Thursday, October 30, 2008

Structure


It was a good day for Bryan Murray.

The Shawville native has taken some heat early in the season for moves he didn't make this summer, but a huge signing today and two in July have certainly quieted his critics for now.

With the hard-fought win over Florida, the Senators are now only one win away in Tampa on Saturday from being back to .500. And just a week ago, that idea seemed almost preposterous.

And a lot of credit should go to two individuals - Craig Hartsburg and Alex Auld.

Hartsburg has the Senators playing in ways they haven't even attempted since the Jacques Martin era.

For at least two games now, they are playing with a rock solid structure to their game. Their play in their own end is night and day from early October and the forwards are committed to the system which allows for heavy forechecking and a defensive 2-2-1 setup when it's needed.

What you're seeing is a total buy-in from the players to Hartsburg's coaching. From the first line to the last, the Senators are grinding it out no matter what the circumstance in the game.

And they're getting some much needed help from Alex Auld who seems to have already won the number one position after only four games. Some would say that's presumptuous but isn't it pretty damn obvious? The confidence starts in his net and you can see it spreading throughout the team after all those gun-shy years with Martin Gerber at the helm.

Both Auld and Hartsburg were Murray signings and he deserves some credit for taking a chance on a junior coach who once failed miserably in the NHL and a journeyman goalie who has had glimmers of excellence when given the opportunity.

Getting Daniel Alfredsson signed today is another big achievement for Murray after locking up the likes of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to long-term deals.

Now two games doesn't win you Stanley Cups but two games can go a long way to restoring confidence in a team and the short-term trend is certainly encouraging for the organization going forward.

Now, Murray, how about that puck moving defenseman?

***

It was probably a sign the Senators weren't anticipating having to hold a press conference in Florida when you see two white numberless jerseys (from the extra supply teams travel with) hanging on wire hangers behind the podium as a backdrop.

Wire hangers? It looked like they were holding the conference in a Salvation Army if you didn't know better. I thought they would be toting around that familiar blue backdrop they use back in Kanata for these things, especially with talks ongoing. It was strange to see two multi-millionaires in Melnyk and Alfredsson standing in front of a couple of wire hangers.

Why do I keep saying wire hangers? Because it gets me a chance to show a clip from the epically awful Mommie Dearest, the movie that made wire hangers a part of bad cinema history.

NO WIRE HANGERS .... EVER!!!!



***

What's with the moustache on Alex Picard anyways? It's not that it's a bad idea but when you go 'stache, you better go all out or just shave it off. Picard's stache is a little like his play on the ice - timid but with potential.

David Booth of the Panthers tried to shave it off with his stick in the third period but got two minutes for his troubles. The stache was unharmed.

***

A lot of people don't like the instigator rule and it's pointed out as a reason that vicious head shots are so prevalent in the NHL. The theory goes that players aren't afraid of the consequences so they hit whomever and however they please.

Except the penalty for instigating a fight is actually just two minutes. If a player feels he needs to make a statement and pound someone for a transgression against one of his teammates, he should just do it. And the team, including the coach, should be more than happy to kill off the two minutes. That's what you call a "good penalty".

Of course there are more severe penalties depending on the situation (see NHL rule 47) and how many times you do it in one game or the season. But if you keep it to less than 3 times in a season, that's a lot of instigator penalties you can burn throughout the year spread across different members of your team while basically just having to kill off a measly two minute power-play.

Old-school justice can still be meted out in the modern NHL. You just have to pick your moments to do it.

***

Speaking of old-school, Chris Neil had another great game on that line with Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu. The black eye and the missing front teeth are about as old-school as you can get.

More Theme Song Craziness


It looks like the "Bring Back The Sens Theme Song" movement is starting to gain strength. People have been bemoaning the loss of the song when the players take to the ice (it's been replaced with some canned piece of crap by a band called Rev Theory) and now it's gotten some mainstream media attention.

James Gordon over at the Ottawa Citizen wrote a whole piece on the subject and even got a lame response from the Senators director of game entertainment who says that the new song fits the "edginess" theme of the Senators season.

Like...whatever dude.

The best part of the article might be the passionate fan responses at the bottom.

"Much like the botched Centurion opening in last year's playoffs, this is a move that reeks of someone in marketing getting delusions of grandeur."

"This year, the fans are barely even reacting when they come on the ice. I sit in the 300s, which are usually the best place for cheering, but to start the games this year it is like a tomb up there. Even worse than the entrance for the 1st is the entrance for the second. It actually depresses the fans. "

" I cant believe the organization would toss away such a significant and recognizable piece of their brand. It blows my mind..."

***

Here's some video of Adam Mair trying to get into the Senators dressing room, in case you've been under a rock.



***

Looks like the Alfie contract is going to be announced today.

See you after the game.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spezza Takes Over


Thump...Thump...Thump...Thump

That sound you heard was either the heartbeat of the Ottawa Senators coming back to life or the thousands of jaws hitting the floor in the Nations Capital after a game that was more unexpected than a good Nickelback song.

The Senators played only their second great game of the season and this one was even better than the win over Pittsburgh in game two of the Stockholm Series.

Yes the offense came back thanks to an utterly possessed Jason Spezza but even more heartening was the emotion the team showed when they were challenged physically by the Sabres.

First it was Jason Smith throwing Maxim Afinogenov to the ice after the speedy winger took a late shot on Alex Auld after the whistle. Then Mike Fisher jumped to Daniel Alfredsson's defense after Mike Weber took a run at the captain. Chris Neil got into his third fight in three games when he took on Sabre heavyweight Andrew Peters... and beat him.

It was an interesting sight to see Neil having a big laugh with Smith in the penalty box after that scrap, with Neil still sporting a welt on his cheek from an errant puck a few plays before that.

