Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sens Saturdays A Streak To Forget

Call it the Saturday Night Flu.

With their 4-0 shutout loss to the Bruins on Saturday night, the Ottawa Senators have now dropped their last 6 regular season Saturday night games going back to last season, including all 4 so far this campaign.

And that's not even the ugliest stat we can come up with in case you were wondering.

If you start digging back into their Saturday schedule going back to last year's schedule, the Senators have now lost 11 of their last 12 Saturday games.

11 of 12. Just let that sink in.

You want the details?


Sat. Oct. 30: Loss x-x to Bruins
Sat. Oct. 23: Loss 3-0 to Canadiens
Sat. Oct. 16: Loss 4-3 to Canadiens
Sat. Oct. 9: Loss 5-1 to Maple Leafs


Sat. Apr. 10: Loss 5-2 to Sabres
Sat. Apr. 3: Loss 4-1 to Islanders
Sat. Mar. 27: WIN 3-2 over Panthers
Sat. Mar. 20: Loss 5-4 to Stars
Sat. Mar. 13: Loss 5-1 to Canucks
Sat. Mar. 6: Loss 2-1 to Maple Leafs
Olympic Break: No Saturday games played between 13th of Feb. to 6th of Mar.
Sat. Feb. 13: Loss 4-1 to Red Wings
Sat. Feb. 6: Loss 5-0 to Maple Leafs

That's 11 of 12 folks. Beyond ugly.

This awful stretch has included 3 losses to the Leafs at a combined score of 12-2.

The news doesn't get any better. The next 3 Saturday games are against the Canadiens, the Bruins and the Leafs. All 3 teams have figured prominently in the current woeful streak.

What makes it even harder to take is that the majority of these games have been broadcast on Hockey Night In Canada, the kind of national stage that gives local fans the opportunity to see their beloved team show what they have to the rest of the country.

Unfortunately for Senators fans, all the rest of the country sees of this team on a regular basis is a Keystone Cops routine and the captain getting booed in his own building.

Oh brother.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Does Clouston Break Up Lines For Spezza?

With Jason Spezza a "probable" candidate to return to the lineup for Saturday's home tilt against the powerful Boston Bruins, coach Cory Clouston now has to find a line for him without blowing up the chemistry this still fragile team has going for itself after two straight wins.

Does he really go ahead and reconstruct the original first line with Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, or does he keep Mike Fisher between those two wingers and find room elsewhere?

For a few reasons, Clouston should put Spezza, at first, on a line with Ryan Shannon and Zack Smith (unless Smith gets sent down to Bingo to save cap space right away - in that case Jesse Winchester).

It's not the kind of linemates Spezza should be with full-time going forward but in the short-term it could accomplish three things:

1. It doesn't disrupt the other lines that are working so well at the moment.
2. It will reduce Spezza's minutes at first putting less strain on his injured groin.
3. It will give the Senators an awfully good weapon on a "fourth line" and may allow Spezza to play against the Bruins weaker part of the lineup.

It will be interesting to see what Clouston does.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Senators Finally Score Some Goals

Isn't it funny how one night, one game, can make the trail of bad ones behind you seem to disappear for a while. Certainly, the Senators and Alexei Kovalev are hoping that's the case.

The Senators took a big step ahead in this early but magnified season by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2, falling just a goal short of giving their fans some free pizza, but giving them some much needed hope all the same.

The Senators record now stands at 3-5-1 and they have a chance to get to .500 at home if they can beat the Panthers on Thursday and the Bruins on Saturday. With a lot of the small things starting to go right, that's a realistic scenario for a team that has gone through a confidence draining slump to start the season.

Of course the big story will be the coming out party of Alexei Kovalev, but what may be more important is the play of a few defenseman, most notably Erik Karlsson who looks like he has some of his swagger back out there on the ice. He had an important power-play goal to kick start the game and despite a few giveaways, he is starting to look like a different player than the one who many were calling to be returned to Binghamton just this past week. The call-up of the steady David Hale to play with Karlsson has given Cory Clouston a third defense pairing that actually seems to be working, allowing Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips to stay together and get some kind of chemistry going.

Chris Campoli has been very good lately, even though it looks like his role is going to be that of depth player and not an offensive one. By working well with Matt Carkner, the Senators defense seems to have settled down into something workable going forward, and that is going to be the biggest factor in this team getting better. Before your team can score goals, you need your defensemen to break the puck out of the zone with consistency. With that happening tonight against the Coyotes, you could see the chances start to come for the forwards.

Also interesting was Clouston flipping Gonchar and Karlsson on the points during a late power-play. While it may prove to be a challenge for Karlsson playing his off-side (although he is a right handed shot), it may do wonders for Gonchar to play on the wall he's been used to for close to a decade. It's an interesting development to watch.

On the strength of Kovalev's big game, Peter Regin managed two much needed points and that line, along with Nick Foligno, was plus 2 on the night, and for the first time this season, Clouston had three lines that all looked capable of scoring.

Frankly, that's somewhat of a miracle.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Alexei Kovalev
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Brian Elliott

Honourable Mentions: Erik Karlsson, Chris Kelly, Peter Regin, Nick Foligno, Chris Campoli, Matt Carkner and newly minted 1000 game man Sergei Gonchar.

