Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Ottawa 3 Toronto 2
With the entire city on pins and needles, waiting to see how Pascal Leclaire would react after a rough stretch of games, the young French netminder made a statement against the Toronto Maple Leafs, making 30 saves and a few hair-raising ones late in the 3rd period to preserve the comeback victory.
To be honest, it was a must win game, not only for the Senators, but for Leclaire as well.
If the Leafs had managed to sneak one out on the road, the outcry would have been nasty. Not only did Leclaire restore a bit of his reputation, he also eased the burden on some other non-producing Senators players who surely would have felt the wrath of the fans and media if they dropped an important game to the inter-provincial rivals.
But it wasn't all champagne and roses for Leclaire. He still looks like he's living in the wild west sometimes, sliding around in his crease and often finding himself in strange positions far from his net. Yet, his reflexes and athleticism served him well tonight, as he never gave up on a play, especially when the scene turned scrambly late in the third with the Senators barely hanging on.
There were a few yanked collars when Phil Kessel skated over the blueline and put a bullet past Leclaire in the first period. The initial reaction was probably "he should have had that one" but Kessel is one of the few pure goal scorers in the game today and sometimes nothing is going to stop a shot like that.
But it will be the important saves late in the game that everyone will remember. Leclaire stopped half of the shots (15) in the third period alone, which was really a carry over from a rip roaring last 5 minutes of the second where the two teams traded chances, hits and crowd momentum. For a while there, it felt like the rivalry of old.
Mike Fisher continued his excellent season and was one of the standouts on a Senators squad that had virtually everyone going. Even Alex Picard, the oft criticised defenseman.
When the 1st power play unit was squandering their opportunities, Picard came on with the 2nd unit and kept it simple by taking a pass from Chris Campoli and putting it straight at the net where Milan Michalek tipped it past Vesa Toskala for the tying goal. I've been giving Picard a ton of heat for his poor play but you have to tip the hat when someone does a good job as well.
Another one of the standouts for me was Chris Kelly. He ended up -1 but I see a player who is excelling in his role as a fourth line centre, despite the probability that he expected to be higher in the pecking order coming into the season. Along with Jarkko Ruutu and Shean Donovan, that fourth line just seems to have perfect chemistry and they are a threat at both ends whenever they go over the boards.
Perhaps it's just a cumulative effect of seeing Kelly embrace his role over the past few weeks, but I thought he was one of the most important players on the ice for the Senators tonight.
With the victory, the Senators give themselves a 10 point lead over the Leafs in the standings and keep themselves in the middle of the pack for a playoff spot.
Realistically, with the uneven results they've been getting, the Senators are in a decent position right now. They can afford to tread water for a little while longer, hoping that their offense starts to take off again and their power-play gets its act together.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Mike Fisher
3. Chris Kelly
Just one more reason for Clouston to dress Shean Donovan every single game: his first shift.
It was a thing of beauty, enough to bring a tear to Don Cherry's eye (if he didn't despise the Senators on general principle). For those of you who saw the shift, you know exactly what I mean. He followed that up with a great rest of the game....... Jesse Winchester also showed why he's being wasted as a healthy scratch in the first period. He landed a huge hit and then wins a scrap with Jeff Finger on the same shift. I thought Winchester had a great second half of the season last year and solidified his place on the team. You hate to see a guy lose his role because of an injury but unfortunately, that's what happened to Winchester here. I'm not saying there's an easy solution. I'm also a believer in Peter Regin and to a lesser extent, the speedy and skilled Ryan Shannon. But you have to find a way to get Winchester and Donovan on the ice every night. They have speed and they can hit with the best of them...... That was painful to see Alex Kovalev do the double-clutch when he was given the puck right in front of the net on a Sens power play in the first. The puck ended up bobbling away. It's just not happening for Kovie right now. Yet I'm still convinced he'll end up having a positive effect before the year is out. He's just too skilled to be snakebitten for so long..... Kovie did make a nice play when he fed Fisher for the winning goal. Smooth as silk.....
Even more painful was watching Colton Orr do a hammer job on fan favourite Matt Carkner. The ex-Ranger heavyweight Orr stunned Carkner with a couple of rights and the Sens defenseman, who hasn't lost a fight yet this year, couldn't recover. It did not end amicably either. Both fighters were chirping angrily after that one. But Carks will live to fight another day. The old maxim: it's not how many you win, it's how many you show up for. Yet no one wants to lose like that on home ice, especially against the Leafs. I feel sorry for the next guy who has to go up against Carks. It could get ugly......
Hard to believe a lot of people here in town wanted to see Chris Neil leave. Imagine he was causing the ruckus he did tonight for the Leafs instead of the Senators? Don't laugh. It came close to happening.....
Ruutu v Mitchell. Senators fight of the year? If not, then it's in the top 3. Ruutu is an underrated fighter and never seems to get overpowered.....
I may be in the minority here, but the Garrioch article concerning Alfie staying with the Senators for the remainder of his career should give fans pause. The striking revelation is not that Alfie wants to spend his last years in Ottawa - we already knew that because of the contract he signed - but it was that he left the door open to asking for a trade someday to a contender.
“I can’t see (asking for a move). Never say never. It could happen in the future, but I don’t think it’s probable.”
That's a direct quote. And I'm not blaming Alfie here. But it should open the eyes of some people who take the captain for granted. Some big name players have either asked out or walked away to free agency without shedding a tear of regret. If Wayne Gretzky can leave the Oilers, Alfie can certainly leave the Senators one day. If Bryan Murray can't get this team turned around in the next two years, we may be looking at a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. Just saying. ......
The Toronto media are certainly getting their shots in at the Senators. It should be noted that it was a Toronto reporter who solicited Alfie's response about one day asking for a trade. Then Mike Zeisberger couldn't help point out that the morning of the game, the Senators were far from having a sellout for the battle of Ontario. Those are two sensitive issues that Bytown reporters don't seem to want to touch very often........
I just picked up the Senators first ever media guide from 92-93 on Ebay for a measly 6 bucks. It's a great little piece of history (as are all media guides). For instance, you can find out that the original 2-D Senators logo (still the best) was designed by a man by the name of "Mr. Tony Milchard".
Also, for some reason, the Senators decided to forgo traditional pictures of the players and instead commissioned an artist to do really ugly and awkward drawings of every single skater. Has to be seen to be believed. Below is Brad Marsh and inaugural captain Laurie Boschman. Oh, the horror of it all!!