Then you had Alfredsson getting fist pumps from his teammates on the bench after simply clearing the puck on the penalty kill. According to the NHL Network's Gary Green, the players were going nuts on the bench as Alex Auld made huge saves throughout the game.

Maybe it's chemistry or maybe it's just an expression of relief from a criticism-weary bunch of guys, but something was happening out there.

Spezza was unbelievable and his pass from behind the net to Dany Heatley for a goal was awe inspiring - it actually threaded through a Sabre defenseman's legs on the way to Heatley's tape. There is no doubt that one day this will be his team and Spezza seems to be responding to Craig Hartsburg better than anyone could have thought. After being criticised heavily in the early going, Spezza has been among the hardest working players for three or four games now. The scoring was bound to come and his deke on Lalime was more vintage Spezza that fans should feel lucky to watch.

Antoine Vermette played well on that line and the penalty kill was again outstanding, easily being the Senators bright spot throughout the early season.

Auld is now solidifying his hold on the number one job by providing some real NHL goaltending for this team. He might be a tad scary when he handles the puck but Auld is miles ahead of Martin Gerber in both technical skill and confidence right now.

Christoph Schubert is also defying his critics, one of whom has been his coach, by showing that he can do the job on the last defense pairing with Smith. His early goal seemed to break the spell and the Senators never looked back.

The fourth line isn't taking a back seat either after being the only good unit for a number of games. Shean Donovan continued his hot streak by getting another goal and Dean McAmmond was all over the puck every shift.

I have a little crow to eat on Dean McAmmond as I figured him to be a dispensable player in the summer but he has totally proven me wrong and I couldn't be happier. I think Cody Bass is a future fixture for this team but McAmmond simply provides too much speed and leadership to take out of the lineup. Good for him.

Whatever the case was tonight, it shows that Craig Hartsburg may be slowly getting through to his players. With less skill than years past, the Senators will have to play a grinding, up-tempo game at all times to be successful and maybe it's just taken a while for some players to adjust.

It's only one game but sometimes that's all it takes to turn around your fortunes. As the road trip continues, fans in the Capital will be watching...and hoping that some consistency will develop.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Notes


People were stunned last week when Montreal GM Bob Gainey suggested that the NHL impose penalties on players who leave their feet to slide on the ice and block shots.

Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea and just the kind of progressive thinking that the NHL needs right now.

It would be similar to the illegal defense in basketball and would increase the amount of shots that make it to the net, especially on the power-play when this type of block is used most. It would be another option to increase offense and fend off further calls for the nets to be made bigger, something that nobody really wants.

Plus, it could actually save lives. Anyone remember Montreal Canadien (and ex-Senator) Trent McCleary taking a puck in the throat and needing an emergency tracheotomy? That was from sprawling on the ice to block a shot. The practice is needlessly dangerous and is only one of a thousand tricks that coaches have at their disposal to further take offense out of the game.

Players would still be able block shots standing up and the excitement of seeing someone risk their body in such a committed manner will be more than made up for in action around the net from more frequent rebounds. And don't worry, Anton Volchenkov will still have a job.

***

While we're at it, the league should make a few more offensive-friendly changes for next season:

1. Don't let the penalty killing team ice the puck. Why are they allowed to make an otherwise illegal play just because they have a man in the box?

2. Quit consulting goalies on equipment sizing. Just make them smaller and let them bitch and moan all they want afterwards. They have had way too much influence in the game since the mid-90's and are obstructing all attempts to bring sanity back to the issue. Goalie Roberto Luongo, who wears some of the bulkiest equipment in the NHL, actually threatened to retire if they made the nets bigger, perhaps missing the irony in his two-faced stance on the issue. It has to be smaller equipment or larger nets, one or the other. That's the type of voice the league needs to ignore.

***

The Senators blogosphere now has a new member in Blood Red Army. Looks really good so far, so check them out.

***

On Hockey Night In Canada's Hot Stove roundtable last night, Al Strachan revealed that Tampa Bay co-owner Len Barrie broke all traditional barriers and was actually in the dressing room mapping out power-play strategies on the chalkboard instead of beleaguered head coach Barry Melrose during one of their games in the Czech Republic against the Rangers.

Co-panelist Mike Milbury at first called Strachan's source, reportedly a player on the Lightning, a "gutless puke" for "talking out of school" but also called Barrie's egregious and unheard of tactic "sickening".

Strachan also went on to say that the over/under on Melrose losing his job was around mid-November. It looks like all the predictions about the Lightning becoming a side-show were prescient and not just sour grapes from the hockey establishment who weren't comfortable with a "bunch of cowboys" doing things differently.

Apparently, Barrie was instrumental in the trade of Dan Boyle to the San Jose Sharks because the two played together when Boyle was just a rookie with the Florida Panther and Barrie didn't like his attitude. The only problem is that was almost ten years ago and it's probably fair to say that the elite defenseman has matured a little since then. Barrie seems to be in a time-zone far away from the rest of the NHL anyways. Melrose might have been the most unlikely candidate to get a job coaching in the NHL again outside of Ivan Hlinka.

More questions were asked when the Lightning picked up Matt Pettinger off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. Pettinger is actually a business partner of Len Barrie in the Bear Mountain Resort near Victoria.

Lost in the carnival atmosphere is the Calder touted Steve Stamkos. What the hell must this guy be thinking?

He has 0 points in 7 games averaging just over 11 minutes in ice time. If you have money running on the Calder, you might want to switch it over to Jakub Voracek of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

***

Stating the Obvious #1: The Senators need a puck moving defenseman soon or they are going to fade into oblivion.

Stating the Obvious #2: Players like Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette are likely bargaining chips now that they've finally shown that they cannot provide secondary scoring like their contracts say they should.

