Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ottawa 5 Sabres 3 - Sens Keep Rolling Despite Distractions

Sometimes, you just have someone's number.

That's been the story of the Senators dominating the Sabres ever since the lockout and tonight was no different as Ottawa continued their offensive binge started against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

There were a lot of great performances from the guys in black and red but none better than the one from captain Daniel Alfredsson who was a team high +3 and was all over the puck - even-strength, power-play and penalty kill.

The captain has missed consecutive practices which leads one to the conclusion that he's currently playing through some kind of injury but it didn't seem to show tonight (or any other night for that matter).

While Alfie was the best of the bunch, a few others really stood out, including Filip Kuba who had a career high 4 point night, Jason Spezza with 2 assists and another strong all-around game and Mike Fisher who helped Ottawa to a 38-21 faceoff advantage.

The Senators penalty-kill was also strong, giving up only one goal on 7 chances and killing a handful of late penalties from Matt Carkner and Chris Neil that threatened to bleed the Senators of their huge lead. Again, Chris Kelly continued to impress with great defensive play and contributed a goal for his second straight game.

You had to feel for ex-Senator Patrick Lalime, who always seems to get lit up by his former teammates but he played well in the early going before getting burned by Alfie in the second period.

The Senators may have caught a lucky break due to the Sabres having played the night before and sitting Ryan Miller. But it's not luck that Ottawa now sits only 1 point behind Buffalo for the Northeast division lead.

For 3 games, the Senators have overcome various injuries and personal tragedies to seemingly quiet their ever present critics with consistent, spirited play. They've also developed the knack to score big goals at the right moments in games.

Their hot streak couldn't have come at a better time as the Boston Bruins have started to get their heads together after a mediocre start to the season. The Senators leapfrogged them tonight and still have two games in hand.

The only worry to come out of the Sabres game was Pascal Leclaire leaving after the second period with what seemed like a neck or head injury due to a previous pileup in the crease. Leclaire played through it for awhile but it obviously wasn't good enough to go in the third. Brian Elliott played okay after coming off the bench but the last thing Cory Clouston wants to see is Leclaire nursing a nagging or even a serious injury in the coming weeks.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Filip Kuba
3. Jason Spezza

Honourable mentions: Milan Michalek, Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher.


Here is the updated scorecard of the Black Aces 3 Stars so far this season. (3 points for 1st Star, 1 point for 3rd Star)

Alfredsson – 13
Spezza – 12
Michalek – 9
Neil - 7
Leclaire – 7
Fisher – 7
Ruutu - 5
Elliott – 3
Kovalev – 3
Volchenkov – 3
Phillips - 3
Carkner – 3
Kuba – 3
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Kelly - 1


It was tough to see a guy like Shean Donovan go down with a major injury. To be fair to Matt Cooke, I don't think it was necessarily a dirty play. You may disagree. It looked like a normal collision though some say he led with the knee. I've watched the play a few times and I can't see that it was overly malicious, despite Cooke's reputation. That being said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Cooke had the intent to do some damage but he disguised it pretty well if he did. As Donovan tends to be, he seemed positive during his first post-injury interview and with any luck, that ACL will be okay and he'll be back on the ice in two or three months. If the Senators can get into the playoffs, and I think they will, getting Donovan back will be like adding a grizzled playoff warrior at the trade deadline....for free.......

The black sweaters the Senators wore tonight are starting to grow on me. I actually kind of like the "SENS" lettering though I would prefer a real logo on the front. But that "SENS" font would look decent on a t-shirt...... Speaking of which, I spent an hour in the Kanata Hockey Life store today going back and forth over which t-shirt to buy. I opted for a New York Rangers logo shirt. That shield is pretty sharp looking..... Don Cherry called Cory Clouston something that sounded like "Colson" after the game on HNIC....... I love the Coach's Corner segment but Cherry seems even more hyper and entertaining after the games and right before the second game of the double-header. He seems to be able to freewheel a little more during that time because the Coach's Corner segments are so tight with time and loaded with topics. After the game, Cherry can sort of wing it with any issue that came up during the last two hours and it's usually worth waiting around to watch. If only he could ever find anything nice to say about the Senators.....

