And it's not the goalies, like many thought it would be. Both Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott have been solid early in the season.
Instead, it comes down to three simple but fatal flaws.
One, they don't have enough speed among their forwards. Two, they don't have a natural goal scorer. And three, the defense is soft and unimposing.
Any one of those flaws would make it hard on a team to win consistently, but put all three together and you're looking at a long year here.
Just try and pick the fastest skater among the forwards right now. It's probably Ryan Shannon. After him, who do you have? Mike Fisher? Chris Kelly? It's a toss-up between them and a few others, none of whom will be mentioned in the other team's game plan for their speed.
As for goal scoring, Mike Fisher led the team last year with 25. And that was a career year for him. Milan Michalek now has three goals this season (after getting two tonight), but the most he's ever had is 26. Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev's best goal scoring days are gone. Jason Spezza is a playmaker. No one is likely to get 30 or more goals this year for the Senators and that has got to scare their already jittery fans.
As for the defense, it's looking more and more like letting both Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton go without replacing at least a smidgen of their grit is going to be a costly mistake on the part of Bryan Murray (signing David Hale doesn't really count because even though he was much better than Brian Lee in camp, he got sent down because of Lee's ill-advised one-way deal). They have too much of the same type of player back there, even when the perpetually injured Filip Kuba returns. You could take both Lee and Chris Campoli out of the lineup and not miss them for a second. They're cheap, god love them, but they're just warm bodies filling a uniform and a salary cap chart. They're not difference makers.
Five games is a small sample, but you don't have to see too many more games before you realize this team is not going to succeed as it is currently constructed. Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips are an excellent defense pairing but they are being forced to carry the entire load so far simply because the other pairings haven't proven to be effective.
Spezza's line needs some speed on it, but there's no one to plug in there. As it stands now, there are no answers within the club. They may get on a nice hot streak here and there, but they won't be able to compete with the faster teams in the East. It's just not going to happen.
The Senators have some really good parts but they need some kind of move to bring in a few guys who are going to address the flaws they have right now.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
Ottawa 3 Montreal 4
1. Brian Elliott
2. Milan Michalek
3. Jason Spezza
Honourable Mentions: Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Jesse Winchester
Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun is about as divisive a sports columnist that you can find in this town. You see a lot of negative reaction to him on blogs lately, but I find his stuff to be good for a laugh now and then and he's one of the few who actually takes the time to present the players as actual personalities and not just numbers on a roster. Half the time he's just taking the piss. Some got upset after Brennan recently nicknamed Pascal Leclaire "Porcelain Pascal" but actually, it's fairly apt for obvious reasons. I've heard more degrading nicknames. But this exchange in the usually mundane Digital Faceoff section with guest Mitch Melnick about Leclaire perplexed me :
MELNICK: I see the word Porcelain and I think ... monkey.I don't want to speculate on what Brennan meant by this remark (I have a good idea), but you have to wonder how this made it past the editing stage. But remember, this is the same "newspaper" that ran a front page on the day of the contentious gun registry vote with a picture of a double-barrel shotgun pointing out at the viewer with the headline "Unload It". Real classy. And these guys wanted a "must-carry" TV license from the CRTC?...... Can we now confirm that Milan Michalek has definitely lost a skating step after off-season surgery? It was tough to see him give the puck up to Brian Gionta at the blue-line in the first period, but it was even harder to watch him trying to catch up. This guy doesn't have the speed anymore, but at least he still has the hands. He got that goal back by the end of the period by quickly reacting to an Alfie slapshot that kerranged off the post right to him and he scored another nice one in the second........... Coach Clouston was rocking the salmon coloured shirt tonight. Yikes. But as a fellow Kiss fan, he gets a pass..... Best Kiss LP? Without a doubt, Destroyer released in 1976, but what's the second best Kiss album? For me, it has to be the one that I grew up with in the 80's when they were a little past their prime, the first one without makeup - 1983's Lick It Up. Don't believe me? Check out the video below. This video actually scared me as a little kid. The only thing scary about this now is Gene Simmons fighting apocalyptic hobos with some kind of meat in one hand and Paul Stanley rapping. Double Yikes.
BRENNAN: I don’t think we should even touch that one.
MELNICK: Why not? I thought you liked “tough.”
BRENNAN: I just don’t think we should touch the monkey ... comparison.
.......Is the league's new "blindside hit to the head" rule the new version of the much hated "toe in the crease rule"? Remember that fiasco from the late 90's, where nearly every goal was subject to review to see if even an inch of someones skate blade was in the crease? That was the height of the "dead puck era" in the NHL, but now it seems we're entering the "no hit era" and the proof is starting to build early into this season. Every big hit is now subject to intense scrutiny. Was the initial point of contact the head? Was it a lateral hit? Was there intent to hit the head? Was the arm up or straight to his side? Did anyone's feelings get hurt? It's gotten completely ridiculous. Nick Foligno gets fined for a perfectly good shoulder to shoulder hit (I still don't see initial contact with the head - it was incidental), and now the Penguins Kris Letang gets a game-misconduct the other night for what should be a perfectly legal hit on the Islanders Blake Comeau. If this kind of hit is now going to be penalized, then claims that the new headshot rule is going to take big hits out of the game - an argument constantly discredited by proponents of the new standard - now has to be taken very seriously.