Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Donovan Breaks The Spell
The star players can't do it for you all the time.
And tonight in Toronto, it was the role players who ignited a sluggish and disinterested team after a terrible first period which was hard to watch for all but the hardcore hockey fan.
Both Ottawa and Toronto looked afraid to make a mistake and the 1st period was a snorefest because of it with each team managing 8 shots that were barely noticed.
Then Anton Volchenkov crushed Leaf rookie Victor Stalberg at the Senators blueline. The Swede did not return and the hit seemed to take the wind completely out of the Leafs
The momentum led to Shean Donovan cutting down a puck from mid-air with an axe like swing where it dropped past Jonas Gustavsson - a garbage goal - but those are often the ones that change a game around.
Donovan, a guy who was a healthy scratch the first game and the first on the list of many who expected a player to be shipped out of town, did what he was supposed to do and crashed the net and caused chaos around "The Monster".
With the bubble burst, Ottawa started to assert themselves and the Captain broke the game open by scoring on a rare penalty shot, taking the place of Milan Michalek who not only was fouled, but lost his two front teeth on the play and had to go to the room to get checked out.
Yet, the win was a strange one.
This is not the Senators team that forechecked aggressively and tried to skate other teams into the ground during the end of last season under Cory Clouston.
Even after opening things up with a couple of goals, the Senators played it fairly safe, content with loading up the bodies in the neutral zone and waiting for the Leafs to make mistakes.
It worked against the seemingly hapless Leafs, but will it work against the Flyers or the Penguins or the Capitals?
Alex Kovalev showed flashes of his all-world skill towards the end of the game and looked almost dominant on a few plays. He made at least two cross ice passes that were barely believable, but his recipients couldn't cash in, including Nick Foligno who was sniffing around the net all night.
Jason Spezza is impressing with his newfound willingness to play meaningful defence - he was often the forward helping out behind his own net - but offensively he is struggling a little like his teammates.
Interestingly, Jonathan Cheechoo finally showed a pulse in the third period and actually crashed the net on one occasion. We all knew he wasn't a great skater, but did anyone really expect to see a guy who would be hard pressed to beat Jason Allison in a blueline to blueline sprint?
But it's two games, and Cheechoo is going to get all the opportunity in the world to get himself back into shape. It's clear that he is not physically right - whatever that implies. Something is just off with him right now. If he doesn't get going, how soon will it be until he finds himself in the press box watching Donovan skate in his place?
If anything, tonight demonstrated the value of a guy like Donovan. He can sit for five games. He can sit for 35 minutes. But when he's on the ice, he always makes something happen with his speed, grit, and heart.
It was a game that, despite the early schedule, meant a lot to whoever could win it.
Now the Senators can go into their home opener on Thursday with the press and fans off their backs but the Leafs are now entering the chaos zone where the coach plays egotistical games with the media, the young players are shell shocked and the fans believe the sky is falling after only 3 games.
But that's not Ottawa's problem any more.
Black Aces 3 Stars of the Game
1. Anton Volchenkov
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Shean Donovan
Honorable mentions go out to Pascal Leclaire (who makes it look easy), Jarkko Ruutu (a team high 3 shots - and a nasty cheap shot on Mike Komisarek) and Matt Carkner (who has replaced Jason Smith and Luke Richardson quite nicely).