Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Years

Seeing as I'm just slowly starting to come out of my holiday induced coma, Black Aces will start up again Monday night with a big post after the Sens-Devils tilt. Lots to catch up on.

Big happy new year to all my readers. See you in a few days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sens Break For Christmas As A Team To Watch

Carolina 2 Ottawa 1 (OT)

Not bad for a back-to-back going into the Christmas holidays.

The Senators lost another low scoring game in Raleigh, a town which they always seem to sleepwalk through a couple times a year but getting that point keeps them in the top eight (pending the outcome of the Winnipeg game) going into the Christmas break.

Outside of the Panthers, the Wild and the NHL Guardians Project, the Ottawa Senators have to be considered one of the league's biggest success stories as we near the halfway mark. Right now they sit above teams like the Montreal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, all of whom were expected to be much better than they actually are.

This team has the feel of those 97 and 98 squads who had a few really good offensive talents backed by a gritty character group of support players, but instead of older guys like Tom Chorske, Bruce Gardiner and Shaun Van Allen, these Senators have young kids in many of those support roles and they just keep getting better as the games pile up.

Clearly, this is not an elite contending team yet but if you go back to those late 90's editions you'll remember how they kept surprising everybody by winning games and a playoff series no one thought they could. It's the same scenario repeating itself over a decade later.

Back then, the Senators made some key but risky trades to accelerate the youth movement, such as swapping one young, highly-touted prospect for another in the Bryan Berard - Wade Redden trade and then picking up veterans such as Steve Duchesne to help the young guys learn how to pick the best wines at restaurants.

GM Bryan Murray recently made another risky prospect-for-prospect move by shipping off David Rundblad for centre Kyle Turris and three games in Murray looks like a smart man, despite many (including myself) reaching for the Wild Turkey and guzzling a quart straight off just to try and get their heads around it. Murray also picked up some good vets like Craig Anderson and Sergei Gonchar, both of whom are starting to pay off in a possible playoff chase (remember when fans booed Gonchar and Filip Kuba at the first home game? I still don't get it.)

If the Ottawa Senators are a contending club two or three years from now, we'll all look back on this season like we once looked back at that 1997 team where a raw group of talented kids started to lay the foundation for better things to come.

Daniel Alfredsson was at the start of that road way back then in a terrible JOFA helmet and now he's looped back around to see it happening once again, only this time he has a glorious Lanny McDonald above his soup coolers.

If his memory serves him well, he might want to stick around at least another season to see where it all leads.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson (36 saves)
2. Filip Kuba (22 minutes, 1 goal, 3 blocked shots)
3. Erik Karlsson (for being Erik Karlsson)

Here's how the season scorecard looks going into the Christmas break:

Black Aces 3 Stars Season Scorecard

(3 points for 1st star, 1 for 3rd star etc.)

1. Spezza – 28
2. Karlsson – 25
3. Anderson – 25
4. Michalek – 22
5. Alfredsson – 20
6. Foligno – 12
7. Neil – 11
8. Smith – 10
9. Cowen – 10
10. Greening – 7
11. Da Costa – 4
12. Gonchar – 4
13. Butler – 2
14. Kuba - 2
15. Phillips – 1
16. Winchester – 1
17. Condra - 1


Erik Karlsson has now had 7 multi-point games this season, which is pretty remarkable for a defenseman by Christmas. 16 Senators have had multi-point games so far. Here's a list of them and how many:

Spezza - 11
Alfredsson - 7
Karlsson - 7
Michalek - 6
Foligno - 4
Condra - 3
Gonchar - 3
Neil - 3
Smith - 3
Butler - 1
Cowen - 1
Da Costa - 1
Greening - 1
Kuba - 1
Phillips - 1
Regin - 1

....Strange fact: Nick Foligno played 35 games going into tonight and never surpassed 2 minutes in penalties in any game except twice - he got 17 minutes against Vancouver and 15 minutes against Florida this month. In the four games between the matches with Vancouver and Florida he had 0 penalty minutes. The guy knows how to pick his spots......Somehow I doubt we'll see Kyle Turris replacing David Rundblad in this sort of important situation.....

.....I've always liked that thing they do in the Carolina rink where someone goes to town on that crank noisemaker to get the crowd going. Tonight it was Santa Claus just givin 'er a rip. Maybe in Ottawa they could steal that classic moment from Fubar where Tron puts an axe into a tree stump to signal that the party has started, as seen below. You could have Sparty do it at centre ice right after the anthems. Or even better, the drunkest fan they can find....

