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?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Filatov Gets His Last Shot To Stick In Ottawa

Ottawa 4 Carolina 3

When the Ottawa Senators went into Pittsburgh on Friday night and got humbled by a much better team, you could sense that some kind of change was about to take place.

To start with , they made a minor move that paid off well when they put rookie David Rundblad back into the lineup and he ended up scoring his first NHL goal tonight against Carolina. But the one that will make all the headlines is the fact they called up the now controversial winger Nikita Filatov from Binghamton, presumably to give him one last chance to stick with the big club before they inevitably bow to his demands to take his career to Russia.

That meant another struggling rookie, Stephane Da Costa, traded cities with Filatov and suddenly a Sunday afternoon game against the vanilla Carolina Hurricanes had a little unexpected hype.

You couldn't label it a must-win game for Ottawa but if they had dropped this one, they would have found themselves on a three game losing streak as they head back out on the road for the next week with no easy games on the schedule.

So they went out and took care of business against Carolina with a new look on their top two lines, as coach Paul MacLean went out of his way to give Filatov a chance to succeed by playing him with Jason Spezza and Colin Greening. That meant the team's best goal scorer, Milan Michalek, was put on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and newbie centre Nick Foligno.

It worked. Sort of. Spezza had a great game with two goals but Filatov was a minor presence (he's played a lot of hockey on consecutive nights in the past week). The Michalek line didn't make much of a ripple either so in order for the new set-up to have a chance of continuing, both Michalek and Filatov have to prove they can put up some points with their new centres. No doubt that the club wants Filatov to suceed, but if Michalek gets quiet playing with Foligno and Filatov isn't producing with Spezza, there will be too much at stake not to reunite the top line that has been working so well all year.

It sounds like Filatov is already penciled in for the three game road trip starting on Tuesday, so expect MacLean to give these new combinations some time to breathe and grow together.

Filatov had a couple of chances against Carolina, in particular a two-on-one where he showed good speed but seemed to hesitate when it came time to shoot or pass. There's a lot of pressure on the kid to do well and no doubt he's feeling it right now. With a week on the road, you never know what that can do for his game.

Basically, it's now or never for the slick Russian winger. If he can't create offense with Spezza as his centre, you can start saying your goodbyes.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Zack Smith
3. Sergei Gonchar

Honourable Mentions: Craig Anderson, Erik Karlsson, Colin Greening, Zenon Konopka and David Rundblad.


I wonder what it is that GM Bryan Murray is writing down on that pad of his every time the TV camera's focus on him up in the box. Maybe it's a crossword puzzle......Have to agree with Sidney Crosby on this one. Nick Foligno made a bit of a fuss that he got hit in the face by Crosby during a scrum in front of Marc-Andre Fleury on Friday night. Foligno basically called Crosby a hypocrite for advocating tougher rules on headshots but turning around planting an elbow into Foligno's face. But come on, Nick. It was a hockey scrum. You had just bowled over his goalie. He gave you a little shot in the face, not a blindside hit that put you on a stretcher. No need to go crying to the press......That being said, I actually like the fact that Bryan Murray sounded off a little bit about the whole thing. He sounded pretty angry about it and mentioned that he'd have a much tougher lineup the next time they face the Penguins. That's the way to do it. Foligno should let Murray handle the off-ice ranting and instead, take a number for the next time they play Crosby. When a player whines to the press, it makes him sound like he wants somebody else to fight his battles for him. And it also makes them sound like Ryan Miller, and nobody likes listening to Miller drop f-bombs and pout every time a microphone comes near his face...except the press (actually, it's pretty entertaining for everybody, but that's besides the point). As for Murray, he's let some opportunities to defend his players in the past go by without saying a thing. This year has been different. He's been on Brendan Shanahan for the Wolski/Alfredsson incident and now the Crosby/Foligno mess. You can guarantee the players love it when the GM goes to wall for them, even if it's much ado about nothing, which is exactly what this whole thing is about. It was a glorified face-wash......

......That's how you break a scoring slump that had gone into double-digits. Jason Spezza's goal 55 seconds into the game was a thing of beauty. He decided the streak was long enough, grabbed the puck, blew through the Canes and almost casually slipped it by Cam Ward's left pad. Done......It was pretty funny hearing Sportsnet colour commentator Denis Potvin let out a big sigh of disgust when the refs called Jared Cowen for a hooking penalty in the first....... Poor Jesse Winchester. He was initially pegged to be Daniel Alfredsson's centre before news broke that Stephane Da Costa was demoted to the B-Sens and Filatov was promoted, causing coach Paul MacLean to scramble his lines. Winchester got pushed back down the depth chart in a hurry.......You've already seen it, but if, miraculously, you haven't, make sure to watch two 70 year old CFL legends swinging at each other at a press conference which was put on to promote awareness about post-concussion syndrome in athletes. At first, a lot of people thought the fight between old rivals Joe Kapp and (ex-Ottawa Rough Rider) Angelo Mosca was staged but that wasn't the case. These two lads went at each other and Kapp planted one right on Mosca's chin. Kapp then kicked Mosca on the ground, walked back to the stage, threw up his arms and inexplicably yelled "SPORTSMANSHIP!". This CBC article reveals that before the press conference, Mosca had extended a hand to Kapp but was refused. When Kapp started waving flowers in Mosca's face, something snapped for Mosca and he swung his cane (!) at Kapp, and then came the punch which wobbled Mosca (who has trouble standing up at the best of times, let alone taking one on the button). Unbelievable. In hockey terms, this would be like Ted Lindsay and Bobby Hull swinging on each other at an NHLPA function in Toronto......

