Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Bad" Sens Team Wins Their 6th In A Row.... Greening A Calder Contender...Game Notes

Ottawa 3 Toronto 2

Coach Paul MacLean has been praising his veterans for leading the once beleaguered Ottawa Senators back to respectability, but they largely won their sixth game in a row tonight on the backs of the kids.

There was no Daniel Alfredsson, sitting out the game with a possible concussion sustained in a cheap shot by the Rangers Wojtek Wolski (which strangely went unpunished, but more on that later). Jason Spezza seemed a little off the mark for once and had his 6 game point streak snapped. Milan Michalek didn't have a point.

That's not a criticism, because you'll never have your top guys going every single night in an 82 game schedule. But that's when you need other players to step up, and in Ottawa's case, those other players are kids by necessity.

It's hard to imagine Colin Greening playing any better than he did tonight but, as most agree, he has only shown us a glimpse of what he's capable of. That's a frightening proposition. Think Milan Lucic with goal scorer's hands. Greening was all over the Leafs tonight, throwing his body, stealing pucks, grinding the boards into a fine white dust and scoring a game tying goal in the first period off a highlight feed from David Rundblad. If he hasn't been talked up as a rookie of the year candidate already, now is a good time to start. I wish I had the stones to predict that at the start of the season, but what the hell, I'll say it now. He might get a challenge from the guy who fed him that pass, because it looks like Rundblad is going to have a chance to put up some impressive numbers thanks to a league best power-play.

Rundblad just keeps impressing, running the play when he has the puck and even adding a few blocked shots to his arsenal. Robin Lehner made all the stops he should have for his first win of the season in an emergency call-up role for the injured Alex Auld.

Jared Cowen quietly had another great game, and he showed he has the timing to make a solo run into the offensive zone when the play requires it. That's one of the toughest things to learn as a young defenseman - when to go and when to stay. Guys like Karlsson and Rundblad have the switch permanently set to "Go" but that's because they have the wheels and skills to do it. Cowen, like Chris Phillips, has to pick his spots more carefully because he's playing a different role. You could see it when he ended up making a big hit behind the Leafs net and then getting back quickly when the play went the other way. You could see it when he stole a puck in the neutral zone and just plain outbattled a Leaf player at the red line and then carried it himself into the Leafs end.

And then you have Erik Karlsson, who is quickly becoming the best player on the hockey team if he isn't already. When he's on the ice, the play runs through him and he's the linchpin of their entire attack when they are at even strength. He's just as good on the power-play and now he's making defensive plays he seemingly wasn't capable of in his first few years in the league. His defensive game is so subtle that you don't notice it right away but lately he always has his body in the right position and he's stealing pucks in the corners with his smarts instead of his modest size.

Of course, vets like Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba and Chris Neil continued to be strong as they have all the way through the current winning streak.

Right now, no one knows how good this team can be, but it's clear they are better than what anybody gave them credit for in the summer.

Bad teams don't win 6 games in a row.

Like I said on my twitter feed, no need to plan a parade just yet, but it might be okay for this team to reassess their goals for the season. I'm sure the playoffs were the target from the beginning for everybody in the organization, but now that doesn't seem as laughable as that notion once was just a few short weeks ago.

Call us back in February.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Colin Greening
3. Chris Neil

Honourable Mentions: Robin Lehner, Sergei Gonchar, Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, Kaspars Daugavins and Zack Smith.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard

Here's a first look at the results of all the Black Aces 3 Stars for the year so far. 3 points for 1st Star, 2 for 2nd. 1 for 3rd Star. You get the picture.

1. Spezza – 12
2. Michalek – 10
3. Karlsson – 9
4. Alfredsson – 7
5. Neil – 6
6. Greening - 5
7. Gonchar – 3
8. Anderson - 3
9. Da Costa - 2
10. Foligno – 2


Of course, the highlight reel plays David Rundblad is capable of, such as the pass from his own net to the other blueline that sent Colin Greening in alone to score, are the ones we'll all be talking about the next day, but it's the little plays that give you a hint of his all-around game. One thing Rundblad does so well is step up on the puck carrier at the blueline like he's about to go in for the big hit. He doesn't do it on every play but when he does, everything about his body language says he's about to throw his body instead of just trying to angle the puck carrier off to the boards. It's funny to see just how quickly the puck carrier bails on his play and gets forced into turning the puck over just to avoid the steamroller. I've seen him do it a bunch of times already and only once or twice has he actually delivered the hit. It's an effective tactic for sure, and when he does catch someone on that play, they're going to be hurting. We've all seen those highlight videos from Sweden of Rundblad exploding guys. Won't be long until we see a huge one in the NHL by #7.....Do you think Kaspars Daugavins is popular with his teammates? I haven't seen so many people as happy as when Daugavins snuck a rope shot through Jonas Gustavsson for his first career goal. I thought Erik Karlsson was going to kiss him for a moment there....Huge goalies are a problem for the NHL, but it's nice if you have one yourself. Robin Lehner is a mountain....Nice to hear Sergei Gonchar getting praised around the league instead of the usual chatter about him being a bust. But really, it makes sense that the possible Hall Of Famer is bouncing back after a tough year. Guys like that don't suddenly forget to play the game. Now Ottawa fans are getting a taste of how good he can really be. Should be a fun year on the power play Gonchar and the Swedes playing catch....