The Hockey News Ken Campbell with his take on the Senators attendance problems:

"Everywhere in Canada except one place, not a single seat has gone unsold since the lockout. But when your arena is miles out of the city and your team has generally been a disappointment the past two seasons, it does present some challenges....

A lot of that has to do with a pricing structure that charges top prices for those games, but the fact people aren’t willing to shell out big dollars for those games is telling. Through 13 games this season, the Senators are averaging 18,000 per game in the 19,153-seat Scotiabank Place. They haven’t sold out a game since they attracted 20,154 against Boston Oct. 24 and they’ve played seven home games since then."

Personally, I'm still convinced that extremely bad press has been part of the cumulative dwindling of the paying fan base over the past two seasons. Certain print journalists and a pair of prominent radio hosts spent all their influential energy trying to portray the Senators as careless and arrogant party animals who were fleecing fans out of their money. That sentiment was consistent and driven home almost daily for two straight years without the Senators so much as lifting a finger to defend their players or their product. It stands to reason that the image of the team has been damaged and the local public's attitude towards athletes has never been more cynical. Once Dany Heatley was traded, the press has once again turned into cheerleaders but it's probably a little too late to fix the damage for this season. No one doubts that a troubled economy, high ticket prices and poor performances have hurt sales, but no one seemingly wants to admit that a full media blitz against certain players (one of whom is still on the team but apparently forgiven overnight) may have contributed to the negative atmosphere that still clouds this franchise.....

In case you missed this the other night, Scott Niedermayer set off a free-for-all the stands...when he tried to give his game stick to a little girl in a Ducks jersey after the game. This might be one of the funniest things I've ever seen at a hockey game and it is all Niedermayer can do to keep from laughing during the post game interview on the ice. You can imagine the laughs in the locker room afterward as Niedermayer tried to explain to his teammates.

It still doesn't top this classic drunken player-fan brawl from MSG in the 70's... Make sure you catch a fur coat wearing Phil Esposito explaining that when fans throw "beer and whiskey" in their faces, he would be okay with it landing in his mouth once in a while.


Anonymous said...

I'm with ya on the NYR jersey. I'm about ready to pull the trigger on purchasing one as well. Not a fan (although I still cheer for Redden), just like the jersey.

I'm not buying all the excuses on the drop in attendance. Price points, location of arena, too many home games, poor economy ... they're just excuses.

I'll give you that last year's negative press coverage hasn't helped, but I don't think that's the main reason.

All these excuses are reflective of a greater change in the organization. A change in culture. A culture of excuses. Excuses when we lose. Excuses when we make bad trades. Excuses when we don't sellout.

When you buy a product from a store and it doesn't work, you return it. When you return it, you don't want to hear an excuse from the retailer, you want them to give you a product that works.

What happened to the Sens' no excuses winning attitude? That was pre-Murray. Now, it's gone. There's a new culture.

It's funny how the media has all sorts of theories as to why the fans are not showing up. Why do they refuse to explore the possibility that fans are pissed that the GM screwed up the high-octane entertaining team that they had. That's the reason!

Emery's among the league leaders in goaltending. Heatley's leading in goals. Corvo is top five in ice-time (for only $2.6M). Vermette is second only to Rick Nash in ice-time on CBJ, among forwards, and is having a career year.

Beyond that, the games are not as much fun to watch as they were a few years ago. It's a different vibe. Not as classy. Not as joyful. Not as spirited. No swagger.

Change the GM if you want real change.

Anonymous said...

Meh. I don't agree too much with the above rant. Ottawa fans tend to be frontrunners, plain and simple. Never been a particularly strong sports town. Rough Riders, Ottawa Civics, Nationals... you name it, fans avoided it.

