Tuesday, February 24, 2009
After making 41 saves tonight, many of them spectacular, Alex Auld made coach Cory Clouston look like a savvy veteran decision maker as the Senators came out with a convincing win against the playoff desperate Hurricanes.
While it might have seemed like a no-brainer to start Auld over the struggling rookie Brian Elliott, the politics of the situation probably made that decision a little harder than usual.
Elliott is essentially in an extended audition for the starters role next season and the Senators are all but technically eliminated from the playoffs. After having been pulled multiple times in recent games, Elliott was publicly challenged by Clouston to get more mentally prepared and it wouldn't have been surprising if the coach gave Elliott a chance to prove himself right away.
Instead, Clouston made the right choice to go with Auld.
After all, Elliott is here to learn and ease his way into the NHL, not to put a team on his shoulders and bulldoze his way to the playoffs. By forcing the young netminder into the spotlight, there is a chance that Clouston could needlessly destroy his confidence while earning the team very little in the long run.
Elliott will get his share of games down the stretch but if Auld is getting hot, Clouston would be wise to stick with him until he shows signs of faltering. Even if Elliott was to play every game left on the schedule, it may not be enough to convince Murray that he doesn't need to go out and get a goalie like Nicklas Backstrom or Manny Fernandez this summer.
What's more important is getting the winning culture back in that dressing room and hopefully see that carry over into next season. It looks like they are on their way.
There are a lot of young players on this Senators team that are blossoming under Clouston, including Nick Foligno, Ryan Shannon and Brian Lee. It's not surprising that it will take a little longer for Elliott who's playing the toughest position in hockey.
For now, the organization and the fans will just have to be patient while he learns the ropes and part of that is sitting down when your backup is playing better than you.
With Bryan Murray carrying about 3 defenseman too many, there has been some whispers that either Brendan Bell or Brian Lee will find themselves in Bingo because of their two-way contracts. But if you've been watching the past two weeks, there is no way in hell that Brian Lee is going anywhere.
This guy impresses me more every game. He can skate the puck out of the zone smooth as silk and always seems to be moving his feet with a purpose. Occasionally he makes a bad decision in his own end but he'll get better at that. If he could start getting more shots through from the point, he really reminds me of a young Wade Redden circa 1997.
Does this make Alex Picard trade-bait? He's played one game under Clouston and was quickly shuttled back out of the lineup. And if someone gets injured, I'd guess Clouston goes with Bell instead of Picard. That doesn't bode well for his future here. I highly doubt he's one of the players that Murray threatened to put on waivers but he could easily become a throw-in on another deal. The acquisition of Chris Campoli makes Picard a ghost.
Mike Comrie just brings a bit of that swagger back doesn't he? That goal he scored at the end of the first period was an absolute beauty.....By choosing to wear number 14 with the Senators, Chris Campoli is following in the footsteps of Brad Marsh, Jean-Yves Roy, Dave Hannan, Radek Bonk and Andrej Meszaros. Mike Comrie is the only player in the history of the Senators to wear 89. In fact, only one other player has worn a number in the 80's and that was Martin Straka who wore number 82.....It was interesting to see Jason Smith waving an apology to Hurricane goalie Michael Leighton after putting the puck in the net after the whistle in the second period. Classy. It's surprised me that Smith' s name hasn't been added to the rumour mill with trade deadline coming up. He's a guy who is custom built for the playoffs but with the Red Wings being the current champions, players of Smith's ilk are not in style right now but players like Campoli are. I think Murray should keep Smith around anyways. If the Senators can get into the playoffs next year, he'll be an impact player. Does anyone remember Smith getting stitches in the hallway off the bench while he was with the Oilers in the late-90's during a playoff game? The guy refused to go to the room and missed one shift. I wish I could find the video on that....
Joe Corvo was roundly booed every time he touched the puck - and that was often. Say what you want about Corvo, but it was a good career move for him to get sent to Carolina. He runs the whole teams offense from back there and it's easy to forget just how good a skater he really is. The similarities to Paul Coffey don't just end with his number 77. He doesn't have the hands (or the heart) that Coffey had though....
For a team that has recently won the Stanley Cup, the Hurricanes don't seem to have any aura whatsoever about them. Maybe it's because they won without any real superstars (with apologies to Eric Staal). At least when Tampa won, they had the Big 3 and you can still sense that the organization has won something.
But I'm guessing the Senators would trade their modest success for the Canes Stanley Cup banner any day.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Bryan Murray told the press today that he has been in contact with the agents for pending unrestricted free-agents Chris Neil and Filip Kuba, but that neither were close to signing a new contract with Ottawa.
He vowed not to let them leave this summer for no compensation and would explore trading both before next Wednesday's trade deadline.
I've already written about why Murray should bend over backwards to re-sign Neil and keep his special skill set on this team but I also understand why he doesn't want to let him or Kuba walk for nothing.
As for Kuba, I don't think he has a future with this team. His 3 million salary is not prohibitive but he's sure to demand a raise and I don't think he's worth it. He's calm with the puck but he rarely shoots it, something that has hurt this team on the power-play. While it's tough to give up on yet another puck-moving defenseman, recently acquired Chris Campoli seems like a good replacement at a cheaper price.
So if Murray feels he has to move both of these players (hopefully in Neil's case, they come to a contract agreement), where would be the best fit around the league?
Calgary: Not much to base this on but the fact that Neil is definitely a Mike Keenan-esque player - a guy who can play the game and drop the gloves.
Dallas: Once you get past Steve Ott, this team is soft as butter. That's one of the reasons they took a chance on the now departed Sean Avery. Neil would be the perfect counterpart to skilled players like Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Modano.
Minnesota: Another team with little toughness outside of Cal Clutterbuck (and Derek Boogard of course!!).
San Jose: This rumour has been making the rounds for some time but the Sharks have a glut of forwards already. Do you sit Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier or Claude Lemieux, guys who seem handpicked by GM Doug Wilson to make hay in the playoffs?
Vancouver: They don't have much depth at right wing or on their third or fourth lines. Neil would be a perfect fit with the Canucks, short and long-term.
