Monday, December 28, 2009

Murray Snookers Alfie..... Sens Keep Winning Against All Odds

I'm not sure why Bryan Murray felt he needed to make a statement regarding Daniel Alfredsson playing in the Olympics.

By doing so, he seemed to imply that the captain could be hurting his own team by suiting up for Team Sweden.

But so is every other player taking part in the Olympics. Injuries will certainly occur in the tournament, just like what happened to the Senators with Dominik Hasek in 2006.

So why is Murray singling out Alfredsson when he already knows that the captain would not risk going into the tournament already injured?

Alfredsson has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches throughout his career and it should be taken for granted that he will do what's right in this situation.

By going to the media, Murray is making it look like he doesn't trust the captain to do what's in the best interests of the Ottawa Senators. It's a pointless exercise and all it does is create a perception problem and add unnecessary pressure on Alfredsson. All Murray had to do was have a private chat with the captain that would have resolved the situation in two minutes.

Instead he went straight to the media and put the spotlight on Alfie.

And for what?

Murray can sometimes be commended for his honesty, but he all too often opens the cupboard door to the media and they can't help but feast.

What if Alfredsson fully heals his shoulder and then goes into the Olympics and injures his knee?

A freak injury that could happen to any player will now be analysed in the context of Murray's recent statement and the captain will be made to look selfish for wanting to play for his own country, something that every player should have the right to do and not be questioned about.

It's bad enough the captain gets booed in his own building. He doesn't need to get the gears from his own GM.

I just don't see why Murray had to say a damn thing at all.


Ottawa 4 Montreal 2

Freaking huge win by Ottawa in a loud and rowdy building in Kanata tonight. The guts and gumption that these Senators are showing is unrivaled in recent team history and coach Cory Clouston has his club playing their hearts out almost every night despite having a plethora of injury excuses ready for them.

Coming back from a 2-0 deficit with a large vocal majority of the fans cheering on the Canadiens is the stuff that playoff teams are made of.

Pascal Leclaire struggled off the bat but then shut the door and made some incredible saves to keep the Senators on life support until they got going late in the 1st on Peter Regin's goal.

There was almost a major let-down in this game when it appeared that Mike Fisher scored the go-ahead goal with Chris Neil parked in the crease. Unfortunately for Ottawa, referee Kerry Fraser made a brutal call, claiming that Neil made contact with Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak (which he didn't) but then changed his interpretation to Neil being "too deep in the crease". It seems they make this stuff up as they go but the Senators managed to keep their cool (despite their recent valid gripes about officiating) and Neil actually got the goal back a few minutes later by going right back to the crease to bang in a floating puck past Halak. Even that goal went to review but the Senators were not going to be denied on this one.

Had that second goal been called back, bedlam would have broken out on the Senators bench and in the 50/50 stands.

Alexei Kovalev continued his resurgence as of late and was the best player on the ice tonight even though it didn't translate into any points. It finally looks as though Kovalev is finding his form after a very tough first half of the season.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Alex Kovalev
2. Chris Neil
3. Pascal Leclaire

Honourable mentions: Ryan Shannon, Peter Regin and Chris Campoli (it seems as though his recent benching and stint as a forward has sharpened Campoli's determination and he has been much better of late).


It's tough for Senators fans to complain about the vocal Montreal fans sounding like a majority and turning a home game into a road game at Scotiabank Place. If Sens fans aren't buying the tickets, there's tens of thousands of Habs and Leafs fans who are willing to pony up for them......

Canucks forward Mikael Samuelsson wasn't happy with being left off the Swedish Olympic team:

"I pretty much have one comment and maybe I'll regret it," Samuelsson told the Vancouver Sun. "But they can go [expletive] themselves. That's what I really think."


It seemed inevitable that the Caps would trade their captain Chris Clark. The core of that team is centred on some highly skilled guys and Clark was simply not on the ice enough to be that go-to guy that the captain needs to be. In effect, this trade finally allows this to be Alex Ovechkin's team, whether he gets the "C" or not.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Aces will be taking a short sabbatical over the holiday season but will be back up in 3 or 4 days.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Pot Turns Black....

The Citizen is running with a story today built on facts obtained in an internal NHL report that states the Senators are now in an elite company with the Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning. In the standings? Nope.

In reduced ticket sales.

There have been the usual fretting over some empty seats at Scotiabank Place this season but this report really spells out the drop experienced by the Senators.

"As of the end of November, the Senators’ paid ticket sales had dropped by almost 4,000 per game, according to the NHL report. Through the first two months of the season, the Senators had sold 14,023 tickets per game, down from 17,927 last year.

The 22.8-per-cent drop is third-highest in the league, behind only the Phoenix Coyotes and the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the 30-team league, the Senators have fallen from seventh place in paid attendance to 19th.