.....I've always wondered if it was coincidence that my 2 year old son decides to take a massive dump in his diaper which requires an immediate changing as soon as the puck drops for the start of the game. He did it again tonight, about the tenth time this season. I'm beginning to suspect my wife has something to do with this. Her cackling laughter gives it away.......Tough story last night about a man having a heart attack right at the main entrance to Scotiabank Place. Luckily he was attended to quickly by two bystanders with CPR training.....

So I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Black Aces will take a little break for a few days while I get drunk and eat and sleep like an animal. Let's end it with maybe my favourite clip from Christmas Vacation, a movie everyone should take the time to watch over the holidays, even if you've already seen it 32 times.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Turris Has Solid Debut In Red....While Anderson Quietly Gets Back On Track

Ottawa 4 Buffalo 1

Kyle Turris didn't exactly get feted at the airport by a raucous crowd of supporters thrilled he was the newest Senator after a surprising and somewhat controversial trade with Phoenix, but he likely soothed a few concerns with a solid effort in his first game in front of the home fans.

It was a predictably slow start for the young Turris in the first two periods as he was probably just trying not to throw up, but he made his mark in the third by initiating the play that delivered Erik Condra's game winning goal over a struggling Sabres team missing seven regulars. After the goal, the crowd was losing it, Turris almost picked Condra up and hoisted him over his head like the Stanley Cup, and fans watching at home inundated Twitter with endless exclamation points!!!!

Hey, it was only an assist but there's something to be said about the buzz a big trade creates and the energy it gives to the players and fans, especially when you can see some results right away. I bet there's been a few orders for a #7 Turris jersey just on that assist alone.

Playing on a line with Condra and Nick Foligno, Turris finally showed some spark when he aggressively stole the puck on the back-check and snapped off one of those rumoured trademark shots that handcuffed Ryan Miller and allowed the rebound to go to Condra who knocked it in.

That shot was what everyone in Ottawa was waiting to see. The hyperbole was cranked a little high on TSN with Chris Cuthbert comparing Turris' shot to Joe Sakic's in the sense that he can get it off his stick a split-second before anyone expects it. That was the only time that Turris found the net in his first game but it was enough for everyone breath a little easier and Turris seemed more involved in the play after that goal.

It was a big win for Ottawa as they jumped back into a playoff spot, but more importantly, Craig Anderson had a quiet game behind all the Turris hype and that's exactly what he and the team needed at this point. The month of December has been pretty rough all around and Anderson badly needed to get settled down and stop the whispers for at least a few days.

Anderson did that, even when all eyes were following the new guy.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Craig Anderson
3. Erik Condra

Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Chris Neil (10 hits!) and Zack Smith.


No pressure kid. TSN's Brent Wallace interviewed Turris before the game and I think Wallace used the word "pressure" 30 times in three questions. Nothing wrong with the questions, as they were all valid, but I'm guessing Turris didn't get those kinds of prompts out in Phoenix too often....Not bad for a trio of tough guys. First goal of the game scored by Zack Smith, assisted by Chris Neil and Matt Carkner.....It would be amazing if Daniel Alfredsson decided to play another season AND kept the moustache for the duration. He's starting to get a "Lanny McDonald in 1989 looking for his first Stanley Cup" vibe happening..... It seemed strange that nobody on the Senators did anything about Paul Gaustad ramming Jesse Winchester into the boards from behind and putting him out for the game. The refs blindly didn't deem it a penalty which made you think Matt Carkner or Chris Neil would have something to say very soon after. It's tough to do that in a close hockey game because of the instigator so it's understandable that the Sens kept their cool. Neil finally challenged Gaustad late in the third period after the Sabres were whistled on a penalty but Neil was smart enough not to drop his gloves first and Gaustad took a pass on the scrap. Then Ottawa went out and scored on the power-play with Neil standing in front of the net causing havoc. .....Carkner was there doing his job well when he viciously cleared the net area of Jason Pominville's pesky presence midway through the third period. Ottawa missed that part of his game while he rehabbed his knee early in the season. Carkner has been his usual steady self since returning..... Nice to see the Senators highest scoring defenseman in franchise history, Wade Redden, watching the game from the Foligno family box. He's also the team's all time leader in plus/minus with an impressive +159. The guy still looks 25 years old.....