.....The Sens Heritage jersey still looks great but they have to do something about that "bib" at the back. Every team has one now but maybe because the last stripe is white, it looks pretty long on these sweaters. Maybe one day we'll see the old straight cut back....Wow. They played Fastway's song "Trick Or Treat" at the rink tonight, a completely obscure track from the equally obscure but wonderfully cornball 80's horror movie "Trick Or Treat" starring that guy who played Skippy on Family Ties. Do yourself a favour and track down this movie.......Have to say it's refreshing to listen to Zenon Konopka do an interview, especially when he comes right out and says he "hates" the Leafs. Seriously, that's fantastic. Despite all the bad blood between the two teams over the years, nobody has ever come out so directly like that. It's probably just a little show biz on Konopka's part but fans eat that kind of thing up. Makes the atmosphere around the games fun and gives us hacks something to write about....But then Konopka gets scratched for the game. Hey, we can't all be Mark Messier.....Again, we don't want to run this subject into the ground, but the only thing worse than the garbage call on Konopka during the Rangers game is the fact that some highlight shows are stating Konopka hit Artem Anisimov "from behind" or "on the numbers". Clearly, they don't know how to sit and watch a replay and make a basic observation on what happened. To a lot of people, a guy lying on the ice means that the hit was a suspendable hit, no matter what the facts are or what the video shows....Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks has seen his fill of diving and he really lets it loose while talking to the media after the Ducks game on Saturday.....

....I'm just as surprised as everybody else that there were no consequences for Wojtek Wolski over his elbow to Alfredsson's head on Saturday afternoon. Seemed cut and dried to me, and I'm not usually the type to be screaming about suspensions for every dangerous hit. Looks like he turned into Alfredsson on purpose and plowed his head with an elbow. Anyways, you can assume that next time the Rangers and Senators meet, Wolski will be a paid a visit by one of Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka, Matt Carkner, Zack Smith, or just about anybody you can name. Accountability on the ice is at an all-time low in the age of diving, but it still exists and there are a few guys on the Sens who are good at bringing down the judge's gavel.....Watching Rob Blake narrate the video for the Daniel Carcillo suspension left this viewer with one real conclusion: Let Brendan Shanahan do the videos. Blake can do the camera.....

....With news that Sean Avery has been put on re-entry waivers, it begs the question: Wouldn't it be ironic if Avery ends up saving John Tortorella's job? If Torts can swallow his obvious dislike of the nutjob winger, he's got a real important weapon he can throw onto the ice whenever his team needs a shot of adrenaline or old fashioned batshit craziness. You'd be surprised how often you need a little batshit craziness in professional hockey.....

.....The 2nd ever issue of "The Best Of Everything In Hockey", published by The Hockey News, just hit the shelves recently. Apparently, the Ottawa Senators are "The Worst At Everything".Even a quick look tells you just how far opinion of the Senators franchise has plunged over the past few years. There is barely a mention of the team or any of its players and they barely get any votes for any category you can dream of, including Best Public Relations, Best Arena Food, Best Celebration Zone, Best Broadcasting Tandem, Best Business Savvy, Best Jersey, Best Mascot, Best Intermission, Best Development Organization and many more. Zenon Konopka got some votes for Best Interview (from his time in Long Island and Tampa presumably), Sergei Gonchar tied for 6th Best Power Play Point Man and Matt Carkner and Konopka each got votes in the Best Fighter category (both tied for 4th). Chris Neil was voted the 9th best hitter and Gonchar was tied with 13 other players for 9th best skater. No votes for Daniel Alfredsson in the best leader category or for Eugene Melnyk in the best owner list. But the organization does get credit for helping to popularize Stompin' Tom Connors iconic "Hockey Song" in an article by Bruce Garrioch. I didn't realize the Senators were the first NHL team to play this regularly at games. The Leafs followed the Senators example shortly after and now it's probably played in every arena in every league known to man. So there's that..... In the same magazine, it sort of seems crazy at first that Ray Bourque didn't make the Boston Bruins All-Time First Team but when you have legends like Bobby Orr and Eddie Shore in the same group, what are they supposed to do? Dit Clapper is with Bourque on the second team, but if they do this magazine in another ten years, you might see Zdeno Chara on that second team with Bourque.....

....Have to love Robin Lehner's goalie pads. He has two solid red bars on the outer edges of each pad, which obviously are meant to look like goal posts. I guess the idea is to trick the eye of a shooter in that split second before he unleashes his shot. A shooter will always try to put one just inside the post, no? Pretty clever.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sens Punish Rangers, Defy Refs With Huge Win

Senators 5 Rangers 4 (SO)

Writers are beginning to run out of superlatives for the Ottawa Senators this season. They're the perfect underdog story but it's starting to get absolutely ridiculous how these guys are pulling wins out of the fire. It's bordering on being a Twilight Zone episode. And here we go again.

