Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MacLean's System Paying Off ... Zbad Decision Looms... And Other Notes

Ottawa 3 Carolina 2 (SO)

If that's the kind of puck-possession, hard forechecking game that represents coach Paul MacLean's system executed at a high-level, then Senators fans are in for some wildly entertaining hockey this year, much like they watched tonight from their couches.

It wasn't easy, and they almost gave it away after a fluke goal off a weird bounce in front of the net and a weak penalty call against David Rundblad that gave the Canes some life. But MacLean was working this game like his career depended on it.

TSN started going to the bench more and more as the the third period went on because MacLean was pacing back and forth, barking instructions, and leaning to give one-on-one talks to stars like Jason Spezza and rookies barely hanging on to a roster spot like Mika Zibanejad. And he was playing them all in crucial parts of the game.

Notice how David Rundblad was sent right back out on the ice shortly after the Canes tied it up on the power-play off a holding penalty the young defenseman took (although he didn't realize it and sat on the bench for at least a full 60 seconds). Sure, it was a "soft" call, as TSN colour guy Mike Johnson termed it, but the coach had a lot of excuses not to play the rookie if he wanted them.

Yet Rundblad ended up playing a strong 17 minutes and Zibanejad clocked in at just under 15 with a couple of blocked shots to his credit and a safe 22 shifts.

Everyone was watching Zibanejad tonight and they pretty much saw what they've seen the past 8 games - a kid trying not to make a mistake, even if it's stopping him from creating offense. At least against Carolina he had a few plays where his feet were really moving through the zones and he was involved in a couple of good chances. He even won half of his faceoffs.

It's clear, to this writer at least, that Zibanejad should stay with Ottawa this season. Once he's here, watch him settle in and start playing a little looser. He's not going to get worn down. He's a kid and he's freaking huge. As long as the coaching staff protects him a little when needed, he'll have a good learning year in the NHL. Contracts are meant to be played, so worrying about burning a year off his entry deal shouldn't make or break his short-term future. They won't let a player like Zbad go anywhere when he's 25 or 26 anyways. Let him play. But ultimately GM Bryan Murray will make the right move. If he goes back to Sweden, he'll be playing in a good league. If he stays in Ottawa, he'll be that much better next season when they will really start to need his scoring and physical play. They can afford to carry a "student intern" for this season.

What else can you say about Jason Spezza? The guy is playing the best hockey of his life right now and he's doing it in the defensive zone as well. The line of Spezza, Milan Michalek and Colin Greening are proving to be too much to handle for the past few teams they've went up against and it should stay that way. Greening is like a bull out there and you can tell Michalek is gunning for 40 goals this year.

When a team has their best line going strong, all they need is the role players to do their thing, and guys like Chris Neil, Erik Condra and Zenon Konopka are all doing their specific jobs well right now.

After they both got booed during the home opener, Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba have shrugged it off while playing the way they're supposed to. Gonchar in particular is making the Senators power-play lethal, which is why he was brought to Ottawa in the first place.

You can tell this team is buying in when you see a little guy like Stephane Da Costa hustling on the fourth line and taking a big hit behind his own net to make a play in the third period. Nobody is backing off.

It must be good to see for Ottawa fans. Next up, Florida.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Colin Greening

Honourable Mentions: Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, Chris Phillips, Erik Condra and Zenon Konopka (for the huge snipe)


TSN was raving over Jeff Skinner getting a scoring chance in the first period on a scrambly play, but they missed that Colin Greening was the real star of the clip, outmuscling Skinner and throwing him aside like a bag of garbage (which is sort of what those black Canes uni's look like, complete with the red pull ties).... It would have been interesting if the Canes had signed Jarkko Ruutu this summer to play with his brother Tuomo.....The linesmen in the NHL this year are getting out of control with how many guys they throw out of faceoffs. One of them threw Mika Zibanejad out in the second period and then got lippy with the rookie while pointing and waving his arms. Ridiculous. Just go back to doing what you do best, breaking up fights, getting in the way of pucks trying to clear the zone and blowing offside calls (I kid, I kid)..…You know, if you follow the right people on Twitter, you don't even have to watch the games anymore. Second by second play-by-play. "Spezza takes a shot. Misses net.", "Foligno moves his left leg, then his right."....

.....Geez, Zack Smith might as well just have the equipment guys cut the arms off his jersey so he doesn't waste so much time rolling them up to his elbows....Terry Murray, what are you thinking? How can you not let Jonathan Quick start and try to get his fourth shutout in a row, especially since the Kings have had a couple days rest in between games? Even if they win, it's still lame.....Now people are screaming about visors. I get it. Fine. But all these players have a choice to wear one or not. There is no more of that old "macho culture" that says they can't. If the NHLPA isn't concerned, then I'm not too worried about it either. I think all players should wear one, but I'm not out there on the ice playing for millions of dollars. They can do what they want. I'd sure as hell wear one. In fact, I'd probably opt for the cage and safety goggles (ala Al Arbour). To me, oversized goalie equipment is still a more important issue. Nobody wants to talk about that anymore, yet it adversely affects every single game that's played in the league. But you don't need me telling you what's wrong with the game. There are thousands out there who can do it more angrily than I can....