The Senators’ reported attendance has not fallen as far — only about seven percent — because the number of free tickets issued by the team has increased dramatically."

Those are usually statistics listed off by Canadian hockey fans in an argument to move southern U.S. teams into towns like Hamilton and Winnipeg. The jokes were endless about teams not even able to give away free tickets to get bums in the seats in Florida and Georgia and Phoenix.

Have Ottawa fans become the pot calling the kettle black? Looks that way.

There are many reasons stated as to why the Senators have been having attendance issues: missing the playoffs, location of arena, the recession, too many home games at the start of the season, the Dany Heatley fiasco, and argued by me, the extremely negative attitudes of the press towards certain individual players which "poisoned the well" in the community.

Regardless of which combination of issues you deem to be the culprit, it looks like the Senators are being pro-active and realizing that there's a problem which must be fixed. President Cyril Leeder has come out and offered free parking to 5 year season ticket subscribers and that some seating will be cheaper next year, but really, that's not going to be enough to turn the tide.

It's clear that the NHL and the Senators have pushed the pricing point of tickets past the point that the market can bear. Prices will have to be seriously reduced across the board while the NHL looks for ways to bring in more money from alternate sources and finally get away from being a gate-driven league, much like modern record companies are adapting to the fact that no one buys CD's anymore.

It looks to me like expansion and the easy money it generates is on the way to the NHL.


No one has ever seen anything like it in the NHL. How does a team recover in 24 hours from having all their equipment destroyed in a freak fire?

That's the situation that the travelling Minnesota Wild find themselves in prior to tonight's game in Ottawa against the Senators. And a lot of the Wild players seem to be quite upset with their destroyed equipment, much of it meticulously tailored to their needs and often very nostalgic for superstitious hockey players.

Michael Russo who covers the Wild beat has a good point here:

"There's lot of concern about playing in new equipment. It's not just a feel thing (it takes players weeks to break in equipment), but a safety thing. Knee braces and stuff like that were destroyed. How do you just throw a new knee brace on a player without making sure it fits properly?"

The Ottawa Sun also has a few revealing quotes from the players who will actually have to don all-new gear:

“I’m picky about gloves. I’ve got to wear gloves for a long time before I can play in them,” said forward Andrew Brunette. “My shoulder pads, I’ve had since bantam hockey, so if those are gone, I’ll be screwed. I’ve worn one pair of shoulder pads forever.

“We spend two weeks trying to break in skates,” [Martin Havlat] said. “I’ve never heard of anything like this in my life. When I first heard about it, I thought it was some kind of a joke.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hockey Is Too Dangerous.... We Should Ban It

It's the only issue in hockey today. The only issue that any media member wants to talk about.

It's more important than global warming and a bigger menace than the recession.

It's hits to the head. Oh! The horror!

No need to tune in to the Ottawa Senators pre-game shows on the Team 1200 anymore. No need to catch host Steve Lloyd interviewing Bob McKenzie. No need to listen to the roundtable.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it all. Hits to the head in the NHL is the only issue that exists.

And there is no one more obsessed with the issue than Steve Lloyd and his fellow roundtable members. All of us lucky listeners get to hear Lloyd ask the exact same question in the exact same exasperated tone and receive the exact same answer from McKenzie he got the last pre-game show.

Ad nauseam doesn't even come close to describing the conversations you will hear. And I say this with all respect for both Steve Lloyd and Bob McKenzie who are otherwise a pleasure to listen to when they take the rare opportunity to discuss other subjects.

In the old days, when a player got hit with a big check (vicious or otherwise), the crowd cheered the hit and then cheered when the injured player got up off the ice and life went on with folks discussing the exciting play at the water cooler the next morning. People used to understand that hockey was a contact sport and that these players voluntarily seek employment in the league knowing that's the case. They are also compensated quite well for their troubles. This isn't the James Norris era of the NHL.

But that doesn't matter to the majority of the suddenly squeamish mainstream hockey media. When a player gets hit nowadays, there is a panic in the newsroom, grown men and women call in sick from work the next day and spend hours crying over the fate of the poor millionaire hockey players. Radio hosts can barely conceal their outrage. How could this happen in hockey? A big hit? How cruel and unusual!

It's gotten to the point that fans are cheering against players on their own team when they lay a hard hit on a player who just happens to hit his head on the glass as a result of the jolt. There are legions of Sens fans out there crying in their cereal over poor super-rat Patrick Kaleta and tearing up their Ruutu hockey cards.

"It's the principle of the thing", they say.

So fine.

I'm going to join the flock of sheep.

I'll jump on board.

Let's start by banning intentional hits to the head. That's an easy one.

Next let's start banning hits that are unintentional but still cause an injury to the head.