....Tough to see ex-Senator and current Red Wing Patrick Eaves block a shot with the side of his face and break his jaw. He's gone for two months with jaw surgery. It wasn't that long ago but it's almost hard to remember Eaves as a Senator at all. Yet he did score 20 goals in only 58 games during his rookie season in Ottawa. He's currently playing with Mike Commodore on the Red Wings, one of the players he was traded for when he was sent to Carolina in 2008 along with Joe Corvo. Cory Stillman was the other player going Ottawa's way. Almost four years later, you might say that the Hurricanes won that trade but it's important to remember that Corvo had requested a trade. Stillman was the best player in that deal, with apologies to the hard-shooting, very tattooed Joe Corvo. Eaves has never come close to replicating that 20 goal season, either with Carolina or Detroit.....Also of note against Carolina, Tim Gleason played his 500th career game tonight against the team that drafted him 23rd overall in 2001. He didn't play a single one of those 500 games in a Senators uniform because they dealt him to L.A. for Bryan Smolinski, who was a pretty good second or third line centre for a while here in Ottawa.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Healthy Carkner Could Make Lee A Healthy Scratch

It would have been interesting to see the kind of start Matt Carkner might have had this season if he hadn’t wrecked his knee in a training accident. By all accounts, the big man was going hard this summer – obviously too hard – and might have had some extra jump much like Chris Neil, who looked extra-lean and hungry in the early going before hurting his ankle.

A large part of Neil’s early success comes from having a coach behind the bench who not only treats him like an important player on this team, but who generally likes the “type” of player Neil is. One gets the feeling that Paul MacLean is going to appreciate having Carkner around to clear the crease for Craig Anderson and to act as that nuclear threat in case someone like Milan Lucic or Wojtek Wolski decides to take liberties with Ottawa’s best players.

In short, when Carkner is ready, if that’s a week or two from now or even tomorrow, he’s going in and somebody is coming out.

You could try to start some kind of debate about who’s going to get the short straw, but you’d just be fooling yourself. If everyone’s healthy (and that’s a big qualifier), Brian Lee must be the guy MacLean has pegged to take a seat.

For one, Lee plays on Carkner’s side. Two, there’s no reason to sit Jared Cowen. Ottawa desperately needs more muscle on their blueline and substituting Carkner for Cowen is one step forward, one step back. Plus, Cowen has been as steady as they come nearly every time he steps on the ice.

Lee has been serviceable, with not too many lows or highs. If you read Lee’s generous press clippings, his “wonderful attitude” makes Mahatma Gandhi look like Al Capone (and which leaves you the impression that Lee is the only healthy scratch in the NHL who “works hard” and “doesn’t complain” – something that has inexplicably given Lee a cult-like following amongst some Ottawa fans).

Lee is a nice fill-in player who never seems to find that extra gear to do anything more than just be average on the ice. He’s still young, but as Bob Dylan said, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”

On the other side, Carkner and Cowen both have a defining characteristic – toughness – which makes them more valuable, even if they may lag behind Lee in the skating department (an element that the Ottawa defense is not lacking in).

A Carkner-Cowen pairing has the potential to be a nasty duo as long as Carkner can get his feel for the game back in a hurry. Guys coming off knee surgery can be tentative in the early going and that’s a real disadvantage for a guy like Carkner who can’t hesitate to be physical if he’s going to be a help to the team. Some are saying Carkner will get a conditioning assignment in Bingo once he’s ready to play. If that holds true, he might burn off a few expected bad games where it won’t hurt the big club while Lee and rookie David Rundblad continue to swap in and out.

Rundblad is an interesting case because it was clear MacLean preferred the dynamic young Swede over Lee but was forced to sit him after a few tough errors that cost the Senators some goals. Rundblad seems so close to being a regular because of the things he can do with the puck but it’s going to be even harder for him to get in the lineup with Carkner providing the Senators a much needed bulldozer on the back end.

It’s tempting to say the Senators would be better off if they had Rundblad as the only spare, playing when he can and continuing to learn in NHL practices instead of languishing behind Lee on the depth chart. Rundblad may end up going down to Bingo for a while and that may even be the best thing for him in the end, although he’d benefit Ottawa more by running the second power-play unit. But he has to get in the lineup to do that first.

There are a lot of questions and only Paul MacLean has the answers. We just have to eat our popcorn and watch the show.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Senators Winning But Da Costa Hurting Second Line

Coming home for a week off after racking up 7 out of a possible 8 points in their last 4 games on the road, the Ottawa Senators are starting to look like a team that have a strong playoff push in them after all.

They’ve held down that last playoff spot in the East, one point up on a trio of familiar teams - the free-falling Capitals, the Devils and Canadiens. The Leafs are just two points up on Ottawa, and the Senators are just three points back of the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Not bad for a bunch of rookies, some aging vets and a first-year head coach condemned to spend almost all of November on the road going from East to West and back East with a healthy Sidney Crosby waiting for them at the end of the line.

With that being said, the next mind-numbing losing streak could be just around the corner. Even a minor slip could bring this team back down to earth. That’s not just an Ottawa problem. That’s the NHL. Even the best teams won’t have any breathing room until late January or early February.

For all of their recent success, the Senators have a growing problem right now and that’s with their second line of Stephane Da Costa, Nick Foligno and Daniel Alfredsson. Let’s not beat around the bush here. We’re talking about Da Costa.

The kid is clearly regressing and was pretty much invisible on the Western road swing, forcing coach Paul MacLean to finally sit him for an extended period last night against Vancouver because his line was clearly the most ineffective of the four. Da Costa was the only Senator other than the lightly used Zenon Konopka to play under 10 minutes. If that’s your second line centre, there’s big reason to worry. Luckily for Ottawa, their third and fourth lines are playing above their punching weight right now and the Spezza trio is still producing.

You may have noticed that Alfredsson had a lousy road trip, over handling the puck at times and not getting as many shots as he normally does. Last night in Vancouver, he put one shot on the net in just over 17 minutes of ice-time. Foligno has fared better but when he’s on his game, which is being physical and going to the net, it doesn’t really matter who his centre is. But for Alfredsson who likes to play give and go or get into open ice for one-timers, he needs a centre who is able to give him the puck and Da Costa just isn’t doing that right now.

When he’s not sitting on the bench looking gap-mouthed and stunned by the game going on around him, he’s skating around the perimeter of the action looking uncomfortable and uninvolved. That’s a far cry from the Da Costa who earlier in the season was willing to take hits to make plays and carry the puck over the blueline to set up in the zone. For the first time, Da Costa looks overmatched physically and struggling to make quick decisions.

People have been on him for losing so many faceoffs but that seems to be a hallmark of rookie centres. What’s more troubling is his lack of involvement in the other team’s zone, even when he’s making an honest effort defensively as he has all year.

Perhaps it’s time to give Da Costa a chance to get that confidence back in the minors. With Peter Regin still on the mend, the Senators need to change that second line up before it gets even staler.

