Saturday, March 21, 2009
Movin' On Up
The hockey gods couldn't have handed out any better hand than the one they dealt the Senators on Saturday night.
First it was the hapless and soon to be Kansas City Islanders limping into Ottawa with major injuries, making them easy fodder for the relatively healthy and confident Senators.
Then just down the highway, the Leafs rolled over the Habs in what can only be another devastating loss for Bob Gainey and his staff.
In another strange twist, ex-Senator Antoine Vermette scored an empty net goal to help the Blue Jackets clinch the game against the 9th place Florida Panthers.
The topper was 10th place Buffalo losing another game, this time to the resurgent New York Rangers.
So the math goes as follows: Ottawa is now only 9 points back of the Habs for the last playoff spot with 12 games left to play and one in hand over Montreal.
It still sounds impossible but it's better than yesterday.
They are 8 back of Florida, 4 back of Buffalo and 1 back of the Leafs.
If they can pull off a road victory against the Rangers tomorrow night, we may have something to talk about here.
As for the game against the Isles, both Daniel Alfredsson and Brendan Bell continued their hot streaks with 3 and 2 assists respectively and Brian Elliott extended his franchise record to 8 straight games with a win as a rookie.
The power-play is starting to look like the old days with Filip Kuba and Bell playing really well on the points and of course, the blossoming of Nick Foligno into a semi-power forward with soft hands continues unabated. He got his 16th goal and those are starting to look like impressive numbers for a sophomore forward.
There was an interesting incident in the second period when Islanders rookie Joel Rechlicz layed a clean but questionably late hit on Chris Phillips. Mike Fisher immediately challenged Rechlicz to a scrap but didn't get an instigator penalty.
I happen to agree with the current sentiment out there that too many fights are started due to a perception of wrong-doing on perfectly clean hits. If you lay a guy out cleanly, you shouldn't have to fight every time.
Yet, there is some areas of grey here.
Are you supposed to let a rookie like Rechlicz take a hard run at a veteran leader like Phillips without consequence?
Yes, the hit was clean but I still think there's room to make a statement like Fisher did. If not, then it would be open season on star players from desperate rookies trying to make an impression.
Like everything in hockey, every situation is different. Maybe if it was veteran Brendan Witt cleanly hitting Phillips, there's no fight. But I think Fisher was justified in starting that scrap and you don't want to see that taken out of the game.
Bad apples? That's what Isles coach Scott Gordon called Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli to Newsday not too long ago as Sun columnist Don Brennan pointed out. Hasn't Comrie been called that a few times now? It's probably not true, but initial reputations are hard to shake in the relatively small world of the NHL. Comrie has always had this aura about him of the "rich kid" (his father founded The Brick chain of stores) and demanding a trade out of Edmonton, his hometown team, just added to that. Now that his personal life is in the spotlight due to dating a celebrity, those perceptions will probably persist. But he seems very popular with his teammates and plays the game hard and with a surprising amount of grit for his size. He'd be a great player for Ottawa next year if Murray can get his name on a contract.
Bucky Gleason over at the Buffalo News thinks the GM-Coach tandem of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are headed for the unemployment line after this season is over, especially if the Sabres torrid slide leaves them out of the playoffs.
One mind-blowing statistic he notes is that there have been 129 coaches fired since Ruff took over for Ted Nolan in 1997.
One specialized group of NHL people will be hoping that the axe comes for Regier, for sure. The professional scouts of the hockey world were aghast when Regier fired the majority of his scouting staff and switched over to "video scouting" full-time for the organization in an attempt to cut costs. To my knowledge, the Sabres are the only team to have done this.
Does anyone else find it weird that Martin Gerber took no time in getting his helmet painted in Toronto Maple Leaf colours yet he went a whole year in Ottawa with a black helmet which the fans strangely rallied behind? The black wasn't the Senators black. It was the "trade me right f#*!ing now" variety of black.......Mike Commodore is having a great year in Columbus and with them on the verge of their first playoff spot, he's getting ready to don his familiar good-luck charm locker room bathrobe to go with his ever-growing red afro. Too bad we didn't get to see that last season in Ottawa. As this mini-interview shows, Commodore is still one of the great characters of the league.........
The collapse of the Montreal Canadiens has certainly taken some heat off the Senators in media circles hasn't it? Pierre Lebrun, one of the nicest and least controversial personalities in all of hockey, called the Habs "heartless" tonight on the Hotstove segment on Hockey Night In Canada. Those types of words were once exclusively reserved for the Senators but they are yesterday's news. But how about those Ducks? Just like Ottawa, they've been in a brutal funk ever since the 07 final. Yet no one has called them heartless. Playing in California comes with a get out of jail free card in a way..........
I have no problems at all with Alex Ovechkin's exuberant celebrations but he's probably blown his chance of any of the Tampa players voting for him when the ballots are passed out for the Pearson trophy...... The CBC is probably freaking out right now over the prospects of no Eastern Canadian team making the playoffs. That's a big hole to fill right in prime-time and the likes of Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is not going to be enough to offset that loss. Yet, they may luck out with all three Western teams making it...........
And congratulations to Chris Neil, who scored a goal in his 500th career game, all with the Ottawa Senators.
Let's hope there's many more to come.