Monday, December 5, 2011
Senators Welcome Tampa To New Conference With Comeback Win... Plus Notes on the New-Look NHL
Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 2
After spending a majority of November on the road, the Ottawa Senators finally came home for the first of 9 games at Scotiabank Place in December and put up two much needed points onto the board right away against a Tampa team that looks like they're trying to win the 1996 Stanley Cup at the height of the Dead Puck-era (more on that in the Notes).
At one point in the third period, Ottawa was down 2-1 and a lot of people were singing "Good Night Irene", seeing that Tampa (per the encyclopedic Dean Brown) leads the NHL in one-goal wins. But then Daniel Alfredsson stepped into a muffin-soft Jason Spezza pass just across the Tampa blueline and decided to hammer home the tying goal past a helpless Dwayne Roloson. The puck actually had a comet-tail on it like those 96-era Fox glowing pucks. Or maybe I was just stoned (Note to cops, friends, family members, wife, suspicious neighbours - I haven't smoked weed since my 20's. I just pretend to in blog posts to deliver lame punchlines. I meant it more in the Van Morrison tradition).
But the real news of the night took place across the continent in Pebble Beach, California where a complete league re-alignment was tentatively approved, pending co-operation with the NHLPA and a few hundred reams of papers still to be signed.
The four new conferences are the same as Elliotte Friedman happened to scoop on Hockey Night In Canada's Hot Stove segment, meaning Winnipeg moves West... and no one moves East. Strangely, the West will have two eight team conferences and the East will have two seven team sets which may change with either Phoenix moving east next season or the future announcement of two expansion teams to bring the league up to 32 teams and balance the numbers.
For an Ottawa perspective, consider this. The initial plan, as TSN reports, is to have teams in the East play their conference opponents six times - three home, three away, and then a home and home against the rest of the league.
Let that sink in for a moment. For Ottawa fans, that means you only get to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin once a year as opposed to twice. If you look at it from the perspective of the current configuration, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be treated like Western Conference teams are now.
I find this to be quite a surprising change. Note that the four "divisions" are being referred to as "conferences", and that's a huge, huge difference as far as the schedule goes. The positive is that Ottawa fans will see every team in the NHL at least once, but that's also a negative when you apply that to popular eastern draws like the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers to name a few. Ottawa's "conference" will keep all the teams from their current division but will see both Tampa and Florida added while Carolina and Washington join the New York area teams to fill out the East.
The playoff format will also be divisional so expect more post-season matchups with Toronto and Buffalo and hopefully for the first time with Boston and Montreal. No one seems to know exactly how it will fly after the first two rounds. Some suggestions making the rounds will see the final four re-seeded regardless of East/West which means you could potentially see two eastern teams playing in the final and vice versa.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Zack Smith
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Craig Anderson
Honourable Mentions: Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza, Jesse Winchester and Nick Foligno.
Okay, it's been a while so here's where the season 3 stars scorecard stands (even if there isn't a post after every game, we still keep track of the stars, except when no stars are warranted)
Black Aces 3 Star Season Scorecard
1. Spezza – 20
2. Anderson – 20
3. Michalek – 19
4. Karlsson – 19
5. Smith – 10
6. Alfredsson – 9
7. Neil – 7
8. Greening – 7
9. Foligno – 6
10. Da Costa – 4
11. Gonchar – 4
12. Cowen – 3
13. Butler - 2
14. Phillips – 1
Again, David Rundblad provides little glimpses of the star defenseman he's about to become. In the first period, Rundblad knocked a knuckleball puck flat onto the ice at the Tampa blueline while a forechecker closed within a foot of him and then threw a shoulder-head deke and easily took the puck around him to create another play. There is just no panic to #7's game. Ottawa is going to have the best blueline in the league in two to three years. Hell, maybe sooner if Jared Cowen can show that his 28-plus minutes against the Caps on Saturday is just the first sign of being a 30-plus minute player....Brett Connolly decided to take a healthy run at Chris Neil along the boards in the first period. Not the smartest idea the 19 year old has ever had. But to be young is to be foolish....I guess we shouldn't be so surprised at just how passive the Tampa penalty-kill is. There's something to be said for consistency in approach......But how soon do we start hearing about Guy Boucher being on the firing line. Right now, the Bolts look like they're not having any fun. And they're not any fun to watch either. Considering they have players like Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, there's something wrong with that. GM Steve Yzerman is a man of incredible patience (look how long it took him to win a Stanley Cup), but he also seems to be a guy not afraid to make a move. He's facing a big problem down there right now....
....Doesn't it seem fitting that both the head coach and the captain of the Ottawa Senators are both still furry well past Movember? We all know Paul MacLean is a lifer, but Alfredsson has a good thing going there now and let's hope he goes into the playoffs with it. Yes, I said playoffs.....Thought we'd see Zack Smith out there in the final minute with the Tampa net empty trying to get his first NHL hat trick.....In case you were wondering, there have been 61 players with the last name Smith to play a game in the NHL. Zack is the only Smith to start with a Z. Other Smiths? Hooley, Wyatt, Alf, Clint, Dallas, Floyd, Wayne, Nakina, Sid, Stu and Vern...... And there was one Milks to play in the NHL. Good ol' Hib Milks who played from 1925 to 1933 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Quakers, the New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. He also played amateur with the (get these names) Ottawa Gunners, the Ottawa Landsdownes and the Ottawa New Edinburghs. To be honest, I have no idea if I'm related, but let's just pretend I am. I need the cred.....
......Woah! Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun pulls out his flamethrower and calls Toronto GM Brian Burke a liar, a bully and a "local embarrassment". Life has always been contentious between Toronto scribes and the team they devoutly cover but this brings the animosity to heights not seen since the days of owner Harold Ballard and GM Gerry McNamara. Ballard enjoyed calling reporters a "bunch of c**ksuckers" and once told female journalist Barbara Frum that women were only good for "lying on their backs", but Simmons implies that Burke wants to actually "run the newspapers". Surprisingly, Simmons gives coach Ron Wilson a pass, even though it was the glib Wilson's fib about starting goaltenders that caused the uproar in the first place. At least the Leafs are never boring.... A couple posts ago we talked about a guy having a hard time getting the customized heritage jersey and all the extras he paid for from the Sens Store. Got word that the Senators made amends and compensated the guy a little extra for his troubles. All's well that ends well....
......I’m sure it’s frustrating and annoying for many Rogers basic cable subscribers in Ottawa who get Sportsnet as part of their package but not the secondary Sportsnet Sens channel. I thought this Sens Sportsnet was there so Ottawa fans weren’t inconvenienced when NFL or MLB coincided with Senators games? From what I hear, there are still a lot of Ottawa fans who are forced to watch Senators games illegally streamed over the internet because their $75 packages (including HD box) still doesn’t get them all the Ottawa games broadcast into the area. It’s also a big middle finger to consumers that you can get Sportsnet in HD but have to pay a premium to get TSN in HD. Rogers, who owns Sportsnet, reap the benefits by forcing a large portion of their customers who want to watch highlights in High Definition turn to Sportsnet instead of the far superior, but standard definition, TSN. Sure you can get anything you want by paying for it, but a lot of people don’t have the budget to spend into the three zeroes just to watch a few Sens games when all they have to do is go to some shady website and watch a choppy stream for free.