If we do that, we have to ban fighting as well. We can't outlaw hits to the head without banning fighting. That's just common sense.

Okay, okay. Just to be safe, let's ban hitting. Someone could hit their head and we don't want that.

Now that we've come this far, let's ban slapshots. It could hit someone in the face and cause a concussion. We can't have that.

You might as well ban raising the puck as well. You can't be too safe. We all like shuffleboard. That's a safe sport.

You know what? Let's just ban hockey all together. It's simply too dangerous.

Then we can spend our time analysing Alexei Kovalev in his new office job and complain about how he has so much computer and multi-tasking skills but that he only produces good reports when he feels like showing up.

Now isn't that better hockey fans?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Senators Shutdown Diving, Petulant Sabres

Now that's how you respond to adversity.

Skating without a slew of important players, including the recently injured Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno, the Senators went out and shutdown the Northeast leading Buffalo Sabres in a tight checking but entertaining game at the rink in Kanata.

With Spezza injured, a lot of people were looking for big games out of Ryan Shannon and Peter Regin and they didn't disappoint. Regin and Shannon were all over the puck and both could have had multiple point nights had it not been for Sabres goalie Ryan Miller who was absolutely incredible at times.

Same goes for Ottawa netminder Brian Elliott who seems to be settling down a little bit now that he has some games under his belt. He didn't have to make a lot of saves, but some of those stops in the 3rd period were game savers.

Probably the most notable player had to be Jarkko Ruutu, who always seems to be at his nastiest against the Buffalo Sabres. Tonight he was so amped up that he was bordering on being uncontrollable. He drove Patrick Kaleta (who just happens to be the biggest rat in the NHL today) into the glass fairly hard in the 2nd period, sending the hated Sabre to the dressing room for the night. It's probably going to be a couple game suspension for Ruutu which is unfortunate because the Senators really need his feistiness right now.

But in Ruutu's defense, NHL refs are looking for any excuse to send this guy to the box and his late 3rd period penalty where he retaliated against Derek Roy was a prime example. Roy initiated the contact by the benches far from the puck and when Ruutu gave him a light shove back, Roy snapped his neck through the air like he had just been walloped. The refs bought it and the Senators had to kill another one off.

Sometimes it's hard to stomach the Sabres. I have a lot of respect for coach Lindy Ruff and the organization as a whole, but they have to be the whiniest team in the NHL. Guys like Adam Mair, Kaleta and Roy turn into a bit of a sideshow every time they play the Senators and they seemed even braver tonight knowing that they didn't have to face Chris Neil.

Regardless, the Sabres are a great rival, definitely surpassing the Leafs games on the nasty scale.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Brian Elliott
2. Peter Regin
3. Ryan Shannon

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Neverending Spezza Argument..... and Winchester Gets His Chance

As everyone and their dogs have already reported, Jason Spezza is expected to miss upwards of 8 weeks with a right knee injury he sustained against the Maple Leafs on Monday, obviously levelling a massive blow against the Senators going forward.

Incredibly, some actually believe the Senators will be better off. The Team 1200's Steve Warne asked this question in a serious manner to guest Pierre McGuire and added that Spezza is "overrated". McGuire seemed a little surprised at the question and obviously didn't agree.

That kind of mindset is out there in Ottawa regarding Spezza but I think these people will be unpleasantly surprised when the scoring dries up even more than it already has this season.

No doubt that Spezza is having a tough year, but the guys over at the Silver Seven blog make a great point, saying that the forced rest may do Spezza's not-so-secretly injured back a world of good and get him back to being that elite playmaker that he has always been.

The loss of Dany Heatley and a new found commitment to defense have certainly hurt Spezza's numbers but I'd be willing to bet that wonky back has as much to do with it. He even took a nasty crosscheck against the Leafs and was seen struggling to get back to the bench long before his knee blew out late in the 3rd.

It's a tough situation for a hockey player when they are nursing an injury. You don't want to bring it up with the press because it looks like you are making excuses. But if you don't let anyone know, they get on you for not performing up to expectations.

I think this is the place Spezza found himself in before the knee injury. I don't know that for a fact, but I think it's a reasonable guess.

Regardless, the Senators are going to have to pull it together and get on with the games, starting with the surprising Sabres Wednesday night. Early indications from practice make it look like Jesse Winchester will slide into Spezza's spot on the top line. That's an interesting move and one I'm looking forward to seeing in action. Winchester has some offensive skill but it hasn't readily appeared in the NHL since he's been busy establishing himself as a reliable defensive presence (mission accomplished by the way). Clouston is a coach who changes his mind a lot with lines so I wouldn't etch his name into stone anytime soon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sens Falter In Hogtown ..... Spezza Hurt?

