously close to dressing a forward or defenseman as a goalie if Peter Budaj somehow got himself injured. That didn't happen but the Avs fell short in their comeback against the Wings.

As Woody Paige of the Denver Post points out, the Avs have had some interesting times in the parking lot at the Joe over the years.


"The small, fenced, guarded parking area just outside the back door of Joe Louis Arena is reserved for the visiting team's bus. Two minutes into the second period Thursday night, the driver of the Avalanche's charter was onboard, and the motor was running. ...

What was I doing outside in the second period? Weird stuff happens with these two teams in the parking lot. One time in Denver, ex-Detroit coach Scotty Bowman got into a shouting match with Colorado's Claude Lemieux. After an Avs loss here another time, Roy, with his back against the concrete wall next to the bus, was consoled for a half hour by three teammates.

The parking lot was the place to be on Thursday night. At the end of the second period, Avs general manager Francois Giguere and Theodore hurried out the door, to a cab, not the bus. They didn't pause for questions."

- Denver Post

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Never Seen This Before

At the end of this clip, watch Fort Wayne Komets goalie Nick Boucher get into a scrap with one of his own defenseman after a Muskegon Fury goal in this 2008 IHL playoff game. (Kudos to Illegal Curve for pointing this out)

Kolzig Spurns Teammates, Media


Olaf Kolzig let his true feelings be known when he didn't bother to show up for the Capitals final meeting. It's hard to believe he couldn't put aside his personal disappointment to celebrate what was really one of the organizations most exciting and promising seasons since its inception. Some have already claimed Kolzig could be an option for Ottawa but if people are ready to run Ray Emery out of town for being a "bad teammate", how would you describe Kolzig. At least Emery showed up to face the media on the last day.

"Veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig had cleaned out his locker stall and left the building, skipping the mandatory meeting. He did not speak to reporters. After Monday's 3-2 loss at Verizon Center, he stripped his name tag off of his locker stall.

Kolzig, a fixture in the Capitals' net for a decade before being essentially replaced by trade-deadline arrival Cristobal Huet, did not play after a 5-0 loss in Chicago on March 19. In recent weeks, Kolzig seemed increasingly detached as Huet led the Capitals to the franchise's first playoff berth in five years. Kolzig, 38, did not return a message left on his cellphone, and his agent, Art Breeze, declined to describe his client's thought process, other than to say: "The choice will be Olie's as to where he plays next year. But rest comfortably that there will be a multiplicity of options available to him."

- Washington Post

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nervous Twitching In Lotus Land


Now that Mike Gillis seems to be a lock for the new GM spot in Vancouver, does that mean he's going to re-sign Markus Naslund who is still officially his client as a player agent? Naslund has already said he won't return to Vancouver if Alain Vigneault is still coach next year.

Actually, if Vigneault is still coach next year, a lot of fans won't return either. Vigneault-coached hockey is simply the most boring exercise in futility ever displayed on ice.

Vigneault was an assistant coach in Ottawa's first year in the league and he has seemingly never gotten over it. Opposition teams blasted so many goals by Peter Sidorkiewiecz and a laughable defense led by Brad Marsh that something must have snapped in Vigneault's brain. It's almost like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Flashing red lights send him into an apocalyptic fit and his assistant Rick Bowness has to hit him over the head with a shovel to calm him down.

Regardless, Gillis is highly regarded in hockey circles despite being a hard-nosed negotiator as a player agent.

But there should be a word of caution here. Remember Michael Barnett, the player agent who turned GM and presided over the disastrous Phoenix Coyotes?

Something to think about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Around The League ... Burke About To Cash In ... Rachunek Blasts Devils


Apparently, the Leafs are prepared to offer Anaheim GM Brian Burke up to 25 million over five years to jump ship. According to the Toronto Sun, that salary would make Burke the highest paid hockey executive in history.

There's another reason to jack up those seat-licensing prices.

***

Best playoff series in the first round? Definitely Washington - Philadelphia. Every game except for maybe game 2 has been must-watch hockey. Players like Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are tearing it up despite most observers predicting they'd have a hard time in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin is like a perfect mix between Peter Forsberg and Pavel Bure. On the Flyers side, Mike Richards is dominating for them and Derian Hatcher is playing like he's 25.

***

Ex-Senator News: Karel Rachunek has already waved goodbye to the Devils and there is some big time controversy surrounding his exit.


Rachunek, who sat out the final seven games of the regular season and all five playoff games, believes he was punished for talking to teams in Russia about next season.

"Everything happened because of the rumors," Rachunek said as the Devils cleaned out their lockers at the Prudential Center. "I don't think there is anything wrong with talking to European teams. Just like NHL teams talking to European players in the middle of the season. "There were rumors I signed with somebody. I didn't. They called my agent (Petr Svoboda)."

- The Star/Ledger

***

Mark Purdy of the Mercury News thinks coach Ron Wilson's job is on the line if the Sharks lose Game 7 to the Flames tonight.

Maybe Joe Thornton's reputation is too. This guy seriously needs to win this series to stop the naysayers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Around the League ...Sutter's HUGE Salary ... Sens Looking For Company In Choking Category


By looking at that picture above, those two teams might want to try mixing in a few more colours. Their uniforms are so dreary that it's like looking at a still of Coronation Street. Those uniforms look like they're going to start raining.
.
***
.
If some of you have ever wondered why Bryan Murray hired John Paddock to coach the Senators and not the much sought after Brent Sutter (he may not have wanted the Ottawa job either), your answer probably lies in the fact that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is paying Sutter $15 million over 5 years. Despite this, New York Post columnist Mark Everson thinks the team should start opening its wallet for the players as well. It must have stung to see Scott Gomez contribute in a Ranger win over the Devils.


***

I was quite surprised to see the level of support the Habs have here in Ottawa since the Senators have been eliminated. At a certain Elgin Street bar on Saturday night, the room exploded every time the Habs scored. I'm starting to see more Habs flags than I did Senators flags just a week ago.

This is a strange, demented town.

***

Speaking of the Senators, you have to think that Murray and company were at least a little relieved to see the Ducks go down in a mind-blowing upset to the Dallas Stars. It gives credence to the view (as espoused on Black Aces repeatedly) that teams should expect a drop-off after a Cup run. The toll on both the body and mind may be too hard to overcome in today's NHL with better athletes and over-wrought coaching systems that never allow the tempo to cease.

I would suspect that the Senators organization would be thrilled to see the Bruins cap their incredible comeback against the Habs as well. That would take a little heat off the league wide criticisms being pointed their way.