Since we haven't done so yet this season, here's the totals so far (games that I don't write about still get the 3 star treatment unless the game was a debacle and no points deserved to get awarded - which has happened three times so far this season)

Black Aces 3 Stars Season Scorecard

1st Star - 3 points
2nd Star - 2 points
3rd Star - 1 point

Alfredsson – 7
Leclaire – 5
Ruutu – 4
Elliott – 4
Fisher – 3
Michalek – 3
Kovalev - 3
Foligno – 2
Gonchar – 2
Karlsson - 1
Regin – 1
Spezza - 1


Call it bad luck: Number 55 Sergei Gonchar being associated with Sammy Hagar because of that song "Can't Drive 55" (which was inexplicably a big hit in '84). The Senators understandably used it as the track for his 1000th game tribute video before the opening faceoff, but will they begin to use it as his "goal song" too? We will probably find out soon enough.... Do you think Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" was erased from the music database at the Kanata rink? If not, maybe they should play it every time number 15 Zack Smith scores a goal this year. Just for old time's sake....

It seem like ages ago when the Coyotes used to go out onto the ice wearing this monstrosity of a jersey....... Dave Tippett has proven to be a very effective coach, especially in a rescue operation like the one in Phoenix, but the Coyotes used to be a bit more fun to watch when Wayne Gretzky was running the bench. Sure, they were terrible, but Tippett's teams are only slightly more watchable than a Ken Hitchcock led squad......Speaking of Hitchcock, could he be back in the NHL if John MacLean can't sort out the New Jersey mess before too long? Talk about an obvious fit.....

Hard to believe it's never happened before - someone mixing up Matt Carkner with Terry Carkner. At least I haven't heard it yet. Sens colour man Denis Potvin made the mix-up during tonight's game, but that's somewhat understandable. Just like Matt, Terry was a tough defenseman who was last seen playing for the Panthers at the end of an 858 NHL game career. Also like Matt, Terry was a local boy, born in Smiths Falls. Apparently, they are "third cousins"...... And finally, a Senators game against Ilya Bryzgalov gives us an excuse to resurrect this classic video of Bryz talking about Chris Pronger returning to Edmonton as a Duck after requesting a trade a few years ago. This never gets old...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sens Struggles Will Force GM's Hand

The Ottawa Senators are running out of excuses for yet another no-show performance against the Montreal Canadiens this weekend, and with each successive letdown, Bryan Murray is now getting closer to being forced into making some kind of move to help improve this struggling club.

If you want an excuse, you could chalk up the listless loss on Saturday to the fact that it was yet another back-to-back Friday-Saturday game, and that they were coming off an exuberant high after their captain Daniel Alfredsson recorded his 1000th point with a hat-trick against the Sabres on Friday. You could say they didn't have their legs. Not too many people are buying that one anymore after seeing this team come into the majority of their games looking like they weren't prepared in the first period. Heck, you could even try to pin some blame on the hometown fans who were once again made to look meek in their own barn as the Habs faithful took over the rink with ease and managed to boo the beleaguered home captain on national television for all the country to see. We can guarantee there has never been a case where the home team captain gets booed in his own rink whenever two separate teams come to town. Never. Yet here we are.

More and more, we are seeing that the Senators can only rely on one line, the Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu trio to provide energy every single game, while individual players scattered across the team, namely Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, have been very good for the most part, even if their various linemates aren't producing.

The entire defense core, thrown into chaos by the significant departures of Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton and the injury to Filip Kuba, is still struggling as a group with various individuals taking turns having good games before regressing the next. Fortunately, it looks as though Erik Karlsson is really starting to find his game after getting off to a horrendous start. With the call-up of David Hale, the pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips is going to get a chance to stay together and improve.

Yet it's getting late fairly early around here, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. With two very winnable games on the dock for this week: Phoenix and Florida, Murray may get a slight reprieve if the Senators are able to win two in a row for the first time this season.

But essentially, Murray has only 3 real options going forward to help this club.

One, he can stand pat and wait for the team to charge back to life. This is the easiest option considering the salary cap and the restraints it puts on Murray, but it is probably the least effective. What's clear is that the Senators just don't have a real goal-scorer. They have a few guys who may be able to get 25, but they don't have a sniper who can help them win games even when they are outplayed. Basically, if the Senators don't get a lot of shots on net, they don't score. Not doing anything to try and address this weakness will make sure the Senators are also-rans by December.

Two, Murray can make a big trade, or a couple of small ones. Not an easy task, obviously. But if you are looking for candidates to be moved, look no further than Nick Foligno. It's becoming clear that Foligno is not going to be a top six forward with any consistency and he's young enough that his name will more than likely come up in any trade talks. Foligno is a great character player, but what is he really providing for this team? Other Senators that could conceivably be moved if Murray did try and make a trade? Filip Kuba, Milan Michalek, Brian Lee, Chris Campoli and even Ruutu who is in the last year of his contract. It's hard to imagine Murray would trade a player with the upside of Peter Regin, despite his early struggles, because the Senators need more players with skill, youth and a cheap ticket, not less.

Three, Murray can make a coaching change. But that's not going to happen. Cory Clouston has done a great job since he came into a bad situation two seasons ago and the fact that Murray has went down that route twice already certainly precludes it. This is an option in name only, not in reality. Yet questions about the preparedness of this team are starting to creep up. Clouston needs to shore up that weakness before the whispers get louder.

So which option is it going to be? Stand pat, make a trade or make a coaching change?

Likely, even Bryan Murray doesn't know yet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sens Talk Trade, Fans Talk Kovie

The Senators had a very interesting day at the rink on Wednesday, as GM Bryan Murray openly told the press that he was talking trade, then called out trusted veteran Chris Phillips and the struggling Erik Karlsson, then sent Zack Smith down to Bingo, and watched Sergei Gonchar take a painful shot off the foot. Gonchar left the ice for close to fifteen minutes before returning, possibly saving the season in the process (okay, a little melodramatic). Then Cory Clouston threw in a well deserved bag skate for good measure.