A tough loss for the Senators in Toronto tonight but give credit to the Leafs who seemed to stymie almost every breakout Ottawa attempted in the 3rd period and forced giveaway after giveaway.

While the Kovalev-Fisher-Foligno line was flying again tonight, the Spezza-Alfie-Michalek line seemed to struggle defensively even though they led the shot count in the match. If Ottawa could get those two lines rolling on any given night, they wouldn't lose many going forward.

As for Brian Elliott, he wasn't terrible, but he hasn't managed to state his case for more playing time once Pascal Leclaire gets healthy. The only thing he's proven is that he's a backup goalie at this stage of his career. Nothing more, nothing less. He had to have that Jason Blake goal. Just had to have it.

We all saw Jason Spezza limp off the ice near the end of the game. From the replay it looked like his ankle rolled over in a battle for the puck. Spezza scored a nice goal tonight, but it looks like his season from hell will continue unabated, although no details have leaked out at this point.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Nick Foligno
2. Mike Fisher
3. Alexei Kovalev

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard

(1st Star - 3 points, 3rd star - 1 point)

Alfredsson – 19
Fisher – 15
Michalek – 14
Spezza – 13
Elliott – 10
Neil - 7
Leclaire – 7
Kovalev – 7
Foligno – 7
Ruutu - 5
Winchester - 5
Volchenkov – 4
Phillips - 3
Carkner – 3
Kuba – 3
Regin - 2
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Kelly – 1
Shannon – 1
Karlsson - 1


Colour commentator Gary Galley went to great pains to excoriate Erik Karlsson for getting caught up the ice when Toronto's Jason Blake scooped up a puck and beat Brian Elliott in the second period. Only problem was, it was number 45 Alex Picard who was on the ice and not number 65 Erik Karlsson. It's tough enough being a rookie without being blamed for the mistakes you didn't make. But we'll give Galley a mulligan. He's one of the best colour guys in the game today........Usually tried and true Leaf acolytes, Sportsnet intermission hosts Nick Kypreos and Bill Watters seemed more than a little impressed by Matt Carkner's KO of Leaf tough guy Colton Orr, claiming that Ottawa is not exactly known for upping the Leafs in any kind of physical battle. Sens fans should be impressed too. Colton Orr doesn't lose many fights and it was a bit of a personal redemption for Carkner after getting beat bad by Orr a few weeks ago. This bodes well for a renewed Battle of Ontario...... This is not the same Toronto team that started out this season as a bad joke on the ever loyal Hogtown fans. Coach Ron Wilson has them playing a really tough brand of hockey right now and Phil Kessel is proving the doubters wrong. Suddenly, that trade doesn't seem so bad does it?......Brutal missed call on Mike Komisarek after he elbowed Alex Kovalev in the melon..... It must have been nice for Coach Clouston to see the other team get called for a couple of too-many-men penalties...... Is it me or did Coach Wilson and Coach Clouston both get sharp new haircuts for the Battle of Ontario tonight? ....... Hit of the night: Jarkko Ruutu on Jeff Finger in the 3rd period. Finger will be taping a few aspirins to his shoulders tonight, that's for sure. Both Ruutu and Jesse Winchester have really brought the physical play since Chris Neil went down with an injury. It's actually somewhat crazy to think that Winchester was a healthy scratch earlier this season. This guy has now made himself indispensable. He can hit like Fisher and protect the puck along the boards just as good as Peter Schaefer used to. Not a bad combination.

You know the Senators have changed uniforms too many times when: A lone Senator fan was shown on television cheering after the second period Mike Fisher goal. Only problem was that he was waving a flag featuring the original 2-D logo and wearing the old black and gold 3rd jersey worn at the start of the decade. You have to admire him though. How many times do fans have to buy new team jersey's? Lucky Leaf fans don't have to face that problem.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Black Aces Top Ten Favourite Senators ..... Kovalev Bounces Back Against Canes

Black Aces Top Ten Favourite Senators of All-Time

Some of them were not very skilled. Some of them were not very popular with the fans. But these 10 players stand the test of time for this lowly scribe after 16 plus seasons of Ottawa Senators hockey.

10. TIE! Brian McGrattan and Lance Pitlick: I know. I'm cheating already but I went back and forth and decided I couldn't keep either off this list. Beside having one of the most entertaining names in Senators history (along with Ron Tugnutt and Radek Bonk), Pitlick was a late draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars who quietly slipped into town and started putting opponents through the boards. He also picked up my old roommate Andy hitchhiking so that's cool. He left for Florida when they offered him big money but Pitlick was around when Ottawa first made the playoffs and was a great character of the 90's Senators.