If San Jose manages to crumble this week, the Senators may actually come out of these playoffs looking good! The Sharks reputation will sullied for a decade if they lose this series to the Flames.

***

Nick Lidstrom's 100+ foot goal against Nashville is eerily reminiscent of the floater he snuck by Dan Cloutier of the Canucks in 2002. The Wings went on to win the Cup that year with Steve Yzerman playing on one twig. Cloutier and the Canucks never really recovered.

And they still blame Mark Messier for screwing up their franchise after all these years?

Messier's dirty socks contain more hockey wisdom than the Canucks organization has ever possessed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Around The League ... Murray Says Emery Is Gone ... Gaborik Disappears ... Over The Edge Stays (Why Can't It Disappear Too?)


As expected, the beat writers spent all their energy writing about Ray Emery after the fall of the Senators to the Penguins. There was nary a mention of John Paddock's contribution to the unravelling of this team or any other possible factor. Unfortunately for the writers, no one got the knock out home run article they wanted because no player threw Emery under the bus like they expected. In fact, he was defended by most of his teammates and even Bruce Garrioch had a hard time trying to muster his usual contempt for the 25 year old.

Regardless, it looks like Emery has played his last game as a Senator because GM Bryan Murray strongly hinted in today's press conference that he's going to "explore all options", including a trade or a buyout of Emery's contract. It will be interesting to see what Murray comes up with because if he is thinking that Martin Gerber is the answer, he better get around to signing him to a contract extension. Gerber is unrestricted after next season. In today's conference, Murray tepidly characterized Gerber's performance as "fine" and that if there's an opportunity to upgrade, he'd do that.

It's a bizarre situation the team finds itself in. Emery is detested by the fans so much that Gerber has been made to look like a hero when in reality, he is a very average goalie with some major flaws in his game. The fans seemed to divide into camps with each side calling the other goalie names.

Perhaps the best thing to do is start over with two new goalies. But that is easier said than done. So do you go for skill (Emery) or likeability (Gerber)?

Frankly, everyone should be sick of talking about it. I know I am.

***

Seriously, is there a worse radio show anywhere on the planet than Team 1200's Over The Edge with Glen Kulka and Lee Versage?

It's absolute torture to listen to these guys say the exact same things day in and day out all season long. It's like they have a set of talking points that must not be strayed from and the message is "The Senators don't work hard enough" , "Ray Emery is a deviant monster" and "The Senators still don't work hard enough". That's their level of sophistication on all subjects. They speak only to the lowest common denominator and somehow that passes for sports talk radio. It's like listening to two cavemen arguing over whether the number 3 comes before the number 4 (and they both get it wrong). It's too bad because Versage used to be pretty interesting and fair-minded but the Kulkster influence has ruined him for good.

I also feel sorry for callers who try to express an opinion different from the "agenda". Kulka tells them they're an idiot and they go back to speculating on whether or not Ray Emery has a drug habit, which Kulka ridiculously insinuated back in January. How the station didn't get sued is beyond belief.
.
***

Now that Joe Thornton is off the hot seat, the next guy in the firing line is the Wild's Marian Gaborik.


He didn't just miss shots. He had trouble controlling the puck. He had trouble touching the puck. At times, Gaborik, one of the most gifted players in the world, seemed to lose all motor skills. Gaborik has been a wonderful player here, but he is the most passive of hockey stars, a player who sometimes waits for opportunities instead of creating them.

- Star Tribune

***
.
The first thing the Senators should do is sign Mike Commodore. This guy is awesome on and off the ice. He was one of the better players against the Penguins and the team can always use his size and character. It sounds like he might need convincing though. Hard to blame him after the gong show that just concluded.
.
***

Have a nice weekend hosers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Around The League ... Sportsnet Sinking Fast ... Hasek Freaking Out ... Iginla Gets In Coach's Face


This photo is just begging for a witty caption isn't it?
.
***
.
In what should be no surprise to anyone who watches cable TV in Canada, Sportsnet is now vastly behind TSN in viewership and losing ground to the Score Network at a rapid pace.


"Sportsnet finished well below the competition in the categories surveyed, and surprisingly ranked behind the Score in every category but one. ...

Sportsnet's low approval rating may reflect its narrow range of programming, mainly regional hockey and the Jays. The decision two years ago to go casual with its newscasters - jeans and open-necked shirts - received mix reviews."

I've railed against Sportsnet too many times so I won't bother to re-cap. But a network that calls home-runs "slobber-knockers", allows its "reporters" to eat pizza while on camera and heavily promotes a "sport" like Ultimate Fighting (ie. a live snuff film) just can't be that good. And it's not.

Brad Watters is one of their "hockey experts". Enough said.

***

Gary Galley is evolving into a great colour man and is a rising star at CBC and during local Ottawa broadcasts. But he had a rough moment last night.

When Antoine Vermette seemingly scored a goal to tie the Ottawa-Pittsburgh game, the play went into review because it looked like Vermette kicked the puck into the net. Galley was stunned that co-host Jim Hughson would even suggest that the goal was illegal and went into some kind of bizarre justification, trying to explain that Vermette was just trying to kick the puck up to his stick. This went on for minutes with a stunned but respectful Hughson trying to insert some sanity to the conversation. The rule is about a kicking motion, not the players intent. The replay clearly showed the puck was kicked and the goal was called off.

Galley is usually really good but last night he let his homerism get the better of him. If Bob Cole or Harry Neale were trying to justify a Leaf goal in the same manner, Ottawa fans would be outraged.

Galley gets a mulligan on that one.

***

Dominik Hasek got pulled in last night's loss to the Predators which tied the series. What was a whisper of worry has now turned into an arterial spraying wound for followers of the Red Wings. Many are now calling for Chris Osgood to start game 5 after he shut the door in his short appearance. Meanwhile, Dom is getting down on himself:


"Very disappointed," he said. "Last 60 minutes is the worst hockey I've played in my life. I have nothing to say about it. It's terrible. I feel very bad about myself."

- Detroit Free Press

Whatever happens, things will get bloody in Motor City if they can't get by the pesky Preds. The organisation is tired of failing in the playoffs after stellar regular seasons and the fanbase is starting to erode as the economy stagnates. This might be an opportunity for Ottawa to approach the Wings about Mike Babcock for that vacant coaching position.

***

Just a couple of days ago, all the pressure was on the Sharks for living up to their reputation as playoff wimps. With a gutsy win and a great performance from Joe Thornton, the spotlight is now on the Flames and their captain Jarome Iginla. There is a feeding frenzy over the now very public spat between Iginla and assistant coach Rich Preston:


"...Iginla ... was was heard screaming at assistant coach Rich Preston behind closed doors of the players’ lounge across from the Flames dressing room.

