Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Chris Neil And That Old Time Hockey, Eh
Ottawa 4 Minnesota 3 (SO)
Hell of a game. Hell of a night.
The Senators again displayed a gutsy come from behind effort that now seems to be some kind of DNA trait that wasn't there last season. Maybe coach Paul MacLean stamped it onto them by some of the hardest practices these players have ever seen, or maybe it's the young legs, but whatever it is, the Senators are suddenly more tenacious than Rudy Ruettiger.
But it wasn't easy yet again. This time the Senators were fighting a home rink that was in a peculiarly nasty mood, booing their own players, booing Dany Heatley, even booing the mayor (although that might have just been the OC Transpo riders - don't blame them). They dominated the Wild but the breaks were going against them and the mood got even blacker as Sergei Gonchar got singled out by the crowd on the power-play, making things worse for the team than they already were (more about the ugly reception the fans gave Gonchar and Filip Kuba later).
But the comeback was started by Chris Neil who looked like he was born just to play in this one game. It was incredible. Neil began by yapping with Heatley off a faceoff in the Wild zone near the start of the second period. Then he delivered a punishing hit to Clayton Stoner that would have topped Dion Phaneuf's stapling of Stephane Da Costa if it was only in the middle of the ice instead of behind the net. One of Neil's best hits in a long time:
He kept after Heatley all game, backchecking on a Wild rush so he could be shoulder to shoulder with Heatley and sent him to the ice amidst the roar of the entire rink. He took a handful of other runs at #15, cut the Minnesota lead to 3-2 with a huge goal that gave the Senators life, and finished +2 with 2 points and easily led the team with 8 recorded hits (they must have missed about five).
Something truly feels different about this spirited team, if only because they actually won a game in a shootout and didn't choke when faced with adversity. As TSN panned both benches before Milan Michalek took the first shot, the Wild looked nervous but the Senators were loose. Like some kind of miracle that these eyes have yet to see, all three Senators shooters scored, with Daniel Alfredsson capping it off and raising his arms in triumph as he glided along the boards.
Like I said, unbelievable game. If you saw it, you know exactly what I mean. It's way, way too early to call it a turning point, but that was a huge game for the Senators to win.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Chris Neil
2. Colin Greening
3. Nick Foligno
Honourable Mentions: Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips and Stephane Da Costa.
...David Rundblad looked solid in his first NHL game, playing a surprising 20:59. He'll likely get a chance to stay in the lineup ahead of Brian Lee because he did some good things offensively. Erik Karlsson played over 28 minutes and just kept getting stronger after a weak opening. Peter Regin played a strong game, skating well and going 10-7 in the faceoff dot. No chance he comes out of the lineup for either Bobby Butler or Nikita Filatov. His line with Nick Foligno and Chris Neil looks like a keeper....
...One thing we don't miss about Dany Heatley - the constant hoarking on the bench, especially those deep ones where it looks like he's about to hurl....Can't get over the fact Ottawa fans would take the time to lustily boo two of their own players - Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba - during player introductions. Real classy guys. You got 'em good. Yup. Embarrassed them to the max. Their families were likely watching. Hope you feel better about yourselves.....Good to hear Dean Brown ask coach Paul MacLean if any player "filled his role better than Chris Neil in the first two games". MacLean was quick with the praise, as expected. Neil doesn't get much credit for the role he plays but when he's doing his job well, and that's pretty much every game, he's one of the most effective in the league. He can fight. He can play. He's a leader. He sticks up for his teammates. He's entertaining. Can't ask for much more than that....
....Tons of awkwardness all around. Home team players getting booed mercilessly, Mayor Jim Watson gets booed, Heatley takes a spill during warmups and gets a big reaction from the fans, and then TSN shows a clip from practice of coach Paul MacLean going down hard to the ice on his back. Probably didn't help his mood much.....You have to wonder if Nikita Filatov's play in the first two games really warranted his scratching, or was it something else? Practice habits? I don't pretend to know but he seemed to be giving an honest effort in the games, even if he wasn't creating a lot of chances. We've all heard about MacLean screaming at Filatov and fellow healthy scratch Bobby Butler in practice the other day. Maybe there's something to that, maybe not. But I thought he played okay overall. Maybe that's the difference with MacLean. Okay isn't good enough anymore....