McGrattan makes this list because with one single punch, he burst the illusion of dominance that the Toronto Maple Leafs had over the Senators. In the 2006 season he landed a doozy on Tie Domi and sent him to the ice. Senators fans everywhere stood taller for a long time after that tilt. He was also one of the toughest fighters in the NHL every season he played for Ottawa.

9. Ron Tugnutt: He helped lead the Senators to their first ever playoffs in 97 and was one of the best goalies in the league in 99. It was a sad day when he got dealt to Pittsburgh for the very grumpy and past-his-prime Tom Barrasso.

8. Mike Peluso: He was an original Senator and was a fun guy to watch play hockey in an otherwise infamous season by the fumbling team. He dated Alanis, had perfect hockey hair and was a charismatic, funny dude. He was also the first in a long line of fan favourites who were haphazardly traded away in the early years (along with Andre Roy, Marian Hossa and Tugnutt).

7. Anton Volchenkov: There is nothing better than seeing the A-Train just steamroll someone at the blueline. Nothing better. Bryan Murray better get this guy signed right now!

6. Randy Cunneyworth: The first Sens captain where you could say, "Yah, he's our captain!" and be proud of that fact. Other than Alfie, probably the most respected Senator in the history of the franchise.

5. Chris Neil: All this guy has done is bleed Senator red, black and gold his entire career. Neil is the heart of the Senators franchise, bloodstains and all.

4. Steve Duchesne: He only played 2 seasons in the nation's capital but it was the winning attitude he brought that helped turn the Senators from laughingstocks to playoff contenders. He started off the pivotal 97 season by grabbing a Montreal player who had just run over Alfredsson in the neutral zone, and pummelled him with punches even though Duchesne was not exactly a tough guy. It was that leadership and attitude that got the Senators over the hump. He also scored THE GOAL that put them into the playoffs for the first time. That alone justifies his position on this list.

3. Ray Emery: Yes, Rayzor had a bit of a meltdown his last, tumultuous season here but before that, he led the team to the Stanley Cup Final, and no other Senator goaltender can say that. Plus, he was a breath of fresh air in an uptight city. Not many players were more entertaining both on and off the ice. Who will ever forget Rayzor fighting both Martin Biron and then Andrew Peters in the same brawl in Buffalo? Incredible.

2. Zdeno Chara: No other player in team history could dominate the way Big Z could. The fact that he came over in a trade for the hated Alexei Yashin made it all the better. Letting Chara go for nothing is easily the biggest mistake the organization ever (and probably will) make.

1. Daniel Alfredsson: Who else?

Players who came up just short for the list:

Shaun Van Allen, Marian Hossa, Brad Marsh, Wade Redden, Magnus Arvedsson, Chris Phillips and Andre Roy.


Ottawa 4 Carolina 2

Huge game from Alexei Kovalev and his line in a game that was a little too close for comfort. The Senators were stymied by Manny Legace for much of the match but Kovalev's line kept pushing late and were rewarded with a lot of ice time and trust from Coach Clouston.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Alexei Kovalev
2. Nick Foligno
3. Mike Fisher

Honourable mentions: Jason Spezza, Jesse Winchester and Brian Elliott.

Final Thoughts: It's funny that the goaltending family cries foul when the NHL tries to reduce the size of their equipment, claiming that their safety is being jeopardized. Yet around half the goalies don't wear any kind of neck protection anymore. Something stinks in Denmark here....

Another sign the equipment may be too big? Brian Elliott made a glove save tonight and, according to HNIC play-by-play man Dean Brown, he didn't even know he had caught it.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kovalev Will Prove Critics Wrong By Seasons End .... Sens Beat Flyers in Snoozefest

It's been tempting to say the least. And I almost started to bite. But now I think I'm going to pull back and not jump on the "run Alex Kovalev out of town" bandwagon.

I realize I may be defending the undefendable here but it's much more interesting to look at the other side of the coin.

Now I'm not saying Kovalev hasn't been bad. Frankly, he's stunk out the joint.

But realistically, how long can the slump last?

Kovalev is simply too good of a player to be this bad for that long. And then you look at the schedule. It's not even Christmas and nowhere near the point where you can write off a player's season.

Fans in Montreal aren't stupid (insert snarky comment here). They don't hold protests to try and force management to keep a certain player every day. So there is something special about Kovalev whether you like him or not.

And Ottawa fans shouldn't be surprised by the way Kovalev plays. It's way too easy to jump to the conclusion that he just doesn't care. Honestly, that's a bunch of bull s**t. Not every player plays the game the same way.

It's like how a young man said to me in an email not long ago: "Look at Heatley. The puck is behind the Senators net and he's floating out there by the Sens blueline doing nothing." Sometimes people new to the game don't understand how a team needs at least one player up high to not only take away a possible point shot but to be an outlet for a defenseman to break the puck out to. That's just hockey 101. Some fans see the game only one way where visuals are everything and that if you're not pouring pints of blood out into the corner on every shift then you are somehow cheating the team and its fans.