Meanwhile the fanbase and the media were busy pointing fingers at all the usual suspects - namely Alex Kovalev, a tired bit that nevertheless gets the readers and listeners all fired up lynch mob style.

Folks, Kovalev is off to a terrible start, but he's not the lone reason the Senators are in trouble here. Neither is it a "lack of effort" on his part, or the team as a whole, as some also claim. I've never bought into that mumbo jumbo and neither should you. Guys who make it to the NHL don't have problems with work ethic. It's a dozen small factors that start accumulating and next thing you know you're at the bottom of the standings and your GM is trying to trade half the team to the Minnesota Wild.

And that was rather interesting. Murray straight up mentioned that he was talking trade with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, but logic probably tells us Murray is more interested in jacking up the emotions on his team rather than helping the Wild with their own numerous problems.

It's worth noting that Brian Lee was born and raised in Moorhead, Minnesota, but really, that's just the flimsiest of connections and you'd have to wonder what the Wild could possibly see in the young, but diminishing prospect. Yet it's conceivable the Senators, with the right package, could convince the Wild to part with one of their 4 defenseman who make 3 million or more, most interestingly Cam Barker who has yet to live up to his potential as an offensive defenseman other than one good year with Chicago. The Wild aren't using him as a 20 minute guy, giving that time instead to Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz. With an abundance of forwards, the Senators would certainly like to add a physical defenseman who can eat up minutes. Barker is not a bonecrusher by any means but he's fairly big and is a good overall defenseman.

To get a player like Barker or an equivalent, the Senators would have to move about 3 million of salary the other way, a tough task at any time.

Regardless, it's just speculation, but grounded in the fact that Murray didn't leave much to the imagination in his press scrum today.

What isn't speculation is that the demotion of Smith allows Murray to recall David Hale to ostensibly replace Lee on that last defense pairing. I figured this would happen in my last re-cap post, but I thought it could be Lee going the other way, not Smith. Yet it makes much more sense to send Smith and his two-way contract down instead of Lee, eliminating the risk of losing an asset to the waiver wire, even if it means Lee collects his paycheque sitting in the press box.

Still, it was a move that had to be made. Just like Kovalev, it's ridiculous to throw more blame than is needed on young Lee, but Hale is going to go in there and start throwing the body around a little and making opposing players think twice about going to the front of the net. When Lee and Erik Karlsson were guarding that area together, it became a bit of a bad joke. Sometimes, you just have to lay the lumber to someone's back and get in their face, something Lee and Karlsson are just not cut out to do. In Karlsson's case, at least he can provide offense and play on the power-play. Unfortunately for Lee, he wasn't going to get that chance anyways.

Long enough week, anyone?


More on Kovalev right from the Bryan Murray press scrum (thanks to 6th Sens for the text):

Q: Bryan, Alexei Kovalev is seemingly a lightning rod for criticism. How would you evaluate him thus far?

BM: Not very good. It looks like his skating isn't where it was last year. I think there are lingering effects from the surgery that he had. I'm hoping that's part of it. I'm hoping that as time goes on and he gets going, it's like Milan. I don't think Milan is quite where he will be. I don't think Alex is where he will be. We need him to be a good player for this hockey team. We need him to be a creative player. He doesn't have to be a star. He has to be creative and help the players that he's playing with, the power play, those areas to get better. He knows he is one of those people who everyone points at. I don't know whether that bothers him or not. I assume it would like it bothers anyone else.
If you look at the play of Kovalev in the context of a guy coming off major knee surgery, you start to see that perhaps there are better days ahead for the former star and maybe just a little more patience is needed from certain vocal fans who, you can just guess, are getting ready to try and embarrass the man by booing him when the Senators celebrate his inevitable 1000th point. I really hope for the reputation of the fans in this great city, that this type of ugly spectacle doesn't happen.

For further reading on Kovalev, here's a great article from Peter over at Silver Sevens, who has a lot of good points to make about the current frenzy over the struggling winger

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Black Aces Vintage - Alan Thicke Edition

Yes, this really happened.

Many of you have probably seen this already but it's worth showing again for those who might have missed this double masterpiece.

First up, Dionne and the Puck-Tones, which was a musical supergroup extravaganza consisting of the Kings famous Triple Crown Line of Charlie Simmer, future Kings GM Dave Taylor,  and of course, the short but multi-talented Marcel Dionne. And boy, can he dance. They called this hot number, "Forgive My Misconduct".

This came out as a 7-inch single in 1979 with the proceeds going towards the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

On the flip side was the even more popular "Hockey Sock Rock" with a bunch of Rangers, including current Blues Prez John Davidson (who actually plays a sax solo with a ketchup dispenser in the video), Dave Maloney (who's brother Don is now the Coyotes GM) and one of my favourite hockey players ever, Ron Duguay, who has a bit of a Peter Frampton vibe happening here. This Stones-esque group was called Phil Esposito and The Ranger Rockers.

All of this was brought to you by Alan Thicke, native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario (also home to Darren Puppa and many other NHL'ers like Hall of Famer Dick Duff). Thicke wrote and produced the two songs, and then went on to inflict the television saga known as Growing Pains on an unwary world.

Which, in a roundabout way, shows that no matter how tough a season the Senators are having so far, it will likely never get this bad.

But you never know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Senators Spiral Further Down The Drain In Steeltown

Is it too early to hit rock bottom?

Obviously not, as the Ottawa Senators skated onto the ice in Pittsburgh for game 6 of their season looking like a team who knew they were going to lose, and they went ahead and did so in an embarrassing fashion.

There's no need to pile on any more here as there will be a lot of ink spilled and hair torn out all week long while the Senators wait an eternity to play again on Friday against the Sabres.

