Sunday, October 30, 2011
"Bad" Sens Team Wins Their 6th In A Row.... Greening A Calder Contender...Game Notes
Coach Paul MacLean has been praising his veterans for leading the once beleaguered Ottawa Senators back to respectability, but they largely won their sixth game in a row tonight on the backs of the kids.
There was no Daniel Alfredsson, sitting out the game with a possible concussion sustained in a cheap shot by the Rangers Wojtek Wolski (which strangely went unpunished, but more on that later). Jason Spezza seemed a little off the mark for once and had his 6 game point streak snapped. Milan Michalek didn't have a point.
That's not a criticism, because you'll never have your top guys going every single night in an 82 game schedule. But that's when you need other players to step up, and in Ottawa's case, those other players are kids by necessity.
It's hard to imagine Colin Greening playing any better than he did tonight but, as most agree, he has only shown us a glimpse of what he's capable of. That's a frightening proposition. Think Milan Lucic with goal scorer's hands. Greening was all over the Leafs tonight, throwing his body, stealing pucks, grinding the boards into a fine white dust and scoring a game tying goal in the first period off a highlight feed from David Rundblad. If he hasn't been talked up as a rookie of the year candidate already, now is a good time to start. I wish I had the stones to predict that at the start of the season, but what the hell, I'll say it now. He might get a challenge from the guy who fed him that pass, because it looks like Rundblad is going to have a chance to put up some impressive numbers thanks to a league best power-play.
Rundblad just keeps impressing, running the play when he has the puck and even adding a few blocked shots to his arsenal. Robin Lehner made all the stops he should have for his first win of the season in an emergency call-up role for the injured Alex Auld.
Jared Cowen quietly had another great game, and he showed he has the timing to make a solo run into the offensive zone when the play requires it. That's one of the toughest things to learn as a young defenseman - when to go and when to stay. Guys like Karlsson and Rundblad have the switch permanently set to "Go" but that's because they have the wheels and skills to do it. Cowen, like Chris Phillips, has to pick his spots more carefully because he's playing a different role. You could see it when he ended up making a big hit behind the Leafs net and then getting back quickly when the play went the other way. You could see it when he stole a puck in the neutral zone and just plain outbattled a Leaf player at the red line and then carried it himself into the Leafs end.
And then you have Erik Karlsson, who is quickly becoming the best player on the hockey team if he isn't already. When he's on the ice, the play runs through him and he's the linchpin of their entire attack when they are at even strength. He's just as good on the power-play and now he's making defensive plays he seemingly wasn't capable of in his first few years in the league. His defensive game is so subtle that you don't notice it right away but lately he always has his body in the right position and he's stealing pucks in the corners with his smarts instead of his modest size.
Of course, vets like Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba and Chris Neil continued to be strong as they have all the way through the current winning streak.
Right now, no one knows how good this team can be, but it's clear they are better than what anybody gave them credit for in the summer.
Bad teams don't win 6 games in a row.
Like I said on my twitter feed, no need to plan a parade just yet, but it might be okay for this team to reassess their goals for the season. I'm sure the playoffs were the target from the beginning for everybody in the organization, but now that doesn't seem as laughable as that notion once was just a few short weeks ago.
Call us back in February.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Erik Karlsson
2. Colin Greening
3. Chris Neil
Honourable Mentions: Robin Lehner, Sergei Gonchar, Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, Kaspars Daugavins and Zack Smith.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard
Here's a first look at the results of all the Black Aces 3 Stars for the year so far. 3 points for 1st Star, 2 for 2nd. 1 for 3rd Star. You get the picture.
1. Spezza – 12
2. Michalek – 10
3. Karlsson – 9
4. Alfredsson – 7
5. Neil – 6
6. Greening - 5
7. Gonchar – 3
8. Anderson - 3
9. Da Costa - 2
10. Foligno – 2
Of course, the highlight reel plays David Rundblad is capable of, such as the pass from his own net to the other blueline that sent Colin Greening in alone to score, are the ones we'll all be talking about the next day, but it's the little plays that give you a hint of his all-around game. One thing Rundblad does so well is step up on the puck carrier at the blueline like he's about to go in for the big hit. He doesn't do it on every play but when he does, everything about his body language says he's about to throw his body instead of just trying to angle the puck carrier off to the boards. It's funny to see just how quickly the puck carrier bails on his play and gets forced into turning the puck over just to avoid the steamroller. I've seen him do it a bunch of times already and only once or twice has he actually delivered the hit. It's an effective tactic for sure, and when he does catch someone on that play, they're going to be hurting. We've all seen those highlight videos from Sweden of Rundblad exploding guys. Won't be long until we see a huge one in the NHL by #7.....Do you think Kaspars Daugavins is popular with his teammates? I haven't seen so many people as happy as when Daugavins snuck a rope shot through Jonas Gustavsson for his first career goal. I thought Erik Karlsson was going to kiss him for a moment there....Huge goalies are a problem for the NHL, but it's nice if you have one yourself. Robin Lehner is a mountain....Nice to hear Sergei Gonchar getting praised around the league instead of the usual chatter about him being a bust. But really, it makes sense that the possible Hall Of Famer is bouncing back after a tough year. Guys like that don't suddenly forget to play the game. Now Ottawa fans are getting a taste of how good he can really be. Should be a fun year on the power play Gonchar and the Swedes playing catch....
