Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Senators Core Group Starting To Fade

Note: It's been quiet this week on Black Aces but I'll be posting regularly again very soon. First Christmas with a baby has been much more chaotic than even I could have imagined. For now, here's an article I wrote just before the Senators rang off a couple of wins. The pessimistic tone may seem a little out of place at the moment, but a couple of wins doesn't really change the overall outlook here.

Happy Holidays to all my readers and I'll be back soon with regular columns.

Sometimes it takes a while for it to really sink in, but soon enough, the signs are there for all to see.

When it’s over, it’s really over.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s what a core group of these Ottawa Senators who have grown up together in better times are starting to think right now. If they aren’t, then at least a lot of others are as they watch the 2010-2011 season slowly slip away for the Senators.

And that’s how it usually happens – slowly. Almost imperceptibly, a gradual weakening of the identity and team spirit through attrition and by letting important personalities leave, and soon enough three and a half seasons have gone by and the good times seem like ancient history for the Senators.

Yet it wasn’t always this way for a key group of Ottawa players who were once the darlings of this city.

For a full ten seasons, from 1997 to 2007, the Ottawa Senators were always on their way up, building towards a Stanley Cup that Daniel Alfredsson once famously said was not a matter of if, but when.

Starting from that foundation year in 1997, the Senators quickly turned into a powerhouse club, winning at first with defensive determination and character under Jacques Martin, and later, as a team that could score at will. It was a fine stretch of hockey, albeit with a few major playoff disappointments to the Toronto Maple Leafs .

Ten years of winning, exciting hockey. Not many teams outside of Detroit, New Jersey and Colorado could boast of similar consistency during most of that era.

And a lot of that consistency came from a small group of players the Senators drafted who became their heart and soul over the years, a tight-knit group of friends who were close on and off the ice. It maybe wasn’t the “Boys On The Bus” mystique of the 80’s Oilers, but there was a while there when Ottawa’s young and talented core was the envy of the league. They were the guys that were going to put it all together and win the Stanley Cup.

Daniel Alfredsson, Alexei Yashin, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Zdeno Chara, Ray Emery, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

They came and went, most notably the swapping of Heatley with Hossa, and that trade nearly put the Senators over the top with Heatley and Spezza starting the second wave of youngsters to compliment the established guys like Alfredsson and Redden.

But of that core group, only Marian Hossa has a Stanley Cup ring and three finals appearances to his name. And of course, he did it in another uniform, four teams removed from his Ottawa days.

And if the remaining group of Senators from that era want that same ring, and you know they desperately do, they might also have to leave the only organization they’ve ever known to do it.

For many, the time may be near.

Alfredsson, whose presence on the team naturally coincided with the rise of the organization, looks like a player who has run out of miracles. During the previous decade, he was sometimes able to will his team to wins when they didn’t have any gas left in the tank. He could drive to the net and protect the puck with those tree-trunk legs whenever he felt like it. He was the real captain, the “people’s choice”, even when Alexei Yashin wore the “C” on his sagging chest.

Now Alfredsson, while still a great player, doesn’t seem to be able to do it all on his own anymore. And no one is begrudging him that. On a team headed nowhere fast, he remains its best player. But will the constant losing make him rethink playing out the last years of his contract? Or even, dare we say it, accept a move to a contending team, something he has never completely ruled out when asked in the past?

As the season starts to tick away to oblivion, you can bet he is going to be asked those questions. And we may be surprised by the answer we eventually hear.

Then you have Chris Phillips, battling through a tough year, playing big minutes with different partners and doing it all without a contract for the next season. You can bet uncertain thoughts are running through his mind right now. For a player who has given everything to his team and to his community, he unfairly dangles in the wind most likely because General Manager Bryan Murray doesn’t even know if he’ll be back to manage the team next season. Like Phillips, Murray is waiting on a contract as well, one that might never materialize, depending on Eugene Melnyk’s frame of mind when the smoke has cleared after this season.

