Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zack Smith Gaining Cred... And Sens Second Line Emerges In Tough Win Over Jets

Ottawa 6 Winnipeg 4

Senators fans who tuned in to the Jets game Tuesday night were witness to one of the more exciting games of the season, and that's saying something because Ottawa has been in a handful of barnburners in the first quarter.

Going into Winnipeg for the first time since the 95-96 season, the Senators were challenged physically by the Jets all night long, in particular Erik Karlsson who was obviously targeted in the game plan by coach Claude Noel. Karlsson took a lot of tough, borderline hits including a hard fall against the boards that must have had the Senators coaching staff on tenterhooks while #65 crawled to his feet, thankfully just winded. Despite getting the rough treatment, Karlsson was again the Sens best defenseman, but he wasn't alone in having a standout game.

Sportsnet colour commentator Denis Potvin was right on the money when he spontaneously exclaimed that Zack Smith was "coming out of his shell" before our very eyes right after Smith scored his second goal of the night, which turned out to be the game winner.

Smith has been getting better all season long but in the last stretch of games dating back to that long Western road trip, you can just see him quickly growing into a fierce power forward with the kind of clutch ability that you can't teach. It just seems to be part of a player's personality or it isn't. Smith is starting to look like that big game guy that Ottawa management projected very early on when he wasn't even on the radar of most fans.

Take that move Smith made against Tanner Glass, coming from behind and lifting his stick, stealing the puck and drawing a penalty. Or the scrum around the Jets net when it was clear to everyone that Ondrej Pavelec had the puck covered and the whistle should have been blown, but Smith and Erik Condra simply outbattled the Jets down low and Smith was able to toss it into the net to tie the game. Again, clutch.

It looks like Smith can play the game any way he wants to. He can drop the gloves, he goes to the net without any fear at all, he's already one of the team's best penalty killers and he's got a set of hands.

Smith wasn't the only revelation for the Senators tonight in an important road win. So was the second line now being centred by Nick Foligno. Whether it's the added responsibility of being the man down low and the main puck carrier on the attack, or whether it's just freshness of the new role, Foligno looks like a perfect fit right now on that once stagnant second line with a rejuvenated looking Daniel Alfredsson and the consistent Milan Michalek.

The one worry about the new lines may have been separating Michalek from Jason Spezza but both players haven't missed a beat being apart and now there seems to be a balance up front that wasn't there when Stephane Da Costa was regressing and Alfredsson looked like a man on an island. The captain noticeably has more jump and is getting the puck on his stick so he can make plays.

Meanwhile, the top line were still creating chances even though Spezza keeps losing wingers. Tonight it was Nikita Filatov (who just can't catch a break) getting a skate boot in the face and breaking his nose, forcing him to leave the game early (he only played 5 shifts in total). That opened the door for Bobby Butler to once again skate with Spezza, the centre that he had so much success with last season.

It will be interesting to see if Butler gets another shot with Spezza against Dallas on Thursday. Right now we don't know if Filatov is able to go (a broken nose shouldn't keep any hockey player from playing unless there's deeper damage) but if he isn't, there's a good chance Butler stays for another game. Like we've said many times on this blog, Butler is still a great prospect and he has that much in-demand value of being a natural goal scorer. Sure, he's struggling more than anyone could have imagined, but if he gets a little confidence going and Spezza keeps putting the puck on his stick like last year, Butler has the ability to bury it. He should have had at least one tonight but he whiffed on a puck going across the crease during a scrambly play.

Right now, Ottawa has three lines that can change the momentum of a game and a fourth line with Zenon Konopka in the middle that can surprise other teams once in a while.

If Foligno can keep playing this way, the only pressing question is that Filatov/Butler slot, or whomever Paul MacLean picks to win the lottery.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Zack Smith
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza, Nick Foligno, Erik Condra, Daniel Alfredsson and Colin Greening.


Strange. Bobby Butler gently puts his stick on a Jet and gets called for a weak hooking penalty. The moment he gets out of the box after the Sens kill it off, he quickly does the exact same thing but doesn't get called for it. I don't know who's dumber - Butler or the refs......It's the curse of Andreas Dackell. Winger Chris Neil, with 179 career points, was just one behind Dackell on the Senators all-time points list when he was hobbled with a bum ankle. Or is it just unlucky #13? That's the rank of Dackell and once Neil takes it over, he might be stuck on the jinxed number for a while as #12 on the list, Magnus Arvedsson, is 30 points ahead with 210 in his Senators career.... Speaking of unlucky, when I think of Dackell and Arvedsson, I can't help but think of two brutal injuries they sustained as Senators. Dackell got absolutely crushed by the Flyers Eric Lindros against the boards in October 1998, making a gruesome mockery of what was once a "human" face. Go to this old Black Aces article for a picture of the aftermath. As you might recall, Arvedsson had his abdomen punctured when he went into an open bench door, also against the Flyers. He spent the night in the hospital and doctors thought there were no internal injuries until further testing revealed he had torn open his intestine, requiring major surgery. Geez Louise.....Great pre-game segment by Sportsnet's Ian Mendes about Paul MacLean's 82-83 O Pee Chee rookie card having a picture of teammate Larry Hopkins instead of MacLean. Mendes took a pic of the error card to current Sens players to see if they could spot the mistake but it seems only Matt Carkner picked it out, saying the "rookie" looked about 45 years old.....

