Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sens Break Habs Curse


Unfortunately for Bob Gainey, the Senators refuse to die.

In what should have been a soft touch for the struggling Habs, the Senators came from behind (again) to get their first win of the season against Montreal in 5 tries.

And now the Habs are in deep, deep shit.

Carey Price looked horrible (again) and this loss might have finally put him in Gainey's shithouse after getting the benefit of the doubt for so long from his protective GM. They are going to have to turn to the relatively unknown Jaroslav Halak to help them get their heads straight before the season from hell truly comes to fruition for the centennial Habs.

If Price's stock is plummeting, rookie Brian Elliott's is surging. He now has the Senators team record for most wins in a row (7) by a rookie goaltender and not many would have predicted that just a month ago when some commentators were wondering if Elliott even had a future with the Senators due to his penchant for giving up bad goals and deadly rebounds.

Those issues aren't totally cleared up but they are certainly in the distant fog right now.

More and more, we are starting to see the Senators offense wake up from a year long hangover. Jason Spezza led the way with two goals and an assist while Daniel Alfredsson pitched in with a couple of points. Filip Kuba has continued his tear since signing that new contract and even Jarkko Ruutu put on a gong show with that ridiculous one-man circus goal he scored in the second period. If things don't turn around for Montreal, that might have been the stake in the heart for them right there.

With all that in mind, I should point out that Pierre Lebrun penned an article for ESPN showing what teams have the best records in just the second half of the season.

Ottawa is right up there in 7th place in points percentage through March 18.

For those of you who thought the players were the problem and not Craig Hartsburg, I think that statistic nullifies your argument.

Cory Clouston was handed essentially the same group of players that Hartsburg had and he has done a much better job - no argument there. Clouston has also had to deal with more injuries (and flu related illnesses) than Hartsburg did.

Everyone always goes on about how much power the players have nowadays with their big contracts but hockey is clearly a coaches game now and has been ever since Jacques Lemaire took an anonymous New Jersey team to a Stanley Cup championship in 1995.

Coaches are a bigger factor in how a team plays than the star players. If the system instituted by the coach is not up to par, you have no chance no matter who you have on your team.

Ottawa had a lot of weaknesses going into this system, particularly in goal and on defense, but that doesn't account for why Hartsburg watched while his team fell to the bottom of the league in goals for.

The one strength Ottawa had was speed and skill on the forward lines yet they played a system that had them sit back and wait for the other team to attack.

If the likes of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher break the wishes of their coach by playing more aggressive, they're not team players.

Yet when their coach gets fired, they're called "coach-killers".

It was a no-win situation under Hartsburg but at least Murray had the conviction to admit another mistake and do what had to be done, no matter how unpleasant it was to everybody.

Murray could have went into a siege mentality and kept Hartsburg to try and prove he didn't screw up this past summer but instead he did what was best for the team, even if it made him look like a fool to the hockey world.

I think Murray should get some credit here, along with the accolades Clouston is getting.

But I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen...

***

If the Phoenix Coyotes do the expected and miss the playoffs this season, that will make it four seasons in a row that Wayne Gretzky was unable to clinch a berth as head coach.

With the team seemingly on the verge of another rebuild after dumping Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris, the odds of them making the playoffs next year don't look too bright either.

Gretzky is a smart guy and surely must know that GM Don Maloney doesn't want to be the "guy who fired Wayne Gretzky". So does Gretz take the honourable route and resign at the end of this season? Or does he stick around for more punishment?

This will be the 6th year in a row the franchise has missed the playoffs and 7 of the last 8 have ended the same way.

Probably the most incredulous statistic is that the Yotes haven't won a playoff series since 1987 (while still in Winnipeg) when they beat the Flames in the first round.

In the organization's history, they have only won 2 playoff series, both against the Flames. They lost 6 times to the Edmonton Oilers along the way. And you thought the Leafs had the Sens number.

In the big scope of things, has there ever been a worse NHL franchise than the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes?

***

It must be tough for Bob Gainey to watch the Vancouver Canucks cruising towards the playoffs with Mats Sundin in their lineup. Gainey struck out trying to woo Mats and instead opted to sign Robert Lang who incidentally might be headed towards retirement after getting his Achilles tendon sliced in half over a month ago.

Even if Lang was healthy, it's hard to believe he'd be able to stop this team from sliding further into chaos. As Gary Galley pointed out, these guys look rattled. There's so much extra pressure on this Habs team than there normally is and it doesn't look like the young guys are handling it. Alex Kovalev has been an easy scapegoat (Spezza can relate) but I think losing guys like Mark Streit and Sheldon Souray in consecutive years has hurt them more than anything. Ottawa can relate to that as well after they dumped every offensive defensman they had in the course of two seasons.