Phillips has already seen his best defensive partner of the past decade, Anton Volchenkov, leave town during free-agency and walk right into the disaster that is the New Jersey Devils, a team that is going through much of the same problems as the Senators after a fall from grace. Phillips may be looking at that situation and thinking the grass isn’t greener, but he may not even be offered a contract when it’s all said and done.

Mike Fisher has been in Ottawa almost as long as the others but he continues to struggle with injuries and inconsistent play. With a lot of good years still left in him, it would be inconceivable that he would be moved but if a shakeup of the core was deemed necessary, he’s the obvious candidate to offer up to the rest of the league once his full no movement clause expires after this season.

Jason Spezza is the tweener, just starting to round out his game as the franchise begins to decline. He’s too young and talented to consider moving but too old to be the basis for a complete rebuild. Spezza is also a player who needs a sniper on his wing to utilize his full talents but the Senators are incapable of providing that for him right now, and likely won’t be able to until they draft one. Don’t hold your breath.

For the most part, the remaining core players on this team have played well, even through the last three mediocre seasons, but they are also getting less and less support as the losses pile up. Moves made by Bryan Murray to bring in Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar have the feel of desperation about them, as if he is running out of fingers to plug holes in the dam that has started to leak like a sieve. Kovalev and Gonchar were important, key players on the teams they were plucked from, but the transplant didn’t take and the Senators are left with a bunch of spare parts that no longer seem to work together.

These moves, especially the Kovalev signing, don’t look good in hindsight, but it should also be remembered that Murray took over a team that already had its best years and he was presented with a host of problems that cropped up after losing the Stanley Cup final in 2007, this current team’s last gasp at greatness.

He inherited a lot of expiring contracts and a few swelled heads who quickly got bent out of shape when their roles were reduced by various coaches Murray brought in.

Murray will ultimately wear the failure of this team, but you could say they were headed this way anyways because of the difficulty of keeping teams intact during the salary cap era. Murray has, at least, shored up the farm club and because of him, there are a slew of good prospects in the pipeline and one or two skating with team right now.

And none more so than Erik Karlsson, the player who truly represents the future of this franchise.

Murray will likely be long gone by the time Karlsson realizes his full potential, but as the familiar names of Alfredsson, Phillips, Fisher and Spezza start to fade or are sent away, there is at least one player who carries that same sort of promise with him, in the way he skates, in the way he can change the pace of the game, in the way he competes when it means the most.

That promise of good times ahead may be carried by a skinny 20 year old, but at least someone is carrying the torch, as dark as the present may be.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Regin and Foligno's Lost Season

There are a lot of things going wrong for the Senators this season and blame can be placed in any number of areas, from a badly managed power-play, to the ultra-soft defense, to Pascal Leclaire's health to Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar's inconsistent play. Take your pick.

Yet when you get right down to it, the struggles of Peter Regin and Nick Foligno have cost this team more than any of those other obvious problems and here's why.

Like most teams, the Senators have a group of known commodities whose point production have either remained steady or regressed slightly. Guys like Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher. Core guys who are going to perform most of the time. But what really puts teams into a good position is when two or three young guys have career years and evolve into a consistent scoring threat, usually playing against other teams weaker defensive players or just in the shadow of stars on their own team. Every team needs at least one or two of these guys or they're dead in the water.

Unfortunately for Ottawa, the players expected to have career years - Regin and Foligno - have struggled and there's no one there to fill the gap as far as goal-scoring is concerned. Regin has fallen to the fourth line in recent weeks and has a single goal to call his own all season, and no points in December.

Going into this season, the Senators were expecting both Regin and Foligno to score somewhere between 15 and 20 goals apiece, and with the addition of Gonchar to the defense core, scoring was going to be a strength of this team, as opposed to last season where Fisher led the team with a measly 25 goals.

Nearing the half-way point of the season, it's clear that both Regin and Foligno have failed to exceed expectations and that's why this team is more than likely to be on the outside looking in come playoff time in April.