Columbus: This team needs to make the playoffs this year but Mike Commodore is their second highest scoring defenseman. That's not a good sign. Kuba can definitely fill a need and in the right package, might even fetch Ottawa young defenseman Kris Russell, whom Murray is rumoured to be hot after.
Dallas: Kuba isn't exactly Sergei Zubov, but with the Stars fighting for their playoff lives, Kuba would be a nice-fill in for the injured star. Players like Matt Niskanen and Trevor Daley are doing a good job but Kuba would give them some much needed depth.
Los Angeles: Don't laugh. The Kings are still in the playoff hunt with Kyle Quincey being their only defenseman with over 20 points. They need help on the back end big time and they have a plethora of prospects to deal.
Minnesota: The Wild are just barely holding on to that last playoff spot in the West and could use a boost on the back end. They are already familiar with Kuba and he would be an upgrade on Martin Skoula. They already have their big guns in Brent Burns and Marek Zidlicky but Kuba would give them one of the deepest set of blueliners in the West.
New Jersey: They definitely need another offensive blueliner but word is they are hunting bigger fish than Kuba.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Finally, something happens.
Okay, I guess Bryan Murray already canned Craig Hartsburg but today he made his first big personnel move since the Andrej Meszaros trade.
You probably all know the details: McAmmond and a first rounder (San Jose's) to the Islanders for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie.
Undoubtedly, slick defenseman Campoli is really the player that Murray was after and that first round pick is what the Islanders desperately wanted for their interminable rebuild.
Unfortunately for Dean McAmmond, he was the dead salary weight that Murray probably forced onto the Islanders for the deal to work. The same could be said of Comrie as he is having a horrible year in New York. Both of those players are unrestricted this summer so it was merely a swap to make the salary cap work for both teams. Murray takes considerably more money on but he also gets the best player in the deal in Campoli. That's how trades are going to work nowadays - to get what you want you have to take something you don't along with it.
That being said, Comrie is going to add some offensive potential to the Senators lineup with Daniel Alfredsson rumoured to be out for longer than a week. He could wind up getting traded again at the deadline but if the Senators can string some more wins together, he's an inexpensive player in the short term. Even if he walks in the summer, Murray still has his offensive defenseman in Campoli. This is in direct contrast to the trade he made late last year when he acquired two potential unrestricted free agents in Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore (who both walked for no compensation).
But do I like the trade?
To be honest, I'm a little skeptical of Chris Campoli being anything more than a second-tier defenseman. He is still young, can help a power-play and he's cheap. But I don't expect him to make a really big difference here. He will probably be an upgrade on good guy Brendan Bell and the invisible ghost that is Alex Picard, but he's not the number one guy this team needs.
But I do like the trade.
Murray gave up a lot in that first round pick but Campoli is a known commodity and he'll be able to help right away, something that late-first rounder won't be able to do for a few years.
I'm also glad to see Comrie back in the fold. He is one hell of a chippy player who isn't afraid to drop the gloves despite his size and he adds some much needed skill. He might even re-sign in town (though not likely) and he probably won't cost much money due to his poor numbers.
I do feel bad for McAmmond as he has a family and he is basically going to a team that is even more doomed than Ottawa but I've always had the sense that McAmmond was never a Murray guy.
When Murray first took over for John Muckler, one of the first things he did was voice his displeasure with the two-year contract that McAmmond recieved just before Mucks went out the door. He managed not to trade him for two years but I think this day was inevitable.
More on the trade tomorrow after the Habs game....
NOTE: Apparently, Campoli had asked Islander GM Garth Snow to trade him because he wanted a change of scenery.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It was a major disappointment for Ottawa fans with how their team came out in the first period against the Canucks. It was clear that the players just didn't have their legs underneath them, something that is all too common when teams play their first game at home after a road trip. Why that happens, I have no idea, but that seems to be the most likely explanation for such a flat start.
Brian Elliott let in 3 goals on his first 9 shots and I was expecting Cory Clouston to pull out the meat hook.
But Clouston sent a message by keeping Elliott in there. Those goals were a result of shoddy defensive coverage and not solely Elliott's fault.
The young goaltender responded with some big saves in the 2nd and 3rd periods as his team woke up and made it a game. The line of Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and Ryan Shannon were great to watch and Clouston responded by playing them heavily.
The victim of that decision was Jason Spezza who must have played a season-low 14:19. He was a nasty -3 (but so was Heatley) and had zero shots on goal. He'll need to bounce back with a big game against the Habs on Saturday afternoon.
One loss doesn't derail their far-fetched playoff dreams but they better be prepared to play against a desperate Habs squad.
I don't have the numbers in front of me, but history doesn't seem to be too kind to the Senators when they play those afternoon games.
There was something horribly awry with the Sportsnet broadcast tonight in the first period. If you were expecting the game on HD like I was, we were instead treated to a standard definition broadcast that kept cutting out for nearly 10 minutes. Then, like a miracle, we were given the HD feed only to have it ripped from us just a minute later. The rest of the game was in standard.
So they were filming it in HD but decided not to give the signal to us in the East? I can't say for sure but I bet that in Vancouver they were watching it in HD. So why not on Sportsnet East? If anyone has any info on this crapfest, let us know.
***Here's a stat that has largely gone under the radar: Daniel Alfredsson now sits 91st in all-time NHL scoring.
That's a pretty amazing feat for a guy who has had a season lost to a lockout and some lengthy injuries early on in his career.
With 899 points, e needs one more point to tie Tony Amonte for 90th on the list and will probably surpass the likes of Bobby Orr, Scott Stevens and Gary Roberts this season.
It's not Hall of Fame numbers yet, but he's working on it.
Speaking of all-time stats, Jason Spezza is closing in on Radek Bonk for 4th all-time in Senators scoring. Bonk holds the spot with 399 while Spezza is just 8 back after having just passed Marian Hossa for the 5th spot. Antoine Vermette, with 163 points, should pass Alexandre Daigle who sits 14th all-time with 172. Daigle, by the way, finished a whopping minus 137 in his career with the Senators, well ahead of Brad Shaw (-85) for last place. Wade Redden still holds down the top spot in this category with an impressive +159.
The all-time NHL leader in plus/minus is Hab great Larry Robinson with an almost sickening +730.
The NHL is a strange place.