You get the feeling they could use some size and maybe Zack Smith gets a chance to move up to play with Foligno and Alfie (I wonder if the Senators regret sending big Mika Zibanejad back to Sweden, where he has struggled). Or they could simply shift Foligno over to centre and promote a winger up to that line like Bobby Butler or Erik Condra. They could even split up that top line and try to get Milan Michalek or Colin Greening away from the other team’s top defenseman, but there’s probably not much impetus to break up a line that’s working so well together.


They could make that call to Bingo and retrieve the misanthropic Nikita Filatov and give him one last chance to show he can stick, even if his appearance will set off a bit of a controversy in town after he let it be known he’s ready to take his show to Russia.

I’m guessing GM Bryan Murray would much rather not make a trade at this point. The team is doing fine and the cure for that second line clearly resides with Peter Regin if he can get healthy and stay that way. They have some people on two-ways that can move up or down leagues and Murray has some option on forward and defense as well.

What’s important right now is they get someone to play with Alfie and get him going again. Otherwise they’re going to have a tough time winning when the top line goes through a cold stretch as they inevitably will.
Clearly, Da Costa is not getting the job done right now. It will be interesting to see what Murray and MacLean decide to do about it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Senators Sweep Alberta... Plus Notes On Filatov, Whiny Goalies and Long Island Misery

Ottawa 5 Edmonton 2

These big Western road trips are tough on the players, but they're tough on the fans back East too. A lot of late nights, a lot of groggy mornings where you walk out the door with shaving cream still on your face.

But for the Ottawa fans who held on past midnight, they're at least getting to see their team rack up some unexpected wins.

Not that Calgary and Edmonton are superior teams (although nearly every pundit predicted they would be), but it's tough to win two games in a row when your body clock is shot and you don't have access to Kettleman's bagels.

Yet the Ottawa Senators just pulled it off (they also beat Toronto before the Alberta trip which makes that 3 straight road wins) and now they can relax for a couple of days before they have to face the Canucks on Sunday.

It was a little tough to see the young Oilers get schooled like that at home, but the Senators certainly know how that feels. They were bulldozed a few times early in the year but all of a sudden that feels like a very long time ago.

If you think these guys are coming together as a team through their Alberta sweep (the first time since 2003), how much closer will they be after a couple nights off with nothing to do in downtown Vancouver? Seems like a good time to throw that annual rookie dinner.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Milan Michalek (His goal turned out the lights on the Oilers)
2. Jason Spezza (All around great game)
3. Colin Greening (Best showing in a while, was a beast physically as well)

Honourable Mentions: Filip Kuba, Kaspars Daugavins, Craig Anderson, Jesse Winchester and Erik Karlsson.


As for Nikita Filatov wanting out of Binghamton and possibly going back to Russia, I’m not going to waste your time by cranking up the vitriol. You can read others who do that better than I can. But I will say that Ottawa has seen much better and higher profile players pull the chute on the organization. Filatov barely warrants a ripple in the history of this team. If he wants out, who really cares? You can’t have him in that Bingo dressing room much longer and you certainly can’t have him up with the big club after this. He won’t be respected by the players or the fans. The team took a calculated chance on him and it didn’t work out. No big deal. They only gave up a third rounder in a draft where they already had multiple picks which they used very wisely. The NHL club has too many forwards as it is right now and they don’t have room for some kind of petulant kid who thinks the world owes him something. This would be a bigger story if Filatov was a superstar, or at least a useful player. Right now, he’s neither. He’s just a headache….

.....What was Jesse Winchester looking around for as he crossed the blueline on his breakaway goal in the second period? Did he think there was a penalty, or that he was offside or was he thinking "Geez, this has never happened before. What the hell do I do now?" I bet he thought about dumping the puck into the corner for just a split-second. If there's one thing Winchester seems to love doing it's protecting a puck along the boards........How about Colin Greening just punishing Oilers defenseman Corey Potter behind the net when he knew Potter was already hurting from a previous play. Potter was likely gutting it out because defenseman Andy Sutton had already left the game with a groin injury. But that hit put him out of the game for good. Greening can be a cruel, heartless machine out there when he wants to. And that's a good thing..... I truly feel sorry for Islanders fans. They've been brutalized for close to two decades with everything from bad ownership, terrible hockey teams spawned by horrible general managers making embarrassing trades, a dilapidated arena, legendarily ugly uniform experiments and of course, Alexei Yashin. Now they have to endure another jersey that is already the laughingstock of the league. You wonder why the organization feels the need to do this when their standard "dynasty era" uni's are among the most classic in the league. Judge for yourself. Maybe you'll rush right out and buy one of these bad boys.....

......Is there anything more annoying than a goalie whining (ie. Ryan Miller)? Goalies have had it so good for so long that it's hard to find sympathy when they get a little knock once in a blue moon. How do any of them get hurt with all that bulky equipment on anyways? They've been cheating with impunity since the 1990's. They should keep a low profile and hope they continue to be allowed to do so.......I’m telling you, the reason the Carolina Hurricanes are floundering this year is because they failed to sign Jarkko Ruutu this summer to play with his brother Tuomo. OK, maybe that’s not even close to the reason, but that team is lacking some snarl and personality. Jarkko could have helped in that department…. Everybody in the building knew Kaspars Daugavins was going to shoot that puck, including Nikolai Khabibulin. There was no "looking off" the goalie, no head deke, no fake pass. Daugavins stared Khabby down and just blew the puck by him. It's easy to say Khabby should have had it but I'm not so sure. That was a perfect shot.......If Daugavins is going to stick around, he should ask for a better jersey number. #23 is too blah for a strange character like Daugavins. Maybe Peter Regin is more than ready to give up #13....London, Ontario is having a bad year. First they had a fan throw a banana at a black hockey player that made headlines around North America and now they have a baseball team, the London Rippers, named after a serial killer. What's next? Giving Nickelback the Keys To The City?.....

