Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wiped Out In Tampa

A game to forget for Ottawa.

Playing injured (without Jason Spezza and Anton Volchenkov) and for the second consecutive night on the road, this game was dominated by sophomore Steve Stamkos and the gang mentality of the Lightning's fourth line that consists of Zenon Konopka, Steve Downie and Todd Fedoruk.

There's no excuses, but during the season, every team has nights where things go wrong right from the start and you run into a team that's motivated to beat you.

The Lightning were still stinging from a humiliating defeat to Ottawa earlier in the season and seemed intent on trying to run the Senators out of the rink both offensively and physically.

They even got the better of the two main fights when Konopka tussled with Chris Neil and Downey went with Jarkko Ruutu. That's just the kind of night it was.

While you don't want to start pointing out individual players when the whole team played flat, there were a few soft spots in the lineup for the Senators that were too obvious to miss.

Jonathan Cheechoo continued his descent into purgatory by playing only 9 minutes, just ahead of Neil who would have had more had it not been for the 5 minute major he took against the feisty Konopka. With two recent scratches Ryan Shannon and Shean Donovan playing spirited minutes tonight, you have to think that the next person to sit once Spezza comes back is Cheechoo. This team is carrying him right now and his poor skating doesn't fit the mould of what the club is trying to do.

But it isn't all Cheechoo's fault that the Senators have now lost 3 of their last 4.

Alex Kovalev needs to score more goals (although he had a nice one tonight when the game was already out of reach). Chris Campoli has to start being more firm in his zone. Alex Picard has to stop giving the puck away at the blueline like he did twice in the third period.

And the referees have to start giving the Senators some power plays. TSN's Pierre McGuire caught on to the fact that the Sens were getting "lippy" with the refs, but can you really blame them? The past few pre-game shows on the Team 1200 were full of Cory Clouston soundbites questioning the refs and assistant GM Tim Murray was a guest during an intermission tonight and he sounded exasperated with the officiating.

They were shorthanded 6 times tonight and were on the power-play 3 times. Against Florida on Wednesday, the ratio was 7-1.

Yet, there's only so many excuses. They lost tonight because Tampa was the better team. End of story.

This sets up an anticipated rematch a week from tonight. This has become a little mini-rivalry within this season as the teams have now played two particularly nasty games with both being lopsided.


Brian Lee had an okay game after getting called up to replace Volchenkov. Playing with Chris Campoli, Lee was a -2 with one assist and about 16 minutes of ice time. But what's with Lee's constant mouth guard chewing/slobbering and his sweater arms hiked up so far that his elbow pads are exposed? It probably looks cool in the minor leagues but it's not how an NHL player is supposed to carry himself. Wear your uniform like a professional and stop looking like such a hayseed from Binghamton. What's next? White skates and a tinted visor?......

Ever since my desktop computer died a few weeks ago, I've been using a mini-laptop kindly donated from a friend. But what I still can't master is that damn mouse pad. I don't get it. It's so hyper responsive yet I can barely get it to do what I want. Twice I've been in the middle of a column and have accidentally published my post by one slight slip of the finger. Then once in a while, it just randomly decides to scroll my entire page. You're probably thinking I'm just an idiot (and you'd be right), but I can't understand how anyone could use one of these things permanently. The one good thing I like? Lying on the couch with the laptop sitting on my stomach watching You Tube Mafia documentaries on a Sunday afternoon. .......

Edmonton just went up 4-0 on Detroit. For a guy as astute as GM Ken Holland, I cannot believe he didn't upgrade his goaltending this summer. Chris Osgood is a respected champion but last season should have been the warning sign for Holland. He should have went after Ray Emery when he had the chance. Not that Emery has been a Vezina candidate or anything, but he would have been as good a fit in Detroit as he has been in Philly. The Osgood tandem with Jimmy Howard is looking absolutely brutal right now.....

As talked about during the Team 1200 pre-game show (still a good listen after all these years despite having to put up with a perpetually grumpy and bitter Mike Eastwood dump all over Jason Spezza night after night no matter how good the team is playing), maybe it's time for Clouston to try Kovalev with Spezza for awhile to see if the two can get each other going a little more. If you drop Cheechoo down the lineup (or off the lineup), perhaps someone like Nick Foligno or Shannon can play with Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. It may not work but it would be worth a shot to see if they can spark something in each other. Spezza has played good but Cheechoo is like an anchor on that line. Kovalev would also be the right wing on that line, his natural position.

See you Saturday against Atlanta.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Road Cure For Sens Woes

How many of you were thinking: "Here we go again" when Bryan McCabe scored to cut the Ottawa lead to 4-3?

One player wasn't buying it. Daniel Alfredsson.

Soon after the McCabe goal, the captain got on the ice and dominated for over a minute in the Panthers zone and capped off the shift with a big hit. That was the captain's way of saying: "There ain't going to be no comeback. Not tonight."

After that shift, there were no major miscues and Brian Elliott finished off what an ailing Pascal Leclaire started by making some timely saves in the 3rd period to finish off the near-Leaf bad Florida Panthers.

In essence it was an uneventful game - just the kind of game Ottawa needed. Filip Kuba stepped back into the lineup and got two assists without breaking a sweat. Clearly he's an important piece of this team without too many people seeming to notice in the past. One of his assists came on the power-play when Mike Fisher tipped in his point shot and his presence certainly bodes well for that unit going forward.

Now we wait and see if coach Clory Clouston can avoid making any more unnecessary lineup changes like he did the last time the Senators were on a winning streak. Shean Donovan may have played some scant minutes (and showed up for a good fight with the much younger Kenndal McArdle) but he's becoming a good luck charm for the team as well as a vital piece of that fourth line. Intangibles, intangibles....

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Brian Elliott
3. Filip Kuba


Bryan McCabe - Does that guy score in every single game he plays against Ottawa, or does it just feel that way?......Tomas Vokoun just hasn't been that good since joining the Panthers from his "glory days" in Nashville. I should know because I've been stuck with him in pools the last couple of seasons. His save percentage has been pretty good in Florida but his team just hasn't been able to score. When he was with Nashville, he seemed to come out of nowhere and exceed expectations. Now that he's a known entity, he simply seems underwhelming...... Jarkko Ruutu is quietly having a really good season. And so we won't jinx it by talking about it too much....