Clearly, there is a major problem here but there isn't much GM Bryan Murray can do to solve it right now. He can try and make a big trade but not many other teams are in panic mode just yet and still feel they have a chance with their current rosters.

It wouldn't be surprising to see a quick move by Murray to send Brian Lee down to Binghamton, even if it means there's a chance he gets plucked on waivers by somebody (not likely), and bring up David Hale who should have been on the roster from day one. I would be shocked if this doesn't happen, as Cory Clouston wouldn't even put Lee on the ice for most of the game after a meltdown shift in the second period. Hale would at least provide a bit more muscle back there, something this team is dying without.

As for the forwards, maybe Zack Smith bounces someone else to reserve squad but that won't make much of a difference.

They look beaten and it's only been six games.

I will warn people not to get too carried away this week in the ongoing Alex Kovalev bashing sweepstakes. This is not a defense of his play (he's been brutal, but much better against the Penguins), but it's foolish to think that benching Kovalev is going to make all of this team's problems go away. You could sit him and it won't make a lick of difference. Endlessly ripping the guy is not going to give the Senators the natural goal scorer they lack, it won't give them the speed they lack and it won't give them the toughness on defense that they don't have.

It's not just Kovalev, a fading superstar coming off major knee surgery. This team is just not in the right mindset to win games.

For the second time this season, we'll take a pass on awarding the Senators 3 Stars tonight.

The good news? Robin Lehner has now played parts of two games and has not given up a single goal. It's a small consolation for Senators fans, but a nice story all the same.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Senators Limp Past 5 Game Mark

After another tough loss, this time to the Montreal Canadiens, the Senators find themselves at the first signpost of the season, the five game mark, and one undeniable feeling is quickly becoming clear. This Senators team is not nearly good enough to really compete for a top spot in the East.

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.

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.
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.

.......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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sens Win... Fisher Line Dominates...Media's Most Hated... and other notes

At times it felt like the Senators had to climb a mountain to beat the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, but thanks to Mike Fisher and a little lady luck, they ended their short but miserable losing streak, winning a close affair 3-2.

Even more interesting was the line switching that Cory Clouston pulled off once the Senators got off to another slow start. And he even took a big risk by breaking up his best line to do it. But it paid off big time.

Some were calling the Fisher-Winchester-Foligno trio the "fourth line" going into the game, but Clouston didn't take long to yank Winchester and insert Chris Neil on that wing, breaking up the best line the Senators have had so far this season (Winchester dropped down to play with Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu - and even they didn't miss a beat). The new Fisher line then went on to almost single-handedly win the game for the Senators.

Fisher just took over the game in the second period and Clouston kept throwing his line out on to the ice. The first goal Fisher scored was the kind of garbage goal (it flopped over the head of Cam Ward and looped into the net) that the Senators needed to get going.

With a little of the scoring burden off their shoulders, the "first line" of Spezza-Alfredsson-Michalek began to look better and Michalek finished off a highlight reel passing play spearheaded by Alfie. If it wasn't for the incredible play of Ward, the Senators would have racked five goals by the end of the night.

If Clouston keeps the lines the way they finished in this game, the Senators may have finally found the right combinations to roll four units. Going into tonight, the Spezza line looked terrible and Fisher was missing in action.

Even the second unit power-play scored, with Kovalev looking more at home on the right side half-boards. The first unit was still way too hesitant to shoot but you have to think they are going to get it right fairly soon.

The defensive pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips was rock solid except for a two minute stretch in the third where they got scored on twice. They looked very comfortable together and it would be a shame for Clouston to break them up. But that leaves the rest of the defense units looking shaky, with Erik Karlsson still struggling with his confidence.

And we haven't even mentioned the goaltending catastrophe that struck the Senators early in the game when Pascal Leclaire went down with an innocuous looking leg injury. The city as a whole must have groaned at the sight of Leclaire limping off the ice but Brian Elliott came in and did a good job for the most part.

It won't do any good to speculate on what's going to happen in nets going forward, but Leclaire just seems doomed here in Ottawa. There's no other way to put it.

Regardless, the Senators have a chance to go into Montreal and steal one on Saturday, as the Habs will be on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Sabres on the road on Friday.

It's not been pretty to watch, but this Senators season is lurching forward and getting more interesting every game.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Mike Fisher
2. Nick Foligno
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: Brian Elliott, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, Sergei Gonchar


Clouston needs to stop these game-day goalie announcements (not that he may even have a choice if Leclaire is really hurt). He’s needlessly freaking people out daily by making sure it's always the first thing sportswriters want to know. Nothing produces a media frenzy like a good mystery. Who’s gonna start tonight? Only Clouston has the answers and he’s lording it above everyone. It’s needless, as was his rip job on Leclaire after the Washington game. In Ottawa, it often helps to dampen speculation, not inflame it. It’s like riding a wild horse when having to deal with the local media and fanbase. You need to tame it to get anywhere. In a market like Carolina, you got a donkey that you sometimes need to prod to get some interest. Two different animals, two different approaches. Ripping players publicly might work in Carolina where the only pressure on the team comes from players and management but not in Ottawa where even infant babies know that Ottawa’s goaltending is a nightmare from which they cannot wake..…

It was quite fun listening to the outright disdain TSN colour-man Pierre McGuire had for Alexei Kovalev throughout tonight's game, something he shares in common with many NHL journalists. It got me wondering if there was another current player out there who has taken more abuse from journalists than Kovalev. There are, but not many. If I had to make a top 5 list of the most despised hockey players by the media, it would look something like this:

1. Sean Avery - I'm convinced a lot of media guys would actually like to fight him if they were allowed to. Even Eric Duhatschek.