Kovalev has always been the same player. He's as stubborn as a mule and no coach has been able to change him. He's a guy who will create offense sooner or later but can be inconsistent with a bum rap for not caring on certain nights. That's just way too easy a conclusion to pass the smell test.

Nobody makes it to the NHL and stays in the NHL without "trying hard". Kovalev cares but he's not going to turn into Mike Fisher just because the media and fans calling the phone-in shows are having a seizure of hatred for the enigmatic star.

Yet we could have seen this coming. Ottawa is not a town known to tolerate skill players who don't show humility on a daily basis. Hall of Famers like Patrick Roy and Brett Hull would have been run out of Ottawa had they played here. Heck, people don't even like Chris Neil in this town. Kovalev is not going to apologize for being the player he has always been. He's just not that type of personality.

It's sort of sickening to see some media trying to sucker him into a controversy by asking what jersey he would wear into the Hall of Fame were he to be inducted. You don't wear jerseys when you go into the Hall of Fame, obviously, so the question was merely a sucker trap that Kovalev answered honestly. Of course he said Montreal. He shouldn't have said anything but when you are put on the spot, a lot of us would say something we would regret later.

In short, I guess I just don't see the point of joining the circus in running another guy out of town. Haven't we seen this before? It's just ugly and it doesn't benefit the team, the player or the fans. And it's just plain boring after a while. The torches must be burnt low by now. They've done a lot of burning over the years in Bytown.

This is not a hard prediction to make because it's just so obvious: Kovalev will get better and help the Ottawa Senators win hockey games going down the stretch.

He's just too good for that prediction to not come true.


No one was more surprised than I was to see the Senators grind out a 2-0 win over the Flyers tonight, especially when it looked like the Flyers had gotten angry and taken out all their recent troubles on the Islanders a few nights ago. Obviously, they haven't gotten everything straightened out yet and that may not be a surprise after all. Peter Laviolette has only had 3 games to put his mark on the team. But like our good friend Kovalev, you can bet that the Flyers will eventually turn this around.

But how about that game anyways? With scoring down across the league in the past little bit, it was unpleasant to watch it so intently over 60 minutes tonight.

Sometimes you just have to wonder. How hard can it be for the best hockey players in the world to score goals. Or even just hit the net?

What a colossal bore.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Brian Elliott
2. Nick Foligno
3. Anton Volchenkov

3 Stars Season Scorecard

(3 points for 1st star, 1 point for 3rd star)

Alfredsson – 19
Michalek – 14
Spezza – 13
Fisher – 12
Elliott – 10
Neil - 7
Leclaire – 7
Ruutu - 5
Winchester - 5
Volchenkov – 4
Kovalev – 3
Phillips - 3
Carkner – 3
Kuba – 3
Regin - 2
Foligno – 2
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Kelly – 1
Shannon – 1
Karlsson - 1

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Crash And Burn - Habs 4 Sens 1

That one had to hurt.

The Ottawa Senators should have walked away with a clean two points but instead a bumbling power-play and some lacklustre play by the tandem of Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev contributed to a sometimes painful to watch home-ice loss to the rival Montreal Canadiens and their loud, passionate fans.

I mean, even the Senators fans lost their battle.

Right away, the problem that jumps out at you is the baffling struggles of both Spezza and Kovalev who went into the game riding on some momentum after being put together on a line for the first time this season.

It's still the same old story - Spezza looks like he's pressing too hard and Kovalev looks like he's not pressing hard enough. The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

The fact is that the duo were unable to put together one great play all night and that is becoming a massive albatross around their neck as this team goes forward.

Another baffling situation is the now customary too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty for the Senators, their 8th of the season. They also happened to take it with less than three minutes left in the game when they were searching for the tying goal.

Clearly, this is something that Coach Clouston needs to clear up whether it is his fault or not.

To be fair to Ottawa, they sent 46 shots at Jaroslav Halak (many more were blocked on the way) and the Montreal goalie was incredible at times despite not playing a game for nearly a month.

The Mike Fisher - Daniel Alfredsson - Milan Michalek line was again very good as was the fourth line of Jesse Winchester - Ryan Shannon and Peter Regin. It's too bad Clouston couldn't find more time for the fourth unit but there were so many penalties that it became a bit of a juggling act. On the last powerplay, Clouston desperately tried to switch things around, even promoting Jonathan Cheechoo to the 2nd unit but to no avail.

Filip Kuba had a rough night on the point of the power-play as he was either unable to get a shot through or simply keep a puck in the zone. Chris Phillips had the same problem in the first period when a puck bobbled on him at the blueline and then hit a linesman to send Montreal in for their first goal.