Another come from behind win that just leaves you shaking your head. Somehow, coach Paul MacLean has got these guys believing in themselves again after almost getting run out of the league in the early going by a few blowouts that had all the pre-season pundits nodding their heads in smug satisfaction.

So how do they explain this team knocking off 5 wins in a row, rallying from multi-goal deficits and sitting at 2nd in the league in power play percentage?

They don't. Everyone seems mystified. Ron Maclean, host of Hockey Night In Canada, said at the start of the year that the Senators were "his team" and called for them to make the playoffs, but that was a lonely prediction. P.J. Stock was literally at a loss for words during the first intermission on Saturday to explain why the Senators were so loose and having success. The chasm between the expectations and the reality is causing some to just throw their hands up. Up until early this week, some writers were still making fun of the team because they were, to quote, "the Ottawa Senators", as if they were a synonym for ineptness.

Fair enough. This team was pretty much a joke under Cory Clouston last year and the gruelling blowout losses early this month had everyone talking about Nail Yakubov in both ironic and non-ironic terms (I might have just pulled an Alanis there, but we'll leave it). Now we should be asking if it's okay to just go ahead and pencil Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza into the All-Star game.

The real letdown now may be the health of Daniel Alfredsson after he took a blatant cheapshot from the Rangers Wojtek Wolski, leaving the captain prone on the ice with a possible (likely) concussion. He never returned to the game and as of this writing, his status is unknown.

It was a clear injustice that Zenon Konopka got 5 and a game misconduct for hitting Artem Anisimov FROM THE SIDE (emphasis intentional) and Wolski only got 2 minutes for taking Alfredsson's head off with what was an intentional elbow.

Anisimov lay on the ice like his season was over but was magically well enough to play on the ensuing 5 minute power play which saw the Rangers score twice to seemingly put the game away.

Frankly, the refs should be embarrassed over the discrepancy between the calls. Some say there is no accountability for the refs but that's not true. There is internal monitoring that goes on but it's just not done in the public eye. And really, you wouldn't want to see that anyways. People already go after refs enough. No need to have a public hanging. The payoff for good refs is getting to work playoff games.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: David Rundlbad, Filip Kuba, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen. Yes, the entire defense crew.

Back at it tomorrow night against the Leafs. Don't tune out early.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bring The Crazy Guy Back

The Ottawa Senators will be going into Madison Square Garden, "The World's Most Famous Arena" on Saturday afternoon for a tilt with the Rangers, but something important seems to be missing.

And that something is Sean Avery. Banished to Wade Redden's lonely corner of the hockey world in AHL Connecticut (although Keith Richards makes his home in the state - no sightings of him at any Whale games yet, probably because they don't allow smoking).

Everyone has an opinion on Sean Avery. A lot of those opinions are unprintable in your average family newspaper. Yet, the guy is as entertaining as they come, especially if you like mobster movies where Joe Pesci randomly shoots people.

There are a lot of smug smiles around the NHL because John Tortorella won the attention war in Manhattan, but here's a little reminder of what was, what could be, whatever this is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey

"Nearly all of Shore’s gleaming white teeth were store-bought, the originals having been ejected from his mouth, and his nose, despite having been broken countless times, was straight. Shore had light hazel eyes that crinkled when he laughed, and when he spoke, his voice was disarmingly soft, lowering almost to a whisper. “Oh,” he once confided quietly of how he had kept his nose in line, “if you grab it quick just after it is busted and fit the edges together, it will grow as good as new. I always set my own nose. I twist it around until I feel the edges grit and then put a plaster across it to hold it flush.
Anyone queasy yet?

No? Good.

Because if you want to read about the original era of NHL hockey and its heroes like Eddie Shore, then you will need a high tolerance for brutality, at least half as high as the players tolerance for the pain and suffering they endured during the barnstorming days of the best hockey league in the world.

Eddie Shore was undoubtedly the biggest name to emerge from that time, and his name is still used as a synonym for “tough hockey”. They called Shore the “Edmonton Express” from his days with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Canadian Hockey League, but he made his fame in the NHL with the Boston Bruins between the years of 1926 and 1940, winning two Stanley Cups and four Hart Trophies as league MVP. The NHL did not create an award for best defenceman until the 1950’s, but it’s safe to say Shore would have won his share as well.

C. Michael Hiam’s 2010 book “Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey” is as good a portrait of that era as you can get your hands on, simply because Hiam doesn’t just track the great defenceman Shore’s life as most traditional biographies do, but rather spends a considerable amount of time on the other great personalities of that age, like rivals Frank “King” Clancy of Ottawa, Howie Morenz of Montreal (whom Shore himself thought was the best hockey player in the world) and of course the ill-fated Ace Bailey of Toronto, whom Shore would catastrophically injure in one of the most notorious episodes of on-ice violence in NHL history.

We meet Bruins teammates like the vicious Sprague Cleghorn, whom Hiam calls “the master of the clenched fist coming out of nowhere…the skate to the groin, the elbow to the head, the stick across the face…over the head…the butt end in the ribs.”