.....When the Edmonton Oilers finally shut down Northlands Coliseum to move into a new rink sometime in the near future, the final night is going to have a pre-game ceremony for the ages. You can just see the greats walking to centre ice. Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr et al. in Oiler blue. But it will be hard (nee impossible) to top the night they shut down the Montreal Forum in 1996. The ovation they gave Maurice "Rocket" Richard has to rank as one of the greatest moments in all of sports.....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Senators Forgotten Man Finds His Hands

Ottawa 3 Calgary 1

Bobby Butler came into this season on a high, playing a vital role in the Binghamton Senators Calder Cup win after riding shotgun with Jason Spezza on Ottawa's top line for over 30 games. GM Bryan Murray inked the college boy to a one-way contract with visions of Butler greatly improving on his 10 goals as a rookie and almost everybody had him pencilled in next to Spezza going into camp, even though he had a new coach who wasn't going to be faithful to Cory Clouston's setup.

Then the sophomore jinx came and kicked his ass for a while.

He started camp slow, got injured, sat out a stretch of games and couldn't buy a goal when he was in the lineup. Going into tonight's match in Calgary, Butler was wearing cement shoes on a line with Zenon Konopka and Jesse Winchester. Meanwhile, fellow college kid Colin Greening was holding his spot quite nicely alongside Spezza up in first class.

60 minutes and two goals later (including the winner), Butler might just have remembered what made him successful in the first place - his shot.

That's his best asset, his one true weapon. It's not a hammer like Dany Heatley's, but it's sneaky. When Butler was scoring goals alongside Spezza, he was finding that vacated space around the circles and simply getting shots off quickly before goalies had time to react. Same thing tonight against the Flames. The first goal he does a basic deke and snaps the puck about one beat earlier than a lot of players would, and it looks clean, like Patrick Kane looks when he shoots. It's on and off the stick right away and the wrists barely move.

The second goal was much the same minus the deke. It wasn't ripped, but it was quick and a little early. It seems more like a product of hockey sense than it does plain physical skill, but it's obviously a nice combination of both.

If these two goals take off a lot of the dead weight that's been sitting on his shoulders in the early going, then the Senators may not need to go out and trade for another top six forward before Christmas.

All season the Senators have seemed to be one skilled forward short (actually a center), and that's mostly because Peter Regin shredded his shoulder again, Nikita Filatov didn't seem to be right and Bobby Butler most definitely wasn't right.

If he can snap out of it, and tonight was a hell of a start, the Senators might be able to go cheap on the pro scouting for a little while.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson: Dominated before and after puck handling gaffe that led to tying goal.
2. Bobby Butler: Two goals in under ten minutes of play.
3. Jason Spezza: Had his wheels going and dominated the face-off circle.

Honourable Mentions: Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba, Sergei Gonchar and Jesse Winchester


Lamest moment of the night: When Zenon Konopka and Tom Kostopoulos were engaged in a pretty good scrap early in the second period, the music guy at the Saddledome felt he had to play some loud MMA style metal in the background. Since when do fights get music in NHL rinks? I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure that's never happened in Ottawa so far. It reminded me of being at a Toronto Rock lacrosse game where music was blaring while the play was going on. .....Not sure what Zack Smith did to deserve a boarding penalty late in the first period. I suppose the hit made a loud noise, so maybe if your hits are too loud that's now considered a dangerous play. As Norm Macdonald said in Dirty Work, "ridiculous".....  The parents of those kids sitting directly behind the penalty box may want to stop their tykes from banging on the glass right after a Flame like Chris Butler takes a bad penalty in the 3rd period. Just saying....

....That was one of the more emotional Hall of Fame ceremonies in recent memory. They’re always great each year but Mark Howe’s induction speech was unbelievable. There were so many intense moments – like when he pointed out the late Brad McCrimmon’s wife who came specifically for Mark’s induction. Or when he threw on the #9 Red Wings jersey in honour of his father Gordie Howe, who watched the whole thing with tears in his eyes. It was almost too much to take. When Doug Gilmour closed his speech by saying that the late Pat Burns would someday join him in the Hall, I started waving the white flag at the TV. That’s why hockey is the best sport in the world – it has the greatest guys playing it…..

.....Why does it still bother me that there are actually two Stanley Cups? The real one, which the players hoist at the end of the season and cart around to barbeques all summer, and the “fake” one (created in 1993) which fills in for the “Presentation Cup” at the Hall Of Fame when the real one is on tour. I’ve been to the Hall Of Fame many, many times but there’s always the letdown knowing that the Cup you’re looking at is not the real one (they do have the original bowl on display that was retired in 1970 for being too old and brittle – this was the one that was dropkicked into the Rideau Canal in 1905 by Harvey Pulford after Ottawa beat the Dawson City Nuggets. The Cup went into the canal near Laurier and Elgin and stayed there all night long while the Ottawa players slept off a nasty hangover). The HOF is very open about it and don’t try to pretend the replica is the real Cup, but the purist in me thinks people would be okay with just having an empty stand where the one true Cup is supposed to sit if it’s not there at the moment. That would make seeing it in person even more special. What should they do with the replica then? Maybe donate it to the Leafs so they can string it from the rafters of the ACC like a dangling carrot to their players. Plus, guys can try to hit it with pucks during practice….

......Tough times in Tampa Bay right now. They’ve lost both games since Flyers coach Peter Laviolette decided to make a mockery of Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defensive system by instructing his defenseman to stand still if they weren’t challenged. And they weren’t. The Lightning won that game but they haven’t looked right since. Boucher called the loss against St. Louis on Saturday “shameful” and basically bag skated his charges the morning of their game against the Jets. The Lightning responded by getting whacked 5-2 in Winnipeg and now you have to wonder if some of the vets on the Lightning were somewhat demoralized by that incident against Philly. You think a proud guy like Martin St. Louis enjoyed standing at the blueline for minutes at a time and getting laughed at by the Flyers bench? It probably embarrassed him and a few of his teammates. Ask any player and they’ll tell you they want to skate and chase the puck, the way hockey should be played. Ask a coach like Boucher or Ken Hitchcock and they’ll tell you they want to win above all else, no matter what it looks like. I’m sure Tampa will snap out of it once they get some of their top defenseman back but maybe Boucher needs to drop the intensity once in a while. He got in front of a microphone before the Jets game and talked about “going to war” etc. The guy is about a 9 on the tension scale all the time. That can get old rather quick with some players….

.....The Flames may not be very good, but their Heritage Uni's are as good as they come. Seeing them play the Oilers in these flaming orange sweaters is every 80's hockey fans dream come true.