If the Senators played in the Western Conference, they'd be in last place right now with 8 teams to climb over to make the playoffs. Strangely enough, that would be a preferable situation than 11th place which is where they are now in the East. That's because the Oilers hold the last playoff spot in the West with only 62 points as opposed to the Sabres and Panthers with 66 points each in the East.
Now with news that Daniel Alfredsson has a broken jaw, that 13 point differential looks a lot bigger than it did yesterday. I haven't seen anything in the press as of right now that states how long he is expected to be out, but obviously it's a cruel blow.
While it's some consolation to be above the hated cross provincial rival Toronto in the standings, there is a slew of teams ahead of Ottawa who are both going up and down.
It's only a matter of time before Pittsburgh starts playing better under new coach Dan Bylsma and that is certainly the team to watch right now. Carolina doesn't seem capable of a big run but they don't show any signs of being in a big slide either. They'll be hovering around 9th for the rest of the season unless GM Jim Rutherford can get some more scoring in that lineup.
The Florida Panthers are on a roll right now and while they won't catch Washington for the South East lead, they are only three points behind Philadelphia for fourth in the conference. If Tomas Vokoun keeps playing better, I think they are a lock to make the playoffs. It just seems like this is finally their year but the Jay Bouwmeester situation could seriously derail their season.
That leaves the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres as the likely targets for the Senators playoff hopes.
We all know the horror show surrounding the Habs and the Rangers but they would both have to fall a long ways for Ottawa to catch them.
The difference between the Rangers and the Habs is that Montreal GM Bob Gainey is being proactive by trading for Mathieu Schneider, sending players down to the minors and attempting to straighten out Alexei Kovalev with some extremely tough love. I think Gainey's moves will pay off for Montreal and they'll revert to form down the road here.
The Rangers GM Glen Sather is standing pat for now even though they only have two wins in their last ten. He is getting heavily criticized for signing Wade Redden to that huge contract and his team can't score anymore. Scott Gomez only has 11 goals on the year and they are missing Jaromir Jagr in a bad way. To me, the Rangers are the most likely candidate to fall out of their playoff spot.
The Sabres are consistent but they also don't have Thomas Vanek for the next while. The Senators can only hope that Ryan Miller gets tired out and starts losing an alarming amount of weight like he did at the end of last season. Don't bet on it.
It's unfortunate for the Senators that their current point streak has come at the expense of three Western Conference foes (they still have to play Vancouver, San Jose, Edmonton and Calgary down the stretch) but they still get to play Carolina twice, Montreal three times, the Rangers once, the Sabres twice and the Penguins once.
Those are a lot of points right there if they can grab them.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
These late nights are killing me.
While it was difficult to stay up to see the Senators lose in overtime to the Avalanche, it was a noteworthy game for a few reasons.
Jason Smith played in his 1000th game (and not many of those 1000 were soft ones either) while the team's new "young gun" Nick Foligno played in his 100th game.
If you had talked to me just two weeks ago, I would have told you that Foligno would have been better off in the AHL because he certainly wasn't getting it done in the big league. Now he looks indispensable on a line with Mike Fisher and Ryan Shannon, giving the Senators a legitimate second scoring presence for the first time this season.
And now they have a chance to put that to use. With 9 of their next 10 games at home, the Senators could conceivably go on a run here and put themselves in a position come April when there are 12 points up for grabs, all against Eastern Conference opponents.
Now I'm not saying that the Senators have a great chance of making the playoffs here. They don't. But it's conceivable they could rack up enough points in late February and March that the games in April actually become meaningful.
Even with 9 of a possible 10 points in their last 5 games, we don't see much improvement in the standings. But if they play over .750 hockey for the next month, that gap will close considerably.
But you have to remember that February is sort of a Twilight Zone for the NHL. Good teams go into slumps and bad teams go on tears. Last year at this time, Detroit was going through hell but they went on to win the Stanley Cup. It wouldn't be too surprising to see Ottawa level out in the coming weeks here but at least they are playing a system that's entertaining and gives them a chance to win every night.
Here's a strange thought. Last year the Senators got off to one of the best starts in NHL history. It would be bizarre to say the least, but wouldn't it be appropriate if they finished off this season they way they started the last. That's the Hollywood ending everyone desires here in town but what are the chances?
In tribute to Jason Smith playing in his 1000th game last night, here's a clip of him tangling with tough guy Mark Tinordi when Smith was still a Leaf. Quite the bout.
It's hard to believe with all those great teams, but Smith was also the longest serving captain of the Edmonton Oilers. I find it hard to believe that Kevin Lowe ever let players like Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith leave town. That team hasn't been the same since, no matter how much money they saved (which they then blew on Dustin Penner).
Alex Picard went into the lineup last night, replacing healthy scratch Brendan Bell. I don't think Picard looked too sharp. Bell is certainly inconsistent at times but I think the Senators missed his skating ability against the Avalanche. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in against an equally quick Vancouver squad.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Note: I'll be off to Montreal this weekend so there won't be a new article until Monday at the earliest or until I sufficiently recover from the heavy libations. Sante! (And yes, that title is another Springsteen reference. I'm not that melodramatic normally)
The Senators became the last team in the NHL to win 3 games in a row and for that they can thank Brian Elliott. The guy was unbeatable for most of the game and some of the saves could safely be called spectacular.
It's blowing my mind that Elliott has been able to step right into the NHL and start winning the way he has. Of course, his success has been concurrent with the coaching change and all the positives that has brought to the team, but in Philly tonight, Elliott made the difference in the game until the offence got going in the second and third periods.
There have been whispers about the Senators not being in top physical shape this season and it might have been a factor tonight when they began to look tired in third period. They had some troubles getting the puck out of their zone but Elliott bailed them out.
I have to eat some crow concerning Antoine Vermette as well. I made a good natured jab at the boy with the hands of stone just yesterday but he scored a big goal late in the third to snuff out any hope of a Flyer comeback. For all the frustrations he's given fans, it's hard not to like the unassuming and quiet Vermette.
Okay, maybe he could score in a whorehouse...