It was 50 years ago on November 1st when Montreal goalie Jacques Plante took a shot directly to the face courtesy of Andy Bathgate, prompting the legend to don that famous hockey mask which has now become standard protection for today's goaltenders. Yada, yada, yada, but when did goalie masks get so ugly? I would say that across the board, most NHL goalie masks are completely indecipherable from one another when seen on TV or from the stands in the arena. The reason? Most goalies hire specialists who fill the mask with so much detail and busy artwork that they can only be appreciated from up close. In the 70's and 80's, when "mask artists" didn't really exist, goalies tended to opt for solid colours, stripes, or simplistic but edgy designs such as Gerry Cheevers famous "stitch" mask or Gilles Gratton's "lion" mask. Today's masks look bad on TV and that's a shame. Part of the problem is the modern structure of masks doesn't leave much room for big, bold designs due to the standard face cage. But the limited space on the top and sides of the masks just screams out for simplicity rather than obscure cartoon characters. For my money, nothing beats the classic Grant Fuhr mask. Simple, colourful and memorable.......

I couldn't be more tired of the endless exhortations from some quarters demanding the NHL do something about "hits to the head". The fact is that the NHL already has stringent rules in place for players who target another players head. What these people really want to do is to punish players who deliver "incidental" contact to the head. The only way to do that would be to outlaw hitting in the NHL. No player can always deliver a perfectly safe hit. It's a tough game and sometimes heads get knocked around. Mike Richards' hit on David Booth was clearly legal (he did not leave his feet like some people erroneously tried to claim). Same as the big hit on Jonathan Toews from Willie Mitchell. These players are paid a lot of money and they all have a choice whether or not to play hockey for a living. They know what they are getting into. Sometimes big hits happen and sometimes players get hurt from those hits. For all the hits that happen every night in the NHL, how many really go wrong and result in an injury the likes of which Booth suffered? There's only a handful every single year, yet some critics act like it's a nightly occurrence. Huge hits are an integral part of the NHL. Let's not confuse those with deliberate hits to the head (which are even rarer!).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murray Changes Mind - Demotes Rookie

The confusion surrounding Erik Karlsson's position on the team and what exactly a demotion would mean contract wise have all been clarified today.

Karlsson was sent to Binghamton and not Sweden, as GM Bryan Murray thought he might have to do in order not to burn a contract year on Karlsson's entry level status in the league. After clarification from the league, Murray, and the rest of us confused dopes learned that sending Karlsson to the AHL, the much preferred option, will not burn the first year because he's exempt due to being a European draft pick.

Or something like that....

But if he plays one more game in a Senators uniform, he'll be one year closer to RFA status.

Regardless of all that contract mumbo jumbo, the slick Swede has to take his lumps riding the buses like a lot of prospects have to do, partly due to the amount of 1-way contracts on the NHL team.

Like I reiterated in my last column, I don't agree with the decision in a hockey sense but I understand the financial logistics behind the move. To me, it's a reasonable compromise between the NHL (the preferred option) and going back to the big rinks of Sweden which would mean Karlsson would only be delayed in learning the intricacies of the North American game.

Ultimately, as Murray mentioned in his press conference, it was up to Cory Clouston on whether or not he was going to use him enough going forward. Once Murray got the shake of the head, he knew what he had to do.

Clouston has done a great job so far and he deserves to outfit his club as he sees fit. My hunch is that with the condensed schedule, we haven't seen the last of Karlsson this season and that any hangups over a measly year on an entry level contract won't dissuade Bryan Murray from trying to ice the best lineup he possibly can.

I still hold out that Karlsson will be an impact player this year. He just has more tools than guys like Brian Lee, Chris Campoli and Alex Picard. All that stands in his way is a little patience from management and some hard work from Karlsson to get back to the big time.

On a related note, what happens when Jesse Winchester's conditioning stint is over in Bingo next week? I think Winchester has already proved his worth at the NHL level and an injury shouldn't stand in his way.

But who do you take out?

Obviously, Murray has to make a trade here, barring any injuries in the next 3 or 4 games.

Suggestions on who goes?

One thing we know, it's not going to be Peter Regin. Word is the Senators told him to buy a house.

Usually, that's the kiss of death in the NHL but Regin likely has a long career in the red and black ahead of him. Either this season or next, as I've said before on Black Aces, he's going to be the next David Krejci.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cherry Takes Another Shot At Senators From The Bully Pulpit

Lots of little storms brewing in Senators land. Here's my take on a few:

Cherry Attacks Senators Players...Again

Immediately following Saturday's loss to the Bruins, Don Cherry called out Chris Neil and Matt Carkner for "hotdogging" and showboating after their fights in Scotiabank Place. He claimed that this was the reason that Boston summoned the emotion to fight back and win the game.

You have to wonder why Cherry is calling out the two Senators for actions that virtually all the enforcers around the league do in their home rinks. It's a league wide trend for a guy to wave his arms in an attempt to pump up the home crowd after a scrap. It's been going on at least since the lockout ended and is rarely meant, or seen, as a deliberate gesture to embarrass the visiting team.

Yet there was Cherry singling out a couple of Senators for ridicule on national television. This is just one in a long line of insults hurled the Senators way by the self-described Maple Leaf fan.

Once it was the Senators use of exercise bikes after games to get rid of lactic acid in their muscles. Never mind that all teams practice that now as just common sense. Cherry revisited this again on Saturday night by showing the Canucks players on the bikes and then proceeded to call them "sucks" at least twice to an amused Ron Maclean.

It was also last season that Cherry singled out Mike Fisher for having the audacity to wear a toque into the rink along with his game day suit in the middle of winter. He showed footage of Fisher with the toque and called the Senators a bunch of "bums". It's a wonder he didn't follow it up by saying "Listen kids, never wear a toque in the winter cuz' you'll look bad. Remember, it's all about how you look, not how you feel. And when I do drink beer, I like to drink Dos Equis."