.....It was rather amusing to see all those knives in David Rundblad’s back as he exited for the sunnier climes of Phoenix. There were a lot of fans bemoaning the loss of such a talented defenseman but there were also quite a few fans explaining to everyone just how terrible Rundblad really was, as if his current defensive short-comings represented the peak of his development. It reminded me a little of the guy whose girlfriend moves away and he bravely tells his buddies that she wasn’t that great anyways. The reality is that the Senators traded one talented prospect for another, and you don’t have to pretend Rundblad is a bum to justify the trade in your head. The trade was a gamble for Bryan Murray (despite his denials that it’s a gamble at all) and that’s okay. It’s a GM’s job to gamble once in a while. For GM Don Maloney in Phoenix, it was a steal because Kyle Turris desperately wanted out of there and the whole league knew it. Yet Maloney still got an elite prospect and a second rounder to boot. In short, it’s okay for fans recognize that the Senators traded away a good, soon to be great hockey player. They may have gotten one back at the same time or they may have gotten damaged goods. There will be a lot of people proclaiming who won or lost the deal, probably as early as tonight, but no one will really have a handle on it until both Turris and Rundblad begin to hit their prime years. That’s still three or four seasons away. Time to put the pitchforks back in the hay for a while.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kyle Turris Flashback

Kyle Turris will get to experience this all over again on Monday. My guess is he won't be as awestruck. Or be wearing a backwards baseball cap.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sens Saturday Shocker - Rundblad Traded For Turris

I thought Saturday would be a fine day to relax and get away from the game for a day. WRONG.

Ottawa traded young defenseman David Rundblad and a 2012 second-rounder to Phoenix for 22 year old center and recent contract holdout Kyle Turris.

Oh boy.

As I now battle to keep the Saturday morning pancakes down, let's take a minute and try to understand the reasoning behind GM Bryan Murray giving up on an elite prospect like Rundblad for a former elite prospect in Kyle Turris.

First, as befits the weekend, let's look at the positives with Turris coming in. He's only 22 years old and is signed for the next two seasons at an annual cap hit of $1.4 million. He's a former third overall pick in 2007 who went just behind numbers one and two Patrick Kane and James Van Riemsdyk, both of whom are living up to their once lofty elite prospect status.

Which brings us to the bad news part about Turris. Clearly, he hasn't achieved the same level of success in the NHL as the two stars picked ahead of him (although Van Riemsdyk took longer than Kane to break through), or even a few picked after him like Logan Couture, Sam Gagner or David Perron. Turris' stats read 137 GP, 19 G, 27 A and a -22 through what amounts to two seasons as a semi-regular with the Coyotes.

Yet Turris has shown some skill in the pros. In 2009-2010 with San Antonio in the AHL, where he spent the entire season after he had already played his rookie year in the NHL, Turris put up 63 points in 76 games. And lets not forget last year's shortened playoff performance with 3 points in 4 games. Reasons for optimism.

Turris has decent size, being 6'1 and 185 pounds and will almost assuredly get a shot to be the Senators second line centre after rookies Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa weren't ready for that role. What is a little confusing is that Nick Foligno has stepped into that spot nicely after being a winger for most of his NHL career (no word on Foligno's injury against the Penguins on Friday) and Peter Regin has shown glimpses of being able to fill that slot as well. Conceivably, the Senators, who are having a better than expected year, could have slugged it out with Foligno or Regin the rest of the season knowing they have Zibanejad in the pipeline and just kept Rundblad, whose status as a prospective top-end offensive defenseman is a scarce commodity in the league.

So where did it all go wrong with the Senators and Rundblad? Surely we can't base it all on his rookie performance which isn't even 3 months old? Rundblad was likely headed to the AHL this season for some more seasoning but Rundblad was always a player expected to pay off two or three years down the road. In fact, you'd be had pressed to find a pundit who didn't see him becoming a big star in this league. The outlook on Turris is decidedly more sketchy (although Darren Pang vouches for him).

Clearly, Murray saw an opportunity to strengthen a weakness down the middle and felt he could subtract from his strength on the blueline, knowing he has two blue-chip players in Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen (who had four points Friday night - surely that wasn't the deciding factor?). Murray may also have been looking down the road and seeing himself having to pay three elite defenseman those very expensive elite contracts and decided he'd rather spread that future money around. Murray might also be thinking about the playoffs this year (and rightly so), realizing that Rundblad wasn't going to contribute while Turris already has NHL experience and might contribute right away. Murray likely feels he is accelerating the rebuild while still remaining young and cheap.

With all that said, it still doesn't feel exactly right.

Guys like Rundblad are so rare while offensive forwards like Turris are somewhat easier to draft, trade for or sign in free agency. You can also usually find guys with less baggage than Turris who is now coming to a city which has seen more than it's fair share of contract disputes, trade requests and general disgruntlement. Informally, fans know that this kind of trouble tends to follow players around for their careers. But in a way, that's being unfair to Turris. He deserves a clean slate in Ottawa and will get one, although the same happened with Nikita Filatov and he wasn't able to break free of his reputation in his ridiculously short time here this season (but wait - word is Filatov wasn't able to secure a KHL contract and has come crawling back to Binghamton which will likely be confirmed in the next few hours EDIT: Filatov was assigned to Bingo on paper only. Expected to stay in Russia.).