When Dany Heatley scored late in the first period, he probably wasn't thinking it but I was -- that goal was for Kulka and Versage who have been trying to destroy his credibility all week long. How does it taste fellas?...... The second one might have been for a certain Sun columnist who started the imbroglio in the first place with his scalp hunting article earlier in the week......It's going to be tough for Alex Picard to be a healthy scratch, but who is Clouston supposed to take out to make room for him? Picard hasn't played well enough this season to warrant bumping anyone from the lineup just because he's healthy. But there is part of me that would like to see how he does under Clouston's more aggressive system. The guy can skate. But I wouldn't take Brendan Bell out of the lineup for Picard right now. Bell has shown that he deserves some more games and a possible chance to stick around longer than one season, even just as a depth player........I actually think Brian Elliott's shoulder pads are only marginally bigger than Mike Fisher's. I'm not exaggerating. Elliott might have the smallest equipment among goalies in the NHL right now. That makes his success that much more satisfying.....
A recent ESPN poll asked a wide group of NHL players which team had the most disruptive fans. Philly was the winner and you have to wonder if poor Antero Nittymaki cast one of those ballots. He was getting slaughtered out there by the home fans who mock-cheered every time he made a save in the last two minutes of the game...... Someday, I would love to see an NHL goalie in the middle of a bad game just take his net off the pegs, turn it around and push it up against the back boards in protest. That would be the highlight of the year. The only guy I could picture doing that is Patrick Roy (and how soon do we begin to hear the rumours of Roy taking over for Guy Carbonneau in Montreal?)
"Murray v. Paddock Part II: This Time It's Personal"
It wouldn't be a normal week in Senators City without at least one or two mind blowing controversies. Unlike the false crisis that surrounded Heatley earlier in the week over some harmless comments he made to the media, there's nothing lost in translation over what ex-coach John Paddock said about GM Bryan Murray and the Senators players.
He basically threw the whole team under the bus and said that Murray was in line to be fired. Today, Murray shot back with a threat to cut off Paddock's salary and re-iterated why Paddock was fired in the first place.
"There are a couple clauses we could put into play. We're not vindictive in that regard - we're just disappointed," Murray said. "In all of our contracts, you don't have the right to share anything from inside the organization or say anything about the organization. And he is aware of it."
Murray also took the time on Thursday to re-iterate why Paddock was fired last February 26th - despite the fact that the team was in first place in the Northeast Division at the time.
"My only complaint with John was I don't think he worked hard enough to get himself ready or the team ready to play games," Murray explained. "We were slipping so badly that we had to make a change."
The article says that Paddock called Murray Thursday morning to apologize, claiming that he didn't know he was being interviewed at the time. Unfortunately for Paddock, he wasn't speaking to a Russian newspaper at the time which has been the source of many scandals involving players like Alexei Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr who survived by claiming that something got lost in the translation. Paddock simply crapped himself in plain old English.
Murray seems like a nice fellow when he speaks to the media but you don't survive for over 3 decades in the NHL without having the ability to kick the balls off someone when they cross you. Let's not forget Murray ripping Kings broadcaster Jim Fox a new a-hole after getting wind of some criticism sent his way during the game a few years back.
It's been a running gag to reference Bruce Springsteen all week long between Black Aces and Sens Army and it's got me digging through his back catalogue.
I may get in trouble for posting this, but "Growin' Up" is my favourite Boss song of all-time (just beating out The River and Open All Night). From 1973's "Greetings From Asbury Park" LP. Dig it.
The Boss - Growin' Up
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
(I couldn't help but go with one more Springsteen song reference in the title...that's for you Sens Army!)
When's the last time you saw Ottawa play as good a game as the one they played against Buffalo tonight?
I'd have to go back to game 2 of the season in Stockholm, Sweden when the Senators dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins with precision and style.
The penalty kill was the story of the game as the Senators seemingly spent half of the 60 minutes in the box and only gave up one power play goal. Of course, much credit goes to Brian Elliott who played another great game.
More than anything, it was entertaining.
This year has been a bit of a bummer on the entertainment front but Cory Clouston's aggressive coaching style is making the games much easier on the eyes. Jason Spezza has suddenly come to life again and he nearly scored a mind blowing highlight reel goal after he beat the entire Sabres team in their own zone but was stopped by Ryan Miller when he quickly closed the five hole.
Spezza has looked ordinary at times this year but the new system suits his style and he looks less afraid to make mistakes. Those high risk passes are starting to work again but it was his determination to go to the net that got him his first goal when a pass went in off his skate.
This team isn't back to the "glory days" by a long shot, but at least the Senators are fun to watch again.
So it's off to Philly tomorrow night with a chance to make it 3 wins in a row.
No one will ever forget the disaster that was the Senators 8 game road trip over the Christmas season but so far, this mini 5 game trip has the potential to bring some pride back to this team.
The latest fiasco over what Dany Heatley did or did not say was absolutely ridiculous and completely blown out of proportion by certain writers and radio personalities who were just waiting to pounce on the young superstar for something. They found an angle and went to work, distorting what Heatley actually said.
The blog Blood Red Army does a good job of looking at the actual question which was asked of Heatley and how his response was distorted to make it seem as if he was at odds with Clouston.
"For starters, Clouston repeatedly said that Heatley is no different than anyone else on the team. "He's not where we want him to be and neither is the whole team in general. He's not different (...) Again, it's only been two or three practices. It's coming." But they weren’t interested in exploring that avenue. As far as the radio boys were concerned, Heatley had been singled out, publicly embarrassed and taken to task by the new coach, resulting in his smug, arrogant rebuttal.
But the smallest bit of common sense could lead a reasonable person to the following conclusion:
The last part of the question was "He thinks maybe you're pressing too much. Is that fair?" To which Heatley replies "No. I don't feel that way right now. I think I'm just trying to shoot the puck. I've had some good chances, like I said, last game, and it's kind of funny. The way I go, if a goal goes in and you play horribly, you guys all say everything is great and if you play well and the puck doesn't go in, you're playing bad, so... I'm just going to keep trying to shoot the puck and eventually they'll go in." ...
He's not saying anything about Clouston's assessment of his adjustment to the new system or anything like that at all... he's merely saying "No, the problem is not that I'm pressing too hard".