.... And finally, congratulations to my brother Ben and his wife Michelle on the birth of their second baby boy today. I'm guessing Ben still found time to watch the game tonight. Ridiculous.....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sabres Learn An Old Lesson

So the Buffalo Sabres are getting it from all corners of the hockey world for failing to act on Milan Lucic’s hit that knocked out their franchise player and number one goalie Ryan Miller on Saturday. Pundits are calling the Sabres “soft”, “gutless” and a few other things that aren’t printable in your average family newspaper.

Sound familiar Sens fans?

It should, because Ottawa had a reputation for a long time of being a team that failed to protect its star players from predatory hits and cheapshots (and oh there were many over the years). That changed a little when Zdeno Chara and Brian McGrattan provided some muscle in the mid-2000’s but after a few incidents with Daniel Alfredsson in recent years (such as the Mark Bell hit and the Wojtek Wolski elbow) that were not fully addressed on the ice, either at the time or in subsequent matches, the Senators are not exactly a shining example of frontier justice anymore either. But more on that in a moment.

Miller, who is now out with a concussion, fired the first “gutless” shot at Milan Lucic himself, saying “He has 50 pounds on me and he runs me like that?... That was gutless.” Lucic, who was given a few love-taps by the Sabres on the ice immediately after the hit, fired back with “We wouldn’t accept anything like that. We would have [taken] care of business. But we’re a different team than they are.”

The reason Lucic can say that with complete confidence? He knows the Sabres won’t do anything about it. Who says intimidation doesn’t work in hockey? Boston won the game 6-2.

Perhaps the Sabres were counting on the referees to take care of them but Lucic only got a two-minute penalty for charging and the Sabres didn’t do anything with the power-play, as can often happen when a team is demoralized like that.

You can perhaps forgive the Sabres for thinking the refs would come to their rescue, just like some teams who don’t employ tough guys believe that the league will dole out the proper punishment to players taking cheap shots at their stars. But even in this era of heightened sensitivity and super-suspensions, the league is still powerless to act if they deem the hit to be a legal one.

That’s exactly what happened to the Ottawa Senators when Brendan Shanahan decided that the New York Rangers Wojtek Wolski was “bracing himself” instead of intentionally elbowing Ottawa’s own franchise player in the chops and concussing him for five games (of which they lost 4 in a row).
So right there you can quickly see a grey area where old school “vigilante justice” may still have a role in the NHL. If your star player is lying on the ice and the league sees nothing wrong with it, what are you supposed to do? Just sit back and take it?

Of course not. That’s a loser mentality. Even if your star player gets hit cleanly, it’s important for his teammates to let the other team know that’s still unacceptable. That doesn’t make sense to a lot of fans who see everybody as fair game as long as it’s within the rules but hockey players certainly don’t think like that. The proof is out there on the ice. A lot of people complain about the fights that happen after clean hits, and in a way it has gotten a little ridiculous. In the 80’s for instance, fights always happened if a star player got hit cleanly but was usually let go when a third or fourth line player got lit up at centre ice (give or take a few bench clearing brawls between the Canadiens and the Nordiques of course).

Now even those hits are ending up in fights a lot of times, but behind it all is a reasonable motivation. If teams let every clean hit go without fighting back, the league would be littered with star players (and third liners) on the sidelines. Those fights, or the threat of them, make some players think twice before really laying the body on someone (although some players just aren’t wired that way, like Patrick Kaleta). It acts as a deterrent and keeps the game from turning into a roller derby every night.

And that’s just the clean hits. If you let the dirty ones go unpunished, what does that say for your team? To count on the league to play enforcer is plain folly. Even if the guy who hit your star gets suspended, it seems like little solace in the end. Players don’t want the league to do their dirty work. They’d much rather take care of it themselves in the traditional way that hockey has always allowed, even after the instigator penalty was instituted (although to a lesser degree).

So why didn’t the Sabres respond to Ryan Miller getting knocked out of the game? Beats me. They’ll get a chance to do that later in the season but it seems like it’s already too late. They’ve been labeled and teams won’t have much fear going into that rink and maybe giving Thomas Vanek that extra shot that they know will go unpunished. On the other hand, maybe this incident serves to wake up the Sabres and they come together as a team. It can work both ways.

And why did the Senators seem to shy away from getting tough on the Rangers just weeks after Alfredsson was knocked out of commission? Maybe it had something to do with Wolski being out of the lineup for surgery but that shouldn’t have had any bearing on the situation. Brad Richards had a fairly comfortable game, as did Marian Gaborik. Zenon Konopka and Jared Cowen stepped up and took on the Rangers but it still felt like a missed opportunity to make a stand as a team. The Senators fell apart shortly after that and erased their great October with a brutal start to November with Alfie on the shelf.

In essence, it’s not the fighting that’s important, it’s the idea of coming together and making a statement to the league. They could have done that without any fights at all. All they had to do was make life miserable for the Rangers on the boards and within the rules. Winning that game on their own turf would have been enough. That didn’t happen either.

To be fair to the Senators, they have a lot of young guys trying to stay in the league. Nobody wants to be the guy who takes a stupid penalty and puts his team down a man. Nobody wants to get hammered by Shanahan. The league seems to be in a flux right now and a lot of players don’t know how to act.

But at some point for both the Sabres and the Senators, you have to come together as a team and let it be known that if you mess with one, you have to face the rest. That’s a cliché as old as hockey itself, but it’s one lesson that seems to get taught year after year after year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Laviolette Follows Killer’s Example

I’m sure most of you have seen the debacle by now. In last night’s Tampa/Philly game, Lightning coach Guy Boucher employed the much-hated neutral zone trap and didn’t allow his forwards to even remotely forecheck the Flyers defenseman coming out of their zone, which prompted Philly coach Peter Laviolette to tell his d-men to stand there with the puck – as long as it took.

It was quite the spectacle. The Lightning forwards seemed embarrassed by the whole thing, in particular Martin St. Louis, who was heard asking Boucher incredulously what they were supposed to do. The Flyers were on their feet just giving it to Tampa, loving every minute of it. Laviolette was clearly trying to prove a point, going to ridiculous extremes to showcase how boring the 1-3-1 system can be to everyone – the players, the fans and I guess some of the coaches. I thought it was a great move by Laviolette and maybe it will spark some kind of change down the road here, either through rule changes, like a ban on zone defences (don’t ask me how the hell they could enforce such a thing) or just in the general culture of the game. Let’s call it a public shaming.