So clearly heated was their exchange, associate coach Jim Playfair heard the ugly confrontation and bolted into the room to ensure things didn’t escalate.

The media was quickly escorted back out of the area as PR boss Peter Hanlon joked, “everyone’s a little nervous about flying!” but not before the emotional captain was spotted face-to-face with the coach as others gathered. "

- Calgary Sun

It may seem like a controversy but here's betting that Iginla carries a little of that rage over into tonight's game. Prediction: Flames win. First Star: Iginla.

***

Good news for the Ducks and good news for my hockey pool: Corey Perry is "likely" back for game 4 against the Stars. If the Ducks go down, so do my chances of winning some beer money for the cottage in June. Go Ducks.

A Merciful End


Call it a collapse, call it poor work ethic, call it Ray Emery (and everyone will), but the Senators were merely following a recent historic trend when they fell to the Penguins last night and ended their season from hell.

Like the Carolina’s, the Edmonton’s, the Calgary’s, the Tampa’s and probably this year’s Ducks, the Senators found it too hard to live up to expectations after a long playoff drive the previous year.

All the aforementioned teams experienced significant drop-offs in success after their Cup runs and Ottawa is now going through the same turmoil.

But that won’t stop the critics from pressing for massive changes to the team’s structure.

To do so would be a mistake (except maybe can the moron who thought up the pre-game festivities for Game 3).

Eugene Melnyk has already said Bryan Murray will be back next year as GM and that’s the biggest no-brainer so far. Murray has done a great job overall with this team but even he couldn’t stop the slide with his years of hockey experience.

Undoubtedly, Murray erred when he brought back both Emery and Martin Gerber and he also miscalculated when he gave John Paddock the chance to coach this team.

Paddock’s coaching philosophies were bizarre to say the least. He completely overplayed his top three forwards early in the season which robbed the team’s other players of any significant roles on the squad. When Spezza, Heatley and Alfie started to break down and struggle right around Christmas, an anonymous player told the Ottawa Citizen that he “could have predicted that months ago”.

One wonders what Paddock was thinking. After having come off an exhausting playoff run, he drove his three best players to the limit in October and November without any thought that they might drop from exhaustion when the team needed them most. When they did, the Senators had no other players able to step up because Paddock hadn't given them any ice time or responsibility. The end result was a playoff sweep at the hands of the Penguins because the top three were either injured or ineffective. There has to be some blame placed in Paddock’s corner.

The team never fully recovered though Murray managed to get a lot out of players like Shean Donovan and Antoine Vermette in his short time behind the bench.

The elephant in the room is obviously the goalie situation and in my opinion, Paddock completely bungled that as well. The old saying goes that a player shouldn’t lose his place on the team because of injury. When Emery was recovering from wrist surgery, he had the number one position locked up because of his great play in leading the team to the Cup final.

Paddock had a different idea and stuck with Gerber when Emery got healthy. This caused an immature Emery to start pouting and everyone knows what happened after that. Paddock took forever to make a decision once Gerber predictably started struggling and his “win and you’re in” philosophy is the stupidest thing heard in Bytown, second only to the Spartan who stood at center ice and embarrassed this organization for at least the next five years (or as long as YouTube exists).

When Murray took over, he made the decision to go with Gerber. I don’t agree with that decision but at least Murray had the balls to make one and he would live or die with it. Turns out, he died with it but no one should completely blame Gerber for the collapse. This was coming right from day one when Paddock made the decisions that he did.

Murray tried to clean up the mess, but as Jason Spezza noted to the media after last night’s loss, it felt “like the walls were closing in” around this team.

The negativity was palpable from the fans. They were ready to run Emery out of town at the drop of a dime, despite the fact that it was clearly a case of an immature athlete and not a monster as most are making him out to be. There hasn’t been a case of media overkill like this since Alexandre Daigle was proclaimed to be the next Gretzky.

The next target was Wade Redden and after that it was the constant ridiculing of Spezza and so forth.

It’s like the fans in Ottawa can’t grasp the unalterable fact that teams need skill players to win hockey games. Their only criteria for loyalty is players that “work hard” and that is the extent of their sophistication on the subject. If they could have a team of 23 Mike Fisher clones, they would be in heaven. Too bad they wouldn’t win anything.

Murray made a statement concerning the changes upcoming and said that many ingredients go into a winning team. On top of “hard working” players, you need skill. You need tough defenseman to go along with offensive ones. You need the Chris Neil’s and Shean Donovan’s but you also need the Spezza’s and the Heatley’s.

It works the other way too for the bi-polar fan base. Most fans seemed dissatisfied with the play of Mike Commodore but what did they expect? Commodore came in and played his game. Yet fans complained that he was too slow etc. etc. Commodore has won a Stanley Cup playing a big role in Carolina yet he’s somehow not good enough for the Senators? This guy should be brought back if he will agree to. And that's not a given due to the circus like atmosphere around this place.

The fact is that this team had an off year but there should be no major fireworks in the summer. The core is solid and signed for many years to come. With the right coach and a good rest period, these players will compete again.

.
As I’ve said before, I think the Senators should try to rehabilitate Ray Emery. He’s simply too good to give up on because he made some mistakes this year. Forget the moral bleatings of the puritanical fan base and the fabricated outrage of columnists like Bruce Garrioch. Emery is the best option in nets for the franchise unless they can work a miracle and bring in someone like Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur.

Everyone knows that won’t happen so use the assets that you have.

If Murray can’t convince himself to coach this team next year, he should bring in someone with experience but not a dinosaur like Pat Burns or Pat Quinn.

Mike Babcock has no contract for next year in Detroit and Murray was the one who hired him to coach in Anaheim. He should be target number one with Joel Quenneville second on that list. Even a guy like Larry Robinson might be a good fit though it's thought that he doesn't want to be a head coach anymore.

Regardless, it should be an interesting summer in Ottawa but it will probably be quieter than you think.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Around The League ... Redden To Florida?... More Avery ... Chelios Calls Pred Fans Hillbilly's!


Jacques Martin has announced that he's going to stay in Florida as their general manager. He also noted that his main objective is to grab a puck-moving offensive defenseman to help out the Panthers. Does Martin's long relationship with soon to be unrestricted free agent Wade Redden come into play here? Highly doubtful that Redden will sign with a non-playoff team but stranger things have happened. Redden had his best years under Martin.