Both teams tried to correct the problem with the likes of Mathieu Schneider and Chris Campoli but it may be too late, even for the Canadiens. The only thing saving the Habs right now is that both Buffalo and Florida have been brutal of late.........

Speaking of Florida, they are now facing the worst possible scenario - getting nothing for Jay Bouwmeester AND missing the playoffs. Way to go Jacques.......Tonight was Chris Neil's 499th career game, all with the Senators of course. He has 1,286 PIM's to go with that......Don Brennan broke down what the Senators defense will look like next season and he has slots already filled by Phillips, Volchenkov, Kuba, Campoli and Smith. He also has some interesting thoughts on unrestricted free agent to be Brendan Bell.

"Bell will figure into the mix if his salary demands are in line with what the Senators might be prepared to do. For instance, accept a marginal raise but on a one-way deal, which is what he really wants. It'd especially make sense for the Senators if Karlsson, a similar type player, isn't quite ready for prime time.

At the rate Bell is going, the Senators might even be prepared to deal Picard to open up a spot for him."


Bell has now had two excellent games in a row and it will be interesting to see what Murray does here. From Murray's comments after the trade deadline, I got the impression that he wasn't done adding to his defense core. I still think he might be looking for a big piece back there but that will be difficult with the money already tied up in the position and Volchenkov needing a new contract soon.

I'll go one step further than Brennan and say that Picard's already played his last game with the Senators. ......... Just as I was thinking to myself that I hadn't really noticed Ryan Shannon in the game for the first time in a long time, he goes out and has a great third period - defensively. He showed some great hustle and guts by blocking a shot in the last minute near the blueline to clear the zone after the Habs were pressing hard. I'm running out of accolades for the little guy.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely nothing to congradulate Brian Murray about wrt to the coaching staff. Murray has fraked up 2 seasons in a row now, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon @ 3:26pm.

Jeremy, I agree with you in that Hartsburg's system was wrong for this team. I also agree with you in that the system was to blame rather than the players.

Where I differ is that I don't believe that Hartsburg was his own man. I think that he coached the way he was told to coach. He think that he was hired to coach the team the way Murray wanted them coached. In effect, he did his job the way the boss wanted him to.

He took the fall for both of them, because the results were not good.

Also, I have yet to hear Murray admit that he made a mistake. I think Murray fired Hartsy because he had no choice, Melnyk told him to.

I credit Clouston for using an aggressive system, and for creating a more positive atmosphere. He also has a presence about him that is "non robotic". I think that he's all about hockey, and winning games.

As for the Sens defence for next year, I'm perplexed. Where do Brian Lee, Erik Karlsson, and our possible stud UFA fit in? Philly and Volch have slots for sure. Kuba just signed and Campoli was traded for a #1, so they have slots for sure. Smith has a healthy salary, so he gets a spot.

It looks like some guys will have to be dealt. They would be insane to deal Lee. He is young, cheap, and developing. It should be interesting to see how things develop.

phil said...

more importantly - oh man is it sweet to shut habs fans up

Anonymous said...

On a sidenote, great to hear Ovechkin diss Don Cherry last night.

A reporter mentioned to him that Cherry was not a fan of his celebrations. Ovechkin asked if he was the guy from "Coach's Room". He then said, "Who cares? Old guy, old system."

I loved it.

I feared that with Cherry barking so much, it might eventually affect Ovie into toning it down a bit. I'm glad he's letting it slide, and continuing being himself.

I've been a Cherry fan for more than 20 years. If I miss his show, I make sure to catch it on the web. But, I gotta admit, with each passing year, it becomes apparent that his time has passed. I would not be sorry one bit if the CBC replaced him with a younger "more in tune with the times" type of guy.

At this point, I think that Cherry's views inhibit the marketability of the game. The game in Canada is solid and will never need to be sold. It's culture.

But, in the US, Ovechkin and his type are necessary. They will grow the game. The fans in D.C. have connected emotionally with Ovechkin. Why would you ask him to change?

Only a guy with no talent, would ask a guy who has talent, to repress the celebration of it.

That being said, there is a fine line between taunting and being disrespectful; and celebrating. Ovechkin does not cross that line. People should leave him alone.

Joe said...

As good as Bell's been offensively, I still fear for the team whenever him and Campoli are on the ice together. I also get the feeling Clouston kind of knows the liability Bell can be defensively. Look at his comments after the Sabres game (I think) for examples of this. He was rather conservative in his praise of Bell.