Erik Karlsson was a lot of fun to watch as something - both good and bad - seemed to happen whenever he had the puck. He does make some gaffes, as all rookies do, but he also made some sick plays and was reliable for getting the puck through to the net with 5 shots on the night. Regardless, he seems to be getting much more confident in his NHL uniform than his first stint at the start of the season.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Mike Fisher
3. Erik Karlsson


Anton Volchenkov is going to tie Jason York for 14th on the Sens all-time games played list when he steps on the ice against Philly on Thursday. But Yorkie still has 25 goals to Volchie's 13. Somehow, I don't see a radio job in Anton's future like the one Jason has with the Team 1200. Just a hunch..... Jason Spezza needs only one goal to tie Radek Bonk on the all-time Sens list with 152. Who would have guessed it would have taken this long into the season to talk about that stat?......

True story: Islanders grizzled veteran Brendan Witt got cranked by an SUV in Philly on Tuesday morning while on his way to buy a coffee. Witt slid across the hood and hit the ground pretty hard, but he got up, brushed himself off and went and got his coffee anyways.

From Newsday:

One man who witnessed the chain of events from Starbucks couldn’t believe he saw the 34-year-old Humboldt, Saskatchewan, native walk away from the incident virtually unscathed.

"Boy, that guy is tough," he said. "It was like seeing Clint Eastwood, but in hockey."

The onlooker said he originally thought what he witnessed was a scene being filmed for a movie.

“I really thought a Hollywood movie was being made. I was looking around for cameras,” the man said. “I can’t believe how tough this guy is. It’s insanity.”


People have been getting on Philly GM Paul Holmgren's case since news that Ray Emery will be out with a torn abdomen for at least six weeks. Everyone and their dog knows that the Flyers have always went cheap on their goaltending but this circumstance doesn't warrant the criticism.

For one, Holmgren can't be smeared by a decades worth of mistakes by his predecessor, Bobby Clarke. Holmgren made a smart choice by signing Emery this summer. The controversial goalie has played well and only trailed off recently because he was playing injured for the past three weeks. Two, an injury can happen to anyone. How is Holmgren at fault for an injury to their number one goalie? He still has Brian Boucher who he also signed this summer and Boucher is more than capable of taking over for a spell.

Secondly, who was Holgren supposed to get over the summer? There's a handful of elite goalies in the NHL and they aren't available. If the Flyers are struggling, it's not because of goaltending. By all accounts there might be a conflict in that dressing room between team leaders and for once, Emery isn't the one causing the trouble......

It seems that the idea of renaming a few of the NHL's major awards is starting to pick up steam, and Black Aces fully supports this idea. We talked about it here in 2008 and even back on the old Black Aces site in 2004! To me, this is not a knock on traditionalism, it's the opposite. It's about honouring people who have made real contributions to the NHL instead of politicians and royalty that had tenuous connections to the game at best. If in doubt, just do some research on the names of the current trophies and I think that in some cases, you'll come over to our side.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sens Pull Back From Brink Of Disaster

A winless road trip would have been a colossal failure for the Ottawa Senators but thankfully for them, they gutted out a win over the equally hapless Ducks to go home with at least 3 of a possible 10 points.

Some quick notes:

- Jason Spezza responded to Eugene Melnyk's pre-game comments that the Senators "best players have to be our best players". With a goal and an assist, Spezza can only hope that the game is a starting point for an offensive tear that his team so desperately needs from him. Putting Spezza on a line with Alexei Kovalev could prove to be what turns Spezza's season around. While Kovalev is not a sniper in the mould of Dany Heatley, both Spezza and Kovalev think the game alike and should be able to find each other on the ice. Milan Michalek is not the best fit for Spezza's game. Spezza likes to slow things down while Michalek is all guns blazing every time he is on the ice. Daniel Alfredsson is a good fit anywhere because he can play both ways.

- Speaking of Kovalev, he had a better game as well and got the Senators off on the right foot by scoring a beauty backhand goal on the equipment-swollen Jean Sebastien Giguere.

- Brian Elliott was pretty bad again, despite Sportsnet announcer Gary Galley trying to apologize for him. It's true that Elliott made some important saves in the 3rd period but they don't really make up for the three softies he let in at the worst possible moments - all three within one minute of the Senators taking the lead. Ugh. But you can also discard that first goal that bounced off the glass. That could have gone in on any goalie. But when you're struggling as bad as Elliott has been, you don't get the breaks either. Or the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, Coach Clouston must be counting the seconds until Pascal Leclaire gets healthy.