Foligno has improved lately and is finally showing some scoring punch, with 5 points in 10 games but he still only has 3 goals on the season after struggling last year with just 9 goals. This was supposed to be his comeback season but in the early going, he got away from his strengths, which were driving to the net and playing physical along the boards. It looks like playing regularly with Fisher and Alfredsson has rejuvenated his game but is it too little too late?

Regin and Foligno make significantly less money than a lot of other players on this team who are struggling but that doesn't let them off the hook. Matt Cullen was let go and Bryan Murray chose to boost his defense in unrestricted free agency rather than bring in another big name forward. That's because Regin and Foligno were expected to take the next step in their careers.

Their utter failure to even provide modest scoring totals has set this organization back a full year and put more pressure on older veterans like Alfredsson, Spezza and Kovalev to produce every night even though they always face the other teams best defensive players. It also doesn't help that Milan Michalek has struggled after coming off a major knee operation. That leaves Alfredsson as the lone winger on this team who is providing offense, and he's coming off one of the longest slumps of his career!

And people are shocked this team isn't going to make the playoffs?

There's room for Regin and Foligno to grow and be an important part of this team going forward, but this is already looking like a lost season for the pair.


Looks like Mike Brodeur was wearing the Garth Snow inspired upper body armour and shoulder pads on the bench tonight against Washington. His shoulders were as high as his ears and he would also have trouble walking through a doorway with those things on. Those can't be legal..... Will Erik Karlsson be an All-Star as soon as next season when the game will be held in Ottawa? I'd put some money on it. In my mind, he's already this teams best player outside of Alfie...... Ever wonder what coach Cory Clouston would look like with a beard? Wait no longer.....

Most unintentionally hilarious moment of the night: Late in the first, Brian Elliott made a desperate, exciting save off of Mike Knuble in front of the net, which had Sportsnet colour commentator Denis Potvin enthusing "if you're a fan of the Senators, you have to be excited with the way they're playing hockey right now". Immediately the cameras went to the fans near the glass and it looked like they were watching the English Patient, all of them seated, unsmiling, with one old man sort of clapping half-heartedly with a sneer on his face.......Had to laugh at the Thrashers publicity campaign, where they had their mascot "Thrash" arrested on camera after he led police on an O.J. style car chase and "held in prison" until Atlanta fans snapped up 5000 tickets to upcoming games. Not bad, but it will never match National Lampoon's magazine cover in 1973 shown below when it comes to public extortion.

And finally, in case you missed it, Dale Weise hand an eventful first NHL game with the Rangers, having a fight and a goal he kicked in called back after video review. But the moment we'll all remember was this:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Little Glory For Brian Lee

No time for a post tonight, but I promised earlier in the season, after writing him off, that I would be the first to congratulate Brian Lee if he ever had another good game in a Senators uniform.

So there you go.

Classy move by Cory Clouston to get Brian Lee on the ice in his home state and it paid off because number 5 played a confident, solid game in about 17 minutes of ice time.

If "Mr. Hockey" gets into the Colorado game because Matt Carkner is still hurt, .... hey, you never know. Clouston might have a tough time taking him out.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars - Ottawa 3 Minnesota 1

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Pascal Leclaire

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thrashers Dim Sens Playoff Hopes With OT Victory

Essentially, one runs out of things to say with a team like the Ottawa Senators.

They played a spirited and competitive game against the bigger and stronger Atlanta Thrashers on Monday night and still lost in overtime, gaining a point but losing one to an opponent they are trying to catch in the standings, which really muddles the picture right now.

If they had lost to the Atlanta Thrashers in regulation, a lot of fingers would be pointed and speculation would start about imminent moves. But it would have been more cut and dried. People would be writing them off for the rest of the season, and with good reason.

Yet it's clear that this team has not quit on coach Cory Clouston. They threw everything they had at Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec and managed to score three goals, in a comeback no less, a rare feat for this team.

But it's not going to be enough in the end. Getting a point may have just postponed changes for another day or two, which still leaves this team without a direction. Are they bad enough to start making changes in order to improve next season or are they good enough to try and make a run for that eighth spot?