2. Alex Kovalev - Russians already face an unfair bias (still)  in NHL circles but Kovalev gets called a slacker more often than Spicoli from Ridgemont High.

3. Olli Jokinen - Some TV guys blow into a howling rage just at the sight of his bald dome.

4. Patrick Kaleta - He's the new brat but already inspires a gagging reflex among most scribes.

5. Mikhail Grabovski - Okay, even I would swing at this guy. He's the new Petr Klima.

Here we go again department: Get ready to endure another season of obsessive focus on borderline hits and endless cries for an end to “senseless violence” in hockey. All. Season. Long.

Some people are aghast that Niklas Hjamlarsson only got two games for a “hit from behind” on Sabre Jason Pominville and have been in an apoplexy ever since, backing Sabre’s goalie Ryan Miller’s rant on the need for a “culture change” in the NHL. There definitely does need to be a culture change when it comes to deliberate blindside hits to the head (fait accompli thanks to a recent rule change), but why is everyone so up in arms over the Hjamlarsson hit?

He hit Pominville on the shoulder (okay, on the back of the shoulder) in an attempt to knock him off the puck (which was headed to Pominville but never got there). Those checks happen every game in hockey but because Pominville was poorly positioned away from the boards, his head hits the glass and the whole hockey world begins wringing its hands anew. If you watch the replay, Pominville even looks up and see’s Hjamlarsson coming from his side. Watch it again. Pominville made the mistake of thinking he wasn’t going to get hit. Evidently he forgot he was in a hockey game and not in the NBA. Hjamlarsson got a game misconduct. But I'm not convinced he needed to be suspended on a borderline hockey play. A game misconduct was punishment enough. It’s not like they pass those out like candy. It actually means something, even if they don’t lose salary because of it.

What James Wisniewski did was much worse and cheapened the league much more than an unintentional injury did. Maybe it’s time for the handwringers to just accept that hockey players are going to occasionally get hurt playing a game they are more than generously compensated and fully insured for and that there’s no sense getting so bent out of shape because there will likely be another incident tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.

The same sort of bleeding heart crisis occurred after Calgary Flames enforcer Raitis Ivanans was hurt in a fight last week. Bob McKenzie went on TSN and wondered why it needed to happen at all. As insignificant as that may seem, that McKenzie editorial really signaled the “new normal”, in that there is going to be a serious push to eliminate fighting in the years to come.

After all, once you start penalizing intentional hits to the head, there is no logic that would allow fighting to remain a part of the game for much longer. Once you start defining a clear line about hits to the head, you have to face the question of fighting in the NHL, because that’s what fighting is all about – deliberate hits to the head, blindside or not. I’m sure opponents of fighting are emboldened by recent NHL rule changes because it allows them to address the issue from the backdoor instead of calling for an immediate end to fighting, which usually falls on deaf ears. Once you establish a benchmark against hits to the head, logic dictates that fighting will be up next for a major re-evaluation and eventual ban. It’s inevitable. For some that will be a victory, and certainly the NHL will be a much safer place if that happens. But it won’t be the same NHL we’ve all known up till now.

People will call me a cave-man on this issue, and I was called that a few times last year when I opposed a distinct rule to deliberate hits to the head. The eventual rule change was something I could live with because it stressed the illegality of the “blindside, lateral” nature of the hits that no one likes to see, myself included. If that rule change eliminates the type of over-the-top hits that have endangered the careers of Marc Savard and others, then it has been a success. What I am worried about are the unintended consequences that the rule change could set in motion. It’s too soon to really see the impact but already people are up in arms over what has up to now been a normal hockey play. The Hjamlarsson hit wasn’t even an intentional hit to the head and already there is talk of the need for a “culture change”.

Next up on the agenda: using Nerf pucks. The “Culture Change” industry rolls on….

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black Aces Vintage - Oilers-Pens Brawl

This is some insane, high-quality fan-shot footage of a wild brawl between the Oilers and the Penguins, circa 80 or 81. Oilers coach Glen Sather (pictured above as a Penguin himself in the early 70's) goes berserk at one point and challenges the Penguin fans behind the Oilers bench. This is NFL Films quality, without the stirring music and reverent commentary. A nice find on You Tube.  Enjoy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sens Show Life In OT Loss

Slowly, the Senators are coming back to life.

Obviously, a much improved level of competition from Ottawa in a town, Washington, where they had some success last season. They managed to keep Alex Ovechkin to only 3 shots but one of them snuck through the pads of Pascal Leclaire in overtime, deflating a little the positive feeling that was building on that visitors bench. It was a tough one to watch Leclaire give up, because he was having another rock solid night, but Ovechkin has routinely beaten goaltenders in exactly the same way his whole career, just like Mark Messier and Joe Sakic did with their off-timed wrist shots (often shot off the wrong foot in mid stride).

Ovie made a last minute dip on Chris Phillips and released the puck along the ice a split second before you would naturally expect him to, and Leclaire was caught moving a little, throwing his timing off just enough to allow the puck to slip through. It's a devastating move that Ovechkin has mastered and Leclaire was just the latest victim. He shouldn't be thrown under the bus for it by the fans in the coming days.

Still, the Senators gained their first point of the season, and more importantly, looked like a team ready to compete and fight for pucks along the boards and in behind the net. The power-play is still in shambles but there was a few positive developments.

Erik Karlsson woke up a little tonight, but he still doesn't look exactly right. He was dropped to the third pairing with Brian Lee but he seemed more confident on the power-play at times. It would be a good bet that at the five game mark, Karlsson will be back in a groove and the threat of being shipped to Bingo will have been safely put to rest.