In short, this trade was a genuine shocker for many, and not just to over reactive bloggers and tweeters like myself. Rundblad, of course, is not a sure bet to be a superstar, but he's a better bet than Turris at this point and you'd probably get 9 out of 10 dentists to agree. Yet Murray feels Turris is a better fit in the long run and he may end up being right.

That's the real crux here, like all player-for-player trades. We won't know who wins and loses for at least three or four years, even if the early results favour one team over the other. Defenseman like Rundblad can take years to blossom and if the Phoenix Coyotes end up moving to Quebec City, Senators fans might be able to watch that take place six times a year for the foreseeable future.

Oh yah. The Senators got a new scoreboard. And Jacques Martin was fired in Montreal.

A Saturday afternoon pint is in order.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Goaltending Quickly Becoming An Issue In Ottawa.... What Else Is New?

Boston 5 Ottawa 2

The shots on goal total say it all here. Ottawa 49 - Boston 29.

This game came down to goaltending and as usual, Tim Thomas of the Bruins, who "likes the lighting" in the Kanata rink, dominated the Senators with 47 saves and a .959 save percentage.

On the other hand, Craig Anderson was dismal on Wednesday night and couldn't stop Patrice Bergeron on a breakaway when the Senators needed him to step up and bail them out on a tough play.

You could point to the fact that Ottawa was missing three of its better and more experienced players in Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba, but how much of a difference could they have made when Anderson was beat cleanly on multiple shots with no deflections?

Anderson has played in 28 games so far this season and he's had a sub .900 save percentage in 14 of those games. That's exactly half for those who didn't pass Grade 10.

But it's tough to bury Anderson when his defense is giving away pucks all night as they have throughout the season but he also hasn't made a habit of stealing games and unfortunately that's the type of goaltender Ottawa needs this year to make the playoffs.

Things won't get any easier with Pittsburgh rolling into Kanata on Friday. Last time Anderson faced the Penguins he gave up four goals on eight shots in just under ten minutes.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jared Cowen (team high 27 minutes of solid play)
2. Daniel Alfredsson (responded to being put back on first line)
3. Jason Spezza (dangerous late in the game and 2 points)


Only a veteran media guy like Darren Pang could actually appear nervous when getting introduced from between the benches at the start of the game. As he kept talking throughout the first period, my wife, who doesn't pay any attention to hockey whatsoever, gave me a strange look and asked if that was some teenage kid talking. Instead of trying to explain, I just said yes. That's no knock against Panger. Not many love the game more than that guy, plus he's a good Ottawa boy (as Don Cherry would say if he was fond of talking about good ol' Ottawa boys).....One of the reasons they put media guys between the benches is so we can hear things like Pang relating how the whole Ottawa bench visibly sagged and lowered their heads when Craig Anderson let in a softie to Rich Peverly in the first period. It would be interesting if the cameras panned to the benches after goals instead of going to the "goat cam" which focuses on the guy who made the mistake (although they tend to get it wrong almost 50% of the time).......How long until the Senators make a white counterpart to their new heritage uni's and those become the home and away set with the current red the "new" third jersey? I'd give it two more years....What's the deal with this logo anyways? They've used it on some merchandise but not on an actual jersey. And we can all be thankful for that. It's pretty terrible compared to the logo they were obviously trying to "modernize"....What is it about Twitter that brings out the Dwight Schrute in everyone?.....

.......It's amazing that people still seem so surprised and outraged that NHL players actually get concussions. The fact that two recent high profile players were injured by accidental collisions with teammates has just added to the confusion. If we could all pull our heads out of our asses for one minute and use some common sense, we'd quickly realize that hockey is a physical, athletic sport which requires the participants to hit each other in various ways to retrieve the puck. This will always lead to injuries, some of them serious. You can tweak the rules and the equipment but concussions are here to stay. At some point we should probably get over it and accept it as a normal outcome of sports. As Cam Cole noted in a widely read column today: "It may turn out that the NHL, in all its misguided, deceitful stubbornness, was accidentally right all along. Maybe concussions really are just the cost of doing business, and we — and they — had better get used to losing the best players, who have the puck the most and therefore are the most vulnerable. What can you do? It’s a kind of natural selection. Charles Darwin wrote about it." And we're just realizing this now? People need to get over their bogus "spectator guilt" and accept the game for what it is at the root level. The players accept it readily. So should the fans and the media......

.....With the Big Bad Bruins in town, that gives us a flimsy excuse to look at old Bruins hockey cards. This 54-55 Topps Milt Schmidt would make a pretty nice print to hang on your wall, don't you think?

