Saturday, October 15, 2011

Positive Signs From Rundblad in Loss To Caps... Plus Weekend Notes

Washington 2 Ottawa 1

Another tough loss for the already desperate Ottawa Senators, but if you want you can count that one as a "moral victory" because they played a near perfect road game but got beaten by a better goalie in Tomas Vokoun.

True, they came out sluggish again in the first frame and still looked somewhat shell-shocked from the Colorado disaster on Thursday night, but you could see some structure starting to come into their game. The fact they took the play to the Capitals in the last two periods by outskating and outshooting them seems to bode well. Even if the Senators are going to lose games, they should be fairly entertaining to watch if they skate like that the majority of the time.

Some positives for Ottawa? Right away the name David Rundblad comes to mind.

Thankfully Paul MacLean discarded the seven defenseman rotation he experimented with against Colorado (ironically that would have helped them tonight because Sergei Gonchar left after the 1st after getting hit with a hard shot). On Thursday, it seemed that Rundblad and Brian Lee took turns taking shifts with Chris Phillips and you have to wonder how a defenseman can get a rhythm going in that kind of scenario. Tonight, MacLean scratched Lee in favour of Rundblad and it paid off.

With the exception of one tough shift where he gave the puck away to Alex Ovechkin's line which hemmed the Senators into their zone, Rundblad played his best game with the Senators so far and sometimes made it look easy out there. There were two or three hard passes right onto the sticks of breaking out forwards through the neutral zone that just left me shaking my head. His panic level is basically a flatline and he can glide with the puck almost as fast as some can skate with their heads down.

So far it's just the little things you notice from Rundblad and he has yet to make that sort of defining play that lets you know he's ready to roll here for the rest of the season. But if MacLean keeps playing #7 regularly in the next few weeks, I have a feeling we'll see that sort of moment from the young defenseman.

As for the rest of the Senators, they can at least take the fact they should have won this game if not for great goaltending from Tomas Vokoun. That's not very inspiring for fans, but after the Colorado shellacking, it's a small step forward for this team.

Their veterans on defense played a lot better tonight, in particular Chris Phillips who has been the best of the veteran lot anyways. Erik Karlsson was the best player on the ice tonight for Ottawa with MacLean playing him a whopping 27-plus minutes, about 3 more than Phillips. Rundblad played just over 17 minutes picking up an assist and going +1 on the night.

Next up for Ottawa is Philly at home on Tuesday. Philly looks loaded and ready to go this season.  Jaromir Jagr still has that sneaky fast shot and great hands, Claude Giroux is sickening to watch and even Sean Couturier fits in well (from just the two games I've seen, mind you). They are going to be scary good if Ilya Bryzgalov lives up to the hype. The hope for Ottawa in this one might be just to survive and keep playing that fast puck chasing game, even if the results don't show up right away.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: David Rundblad, Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza and Chris Neil.


....CBC Colour commentator Greg Millen brought up a frightening alternate reality. If the 2004-2005 lockout hadn't taken place, there would have been a good chance that the rebuilding Capitals would have ended up with the first overall pick, something I had never thought about before until he mentioned it. Which also means Sidney Crosby would have been centering Alex Ovechkin for the past six years. But if you want to play that game, you can go all the way back to Wayne Gretzky, who was put on a plane by Indianapolis Racer's owner Nelson Skalbania in 1978 and didn't know if he was going to land in Edmonton or Winnipeg because negotiations for his trade were ongoing while he was in the air. The plane touched down in Edmonton and the rest is history.....

....Tough thing for a guy like Don Cherry to swallow some pride and apologize on Coach's Corner tonight. After he did so, he went right to the video of  Arron Asham's apology for the unfortunate hot-dogging against the Capitals. Wonder if Asham's sincere apology inspired Grapes to do the same thing? Or it may be the fact that everyone in the hockey world with an axe to grind against Grapes took their opportunity the past two weeks, some of them just as viciously as Cherry went after Stu Grimson et al. Hopefully that puts an end to that particular sideshow. Either way you take it, hockey is pretty much a huge bummer right now with everyone sniping at each other and at the game itself. Everybody wants to prove themselves right which means proving someone else wrong. And that kind of game usually gets ugly. Like I said in a tweet earlier today, "How did hockey become so much like politics in the past few years? Anger, cynicism, pushing agendas, slagging our great game. What a drag." I truly believe the NHL game is fantastic just as it is, despite the fact that nobody seems to be happy with it anymore. Over-the-line violent incidents are still very rare, as they always have been since at least the 70's. They will always happen in such a fast, physical game with everyone running on adrenalin. But now every incident seems to start a flame war and it's very easy to get sucked into it all and forget just how great this game is in the first place. There's no doubt in my mind that someone like Don Cherry goes overboard once in a while simply because his passion for the game is unsurpassed. A guy like that sees the game he's dedicated his entire life to, being picked apart on every newscast, on every radio show and in every newspaper. He came back swinging because that's what Don Cherry does. That's why people watch him. But that invited others to swing back and out came the pathetic "old man" insults and the usual "caveman" jibes. But I'm telling you, sometimes I'd rather stand by someone who's in the wrong occasionally but who clearly cares for the game rather than side with the smug and cynical folks whose only passion is to tell you how awful the NHL is. Because I know they're wrong every single time.....