The newly created line of Peter Regin, Alex Kovalev and Ryan Shannon was dangerous most of the night, giving the Senators at least two lines that seem to be playing well. The "third" line of Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu was the team's best for the third game in a row and Ruutu's goal seemed to give the Senators a major boost that lasted the rest of the game.

Cory Clouston looks pretty smart by inserting Shannon into the lineup over Jesse Winchester and throwing him together with Kovalev and Regin, a line that worked at times last year. It gave Kovalev some jump and more importantly, it brought Regin back from the dead and he played a helluva game, logging five shots, tying for the team lead with Shannon.

The Senators desperately need the two day break here to get some practice in and get their moribund power-play into some kind of serviceable shape before they face the Hurricanes in their second home game.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jarkko Ruutu
2. Pascal Leclaire
3. Peter Regin

Honourable Mentions: Ryan Shannon, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Uni Perfection

If you missed it last night, check out Jonathan Quick sporting the L.A. Kings vintage uniform as well as the vintage style brown pads (apparently in tribute to Rogie Vachon). Amazing.

The Kings need to find a way to make those their regular jerseys, or at least their regular third, but this time with names on the back, as they went without nameplates just like in the old days. Quite frankly, these blow away the Kings current sweaters. It's not even close. Here's a few more pics. The 'Nucks vintage uni's were great as well (too bad the actual game was a bit of a drag).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Senators Look Lost Against Leafs

What a mess.

The Senators have now dropped 5 games in a row to the Leafs dating back to last season but the loss tonight was a new low in what is quickly becoming a tradition of playing terrible when featured on Hockey Night In Canada in front of a national audience.

We get to hear cliche opinions about the Senators reinforced by nodding analysts like Glen Healey who have seen this Senators style all too many times.

Like Jason Spezza giving the puck away behind his own net for a crucial first goal. Like Alex Kovalev floating around the ice barely touching the puck. Like the Senators being pushed around (until they decided to fight back in the third period).

One we haven't heard before is the Senators are too slow, but that seems to be the case so far this season. It's only been two games (on back to back nights no less), but the Senators look completely unprepared to compete.

That's the basics of it. They look slow, they look disorganized and they look dispirited. Pascal Leclaire gave them a chance in the first game against Buffalo but even he couldn't keep his woeful team in the game tonight.

What are the reasons?

You could point to a few likely suspects. A ridiculous pre-season schedule of 8 games which included a back-to-back on a Friday and Saturday night against the Rangers last weekend which forced the team to play mostly veterans two nights in a row, something that should never have to happen in the meaningless pre-season.

Then they were taken to a military boot camp for team bonding, but which, as Sun columnist Don Brennan pointed out, consisted mostly of brutal physical endurance tests for the sake of team bonding. Fine.  The players seemed to enjoy it, at least publicly.

Then Spezza pulls his groin shortly after and the lines get thrown out and reassembled. They go into their first game without much practice in the new combinations, and it's not much of a surprise that the best line was the only one they kept together - the third with Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu.

Watching the first two games, it simply looks like the team has no legs. They have zero jump and they can't execute special teams play.

The fact that they have to go right to Washington and do it again on Monday night may be a blessing or a curse. It doesn't give them much, if any practice time (with Sunday likely being a day off) but it at least offers them an opportunity to forget about the Toronto-HNIC debacle rather quickly.

There is no need for Senators fans to start inundating call-in shows with panicked phone calls demanding firings and benchings and trades. The team will get better. They have too many quality players and a smart coaching staff for that not to happen. But it really puts them in a bad situation against a Washington team that just went out and put up a 7 spot on the New Jersey Devils tonight. The Senators will be hard pressed to avoid going down 0-3 to start the season.

Obviously, we won't be going through the motions of offering you the Black Aces Senators Three Stars of the night.

Enjoy your Sunday and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Leclaire In Fine Form Despite Loss

A well deserved loss by the Senators tonight in the home opener, as they were unable to keep up with the fleet footed Sabres after the first period.

This game was most notable for two obvious reasons: one, a preview of life without Jason Spezza was a gloomy scenario, especially if he was ever out of the lineup for a significant period of time (or traded like he could have been this past summer). And two, Pascal Leclaire threw off a poor training camp just like he said he would, and played a near-incredible game.

It was a loss, but the play of Leclaire made it feel like something was salvaged, or at least promised in the near future.

The Senators still have to be concerned with their play in their own end. The Sabres completely controlled the home team down low and unfortunately highlighted what life is going to be like without Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton. Leclaire was the only reason the Sens had a shooter's chance in the waning minutes.

The good news is the Senators are right back at it in Toronto on Saturday night.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Jarkko Ruutu

Honourable mentions: Milan Michalek and Sergei Gonchar.

Notes: Eugene Melnyk let it be known in a radio interview today that the Senators were finally getting a much needed new scoreboard for next season, just in time for the first ever All-Star game in Canada's capital city. Clearly the fans and a few columnists (most notably the Sun's Don Brennan) put on enough pressure to accelerate the organization's plans to purchase a new one down the road. Just this summer, the Senator's were downplaying the need for the new item, saying that fans were more concerned with the quality of food concessions in the Kanata rink, but now it looks like they've changed their tune a bit. It shows the organization is willing to listen and try to give the fans the best experience possible. But that's always been the hallmark of Melnyk's tenure here (not that it wasn't that way with Rod Bryden, but finances were more of a challenge back then and the arena was still new). And it's not just the big stuff, like scoreboards. Fans cried out when they replace the beloved Sens theme at the start of games with canned mainstream rock, and the organization reversed the move partway through the season. They even changed the ugly socks brought in under the new Reebok uniform system and brought back the real stripes. The Senators may make some mistakes off the ice from time to time, but they aren't too stubborn to bow to the fans wishes.....