Cherry is a guy who will always says what he thinks and I respect him for that. But isn't it time he just comes out and says he dislikes the Senators as an organization and get it over with rather than foolishly attempting to embarrass them on national television over and over again with petty grievances that the players then have to answer questions about again and again?

Just once, I'd love to hear Bryan Murray stand up for his team and tell Cherry to take a flying
f!*k at a rolling donut.

Rumours of Karlsson Getting Sent Down

With Filip Kuba seemingly ready to return from injury, and Karlsson about to hit the 10 game mark on Wednesday in Sunrise, the organization has been mum on whether or not Karlsson still fits into their plans for this season.

In fact, if you heard Cory Clouston's interview on the Team 1200 Monday afternoon, he suspiciously sounded like a coach who already knew the rookie would be on his way to the AHL, without saying so on the record.

I've argued for keeping Karlsson up in the NHL and I haven't changed my stance on that. It seems to me that Karlsson has suffered more by playing with the largely ineffective Chris Campoli than he has by his own play. He's still getting used to the NHL but he also hasn't been the reason Ottawa has lost any games. Campoli on the other hand has been largely invisible all season but is probably going to get the benefit of the doubt because of what he has done in the past for the New York Islanders. Alex Picard has played better of late once he got the solid Carkner as a partner. Karlsson, meanwhile, hasn't had the benefit of a defensive presence on his pairing since Kuba went down.

A lot of it will come down to politics in the end. Sending Campoli down is not an option because of his one way contract. It's also similar to how politics is playing a role in why Shean Donovan is sitting and Jonathan Cheechoo is playing.

There is no chance in hell that anyone could agree that Cheechoo has deserved his roster spot more than Donovan. Yet Cheechoo is going to get the call every game because his salary says he needs to be on the ice.

If you take stats out of the equation, you have to look at how effective each player is at his specific role. Donovan is expected to create energy on every shift, even if that means playing under 10 minutes and sometimes not at all late in games. Clearly, Donovan has met or even surpassed those expectations.

Cheechoo is expected to provide offense playing with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Obviously he's not fulfilling his role, even if his linemates are having individual success. The painful truth is that Cheechoo just can't skate at an NHL level. Perhaps he just needs a break and that will get the goals coming. That's probably the only rationale you can use to keep him in the lineup, especially when Nick Foligno is playing behind him on the 3rd line and is more than capable of filling that role. Ryan Shannon can do the same.

In Karlsson's case, I'd be surprised to see him get demoted if only for the fact that Murray came out last week and said that 10 games would not be the benchmark for the rookie. I'm not sure why he would change his mind now, especially after a strong game on Saturday where the rookie looked very good at times.

Yet if Karlsson does get sent down, we can probably expect to see him again due to the compressed schedule coming up and the injuries it will undoubtedly cause.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Heart Attack Kids

How's yer blood pressure, Ottawa fans?

For the second game in a row, the Kanata faithful were caught leaving the stands a little too early and failed to witness a mind-bending comeback. Except tonight, it was the visiting team giving everyone heart attacks.

Strangely, the result was the same. Another loss by Ottawa.

Strange is the key word here. It's like Halloween has showed up early.

Ottawa had no business getting a point against Nashville on Thursday but somehow made it happen.

Tonight, Ottawa had no business losing a point against Boston but somehow allowed it to happen.

And the reasons were eerily similar. On Thursday, Matt Carkner was given a penalty in overtime after hauling down a Nashville player who was breaking out of his zone.

Tonight, Anton Volchenkov did virtually the same thing except it was more of an innocent dive for the puck rather than a football tackle that was called for a penalty, allowing Boston to tie the game in the final minute.

It's too bad for Ottawa because they had played a near perfect game for the duration with players like Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Mike Fisher, Brian Elliott and Jason Spezza having excellent nights.

Yet after two losses in a row (overtime losses mind you), it's hard to get down on the Senators. Despite a few bizarre moments, this team is moving forward playing some inspired, emotional hockey and have a new star in town with the new Mach 9, Milan Michalek.

Nothing for nothing, but Michalek is starting to remind me of a young Marian Hossa when he was patrolling ice for the Senators in the early part of the decade. You can just see Michalek starting to blossom into the gamebreaker that he was predicted to be.

His goal tonight should have stood as the game winner, but it was fitting that the "Wrecking Ball" Mark Recchi got Boston into a position to tie it up in his 1500th game.

Michalek will have many more nights to shine.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Milan Michalek
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Mike Fisher

Honorable mentions: Jason Spezza, Brian Elliott and Chris Neil.

Fearless. That's the only way to describe Milan Michalek's drive to the net in the first period. Mark Stuart drove Michalek into Tim Thomas and the collision was very, very scary. There was only two ways that play could have ended up - with Michalek scoring a breathtaking goal or with Michalek going head first into Thomas. Lesser players could have hedged their bets by not cutting to the inside to avoid injury. The new "Mach 9" doesn't have the word "hedge" in his vocabulary.......

A question that has been nagging at me for many years now: Who is that woman in the stands at every Senators home game which the cameras go to after the Senators score? You know - she has blond hair and is often seen high-fiving her kid next to her.They go to her so often right after the goals that she has become the team's unofficial 2nd mascot. If she is not the biggest Senators fan in the rink every game, I don't who is. In fact, along with the Senators theme song, the image of her jumping up and down in the stands has become a team tradition...... Matt Carkner is such a good dude that even the guys he fights have a laugh with him in the penalty boxes afterwards. That was the case after the scrap with Shawn Thornton, who gave Carkner his toughest scrap of the year. In fact, I'd give the nod to Thornton in that one.......There would no smiles from Steve Begin after he tangled with Chris Neil. Begin took a single punch and hit the ice. As Georges Laraque once said of Neil, pound for pound, he's one of the toughest players in the league. And under Cory Clouston, the first coach to believe in him since Bryan Murray was permanently on the bench, Neil is back to being the force he was in 2007. Give Murray credit. When everyone was ready to throw Neil under the bus, Murray saw his true value and now he gets to reap the rewards......