We meet mercurial owners and managers like Maple Leafs legend Conn Smythe who was inspired by a nameless sergeant in the First World War who was brave enough to put a fellow wounded soldier out of his misery with a bullet to the head on the battlefield. “I always admired that sergeant…for doing what had to be done.” Smythe would take that mentality and apply it to his career in the NHL, although he always had a soft spot for the rival Bruins’ Shore, even when Shore nearly killed one of his best players, Ace Bailey.

Of course, the Bailey incident is a major section in this book because it comes to define not only the violent nature of the sport at that time, but also the conflicted character of Shore, who at heart was a loner and whose hobby was playing the saxophone rather badly in his time off from scoring goals and terrorizing opponents.

In a game in Boston between the Bruins and the Leafs on December 12, 1933, Shore was hit by the Leafs Red Horner and slid into the boards in a daze. When he collected himself, the first Leaf player he saw was Bailey and Shore hit him hard, sending Bailey to the ice where his helmet-less head bounced sickeningly off the ice. Bailey went into convulsions and nearly died on several different occasions in the hospital before making a miraculous recovery that shocked even his doctors (although he would never play hockey again). Shore, who also got sucker punched by Horner after the hit and knocked unconscious, had to take his family into hiding while Bailey clung to life in the coming weeks. Shore expressed deep remorse for what happened while the media and fans decried the incident as just the latest in a league that fostered senseless violence (sound familiar NHL fans?). Shore quickly became a pariah.

Yet the league, and Shore, survived the crisis and there is a famous picture of Bailey and Shore shaking hands together prior to a benefit game for Bailey in Toronto, which would come to be known as the first All-Star game, a tradition that continues to this day.

Hiam covers this incident in great detail and it becomes the highlight of the book as he shares both the agony of the Bailey family and the sorrow that Shore felt for years afterward. It is the counterpunch to the somewhat lighthearted shenanigans that Hiam covers in the first part of the book. The sticks over the heads and the knockout fights seem brutal enough, but they also have a comic book quality to them because all those players, most notably Shore, would keep playing through incredible injuries that are hard to believe. The Bailey incident quickly puts that into perspective and a serious tone begins to emerge that wasn’t there before.

If there is one criticism I have with Hiam’s meticulously researched book, it is that he tends to spend too much time on the minutia of individual games. Some Stanley Cup matches seem to be described in almost a play-by-play manner and it slows the book down sometimes, when I suspect most readers are more interested in the off-ice moments that Hiam relays so well.

But that is a minor quibble. The stories and anecdotes you will remember from this book are worth a few small patches of dry reading.

The last quarter of the book deals with Shore’s post-playing career as the skinflint owner of the minor league Springfield Indians, where he did everything from park cars, paint the walls, trade players and suit up for the team himself. This is the Eddie Shore that people like Don Cherry and Brian Kilrea talk about all the time, having served under his iron rule for years while they chased the NHL dream in the minors.

Shore was a tyrant and specialized in treating his own player’s serious injuries with a form of Marquis de Sade inspired chiropractic techniques that often left the player in worse shape than when he went on to the cold metal table in the training room.

This part of the book is so funny and cruel that you end up wishing Hiam had written another 25 pages on it.

Overall, a fascinating read. Give it to your friend who is constantly going on about how violent the NHL is today. I suspect they will change their tune rather quickly once Hiam is done dispensing anecdotes like this quote from hockey legend Frank Patrick at the time of the Bailey injury:
“Cecil Blanchard of the Wanderers was the first to be cut down. I remember the blood just spouted out of his head when he was crashed deliberately by a stick. It was not a tap. The stick was brought down like a butcher swinging a cleaver. Then Alf Smith skated the width of the ice and cold-bloodedly carved down Hod Stuart. This wasn’t an accident. It was done deliberately. Stuart was knocked senseless on the ice. He was bleeding unconscious. If such a thing happened in hockey today the offender would be at once ruled out for life – and still critics talk of murderous hockey and all such rot. They haven’t seen anything.”
You can get this book at all the usual places. If local to Ottawa, try supporting a smaller independent book store that could really use your business. Here's a few from Ottawa Start.

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?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Five Worst Current NHL Uni's

Actually, things aren't that bad.

NHL fans had to live through some truly ugly uniforms throughout the 90's and 00's but with the Heritage craze thankfully taking over, we are seeing less black, less navy blue and more of the bright primary colours that were popular before Gretzky went to LA and wore the new black and silver Kings theme that went on to sell a million jerseys and taking hockey fashion to boring depths never breached before.

That era is coming to an end but there are still some sweaters that would best go the way of the the Islanders Captain Highlander experiment.

I'm sure people will vehemently disagree with some of my choices, so let me have it if you feel that way.

Okay, here we go. Five worst uniforms in the NHL today:

1. Anaheim Ducks 3rd jersey

The Ducks regular uni's are merely boring, drab and uninspired. These are straight up brutal. Where do we start? First off, I like orange on uniforms if done the right way (Philly obviously). Bright colours look good on TV and nothing pops better in HD than orange. But this uni is a bit of a Frankenstein. Look at the socks. Looks like a failed home economics project where the clearly failing student randomly sewed together two different socks from two different teams. Why not just go with an orange stripe instead of going half and half?