Most would pick the former option, but how do you rebuild with so many big contracts? That alone may give us the answer right there. The Senators are likely not going to be able to make any major moves before the trade deadline so all they have left to do is scratch and claw their way through each week living on the edge of a knife.

So how will the fans react? Locals are not used to watching a hopeless cause, even as bad as the Senators were under Craig Hartsburg or at times last season. Scotiabank Place is the only rink in Canada that is regularly filled to less than capacity. That problem is likely to grow worse as fairweather fans throw in the towel by Christmas.

A change in direction might spark some interest but it's also hard to clean out a coaching staff or replace a GM mid-season. From a hockey operations standpoint, there are games to be played every second night, scouting discussions, trade discussions, you name it.

The Senators built their team in the summer and now they are likely going to have to live with it until July, come hell or high water.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Clouston Makes The Right Moves After Day Of Turmoil

Good on Cory Clouston.

On a day when the Alexei Kovalev controversy ballooned into a public snipefest, Clouston took the highroad and decided to end his nonsensical experiment with Kovalev on the fourth line and made some changes that helped the team to a desperately needed win over the equally struggling New Jersey Devils.

Finally, and we mean finally, Clouston put back together the best offensive duo he's had all year, and that's Kovalev with Jason Spezza, a pairing that should never have been split apart in the first place. Surprise, surprise, that line, along with Milan Michalek, has a great game, creates some chances and gets an important goal.

After weeks of trying to force lines that just weren't working, he put Daniel Alfredsson back with Mike Fisher and put Bobby Butler where he belongs - on the fourth line, and suddenly the team had cohesion in the offensive zone and plenty of chances to score.

As frustrated as Clouston is with Kovalev, it made no sense to drop his minutes where you basically ensure he's not in the game. Guys like Kovalev need to play with a skilled centre and they need big minutes. What gave Clouston a change of heart, we may never know, but he even had Kovalev on the ice in the final minute trying to protect a one goal lead. Successful teams give their most skilled players the most minutes and have them on the ice when the game is on the line.

This is the way this team needs to go forward. Even Kovalev's biggest critics must acknowledge that it's almost impossible to move him within the season. Might as well use him while you have him.

Clouston also switched up the defense pairings with positive results and the duo of Erik Karlsson and Chris Phillips looked impressive all night. The coach might be on to something here.

And lastly, it would be ideal to see Clouston stick with Pascal Leclaire for a stretch to see if he can get on a roll. Just like Kovalev, he's not going anywhere this season. He gets paid like a top player so give him the minutes and the responsibility to help pull this team back into some sort of respectable state. Clouston sometimes opts too quickly for guys who were either with him in the AHL or guys who were just recently there, and does so at the expense of solid NHL veterans (see Shean Donovan the last two seasons). You get the sense he wants Brian Elliott to be his guy but there have been some road bumps along the way. Which way will Clouston lean? I don't think anyone can tell us for sure.

Overall, a much needed win for a team that, while still close to the brink, may be able to get some positives going for them with the new lines and defense pairings.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars - Ottawa 3 New Jersey 2

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Chris Phillips
3. Chris Neil

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard

3 Points 1st Star
2 Points 2nd Star
1 Point 3rd Star

Elliott – 20
Leclaire – 18
Spezza – 13
Karlsson – 12
Kovalev – 12
Fisher – 12
Alfredsson – 9
Gonchar – 7
Michalek – 6
Foligno – 6
Regin – 5
Phillips - 5
Ruutu – 4
Kelly – 3
Campoli – 3
Shannon - 2
Neil - 1

Kovie's Presser

Most of you have heard Kovalev's comments already, but the best thing about this video is watching Don Brennan's face as Kovie starts getting into the juicy quotes. It's Christmas two weeks early. (video from Sens Extra)

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.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clouston's Stubbornness Costing Team... Plus Ticket Contest

Another loss, another game where the Senators can't score and the unanswered questions keep piling up.