The HNIC cameras caught Mike Fisher and the Big Z having a friendly conversation in the hallways before the game. Then Fisher took a run at him in the 1st period without making much of a dent.......Erik Karlsson isn't making the big plays that everyone may have expected after a stellar training camp, but at least he is starting to make important small ones. He still makes mistakes like his giveaway on the powerplay in the 2nd period, but his overall decision making seems to be getting better and more natural as the games start to pile up..........

B's coach Claude Julien let the Boston Herald know that he respects the job Cory Clouston and the Senators have done to get back into contention this season:

"(Clouston)’s come in and taken a hard-nosed approach. It’s my way or else,” Julien said. “Dany Heatley didn’t want to buy in, so they decided, ‘Hey, we’re not changing coaches this time, we’ll go with the players who want to play it (Clouston’s) way.’ With the way guys have bought in, you’re seeing what’s come out of that. With their whole approach to the game, they’re a lot grittier than they have ever been.”.....

Ottawa native Todd White is off to a bad start with the Thrashers this season. In 7 games he has 1 assist and is a minus 5. But there is hope. He was placed back on the "Little White Russian" line with Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov, who together had a lot of success last season. You have to wonder if someday White ends his career in a Senators uniform. It would be a nice end to a surprisingly productive career. What's helped the little guy along the way? As former Senator teammate Jason York said on the Team 1200, it's his "huge butt".........

There was a great feature on the revamped Vancouver Canucks dressing room prior to the start of the game on HNIC. They made the room smaller and circular so the players have a more intimate setting to interact in. They also made it so that the players have to go through the lounge area in order to get out of the building, probably making it harder to leave without having a few laughs with the guys after the game. I find little psychological touches like that really interesting and rarely covered by the media. So how about the Ottawa Senators in this regard? One thing to note is how the organization has painted everything red, gold and black in the arena, including the hallways and the fitness room. The dressing room itself is largely red and black. A quick perusal of the main tenets of colour psychology tells us that reds, along with yellows (gold) and oranges seem to ignite passion and emotion (and aid digestion!). Black on the other hand can invoke a lethargic or depressing emotion and drain emotional energy but it is also associated with self-discipline. It must be strange for the players to walk into the arena in the middle of a cold, dark winter morning and be surrounded by red and black everywhere they look. The Canucks room is a cool and light blue and the lounge area is bright and clean. So what does it all mean? Well, I have no idea. Probably nothing. But one thing I will never understand is why teams put a massive logo on the dressing room floor and then ban the players from stepping on it. But again, that's an area for the sports psychologists. The professional life of an athlete is a series of tests both off and on the playing surface. Why should the dressing room be any different?.........

Saturday, October 17, 2009

L'Artiste Steals The Show

It was an unforgettable moment in a largely forgettable game.

With the Senators clinging to a 2-1 lead just over halfway through the 3rd period, former Hab fan favourite Alexei Kovalev found himself all alone in the slot with the puck and he buried it behind a helpless Carey Price.

At first there was just stunned silence, and a smattering of boos. Then, slowly, a cheer started to build throughout the building as a large contingent of Montreal fans stood to give the player they once so affectionately called "L'artiste" a standing ovation.

Sure, some were still booing and trying to drown out the spontaneous cheers (Kovalev had been booed throughout the game prior to the goal) but the cameras showed a large contingent of the crowd being swept up in the moment and standing for number 27. While CBC neglected to show us a shot of Montreal GM Bob Gainey, you can imagine the look that would have been on his face.

So while the Canadiens find themselves in a funk in front of perhaps the most intense set of fans in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators sail contentedly into a 4 day break before taking on the struggling Nashville Predators at home on Thursday.

And for that, they also have goalie Pascal Leclaire to thank, who made 27 saves, a lot of them at important times in the game.

Kovalev's linemates in Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher also played strong at times in a game that was mediocre if you were looking for end to end excitement.

Black Aces 3 Stars

1. Alex Kovalev
2. Pascal Leclaire
3. Daniel Alfredsson


A must read article: Jack Todd's outright knifing of Brian Burke (and to a lesser extent, Bob Gainey).

"It's impossible to watch TSN or Hockey Night in Canada without getting overexposed to what the inimitable M. Strapp describes as Burke's "televangelist
hair," not to mention his Rush Limbaugh bluster.

Unfortunately, where the NFL had the good sense to tell Limbaugh to take a flying fandango at a rolling donut, Burke is still seen as some kind of hero. Maybe that's because he persuaded the league to waive the rules and allow his Ducks to run roughshod over the poor unsuspecting Ottawa Senators, who were naive enough to think the NHL would actually enforce its Brave New Rules in a Stanley Cup final."

..... It was great to see Brian McGrattan get the Gordie Howe hat-trick for the Flames the other night and even better to see Don Cherry show the highlights with the Rocky theme on Coaches Corner. How long before Cherry gives some love to Matt Carkner, a Cherry type player if there ever was one?......Speaking of Carkner, HNIC commentator Cassie Campbell intimated that the defenseman could be out of a roster spot once Filip Kuba gets healthy. Obviously, Cassie hasn't been watching the Senators games this year. Carkner isn't going anywhere. Otherwise, Cassie Campbell is one of the most likable commentators on HNIC. She just keeps getting better and better. Gary Galley is also a rising star on the legendary show. He's just so solid. Rookie Guy Carbonneau has some work to do. He didn't have much of a presence during the game and speaks too softly. He is very knowledgeable though, and provided some good insights as a former coach........ Bob Cole has made some legendary calls and can really capture the moment beautifully, as evidenced by his distinctive voice popping up on a large amount of historic highlights . But he seems to miss as many moments as he catches lately. A few great saves by Pascal Leclaire were met with total silence. On other less exciting plays, Cole was blowing the roof off. He failed to really gauge the crowd reaction during the Kovalev ovation and only seemed to notice about 30 seconds later when he remarked casually that "the crowd is cheering now". Still, Cole will be greatly missed when he moves on. As classy a personality as there is in broadcasting......