Then there's the already dated vertical slashes under the arms, the horrid piping along the shoulders and the meaningless, utterly forgettable logo on the front. Why not just go back to the duck mask? At least that had character.

2. Dallas Stars home and away

What's the point here? They're barely even trying. There was a spate of uni's after the lockout that were so plain they looked like pajamas (the worst being the Oilers white sweaters which they have mercifully discontinued). These plain Stars uni's are almost impossible to discern on TV. The Stars have a decent logo but it's hanging out on the shoulder where no one can see it and their best colour - green - is now pretty much a complimentary shade.

You can't even make out any green on these black home duds. It's bad enough there's no stripe along the waist, but plain black pants? Who designed this crap? The Undertaker?

3. Colorado Avalanche home and away

The Avalanche actually have a good color scheme, which is distinctive in a league full of black, red, blue and more black. But you couldn't really come up with a worse design than this. I look at the shoulders and it reminds me of a bad spacesuit. How many sections is this jersey made of? The piping down the front makes this look like a barbecue apron. It's got that ugly neckline that makes the players look like they're wearing a pendant around their necks. There's not an inch of tradition here and that makes these look cheap and dated.

The home darks are only marginally better. That being said, their 3rd jerseys are among the best in the league. How do they not go with these full-time?

4. Edmonton Oilers 3rd jersey (former home jersey)

Again with the pajamas. Or practice jerseys. Whatever you want to call them. One of the best logos in the league on the one of the worst uniforms of the past decade. Half-stripes on the underside of the elbow, the dreaded apron piping, no stripes on the waist, zero colour. A sad time for the Oilers. Thankfully they have reverted back to their Gretzky-era uni's but for some reason they've kept this disaster as a 3rd. Their now extinct white counterparts were even more boring. Against the ice, it was like watching invisible men.

5. Los Angeles Kings 3rd jersey

The Kings uniforms have been a mess since 98-99 when they dropped their Gretzky-era black and silver (which I was never a huge fan of either) and adopted various versions of black and purple with the city's name spelled out on the waist. This dud has survived the war of attrition and will be worn a few times this year. The Kings have never been able to get their look dialed down and watching the Kings for the past decade has been depressing if you're a jersey hound. Looks like that is going to continue in a rather dumbed down black and silver uniform that still doesn't seem quite right to me (but at least they look kinda mean now).

To end on a bright note, the Kings do have one of the nicest heritage jerseys in the NHL with this beauty. Too bad we only get to see it a handful of times. When I see these, I think LA hockey - Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Bernie Nicholls.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sens Not Alone In Arena Fails

Yes, the antiquated and barely functioning scoreboard clock at Scotiabank Place is a local eyesore, but remember, it could always be worse. It could look like this:

This is what the scoreboard inside the Marine Midland Arena (now the First Niagara Centre, home of the Buffalo Sabres) looked like on November 16, 1996 after it fell from the rafters not long after the Sabres had finished practice for the day. Luckily no one was killed.

Cries for a new scoreboard have reached fever pitch in Ottawa, especially with the All-Star game in the building this year and early problems with the clock which has crapped out in at least two home games so far. It was basically inoperable for much of the third period in last night's game against Columbus and rink announcer Stuntman Stu had to keep announcing how much time was left. Yet the Senators organization refuse to say if and when a new one will be purchased and installed, leaving them open to all the wisecracks they deserve.

If they have concrete plans to replace it, why not just tell the fans that? They'll be much more patient and understanding if they know a new one is on the way. Right now, it's a closely guarded secret and I can't fathom why.

Meanwhile, fans grasp at made-up rumours and columnists take pot shots at the organization. It's a relatively small issue that is getting blown out of proportion and the team let it get that way by being more secretive than the people in charge of the Winnipeg Jets, who operate that club more like a cult than a pro sports franchise.

But at least the Senators eschew gimmicks like oil derrick's, which got stuck dangling over the Edmonton Oilers bench during a game last week and hung there during game action.

Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney talked to Postmedia reporter Joanne Ireland and said "That was like a scene out of a movie. Like Final Destination."

Luckily for the Senators, they have also never had a mascot set himself on fire in front of thousands of horrified children. So they have that going for them.

Also, this has never happened:

Can anyone remember other arena/stadium mishaps? Let us know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Andrew Ladd's Postcard Home

Ottawa 4 Winnipeg 1

OK, everyone. Back on the bandwagon. There's lots of room and we have eggrolls.

As Denis Potvin said at the end of the game, during the players-only meeting immediately after the Flyers debacle on Tuesday, the most vocal guys in the room were Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Jason Spezza, and then they went out and clearly led this team to a rare victory in the early going here.

It may not be Mark Messier in 1994 (here goes Milks with his Messier crap again), or even Mark Messier back in the 80's when he grabbed Reijo Ruotsalainen in the dressing room and threatened to send him back to Finland in a pine box if he didn't start working harder.

But it was good enough for October in Ottawa when the Sens badly needed a win to get the entire city off their backs for at least 24 hours of rare peace.