Blaming TM... I couldn't agree less. The product on the ice certainly suffered tremendously due to the horrific drafting of Muckler, the propensity to seemingly toss every signee a NTC, and an inability to obtain value for key players (Havlat et al.). How can there not be some downtime after years of destructive management like that? It's always easy to look back three or five years ago and smile at what a great team we had, but it came with a very real price.

And Joe Corvo? You've got to be kidding. He always shows up for team skill contests, but come gametime he plays like Paul Coffey's shadow.

Sacul said...

Blame the GM? Anon 11:40, you've got to be kidding?? Under Murray, the Sens are FINALLY making some headway towards becoming a consistent contender. The entertainment value of the team is very high. Around the league, he is widely regarded as a skilled trader and drafter. Muckler left a bare cupboard with few gritty players when he was turfed. Murray was begging for any kind of muscle when he was coach...and Muckler just wouldn't pull the trigger.
As for the attendance issues...all the reasons just add up. NHL games are too expensive and it's pretty much a myth that Ottawa hockey fans are all public servants with fat wallets. The federal public service is by far the largest area employer, though...and ticket purchases for clients are banned. No other city faces that challenge. Corporate sales drive attendance.
Ottawa needs the casual fan to show up for sell outs. How many times have you been to a game and heard so many people with comments like "I like that Vermette guy...he's cute. Is he still with us?" or "Alfie is so good, I'd play him on defense when we get the lead." These are the people needed in Ottawa to sell out games. Unfortunately, they don't read many hockey blogs or even the sports section of the local papers. They catch a few snippets of national media here and there and know what their friends at work have been saying. The national media has been brutally biased against the Sens and very ill informed. Right after the Heatley trade, it was clear that out of the 3 Eastern Canadian NHL teams, only one did a good job of adressing it's needs in the off-season. With one hand tied behind his back, Murray made some shrewd moves and left his roster in good shape, with only the Top 4 D being scary. Toronto went nutty with truculence and Gainey invested a ton in small scoring forwards, ignoring other neeeds.
Before the season, I along with many other people that payed attention said the Sens are a 5-6-7 team in the conference this year and the Habs and Leafs won't make the playoffs. The pundits who only pay a small amount of attention to Ottawa made their picks and all they could talk about was Heatley. Most picked Toronto and Montreal ahead of Ottawa. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 3:27am and Sacul,

There's no saving you. You've already drank the Kool-Aid.

Sacul, since when has Murray turned us into consistent contenders? We WERE consistent contenders since 1997. We stopped under him.

3:27am, Murray gave out most of the NTC's. He does not have a great record when it comes to trades. He has had some great ones in his career. But, he has also had some of the biggest gaffs in NHL history.

As GM in Florida, in 1997, he traded away his first round pick for Viktor Kozlov. Later that year, that first round pick was used by Tampa to select Vinny Lecavalier first overall. That's right, Vinny was selected with Murray's pick.

Imagine having a charismatic superstar like Vinny in FLA. It is exactly what the franchise needed, not only on the ice, but off it as well. That is a Milbury-esque gaff.

At least the Leafs will have Kessel if Boston drafts Taylor Hall. FLA got Viktor Kozlov.

In any case, it doesn't matter what either you or I say. The fans have spoken. They're not filling the building.

Anonymous said...

Murray gave out most of the NTCs? Some =/= most.

Now, I'm not sure how BM's Florida moves back in '97 are relevant, but I'll bite. The wider you spin things, the more vulnerable you become.

Obviously in hindsight, Koz for Vinny was a loser trade. That's the nature of making trades that involve draft picks. But keep in mind Murray took Florida to the Finals the previous year, so he was working on a tight timeline. Regardless, Tampa did well and ultimately won the Cup with Vinny and there's no denying that's what it's all about. But what of attendance? The oh-so-charismatic superstar isn't much of a fan magnet, even when Stamkos and St. Louis are added to the mix: the Lightning only draw 12 - 16 K these days.