....I wonder how many Rogers subscribers were in disbelief when they went to watch the game in HD and found only a baseball game for the first 10 minutes or so? They were showing the game on standard definition on channel 27, but the HD feed was nowhere to be found. Not on Sportsnet Ontario and not on Sportsnet East (blacked out!!). There was even a shot of Bryan Murray in his box next to a widescreen TV that was showing the baseball game, undoubtedly tuned into what was supposed to be the Senators match. After a while, the game was switched onto the Ontario channel, but it makes you wonder.

Would this ever happen to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Of course not. Trying to watch an Ottawa Senators game on television in Ottawa is sometimes a 50/50 proposition. Good job Sportsnet. Who was asleep at the Sportsnet controls in downtown Toronto, Bill Watters?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Senators Can't Get Ahead of Goaltending Story

Cory Clouston didn't create the current "goaltending controversy" by any means. So far, he's been handed a couple of lemons but still managed to propel this team into the playoffs last season.

Clouston didn't go out and tell these guys to be maddeningly inconsistent. The goalies only have themselves to blame for the chaos they've created.


How much has Clouston really helped the situation by playing coy over who his starting goaltender will be in the season opener against the Sabres?

Coaches have long enjoyed pulling their little power trips over the media when it comes to naming starting goalies (and injuries and line combinations and just about everything else you can name), but it could be said that Ottawa's particular situation now calls for a firm, clear and rock-solid show of support for Pascal Leclaire, this team's purported number one goalie (for lack of a better term).

If Clouston had come out on Sunday morning and said "Leclaire is our guy going forward. I don't care that he had a rough pre-season. I believe in him, the management believes in him, his teammates believe in him", then at least a damper would have been put on the constant speculation concerning the goalies in the short term. It would have been a story, but not nearly as contentious as it's turned out to be since the end of camp.

In this age, coaches have to be aware of the P.R. side, as distasteful as that may be.

Clouston may think he is exerting control over the situation by playing cat and mouse with the media, but really he is letting the story spiral out of control. Just google Leclaire's name and go to the news section and read the headlines. It's a long list with nearly every reporter pestering Leclaire because Clouston won't spill the beans.

If someone were to say it's not a distraction, they would be lying.

It's entirely plausible that Clouston doesn't want to lock himself in by making a statement like that in case Leclaire truly s**ts the bed and he has to turn to Brian Elliott. But in this case, it's clearly a time for a coach to take on some of that pressure instead of loading it onto both Elliott and Leclaire who constantly get hounded with questions of when they expect to play.

If Leclaire were to bomb, Clouston would have some egg on his face, but sometimes a coach has to take on that responsibility. All signs this summer had pointed to Leclaire being the guy. They brought in Rick Walmsley, his former mentor and he was the last goalie in standing in the playoffs for the Senators after Elliott tanked under pressure. Clouston says the organization has a plan and they are sticking to it.With both Leclaire and Elliott having identical sub-par training camps, it seems strange to think the "official plan" could have been altered based on early performances in meaningless games.

Where's the confidence? Even if you have to fake it, sometimes a coach who goes to bat for a player can make all the difference.

While Leclaire has been weak so far in his career as a Senator, he still needs that one shot he was robbed of when injuries derailed his season last year.

That all being said, I would be shocked if Clouston went with Elliott in game one.  Meanwhile, the goalies are fed to the wolves for a week because he refuses to reveal "the plan".

It all seems so unnecessary.


While it likely won't make much of a difference in the big picture, the sudden turnabout in the Senators plans with David Hale came as a bit of a shock today.

Everybody assumed Hale had made the team, especially when he was scrimmaging with partner Matt Carkner while Brian Lee subbed in as a forward (usually not a positive sign if you're a defenseman).

Then he gets waived today, apparently with intentions to place him in Binghamton.

Why the reversal? Or was this the plan all along? It's understandable GM Bryan Murray doesn't want to pay Lee's one way contract only to have him sit in the press box, but if Hale was a better fit on that defensive pairing than Lee, it still surprises me Murray couldn't make the numbers work, especially such a small amount.

What remains is that this kid has gotten yet another chance, even though he was once again the eighth best defenseman in camp (including Kuba, who is obviously ahead of Lee even if he barely touched the ice).

How many lives does Lee have? He's bigger this year and that might help him. But let's say there's a bit of a stink to this transaction. Hopefully the reporters close to the team can get to the bottom of the story in the next couple of days.

I'd be interested to hear the explanation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Uni Talk

A very thorough and detailed rundown of all the NHL uniform changes this season can be found here at Paul Lukas' column on ESPN. Well worth the read if you're a uni-obsessive fan like myself.

The new Sabres third jersey is a winner (except for the "throwback" numbers on the back with the cross-stitching), and they did a great service to their fans by going back to the old logo for the main uniforms, but you have to wonder why they stuck with the dark navy blue on their regular sweaters instead of the classic royal blue. A missed opportunity, but the Sabres have never missed their chance to screw their uni's up in the past.

Maybe next year the light bulb will go off in the Senators office and they will realize the fans don't want a cartoon character as their logo, but a return to the classic logo and normal horizontal stripes on their jersey's.

But don't hold your breath.

Here's an NHL sweater I think is really underrated. Looks great on TV too.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goalie "Crisis" Rolls On

I was lucky enough to take in my first Senators game of the season tonight, and I was witness to a wild affair at the venerable Kanata rink between the home side and the New York Rangers. So wild that I limited my intake to two cold ones because I didn't want to leave my seat for a second. On the entertainment meter, the needle was buried in the red for most of the night.