Craig Anderson looked like the confident goalie who pulled this team out of the basement last season when he came over from Colorado. He made 35 saves and was only beaten from the point on a double deflection that was shot by Dustin Byfuglien.

To say the Senators needed this win was a bit of an understatement. They were getting absolutely buried for two days on all the usual media outlets, being accused of blaming each other instead of taking responsibility and other such nonsense. Sounds like the entire team took responsibility in that meeting and it showed against the Jets.

Coach Paul MacLean had the whole team going and the ice times reflect that. Only Jesse Winchester, Stephane Da Costa and Peter Regin played less than 10 minutes and that's because Regin hurt his shoulder (yes, the bad one) and Winchester was playing his first game of the year after only a handful of practices taking body contact (thought he looked good as well).

Da Costa, despite getting some time on the first power-play unit, suddenly seems like he may be the odd man out if the Senators decide to keep Mika Zibanejad after the 9 game threshold. Da Costa can dangle as good as anyone on this team but he's been shrinking a little the past few games and you can almost smell a demotion coming. Regin's injury, if it's serious, may give him a reprieve but there are still too many bodies kicking around the roster and Nikita Filatov is going to have to get a chance to come up soon as well.

But if you don't like the weather... wait 5 minutes. We could be singing a different tune come Saturday. The stock of guys like Da Costa, Zibanejad and David Rundblad seem to fluctuate shift by shift because there have been so few games to really evaluate them. The most important thing to watch for is seeing if they are improving every game.

Zibanejad and Rundblad have both been getting better (especially Rundblad), but Da Costa might be regressing.

Now watch Da Costa rack a hat-trick against Columbus.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson
2. Milan Michalek
3. Jason Spezza

Honourable Mentions: Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, Colin Greening and Daniel Alfredsson.


Anne Murray was in the Kanata rink tonight, wearing the Senators heritage jersey. It's not exactly on par with the great Neil Young wearing the Jets jersey as he was pictured recently, but what is? ....Colin Greening is going to be scary good in a year or two when he really gets a proper feel for the league. It's actually strange to see a power forward on the Senators. This guy should have been a Bruin. Luckily for Ottawa fans, he's going to find a home here in town for a long time.... What will the Senators do in 5 years for their 25th anniversary? Will we get another retro jersey, maybe with the original 2-D logo? Have you ever seen a grown man beg?.... I thought it would bother me, but I don't mind the player numbers on the front of the helmet..... Don't look now, but Chris Phillips is playing pretty damn good. Played 22 minutes in a shutdown role and got more physical as the game ramped up. The old cliche - when you don't hear his name a lot, he's playing solid..... Haven't seen much of the Jets this season other than their first game, but Alexander Burmistrov is a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes there's nothing better in hockey than to watch a player who can really skate like that. Still, he's no Sergei Fedorov....They should make Canadian postcards with that image of Andrew Ladd sitting on the bench late in the 3rd with a bloody, swollen, broken nose and a tube stuck up one nostril. That's just as great to watch as a perfect skating stride. Anyone remember Oilers captain Jason Smith getting stitched up while standing in the hallway just behind the bench in the playoffs? Hockey is the only sport in the world where you'll see that kind of dedication (Some still think Curt Schilling put that blood on his sock himself. Not me, Sox fans, not me.).

….It’s time to pull out that old chestnut, “The 2006-2007 Senators started real slowly and look how good they did by the end of the year”. Same thing could happen right? Guys? Anybody?.... At this time last season, the Sens had a terrible record of 1-4-1 but then went on to win 8 of their next 11 games, including a 4 game winning streak in early November. The year they went to the final they were 2-4-0 by October 20 and went on a 5 game losing streak from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8, the last loss being against the Atlanta Thrashers, now your Winnipeg Jets….

… Is Zdeno Chara’s old number 3 retired in Ottawa? The only player to wear it after the Big Z departed in 2006 is the long forgotten Lawrence Nycholat for 3 games back in 2008. If Mark Borowiecki makes the team next season, he should snag it. Or else maybe big Eric Gryba will…. Who will be the first player to claim #12 after Mike Fisher’s departure? It’s a damn good number. Here’s a trivia question: Which player has worn the highest jersey number in team history? Answer will be buried somewhere below.….Olli Jokinen of the Flames says he now has a personal “mental coach” who he calls before every game to help him prepare, as reported by Steve MacFarlane of the Calgary Sun. I’m not making fun of it, because I’m sure in 10 years every team will have a full-time “mental coach” (as opposed to mental coaches like Mike Keenan and John Tortorella), but can’t you just picture poor old Olli on the phone to a guy sitting at a desk reading a newspaper who is distractedly muttering “Yes, Olli, you can do it. Just go to a happy place, Olli. Just tap it in. Just..tap…it …in.”….