Vermette especially seems stale. Not even getting a shot off on that breakaway against Vesa Toskala was brutal to watch. I'm not sure I've ever seen a player with such speed and skill have such stone-hands in my life. If hitting goal-posts and having pucks bounce over your stick in the slot were bankable, Vermie would be living high on the hog.

***

Slow. That might be one word to describe the 2008-2009 Senators. Sure they have Vermette and Dean McAmmond but no one else would be a candidate for a skating competition at the All-Star Game. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley seem to succeed despite their skating and the defence is probably the slowest it's been since the mid-1990's.

A player who could help in that department might be Maxim Afinogenov who is apparently on the trading block, but there's no way in hell Darcy Regier would make that deal with a division opponent.

Geez, Martin Havlat would look awfully good in a Senators uniform again wouldn't he? If anything, the Senators seem like they need an infusion of good 'ol European skill players, something they never used to have a shortage of (when they were winning).

But no, you gotta have "character" to play on this team.... I won't go off on that rant again.

The Senators go into Buffalo on Monday night and if you're the squeamish type, I'd avoid watching that one. The Sabres are fast, skilled and confident with great goaltending. The Senators will have to massively overachieve to avoid getting run out of the rink.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Good Team, But Not A Great Team


Nobody should be jumping all over Ottawa GM Bryan Murray just yet. He deserves time to fix this team. But, all the same, he better damn well fix it.

This version of the Ottawa Senators can be a good team, probably a playoff team, but as it stands right now, there is simply not enough talent to contend for the Stanley Cup. Not on forward, not on defense and especially not in goal.

While it was John Muckler who let Zdeno Chara walk away for nothing to Beantown, Murray worsened the problem by allowing franchise defenseman Wade Redden to also leave without compensation and traded away the team’s last true offensive defenseman in Andrej Meszaros. They might not have been fan favourites but you can’t deny that their loss has had a negative impact on this team.

That’s not a criticism of their replacements like Filip Kuba, Jason Smith and Alex Picard. They’re playing exactly as advertised and in the same manner that they’ve done throughout their careers. Smith in particular, was a great addition to this team. But Redden and Meszaros were too valuable to let go all at once and now Murray is going to have trade away some valuable forwards or prospects to fix the problem.

Under Murray, too often it’s been the fans who’ve run the team. They wanted Ray Emery gone and he was sent packing. They wanted Redden and Meszaros gone and they got their wish. When the fans finally turn on Martin Gerber (and that's right around...now), he’ll be gone too. Next up is boo-bird favourites Jason Spezza and Chris Neil whose only crimes are that fans are simply too familiar with them. They’re bored with them. Small faults are turned into irreconcilable sins. The Senators fans crave constant change and no player is too valuable to spare their wrath.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the fans wanted Daniel Alfredsson traded. Call-in shows and message boards were filled with anti-Alfie rants but not many will admit to taking part in it now.

Murray was quoted numerous times saying that he wanted the fans to have a team they could be proud of and not the bunch of carousing personalities who were dispatched to other teams, and in Emery’s case, to another country altogether.

The problem is that those players took their skills with them and Murray has not suitably replaced them. Ray Emery, love him or hate him, was the most successful goalie the Senators ever employed and despite his issues last season, was on track to have a real solid career in the NHL with a Stanley Cup run already on his resume.

Yes, he was immature but that’s not out of the ordinary in big league sports. Kids grow out of it. Grant Fuhr grew out of it. Mark Messier grew out of it (Messier used to miss planes and buses in his younger days and was sent to the minors by Glen Sather as punishment), Patrick Roy never grew out of it but he still won anyways. Murray made a fair decision to buy Emery out but it’s hard to believe that he truly thought he could succeed with Gerber as his number one goalie this year.

Yet there’s Gerber letting in the same soft goals, deflating his team in the early stages of important games and the defense can’t even execute a puck-transition strategy because they simply don’t have the high-end skill.

Character is great. Who could argue with that? But the first thing you need to win in this league is skill. Pure and simple.

Ottawa once had an abundance of it but the great “character purges” have left this team weak in too many areas to properly compete for the Stanley Cup.

You could bring the whole team home to meet mom but that’s still not going to win you anything.
.
Murray has done his part to bring in character. Now he has to get some skill back in this lineup before it’s too late for veterans like Alfie and Chris Phillips to taste some much deserved champagne.

***

More Senators Theme Song Blues

Finally attended my first game at the rink last night, and like everyone has been saying, the Senators traditional theme song had been replaced by some awful, anonymous and meaningless commercial radio crap.

It's not enough that the music guy plays the same types of songs all through the game. He has to play it in the only spot that was sacred - when the Senators take the ice.

The visuals were great, the lighting was great and the crowd was great. Then... a big fat nothing. It actually seemed to kill emotion it was so ... ordinary. Maybe that's what's wrong with Gerbs this year... he can't get into it without the Ottawa civic anthem.

Remember how the theme song would build with deep pulses as the rink went dark until pouring forth in all it's corny but heartwarming glory?

Why Roy Mlakar? Why have you ripped the only tradition the Senators have had since day one? You keep changing the sweaters every two years. You change the logo every four years? You hire cheap actors to don clumsy outfits and embarrass the whole organization nationally during the playoffs.

Why couldn't you leave the simple little Senators song alone? It didn't hurt nobody.



If your bummed out by this heinous turn of events, feel free to contact the team through their website. They do read and usually respond to e-mails. Or start a petition. Or just forget about it. Either way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"He Haunts Us Still...."


There's a lot of things wrong with the Ottawa Senators right now but some things are easier fixed than others.

And now it's time to fix Martin Gerber. No more excuses.