***

The Colorado-Minnesota series is getting extremely nasty and even the reporters covering the games are getting pissy. Woody Paige from the Denver Post sounds like he might start throwing his fists around if the Wild don't simmer down and play nice:

"After being humiliated in the first period and being completely out of it in the second period, the Wild turned feral — brutishly trying to "send a message." ....

The Avs were solidly on their game, and the Wild had no game, no skates, no effort Tuesday night, so the Minnesota players went Daniel Day-Lewis on the Avalanche. There must be blood; there must be fights; there must be stupidity; there must be ejections; there MUST be suspensions.

The Wild players' mothers had to be really proud of them. That was not pretty. And coach Jacques Lemaire should have been ashamed. That was not nice."


***

There is still a large buzz surrounding free-agent prospect Fabian Brunnstrom and now that Vancouver canned GM Dave Nonis, the Red Wings feel that they might have a shot at signing him after being rebuffed in favour of the Canucks earlier. The problem is that he wants 2 million and a guarantee of top-six minutes on the roster. Now he's starting to get some criticism as James Mirtle reports in the Globe and Mail:

"He was brilliant during the regular season, but had a really bad playoff with F√§rjestad," said one Swedish reporter. "[$2-million] sounds a bit much, doesn't it? I mean, he did play in the Swedish Division 1 — which actually means the third division, after Elitserien and Allsvenskan — last year. And I don't think he will make the roster for the national team in the world championships."

***

Larry Brooks of the NY Post thinks the league went overboard in its reaction to Sean Avery's circus act against the Devils:
"The demonizing of Avery in the wake of his creative shenanigans is completely out of line. What shrine, exactly, did he desecrate? What player's leg did he step on with his skate blade? What player did he send flying face-first into the boards on an icing touch-up?"

TSN actually compiled a Top Ten of Sean Avery moments. I don't care what anyone says - this guy is just as entertaining as Alex Ovechkin.





***

Chris Chelios has a penchant for saying some insane things, like the time he threatened Gary Bettman's family during the 1995 lockout. This is sort of pales in comparison but Chelios is still not making any new friends. Here he describes Nashville fans:


"Yeah, they're hillbillyish. ... I don't know what to say, hillbilly or country."

"They are a very emotional crowd, exciting crowd, loud, so it's actually a fun place to play on the road."


TSN personality Pierre McGuire has been telling anyone who will listen that Detroit might be in trouble against Nashville because he doesn't believe Dominik Hasek is playing good right now. Others in the media are starting to notice . Never seen so much concern over a team that is actually leading their series.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Man, The Myth...


There has been no shortage of praise for Ottawa netminder Martin Gerber and at times he has deserved it, especially in a Game 2 loss where he stood on his head for most of the game.

But has Gerber really been as good as everyone is making him out to be?

Here are Martin Gerber's playoff stats so far this season.


Record: 0 Wins - 3 Losses

Goals Against Average: 4.00 (Ranked 16th out of 17 goalies in the playoffs)

Save Percentage: .905 (Ranked 14th out of 17 goalies in the playoffs)

Goals Against: 12 (Ranked 17th out of 17 goalies in the playoffs)

There is no doubt that he has been one of Ottawa's best players, but don't tell me that he has been great. The numbers don't lie.

Many fans will be clamoring for a return of Martin Gerber to the team next year but has he done anything to change his image as nothing but a mediocre netminder? Does the team really want to stake their season next year on his shoulders?

The answer to both questions is a resounding no to anyone who relies on logic as a guiding light.

People claim they love him because he "works hard". If that's the only recipe for success then how come a guy like Fred Braithwaite isn't a number one goalie in the NHL? You need top-level skill to be a top-level goalie and Gerber just doesn't have it. Giving up two series-clinching goals in two minutes to start the third period last night will be his legacy, fair or not.

This summer should be the time to reclaim and rehabilitate Ray Emery as the number one goalie going forward for this franchise. He is more skilled, younger and the franchise has developed him from day one.

In short, Ray Emery is a better option going forward for the team if it wants to keep building for the future.

Around The League ... Sparta Goes Under ... Monument Smashed In Bytown ... Nonis Gets Canned For Boring Hockey ....


As I noted in my previous post below, the Senators pre-game ceremony was an embarrassing joke that is now reaping in the laughs across the league. Here's the video proof.




One detail I did not notice is that fans at the game were given little swords as they came into the building to go along with the "Sparta" theme. A caller went on the morning show on Team 1200 and said that fans had no idea what to do with these swords and most of them ended up on the floor almost immediately. The caller went on to say that maybe the organization wanted fans to do the Atlanta Brave "tomahawk chop" with the swords which everyone knows is the lamest thing ever invented (and completely racist).

What ever happened to the old-fashioned tradition of handing out white or red towels so the fans can wave them? Why does the organization think it has to resort to lame gimmicks to get the fans in Ottawa excited for a playoff game? All they have to do is turn the lights on and pop some popcorn. That's all.

Instead the fans get some blowhard in a WWE costume screaming at centre ice with a wonky microphone and his "speech" taped inside his shield for the nation to see.

Did Roy Mlakar really give his OK to this? If so, this guy needs a vacation. Possibly a permanent one.

Here's some advice: Bring back the Senators theme song. Play highlights of last year's Cup run to inspire the fans. Set off a few fireworks. Then let them play. The crowd will take care of the rest.


***

Somebody made the effort to go down to Gladstone and Bay to completely demolish the monument that marked the site of Dey's Arena where the Senators won their first Stanley Cup in 1903. The granite was smashed and the plaque stolen where it was attached to a laundromat that now occupies that corner where the historic building once stood.


I used to frequent that laundromat and live in that neighborhood. Let's just say I'm not surprised something like this happened. There are plans to replace it so the prostitutes and the crackheads will still be able to learn something about the city's history.


***

David Nonis was fired by the Vancouver Canucks amid speculation that Anaheim GM Brian Burke might be making his way back up the coast to take over the operation. Burke's wife works in Vancouver and has been making the commute for a couple of years now.
.
I tend to agree with James Mirtle that this was a good move on the part of the Canucks. Mirtle points out that besides the one great trade that Nonis made (Bertuzzi etc. for Luongo), he hasn't exactly improved the team through his free-agent signings or trades.
.
But the sore point for me was the way the Canucks morphed from a high-tempo, exciting team into the perhaps the most boring team in the league. Nonis hired Alain Vigneault knowing full well that the hockey would be dull and in the end, the Canucks didn't win anything anyways.
.
There are a lot of columnists coming to the defence of Nonis, in particular Ian MacIntyre who points out that the Canucks have probably lost the opportunity to sign Swedish prospect Fabian Brunnstrom because Nonis was the architect of the impending deal. Almost every team in the league is trying to sign this guy and with Nonis now canned, they may get a second chance (including the Senators who are said to have pursued Brunnstrom hard).