But Laviolette is not the first hockey coach to take a stand against this kind of crap. Ottawa 67’s legend Brian Kilrea pulled a similar stunt in the late 70’s. Here’s a quote from one of Kilrea’s players at that time, Jim Fox, from James Duthie’s great book on Kilrea, “They Call Me Killer”:

“Killer loved offensive hockey. He had no time for boring, sit-back-and-defend hockey. So, we’re playing in Peterborough one night and they play the exact opposite system. They play very defensively. From the first shift, they decided to shadow Smitty’s (Bobby Smith) line. As soon as Killer realizes this, he calls time-out and calls us to the bench. He tells all three guys on that line to stand at the Pete’s blue line and not move.
So they do, and the three Peterborough guys stand right next to them. So the two teams basically played 2-on-2 hockey! There was the odd whistle, but this kept going all period…Killer was fighting for his brand of hockey…It was something to see. I think we lost the game, but he made his point.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coach MacLean Is The Right Guy At The Right Time

They say, “If you’re worried about being popular, don’t become a referee, a goalie or a coach.”

There’s little glory to be had in all three jobs but that just makes the people who succeed in them all the more interesting (ie. crazy).

So let’s talk about coaches for a minute, and in particular the sometimes jovial, but always authoritative Paul MacLean, whose work so far this season has been better than anyone except maybe Mrs. MacLean expected.

The personality and style of an NHL head coach is sometimes the only show in town, mostly because they have a free pass to let loose a string of expletives into a microphone and not have anyone call them a prima donna because of it.

Certainly the players aren’t encouraged to let it all hang out in public even though there are a handful of interesting guys playing in the league today, such as Sean Avery, Paul Bissonnette and George Parros among others. Mostly we know they’re interesting from social media like Twitter, or in the case of Parros because he has a famous moustache, went to Princeton, majored in Economics but chose to make his living by punching other people in the face with his bare fists.

That’s like a character out of Hemingway or Bukowski right there.

Otherwise, most players take the pre-season media training to heart and mete out safe sound bites for reporters which end up filling newspaper columns like so much landfill. You can pick through it and once in a while to find something noteworthy, but most of the time it’s like taking a handful of Sominex.

But coaches can always give you something. A lot of these guys are grizzled hockey vets who have been through the trenches, both as players and coaches, experienced both success and failure, seen a lot of punk kids they either turned around or booted in the ass, and somehow broke through every barrier the game has placed in their way.

In short, a lot of these guys are grumpy old men and there’s nothing more entertaining than grumpy old men when things aren’t going their way. If the coach isn’t old, then he’s certainly grumpy, because in order to pull together 23 millionaires and get them to sacrifice their personal wills to the larger good of the group, you have to be able to look someone in the face and tell them they’re not good enough. It’s harder than you think. Just try it sometime on your husband or wife and see how it flies.

But this isn’t about what a coach says after the game to someone like Larry Brooks (ie. f#!* off). It’s about how he handles his players.

Paul MacLean strikes me as a coach who has no problems establishing his authority. Yet he has the reputation of being a “communicator”, a balance that seems to be essential to successful coaching in today’s NHL.

In the old days, a “communicator” was someone who grabbed a shovel from his office, locked the door of the dressing room behind him after a big loss, and the only thing the assembled beat reporters could hear from behind the door were players screaming “No coach, noooo……” and then the sound of metal tables hitting the wall and garbage pails rattling across the ceiling. Message sent. Message received.

Maybe Bruce “F’ing” Boudreau is headed that way but not many coaches go for intense intimidation anymore. Mike Keenan used to single out players individually and shame them in front of the rest of the players all season long, trying to embarrass them. The whole team would hate him and end up playing angry – and often winning just to spite Iron Mike. Scotty Bowman didn’t bother to talk to his players at all, making decisions in a vacuum and instilling a deep loathing mingled with respect. Obviously it worked, but back then there was always the threat of losing your job at any moment’s notice and that’s why guys played hurt, hid injuries (including concussions) and choked back their grievances over a few beers with the boys (read James Duthie’s book on Brian Kilrea to learn about beers after games - it’ll make you awful thirsty). Now if a player hates his coach, he just requests a trade or simply waits for them to be fired – either way often works.

There are some big personalities in the NHL today like Boudreau, John Tortorella, Tom Renney, Mike Babcock and Ron Wilson, a few notable for their lack of personality, like good ol’ stubborn Jacques Martin, and then there are that group of coaches somewhere in the middle who are able to find that common ground with the players, and get good results from teams that maybe don’t look so good on paper.

Those coaches I’m talking about are guys like Barry Trotz in Nashville, Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, Guy Boucher in Tampa, Dave Tippett in Phoenix and, yes, Paul MacLean right here in Ottawa.

You get little hints of it when you hear a player like Chris Neil say he loves to play under MacLean. Same as with Kaspars Daugavins and Sergei Gonchar. MacLean is an ex-player and he seemingly knows which buttons to push and when to push them. He also knows when to bring down the hammer by skating guys hard in practice or benching players like Bobby Butler and Nikita Filatov to try and motivate them.

There doesn’t seem to be any gimmick here with MacLean. He isn’t in Ottawa because the team was in emergency mode, which is how Cory Clouston was hired. He isn’t here to rectify a perceived discipline problem like Clouston and Craig Hartsburg before him. He isn’t here to be a caretaker of an already established team like John Paddock was.

MacLean was brought in to help build this team from the ground up, not to patch holes or maintain the work of a previous bench boss. For the first time since the equally charismatic Bryan Murray took over after the lockout, the Senators have a coach who truly seems in charge and who has the opportunity to mould this team in his image right at the foundation level, something that Paddock, Hartsburg and Clouston didn’t have the opportunity to do (in their defense). Murray was handed a great team to coach but he also completely rebuilt the mindset that was instilled by Martin before him, so in essence he was starting over as well.

As for rebuilding this current Senators team, there doesn’t seem to be a more suitable guy to do it than Paul MacLean. Something about MacLean’s personality speaks of a father-figure type, and it’s not just because of the famous moustache above the soup coolers.