.....The Sens Heritage jersey still looks great but they have to do something about that "bib" at the back. Every team has one now but maybe because the last stripe is white, it looks pretty long on these sweaters. Maybe one day we'll see the old straight cut back....Wow. They played Fastway's song "Trick Or Treat" at the rink tonight, a completely obscure track from the equally obscure but wonderfully cornball 80's horror movie "Trick Or Treat" starring that guy who played Skippy on Family Ties. Do yourself a favour and track down this movie.......Have to say it's refreshing to listen to Zenon Konopka do an interview, especially when he comes right out and says he "hates" the Leafs. Seriously, that's fantastic. Despite all the bad blood between the two teams over the years, nobody has ever come out so directly like that. It's probably just a little show biz on Konopka's part but fans eat that kind of thing up. Makes the atmosphere around the games fun and gives us hacks something to write about....But then Konopka gets scratched for the game. Hey, we can't all be Mark Messier.....Again, we don't want to run this subject into the ground, but the only thing worse than the garbage call on Konopka during the Rangers game is the fact that some highlight shows are stating Konopka hit Artem Anisimov "from behind" or "on the numbers". Clearly, they don't know how to sit and watch a replay and make a basic observation on what happened. To a lot of people, a guy lying on the ice means that the hit was a suspendable hit, no matter what the facts are or what the video shows....Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks has seen his fill of diving and he really lets it loose while talking to the media after the Ducks game on Saturday.....
....I'm just as surprised as everybody else that there were no consequences for Wojtek Wolski over his elbow to Alfredsson's head on Saturday afternoon. Seemed cut and dried to me, and I'm not usually the type to be screaming about suspensions for every dangerous hit. Looks like he turned into Alfredsson on purpose and plowed his head with an elbow. Anyways, you can assume that next time the Rangers and Senators meet, Wolski will be a paid a visit by one of Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka, Matt Carkner, Zack Smith, or just about anybody you can name. Accountability on the ice is at an all-time low in the age of diving, but it still exists and there are a few guys on the Sens who are good at bringing down the judge's gavel.....Watching Rob Blake narrate the video for the Daniel Carcillo suspension left this viewer with one real conclusion: Let Brendan Shanahan do the videos. Blake can do the camera.....
....With news that Sean Avery has been put on re-entry waivers, it begs the question: Wouldn't it be ironic if Avery ends up saving John Tortorella's job? If Torts can swallow his obvious dislike of the nutjob winger, he's got a real important weapon he can throw onto the ice whenever his team needs a shot of adrenaline or old fashioned batshit craziness. You'd be surprised how often you need a little batshit craziness in professional hockey.....
.....The 2nd ever issue of "The Best Of Everything In Hockey", published by The Hockey News, just hit the shelves recently. Apparently, the Ottawa Senators are "The Worst At Everything".Even a quick look tells you just how far opinion of the Senators franchise has plunged over the past few years. There is barely a mention of the team or any of its players and they barely get any votes for any category you can dream of, including Best Public Relations, Best Arena Food, Best Celebration Zone, Best Broadcasting Tandem, Best Business Savvy, Best Jersey, Best Mascot, Best Intermission, Best Development Organization and many more. Zenon Konopka got some votes for Best Interview (from his time in Long Island and Tampa presumably), Sergei Gonchar tied for 6th Best Power Play Point Man and Matt Carkner and Konopka each got votes in the Best Fighter category (both tied for 4th). Chris Neil was voted the 9th best hitter and Gonchar was tied with 13 other players for 9th best skater. No votes for Daniel Alfredsson in the best leader category or for Eugene Melnyk in the best owner list. But the organization does get credit for helping to popularize Stompin' Tom Connors iconic "Hockey Song" in an article by Bruce Garrioch. I didn't realize the Senators were the first NHL team to play this regularly at games. The Leafs followed the Senators example shortly after and now it's probably played in every arena in every league known to man. So there's that..... In the same magazine, it sort of seems crazy at first that Ray Bourque didn't make the Boston Bruins All-Time First Team but when you have legends like Bobby Orr and Eddie Shore in the same group, what are they supposed to do? Dit Clapper is with Bourque on the second team, but if they do this magazine in another ten years, you might see Zdeno Chara on that second team with Bourque.....
....Have to love Robin Lehner's goalie pads. He has two solid red bars on the outer edges of each pad, which obviously are meant to look like goal posts. I guess the idea is to trick the eye of a shooter in that split second before he unleashes his shot. A shooter will always try to put one just inside the post, no? Pretty clever.