"The irony is Nonis hoarded his key assets and managed his payroll well enough this season that, for the first time, he had players to trade and money to spend on free agents this summer in order to pursue the two or three key forwards the Canucks needed."

Tony Gallagher of the Province whole heartedly applauds the move, citing boring hockey as one of the primary reasons for Nonis's firing:

It's one thing to lose, but quite another to lose in boring fashion. And if there is one thing an owner cannot have, it's watching his customers fail to be entertained, and on many nights this season that was certainly the case, this team often excruciatingly boring even on nights when they won. ...

When you think about it, the Canucks are the only team in Canada that plays a system that made scoring goals a pretty difficult task, particularly with the woeful quality of forwards Nonis had assembled and placed in the care of now dangling coach Alain Vigneault.

***

Hugh Adami of the Ottawa Citizen takes the game way too seriously when he suggests that the NHL should try to get Sean Avery out of the league altogether. Adami claims that Avery is bringing the league into "disrepute" with his antics, especially the circus act he unveiled when trying to screen Martin Brodeur last game. The league changed the rule overnight to allow the refs to call an unsportsmanlike penalty in such a scenario.

I give kudos to Avery for trying something new. It was hilarious and I know that anytime Avery is on the ice, I'm watching. The league can use at least ten more guys with Avery's personality.

What is it with Ottawa sportswriters anyways? These guys are the new morality police of the NHL. If you're not white bread and butter, you're a menace. Let the game breathe for chrissakes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

This Is Not Sparta!!


The night started out on a bizarre note as the Senators unveiled perhaps the most embarrassing pre-game schtick ever seen in the NHL.
.
Talk about a gong-show.

Some knucklehead dressed up as a Spartan walked through the team as they were lined up against the wall outside the dressing room while the video was piped onto the scoreboard. You could tell the players were told to look serious but half of them looked like they were going to crack up laughing. The most mind-bending aspect is that the players had to go through this awkward piece of theatre and break their pre-game rituals before their biggest match of the season.
.
Someone actually thought this was a good idea.
.
Instead of getting mentally prepared for the game, you can just picture some PR dunce having the team rehearse looking mean for the camera.

Then the Spartan guy gets to centre ice and starts screaming about something which we can't hear because his microphone starts going in and out. How is it possible that the people who put this together didn't slap at least three spare microphones to this guy just in case the original mic didn't work? Everyone knows that microphones never work when you need them to.

So the dude is yelling but then his helmet almost falls off because it doesn't fit properly. He barely keeps it on his head when he allows the camera to see the inside of his shield where his moronic speech is printed in case he forgets the words. Not that it mattered because no one could hear it anyways.

It was literally enough to make you retch. Then the team decides to not play the traditional Senators theme that the players always skate out to and replaced it with some kind of canned heavy metal.

This is all on top of the controversy about someone in the organization making the decision to put up a mural next to the visitors dressing room of the Senators shaking hands with the Penguins after defeating them in last year's playoffs. The Senators players were privately embarrassed and coach Bryan Murray made it clear during a press conference that he had nothing to do with it.

And this is all before the puck was even dropped.

The game was tight and well played by both sides until the opening two minutes of the third period when the Penguins scored two quick goals before the Zamboni had even shut off its engine.

No one in the press is going to come out and blame Martin Gerber for those goals because this guy has been built up so much that he is immune from criticism. Instead the blame will be placed on the other players on the ice.

But Gerber had to stop those shots. And he didn't. He made some great saves all game but he couldn't make two critical saves at two critical moments. Just like that, the game was over.

He has let in four goals in three straight playoff games and no team is going to win like that, no matter how good Gerber played overall.

The truth is that Pittsburgh is a better team right now in all aspects and they deserve to win this series. The sad reality for Senators fans is that the opportunity for success may have passed them by because Pittsburgh is only going to get better in the next two to three years while Washington, Philadelphia and Montreal are not far behind.

Strangely enough, Ottawa doesn't need to re-tool too much over the summer. More than anything, an early exit might pay off down the road because this team is physically and mentally tired from two straight years of non-stop hockey.

The end is nigh...

Shark Disaster


After last night's embarrasing loss to the Flames, the Sharks are starting to hear the "choke" label being applied by everyone who covers the team. Looking at these columns, they look almost identical to ones written about the Senators before they went on a Cup run in 07. Mark Purdy of the Mercury News is turning as red as Bruce Garrioch at the sight of Ray Emery:


"On a Sunday night that will live in franchise infamy, the Sharks repeated their familiar and lousy act of playoffs past. They wasted away their excellence. Again. They didn't respond well to a physical challenge. Again. ...

This is the classic behavior of our beloved Los Tiburones. It has been their behavior for the past four years. They raise Stanley Cup hopes by looking dynamic and great for a while. Then some adversity hits them and they go down in, yes, Flames."


"It takes men to play this sport, not a bunch of boys," the Sharks goalie said Sunday night. "And we looked like a bunch of boys out there and they looked like a bunch of men. Now we have to turn it around and respond."


The Flames beat writers are not shying away from plunging in the knife either:

"The Sharks had the Calgary Flames, near helpless, by the short-and-curlies Sunday night, and didn't have the sense to squeeze.

When in desperation the Flames pushed, hard, often harder than the bounds the law or etiquette allow, the Sharks didn't push back.


They simply wilted. "



Here's the Cory Sarich hit on Patrick Marleau that seemed to spark the comeback (courtesy of Illegal Curve. ) Vicious.





Spezza In .... Alfredsson Too?


Bryan Murray dropped a bombshell today saying he "won't rule out" Daniel Alfredsson playing in game 3 tonight against the Penguins in Ottawa.

Jason Spezza took the morning skate and is good to go.

Suddenly things look a little more brighter in Bytown. Even if Alfredsson can't go tonight, it looks like he could be a possibility for game 4.

Senators Fight The Odds


Heading into tonight’s game 3 tilt in Ottawa, the odds are clearly stacked against the Senators beating the Penguins in this series.

The first stat that hits you - The Senators have never rallied back from a 2-0 deficit in a playoff series.

Perhaps even more daunting is the league wide stat - Only 37 out of 280 teams down 2-0 in a seven game series have come back to win.