Here's a few more:  57-58 Topps Johnny Bucyk, 33-34 O Pee-Chee Eddie Shore, 71-72 O Pee-Chee Phil Esposito, 73-74 O Pee-Chee Derek Sanderson, 79-80 O Pee-Chee Peter McNab , 33-34 O Pee-Chee Tiny Thompson, 81-82 O Pee-Chee Mike Milbury, 54-55 O Pee-Chee Fern Flaman, 71-72 O Pee-Chee Bobby Orr.....

.....Scary bout between Matt Carkner and Milan Lucic in the first period. Every time I see Lucic start throwing the hammers, I expect to see his opponent lying on the ice, even when it's a heavyweight like Carkner. I'll give the scrap to Lucic on punches landed but Carkner got the last laugh - literally. I wonder what he said to crack the linesman up as he was getting escorted away.....Ex-Senators goalie Brian Elliott is having a hell of a comeback season in St. Louis. Yet, like all goalies, Elliott will hit a tough patch and it will be interesting to see how he responds. He didn't handle those down times very well in Ottawa but when things were going well, he could look unbeatable. In a way, Elliott reminds me of a guy like Brian Boucher (now in the Carolina Hurricanes organization). When Boucher got hot, it was unbelievable what he could do in a limited stretch of games. Then he'd go into the tank in a spectacular way and have to build himself back up. Maybe Elliott's career will go in a different direction and this is just the start of a natural maturation process. Think of how amazing a story it would be if he won the Vezina trophy this June. Don't laugh, it could happen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sens Rack Another Comeback .... Plus Pulitzer Worthy Game Notes

Ottawa 3 Buffalo 2 (OT)

Talk about a bizarre sequence of events.

The Senators battle back in the third period to tie the Sabres on a shot from forward Peter Regin who is hanging back at the point to cover for one of his defenseman. Then in overtime, Jason Spezza gets tossed from a faceoff and Regin steps in before being waved off from his own bench (likely because of his surgically repaired shoulder). So defenseman Erik Karlsson, of all people, steps into the circle and takes the draw. On the same shift, Karlsson collects the puck deep in the Sabres end and throws it to the front of the net where another defenseman, rookie Jared Cowen, slams it past Ryan Miller for the win.

It was a bit like a twist ending from a decent Twilight Zone episode, possibly spurred on by the strangeness of seeing Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff instigate a fight with hulking Colin Greening after Ryan Miller got a softie bump behind the net in the final seconds of the third. It was the right thing for Ehroff to do, given the history in Buffalo with the Milan Lucic nightmare, but Greening cut him open pretty good with a shot straight to the visor before they both went down in a heap.

Not a bad way to end a divisional hockey game - a good scrap, a goalie dive, and a couple of defenseman hooking up for a down-low overtime winning goal.

Oh, and judging by that crazed pileup after the OT goal, Cowen seems to be a much loved player in that dressing room. The only guy who didn't deliver a facewash to Cowen was Paul MacLean but maybe he got Cowen with a shaving cream pie in the hallway afterwards. Or just turned the fire extinguisher on him.

With that clutch win for Ottawa in the books, they temporarily booted Washington out of 8th place (pending games yet to finish on Tuesday night) and now sit just one point behind the Sabres for 7th in the East.

A few downer moments for Ottawa were the giveaways that led directly to the two Sabres goals and if you've been watching closely, you can tell that David Rundblad is pretty close to a date in Binghamton, maybe as early as one of Sergei Gonchar or Filip Kuba getting healthy. Rundblad's stick seems like it's made of meatloaf when he's trying to get out of his own zone and he's not exactly creating many chances anymore like he was earlier in the year.

Never thought I'd say this, but right now Rundblad is making Brian Lee look like Doug Harvey back there.

Milan Michalek also left the game after colliding with Karlsson at the blueline. Maybe a shoulder?

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson (team high 27 minutes)
2. Jared Cowen (26 minutes, overtime winner)
3. Jason Spezza (slick 2 assists)

Honourable Mentions: Colin Greening, Craig Anderson, Peter Regin, Chris Phillips.