The Senators needed to beat the Habs on Tuesday night, and they needed a couple of their top guys to get a few goals, not just for the standings, but for their coaching staff and for the psyche of the whole team. Neither happened and now after a weekend which inspired a little hope, the Senators are back where they started.

I feel I may be testing the patience of some of my readers by saying this yet again (for the second week in a row), but what is Cory Clouston doing? Why is he so stubbornly sticking to his Spezza-Alfie and Fisher-Kovalev combos when they can barely even get the puck to the scoring areas, let alone score goals? It's bewildering, really, as if Clouston can't tell shit from shinola all of a sudden.

This has been going on for weeks now and Clouston won't even take a chance late in a game when the team could desperately use a spark. He did at least take Bobby Butler off the top line but it was the power-play which scored the goal, so the change had no real effect.

When the Senators were playing their best this season, Spezza was with Kovalev and Fisher was with Alfie. Kovalev's chemistry with Fisher is so bad right now that the line is essentially a write-off, with Milan Michalek playing at half-speed and Mike Fisher somehow still unable to hit anyone. It's painful to watch and essentially the Senators best two lines are their 3rd and 4th units. That's the death knell for any team.

Seriously, what is Clouston doing?

As hard as the players have worked for him ever since the San Jose Sharks embarrassment, at some point Clouston has to be held responsible for his team's lack of scoring and the apparent fact that they are quickly falling out of the playoff race.

Stubbornness can be a good trait at times for an NHL head coach (at least in the Original Six era), but it can also be the quickest way to the firing line and Clouston is now clearly headed that way, as bizarre as that notion may have seemed at the beginning of this season.

When you don't have a contract beyond this season, you're what they call a "lame duck coach" and when you can't win games or even score goals, it soon becomes a no-brainer for an impatient GM (or an impatient owner).

Clouston went on the radio earlier this week and defended his system, saying his team was still getting scoring chances and that it was just a matter of bad luck. He may have a point, but that's still not going to save his job, or Greg Carvel's or Brad Lauer's.

Bryan Murray has to make some kind of move now. He either needs to make a big trade and land this team a goal scorer, or he has to make a move behind the bench and get down there and coach this team himself. Hiring a new guy outside of the organization in a panic move is not in the cards.

Even if everything goes right from now on, and somehow Filip Kuba remembers how to play the game called "ice hockey", and somebody other than Chris Neil throws what the experts call a "body-check", the Senators will still be a long-shot to make the playoffs because the top eight in the conference tend to lock themselves in by Christmas and it's almost impossible to make up those points down the stretch.

Yet, Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston will likely preach patience in the coming days, and the pundits will simply shift their "must-win" ultimatums to the next set of games, this Thursday and Friday against the Rangers and Devils. At some point, the gig will be up and a lot of money and effort wasted in hoping things will magically get better.

It's a tough situation for the players, because you can tell they are giving everything they have on the ice for the most part, but whether it's the system they have to play, or whether it's just all in their heads, the goals just aren't coming and the losing culture is quickly becoming the new norm in Ottawa.

And in a cruel twist, they've recently faced two opponents with familiar characters from better times. Their former 50 goal man in Dany Heatley, who asked to be traded because Clouston strangely reduced his role upon taking over the team, and tonight in Montreal against Jacques Martin, a coach who was able to take much less skilled Senators clubs and bring them to the playoffs with a system that every player bought into, even Alexandre Daigle.

Those days are long gone....


Folks, we've got another ticket contest here at Black Aces, and this one is for the New Jersey Devils game this Friday, December 10. This time we have one of the Metro Family 4 Packs which consists of 4 tix, 4 hot dogs and 4 drinks which start at $99 bucks, tax included. There are four more games this season where you can grab this deal (including the Flames on Jan. 14), but we are giving away one of these packs to one lucky winner who can email me the answer to this trivia question:

Name this former Senators GM who was also the Director of Player Personnel for the New Jersey Devils for close to a decade previous to his tenure in Ottawa.

