Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Nightmare Goaltending Sinks Ottawa, Likely For Good This Time
That was a tough game to watch for Senators fans. The dream died here tonight, even though the technical elimination game will take place at Mellon Arena on Thursday night.
It's still a little too early to sum up a series that isn't officially over yet, but tonight's game was a clear indication that the Senators are being outclassed in all categories, in particular the goaltending department. To call the Senators goaltending a debacle is probably being too nice.
But more on that later.
And it's also clear that Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world right now, with Evgeni Malkin not far behind.
Despite all this, the Ottawa fans down at the Kanata rink have been the brightest spot during this abbreviated playoff season. They've been loud and mostly supportive even when the team was clearly getting run into the ice, an embarrassing situation for any professional athlete.
The team itself clearly haven't given up despite being outmatched and that's a testament to the Senators character which they've shown all season. This is a good group of guys who deserved better, but injuries ultimately led to their downfall.
On top of losing Filip Kuba, Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek, it's clear that Daniel Alfredsson isn't healthy and I'd be willing to bet that Jason Spezza is being bothered by that chronic bad back. He's playing exactly the same way he usually does when his back is acting up but that isn't giving him any leeway with the fans, who openly booed him during game three. His giveaway to Crosby tonight in the second period that led to a goal didn't help his popularity much, but he at least got that one back later in the game.
It's also much too early to say what will be the result of this inevitable series loss on the Senators in the off-season. But you can probably guess that a few things will dominate the spotlight.
There is going to be a predictable and massive backlash against Spezza from the fans, and it may even chase the affable centre to another city this summer, either by him requesting a trade or Bryan Murray doing him a favour by getting him out of a city that has never liked him much. I think it's unfortunate that things will turn out that way, but when Ottawa fans get carried away, there's not much to be done to save whoever is the target of their ire. We've seen this story played out many times before. Hopefully, he'll get the chance to keep maturing in a Senators uniform, as we saw a more determined Spezza this season.
I can also see the number of season tickets being a big issue. The Senators need a bigger number than they had this year and will likely make a big push this summer with some new marketing, but will a token appearance in the playoffs after a years absence be enough to get the fans to open their wallets? It's a problem that shouldn't be a problem in a hockey town like Ottawa, but there's a reason that Leafs and Habs fans can invade the arena at will - those tickets are perpetually available.
The other major concern will obviously be the goaltending. Brian Elliott has his fans (Coach Clouston) and his detractors (everyone else), but I don't really blame him for what's transpired. To me, Elliott played to his potential, which is as an average goaltender without the ability to make game stealing saves. He's likely not going to get much better but he could still be a great backup who is capable of getting streaky, but Clouston was not rewarded by favouring his familiar AHL goaltender.
Leclaire is a goalie with much more skill than Elliott, but injuries, and a coach who didn't seem to believe in him contributed to a disaster season for him. He may even be done as a Senator altogether.The organization's firing of goalie coach Eli Wilson didn't help matters one bit and the whole department is in a complete shambles right now.
But a more detailed analysis of those situations can wait for the idle days of summer.
For now, the Senators are just going to have to salvage a little pride by trying to delay elimination in Pittsburgh. They have nothing to be ashamed of, as they have given it their all throughout this series.
But like I said before, they lost their chance to face a weaker team by being so damn inconsistent during the regular season and ended up with the worst case scenario - a motivated Sidney Crosby looking to repeat as a Stanley Cup champion.
We'll see how it all ends up in game five.