And this all comes after the Senators just got 3 out of a possible 4 points and Heatley led the team in shots with 8 against Buffalo on Saturday.
If you want to criticise Heatley for not playing well, that's fine. But don't take a harmless comment out of context as your means to do it. Just come right out and say he's been crap and list the reasons why.
To concoct a non-existant rift between a player and coach is beyond fair play.
What a joke.
This is good stuff. Over at Puck Daddy, they are running a "Create-A-Card" contest where readers can send in their photo shopped hockey cards taking some shots at Sid the Kid and other NHL personalities.
My personal favourite so far is this David Puddy (from Seinfeld) card. Be sure to also check out the Jonathan Toews "Super Skills" card which involves a beer bong.
Just before the start of the 2nd period, TSN showed a brief clip of a little tyke hockey player scoring an easy goal against the Sabres mascot during the intermission. James Duthie remarked that it reminded him of the Senators past goaltending....... Good move by the Sabres to use their original logo at centre ice this season instead of the Buffaslug. Those classic uniforms look amazing out there as well and someday when the Senators do the same thing, everybody will be wondering why it took them so long to do it....It must be tough for Craig Rivet to look at San Jose and see them building towards a championship run. Rivet came to Buffalo in the Brian Campbell trade and the Sabres look like they're first round fodder for a team like the Caps, Devils or the Bruins. Plus, the weather's not as nice....
Speaking of goaltenders past, Patty Lalime looked pretty sharp on the bench with a yellow toque on his head. That's a new style that I hope catches on. Just don't try to put one on Ray Emery's dome....Another thing I really like about Brian Elliott - he doesn't wear ridiculously oversized shoulder pads ala J.S. Giguere and Martin Gerber. He's trim and quick out there, the way goalies are supposed to be........ I hate to make another joke at Antoine Vermette's expense, but the guy couldn't even put one in an empty net at the end of the game with only one defenseman between him and cage. I've never seen such a skilled guy miss so many opportunities to score. He's one hell of a penalty killer though...
Monday, February 9, 2009
William Houston of the Globe and Mail reports that the all-sports format radio stations across the country are hurting financially along with their U.S. counterparts and the local Team 1200 is no exception.
Though a representative from the CTV owned station wouldn't return Houston's calls, it's believed that advertising revenue is down across the board. It certainly won't help that the Senators won't be making the playoffs.
Houston also floats the idea that many of the same on-air personalities in all the markets have grown wearisome to the listening public.
"There is a sense among some that the on-air talent has become stale. One journalist, upon returning to Toronto after several years, said, "I couldn't believe that [several personalities] were still on the air, sounding the same, saying the same things, filling the same slots."
That quote pertains to the Toronto market but how do you local Ottawa listeners feel about the Team 1200's on-air personalities?
You won't get much hockey talk out of the TGOR guys in the morning but we all know that morning shows are a different animal. The format calls for more comedy than real sports talk and the guys do a decent job of acting "wacky" or whatever it is they do. They're all likable, sometimes funny and the hours pass quickly. Plus they get Pierre McGuire on every morning. Like him or hate him, it's worth the listen.
After TGOR is done, you get the Over The Edge show with Glenn Kulka and Lee Versage. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably know how I feel about this show. Their knowledge and grasp of the NHL is summed up in their daily exhortations for the players to "work harder" and that's about all the real analysis you will get.
They are rabidly negative towards the players and the organization to the point that I wouldn't at all be surprised if the Senators re-think their affiliation with the Team 1200 if Kulka and Versage don't stop making the players seem like callous scumbags to the buying public year after year. Yet the show remains popular and it's a forum for angry fans to call in and rip those "rich and spoiled" hockey players. For all I know, it's probably the most successful time slot the station has.
The afternoon show is probably the best on the station, with Steve Lloyd and Jason York. Both can talk hockey in depth and generally have a positive and original take on events. Yorkie has really evolved into a good radio guy after an uneven start and his experience as a player (and a good one at that) brings a whole new depth to the show. Lloyd is no slouch either as he hosts the pre-game shows and gives and takes with the best in business, such as Bob McKenzie.
I'd be interested to hear what you think is the best the Team 1200 has to offer. For all the complaints, it's a luxury to have an all-sports (and in Ottawa that inevitably means all-hockey) radio station.
Does anyone remember if the station was called something else when it first started (in 1998 I think)? I have the feeling it was but I can't find any info on it.
(The article by William Houston was also his last with the Globe and Mail. I've been an avid reader of Houston's for a while now and it's sad to see him go. Remember, it was often Houston who brought up Senators fans concerns about the Toronto Maple Leaf bias at Hockey Night in Canada when many print writers wouldn't touch it with any seriousness. )
Now that the Senators have done the right thing and brought back the beloved Sens theme to the pre-game festivities at the Palladium (can we bring that name back too??), I mentioned a couple of posts back that the next goal would be to convince them to bring back the original white jersey's with the original 2-D logo.
Well, there's some folks over at the 6th Sens who were way ahead of me. They've started a Facebook page similar to the one that called for the theme song to come back but this time the goal is to bring back the original threads and logo. I don't see a petition there but hopefully someone gets that going as well.
I fully support this idea and it would be inspiring to see a big movement to convince Roy Mlakar and company that we want more tradition from this club and not the next wave of gimmicky cartoons and angular striped socks that make no sense.
I was walking down the canal today and saw an older gentleman wearing a red Habs sweater proudly, and boy, did it look nice. Whenever I see an older guy wearing a current Senators sweater, it looks strange to me, as if it doesn't look right on an older person. It's too faddish and looks more like a bed sheet than an NHL jersey.
How about this Roy? Keep the red sweater with the kiddy 3-D logo but bring back the original white jersey and go with that for a few years. The current white sweater is merely a pale imitation of the red one anyways and at least the Senators wore the classic logo when they went to the Cup final.
As with the theme song, the organization will listen if you bother them enough.
Chris Neil is out with a serious cut on his leg and now some are wondering if that's the last we see of Neiler before Bryan Murray trades him at the deadline.
I'm going to keep saying this: Murray would be nuts not to sign Chris Neil to a contract extension.
