Thursday, December 9, 2010
Misery In Kanata
Talk about a season defining loss.
The blows just keep coming for the miserable Senators as they completely squandered two great periods by blowing a 3-2 lead in the third frame to the visiting New York Rangers and have likely sunk as low as they possibly can. And I say that because, sure, they could sink further in the standings, but that could only be a blessing as they would then be in line for a top draft pick.
Right now, they are in the worst position possible, floundering out of the playoff picture but still too good to finish below teams like the Leafs and Islanders, with three and a half months still to suffer through.
There is going to be a lot of scapegoating on Friday when the press and the bloggers and the radio callers get their knives out, but at this point the whole team is struggling so badly it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
Going into the game, many were enjoying their favourite pastime - blaming Alex Kovalev. That seemed to help everyone's sanity for a while, like pretending Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter, but then Brian Elliott let in a brutal goal that tied the game for the Rangers, Chris Neil took an unnecessary roughing penalty which resulted in the winning power-play goal and Sergei Gonchar took a tumble at centre ice, allowing Ranger Brandon Dubinsky to steal the puck and ice it in an empty net. The fact that Gonchar even got up and skated back to the bench says at least something about his character. A lesser man might have stayed down in the fetal position until the rink custodian shut the lights off later that night.
Tomorrow night or the game after that, it will be another set of players that feel the wrath of the press and around and around we go.
When the team is playing badly overall, the individual errors are going to stand out, but they're only symptoms, not the root cause. If the team was playing better, they would have more wins and the occasional screw-up could be overlooked. Now if anyone even goes offside, it's like "oh man, you're terrible". The Senators have given themselves no room for error, which makes errors inevitable.
As for the big Kovalev controversy going into the game, putting him on the fourth line was a move by Cory Clouston to show he can assert himself when the ship is sinking around him. Fair enough. He has to do something to save his job. And yet, predictably, it made no difference and only postpones the inevitable, which is that Kovalev has to play some serious minutes with a proper centre, preferably Jason Spezza, for the team to get full value out of him.
Benching or reducing the minutes of your best players NEVER works in the NHL. It just doesn't. Just this season, look at the Flames playing around with Jarome Iginla's minutes, or the Devils doing the same with Ilya Kovalchuk earlier.
Sure, it makes a certain segment of the fans happy, because their relation to the game nowadays is based on the desire to see these hot shot millionaires get punished, and if a hockey game breaks out, well, that's not really important. But in the end, Kovalev is going to have to be put back on one of the first two lines and this whole process will be about absolutely nothing.
Usually it only signals the last days of a coach and his desperate attempts to fortify the walls that are crumbling around him.
I'm not recommending Clouston be fired, because I actually believe he's a fairly good coach who has done a good job since he got to Ottawa, but it's starting to look like he can't fix this now.
When a team gets this deep into a hole, sometimes you need to reset the system. Throw the switch. Change the fuse.
Friday's game against the Devils could be one worth watching, if only to see how this team tries to pick itself off the floor. If they don't, watch for all hell to break loose.
Also, congratulations to Anne who won a Metro Family 4 Pack of tickets to Friday night's game against the Devils after our last ticket contest. She correctly identified Marshall Johnston as the former Sens GM who was also the Director of Player Personnel with the Devils for close to ten years.
Thanks to everyone (and there were a lot of you) who emailed in their answers. Have fun at the game, Anne.