...Good on Todd White, working the pre-game show on the Team 1200, for not taking the bait and burying Sean Avery, whom he was a teammate with for a short time in Manhattan. White said Avery was a friend to him and couldn't say a bad thing about the controversial winger, even after he was asked by Bruce Garrioch more than once. White also threw doubt on Garrioch's info that Avery operated on an island in that dressing room. It's always good to hear from real players who are in those dressing rooms instead of listening to speculation from people removed from the situation... Speaking of listening to the players, Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals let his thoughts be known on the current concussion protocol in the NHL, and although the media and the bloggers have already criticised and disregarded his "outburst", it's always worth listening to the players who actually put their necks on the line out there. Not sure if this is the view of more players than just Laich (we know that Sidney Crosby certainly doesn't feel this way, and for good reason), but this is what he said if you missed it:  "I really don't care about that awareness crap. To be honest, I'm sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and about the quiet room. This is what we love to do. Guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from someone? We accept that there's going to be dangers when we play this game. We know that every time we get dressed. I don't know, sometimes it just feels like we're being babysat a little too much. We're grown men and we should have a say in what we want to do." There are certain segments of the media who are very patronizing towards players, thinking they know more about the game than the people who actually play it. It's always refreshing to hear a player speak his mind, even if you don't agree with what he's saying...

....A lot of people seem to be upset with Nicky Filatov's demotion to Bingo. I was somewhat surprised as well, thinking he didn't get much of a chance. But maybe it's exactly what Filatov needs in order to get his confidence back, as backwards as that may seem at first. If he has some strong games down there (and he's off to a fast start with a multi-goal game on Friday), he'll get called up very quickly and by the end of the year this may all seem like a minor speed wobble on the way to a redemptive season. A few games in Bingo didn't hurt Erik Karlsson any either. It can only help Filatov and the kid seems to have accepted the decision in a mature way. The one thing going against Filatov in this town is that some of the media and a lot of the fanbase simply don't have much patience for skilled players, especially of the Russian variety. Don't shoot the messenger folks, because you know it's true. Ultimately, that says more about those people than it does about the player in question, but Filatov, rightly or wrongly, is going to have to work harder than anyone else to erase that stigma. He has a tough road ahead, but not an impossible one by any means.....

... Just wondering – is there a hockey fan who doesn’t read the Puck Daddy blog every single day? It’s become more than just essential reading to keep up with day-to-day hockey news. It has clearly replaced The Hockey News, once known as the Bible Of Hockey, as the premier source for info on the game. I still pick up a copy of The Hockey News every week from the newsstand and read it cover to cover, but their website seems stuck somewhere in 2004. Don’t get me wrong, the Hockey News employs some good writers, but I find they all have nearly identical views on the game with nary a dissenting voice in sight. The Hockey News has always been known as an entity strongly against fighting and other hockey violence well before the rancorous debate flared up this past summer and they have pushed that agenda with intelligent writing over the years by a lot of different people (Adam Proteau has a new book coming out on that very subject). I’m not saying they need to hire a ballbreaker like Don Cherry to start pouring gasoline on the fire but some more editorial balance might work for them. That is one thing Puck Daddy does well. They have hawks, doves, and every animal in between.  There’s a lighter tone on Puck Daddy that feels natural, but it doesn’t stop them from covering the more serious issues with integrity. The Hockey News does the serious stuff better than most, but when they try to do “quirky” bits, it feels somewhat forced, like your grandfather showing you the Three Stooges and saying “this is what real comedy is all about”. I get the feeling a lot of people don’t even read the print version of The Hockey News anymore and that’s a shame because it’s still a top notch magazine. But it is clear Puck Daddy is running away with the ball game right now….