First it was Ray Emery who was somehow unfairly pushing him for playing time. Then it was John Paddock pulling him in a long ago forgotten game, destroying his "confidence".

Both of those roadblocks were removed from Gerber's career. He has had massive support among the fanbase and the media in Ottawa. Everyone loves this guy, rain or shine and he has been given every opportunity in the world despite the fact that he continues to lose, year after year.

But now the damage he has done to the organization has hit the terminal point.

He has become a classic example of a media constructed legend. If they keep saying he's a number one goalie, eventually everyone will believe it, regardless of the reality.

And now a question to his legions of fans and apologists who no doubt will turn their minds inside out to dredge up more half-cocked excuses for his play: Are you fans of the Ottawa Senators or are you fans of Martin Gerber? It's a valid question because the two entities are increasingly becoming polarized.

Should the goals of the organization be put aside so they can continue this exhausting charade of trying to reward the "good guy"?

Will Bryan Murray really risk his job going to the wall for Martin Gerber? Will Hartsburg?

How long before everyone realizes that they've been strolling through a Potemkin Village?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fisher's In - Beer Is Out


There's been some line shuffling in Kanata but there's no reason to get too overwrought.

No one in their right mind would put their money on Mike Fisher lasting as the number one centre for more than 3 games. Personally, I'll give it two periods before Hartsburg reunites Jason Spezza with Dany Heatley.

The reason?

They are simply too effective when they are together. Spezza might be the whipping boy when the team loses but he still gives the team a better chance of winning when he's setting up Heatley full time. That's just the way it is.

The strength of Spezza's game is setting up goal scorers and Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson are the only ones on this team.

So don't go dropping number 19, the team point leader, from your hockey pool just yet. This is a shot across the bow from the coach, trying to shake up the team a little. But Hartsburg knows where his bread gets buttered.

I do like the fact that Hartsburg has finally reunited Chris Kelly with Antoine Vermette. They've always had good chemistry and it wouldn't be shocking to see Vermette break out of his month long torpor.

The news that should really be grabbing the attention from 19-and-over Sens fans (or 18-and-over fans from Gatineau) is that Scotiabank Place has apparently had their liquor license suspended (along with the Civic Centre).

If you can't go without the suds, you should check out this ingenious invention.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Uneven Results


Losing the second game of a back-to-back is not really unexpected, and the Senators fell to the Boston Bruins in a frustrating game against the tight-checking Bruins last night. There is certainly no reason to panic at the Senators respectable 2-2-1 record but there are certain trends which can now be reasonably commented upon after the first 5 games.

1. The good news is that the penalty kill remains strong, ranking 6th in the NHL. The Senators have only taken 23 minor penalties, the 9th least in the NHL. The part that really gets strange is that they have 0 major penalties. They are only one of four teams not to have at least one scrap so far this year (Detroit, St.Louis and Carolina are the others). Chris Neil might need to drop the gloves soon because he doesn't have anything going for him on scoreboard either (0 points, minus 4).

2. Although it might be hard news for fans to comprehend, the simple fact is that the team is simply just not as good as in the past, especially on defense and in goal. When you lose a ton of skill players in such a short time, that should come as no surprise.

Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Andrej Meszaros, Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing are gone from the blueline since the lockout and that is almost too incredible to believe. Their replacements in guys like Filip Kuba, Alex Picard, Jason Smith and Brian Lee just don't provide the same level of skill (although Kuba deserves credit for an impressive 7 points). The Senators need to get a defenseman who can run the power-play or they simply won't contend.

Martin Gerber again let in the first shot he saw and went on to play his usual mediocre game, allowing 4 goals which ballooned his GAA to 3.46 (32nd in the league) and lowered his save percentage to .896 (19th in the league). Obviously that's not going to cut it and there's doubt that he can improve on those numbers. Alex Auld is still a mystery because Craig Hartsburg seems determined, like John Paddock and Bryan Murray before him, to force Gerber into a number one role, whether he deserves it or not. In fact, Gerber must be luckiest guy in the world to have so many successive coaches believe in him despite his performance. It's quite the meal-ticket he has.

3. Thank the heavens for Nick Foligno because all that secondary scoring expected from Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette is simply not there right now. Fisher is pointless in 3 games but is at least his usual physical presence on the forecheck.

But what's up with Vermie?

Here's a game log of Antoine Vermette's very ordinary season so far:

Game 1 vs Pittsburgh

Ice time: 22:44, Shots: 3, Points:0, +/-: -1

Game 2 vs Pittsburgh

Ice time: 19:03, Shots: 4, Points:1, +/-: +1

Game 3 vs Detroit

Ice time: 16:26, Shots: 4, Points:0, +/-: Even

Game 4 vs Phoenix

Ice time: 19:12, Shots: 3, Points:0, +/-: -1

Game 5 vs Boston

Ice time: 14:55, Shots: 1, Points:0, +/-: -1

He needs to rebound quickly before the trade rumours start up again.

***

Maybe Christoph Schubert's ticket back into the lineup will come as a defenseman after all. Brian Lee does not look good so far this year. In fact, last night against Boston, Lee was clearly out of his league and might benefit from some more time in the minors where he can rebuild the confidence that he displayed at the tail end of last year. Hartsburg is clearly trying to protect him right now by doling out some very limited ice time to the youngster (13 minutes on average, well below the next lowest defenseman in Picard who is getting around 17 minutes).

Strangely, the player with the least amount of average ice time on the team is tied for fifth in scoring.

Who's that player?

Shean Donovan, with 3 points in 5 games.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spezza and Gerbs Reel 'Em Back In


At the rink last night in Kanata, two players turned the tables on their critics and one player only solidified his already legendary status in this city.