It's (very) early, but King Henrik Lundqvist has to be the current favourite to win the Vezina and Michael Del Zotto is making his case for the Calder. Even John Tortorella has the early lead for the Jack Adams. With Wade Redden playing better and Marian Gaborik staying healthy, the Rangers are in great shape right now. I guess it always helps when you get to play a team like the Leafs twice early in the schedule. The cigar chewing Glen Sather has taken a lot of heat over the years but his ability to move Scott Gomez and his mammoth contract was one of the most masterful moves in recent memory...... Mike Milbury might have been a bit of a gong show as a GM, but I like him as a personality on HNIC. He's gruff and looks like he might punch fellow commentators out at any moment, but it's also the right balance from the two other "nice guy" panellists on the Satellite Hotstove Segment.

Nicest moment of the night? After the Toronto - New York game, rookie Michael Del Zotto was interviewed and he mentioned that his ailing grandmother made it to the ACC to see her grandchild score a goal in his first hometown game in Toronto. As Del Zotto put it, if his Grandma was going to move for anything, it was to make it to the rink and that she would have to spend the next two days in bed recovering.

No, I'm not crying. There's just something in my eye.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beatdown: Senators 7 Lightning 1

This was the game everyone was waiting for.

A good old fashioned beating of a visiting road team and the break out of the major piece of the Dany Heatley trade.

Milan Michalek finally showed the fans why Bryan Murray was willing to part with the valuable Heatley for the largely unknown West Coast winger who came with promises of speed and skill but had so far had a tough time finding chemistry with Jason Spezza.

Michalek basically made the power play problems of the Senators moot by going out and getting 2 shorthanded goals. If you can get them on the penalty kill, who needs a power play? But Michalek made good on the man advantage by finishing off the hat trick, the recipient of a jaw dropping, behind the back pass by Jason Spezza.

And as if the fans weren't pumped up enough, Matt Carkner then goes out and hands out an old-school behind the woodshed beating of notorious Senator headhunter Steve Downie just seconds later. The only person not smiling was Carkner's mother who sat in the stands with a look of motherly concern on her face, maybe not yet realizing that her son was turning into a folk hero amongst the Kanata faithful.

Nothing much, if anything was wrong with Ottawa's game tonight, except maybe a sloppy, uninspired start that soon turned around when Daniel Alfredsson stole a puck from Martin St.Louis and fed Alexei Kovalev in front of the net for the Senators first goal. Other highlights were Nick Foligno getting his first of the year and the (now expected) solid play of Pascal Leclaire.

You wouldn't be far off if you suggested that perhaps the Senators are starting to get an inkling of how good they can really be. They've had some good wins so far this season but it always looked like baby steps - good plays followed by strange mistakes and plenty of tightly clenched sticks. Yet somehow they got more breaks than they missed and had a winning record going into the game. With 7 goals and contributions from their star players for a change, the Senators seem like a team on the cusp of realizing their own strength.

Momentum is clearly with the suddenly resurgent Senators as they travel down the highway to Montreal for their next game on Saturday.

Black Aces 3 Stars

1. Milan Michalek
2. Jarkko Ruutu
3. Jason Spezza

Honorable mentions: Too many to mention. But Chris Phillips (+4) and Daniel Alfredsson (3 assists) get the nod.


Some fans have begun to question Clouston's wisdom in his defense pairings, and I get what they're talking about. Like one commenter mentioned on James Gordon's blog, if Clouston were to split up Phillips and Volchenkov, Ottawa could have one physical player and one offensive player on every pairing (with Kuba missing). Putting Karlsson with Campoli is like serving up a smorgasbord for opposing forwards. No one misses Kuba more than Karlsson right now. Who could have predicted Kuba would be such an important player? I'm guilty myself of underestimating his impact. In this case, I'm happy to be wrong..........

The "A-Train" Anton Volchenkov continued his "Rookie Reign Of Terror Tour" by crushing the much larger Victor Hedman in the 2nd period. Previous tour stops included Anton Stralman in Toronto and John Tavares of Long Island. He also did a number on sophomore Zach Bogosian of Atlanta. The hit also couldn't have come at a better time for TSN as the network had just done a feature on the Russian the night before showcasing his big hits. The only mystery is that commentator Ray Ferraro and others were predicting Volchenkov was going to start getting a reputation as a fierce open ice hitter. Starting? The A-Train has been cranking players since his first season way back in 2002-2003. In one rookie tournament game that year, Volchenkov delivered his first huge hit by catching a now forgotten Florida Panther with his head down behind the net. The player was knocked out cold and my brother Ben was sitting right at the glass looking down at the guy. He said the Panther was doing the doggie paddle while lying flat on his back, obviously in in la-la land.......

TSN struck gold a second time when Chris Cuthbert was telling the great story of Matt Carkner and how he made the NHL at 28 years old. Just as soon as Cuthbert was finished, Carkner ran over Stephane Veilleux. Ferraro said "On cue."...... I don't mean to toot my own horn, but Chris Phillips told Cuthbert that Carkner reminded him of Lance Pitlick. I said the very same thing just some days ago. Toot Toot....

Did anyone catch TSN's Bob McKenzie say that a doctor in the Czech Republic actually wanted to amputate Milan Michalek's leg because the winger's knee was so screwed up after multiple injuries and surgeries? Good lord...... Gotta agree with Ray Ferraro. I don't understand why pucks that are kicked along the ice into the net are not valid goals. I understand why you wouldn't want players drop-kicking pucks into the net, but an example like Miller's goal, with just the slightest intentional kicking motion are not about to open the door to guys making a living off of it. Skates and pucks are awkward partners and would always be a last option compared to a taped up, curved stick. How many similar goals are called back every year? 30? 50? The league thankfully got rid of the "toe in the crease" rule. Maybe it's time to revisit this one. But as McKenzie noted, the issue has been brought up many times in GM's meetings and a consensus to scrap it has never formed. I wouldn't hold my breath for that to change anytime soon....

Even though the Senators have fallen on hard times the past two seasons, they have maintained their streak of 11 straight winning record seasons. They barely kept the streak alive by finishing with a 36-35-0-11. Some would say those 11 OT losses should count in the loss column, but when you get a point for them, it's hard to call it a loss.

In keeping with this blog's fascination with uniforms and hockey fashion etiquette, I have to wonder - what happened to those old maroon and black uniforms that the lower level servers/ushers used to wear at the rink in Kanata? I don't know if they changed them last year or this year, but they're not half as cool now. Okay, I guess that's taking the uni obsession a little far....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Karlsson Still On Track

Ok. Back up with a temporary computer. Crisis averted.