He’s a little rough around the edges – you get the feeling that he could let slip an F-bomb if he wasn’t careful – much like a lot of old hockey players who bear the faint scars of rougher days. He has that glint of strange mischief in his eyes once in a while but the booming voice of a taskmaster when he’s running a practice. He commands instant respect, not just from his coaching background in the Red Wings organization or as a star player in the league, but from the force of his personality.

In coaching, you need to have the X’s and O’s covered, but you also need that intangible factor, that charisma that separates the leaders from the followers. Setting up plays on a chalkboard is one skill, but giving orders and having your players go through a wall for you night after night is a whole other level of coaching that you can’t learn by reading Lloyd Percival’s Hockey Handbook.

There are going to be some tough nights ahead for MacLean and the Senators, and he won’t always be as popular as he is right now, but as long as he doesn’t physically choke out a reporter or one of his players, you get the feeling he’ll be around for a long time to come in the Nation’s Capital.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Senators Need To Show Up Angry Against Rangers

When New York Ranger winger Wojtek Wolski planted an elbow into Daniel Alfredsson’s grill on October 29th, putting the Ottawa captain out of action for the next four games (and counting), speculation immediately began that the Senators would get their revenge on Wolski when the two teams faced off nearly two weeks later.

That game is just about upon us but the gods have spared Wolski even more graciously than Brendan Shanahan spared him an obvious suspension.

Wolski has a wonky groin (you can make a joke about his stones… but I’ll refrain for now, as tempting as that is) and he’ll be watching his teammates have to answer for him on TV from the comfy confines of the Injured Reserve list.

So does that mean the rumble is off?

Hopefully not. There is no way the Senators can let 60 minutes go by without inflicting some kind of physical toll on the New York Rangers. That’s just the nature of the game.

They watched as their franchise player and locker room leader lay face down on the ice before being helped off by a trainer and Wolski paid for it by sitting a lousy two minutes in the penalty box drinking Gatoraid. That’s not nearly enough.

If Wolski isn’t there to face the music, then his teammates will have to do it, as they should. And before anybody starts wringing their hands, we’re not talking about Todd Bertuzzi going ultra-vigilante on Colorado’s Steve Moore in response to a hit on his captain Markus Naslund. That is and will always be the NHL’s worst nightmare in this kind of payback scenario (which they ultimately fostered by not suspending or even fining Wolski).

Instead, we’re talking about Ottawa finishing every single hit on Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Going out of their way to get a glove in their face after a whistle. Challenging their tougher players to scraps. Getting into Henrik Lundqvist's personal space on every single play near the net.

Basically, the Senators need to become hell on skates for 60 minutes and let the Rangers star players know they’re a valid target after what happened to Alfredsson.

If the Rangers take exception to this and some kind of brawl breaks out, then so be it. I’m sure fans will be quite forgiving of guys like Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka if they end up taking a few penalties in this one. It’s one thing to go into the box for a lazy hook or an errant high stick. Those kinds of penalties hurt your team. But if you do it to prove a point, to show that there are real consequences for the opposition if they go after your star players, then that’s a penalty the team will gladly kill off anytime.

This is the type of game that isn’t just about the scoreboard or the standings. It’s about morale and team bonding. Not much brings a team together faster than turning the rink into a modern day Alamo. You can call it a “dinosaur mentality” and say the best revenge is simply getting the two points. But we all know that’s a bunch of bull.

The best revenge would be to see the Rangers pay a very steep physical price for taking out the Senators captain. If this is done cleanly or in some kind of throwback brawl, it doesn’t really matter. The fans will love it. The players will love it. The media and the bloggers will hate it, but they hate everything anyways.

So will we see a game like this? In the modern NHL, these expected clashes usually provide very little bang for your buck. Guys are afraid of taking suspensions and the media blow it out of proportion (exactly as I’m trying to do with this piece). But once in a while, we’ll get a game for the ages.

Maybe Wednesdays tilt against the Rangers in Ottawa will give us another one of those classics, like the famous Ottawa/Philly brawl or Ray Emery fighting the Sabres Martin Biron and Andrew Peters within seconds of each other and doing so with a huge grin on his face.

Don’t bet the house on it, but with spirited and emotional guys like Neil and Konopka on the ice (certainly MacLean will want to play Konopka), it’s not as farfetched as you think.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Alfredsson An Ottawa Institution

In glitzy Ottawa, a town so full of excitement it makes Paris, France look like Cornwall, Ontario, it’s easy to take Daniel Alfredsson for granted. Captain of the Senators since 1999, Alfie is a bit like the Parliament Buildings – always there through rain and snow – but sometimes falling apart on us.

Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. When the Parliament Buildings start to crumble, they throw up scaffolding and go to work for years. Alfie goes under the knife, tapes an aspirin to the bruise, and is usually good to go in the morning, or in about half the time it takes other athletes to recover. That’s the way he’s been throughout his career but he has fans worried with some of his recent injuries. He got over the bad back but now he’s out with a concussion and many fans are starting to prepare themselves for life without the captain in the future. With any luck, that might be a few seasons away, but we can all see the slow train coming up around the bend.

Alfredsson has 1030 points in 1066 games as a Senator.

Just how lucky are Ottawa fans to have had a player of this caliber donning the red and black since 1995?

Consider this: There are 7 NHL organizations, all of which started operations either before or during the Senators inaugural season of 1992-93, that have not had a player score 1000 points in their uniform. You may be surprised to see which high profile teams are on this list.