Jason Spezza and Martin Gerber both turned in stellar efforts, with Spezza notching 4 points and Gerber making 34 saves in a big Senators win over the Phoenix Coyotes. Spezza was back to his old self after appearing a little gun-shy from all the overhyped criticism of his flunky turnover against the Penguins in Sweden. The goaltender who failed to bail Spezza out on that same play showed up for the first time last night and the 3 goals he allowed in the third were on great plays that any goalie would have trouble stopping.

Fans can expect bigger and better things from Spezza in the future but Gerber will still have prove himself again and again, especially after Darren Pang went on Ottawa radio Friday morning and called into question Gerber's technical skills in the net.

But last night, it was a good win for Gerber all the same.

Meanwhile, Daniel Alfredsson was again the MAN last night, surgically repaired knee or not. His nearly-blind pass from the back boards to Dany Heatley in the slot for the goal almost shocked me sober. And that was no easy task my friends.

With Jerkko Ruutu getting two goals, he has now scored more goals against Phoenix than against any other team in his career with 5 in 13 games. Spezza also now has 7 points in only 3 career games against the Coyotes. It's too bad the Yotes play in the West.

But don't be fooled by the Coyotes poor play last night. They are in the midst of a road trip and might have been caught looking forward to tonight's game in Montreal. The Coyotes are stacked with youth and Olli Jokinen has been a great addition to a team that should challenge for a playoff spot this year.

Plus they have this guy on their team now - the Cool Bryz.




Best hockey interview ever. "Can you imagine?!"

***

It was a bummer not to see Brian McGrattan last night. He was one of the few true heavyweights the Senators ever had but it was probably a nod of respect towards the Senators that Gretzky opted for skill in Enver Lisin instead of doing the expected and dressing Gratts for ceremonial purposes.

Would Gratts have been booed? If fans were rational and not prone to believing tabloid style gossip, they would have cheered a guy who spilled a lot of opposition blood in the name of the Ottawa Senators over the years.

People in town bemoaned the loss of Andre Roy when he was traded to Tampa Bay but he left behind a swath of rumours that were much worse than anything McGrattan was accused of. For his part, McGrattan defended himself to Sun reporter Don Brennan:

"McGrattan did allow a little bitterness to seep out when asked about being painted as a bad guy here. "Yeah, it does bother me," he said. "I would never say anything bad about a place that gave me a chance to break into the league. That was kind of an under-the-belt shot. You could probably go and ask every single guy I played with in the organization in six years, and it would be the exact opposite. I guess when you lose, you've got to blame somebody. Blame the guy that played 30 games last year. If they want to do that, let them do that.""

-Ottawa Sun

Gotta admit. He makes sense.

***

Speaking of line-up omissions, where the hell was Christoph Schubert last night? More and more, Schubert is drifting into no-mans land on this team. Not good enough for defense. Not good enough for the fourth line. Maybe he can try his hand at selling those hot beer nuts in the concourse (has anyone else almost broken their jaw on one of those 5 or 6 rock solid nuts that seem to be in every damn pack?)

Does anyone remember how effective Schubert was playing as that crash and bang winger during the Senators run to the Cup final? What happened to that player?

***

Chris Stevenson morphs into a schoolyard bully in his article today outlining the public opposition to commercial development at Lansdowne Park.

Jeff Hunt, owner of the Ottawa 67's, is trying to bring back a CFL franchise to Ottawa and the revitalization of the park seems to be the pivotal issue in the whole process.

Except Stevenson comes out with guns blazing against people who want Lansdowne, the most cherished publicly owned property in the city, to be hands off to commercial developers.

"Yesterday's press conference to reveal the proposal was turned into a circus by the opponents of doing anything with the Lansdowne site but apparently turning it into one big backyard where they could all link hands and sing Kumbaya. ...

As Hunt put it, this was "step two of 122," but the Glebeites, when they weren't pontificating, wanted details and they wanted them now.

What's going to happen to the interior of the Aberdeen Pavilion?

What about the soil conditions?

Why couldn't the NDP/Liberals/Green Party win every riding in the election? "

-Ottawa Sun


What?

If some people want to retain green space in their city over a professional sports team in a dinky backwater league, they shouldn't be lambasted for doing so and they shouldn't have their political affiliations ruminated upon.

Yes, there's a lot of sports fans who would like to see the Rough Riders come back, including me, but you can't just hand over valuable public property to private developers when a loud majority of people are seemingly opposed to it.

Stevenson is usually a great hockey reporter but he should leave the nonsensical hippie-baiting to nutjobs like Lowell Green.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Leafs Still Dominate CBC


It's only one weekend into the season and already Hockey Night In Canada is getting accused of having a love-fest with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The accuser this time - a Toronto Star reporter. It must be really noticeable if reporters sequestered in the heart of darkness can now see the colours on the wall:


"... based on the Saturday night opener, it's pretty much business as usual at CBC. And that means plenty of the expected and plenty of focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs, even though CBC's favourite team appears to be the worst in the country. ...

... the show's first feature was, you guessed it, a look at Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

Yes, Wilson is new to Toronto, but the Ottawa Senators have a new coach, too.

But at the CBC, the mantra has always been: If it's blue, it will do.

The same-old, same-old continued in the first intermission when the team's No.1 fan, Don Cherry, went into his trademark paranoid-old-man act and knocked the Leafs for favouring Europeans over Ontario boys."

- Toronto Star

The only disagreement I have is that the reporter goes on to rip Al Strachan. Come on, Strach is a beauty! No journalist outside of Larry Brooks is capable of emitting so much sarcasm, loathing and pure disgust into one segment like Strach can.

Gets me to thinking: Who's Strach's complete opposite?

Gotta be Darren Pang. That guy is incapable of saying anything bad about anyone. Hence, he's not exactly fun to watch.