If the Senators are planning on being that unlikely 38th team, they are going to have to overcome not just their own adversity, but (as people are prone to forget) they have to beat a very good Pittsburgh team that hasn’t even played their best game yet.

Despite racking up the points, Sidney Crosby has yet to have a breakout game like he is certainly capable of. His linemate, Marian Hossa is still struggling but it’s only a matter of time before he makes an impact.

What’s left for Ottawa to surprise the Penguins with?

Short of Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher making miraculous recoveries, not much. It would help if Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley found some chemistry but alas, Bryan Murray has opted to split them up for tonight’s game (assuming Spezza can play through his mysterious leg injury).

According to the Ottawa Sun, Heatley will play with Antoine Vermette and Cory Stillman while Spezza will center a line with Nick Foligno and Alex Nikulin.

It’s not a bad move on Murray’s part and it might spark something in either player though I would put my money on Heatley’s line being more successful. Spezza with two rookies does not exactly inspire confidence.

Nikulin, a recent call up from the eliminated Bingo Sens, has the ability to produce – but in the NHL playoffs? I don’t expect much help from the young Russian who looked overwhelmed in the regular season.

Regardless, the Senators can build on a gutsy and gritty performance in game 2 and they must play the same style of game tonight. Of all the teams in the league, the Senators should know that skilled teams can sometimes be beaten by a more physical and determined squad. The Leafs did the same thing to the Senators four times in the past.

Martin Gerber will again have to be outstanding but he has got to find a way to keep the Pens to 2 goals or less. He has been stellar but he’s still let in four goals a game. He’s got to steal one tonight, no matter how tall a task. The best goalies find a way to do it and Gerber should be held up to the same standard no matter how popular he is with the fans and media right now. The fact remains that he let in a very stoppable wrap-around goal that decided the game because he was too far out of position.

It all comes down to results, not just for Gerber, but for the whole team as well. Moral victories don't win a playoff series.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Remembering the Dackell Hit



With Anton Volchenkov's gruesome forehead injury making the news, it reminded me of the time Andreas Dackell got crushed by Eric Lindros and got knocked unconscious just over ten years ago. I promised to post the photo if I found it and lo and behold, it pays to keep old clippings. The after-effects of the hit are visible above and make Volchenkov's facial injury look like a mild case of acne in comparison.



Friday, April 11, 2008

Devastating Loss For Senators


Despite playing one of the grittiest playoff games in their history, the Senators lost a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2.

I don't think I've ever seen an Ottawa team play with such a lunchbox mentality and I've certainly never seen Martin Gerber play as good as he did. He was within minutes of stealing a game for the Senators but got beaten on a wraparound by Ryan Malone with just over a minute remaining.

There were moments in the game when it seemed that Gerber was never going to let another goal in and Sidney Crosby was uncharacteristically quiet while Marian Hossa continued his post-season struggles that have haunted him his entire career. At one point he actually had the puck between Gerber and the goal line and still managed to miss. Senators fans are familiar with that act.

Yet the Senators still lose.

Players like Evgeni Malkin (who is so dominant at times that it's hard to comprehend) and Petr Sykora are clearly outplaying Jason Spezza (who seemed to be playing hurt) and Dany Heatley but role players like Shean Donovan and Chris Neil are beginning to step up and outhustle the Penguins third and fourth liners. Even Randy Robitaille who I skewered in a previous post played a tenacious game on the fourth line with Cody Bass.

The Senators are in a huge hole now and their chances of coming back in this series are slim at best, but they showed their fans that they're capable of playing a grinding game and that's almost unheard of for this franchise in 11 straight years of playoffs.

If Martin Gerber can stay in this type of zone, the Penguins will have a fight on their hands in Ottawa for the next two games.

Stay tuned.

Visions Of Roberts

The guys over at Pensblog have taken the Senators paranoia of Gary Roberts to the extreme by posting an entire team portrait (scroll down a little on the Pensblog to see it) with players on the Penguins eerily resembling Roberts.

That is one of the most insane and funniest things I've ever seen.




Around The League ... Sabres Get Ready To Dump More Salary? ... Nobody Seems To Want Jacques Martin Around Anymore


Henrik Zetterberg was ridiculously good last night against Nashville. If you get a chance to catch this series, Zetterberg is going to take that thing over. He might be the quietest superstar in the NHL.

***

The Sabres have officially put up the "For Sale" sign out on Maxim Afinogenov, who had a brutal season. There's more bad news from Buffalo in the same article as managing partner Larry Quinn is already complaining that the Sabres are spending too much of their revenue on player salaries. Those comments come in light of Ryan Miller needing a big contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. After seeing Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell leave town due to money issues, why would Miller even contemplate signing a deal one year before free-agency? He will most certainly have a look around, especially with those ominous quotes from Quinn possibly indicating a drop in payroll in the coming years.

***
.
Jacques Martin is no longer the coach of the Panthers but has been given the option to stay on as General Manager. Nobody knows if he'll stay in Florida or not, but there are still misgivings about Mr.Personality staying on as GM, according to Steve Gorten of the Sun-Sentinel.
"Should Martin choose to stay, it's uncertain how the hiring of his replacement would be handled. Cohen said briefly Friday that Martin would help decide his successor.

However, it's likely Martin would select someone similar to his own personality and coaching style, something which fans and Cohen alike don't feel has worked the previous three seasons. Several players in the Panthers' dressing room were also displeased with how Martin related to them as coach."


David J. Neal of the Miami Herald thinks the whole Martin era in Florida has been a disaster, starting with the firing of Rick Dudley and John Torchetti to be replaced with Mike Keenan and Jacques:


"Captain Olli Jokinen, right wing Nathan Horton and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester .... were said to be most unhappy with their coach and the atmosphere. Too much negativity."

***
.
Even though Islanders GM Garth Snow and head coach Ted Nolan are having a not so secretive struggle with each other, particularly over the case of Jeff Tambellini, Nolan will return next year.

Tambellini is lighting it up in the AHL but Nolan doesn't seem to give him a chance and that's irking Snow enough to talk publicly about it.


If there is one player on which the GM and coach clearly disagree, it's Jeff Tambellini. He scored one goal in 31 games with the Islanders while averaging only 10:25 ice time per game. But he resumed scoring when he returned to Bridgeport, where he is tied for the AHL lead with 36 goals in only 53 games.

"We don't know what we have in Jeff Tambellini until he gets an opportunity to play significant minutes and play on one of the two power-play units," Snow said. "He's a proven goal scorer at every level when he's gotten the opportunity. He's got speed, he's got a rocket of a shot, and he's high-character. We'll see if he can do it at this level."