Before the Tampa game, I just wanted to quickly address the latest scuttlebut going around concerning Erik Karlsson and (as some believe/wish) his suddenly eminent demotion to the AHL.

First off, Bryan Murray denied it and stood behind his rookie by saying that 10 games is not going to tell the story on Karlsson's year.

That's the right move as far as I'm concerned.

One, he's standing behind a player and defending him publicly, something that Murray rarely does (he's old school even though he was once considered too "new school" in the 80's).

Secondly, 5 games is not a fair slice to start dumping on the kid. He looks like a 19 year old rookie and is having some trouble getting used to the speed of the regular season, yes.

But you can tell that this guy is good enough to play in the NHL once he gets his head around it. After a couple of decent games, people are jumping on the Alex Picard bandwagon and clamouring for the call-up of Brian Lee.

Not going to happen (barring injuries, of course)

Murray has been around way too long to succumb to knee jerk reactions after only 5 games. When you believe in a player and decide to give him a chance, you give him a real good shot at it. If Karlsson is still struggling at 20 games, maybe then you have this discussion.

The upsides for Brian Lee and Alex Picard are not as big as Karlsson's right now, not even for this season.

Murray is not keeping Karlsson up just because he is his prized draft pick. He can see the obvious game breaking talent right there at the surface that is going to shine through once he gets more confident.

People didn't seem to be too worried about Karlsson when the Senators won 3 games in a row. Now, after losing one game to the Stanley Cup champions, they seem to want to make a change.

All players make mistakes, especially rookies. You have to live with a few even if the easiest thing to do would be to throw in the towel.

Karlsson will be better.

Bank on it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Tech

My computer whacked out for good yesterday and so there will be no game report on the loss to the Penguins. Hopefully I'll be back up by Thursday if I can swing a deal on a new desktop. Anyone know of any good deals? Mac or PC?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Same Story, Different Night

So, like many of you, I did not get to see the Senators - Thrashers tilt last night and therefore I won't try to comment on it too specifically, other than to say that it looks like you can take my last post from the win over the Islanders and apply it here.

You can even take Anton Volchenkov's hit on John Tavares and substitute second year youngster Zach Bogosian. Other than that, things unfolded in much the way they did the game before - big plays from unheralded players on the third and fourth lines like Chris Neil (1 goal, 2 shots on goal, +1), Jarkko Ruutu (1 goal, 2 shots on goal, +1) and Shean Donovan (1 assist, +1).

You also had a couple of guys who haven't made an impact so far come through with big games. Brian Elliott made 28 saves for his first win and Alex Picard had 2 assists and was a +2.

Just from looking at the stats sheet you can tell that the Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson line had a good night and we can probably expect them to stay together for at least a few more games.

Probably the best news to come from this game was that the rink was sold out after the embarrassing fact of the home opener being significantly shy.

That's a hard concept to wrap your brain around, especially when all those supposedly "weak hockey markets" in the South mostly managed to have better attendance than the Senators did on their opening nights.

To me, that's more an end result of two years of constant negative imaging from certain segments of the media who exploited minor to medium issues into catastrophic character assassinations, poisoning the atmosphere around this team to the point that fans were openly talking about boycotting games until the "scumbags" were traded etc.

I've talked about this before ad nauseum but the Senators themselves didn't do a good job of protecting their players in the media and getting ahead of negative stories.

Now, when a home opener doesn't sell out, everyone is left scratching their heads.

It's collateral damage from two years of negative stories that the team let fester in the public's mind.

But as long as they keep winning, the fans will come back and certain radio hosts and columnists will be forced to talk about some of the positives, hopefully erasing some of the damage they've done in the past.

Anyways, happy Thanksgiving and don't drink and drive.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

All Guts, No Glory - Sens 3 Isles 2

Folks, the Senators are back.

Maybe not the Senators you've all become accustomed to in the high-octane 2000's, but instead, the edgy, hard-working and high spirited teams of 97 and 98 when they were fighting every game for respect... and a playoff spot.

On a night when it was clear that the high-end skill guys like Alex Kovalev, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek were still trying to work the rust off, it was (again) the lesser known soldiers who forced coach Cory Clouston to play them more and more as the game went on.

It all started with the "Big Rig" Chris Phillips blasting Islander Tim Jackman down with a hard hit in the first period.

Then, Anton Volchenkov delivered John Tavares the cliche "Welcome to the NHL" moment when he absolutely crushed the rookie near the boards.

The tone was set.

Que up the Chris Neil - Peter Regin - Jonathan Cheechoo line. They not only got the Senators first goal, they dominated the game.

When Matt Carkner scored in the second period to give the team a 2 goal lead and after Pascal Leclaire absolutely stoned Tavares with a mind-bending pad save in the same time frame, it pushed the fans over into downright giddiness. They were actually giving Leclaire a standing ovation, but you got the sense that they were just releasing about 2 years of pent up energy and nervousness.

Playing before them was a team that was giving it their all, awkward mistakes and all, and the fans were feeding off of it. Big time.

If this was last year, Martin Gerber would have let in that Tavares goal. The Senators would have been the ones picking themselves off the ice after a nasty hit at the blueline. The fans would have been waiting for the next thing to go wrong.

But tonight it seemed like they were finally expecting things to go right for a change.

And they were given that chance because Cory Clouston has changed the attitude and philosophy of the team.

Whoever is playing well is going to play a lot. And it was not just about the minutes. In fact, neither Neil, Cheechoo or Regin played more than 14 minutes, but it was the timing of their shifts. Clouston played them at important times in the game, when he needed a goal and when he needed to keep goals out.

Maybe it's that minor league mentality. Clouston comes from the AHL, a league filled with guys busting their asses to make it to the big show. That's the culture and Clouston seems to have brought that attitude to the NHL. He knows these types of players - guys like Neil, Carkner, Shean Donovan et al.

He trusts them just as much as he trusts the established NHL guys like Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher. Even skilled players who have put in their time in the minors like Regin and Ryan Shannon get Clouston's respect, and that's a big difference from the philosophies of past coaches like John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg who either played their established stars into the ground or adapted a passive system built on trying not to screw up.