***

As predicted, the players, the media and the majority of fans are rallying around Martin Gerber. But is owner Eugene Melnyk? In today's Ottawa Sun, Bruce Garrioch reports that "Eugene Melnyk was seen talking with goaltending coach Eli Wilson in the loading dock immediately after the game. "

Presumably they weren't talking about how great Gerbs played.

And people complained about Ray Emery being a distraction.

***

Ottawa isn't the only team with goalie problems. Peter Budaj in Colorado is taking similar heat to Gerber for letting in bad goals at bad times, allowing "tie-breaking goals within the final three minutes of each loss."

***

Seeing the Edmonton Oilers in their great vintage jersey's last night really brought back the memories. And I'm talking MEMORIES.

Who can forget this classic music video that appeared in the Oilers 1987 documentary "Boys On The Bus".



And that just gives us an excuse to go over some classic Youngblood clips from the same era. Yes.





And if we're playing videos here, this soon to be classic deserves another play. Def Leppard changes the way we think about the Stanley Cup in one moronic stroke. Upside down? It's a revolution in thinking, like when the apple fell on Newton's head. This is how the Cup should be presented from now on. Instead of drinking from the Cup, the players can now serve hot pizza on it's flat bottom.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Notes


It's nice to see someone finally pulling the alarm on the cozy and somewhat sickening relationship that Republican Sarah Palin has been cultivating with the NHL.

People in the NHL have been wallowing in her meaningless "hockey mom" publicity spin which culminated in Palin dropping the puck in Philly (as guest of Flyer owner Ed Snider) last night.

It took Adam Proteau of the Hockey News to finally offer something other than an acquiescent whimper that has been the norm from the attention hungry NHL crowd and I think he's dead on here:

"Listen, I don’t give a tinker’s damn if he supports Sarah Palin on his own time. Stars owner Tom Hicks did just that, and that’s well within his rights. But for Snider to foist his views on his fan base the way he did Saturday night, to openly bang the drum of politicians while they’re still running for office, to associate the NHL with one particular ideology, is beyond nauseating and will go down in history as a black mark on his ownership for the rest of time. ...

Moreover, it’s another element of the cutesy-fication of politicians that has lowered public debate in North America to the equivalent of the phony speech portion of beauty pageants. As the old bromide goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and all Snider did was unnecessarily polarize the experience of all fans who showed up at the Wachovia Center with the sole intent of watching good hockey.

So shame on Snider – and on the NHL for not stepping in and stopping him from denigrating and diminishing the sport as he’s done here. And my eternal thanks to all Flyers fans who booed Palin (and, I’d like to think, the guy who invited her) for their enthusiasm and volume Saturday night."

-The Hockey News


***

Despite the uneven performance of the Senators last night against Detroit, rookie Jesse Winchester again stood out. You can't help but think of Peter Schaefer when you see Winchester dominating on the boards like that. Except the rookie seems to have a good attitude as opposed to the kind of "cooler than thou" aura that Schaefer always gave off.

***

For those of you in Ottawa on the Nikolai Khabibulin watch (or should we say the Gerber Gets Out Of Town watch), you might be happy to hear that the Russian netminder was being praised for his 30 save performance last night despite losing to the Capitals. It was Khabibulin's first game since last April after missing all of training camp in the waiver fiasco.

***

A lot of people are already pulling the "I told you so" card with the Tampa Bay Lightning getting off to a horrible start. Last night they completely collapsed against the Hurricanes and have now allowed at least 39 shots in all three games they've played. For those of you interested, Andre Meszaros played a whopping 27 minutes last night but that wasn't even good for first on the team. Matt Carle hit the 30 minute mark. Sounds to me like they could use a defensive workhorse with size - Kyle McLaren immediately comes to mind.

***

The blog 6th Sens has a pretty funny take on the game last night which includes their thoughts on a possible "underground women's movement" to discredit Mike Fisher, some solid Gerber frustrations and a picture that illustrates the physical similarities between Shean Donovan and a certain famous character from the Goonies who once uttered one of my favourite movie lines ever.

"Hey you guuuuyyyyysssss!"



It's a very good site in the vein of the popular Pensblog. Check them out.

***

I've got to say that the new Hockey Night In Canada theme is actually really good. Seriously. In my opinion it might even be better than the old one that TSN ripped from them. It certainly gets the heartstrings swelling a little. Yah, it's overdramatic but that's kind of the point I think.

Got to hand it to the CBC. They took what could have been a disaster and managed to salvage something out of it. The show itself was pretty good too with more energy than usual.

***

On the downside of things as far as HNIC goes, did anyone catch Greg Millen calling Senators coach Craig Hartsburg "Craig Simpson" last night?

Millen made up for it though by relating the story that Hartsburg reorganized the dressing room so that all the defenseman are sitting together as a group, meaning Chris Phillips had to change locker stalls for the one of the first times in his career.

My favourite "locker-room seating story" (yes, scintillating stuff) is how Mark Messier made the New York Rangers training staff remove the GatorAid table from the middle of the dressing room in his first year there so he could make eye contact with everyone in the room from his stall.

Messier is a god.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Same Old Horseshit From Gerber


I don't know what's more disturbing: Jiri Hudler congratulating Chris Osgood after the game by flicking his tongue in and out like a snake for ten seconds or Martin Gerber being unable to close out a game in which he had built up so much goodwill with the fans and his teammates.

Like Greg Millen said on the broadcast, Gerber didn't look pretty, but he was getting the job done. He was losing his stick and letting out his usual assortment of rebounds but he was making some big saves. Even I was beginning to believe, and that's saying something.

The first Johan Franzen goal saw Gerber go down early but at least it was a near perfect shot. The second goal was inexcusable, even if it was deflected. It was rolling on the ice and he was in position. It just went through him.

Game over.

While Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley were terrible the whole game, the Senators would have stolen at least a point if not for the Gerber gaffe.

When will Gerber and his horde of media apologists simply run out of excuses?

Martin Gerber is a horseshit goalie and he has been since donning a Senators uniform.

The only question that remains is how much damage he has yet to inflict on the team.

Hawks Trying To Make Deal With Ottawa: - Brophy


Mike Brophy dropped a subtle bomb on Senators fans just before 6:30 tonight when he said he has talked to people in the Chicago Blackhawks organization who told him that they are trying to make a deal with Ottawa which would include Nik Khabibulin and ... Cam Barker, who he claims has "fallen out of favour" with the team (Barker is currently in the minors due to salary cap issues with Khabibulin).

There have been rumours involving these very players to Ottawa before but that's the first time I've heard a legitimate reporter go on the record about it.

Depending on Martin Gerber's performance tonight, this idea might take on more significance in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oilers Get It Right With Original Jerseys



It's a radical concept in today's NHL.

Colours.

Schaefer Clears Waivers Then Takes A Shot From Murray


Via Bruce Garrioch at Off The Posts:

"He wasn't happy when I was coaching here. When people are like that they tell me they don't want to work really hard all the time and so when I became the GM I moved him fairly quickly," said Murray. "My thinking was if you're not willing to work and you're not willing to pay a price and you're not happy in whatever role you're given, every year you learn you have to have guys that will work hard and are satisfied with the role they're given on a hockey team. You want guys who care about winning and not always about themselves."

Somewhat timely for the Senators is that they now have a player in Jesse Winchester who is getting compared to Schaefer and his ability to control pucks along the boards.

Steve Conroy at the Boston Herald talked to Boston GM Peter Chiarelli about Schaefer:

“It was difficult,” Chiarelli said. “I had a history with him with Ottawa and I brought him in here. It wasn’t working out. I know he’s a good player but these things happen. We talked (Monday) and we had a good talk. He may end up in another NHL city, he may end up in Providence.”

“He’s been in the league awhile and I think he saw it coming, especially with the play of Blake Wheeler,” Chiarelli said. “He pretty much expected it is what he told me. He’s disappointed that it didn’t work out here.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Another Senators In-Rink Idea Gone Awry


Millions of things are going on in the world.

Yet somehow, this minor item has bothered me more than anything else today.

Apparently, the geniuses in the Senators organization who brought us the shame of the "World's Worst Ever Pre-Game Opening" in the form of an inaudible actor dressed up in a gladiator uniform, have now decided to scale back the use of the Senators traditional theme-song as the team skates onto the ice.

Instead they have been playing Europe's brutal 80's anthem "The Final Countdown".

Erin Nicks at Universal Cynic has the "scoop":

"Here's an interesting tidbit from the HFBoards: Fans who attended pre-season games reported that the Sens were coming onto the ice to Europe's The Final Countdown as opposed to the traditional team theme song. When questioned, the team claimed that it was just a pre-season switch-up, but that the regular theme would be "used less frequently" (again, this is according to the board). If this is true, someone from the Sens audio department should have their head examined. The theme resonates with pure cheesy goodness that can't be replaced with an overused 80's anthem. Furthermore, it's tradition -- something that this relatively young franchise doesn't have a lot of. It's original, it's fabulous and it should be used during every home game. End of story."


Hopefully it's not too late for this lame decision (if true) to be overturned. That damn theme should be played every time the players take the ice and be ingrained into every kids consciousness just like the Hockey Night In Canada theme song. You think people don't care about theme songs?

Not only did people freak out completely when the CBC lost the rights to the famous aforementioned song, some are still bemoaning the loss of "Brass Bonanza".

Don't let some punk ass audio-nerd at the rink screw with the traditions of the team in such a cavalier and crass way.

I gotta calm down...

Gerber Gets Start On Saturday


It’s an interesting move and probably a no-lose proposition for coach Craig Hartsburg.

If Martin Gerber falters against the powerful Wings, Hartsburg will have a better idea of what Gerber is all about and it will clear the way for Alex Auld to have a chance to get in the nets for a spell and solidify this team going forward.

If Gerber plays well (and wins, more importantly), Hartsburg will be credited with restoring Gerber’s confidence.

Actually, it’s a stroke of genius.

He’s letting Gerber fight for his hockey life right now and he’s putting him in the most pressure filled position that could possibly be dreamed of.

Home opener.

Coming off a brutal performance that’s threatening to turn his huge and loyal fan-base against him.

Against the Stanley Cup Champions.

It might be considered a victory for Gerber if he’s able to stop the first shot on goal but he really has a chance here to save himself.

The pressure on this guy will be out of control and he’ll have no choice but to make a statement.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hartsburg's System the Real First Star


After a troubling start to the Stockholm Series, the Ottawa Senators roared back with a nearly perfect game today to take 3 out of 4 points against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What stands out the most from the weekend was the Senators penalty-kill which was only beaten in the last second of the last game by Penguins rookie Alex Goligoski. Other than that, the PK forward tandems of Chris Kelly-Antoine Vermette and Daniel Alfredsson-Dean McAmmond were brutally efficient.

Of course, it helps to have a competent goaltending performance and the Senators got that and more from Alex Auld who was a split-second away from a shutout.

For folks who read this blog regularly, you'll know that I've never been a Martin Gerber fan. With that being said, I don't see any reason to further pile on the hapless netminder as it's just too easy a shot.

Right from the start, Auld looked confident and large in the net. As CBC commentators Craig Simpson and Jim Hughson said today, pucks just seem to hit Auld in the crest due to his size and efficient positioning.

