The first clue that the Senators are playing a vastly different and successful system under Cory Clouston?
If it wasn't for the circus style saves of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, this game would have been over after the first two periods when the Senators had already accumulated 30 of those 42 shots.
The Senators just weren't getting those numbers under Craig Hartsburg's system, which basically entailed retreating into a defensive shell whenever the opposition had the puck instead of trying to get it back through aggressive skating and checking. (But that didn't stop Allen Panzeri from totally exonerating Hartsburg yesterday by saying that the Senators, gosh darn it, just didn't work hard enough under Hartsburg.....yawn).
Speaking of Hartsburg's system, Daniel Alfredsson had some interesting words for the Ottawa Sun's Chris Stevenson when comparing the old ways to Clouston's style:
"That was the knock on us: People were asking, 'Do they care?' We were passive," said Alfredsson. "Now we're more involved, forechecking with two guys, the defence pinching. In the second period, we had some great shifts. Everybody feeds off the energy, the hitting."
It's a good point by the captain. It was easy for the pundits and fans to scream that the players weren't working hard enough when in fact, it was Hartsburg's system that forced them to be passive. And that's not just my opinion. Alfie says it all in that quote. It's hard to look like you're ready to run defenseman over when your coach tells you that you have to retreat.
It's also been fun to watch a player like Nick Foligno seemingly reinvent himself in a matter of three games under Clouston.
For most of the season, Foligno was a fringe player and used sparingly. His hell-bent-for-leather skating style and rangy physique is a match made in heaven for Clouston's aggressive forechecking system. It would not have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago to see Foligno back with the Bingo Sens but he is now a vital cog on the second line and is starting to produce.
And how about Brendan Bell? This guy has the wheels and passing ability to make a difference and he's using those skills now on the power-play instead of Chris Phillips who was a favourite at times of Hartsburg. Phillips is a heart and soul player who will hopefully spend his whole career in Ottawa, but there's no way he should be running a powerplay.
I'm also going to assume that Clouston had something to do with convincing Bryan Murray to bring up Ryan Shannon in place of Peter Regin. No offence to Regin (who was very good) but Shannon has provided some much needed speed up front that is essential if your going to go after the puck all night.
And let's not forget the veterans here. The guys who have taken heat all season, like Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly are starting to play like themselves again and earning big minutes.
It may surprise some but both Fisher and Foligno had more ice time than either Alfie, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. But that doesn't mean that the Big 3 are not pulling their weight either.
Heatley led both teams with 6 shots on goal and Alfie was right behind him with 4.
At some point, those shots are going to go in and goal scoring may become less of a problem in the last half.
How many of you caught Don Cherry comparing the way Cory Clouston looks to Macauley Culkin of Home Alone fame?
If you happened to catch the Satellite Hotstove segment on Hockey Night in Canada after the second period last night, you would have heard that Ray Emery has refused to report back to his Russian club after a dispute with the way he is being paid by the team. Apparently it has something to do with the team using the wrong exchange rate and Emery is refusing to report until he is paid what is due to him in his contract. The panellists went on to say that this is not something new with the KHL and that a lot of players are having the same problems. I have been unable to find a valid report on it in the print media so for now we'll just have to take the word of Al Strachan and company.
Some will speculate that this opens the door to Emery returning to the NHL this season instead of next. I don't know where Don Brennan got his info but he mentions that there's a rumour going around that Rayzer could even find his way back to Ottawa. That sounds unlikely but I'm sure there are a handful of teams who would love the opportunity to bring in a guy who has been to a Stanley Cup final once already in his short career. Some markets can handle fiery goaltenders with outgoing personalities.
Just look at the popularity of guys like Billy Smith in Long Island, Ron Hextall in Philly, Tom Barrasso in Pittsburgh, Dominik Hasek in Buffalo and Patrick Roy in Colorado.
Those guys were all nuts but they could win you big games. Emery is in the same mould but he's too out there for conservative little Ottawa. We prefer our goalies quiet and mediocre. (Maybe Elliott will change all that. He's quiet and pretty good all at the same time.)