Good to see two players doing what they do best in the first three minutes. Jason Spezza making a shifty pass behind his back to a winger and Zenon Konopka winning a vicious scrap he probably had no business winning from a purely physical standpoint. Konopka took some heavy shots from Cody McCormick but somehow was the one left standing at the end of it. But from the look of Konopka in the box afterwards, he wasn't any prettier because of it (but he still looked better than assistant coach Mark Reeds who took a puck in the face during a recent practice and had the full racoon mask on behind the bench)...Did you ever want to know exactly how they make NHL ice? Wonder no more. I didn't realize the white and the lines were painted on different layers....Funny moment in the third when Daniel Alfredsson was ready to go off the ice so he slowly flipped the puck into the Sabres corner for Kaspars Daugavins to go chase down. It was just like a guy playing fetch with his dog in the park. Sure enough, Daugavins put his head down and went after it with his tongue hanging out (well....)......Hard to believe just how far Daugavins has come since last season. Somehow he played his way up the depth chart, pushing guys like Bobby Butler and Nikita Filatov down along the way. I mean, Butler was a lock going into this season. Not any more. Daugavins hadn't been as good lately but he was more like himself tonight. And by more like himself, I mean "sticky". The guy is always stuck to something. The boards, the puck, the other team's defenseman, his own teammates. He always seems to be in a crowd shuffling his feet but pucks seem to hit him, deaden, and fall to the ice in front of his stick. If some guys are slick and freewheeling, Daugavins is a bit like a piece of gum stuck under someone's shoe. And that's what makes him so effective. If he ever develops a mean streak, he could really be something....

......Both Zenon Konopka and Paul Gaustad are known as two great faceoff guys. Wouldn't that be a strange trend if tough guys across the league all of a sudden got great at draws as a way to get more ice time or even stay in the league? It's hard to imagine a guy like Bob Probert ever taking important faceoffs near the end of games..... Mika Zibanejad and Nikita Filatov both played 9 games, but Zibanejad had twice as many shots on net. Both had one point but Filatov was +1 while Zibanejad was -3. What does this say? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Or maybe just that neither was ready to play in the NHL full-time....Prior to tonight's game, Erik Karlsson was just one point behind both Norm MacIver and Karel Rachunek on the Senators all-time scoring list with 96 points (Edit: He got that point tonight). But I'm guessing Karlsson would rather break MacIver's single-season Senators record of 63 points in a season. He's still 38 37 points back....

.....Per Puck Daddy, when Nikita Filatov was asked by Sovetsky Sport about his relationship with GM Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean, he replied "No, there was a good relationship with both the coach and the general manager. I can't complain. I can only blame myself." It may be easy to jump to conclusions about Filatov's attitude if you go on hearsay and past problems in Columbus, but all he's done this year is say the right things and he certainly didn't burn any bridges on his way out of Ottawa. My humble opinion is that we've seen the last of Filatov, at least in Ottawa, but it's not like he won't be welcome if he wants to come back and try again.....Not so interestingly, Filatov is tied with another once highly touted Russian hockey player on the Sens all-time scoring list with one point. And that player is Alexei Kaigorodov who pulled off the single point in only six games as opposed to Filatov's nine. That must burn.....This is not a shot at Winnipeg, but Antti Miettinen thinking he was going to Tampa Bay but ending up in Winnipeg is going to really mess with what he and his family were planning to pack....Chris Phillips is on the home stretch to his 1000th game by playing in his 976th tonight in Buffalo. If all goes well and he stays healthy, he'll play the big game on Hockey Night In Canada at home against Toronto on Febuary 4th. No bigger stage than that for the "Big Rig".

Monday, December 12, 2011

Filatov Gets The Boot In Ottawa

Let’s just say there was plenty of warning signals for those who could get past the initial excitement of the Senators adding a former highly touted first round pick for a mere third rounder.

Back in the summer, word leaked out that Nikita Filatov was claiming he was promised top-six minutes by GM Bryan Murray. Uh oh.

Not only did that “promise” go unfulfilled, but Nikita Filatov was back on a plane today to Russia to finish the year in the KHL and it’s not even Christmas yet.

So where did it all go wrong?

Some would say it went wrong all the way back in Columbus where Filatov cemented his reputation (fair or not) as a petulant, offense-only winger who wouldn’t take coaching instructions. Optimists said it sounded like a hundred other prospects who eventually turned their games and attitudes around to have long careers. Pessimists rejoiced in the leaked “Filly don’t do rebounds” story that surfaced not long ago and it seemed the entire fanbase was at odds with one another over whether Filatov wasn’t being given a chance to succeed under Paul MacLean and those who felt he had to earn his chance by playing in the AHL or with spot duty on the bottom two lines.

Today we know which side will be thumping their chests.

But even with Filatov gone, many questions remain. He may not be done in Ottawa just yet. The Senators “assigned” him to the KHL which indicates they retain his rights. All the Senators have to do is submit a qualifying offer in the summer and we could potentially see the circus return next September (as long as a new CBA is hammered out in the meantime).

Fans are also left wondering what would have happened had MacLean given Filatov just a few more games in the lineup to so he could get that one goal that might spark a return of confidence. With Filatov’s stay cut so abruptly, it may feel to some like an experiment that never had a chance to play out properly.