No one knows yet what Craig Hartsburg is thinking but he'd be remiss if he didn't give Auld a chance against Detroit on Saturday. The simple fact is that Gerber has never earned anything in his Senators career unless you count being a "nice guy" the only criteria for starts.

Another great example of this team coming together nicely is Chris Phillips jumping to Alfie's defence after he got run over by Matt Cooke (in retaliation for Alfie hitting Maxime Talbot just a shift earlier).

For a team that last year didn't even bother trying to avenge McAmmond's sickening injury at the hands of young thug Steve Downie, this is a major, major step forward.

Filip Kuba really cranked up his play today after a so-so training camp and a lacklustre effort on Saturday. You barely noticed him but he used his size well in his own end and looked confident with the puck. I'm still not convinced he's the answer on the power-play but he won't hurt you there either.

Jesse Winchester keeps impressing me with his hockey smarts. He always seems to make the right decision with the puck. Once he gets more comfortable, he'll start chipping in offensively.

Did anyone really miss Mike Fisher today?

Probably not and that's because Chris Kelly really asserted himself on every shift. If the players keep executing Hartsburg's seemingly smart and effective system (hard two-man forecheck and aggressive penalty killing), Fisher will be even better than in the past. This system is made for Fisher, if only he could get healthy.

Overall, a positive weekend, even if having to take a tough loss on Saturday opens the door for the unheralded Auld to finally give this team some confident goaltending, something they haven't had since Ray Emery backstopped them to the 2007 final.

There were many stars, but Craig Hartsburg probably deserves kudos for finally delivering a defensive system that works, and doesn't put the shackles on the skilled forwards.

Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza both played great all weekend (despite Spezza's gaffe which should have been stopped by Gerber anyways) and Heatley seems to be on a mission to erase memories of his ordinary play from last season. The dude was blocking shots and seemed very vocal on the bench.

Despite the inevitable goalie-controversy angle the media will play on this week, the Senators have already answered most of the questions that lingered over them during a long summer. Yes, it's the improved play of individual players, but fans should be more excited about the system that Hartsburg has implemented.

Gerber Out, Auld In

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Alex Auld will step in for Martin Gerber today. That's probably a pretty good idea as I have trouble finding the words to describe the familiar but still appalling sight of Gerber's performance (was anyone really surprised?) in Stockholm yesterday.

After this afternoon's game, I'll be back with a larger piece going over both games.

Enjoy your afternoon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hartsburg Chooses Heatley ... and Spezza


It might be possible that by giving Dany Heatley the “A” over Mike Fisher, coach Craig Hartsburg is trying to light a fire under both players.

Certainly, the easiest thing to do would have been to give Fisher the nod due to seniority, but Heatley publicly said he wanted to be a better leader this summer and Hartsburg is now giving him that chance.

Fisher has been a loyal player, albeit an often injured one, but there is no doubt that Heatley can have a bigger impact on the team now that he's been brought into the leadership circle. In a way, it legitimizes Heatley and his buddy Jason Spezza in a way that might be too complex to explain properly.

Fans love Daniel Alfredsson, but that's more the exception than the rule for a skilled player in Ottawa. Most fans view pure skill with distrust in this town, whether it be the letdowns of past players such as Alexei Yashin, Alexandre Daigle and Martin Havlat or just a clich├ęd hockey mentality that views “hard work” as the only ingredient needed for success. It’s the Don Cherry syndrome and Ottawa fans have it bad.

Alfredsson’s linemates in Spezza and Heatley are excoriated regularly for trying high-risk plays but are also loathed when they aren’t producing. It's pretty much a no-win situation. Fans will never be happy with Spezza until he skates in a straight groove over the blueline and dumps the puck in like a Darcy Loewen or a Mike Peluso.

Giving Heatley the “A” will bring Spezza into the leadership fold by default, if only in the fans eyes. No longer will Spezza and Heatley stand apart as offensive “specialists”. They’re now the core and heartbeat of this team, (along with Alfredsson) whether fans like it or not.

On the ice and in the room, perhaps Mike Fisher will have a burr under his saddle now that he’s been passed over. Like Jason York said today on the Team 1200, Fisher will always bring his lunchpail to the rink whether he has a letter on his chest or not. Therefore it might be prudent to bring someone else into the fold and broaden the burden a little.

Giving the “A” to Heatley adds another dimension to the leadership, unifies the team by erasing perceived divisions in the room and will prove to be a great decision by Craig Hartsburg.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meszaros Given "A" Over Roberts


This will probably give Ottawa fans apocalyptic seizures, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have named Andre Meszaros an assistant captain, along with Martin St. Louis. That's right. They chose Meszaros over Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Ryan Malone.

I'm one of the only people left in Ottawa who think the Meszaros trade was terrible, but even that's a bit much for me.

How do you not give an "A" to Roberts?

Regardless, Meszaros will probably grow into that leadership role in two or three years but I'd bet Barry Melrose will be long gone by that time.

***

With so many fringe players publicly unhappy (Christoph Schubert, Alex Nikulin and the now AWOL Brad Isbister), it may be time for GM Bryan Murray to bring down the hammer and squash the kind of dissent that seemed to permeate last years team.

I'm not saying that Ottawa should trade Schubert, but sitting him out for making public his unhappiness seems like a prudent thing to do, especially when there's a lot of other players who would be happy to play his minutes on the fourth line.

If that type of attitude is allowed to fester, how long before other players start bringing their grievances to the press? As the guys over at Sens Army pointed out, Nikulin is actually blogging about the fact he wants out of town and even dragged his innocent teammate Ilya Zubov into the fray.

I really like Schubert as a player, but this whiny act is somewhat sickening to see, especially on a team that is so obsessed with "character" and "chemistry".

Schubert should realize that the team is only one injury away from him being a full-time defenseman anyways. His agent should kick his balls off for pouting publicly like that.