.... You know how you can tell TSN's Mike Johnson still has that hockey player mentality? After he interviewed both Brandon Sutter and Nick Foligno during breaks in play, he gave each of them a big pat on the arm when it was over. You don't see reporters doing that, but you sure as hell see players doing it every game. Johnson had a pretty good career, but he could have used a few more scars on the face. He's a little too pretty compared to guys like Ray Ferraro and Mike Peca, his ex-player peers currently getting paycheques from Bell media....Interesting to hear Coach MacLean say that Erik Condra has a chance to be "an elite penalty-killer" in the NHL. No kidding. Great hockey sense, great hustle, good wheels and a beauty number. As in #22, worn by a previous elite penalty-killer in Chris Kelly, now a Stanley Cup champ with the Bruins. Shaun Van Allen wasn't too bad either when he was sporting #22 in Ottawa....

.... Do you ever get the feeling that the “hockey blogosphere”, the message boards, the legions of angry people who comment on articles, or basically the entire internet is just a bunch of people working out their insecurities by trying to sound smarter than everyone else? There’s so much sniping, so much pouncing on other people’s opinions, so much downright nastiness that it makes you feel ashamed to even be a part of it sometimes. Why does everyone act like such assholes? When I read an article by someone like Don Brennan, or Bruce Garrioch or Ken Warren, I think “That was a decent read, there were a few good bits there” and then I look at the comments and people say the craziest, meanest, vilest things you could ever imagine. And you’re sitting there thinking “What are they talking about? How did they get this angry after reading the exact same words that I just read?” It wouldn’t matter what some writers say in any given article because there will always be ten people leaving comments like “You’re a fucking idiot, you suck, you don’t know shit, get a life etc.” I don’t get it. I go to the HF Boards once in a blue moon to get a feel for what people are talking about and I feel like I need to take a shower afterwards. People are just straight up mean when they are anonymous, and when they’re not anonymous, they’re usually just sarcastic and dismissive of everyone and everything.  Don’t get me wrong, there are great bloggers, writers, tweeters, commenters (like some who say intelligent things on this site) out there. But they are greatly outnumbered by uninspired hacks just looking to make a name for themselves by flaming other people. It’s brutal out there. Watch yourself….

.....Have to admit it was great to see Jaromir Jagr break out his trademark salute after scoring his first goal of the season against the Leafs. The guy was considered a hot dog back in the day for doing it (and he had the opportunity to do it quite a bit), but it seems rather innocuous now, with Alex Ovechkin doing the “hot stick” routine and Arron Asham doing the “go to sleep” bit after a scrap. It’s so good for hockey that he’s back in the league….But no one will ever top Teemu Selanne’s “rifle blast” towards his airborne glove after passing Mike Bossy for the goal scoring rookie record back in 1992-93 when he potted his 54th of the season (he ended up with 76 - insane). Almost as good, but a lot less celebrated, was Nick Foligno’s reaction after his first career goal when he did the “Foligno leap” in tribute to his father Mike. The Dave “Tiger” Williams “riding the stick” is another classic. As is Bobby Orr’s famously modest reaction after he once skated through the entire Atlanta Flames team to score an easy wraparound goal. As Don Cherry loves to point out, Orr actually put his head down and didn’t celebrate because he didn’t want to embarrass the other team. Who doesn’t love that kind of stuff?


Anonymous said...

I like Paul MacLean and the job that he's doing, but I think it bears mentioning that the puck-possession game that's really entertaining was our identity back from 2005-07, before Murray hired Hartsburg to turn our team into a bunch of dump and chasers.

We've spun our wheels since then. Good to see that we're back on track.

Lots of differing views on Zibanejad. Obviously, no definitive right or wrong answer. But, I hope that they give him another year in the SEL.

If he was making a difference right now on a nightly basis, then I'd say keep him. But because he's not, I see it as wasting a contract year.

To me, the contract year issue is very important. I think part of the reason that we had such strong teams from 2005-07 is that we had some key guys at low cap hits. Fisher's hit was $1.5M, Mez was around a $1M, and even Spezza's was around a $1.1M in 05-06.

Look at Philly. They drafted Giroux in 2006. They sent him back to junior for two more years even though he was one of the best players at camp. Today, they have one of the best players in the league at 23 years old, entering the first year of a 3-year deal at $3.75M cap. Great bargain for a superstar.

Just watch them get another bargain with Brayden Schenn who's just starting his NHL career even though he was a 2009 5th overall pick. In three years, he'll be a star at reasonable money.

But even more importantly, there's a ton of guys who have taken extra time before coming over from across the pond. Alfie, Sundin, Forsberg, Selanne, Yashin ... I just don't buy the argument that he needs to be here to develop.

Despite what I just wrote, I'm not that worked up over the Zbad issue. What's really got me going is the uni issue that you've wrote so much about lately.

The game was great today, but aesthetically it looked awful. In our new HD world, both teams were "under dressed". It just didn't look good. They both had awful unis.

Philly has it right. Those orange unis pop in HD. They look awesome. It makes watching the game visually pleasing.

The NHL needs an on-ice dress code. When a game is broadcast in HD, wear unis that pop on-screen. Dress well, like at a dinner party.

If the game is broadcast in standard def, they can wear whatever they want.

I agree with your Jagr comments. He's always been fun to watch. Great player.

Anshu said...

I agree that last night the Sens looked very good playing Maclean's system. I thought the flow of the game was really lopsided in Ottawa's favour, even though the final score didn't reflect that.

The flub on the icing and the weak penalty on Rundblad were unfortunate, but so was the missed double minor for the high stick on Neil that left him bleeding. That could have really cemented Ottawa's hold on the game and put it out of reach.

Also love seeing the team win shootouts. Couldn't believe Spezza was able to squeeze that one by a goalie as good as Ward...