Frankenstein Won't Miss Game 2


Anton Volchenkov confirmed to the Ottawa Citizen that he won't miss game 2 despite the fact that his regular helmet won't fit over that gnarly monstrosity he now calls a forehead.

15 stitches from an Evgeni Malkin slapshot and the A-Train says he feels "not bad".

Just check out that photo. All he's missing is the Eddie Munster haircut and the bolts in his neck.

That is the second most gnarled Ottawa mug of all time. The best belongs to Andreas Dackell's face after he was crushed into the boards by the Flyers Eric Lindros in the late 90's. If I can find that photo anywhere I'll update this post to show it.

For The Love Of Everything Decent, Drop Robitaille and Bring In McGrattan


It was an astonishing and distasteful sight to see non-presence Randy Robitaille lined up beside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley for Game 1 against the Penguins. As usual, Robitaille provided nothing, hit nothing and scored nothing.

Finally, Bryan Murray has seen the light and dropped Robitaille to the fourth line and promoted Martin Lapointe to play on the top unit. Lapointe was one of Ottawa's best players in game one and showed the kind of grit and overall nastiness that has been absent from the Senators since... well since 1992.

But why does Robitaille have to play at all? Wouldn't Murray rather have a grinder like the woefully underused Brian McGrattan on the fourth line?

I've never understood the unwillingness of both Murray and John Paddock before him, to put their trust in McGrattan. Teams across the league are playing their tough guys in the playoffs. Anaheim, Minnesota and Pittsburgh with Georges Laraque seem to get by okay without any disastrous results.

Just because Robitaille has more skill than McGrattan doesn't mean he can contribute more. If your team is lacking in skill because of mass injuries, why not load up on what you do have - toughness.

McGrattan is not going to drop the gloves with everyone he see's. He's going to hit guys, over and over and over again, the same as Laraque who was instrumental in the Penguins first goal in game one.

What is Robitaille going to add to the fourth line? Nothing. In fact, he'll weaken them because he refuses to play a physical game.

As of right now, the Senators don't really have an answer for the Penguins firepower. They do have an answer for the Penguins grit and toughness but that answer is sitting in the press box crushing pizza and Doritos.

Get him on the ice and see what he can contribute. Honestly, what do the Senators stand to lose?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Around The League ... CBC Screws Ottawa Fans Yet Again ... Sharks Trying Not To Choke ... Sidney's Doppelganger


For those of you who remain ultra-paranoid about the CBC having an anti-Senators bias, you may not be surprised to learn that the channel chose not to broadcast the game in High Definition last night.

Tomorrow night's game in Montreal is in HD however, as was last night's Calgary-San Jose game.

Apparently the CBC has only two HD "trucks" needed to broadcast the games for those who have the proper TV's and setup. They decided not to send one to Pittsburgh last night. On the other hand, TSN is broadcasting every game in HD.

William Houston of the Globe and Mail says that Ottawa's home games will be in HD but not the games in Pittsburgh.

Is anyone that surprised?

***
You think the Senators have faced some playoff pressure over the years? The San Jose Sharks are again being picked by a lot of pundits to go far but they're already off to a slow start against the underdog Calgary Flames. As George Johnson of the Calgary Herald notes, the Flames have put the seed of doubt in their minds.


"Well, that wasn't exactly a chicken-bone-in-the-throat ga-a-a-g you heard gurgling out of the Sharks -- Game 1 is too ridiculously early to begin predicting any sorts of trends in a series -- but they could be heard clearing their throats, loudly.

This franchise, as everyone is doubtless aware, has slipped on so many playoff banana peels you might believe they played their games in a Chiquita factory. In order to avoid a sordid regurgitation of the past bile, a victory, preferably of the comprehensive variety, was imperative Wednesday night."


***

It's almost too insane to believe, but Flyers goalie Martin Biron will play his first playoff game of his career tonight. And people were questioning Martin Gerber's experience?

***
.
Is it just me or does the Penguins Tyler Kennedy look like a homely little brother of Sidney Crosby?
.

Roberts Goes To War


As expected, a lot of the post-game-one talk is about Gary Roberts and his penchant for burying the Senators. Roberts himself is almost the physical embodiment of all of Ottawa's past failures and now he's reared his battle scarred head out of the abyss.

At least the Senators went after Roberts in the final seconds, with brash newcomer Cody Bass leading the way. The incredible thing about it is that Roberts, as seen here, seems to be challenging the entire Senators team. This guy is unbelievable.





Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gets it right when he says that Roberts is "torturing" the Sens.

"He's got that thing in his eyes," Talbot said. "I don't know what it is, but it's pretty scary." ...

They paid Roberts the ultimate hockey compliment by trying to beat the heck out of him in the final few seconds. ...

"I was at the bottom of the pile, so I don't know who was punching me," he said. "I just knew I was getting hit a lot."

Roberts' puffy right eyelid showed it. It looked as if it were about to explode.

Roberts clearly loved it."


Spezza, Heatley and Gerber Fail To Step Up


It was a brutal beating at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Ottawa Senators can’t be declared officially dead yet.

There were some positives to grab a hold of… but not many.

After a disgraceful start, Martin Gerber actually played really well in the second and third periods. The problem is that Gerber got his team behind early when he watched a weak backhander by Gary Roberts beat him to the glove side. That was the end of the game right there because the Senators couldn’t capitalize on two 5 on 3’s later in the contest.

Gerber simply has to stop that puck just for the sake of everyone’s sanity and not just because it was a weak shot (and the first shot on net!), but because it was Gary Roberts. The mountain of mental baggage that comes with Roberts versus the Senators is just too much too fathom at this point, yet we are seeing it all over again. Gerber struggled all through the rest of the period and nearly let in a Tommy Salo-esque goal when a puck hit his shoulder and flipped behind his back, narrowly missing the net.

But he stepped up huge with a glove save on the same play that Anton Volchenkov got his forehead caved in by a slapshot and from then on he was stellar. He then went on to let in two more marginal goals at the end of the third period and that was all she wrote.

At the end of the day, Gerber still let in 4 goals while Marc-Andre Fleury let in 0. People will be tripping all over themselves to say that Gerber is not to blame but he didn’t help the team win either.

The playoffs are about results and Gerber didn’t get the job done.

But neither did Jason Spezza or Dany Heatley and this might be an even bigger problem than shaky goaltending. They weren’t particularly bad but they were clearly frustrated at not being able to generate much of anything on offense and that’s not really a surprise. For all of their skill, Spezza and Heatley don’t seem capable of bringing their games to another level the way Daniel Alfredsson can in pressure situations. That’s not to say they won’t, but they don’t seem to be able to ignite that passion that allows teams to get over the hump.