- Elliott is also one of those goalies who refuses to wear neck protection and it nearly cost him in the 3rd period when Cory Perry's skate came across his neck but thankfully thudded off his helmet. Without taking a real poll, I'd say that almost half of the NHL's goalies now go without the plastic neck guard that J.S. Giguere was wearing. It's just a matter of time before we get a Clint Malarchuk redux. You can count on it.

-The referees should be embarrassed of their performance in the 3rd period. It was one of those games where they simply decided that they had called enough penalties and called zero in the 3rd despite a plethora of obvious fouls, such as Perry nailing Anton Volchenkov before the defenseman got near the puck and about a hundred whacks on the arms that Daniel Alfredsson had to endure anytime he was carrying the puck through the neutral zone. The say that you're not allowed to get your stick horizontal on the body of the player carrying the puck. Ottawa got away with a lot of fouls as well. So why no calls? It's the old-fashioned thinking creeping in again where the refs feel like they have to "manage" the game. It's interesting to note that the head of officiating is now ex-ref Terry Gregson after Stephen Walkolm, who very successfully oversaw the new anti-obstruction rules after the lockout, decided to get out of the office and back onto the ice. Has there been an intentional relaxing of the strict guidelines put in place seasons before? One game is not a good sample size but I've noticed that players get away with more obstruction than in season's past. Anyone else notice?

Road Trip Thankfully Concludes Tonight

Was Brian Elliott screaming at his teammates after the first Phoenix goal or was he just screaming out loud at no one in particular? He was very upset with something or someone in the immediate aftermath of the goal in which he was most likely screened.

Remember Martin Gerber screaming at Anton Volchenkov last season? Black Aces hopes that Elliott wasn't taking that route last night. He has only himself to be angry at in what has been a brutal road trip for him. Generally, yelling at teammates or coaches doesn't get you very far in Ottawa. We all saw what happened to the very young and cocky Brian Lee who thought it was okay to lip off to Coach Clouston on the bench last week. He was demoted to the AHL the very next day although GM Bryan Murray didn't want to comment on that particular incident.


Obviously I haven't had much time to blog this past week but let me just echo the sentiments of owner Eugene Melnyk who on Sunday morning reminded Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev that the Senators "best players have to be their best players".

No kidding.

Spezza and Kovalev's seasons are starting to get downright ugly and they have to start scoring, even if it means shedding some defensive responsibilities here and there. It may be that Clouston seems to have adopted a less aggressive system this season than the one he employed upon the dispatching of Craig Hartsburg last year. Ottawa all too often seem to be waiting around and concentrating on congesting up that middle zone.

But the maxim that "safety is death" seems to apply here and it would be nice to see that aggressive forecheck back on a consistent level.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Foligno Scratched For Kings Tilt

Coach Clouston made an interesting move today in scratching Nick Foligno for the Kings game tonight.

I like this move because Foligno is the exact type of player that a benching really works for. He's young enough and at a mid-level role on the team where he may be getting complacent. He's also the type of player you can scratch and expect him to take it positively and to genuinely use it as motivation. He's also the type of player you can scratch without setting off a media firestorm because of it.

Certainly there are players who are struggling much worse than Foligno is but realistically, a few of them can't be scratched. Everyone will be pointing the finger at Alex Kovalev and Jonathan Cheechoo as more appropriate candidates but benching either of those players won't produce results.

Kovalev has had much worse happen to him than being made a healthy scratch. He was actually sent home for a week by Montreal GM Bob Gainey last year. What everyone around the league knows is that Kovalev is never going to change. Benching him is not going to help the team. He also creates 3 times as many chances as Foligno so sitting him would hurt rather than help your team.

As for Cheechoo, he's already hit rock bottom. He will be out of the lineup once the politically correct amount of time passes and before he exhausts everyone's good natured patience. Cheechoo is in the lineup because he was part of the Heatley trade. It's as simple as that. As soon as (if) the Senators get fully healthy, Cheechoo will be a Black Ace as he should be. Benching him for a game will not improve his play. He already knows he's on thin ice. His heart is in the right place, but the guy can't skate.

As for Foligno, he's played long enough and well enough where he might be getting a little "fat and comfortable" in a way. He's a player who has never faced any real media pressure and has sort of coasted his way to an effective career thus far despite having some bonafide power forward skills that he hasn't fully utilised yet.

This will be good for Foligno. He's a strong character guy who is simply being sent a message by a demanding coach who so far has shown the ability to press all the right buttons (although Heatley may disagree with that).

The recent benchings of Chris Campoli, Peter Regin and now Foligno will ensure that a certain level of competitiveness will exist within the club. As good coaches know, there are a select few players on every team that you have to "keep hungry" by starving them once in a while.

Fans generally want a black and white universe where every player is treated the exact same way. That's just not the case. Different personalities require different motivations. It's that way in the real world. Of course it's that way in hockey.