......Strange rumblings out of Anaheim that Bobby Ryan might be on the market. Seeing that this was reported by a mainstream source (Nick Kypreos), there may be something to it, but I can’t see any realistic scenario where Anaheim benefits by doing that. I still can’t understand why they traded Chris Pronger, let alone them contemplating moving another one of their foundation pieces. If your club is having an off year, it doesn’t mean you make panic moves and deal one of the best young players in the NHL. Maybe it’s a bunk rumour anyways….TSN analyst Aaron Ward absolutely tore into Anaheim bench boss Randy Carlyle on That's Hockey on Tuesday night. He said his time with the Ducks under Carlyle was the worst month and a half of his career, said that Carlyle "sucked the life out of the game", and finished by openly calling for his firing both on TSN and on Twitter. It's a bit of a flamethrower job, but that's why they have Ward on TSN. It makes for boring television when people sit on the fence and try not to piss anybody off. Thankfully, Ward doesn't have that problem.... And neither does Mike Milbury who is really coming into his own as a television personality. There's nothing more entertaining than when Milbury's face creases with disdain and rage at someone whining over a hard hit or babbling on too long. Anytime he says boo, people flame him on Twitter but to me that's a sign he's doing his job. He's got strong opinions on the game he grew up playing and he's not afraid to lift the middle finger to the new school mentality of fans and journalists who think hockey should be no more offensive than your average public service commercial telling you to "play safe".....The Lightning Strikes blog points out that Tampa coach Guy Boucher is now the longest tenured bench boss in the Southeast Division with the firings of Bruce Boudreau in Washington and Paul Maurice in Carolina. He is also the only coach in the Southeast who has yet to be photographed smiling…..How long before we see both Boudreau and Maurice on TSN or Sportsnet? And how long before Boudreau drops an F-bomb on live television? The guy is what us old timers from Almonte used to call “a classic”…. Woah. One of those speedbag scraps tonight between the Sabres Zach Kassian and the Islanders Matt Martin.

“The Senators Heritage Jersey Fiasco”

The Ottawa Senators ran a very popular jersey promotion at the start of the year where you could buy the new Heritage sweater and get two tickets to the Colorado game on October 13 as well as a barberpole toque and scarf thrown in for only $130 bucks. Pretty good deal and fans snapped it up. Except there were a few snafus when people wanted customized jerseys with players names on them. There was a thread on the HF Boards a while back with fans frustrated at not getting their jerseys in a timely manner. Then there is this guy, Andrew, a friend of Black Aces who wrote me a note about his experience trying to get what he paid for. It’s kind of unbelievable the runaround he’s been getting and I’ll let him share it with you in his own words:

Sept 27: Pre-ordered a custom heritage jersey - Zibanejad 93. Comes with 2 tickets to Colorado game, heritage toque and heritage scarf. I am told that because it's a custom job, will not be ready on Oct 1st, but will be ready in 10-14 days. I'm given a voucher for the tickets for the Oct 13th game unveiling the new jerseys, but no toque or scarf... I assume they'll come with the jersey itself. And am under the impression I should have the jersey well in-time for the game.

Oct 13, 16 days after ordering, I call to see if it's in so I can wear it to the game - no. They say they'll call me when it's in.

After 3 weeks and no call, I call to see if it's ready - no. They say they'll call me when it's in.

After 4 weeks I call again - not ready.

After 5 weeks I call again - not ready. The guy tells me that because they accidentally shipped a box to Buffalo in the famous incident, Reebok have been working around the clock to keep the shelves stocked. So what that tells me is that since they already had my money, there was no rush at all to get me my jersey, but instead they needed to provide jerseys to the stores so that they were available for game-day sales, etc.

Finally on Nov 5th, almost 6 weeks after I ordered it, I get the call. When I go in to pick it up, the clerk is unaware that I am expecting a toque and scarf with it. He then tells me they're out of them, and that they'll phone me when they get more in and gives me a rain check.

Nov 26th, I get a call that my toque and scarf are in. I go to pick it up on Nov 28th, and when I present the clerk with the rain check, she tells me they ran out again. However, sitting on the counter in between she and I are the exact toque and scarf I am waiting for. So I ask her "isn't this the package we're talking about?". She says "yes, but we're out. I can take your name and number and call you when we get more in if you want?" I left, completely dumbfounded.

Did anyone else have similar troubles to Andrew or is this just an isolated incident?


Anonymous said...

Yeah, my friend's took a couple of weeks longer. Not good customer service based on that story, but it happens. Not really worth complaining about (although Andrew's story is a little over the top).

Anonymous said...

I thought that the Aaron Ward piece was great TV as well. But, I think that it's great because Ward comes across as authentic. Maybe I'm being naive, but his comments don't feel staged.

He actually admitted that he had an axe to grind with Carlyle, and he explained why. The fact that he let's us in on his experience with Carlyle, gives his comments context. I love it when the panelist can do that.

Milbury's good too, but I like him much better when he's paired with Ron Maclean. Maclean can go back at him a bit, and hold him accountable a bit. That chemistry works.

When he's on NBC, I don't that he's very good. Listening to old guys shoot down rational thought is a bit too Fox News-ish for me.

Anonymous said...

How about the inconsistency with the "C" on #11 jerseys. There's three variations, all legit too - not fakes from Asia. Keep your eyes open while wandering the halls of SBP at the enxt home game you attend.