The fourth person to email me at jeremymilks@hotmail.com with the correct answer wins a Metro Family 4 Pack of tickets. The winner will be notified by email no later than Wednesday night. Good luck.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sens Show A Little Life

So what happens next?

That must be the question Senators fans are asking themselves after their team came back with 3 of a possible 4 points over the weekend after the season lowpoint of losing to the Sharks and Dany Heatley on Thursday.

A shootout loss to the Sabres on Saturday and a big win against the Rangers on Sunday may have outright saved coach Cory Clouston's job in the short term. Not just because of the much needed points, but because in both games the Senators looked determined for close to 60 minutes, signs that the players haven't quit on their coach. Clouston is basically fighting for his job every game now because he doesn't have a contract for next season. The Senators would have to eat very little money if they decide to make a change and have GM Bryan Murray go behind the bench. But that still seems very unlikely, at least for now.

Yet the goals still aren't coming as easily as anyone would like and that's still a huge warning sign to anyone who thinks the slump is over. The offensive players are just as snakebit as before, and Clouston is still too stubborn to try a new combination, in particular breaking up Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Clouston finally relented and put back together the best line he's had since last year's playoffs, and that's the Kelly-Neil-Ruutu line and they were again the difference makers in New York, with Kelly continuing his steady season by notching a hat-trick. Keeping that line together would be a good start for Clouston.

On the other hand, the Senators sure do lack the entertainment factor this season. For the most part, the games have been a bit of a drag to watch, with very few goals, very few memorable moments, and almost no physical play whatsoever outside of Chris Neil doing his part every night.

It could be the system they play, although they still seem to forecheck aggressively most of the time, or it could be the lack of speed on the team. The players they have on the roster have been exciting to watch at other times in their careers so why not this season? Are the reins on too tight or have the older players gotten too slow to do what they used to do?

Hitting seems to be going extinct in the NHL ever since everyone got up in arms over a few rare checks that ended in serious injuries. Now they're throwing out the baby with the bathwater and the entertainment level of all the games has dropped accordingly. So it's not just the Senators but they could still use another big body on the blueline with some nastiness (like .... uh.... Andy Sutton) as well as someone who can actually score to play wing with Spezza.

Chances of Murray getting these components are pretty much nil on the trade market, at least not until February when it might be too late anyways.

Still, there is a lot more to be positive about after this weekend then there was after the Heatley game.

The Senators have two goalies who are both playing excellent hockey right now and it seems that no matter who Clouston throws out, the team is going to get a good game out of them.

A game against the Rangers last season was a turning point for the Senators and the streak they pulled off after that was what put them in the playoffs.

Maybe lightning strikes twice?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Changes On The Way...Clouston In Danger For First Time

It's open season now.

After losing their 7th game out of the last 9, and this time to Dany Heatley and the San Jose Sharks, it finally feels like the roof is caving in on the Senators season.

It's not hyperbole. No one's job is safe anymore.

And we're talking the GM, the coach, and of course, most, if not all of the players.

It seems almost unthinkable due to recent history, but the Senators may, just may, be starting to look at the coaching staff once again as an area to make a change.

It's still a longshot at best, and a last resort, but Cory Clouston and his staff don't seem to have any answers and a housecleaning is not completely out of the question if things continue to fall apart.

You can point to the complete lack of offense this season despite having some very high-end skilled players. You can point to Clouston's strange stubbornness lately about his lines, trying to force combos that just don't work and not making changes during the games when it's obvious that the team has stalled. Or you can simply point to the body language of the players who may be in such a dismal mental state that willingly or not, they aren't buying into the current system.

But of course, Bryan Murray is going to make a move amongst the players before firing yet another coach. Brian Lee cleared waivers the other day and now David Hale is back on the wire, which makes it look like Murray had some moves in mind even before the shutout loss to the Sharks.

If Murray is simply trying to save cap space, it doesn't explain why he put Lee on waivers and then didn't send him down to Bingo when he cleared. Lee is still counting against the cap as we speak.

So what is Murray up to here? Is this a precursor to some kind of trade?