This guy is heart and soul and nobody on the team can do his job. If you think that Jarkko Ruutu and Cody Bass can fill in for Neil, you're nuts. Bass doesn't fight as often as people think he does and he's not very good at it. He's not even a sure fire NHLer at this point and will be on the bubble his whole career. Ruutu is more effective as a pest and he sometimes needs a player like Neil to clean up his mess.
Neil can also play and get you over 10 goals on any given year. Combined with his hitting and fighting skills, that's something that only a few players can provide in the entire NHL.
I sense a lot of people just want change for change's sake but it would be a major mistake to lose Neil just because familiarity breeds contempt from the fans.
Neil is a very important piece of this team and he actually wants to stay here. It's a no brainer Bryan.
Get it done.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The first clue that the Senators are playing a vastly different and successful system under Cory Clouston?
If it wasn't for the circus style saves of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, this game would have been over after the first two periods when the Senators had already accumulated 30 of those 42 shots.
The Senators just weren't getting those numbers under Craig Hartsburg's system, which basically entailed retreating into a defensive shell whenever the opposition had the puck instead of trying to get it back through aggressive skating and checking. (But that didn't stop Allen Panzeri from totally exonerating Hartsburg yesterday by saying that the Senators, gosh darn it, just didn't work hard enough under Hartsburg.....yawn).
Speaking of Hartsburg's system, Daniel Alfredsson had some interesting words for the Ottawa Sun's Chris Stevenson when comparing the old ways to Clouston's style:
"That was the knock on us: People were asking, 'Do they care?' We were passive," said Alfredsson. "Now we're more involved, forechecking with two guys, the defence pinching. In the second period, we had some great shifts. Everybody feeds off the energy, the hitting."
It's a good point by the captain. It was easy for the pundits and fans to scream that the players weren't working hard enough when in fact, it was Hartsburg's system that forced them to be passive. And that's not just my opinion. Alfie says it all in that quote. It's hard to look like you're ready to run defenseman over when your coach tells you that you have to retreat.
It's also been fun to watch a player like Nick Foligno seemingly reinvent himself in a matter of three games under Clouston.
For most of the season, Foligno was a fringe player and used sparingly. His hell-bent-for-leather skating style and rangy physique is a match made in heaven for Clouston's aggressive forechecking system. It would not have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago to see Foligno back with the Bingo Sens but he is now a vital cog on the second line and is starting to produce.
And how about Brendan Bell? This guy has the wheels and passing ability to make a difference and he's using those skills now on the power-play instead of Chris Phillips who was a favourite at times of Hartsburg. Phillips is a heart and soul player who will hopefully spend his whole career in Ottawa, but there's no way he should be running a powerplay.
I'm also going to assume that Clouston had something to do with convincing Bryan Murray to bring up Ryan Shannon in place of Peter Regin. No offence to Regin (who was very good) but Shannon has provided some much needed speed up front that is essential if your going to go after the puck all night.
And let's not forget the veterans here. The guys who have taken heat all season, like Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly are starting to play like themselves again and earning big minutes.
It may surprise some but both Fisher and Foligno had more ice time than either Alfie, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. But that doesn't mean that the Big 3 are not pulling their weight either.
Heatley led both teams with 6 shots on goal and Alfie was right behind him with 4.
At some point, those shots are going to go in and goal scoring may become less of a problem in the last half.
How many of you caught Don Cherry comparing the way Cory Clouston looks to Macauley Culkin of Home Alone fame?
If you happened to catch the Satellite Hotstove segment on Hockey Night in Canada after the second period last night, you would have heard that Ray Emery has refused to report back to his Russian club after a dispute with the way he is being paid by the team. Apparently it has something to do with the team using the wrong exchange rate and Emery is refusing to report until he is paid what is due to him in his contract. The panellists went on to say that this is not something new with the KHL and that a lot of players are having the same problems. I have been unable to find a valid report on it in the print media so for now we'll just have to take the word of Al Strachan and company.
Some will speculate that this opens the door to Emery returning to the NHL this season instead of next. I don't know where Don Brennan got his info but he mentions that there's a rumour going around that Rayzer could even find his way back to Ottawa. That sounds unlikely but I'm sure there are a handful of teams who would love the opportunity to bring in a guy who has been to a Stanley Cup final once already in his short career. Some markets can handle fiery goaltenders with outgoing personalities.
Just look at the popularity of guys like Billy Smith in Long Island, Ron Hextall in Philly, Tom Barrasso in Pittsburgh, Dominik Hasek in Buffalo and Patrick Roy in Colorado.
Those guys were all nuts but they could win you big games. Emery is in the same mould but he's too out there for conservative little Ottawa. We prefer our goalies quiet and mediocre. (Maybe Elliott will change all that. He's quiet and pretty good all at the same time.)
Saturday, February 7, 2009
A quick series of notes for your Saturday:
ESPN came out with their annual player survey where the players are asked questions like "Who is the best leader in the NHL?".
On that particular question, the name of Daniel Alfredsson was noticeably absent. In fact 20 players were given multiple votes and Alfredsson was not one of them. If there was any doubt about how low the Senators stock has dropped among their peers, this clinches it.
However, Zdeno Chara was among those named by his peers and this is a nice segue way into a very important story written by the Ottawa Citizen's Doug Fischer about how the "big one got away".
Along with James Duthie's article on how the players really felt about Craig Hartsburg, Fischer's article on the decision to keep Wade Redden over Chara is the must read of the week.
"Well, of course, if we had kept him we would have made different trades and signings and built the team differently than we did," Murray said in an interview this week.
"A player like Z (pronounced Zee) gives you a presence that is irreplaceable. He has toughness, size and great mobility. He is a fitness fanatic. He can play 30 or 35 minutes a game. He plays the power play and kills penalties. He can shoot a ton. He can fight when he needs to.
"Where can you find a player like that? You can't. He's one of a kind. His leaving was pivotal."
Former Senators head coach John Paddock, one of Murray's assistants during Chara's last season in Ottawa, takes it a step farther.
"It's a tragedy he was allowed to go," Paddock says bluntly. "In 25 years as a coach, I have never seen a player who was as dominant as Z. He is absolutely unique."