Filatov played a total of 9 games spread out over a couple of months: 3 games in October but the first two were on back to back nights to open the season and the last was at the end of the month. He played 5 games in November, again with the first 3 at the beginning of the month and 2 at the end. His final game was against Dallas on December 1 where he had his only minus game of the 9 total. His highest ice-time total in those 9 games was 15:07 on November 27 against Carolina (where he was +1) and his lowest TOI was only two nights later against Winnipeg at 3:30 which was artificially low because he took a skate boot to the face and had to leave the game. But Filatov also posted individual game ice-times 5:16, 6:34, 7:18 and 8:51 in four consecutive games from October 30-November 5 that weren’t affected by injury.

Looking at those ice-times, you can see why many people feel he didn’t get a proper look. But some will point to the fact that in 9 games, Filatov ended up with a single assist and that came in his first game. And this is on a team where many third and fourth liners are contributing on the scoresheet as well as playing a complete defensive game in limited ice-time, neither of which Filatov can claim to have done.

In the end, it looks like this saga came down to one thing: Paul MacLean felt Ottawa had a better chance to win with Filatov out of the lineup instead of in it. That’s pretty much all there is to say. Perhaps there were issues with his work habits in practice or maybe some other intangible thing that fans don’t see in games. So much goes on behind closed doors that fans are left to speculate on scraps of information that may be misinterpreted without the whole context behind them.

Quite likely, and this is just an educated guess, Paul MacLean has no time for incomplete players. Look at the system in Detroit that he came from. All of their offensive guys played the game both ways. Then look at Ottawa and notice that David Rundblad has been scratched from time to time because of his weak defensive play, despite the fact that he can create offense. Filatov, despite skating well on the backcheck in the games he did play, didn’t seem to be contributing in either area.

While we may not have heard the last of Filatov in Ottawa (although I suspect we have), it will be a debate that goes on for some time, but in the end it’s just that – debate.

Paul MacLean and Bryan Murray have the final word in all these things and they spoke rather clearly today with the departure of Filatov.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Feisty And Entertaining Senators Starting To Freefall

Vancouver 4 Ottawa 1

This is what Alanis Morissette meant by "irony".

On a night when Matt Carkner returned to the ice for the first time this season, the Senators and Canucks went at each other in a Bronx rules street brawl but Carkner himself didn't collect a single penalty minute.

I think that's irony. Perhaps it's a paradox or a coincidence or an anomaly. Whatever it was, the game was entertaining to say the least. If you wanted to say the most, it made grown men want to drive down to Kanata and rock the Canucks team bus posse style like they do in Philly and New York, even when the home team wins.

Sure, the Senators are in a bit of a freefall lately and can't seem to stay healthy, but Kanata fans definitely got a good Saturday night tilt to remember. The Canucks rolled into town as the biggest villains in the NHL thanks to their players making up for a distinct lack of toughness by becoming the most skilled divers and whiners in the league.

The Senators already had a problem with the Canucks because the last time they met on November 20, Jesse Winchester ended up on his back in the Vancouver bench thanks to an "aw shucks" Alex Burrows slyly opening the door at the right moment.

Chris Neil certainly had that on his mind as he proceeded to unleash hell on the Canucks in the first period, hitting everybody in white and green, getting his black and blue mug into Roberto Luongo's personal space (not much room there with all the illegal equipment) and making the CBC cameras follow him around like he was Sidney Crosby for a night.

Then Nick Foligno channeled a bit of his father's game and absolutely buried the bad luck plagued Cody Hodgson who was caught dipping his head down as Foligno came in for the hit. When Hodgson tried to get up, CBC commentator Gary Galley said he had "Bambi legs". It looked like a clean hit by Foligno because it was Hodgson who changed his position at the last second. But you didn't come here to have every hit analyzed to death. What matters is that Foligno delivered the hit, faced the consequences by fighting Dale Weise (and winning), and then didn't let that stop him from being physical the rest of the game. He got jobbed by the refs after hitting Ryan Kesler along the boards, getting a 2 and a 10 minute misconduct because Kesler sold the play like a good Canuck always does.

Foligno, along with Zack Smith, has been one of the biggest revelations of the Senators season thus far. Just like Smith, he's providing clutch scoring and showed tonight he can play it physical if he needs to. He's no longer the over-stickhandling giveaway machine he was last season. Sure, Foligno still sometimes plays the yo-yo out there but he's certainly not alone on the Senators in that regard.

Foligno has always had a character presence on this team but he seemed completely expendable because he just couldn't crack the top six. That era seems to be over. Even with natural centre Peter Regin coming back from injury and joining his line, Foligno stayed in the middle and took seven draws. He's having success at centre and it will be interesting to see if coach Paul MacLean keeps him there long-term.