Murray can't stand still after all these losses. He's got to do something before the heat from the owner begins to blow in his direction.

The Senators are still only a handful of games under .500 and are by no means out of the playoff picture. But the atmosphere around the team now is so gloomy and forlorn that some kind of change is desperately in order.

The interesting thing is that the Senators went out and played extremely hard for most of this game until ex-Ottawa 67 Logan Couture ripped their hearts out in the third period. Even Pascal Leclaire was strong and certainly not to blame for the loss.

It's very telling when a team is throwing everything they can onto the ice and nothing seems to happen for them. This is not just a matter of players holding their sticks too tight.

They can't score, the losses are piling up and someone has to be held accountable for that now.

Whether it's the players, the coach or the GM, someone is going to moved.

Who that is, I get a feeling we'll find out very soon.


A lot of well-deserved booing for Heatley in Kanata tonight, but the best stunt was when a group of fans marched to the glass and threw a bunch of old Heatley Sens jerseys on the ice. Novel approach. For the most part, the Sens fans were loud and they needed their moment to let Heatley know how they felt. Now that the night is over, people should really move on. Some of the things that have been said recently have been a little over the line, which makes you think that some people are taking their hockey way too seriously. Like scary seriously. Which brings us to......

.....Leave it to the Ottawa Sun to go completely over the top with their vitriol and sensationalistic s**t-slinging. Just read any hockey article from Thursday's edition. Vicious.  But we shouldn’t be surprised because that’s the way they cover politics and everything else they deem newsworthy. If you’re not with them in their myopic right-wing views, then you’re the enemy, and there’s nothing that is off-limits in their attempts to shock and awe their readers, including bringing up Dan Snyder in Tuesday's paper. I’m sure the Snyder family is really overjoyed that their son’s name is being exploited so someone can score cheap points over something as unimportant as a hockey game. Revolting...….

......Not too long ago I got an email asking me to help promote something called the “Heatley Hate-Fest”.  A hate fest?  Seriously?  Someone spent time out of their lives to organize this? Could not delete that email fast enough. But after reading about the fest, and the fact they went out and got a whole block of tickets, I realized it was all in good fun and fairly harmless. Not sure I would have went with that name though........ Interesting to hear TSN's Pierre McGuire ripping coach Cory Clouston for not keeping Sergei Gonchar on the right point on the power-play all year, something that the local media have pointed out but have not really layed out in such blunt terms. Bizarre decisions like that must be hurting Clouston's reputation around the league, if the constant losing hasn't already.......

.....When we got word late this summer that Pascal Leclaire was changing his goalie pads for this season, it seemed like a safe assumption that Leclaire would accept the common wisdom that white pads make you look bigger in the net. But Leclaire merely switched his black and red striped ones for black and red unstriped ones. Sure they look cool, especially to shooters who can see the net behind him more clearly..... If the Nordiques were to somehow come back to the NHL in the next 3-4 years, either through relocation or expansion, would it not seem fitting that Patrick Roy would be their first head coach and Vincent Lecavalier their veteran captain? Roy’s already coaching in Quebec City with the Remparts and Lecavalier now seems like the forgotten man in Tampa with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis getting the headlines. And even though Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has told everyone that Lecavalier is going nowhere, you'd have to think he'd jump at the chance to get out from under that contract before it expires in 2020 (!!)….

......Talking to a pal about Brian Lee and he suggested the kid should try and catch on in Russia for a while, and it’s not a half-bad idea. The Russian League would play into all his strengths. There’s no hitting and plenty of skating. Lee could really rebuild his career over there and then try to come back to the NHL with a little more life experience under his belt. If he can survive it, he’ll be a better player……A pretty good Christmas schedule for guys on the Sens with a family. They have the 20-22 off to do some Xmas shopping, a quick flight into Nashville on the 22nd to play on the following night and then they’re home for a week straight with only two games on the sked. Although that leaves plenty of time to strap on the feed bag and they may be waddling onto the ice in Columbus on New Years Eve. But Erik Karlsson could use the pounds anyways…