Now, as long as we're getting nostalgic, how about BM's acquisition of Pavel Bure from the 'nucks? What about snagging Luongo and Jokinnen from the Isles for garbage? Hardly Mike Milbury-like moves. Oh yeah, the final irony... those Ducks that won the cup in '07. Who built them? If you say Brian Burke, you'll be fully exposed as a Leaf Lover.

Back to Muckler... how about not re-signing Chara, bringing in Tyler Arnason, Peter Bondra, Gerber, the 2002 draft, the 2003 draft, 2004 (well, Mes did some good), 2005 (Brian Lee might make it full-time someday soon), 2006 (Nick Foligno notwithstanding).

Spezza, Volchenkov, Havlat, Fisher, Hossa, Phillips, Vermette, Tim Gleason... these guys were all drafted in the years before Muckler. That's one ugly comparison. It'll take a few more years of decent drafts to rebuild depth throughout the franchise.

I will certainly concede that BM has hired some poor coaches. Paddock just didn't pan out, though there was some degree of logic to hiring him; Hartsburg was a disaster, plain and simple. If CC loses the team this year, then as a matter of things taking their natural course, TM should probably be fired.

Attendance? That's why teams have marketing departments. I live far from Ottawa these days though, so aside from the blogs and Center Ice, I can't comment on what the organization needs to do to put butts in the seats. Based on my years in Ottawa though, creative promotions are typically beyond the scope of most businesses there, but Eugene is a smart man.

Anonymous said...

FLA only got two full seasons with Bure and had to give up their first overall pick in 1994, Jovonovski, to get him.

Bure scored a lot, but they got nowhere with him. Murray even gave him a 5 year $47.5M deal.

As for Luongo and Jokinen, they were an outstanding acquisition. Maybe one of the most one sided trades in NHL history. But, the bottom line is that team went nowhere with them.

At the end of the day, a GM is responsible for the whole team. Murray could not build a winner even with these two center pieces.

You mentioned FLA in the Finals in 1996. By 1998, they were in the bottom of the league with the first overall pick. That's a team that cannot sustain success. A one hit wonder. They were LUCKY!

In Anaheim, Murray did not even make the playoffs his last year there. Burke came in and added Niedermayer, Pronger, Selanne, Beauchemin. He also dumped the $8M a year mistake in Federov that Murray signed.

In other words, Burke changed the top three D and added the leading goal scorer.

Look at Anaheim this year without Pronger. No longer world beaters. Look at Anaheim at the beginning of 2007-08 without Niedermayer and Selanne. Not very good. Bottom line, Anaheim won the Cup because Burke added three Hall of Famers.

You add those three to any team in the league today, and they become Cup contenders.

As for Paddock as a coach, he got fired with a .609 winning percentage while we were second in the conference. There was an article in the Citizen last week celebrating Clouston's success because he had a .600 winning percentage.

Expectations have clearly fallen.

That being said, I do like Clouston. But, there is no sense taking a good man like John Paddock down when his record speaks for itself.

Murray's been in hockey for thirty years. There's only thirty teams. There was only 21 teams in the eighties. You'd think that he would have at least accidentally won something by now. Nada. Nothing.

No Cups. No Team Canada. No Olympics. Nothing.

Muckler took us to the Finals. HIs record speaks for itself.

Sacul said...

Anon 3:13: You got it right and said a lot of what I wanted to say. Thanks!