Nick Foligno had some interesting comments on Cory Clouston's coaching style in a Chris Stevenson article today:
"Cory brings a different outlook on the game and maybe that's what we needed in this locker room was just a different approach," said F Nick Foligno. "We were so used to being aggressive from the years past, it's hard just to sit back. Now Cory's got us going full steam ahead. It's creating a lot of chances for us. The way we're playing right now is aggressive and I think every guy on the team loves that."
Here's a prediction I may live to regret. It says here that Ottawa gets Clouston his first win tonight against a Buffalo Sabre team coming off an important game against the Habs. The Sabres might be too distracted chasing around Jarkko Ruutu to notice that Ottawa is playing much better as of late.
But they have to watch out for Tim Connolly. This guy has 9 goals in his last 9 games, 18 points in 18 games and is about as skilled as they come. He is an awesome player to watch when he's healthy.
Connolly is due to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and might be had for cheap due to his history of concussion and injury. Could he be a candidate to fill that second line centre role for Ottawa next season? Stranger things have happened.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
For the first two periods, it was clear that the Senators didn't believe they belonged on the same ice surface as the Bruins.
Somehow, between the second and the third, new head coach Cory Clouston made them believe and they almost pulled off a victory against the best team in the National Hockey League.
As with most shootouts the Senators have to face, it wasn't meant to be.
But they shouldn't be hanging their heads. For the second game in a row, the Senators have begun to build something that resembles the teams of old. We are seeing hard forechecking resulting in turnovers from physical play. We're actually seeing scoring chances. And finally, a few goals.
Clouston is 0 for 2 so far but the difference in the team is striking. Even Pierre McGuire, who might be one of the most vocal critics of the Senators this year, pointed out that he was seeing a team coming together before his very eyes.
The Senators took over the game in the 3rd period and it was only an unlucky penalty by Antoine Vermette which resulted in the Bruins tying the score.
Daniel Alfredsson was credited with 7 shots on goal, easily leading both teams in that category. Nick Foligno seems to be a completely different player under Clouston. In the waning days of the Craig Hartsburg era, Foligno was basically a forgotten entity but Clouston has lit a fire under the youngster by giving him some important minutes and some good linemates.
More importantly, it was refreshing to see the players smiling again and having fun in front of a supportive crowd (at least in the 3rd). The rink was buzzing and even the stoic Russian Anton Volchenkov was seen grinning after getting a scoring chance that was just deflected over the net.
In a season rife with brutal negativity and bleakness, you can find some positives in two straight losses if it looks like there's better days ahead.
And I'd wager that's what we're seeing here in Ottawa.
Word is that the Senators theme song is back at the start of the games down at Scotiabank Place. I wasn't at the L.A. game where it was definitely played but I was wondering if anyone at the game tonight can confirm that it was played again.
If so, this is a big victory for the small but vocal group of fans who signed petitions and sent emails to the Senators insisting they bring back this great piece of tradition. To some, it was probably small peanuts and irrelevant but it's the little things that matter to the hardcore fans.
Next up - getting the Senators to bring back their classic white uniforms with the original logo. But that's for another day.
I gotta get back to Hell's Kitchen. That show is dope.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
You had to feel a little sorry for Bryan's brother Terry Murray and his Los Angeles Kings coming into Tuesday night's game.
The Kings are in the midst of a stretch where they play 8 of 9 games on the road and are fighting hard for a playoff spot.
Ottawa was supposed to be their soft touch in between games at Montreal, Washington and New Jersey.
Then Terry's brother went and fired Craig Hartsburg the day before which virtually guaranteed the Senators would come out super-charged against the Kings. No opposing coach likes to face a team fresh off a coaching change.
And just like predicted, the Senators came out strong and won the majority of battles in both ends of the ice. But the Kings played a patient road game and just waited for their one chance to make a difference and they got it late in the third period when Michael Handzus slipped a wraparound through Brian Elliott, who otherwise had a stellar game in the nets.
That's a tough loss for Cory Clouston and the Senators but there are some positives that they can take from the game.
For starters, I don't remember the last time Ottawa had so many scoring chances. Their forechecking (which was somewhat non-existent under Hartsburg's conservative system) directly caused two egregious giveaways by the Kings defence and Dany Heatley hit a post on one of them.
The Senators had a modest 29 shots but a good many of them were quality chances.
Overall, the boys looked energized and more dangerous as a whole while not sacrificing any of their defensive play. If anything, they looked even more focused in their own end, perhaps because they were spending less time there than in the past.
As for Clouston's first game behind the Senators bench, TV reporter Ian Mendes told the Sportsnet audience that the new coach was significantly louder than Hartsburg and was seen walking the length of the bench to give Chris Kelly a pat on the back for a good play. Mendes used the term "positive reinforcement" when describing Clouston's style and that seems like the proper starting point for this team's rebuild.
Clouston has already stated that getting the players to believe in themselves again is one of his primary goals here and tonight was a good start in that direction.
As goal scorers often say, as long as they're getting scoring chances, they know the goals will come eventually.
Bryan Murray and the legions of frustrated fans certainly hope that mantra rings true here in Bytown.
A must-read article by James Duthie reveals how the Senators players really felt about Craig Hartsburg:
"The problem many Senators had with Hartsburg was his stubbornness. He implemented a system in training camp, and refused to budge from it. Nary a tweak. The players say when things went bad, Hartsburg always believed it was because of “a lack of effort”. There was never any other explanation.
Specifically, the one-man forecheck drove many players nuts. They believe they are at their best as an aggressive team, with 2 men always going hard into the opposition’s end, the way they did during the Cup run two springs ago. Having that second man hang back left them “standing around an awful lot.” Yet they never strayed from it.
The other main beef with Hartsburg was his negativity. Oh, he had plenty to be negative about with this team, that’s for sure. But there were moments where the Senators were desperate for positive reinforcement, and never got it.
They point to a stretch before the All-Star break where they went 3-0-1, and showed signs of making a run. Yet several players say even after the wins, Hartsburg would come into the room and pick out only the mistakes, further eroding their already shaky confidence."
That is the type of thing that you wish the local beat writers from the Sun and the Citizen would pick up on but they are too busy mailing in their easy-as-pie "coach killer" articles and lambasting the team for not playing hard enough.