…Is this the year the Blue Jackets finally give up on Steve Mason? Maybe they need to get him Olli’s mental coach. Or maybe they should just fit the management team out for straight jackets. At some point the team will have to trade Rick Nash just out of common human decency. Or maybe they should just move across state to become the second incarnation of the Cleveland Barons. Every pro league needs a Cleveland….Trivia Answer: Stan Neckar, who wore #94 for a couple years in the mid-90’s. The next two highest numbers are Mika Zibanejad, currently wearing  #93 and Alexandre Daigle who wore #91 (Daigle switched to #9 in 1998 when GM Pierre Gauthier decided that high numbers were no longer allowed in Ottawa because it set individuals off from the team. Mike Comrie was the first player to have a number over 70 after Daigle and that wasn’t until 2007. Nicky Foligno and Jarkko Ruutu soon followed suit with #71 and #73 respectively)...

…Just when I write something that says the Hockey News needs to diversify their editorial outlook - i.e. a writer who actually likes the more physical aspect of hockey - the latest issue features an article by Ryan Kennedy who goes on unashamedly about his love of fighting in the NHL. So I was proven wrong right away on that one. Figures. I happen to agree with Kennedy, and believe that fans shouldn’t be ashamed to let people know they like fighting in the NHL. That’s the game we grew up with, and it’s still a part of the game today. You may not be with the majority on the issue anymore (and you will get castigated for it in the NHL’s modern McCarthy era), but it doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Enjoy it while it lasts…..

....Shane Hnidy, who is now doing radio work for the Jets after winning a Stanley Cup with Boston last year, is just the latest ex-Senator to find a job with the media upon retiring. He joins Jason York, Shaun Van Allen, Shean Donovan and Todd White, all of whom cover the Senators in various capacities. Ron Tugnutt also did a little work with Hockey Night In Canada a few years ago. One ex-Senator who we will likely never see doing media work? I'll put my money on ex-coach Jacques Martin. Wouldn't be surprised if way, way down the road we see Nick Foligno stepping behind a microphone.....Can't deny it. The Jets uniforms are incredible. I didn't like the logo when it was first revealed but it's grown on me, and to see it on the uniforms gives it a whole new dimension. I wouldn't say they're top 5 in the league, but they might be in the top 10. Just imagine how wild it will be in a few years when the Jets inevitably cash in on the old Jets look and reveal some kind of new heritage jersey like the Senators did this year. Fans will lose their freaking minds and empty their bank accounts. The Jets are just sitting on a goldmine and they know it. No need to mine it so quickly. When regular jersey sales lag, drop the heritage sweater and count the dollars.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jets Fly Into Town For First Time Since 1995

The last time the Ottawa Senators faced a team from Winnipeg at home was when they played the original Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) on Wednesday November 22 1995 at the old Ottawa Civic Centre at Lansdowne Park, almost two months to the day before the Senators moved permanently to the Palladium in Kanata.

And thanks to You Tube, there's a whole package of in-depth highlights from this 3-1 Jets victory in pretty good quality.

For the Senators, we get views of the doomed Dave "Sparky" Allison behind the bench along with his assistant coach Pierre McGuire (who is just as bald as he is today). We see signs that say "Dump Sexton Now", referring of course to Randy Sexton, the beleaguered GM at the time who would get replaced by Pierre "The Ghost" Gauthier not long after this game. You get to see Daniel Alfredsson in his rookie year when he was wearing that brutal helmet. You get Radek Bonk, you get Alexandre Daigle (who Greg Millen says was "sulking" under recently departed coach Rick Bowness), and you get Don Beaupre in nets. For the Jets you get Nikolai Khabibulin, Alexei Zhamnov, Dave Manson, Shane Doan and of course Teemu Selanne.

Now, here's a question. Which is the better team? The Senators from November 1995 who would go on to finish last in the NHL with 18 wins, 59 losses and 5 ties for 41 points, or this year's Senators?

Tough question.

Senators Running Out Of Answers Already


I’m already writing a post about this?

There’s not even snow on the ground yet and the Ottawa Senators have the stink of a team headed for local infamy.

A rebuilding team playing poorly is one thing, but to get blown out on home ice twice in a row by scores of 7-1 and 7-2 must be excruciating for both the fans and the organization.

After all, this is not just a team full of kids learning the pro game. There is a solid core of veterans on this club who know how to win. To be this bad, this early, defies even the longest of odds.

Yet the fans in this city said they were on board for the rebuild. They’ll be expected to hold up their end of the bargain and keep filling the rink every night and buying that merchandise and booing their own players. So far, so good on all those fronts.

But how did the Senators get to this point this fast? It’s like watching Clark Griswold on the saucer sled in Christmas Vacation. Or maybe more like Cousin Eddie emptying his portable toilet into the sewer while drinking a beer. “The shitter was full.” This has nothing to do with the story at hand, but what the hell. Nonsensical Christmas Vacation quotes are fine paragraph filler for highly paid pros like myself.

It’s easy to point to the goaltending… so let’s go ahead and do that.

Craig Anderson and Alex Auld have been brutal, and there’s no way to sugar coat that. When either of them lets in a softie, the whole team deflates and you can quickly bet that three or four more goals will follow in short order.