Clouston's teams go for it, grinders and superstars alike.

And could it be more fitting than the team's ultimate grinder, Mike Fisher, to get that overtime goal?

Funny thing is, I think the fans were expecting the Senators to win once it got to overtime.

And that might be the most refreshing change of them all.

Black Aces 3 Stars

1. Chris Neil
2. Pascal Leclaire
3. Matt Carkner

Honourable mentions: Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips.


Matt Carkner is starting to remind me of another Ottawa Senator from a long time ago who snuck up on everyone to become a fan favourite. And that player is Lance Pitlick. Remember him Sens fans? Carkner is bigger and more mobile than Pitlick ever was, but it's all in the attitude. Pitlick was a guy who toiled in the AHL with the Hershey Bears for a long time, on top of a full career at college. Pitlick was also a guy who kept it extremely simple - put pucks off the glass and put guys into the boards.

Not to be a Don Cherry sycophant or anything, but there's something about that rugged Canadian type of player that every Stanley Cup team seems to have one or two of. Ottawa has had a few of these guys up front (Fisher, Neil and even Alfie from "Moosejaw, Sweden") but it's been awhile since they've had one on the back end who can play over 15 minutes a game.

There's a danger in overhyping a player like Carkner, but in Ottawa, with his breed so rare, it's becoming a revelation to see what they've been missing......... Back in 1997, my old roomate Andy Sheath got a job at the Corel Centre and from downtown would take a bus as close as he could and then walk a ways through fields and snow. One day a pick-up truck stopped at the side of the road and waved him over. "Geez buddy, you must be freezing your balls off! Are you headed to the rink?" It was Lance Pitlick. When Andy (who was not a hockey fan) got home, he asked me if I've ever heard of a guy named Pitlick? "Umm...yah dude." Apparently Pitlick was on his way to practice at the time and didn't think twice about picking up some grubby looking guy freezing his balls off in the middle of winter. Now that's character......

If bench chatter is any indication, it looks like Carkner and rookie Erik Karlsson have hit it off. At least twice in the first two periods, the cameras centred on the two laughing it up and giving each other fist bumps. Then again, Carkner seems to be making everyone laugh. He had the trainer cracking up on the bench after his second period goal............

Alex Kovalev started slow again but by the 3rd period, he was starting to control the play. This guy is going to be a great player for this team, but you might have to wait while warms up first..... Alex Picard almost took Alfie's head off with an errant deflection in the 2nd period. Luckily the puck hit the captain in the shoulder and he didn't have to make a trip to the dentist like Milan Michalek did after the game in Toronto....... A guy who never gets enough respect, from myself as well, is Chris Phillips. The guy plays hard every single night and we just take it for granted now that he'll put in a solid, if unspectacular game. For a guy who goes up against the other teams best forwards every single night for the past 5 or 6 seasons, he makes very few mistakes. He's Ottawa's own version of Glen Wesley and should be a career Senator..... Speaking of contracts, let's hope Bryan Murray doesn't waste a second getting Volchenkov extended before this summer. Just give the guy what he needs and put it in the rear view mirror. He may not play for a long time due to his style of game, but he'll be your rock for 4 or 5 more years at the least......

Does anyone really care that Ilya Zubov has made a trade request? After Dany Heatley, does it even register on the Richter Scale? It will be tough for Binghamton, but not for anyone else..... A lot of missed calls on the night, most of the obstruction variety. The NHL has changed their Director of Officiating to Terry Gregson this season. You just hope that the standards don't start to slip. But then again, you got the sense that the refs were trying to atone for missing the puck hitting the mesh just before Regin scored the first goal of the game. It should have been disallowed and maybe they gave the Isles some leeway after that. But there's no excuse for letting Doug Weight hit Volchenkov from behind right in front of your eyes......

Got to say it: That was Jonathan Cheechoo's best game in a Senators jersey by far. He seems to be getting more involved at the front of the net and that's a great sign. That's where he's scored all his goals so far in his career. For such a likable character, you can only hope that he keeps going in the right direction. He has a chance to be a fan favourite down the line here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Donovan Breaks The Spell

The star players can't do it for you all the time.

And tonight in Toronto, it was the role players who ignited a sluggish and disinterested team after a terrible first period which was hard to watch for all but the hardcore hockey fan.

Both Ottawa and Toronto looked afraid to make a mistake and the 1st period was a snorefest because of it with each team managing 8 shots that were barely noticed.

Then Anton Volchenkov crushed Leaf rookie Victor Stalberg at the Senators blueline. The Swede did not return and the hit seemed to take the wind completely out of the Leafs

The momentum led to Shean Donovan cutting down a puck from mid-air with an axe like swing where it dropped past Jonas Gustavsson - a garbage goal - but those are often the ones that change a game around.

Donovan, a guy who was a healthy scratch the first game and the first on the list of many who expected a player to be shipped out of town, did what he was supposed to do and crashed the net and caused chaos around "The Monster".

It worked.

With the bubble burst, Ottawa started to assert themselves and the Captain broke the game open by scoring on a rare penalty shot, taking the place of Milan Michalek who not only was fouled, but lost his two front teeth on the play and had to go to the room to get checked out.

Yet, the win was a strange one.

This is not the Senators team that forechecked aggressively and tried to skate other teams into the ground during the end of last season under Cory Clouston.

Even after opening things up with a couple of goals, the Senators played it fairly safe, content with loading up the bodies in the neutral zone and waiting for the Leafs to make mistakes.

It worked against the seemingly hapless Leafs, but will it work against the Flyers or the Penguins or the Capitals?

Alex Kovalev showed flashes of his all-world skill towards the end of the game and looked almost dominant on a few plays. He made at least two cross ice passes that were barely believable, but his recipients couldn't cash in, including Nick Foligno who was sniffing around the net all night.

Jason Spezza is impressing with his newfound willingness to play meaningful defence - he was often the forward helping out behind his own net - but offensively he is struggling a little like his teammates.