It's sad that it takes a TV host to get the real story from the players instead of the writers who spend everyday with the team.
Monday, February 2, 2009
At first, all that registered was shock. Murray had actually done it.
With Craig Hartsburg it seemed like a harmless game (until today at least) to speculate about the possibility of a coaching change. In just my previous post I talked about the idea but I didn’t really expect it to happen.
I firmly believed that Hartsburg would at least get the year because no GM would have the balls to fire another coach so shortly after dismissing John Paddock late last season.
Forget for a minute that it was abundantly clear that Hartsburg was not the right coach for this team when they were only halfway into that hellish 8 game road trip back in December and early January. The team couldn’t score goals and that was the only strength they seemingly had going into the season.
But right or not, Hartsburg was safe just due to the politics of the situation – ie. Murray would not admit defeat by firing his second hand-picked coach in less than a year.
Turns out Murray has more balls than I thought.
And I think it was the correct decision, albeit an unfortunate one.
Hartsburg seemed to come into this season carrying a chip on his shoulder, probably due to the over reported set of "problem players" he was expected to whip into shape. Instead of giving the players a reprieve from the negative energy generated by last years team, he only seemed to add to it. For him, it was all about “harnessing” the team and giving them a good ass kicking in the media after every game. From the start, it seemed like his role was to bash heads even though Murray had already weeded out who he thought were the troublemakers from last season.
Furthermore, Hartsburg was so intent on fixing the Senators dismal defensive performance from last year that he basically neglected the Senators main strength which is scoring goals.
Cory Clouston said it himself at his press conference - this team doesn’t have a system for getting the puck out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and onto the sticks of the best players of this team. A lot of that has to do with Murray not providing Hartsburg with NHL level offensive defenseman but the situation shouldn’t be as bleak as it is now.
It is no coincidence that Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson are all having sub-par years at the same time. It’s because the system played under Hartsburg was not suited to their abilities. It had nothing to do with "working hard" and "accountability". This came down to X's and O's.
And frankly, I don’t think the fans want to hear that. It’s clear, from call-in shows, blogs and message boards, that the fans want a team similar to what Hartsburg was trying to create here. They want a team made up of Mike Fisher’s and they want “skilled” guys like Spezza and Heatley traded.
But Murray is smarter than that. He realizes the assets he has in the Big 3 and that he should be building the team around them, and not marginalizing their skills. Under Hartsburg, this was the direction the team was headed.
And that's why Murray made the change.
What struck me during the broadcast of the Washington game on Sunday was that they showed a clip of the Capitals practicing outdoors and the players were zipping around playing shinny with huge smiles on their faces. Even coach Bruce Boudreau was “guest refereeing” and taking some good natured barbs from Alex Ovechkin.
Could you imagine the Ottawa Senators having a fun practice like that under Craig Hartsburg?
Wouldn’t it have been prudent for Hartsburg to maybe think outside the lines once in a while and allow his team to have a little fun at the rink instead of the daily routine of throwing all his players under the bus to the media and creating a brutally negative atmosphere around the team by trying to embarrass proud veterans like Jason Smith and Dean McAmmond as healthy scratches?
I’m not saying that the players should have been rewarded for poor play but a coach should see that maybe changing things up once in a while and allowing the players to smile occasionally would probably do more for their confidence than constantly hammering them for the scrums of quote hungry reporters after every game and practice.
John Paddock had a similar approach and it didn’t work for him either.
What I said in my post after the Columbus game is inevitably going to come true. Hartsburg will be made the martyr in all this and his shortcomings as a coach will be swept aside.
That’s the way it is in the NHL. When a coach gets fired, the reasons for the dismissal are soon forgotten and a backlash against the players is whipped up by fans and media alike, fair or not.
The fans will turn their anger towards Jason Spezza and it will get ugly. Dany Heatley is in for a rough ride as well. Much like Ray Emery was made out as the villain who got John Paddock fired, Spezza and Heatley will take the majority of blame in this case.
Listening to the Team 1200 in the direct aftermath of the firing, the backlash seemed split evenly between Bryan Murray and the players. Murray knew when he pulled the trigger that fans would be calling for his head and seemed a little combative towards Ottawa Sun scribe Don Brennan when he was asked a fair question about the security of his own job.
The fact is, everyone deserves blame. Murray, the Big 3, the veterans, the rookies and the goalies. But what shouldn't be obscured is that Hartsburg also failed at his job.
I feel terrible for the man but to use the latest buzzword, he's being "held accountable".
First impressions are important and Cory Clouston made a good one today at his first press conference as head coach.
For starters, he’s the most well spoken coach Ottawa has had since Rick Bowness, and perhaps of all-time.
He was clear, direct and seemed to have a real positive message that has been missing in Ottawa for some time.
Of course, that positive vibes may get crushed pretty quickly if the players don’t respond to his coaching but for now, Clouston talks a pretty good game.
What really stood out was Clouston’s remarks about how he’d like to play a more offensive system and that should be just what Murray is looking for in a new coach.
The reports coming out of his first practice with the team were all positive. One of the players, I believe it was Brendan Bell, said it felt like a training camp practice and was more up tempo than anything Hartsburg had provided in a long time.
When Alfredsson was interviewed this morning, Bruce Garrioch asked him if he was worried about the players on this team having the reputation as "coach killers".
Alfie was very forceful in his reply.
Then a moment of awkward silence.
To me, after listening to a few interviews, the players seemed more upset when Paddock was canned last year. At least they were still scoring under Paddock. Alfredsson and Heatley in particular were all business in their interviews and didn't seem to get too sentimental.
I'd wager that there were some conflicts beneath the surface that were not reported. Alfredsson even said that the frustration went both ways. The coaches were upset with the players and the players were upset with the coaches.
I have no idea what will come out in the wash, but hopefully one of the beat writers paints a better picture of what was really going on in that locker room.
Rob Ray had some interesting comments on Off The Record today:
"They made a big mistake in Ottawa when they got rid of John Muckler," Ray told OTR on Monday. “They got rid of a guy who had the respect of the players in the dressing room...there's a lot more going on there than you're seeing."
“[Muckler] made them credible,” Ray said. “He made them accountable for what they did on the ice, and I don't think anybody has done that (since).”