The one major hope going into this season was that the goaltending would keep them in games while the kids learned on the fly. That could still happen, but how often does a goalie just flip a switch and play lights out? Not very often. It looks like Anderson and Auld are going to have to build their confidence up slowly and that could mean some more long nights in the short term.

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner and Nikita Filatov lurk in the minors, waiting for their phone call.

Too soon to mention Lehner?

Probably, but losing this badly can really force a GM’s hand. The one thing Lehner doesn’t lack is confidence. All he’s said this year is that he’s ready to play in the NHL, even when nobody believes him. There’s no way he will supplant Anderson permanently this year, but does he get a call to play a few games if both NHL goalies keep rolling downhill?

I think it’s possible because the Senators have a lot of cap room to play with and can afford to sit someone they’re not too happy with.

To be fair to Anderson and Auld, we are not at that point yet, but it’s not as far off as we might assume.

Out West, Cory Clouston may be allowing himself a secret little smile.

Yet, Sens fans can be thankful they will be watching Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad, Mika Zibanejad and Jared Cowen grow up in this town for the next ten years. All of them will likely be stars, if Karlsson isn’t one already.

And you can insert your Nail Yakupov jokes here as well.

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday Night Gong Show

Colorado 7 Ottawa 1

No need to pile on any further.

Any number of outlets can tell you just how brutal and embarrassing tonight's bulldozer job was. I was at the rink for the first time this season and I can't remember a more subdued crowd since The Eagles put everyone in the building to sleep back in October of 2003.

Can't take any positives out of tonight except for some handsome jerseys and some vastly improved eats at the busy concession stands (I think everyone in my section ate a smoked meat sandwich in the first period, which unfortunately made the place reek like a dutch oven).

The Senators just need to go out and drown a few cold ones tonight and forget all about it.

Just one question still nags at the back of your head: Why did Paul MacLean change a winning line-up, especially after the team seemed to come together in an emotional win against the Wild?

It's seems convenient to ask that question amidst the ashes of Thursday night, but weren't many asking themselves that question well before puck-drop?

Perhaps Friday will bring us some answers. Or just more indigestion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kuba - Meszaros Trade 3 Years Later

Back in August 2008, the Sens swapped young defenseman Andrej Meszaros to Tampa Bay for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and a first round pick . Some thought dealing a young d-man like Meszaros was a mistake (like myself) and others felt Bryan Murray robbed Tampa Bay blind. Meszaros did struggle with the Lightning, some of it due to injuries, but he's found a new lease on life in Philly while Kuba has regressed in the Ottawa organization after a strong start, also a result of injuries.

Just for comparisons sake, here's how the two have stacked up statistically since the deal (as of Oct. 12, including Mesz's game Wed. night where he got the game winning goal against Vancouver):

Kuba: 191
Mesz: 217

Kuba: 9
Mesz: 17

Kuba: 76
Mesz: 51

Kuba: 85
Mesz: 68

Kuba: 5
Mesz: 6

Kuba: -26
Mesz: +15

Who got the better of the deal if we take Picard and the draft pick (which the Senators sent to the Islanders along with Dean McAmmond for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie) out of the equation?

Kuba has significantly more points but is trending downwards while Meszaros is trending up. Kuba's cap hit is 3.7 million in the last year of his deal while Meszaros carries a 4 million tag for a couple more seasons. Money is basically even and so are the stats when it all shakes out in the end. The plus/minus category is more an indication of weak Senators teams and one year in Philly on a great team for Mesz. Plus/Minus is the most overrated statistic for defenseman anyways. Good defenseman on bad teams will get buried in that category. Even good d-men on good teams can get burned by it. Nicklas Lidstrom was -2 last year and won the Norris.

But I guess it comes down to who you would rather have on your blueline right now. I'm guessing 29 out of 30 GM's would pick Meszaros because at 25 years old he's just beginning to enter his prime years. Okay, more like 30 out of 30 but we shouldn't expect Bryan Murray to throw himself under the bus.

You could say Ottawa won this deal in the short term because Kuba excelled while Meszaros struggled. But now let's take into account the other components of the deal. Picard was a bust on the blueline (he was a throw-in anyways) and the first rounder was essentially wasted because Comrie struggled in his second stint in Ottawa and Campoli can only be described as a disappointment before he was shuttled off to Chicago for depth player Ryan Potulny and a second rounder.

Yet Murray used that second rounder in a package to get Detroit's first in 2011 with which they chose winger Matt Puempel, someone who the organization is very high on.

Exhausted yet?

I still think it was a mistake to trade a young player like Meszaros instead of paying him, but Ottawa was under a different kind of salary-cap pressure than they are facing now. Hockeywise, the deal doesn't look great (but it's not a landslide either), yet whoever said modern trades were about hockey? It's all salary-cap, probably for the rest of our hockey watching days. If it wasn't Meszaros gone, somebody else would have been dealt.

But if Kuba has a good year and the Sens make the playoffs, or if he can get some more value for this team on the trade market....and... if Puempel turns out to be the goal-scorer this team thinks he will be down the line.... well, this saga will be far from over.

This deal will end up being so convoluted and open to interpretation, it will make the movie Inception look like Ernest Goes To Camp.

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…..