Seeing a third and a fourth liner both get hat tricks in the same game was one thing, but watching the momentum shift from one team to another as each goalie gave up hope despairing goals was another.

I can't sit here and say everything is going to be all right with Pascal Leclaire. I have no idea if it will be. He was bloody awful tonight. But I stand by my assertion that Leclaire has to be in the Senators net nearly every night for the foreseeable future in order to finally stop this maddening goalie turmoil that just won't go away.

The guy is healthy. Let him play. Hold your nose when necessary and watch for the signs that he is getting better. Because if Cory Clouston panics now and puts Brian Elliott in to start the season, this is never going to go away.

Call me crazy, but I saw some good things from Leclaire tonight on my perch right behind him in the cheap seats for two periods. I thought he rebounded fairly well in the third period after the colossal fold job he pulled in the second.

For laughs, I put on the post-game show and awaited the flood of panicked callers. Yet they were reasonable compared to co-host Mike Eastwood who sounded like he was available to put Leclaire on a bus to nowhere himself if asked to. He will certainly have a lot of people who agree with him when he says Clouston can't possibly go to Leclaire for the home opener on Friday. Can't say I really blame the fans for worrying.

But you can't bury Leclaire because of a bad pre-season. The importance of these games will fade so quickly by puck-drop on Friday that folks will wonder how they got so carried away. It happens every year. The games get blown out of proportion because it's the first hockey a starved city has seen since early June. People lose their minds when they can't find the pre-season game on TV. Hockey pools are ravaged by panicked fantasy players dropping blue-chippers and picking up the latest walk-on tryout AHL'er who scored two power-play goals in some obscure neutral-site arena that's still named after a real person and not some mega-corporation.

Thankfully, the real games start now and everyone can walk away from the ledge. If the crappy goaltending continues for the first 5-10 games, then, yes, panic.


News that both Milan Michalek and Chris Neil had to leave the game for "precautionary reasons" doesn't sound so scary in print, but from my vantage point, Neil skated to the bench on one leg and had to be helped down the hallway by one person on either arm. It didn't look good. I didn't see what happened to Michalek but it may mean that Ryan Shannon may get a chance earlier than he thought. Shannon was great tonight, along with Nick Foligno and, of course, Chris Kelly and Zack Smith, the hat-trick brothers. David Hale also impressed and continued to play his quiet, responsible game in a pairing with Matt Carkner.

Soon after the game, news also hit that Jared Cowen had been sent back to Spokane in the WHL for the year (and can only be called up on an emergency basis). He had one outstanding game in the pre-season but seemed a tad behind the play in all the others. The only surprise is that GM Bryan Murray didn't give Cowen the chance to at least practice with the team for a while to get a little longer taste, but I don't think many pundits will be questioning this move at all.

The real tricky moves will be when Filip Kuba returns from injury near the end of October or later. That's when a decision might have to be made on the continually underwhelming Brian Lee who, it looks like, lost his job on the top-six again to another seasoned vet on a two-way contract - this time David Hale. Last season it was Matt Carkner.

Lee is clearly on his last legs in this organization. If he couldn't do it this year, when is he going to be able to do it?

He's only on this roster as a seventh defenseman because Cowen proved to be not ready and Kuba snapped his twig. Lee hasn't been terrible. He's just been Brian Lee.

By the way, the crowd was great tonight at the rink. It was far from capacity, but they were loud and more than made up for the rows of empty seats.  For all the convenience of watching games at home in HD, nothing still beats the experience and atmosphere of walking into that arena and seeing it in person.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Leclaire Needs To Play

Is it conceivable that goalie Pascal Leclaire could be shunted aside for Brian Elliott yet again, all because of a so-so training camp?
If Cory Clouston's quote is any indication, then, regrettably, yes.

“I’m going to reiterate: Whichever goaltender steps up, we’ll go with. They both, at times last year, did it, but not consistently enough to start at camp and say, ‘This guy is our go-to-guy’ right off the bat.
- Ottawa Sun

It's a bland, blanket statement because almost any coach would say the same thing. You can't bury Elliott because he's here to play some games as well and you want fierce competition between your goalies.

But privately, when Clouston is shooting the breeze with GM Bryan Murray, if he's really considering just handing the reins to whomever is playing better at any moment, or even the old classic "win and you're in" model so disastrously used by the team just a few seasons ago, then the Senators will be headed for another uneven nerve-shattering season where goaltending dominates the discussion.

Leclaire needs to play. A lot of games. He needs to be thrown right back into the net after a tough loss even if he looked like Martin Gerber out there. If Clouston is even having a dream about hockey, Leclaire needs to be in the nets. Leclaire needs to be told he's going to be given some time, some rope, and some patience to become the goalie most believe he can be. He needs a couple of months to sort out his game with his new/old goalie coach in Rick Walmsley.

Clouston is a stubborn guy, and seems to have an affinity for Brian Elliott, a player he had some success with in Binghamton. Fair enough. Elliott has been good at times, but mostly just serviceable. It's hard to believe he has the ability to reach the highs that a healthy and confident Leclaire can. Fans were given a hint in the late stages of the first round last season against the Penguins when Leclaire rose to the occasion and became the team's MVP for a short period of time.

Not that I'm advocating keeping Leclaire on the ice while the Titanic sinks. If Leclaire can't get it together after a certain period of time, then Elliott deserves the shot. If that fails, bring in the kid, Robin Lehner. That's the natural order of things.

But privately, away from the microphones, you have to hope that Clouston is still intent on giving Leclaire the chance to run with it for awhile in the early going.

Or else it's going to be "deja-vu all over again", as Yogi Berra once put it.