On a more positive note, a few role players such as Martin Lapointe and Shean Donovan had decent games and the Senators showed some physical grit and toughness throughout. Mike Commodore was particularly hard on some Pittsburgh players but he made a crucial mistake that led to a 2 on 1 and a Petr Sykora goal.

As expected, Evgeni Malkin was dominant but Sidney Crosby had a strangely quiet game and gave Penguins fans a panic filled moment when he barreled into the end boards feet first, almost exactly the same way he badly injured his ankle earlier in the season.

The dude was okay.

So what should give the Senators hope for the next game and the rest of the series?

Well, when all is said, it could have been much worse. For large parts of the game, the Senators were competitive and actually seemed to win the second period despite being severely shorthanded injury wise and on the road.

Somehow, somehow…if Spezza and Heatley can find a way to score and they steal a game in Pittsburgh on Friday, things change a little and there could be some reason for optimism.

But until anything changes, the Penguins played like the better team and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case going forward.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Around The League ... Remembering the Brooks/Tortorella Shit Show ... Keenan's Back To Raise Hell ... And More Grief In Lotus Land


Over in New Jersey, the Devils aren't exactly hounded by autograph seekers when they're out in public. In fact, as the Star-Ledger's Rich Chere notes, not many people even know who the hell they are - not even face of the franchise Martin Brodeur.

"This is the 11th straight season in which the Devils have been in the playoffs, but this may well be one of their most anonymous teams. John Madden said he has been to several hockey equipment/sporting goods stores in the area and wasn't recognized.

Brian Gionta has gone grocery shopping in Verona without being recognized.

Paul Martin recently saw the movie "SemiPro" at Essex Green Plaza and was not recognized.

Jamie Langenbrunner can shop or dine without being recognized most times. And he's the captain.

"You can even go to dinner with Marty sometimes and nobody will know who he is. Or, at least they don't let on that they know," Langenbrunner said. "


Across the Hudson River in Manhattan, the Ranger's most prominent beat writer, the grumbling and antagonizing Larry Brooks, picks the Devils to win in six games. I have to say I agree (in fact, I think New Jersey will win the East outright and that the Rangers are slightly overrated right now).

What I'm most looking forward to is Brooks getting into another public pissing match like the one he had with Bolts coach John Tortorella last year. At about 1 minute into this video, the shit hits the fan pretty good.





***

This is the first chance that Mike Keenan gets to coach in the playoffs since 1996 with the St. Louis Blues. That was the year Wayne Gretzky wore the blue note after getting traded from Los Angeles.

That was a long, long time ago.

So long that a lot of us may have forgotten the antics he used to get up to when the games mattered the most. Jeremy Roenick talks to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun and reminds us of a funny story that happened when the two of them were together with the Blackhawks:


"In the 1992 Stanley Cup, I got slashed by Kevin Stevens, and Mike threw a cast on my hand and put me in front of the media to get a point across to the league and the officials that I was getting cheap-shotted," chuckled Roenick during a conference call yesterday setting up his Sharks' series with Keenan's Calgary Flames.

"He made me a guinea pig -- it was kind of embarrassing -- but what Mike says, you do. Mike is a genius when it comes to head games and getting into the referees' or players' heads. He's crazy -- very slippery, very sly. He can manipulate a lot of people with what comes out of his mouth. That's just a talent."

***
They are still picking over the carcass of the Vancouver Canucks and columnist Tony Gallagher thinks that coach Alain Vigneault and his stifling style of play has to take some of the blame for almost every offensive player on the team having off-years.

"So here's the bottom line. Every single player who fits into the "offensive minded" or "finesse" category on this team underachieved in terms of
production. ...


Can you wonder why someone might want to question whether Vigneault is capable of coaching talented players? ...

What does it say to Naslund, traditionally this team's leading goal scorer, when he doesn't play on a five-on-three man advantage, something he hasn't done since Vigneault arrived. Is this not a kick in the jollies from the word go? What does it say to Naslund when he's playing with the Sedins and the line is doing well, when suddenly there's a power play and he's yarded off to the second unit in favour of someone who has nowhere near the offensive capability simply because said player happens to shoot right?"

Yikes!


James Mirtle has an interesting post up about the starting goalies for the playoffs and their respective records.

Of all the number one goalies in this years playoffs, Martin Gerber has the second worst Goals Against Average at 3.48 (thankfully for Ottawa, the worst is Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury with a 3.77 GAA).

Gerber also has the worst save percentage of all goalies, with a meagre .854. Marc Andre Fleury is next on the list with a marginally better .880 percentage.

One of these goalies is going to step up and improve on those numbers. Which one will it be?

Black Aces First Round Predictions


I'm not going to go into the reasons for my picks because the papers and blogs are saturated with that type of talk right now and there's no reason to pile on the over-analysis. For Ottawa fans who might take me to task for my Penguins prediction, fear not. I'm terrible at predicting anyways.

Montreal vs Boston

Black Aces Pick: Montreal in 6 games

Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

Black Aces Pick: Pittsburgh in 5 games

Washington vs Philadelphia

Black Aces Pick: Washington in 7 games

New Jersey vs New York Rangers

Black Aces Pick: New Jersey in 6 games

Detroit vs Nashville

Black Aces Pick: Detroit in 6 games

San Jose vs Calgary

Black Aces Pick: Calgary in 7 games

Minnesota vs Colorado

Black Aces Pick: Minnesota in 6 games

Anaheim vs Dallas

Black Aces Pick: Anaheim in 5 games

Monday, April 7, 2008

Predictions Re-Visited.


Like a lot of bloggers, I'm dragging out my pre-season predictions (which you can see in full here) and by the looks of things, I've got some crow to eat.

I picked Buffalo to finish first in the East and the Tampa Bay Lightning to finish 3rd. They finished 10th and 15th respectively. Brutal.

In the West I fared a lot better and only missed Dallas who I picked to finish 9th but they ended up making the playoffs in the 5th spot.

I picked San Jose to win the President's Trophy but that ultimately went to Detroit with San Jose finishing a relatively close second.

I also picked the Ottawa Senators to beat the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup final, and while that's still a possibility, I don't think I'll be making those same picks when I make my post-season predictions tomorrow. Though I might hold on to Calgary. I figure Mike Keenan is due for a good run. I picked him for the Jack Adams award but maybe he'll just pot the Stanley Cup instead.