Anon 1:08 and 3:57 (must be the same guy) a Muckler supporter, you truly are beyond redemption. Aside from all the lousy work he did as Sens GM, there's the fact he was ridiculed by other league executives and often couldn't remember details of conversations he had the previous day. He was still trying to ride the coat tails of his Oiler years but was way overdue for retirement. There are many things you could say about him which would require actual quotes to prove before being posted in a public forum, but those who followed the team know the facts. (Don't forget he wanted to bring Hasek back after he stiffed the team and was only stopped when the entire organization lined up against him.) There is a reason he was fired after his team went to the finals and no other team would take him on. (His buddy Gretzky getting him a short lived advisor role in Phoenix doesn't count.)
Muckler walked into a Sens team LOADED with talent from years of good draft picks and development. They were a soft but highly skilled team. Mucks had no long term plan but did have a stong front office around him, including Peter Chiarelli. Muckler was well known for rejecting the advice of others and going his own way. That explains the terrible drafting and the absolute refusal to get the type of players the team needed and Murray was begging for. You can see on teams with recent success like Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Detroit that skilled players were combined with gritty "heart and soul" guys. When Anaheim started pounding the crap out of the Sens soft D and the refs didn't step in when they just pounded could hear the "I told you so" calls all around Ottawa. Whether it was Gary Roberts, a decent defenseman or anyone was obvious to everyone from Melnyk on down that Muckler was just plain out of it and not getting the team what it needed. Maybe if he had done any decent drafting he would have had better prospects to offer, or wouldn't have been so afraid to toss in some future picks. He left the cupboard so bare, anyways...

If Murray was fired tomorrow, he'd have 5 job offers before next season. Muckler couldn't even sell himself to the hapless Peddie at MLSE.

While we're at it: It's so easy to get an ID for these blogs. A GMail will do. Why does everyone feel the need to do these Anon posts and complicate things?

Anonymous said...


The Sens are not as good today, as they were in 2006-07.

We won the President's trophy in 2002-03, we reached the Finals in 2006-07. That is the bottom line.

A GM has many responsibilities. Drafting, signing players, trades, but also getting the team to perform. Sometimes that means having the patience not to tinker.

Muckler was handed a good team, no doubt. But, he didn't mess it up.

I don't care what sport you look at, all the legendary coaches and GM's won championships because they had the wisdom to know they had good players.

Phil Jackson, Scotty Bowman, Joe Torre, Pat Riley, Glen Sather/John Muckler. All these guys won championships on the back of great players. Their genius is that when they have good players, they are smart enough to know when to get out of the way.

Bryan Murray was handed a great young team (fifth youngest in the NHL) who just went to the Finals. He ripped it apart.

Lastly, Muckler did not lose his job because he performed poorly. He lost his job because Mlakar and Muckler lost a power struggle against Murray and Melnyk. Melnyk wanted to have his people in charge.

Sacul said...

Anon 9:11 (How appropriate):

You sure drank enough Muckler (and Sather!) Kool Aid to last a lifetime.
You're mixing up crappy coaches and managers with great ones from various sports in your comment. Some guys fall ass backwards into great situations and some add the required elements for championships.
To put Muckler and Sather in the company of some of those legends when they are univerally ridiculed by the best minds of the NHL is silly.
To be fair to Mucks, he did OK in his pre-Sens time (some good work to go with his luck in Edmonton, some decent stuff in Buffalo) but his best before date was long passed before he showed up in Ottawa. And Sather...well...I mean, just the fact you threw him in there makes it tough to take you seriously.
Brian Burke and Ken Holland each won the cup...they must be GMs of equal talent, then!
Darcy Regier must be a terrible GM (even though he's well regarded around the league), he hasn't won the Cup. Having a cheap ass owner has nothing to do with it...he obviously sucks, right? it. Thanks for clearing it all up. I can sleep better now for having shared in your wisdom.

Anonymous said...


Glen Sather is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Evidently, the NHL minds you are talking about are not on the selection committee.

As for "falling ass backwards into a great situation", it happens to many people. Some take advantage of it, others screw it up.

Bryan Murray fell ass backwards into a great situation and screwed it up.

Sacul said...

Anon who refuses to get a free handle:
I already said...I bow to your superior wisdom. I have now started a petition to fire Bryan Murray and hire Mike Milbury as his replacement. Clarke Gilles has already signed it with his HHOF pen.

Anonymous said...


Congrats! You're starting to see the light.