....Count me in as someone who strongly favours a Detroit move into the Eastern Conference. In fact, they should go directly into the Northeast, pushing Buffalo where they belong, into the Atlantic with the rest of their New York State cousins (or you could push the Bruins into the Atlantic and try to catch some of that Boston/New York buzz that works so well in baseball).That would then push the Penguins into the Southeast where they can battle the Caps six times a year instead of four. The one rivalry that would be diminished would be the Pens/Flyers Pennsylvania feud, but is that really as good as the Pens- Caps rivalry that has been going on since the 90’s? Now that Alex Ovechkin and Sid Crosby are locked into their respective franchises for years and years to come, that rivalry can only get better. Time for the West to stand on their own without the Red Wings as an anchor tenant. There are also teams in the East who could use the extra gate revenue when the Wings come to town, Ottawa being one of them. The Wings have certainly paid their dues longer than the Predators or the Blue Jackets. Plus, who wouldn’t like to see more Original Six games, such as the old Wings/Leafs rivalry?  Boston vs. Detroit six times a year? Amazing. The latest rumblings are that the Wings are willing to stay in the West if their travel is strictly curtailed, but that seems like a mediocre solution at best. They’ll still get dinged with travel in the playoffs. Hopefully the NHL makes the sexier move and puts the Wings back where they belong – in their own time zone….

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to Cherry. It was a straight forward and clear apology. It struck the right tone. It wasn't one of those half apologies. He basically said that he made a mistake and he's sorry. It seemed sincere. Time to move on.

I have a different take as far as your point that "hockey is becoming like politics". I think this is the new world of fan engagement. The NHL should be thrilled that fans are so emotionally engaged that they follow the sport even outside game time.

Look at hockey coverage ten years ago compared to today. It's not even close. The coverage on TV is nuts. We get games galore. We get shows that analyse galore. Then you have all the social media stuff. All these are avenues for people to express themselves.

I agree with you in that the game is fantastic. But, I also think that the game will change little by little, forever. It'll change with the times, like everything else. If some changes make things worse, those changes will also change.

Everything is always suppose to get better. Players train better. Arenas get better. The TV productions get better. And, the game will hopefully get better.

With regards to the Brooks Laich comment, I think people weigh that comment against the words of players like Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau, who despite having lots of cash, seem to be in pretty rough shape and seem to be offering up their experiences for other peoples benefit.

I have to defend the city of Ottawa against your comment that we don't like skilled players. I like skilled players, and the people I grew up playing hockey with, appreciate skilled players. I like skill in all sports. Go Nikita!

As for putting Washington and Pitt in the same division for the Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry, why do you assume that both guys will always stay with their respective teams? Crosby is UFA at the end of next year. My early bet is that he lands with the bleu, blanc, et rouge.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with that, When
fans of the NBA, MLB or NFL talk about improving their game it is only about improving the game. When hockey fans/pundits talk about improving the game it always begins and ends with "this aspect of the game is crap, its an outrage, etc." It creates so much negative buzz. When ESPN or any other sports non-hockey outlet covers it, what will they do other than cover the negativity related to an issue. Since they dont really have a stake in hockey, they won't get into the nuts and bolts "improving the game" part. And i don't blame them.
Then there's the cliche dissenting hockey writers like steve simmons and damien cox who wouldn't praise hockey at gunpoint. Writers like
them hold prominent position and spew out negativity on a daily basis. No one in their right mind craps all over their own sport like that.

phil said...

you're totally right about filatov. it's undeniable that this city hates creative or skilled players. case in point: jason spezza.

i was at the home opener, and the 2nd most annoying thing the fans did behind booing gonchar was groaning loudly when spezza lost the puck. yeah, sometimes spezza loses the puck - how are they not used to that by now?

i was also at the colorado game sitting next to 3 d-bags who went on and on about how much they 'hate' spezza.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that works against that theory is that in 05-06 and 06-07, we had our most skilled teams in Sens history. Both those years the barn was full every night and the city was buzzing over the Sens.

In the late 90s/early 2000s, we had a good team that wasn't as skilled and Bryden had to keep reminding us that the team would move unless we started buying more tickets.

I think that every body likes different types of hockey and different types of players. Some like it tough, some like it skilled, some like a bit of everything. But, I think that 05-07 showed us that the "sweet spot" to fill the building is to have a highly entertaining, highly skilled team that wins.