New Jersey Devils
Formed: 1974 (as Kansas City Scouts)
Points Leader: Patrick Elias – 825 points

Phoenix Coyotes
Formed: 1979 (as Winnipeg Jets)
Points Leader: Dale Hawerchuk – 929 points

San Jose Sharks
Formed: 1991
Points Leader: Patrick Marleau – 774 points

Tampa Bay Lightning
Formed: 1992
Points Leader: Vincent Lecavalier – 802 points

Toronto Maple Leafs
Formed: 1917 (as Toronto Arenas)
Points Leader: Mats Sundin – 987 points

Vancouver Canucks
Formed: 1970
Points Leader: Markus Naslund – 756 points

Washington Capitals
Formed: 1974
Points Leader: Peter Bondra – 825 points

In addition to the 1000 point threshold, the Ottawa Senators will welcome another lifelong player to the 1000 games played list this season as long as Chris Phillips stays healthy. Using the same 1992-93 cut off, four teams who started before the Senators don’t have a single player in franchise history to hit four digits in games.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Formed: 1967
Games Played Leader: Mario Lemieux – 915 games

St. Louis Blues
Formed: 1967
Games Played Leader: Bernie Federko – 927 games

Tampa Bay Lightning
Formed: 1992
Games Played Leader: Vincent Lecavalier – 946 games

Washington Capitals
Formed: 1974
Games Played Leader: Calle Johansson – 983 games

Numbers are numbers. You can attach any kind of significance to them you want. So what if Lemieux didn’t play 1000 games for the Penguins. That team wouldn’t be worth a capful of racoon shit if he hadn’t single-handedly filled the seats at Mellon Arena year after year.

What really matters is that a fan base has someone to identify with. They want a guy they can point to and say “that’s what Senators hockey is all about”, or Red Wings hockey or Flyers hockey. Mats Sundin may lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in a lot of statistical categories but most fans still hold guys like Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour in higher esteem, if not in their heads, then certainly in their hearts.

And that’s what it’s all about anyways. Numbers are a fun distraction, but they’ll never be able to tell you about character and personality.

Luckily for Ottawa, Alfie’s got that in spades and the numbers to boot.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sens Go Down Scrapping As Streak Dies

Boston 5 Ottawa 3
For a while it looked like Ottawa was going to extend their six game winning streak against an obviously frustrated and struggling Bruins team, but once Boston started hitting in the second period, the Senators were just trying to hang on.
Simply put, the Senators just didn't have an answer for the size of the Bruins down low. The Senators defence were fine when they had the puck but for the first time in a while it looked like they were physically overmatched. It was a tough game for the Jason Spezza line as well, as Spezza was rocked pretty good by Zdeno Chara and didn't seem to have much steam left after that.
One player who was worth watching against the Bruins was big Jared Cowen. He is one of the only Sens defenders who can play that style all-night long and he did pretty well for himself in his own end. A game against a team like the Bruins is where you will see Cowen's true worth, and that also bodes well for any future playoffs where this type of game is more the norm. He also got his first goal of the season on a bouncer from the point that eluded Tim Thomas. Not a bad goalie to score your first one on.
The Senators were due for a loss and at least they went down fighting with Zack Smith and Zenon Konopka throwing their fists around.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Nick Foligno
2. Stephane Da Costa
3. Chris Neil
Honourable Mentions: Craig Anderson, Jared Cowen, Zack Smith and Filip Kuba 
Heartily agree with Shaun Van Allen who had the guts to say he actually "likes" the shootout on the Team 1200 pre-game show (Bruce Garrioch had his back as well). In fact, Van Allen thinks it should go to five shooters from three, something else Black Aces completely supports. With three shooters, you don't have enough of a chance to come back if you get down early….. I didn't see anything wrong with the Francois Beauchemin hit on Mike Fisher. Shoulder to shoulder and Fisher had the puck. Why would that be a suspendable offence? Not even close to what Wojtek Wolski did to Daniel Alfredsson. That's not me being a homer, because I'm not a homer. I sleep just fine when the Senators lose games. But to me, it's apples and oranges, even if both players were hurt.....That was one of Zenon Konopka's better fights of the season when he obliged Shawn Thornton. But as sometimes happens, the Bruins got some momentum out of it.....Which Nick Foligno promptly erased with a sickening pass between his legs to Stephane Da Costa for the Senators second goal. Foligno seemingly feels he has to put on a stickhandling exhibition every time he has the puck, to his detriment, but it sure as hell worked that time. Unbelievable pass.....What the hell is wrong with the Detroit Red Wings? A lot of people have been waiting for them to finally break down one of these years and get forced into a rebuild. Those people may feel that year is upon us, but something tells me they’ll find a way out of the wilderness yet again. Has anyone said they miss Paul MacLean yet? No? OK, let me be the first….
..... Finally getting around to reading James Duthie’s book on Brian Kilrea, “They Call Me Killer”. And it’s a hell of a read. For instance, one of Kilrea’s teammates on the Eddie Shore owned Springfield Indians, Denny Olson, relates this little piece of information: “Eddie (Shore) would say ‘I want you to skate like a Boy Scout taking a shit in the woods. You gotta position your back so you don’t shit on your heels!’” Kilrea himself talks about Shore trying to teach him this unique skating style by tying Kilrea’s elbows together behind his back with a string, taping his gloves to his stick, tying his legs together to prevent long strides and then putting a stick under his jersey and up his back to keep him straight. Sounds a little like Robin Lehner’s old man….The new alignment plans being floated out there by Elliotte Friedman (who reports it as Gary Bettman’s preferred scenario) basically makes everyone out of your division similar to how it works now between the East and West conferences – two games a year, a home and home. So that would mean Ottawa fans would only get one chance to see Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos etc. Right off the bat, that doesn’t make any sense. They have a good balance going right now. Why throw it out the window just accommodate teams like the Jets, Stars and the Blue Jackets? Just switch the Jets out with one of Detroit, Nashville or Columbus and away we go (please make it Detroit)….
..... Paul Bissonnette is great for the NHL but posting a picture of a teammate in blackface is a pretty serious lack of judgment, even for professional athletes who lead a somewhat sheltered life and may not be fully aware of just how historically touchy that type of thing is. The NHL is still an old-school place where owners and executives are largely uncomfortable with players (i.e. peons) making waves outside of the rink. Just ask Ray Emery and Sean Avery. Anything that has a racist overtone, no matter how unintentional, is about the worst PR you can get. It’s also notable that Bissonnette plays for a team being run by the NHL itself. I’m not saying they would be looking to trade him, but since he’s not a superstar on the ice, his activities off of it will be tolerated that much less. He’s not Patrick Kane punching a cab driver in the face. He’s a fourth liner who inadvertently unleashed a PR nightmare for both the Coyotes and the NHL. Biz Nasty will live on, but will it be with the Coyotes for the long-term?.... How do I feel about the whole thing? It was an innocent mistake. Time to move on….Don’t you hate it when people ask themselves questions like I just did? What an asshole.