....As if the Sens don't get teased enough about their antiquated scoreboard, it begins to repeatedly malfunction at the start of the second period and TSN's Gord Miller has a laugh and says "Shades of the old Civic Centre". Isn't that just fitting with a dozen or so original Senators on hand....Some good news. No Nickelback goal song this year at the rink. The bad news: Nickelback is still writing songs. No one is safe yet....
...Great interview with former Sens GM and club founder Randy Sexton on the Team 1200 pre-game show where Sexton retold the old story about how Bruce Firestone, Cyril Leeder and himself were having a cold one in the locker room in 1988 after a beer league game when Firestone said they should try to bring an NHL team to Ottawa in any future expansion. Sexton said he and Leeder spit their beer out on the floor at the idea, which was somewhat similar to my reaction when I heard they had suceeded. I was too young to spit out any beer, but my jaw hit the floor and so did my father's. Haven't been able to shut it since.....It would be sort of interesting if Sexton some day made his way back into the Senators organization in a role similar to what he has in Pittsburgh right now as Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting. Stranger things have happened. Certainly, Sexton is a much more rounded hockey man than he was when given the thankless task of building the Senators post-Mel Bridgman..... Speaking of scouting, I've been reading Shane Malloy’s 2011 book “The Art Of Scouting”, and in it he says the consensus among most NHL general managers and directors of amateur scouting is you have to get two NHL players from every entry draft. Just two from seven rounds in total. Doesn’t seem like a lot but some teams have a hell of a time doing it. Malloy quotes Mike Futa, an L.A. Kings scout, as saying “It’s the only job where you can be right 15 percent of the time and be ruled a Hall of Famer (..) and if you hit on 2.5 home runs every draft, you are par with some of the best scouts ever.” If we quickly apply that gold standard to the Senators, we can see that they already have one player from the 2011 draft in the NHL – Mika Zibanejad, and some very likely prospects to do so as well such as Matt Puempel, Shane Prince and Stefan Noesen. Their 2010 draft, where they only chose four players is not looking as good but Mark Stone will probably play in the next two to four years. They also dealt their first-rounder to the Blues to grab David Rundblad who made his NHL debut tonight and looks to have a good career ahead of him. The 2009 draft has already seen Jared Cowen and Robin Lehner play some games. They’ve used three players from 2008, two of them regulars in Erik Karlsson and Zack Smith (Patrick Wiercioch being the other prospect on the bubble). In 2007, the last year of John Muckler’s reign as GM, the Senators again only had four picks and the only one to get any games is Jim O’Brien but he may not end up being an NHL regular at any point. Before 2007, every Senators draft produced at least two players who took part in at least one NHL game, either with Ottawa or with another team. Not all of them became regulars, but they made the show. That’s an impressive record….
…. I don’t know what it is about Brian Lee, but the fans in this city have fallen head over heels with the young defenseman and have nearly elevated him to martyr status. When fans first heard rumours that Lee would be a healthy scratch for the match against the Wild, the boards and the blogs lit up with indignation, as if they themselves were somehow the victims of a terrible injustice. Lee is a solid 6th or 7th defenseman on the periphery of being a regular. He may play better than Sergei Gonchar or Chris Phillips during any given game, but overall he can’t provide what those two can when at their best. It won’t be permanent. He’ll play plenty of games for the Senators this season and contribute where he can. If he keeps playing solid when he gets the chance, he'll force the coaching staff's hand. To get so upset about it strikes me as completely bizarre and unwarranted. Same thing happened with Martin Gerber and Jonathan Cheechoo. This town seems to love the underdog, which is admirable, but we’re beginning to lose perspective here….
….Wouldn’t it be something if Semyon Varlamov proved to be a better number one goalie this season than Tomas Vokoun? It’s entirely possible considering Vokoun is 35 and Varlamov is just 23. You can also imagine Varlamov giving Colorado that same surprise goaltending Craig Anderson did a few years ago and sneaking into the playoffs. Washington was so lauded for their off-season moves that you know at least one of them is not going to pan out as well as the pundits predicted. Not saying it’s going to be the Vokoun deal, but you never know. The hockey world has a weird way of evening things out after all the hype has died down….Speaking of the Avalanche (still a terrible name, though not as bad as the “Wild”), if Milan Hejduk had played his career in the East with those same numbers, he’d be a household name in hockey. Instead, he keeps on scoring goals year after year in near anonymity (11 seasons with 20 or more)….. Columbus just can’t afford to miss the playoffs again, not after being so aggressive in the summer. This team desperately needs something positive to happen to them. But they’re 0-3 to start the year. Uh oh…..