Interestingly, Jonathan Cheechoo finally showed a pulse in the third period and actually crashed the net on one occasion. We all knew he wasn't a great skater, but did anyone really expect to see a guy who would be hard pressed to beat Jason Allison in a blueline to blueline sprint?

But it's two games, and Cheechoo is going to get all the opportunity in the world to get himself back into shape. It's clear that he is not physically right - whatever that implies. Something is just off with him right now. If he doesn't get going, how soon will it be until he finds himself in the press box watching Donovan skate in his place?

If anything, tonight demonstrated the value of a guy like Donovan. He can sit for five games. He can sit for 35 minutes. But when he's on the ice, he always makes something happen with his speed, grit, and heart.

It was a game that, despite the early schedule, meant a lot to whoever could win it.

Now the Senators can go into their home opener on Thursday with the press and fans off their backs but the Leafs are now entering the chaos zone where the coach plays egotistical games with the media, the young players are shell shocked and the fans believe the sky is falling after only 3 games.

But that's not Ottawa's problem any more.

Black Aces 3 Stars of the Game

1. Anton Volchenkov
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Shean Donovan

Honorable mentions go out to Pascal Leclaire (who makes it look easy), Jarkko Ruutu (a team high 3 shots - and a nasty cheap shot on Mike Komisarek) and Matt Carkner (who has replaced Jason Smith and Luke Richardson quite nicely).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Opening Night Shakes

There's no reason to sugarcoat it. The Ottawa Senators played a lousy game.

Looking like they were skating in 2 inches of mud, the Senators couldn't seem to get anything going in either the 1st or 3rd periods. And when they did get their chances in a fairly decent 2nd period, Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding for the New York Rangers.

There's lots of excuses if you want them. Starting on the road. A long layoff after their final pre-season game. New players still trying to find chemistry.

It doesn't matter. If there were butterflies, they should be gone now.

Pascal Leclaire was really good in goal despite the 5-2 score. He made some really difficult stops but had no chance on most of the others

Rookie Erik Karlsson looked like a rookie. It was obvious that he was very tight in the early going and was just trying not to make a mistake rather than play his usual high octane game.

And when you try not to make mistakes, you make them by the bushel.

His passes were so carefully placed that they had no zip on them and he occasionally got his signals crossed in his own end, in one instance leading directly to a goal by Brandon Dubinsky in the 1st period.

But he made up for that mistake by backchecking ferociously and stopping a breakaway by Artem Anisimov in the 2nd and seemed to snap out of his trance late in the 3rd by making some nice passes to forwards going at full speed.

He'll be better once he realizes he's an NHL player and stops being so starstruck.

Matt Carkner really impressed by playing exactly the same way he did in the pre-season. He looked like a veteran out there and even had two really good offensive chances early in the game by choosing to take two hard shots which Lundqvist had to stop with some difficulty. Carkner then went on to fight Donald Brashear late in the 3rd after jawing with the Ranger enforcer all game and did well in the scrap.

Otherwise, there wasn't much to see other than a hockey squad looking to uptight to really play their hustle and puck pursuit game the way they meant to.

Next up, Toronto.



It seems the Ottawa Senators are intent on spoiling us all of a sudden. First, they bring back the Senators theme song at the start of games. Now.... they fixed their freaking ugly socks.




I'm not sure what the Senators were thinking with that previous design but they are now back in the fashion good books. I haven't had a chance to see if Calgary or Tampa Bay have also done the same thing with their similar looking socks.

One thing I do know about Calgary, their retro uni's look fantastic. It seems like the tide is finally turning from the dark and dreary 90's when bright colours died off in the NHL. With Philly, Calgary and Edmonton rehashing their 70's and 80's style jerseys, the NHL is starting to "pop" on television once again. Dark and subtle tones don't look good on television. Bright, classic colours with clean, straight stripes do.

It's just too bad Theo Fleury isn't around to put that bright orange jersey on again.


The conventional wisdom that always gets spouted on sports talk radio shows is that the NHL is a sub-par league, struggling financially, marketing inept, and run by a commissioner who doesn't know what he is doing.

As is the case with most cliches that talking heads can spout to their audience without actually having to do any research, that "conventional wisdom" is dead wrong. In fact, Gary Bettman is being hailed as a genius among all sports owners, not just NHL owners, first for breaking the players union during the recent lockout (David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail recently said the union has degenerated into a "laughingstock") and for winning big over renegade poacher Jim Ballsillie.

People point to sore spots such as the Coyotes mess and the lack of a truly national television deal in the United States, but in essence, the league has never been doing better, both on and off the ice.

Globe and Mail business writer Brian Milner sees an NHL that is thriving in a global recession.

" the league embarks on its 92nd season, indicators point to a sport that is more than holding its own in the increasingly fierce battle for the shrinking entertainment buck.

League revenue stands at a record high. Ticket sales are holding steady even as prices rise in some markets, and star players are drawing big crowds. The sport is enjoying a resurgence in some old hockey towns such as Chicago and Boston, while the Montreal Canadiens sold this year for a record price. Television ratings are picking up. "

He notes that some Southern teams are still struggling but the core of the league remains strong, protecting it from what was once thought to be an inevitable implosion.

For many, especially elitist Canadian hockey snobs who believe the league should be a tiny, regional operation not much bigger than the CFL, Gary Bettman can never be given credit for anything.

But in truth, Bettman is now revered in the sports ownership world, along with his associate Bill Daly, the deputy commisioner. Beating Ballsillie means that a legal court has affirmed the right of professional sports leagues to determine, to a large extent, where they can operate their own franchises.

If, as a Canadian hockey fan, you feel that Bettman has insulted Canada by not allowing the Coyotes to move to Hamilton, just think of how much more protected the existing Canadian franchises are from someone coming in and trying to move them to the United States.

Small market fans in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary should be sending thank you notes to the commish, not hate mail.

"Other NHL governors also declined to speak, or rather gloat, publicly. But several had plenty to say anonymously.

“I don't care if our share is $5-million [for the legal costs and the Coyotes' losses this season],” one said. “I'll send a thank-you note along with the cheque.”

Another owner said he “will gladly pay the bills,” because “this could have set a very dangerous precedent for all sports franchises.”

-Globe and Mail