Yet for all the fireworks, the reality is that the Senators aren't the same team with Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba out of the lineup. Even with them healthy, they can't seem to beat good teams but make hay against similar or weaker clubs. That's kept them afloat in the playoff race but leading up to Christmas they face the Boston Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the surprising Florida Panthers. They also face the Buffalo Sabres three times before New Years.

If Ottawa can't get their game together, they will be out of the playoff race a lot quicker than it seemed possible just last week when they were the toast of the town.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Chris Neil
2. Nick Foligno
3. Daniel Alfredsson

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sens Let Caps Back Into Playoff Spot....Plus The Hard Truth About Filatov...And More Notes

Washington 5 Ottawa 3

Tough night for Ottawa. Hell, it was a tough night for Washington.

For a moment it looked like the Senators were about to pull the comeback routine on the Caps late in the third when Alex Semin took a lazy penalty and Milan Michalek popped one in to make it 4-3 and get himself tied for the NHL goal scoring lead.

Daniel Alfredsson was inches away from tying it up but Tomas Vokoun made a desperation save and that was all she wrote for the late dramatics. The Senators didn't look too into the game until Chris Neil did what he does best and bulldozed Alex Ovechkin. Ovie got up, muttered "fat f**k" and then speared Neil in the gut which somehow prompted the refs to call Neil for diving. The anger from that call gave Ottawa some legs and they began to play with some emotion and took a hard fought 2-1 lead into the third.

Then all hell broke loose. Three goals went past Craig Anderson in a five minute span and Ottawa only got one of them back.

Now the Sens have put themselves in a tough spot having to fly into New Jersey tonight to get some sleep ahead of the back-to-back. If they can't beat Jersey then they come home to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and they're starting to look dangerous again.

In short, that was one Ottawa let slip away and it cost them their sole spot in eighth place that they now share with the Caps. You can imagine the turmoil it would have caused back in D.C. if the Caps had lost this one in the dying stages. Ottawa would have been three points clear of them and Ovie and company would be hitting peak levels of angst and frustration. Now they're just a little looser, Ovie scored a trademark snipe and suddenly things look a lot brighter for the Caps.

The Caps were a giant the Senators would rather have left sleeping as they continue their season-long crusade to stick it to the pre-season critics and actually make the playoffs in April.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Milan Michalek
2. Nick Foligno
3. Daniel Alfredsson


Nikita Filatov was made a healthy scratch again. At this point I think it’s rather clear that coach Paul MacLean just doesn’t like The Filatov. He’s not a MacLean type player and that seems to be the start and the end of it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. If MacLean thinks he has a better chance to win without Filatov on the ice, then just get the kid out of here and move on with the season. It's even worse when you realize that the player he's competing with - Bobby Butler - isn't producing but still gets the nod ahead of him. Some people will say it’s not fair, but whoever said the NHL was fair in the first place? Think of how many guys never got a chance to even play in a single game in the league, let alone a guy like Filatov who’s now on his second team and still can’t convince anybody he’s worth playing full-time. It’s a cutthroat business and Filatov just hasn’t made his mark. ….I actually think it would be a good idea to name the four new conferences the Howe (Detroit’s grouping), the Gretzky (West coast), the Orr (Northeast) and the Lemieux (Pittsburgh’s grouping). The cynics will find something not to like about it as they always do, but there’s nothing wrong with going the sentimental route…. Latest Twitter nonsense: Sportsnet's Mike Brophy immediately chimed in that Brendan Shanahan should be reviewing Sens goalie Craig Anderson tripping the Caps Jason Chimera into the end boards in the first period. Pffft. Please. Andy was going for the puck on a play by his net. Chimera got a stinger. It's hilarious how so many people watch hockey simply so they can jump up and feign outrage on Twitter every time someone gets a bruise. Maybe hilarious is not the right word. Pathetic is more like it..... Imagine they had Twitter back in the 50's? Gordie Howe would be public enemy number one and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his legion of blacklist elves would be tweeting that Ted Lindsay was a commie. The big debate on Twitter would be about making helmets mandatory.....

..... Hard to believe that two teams as talented as Ottawa and Washington could produce nearly unwatchable hockey for the first ten minutes of the first period. It took a 5 on 3 power play for the Caps to open up the game, but the rest of the period was only marginally more exciting than the first half......Interesting to see Paul MacLean pulling aside his entire defense corps during a TV timeout to give them an animated talk about moving the puck. Usually you'll see an assistant coach do that in-game. But MacLean is as hands-on as they come, compared to stoics like Scotty Bowman and Jacques Martin. The "pep-talk" came immediately after David Rundblad looked like he was taking a stroll along the Champs-Élysées with the puck when a Cap back-checker lifted Rundblad's baguette and almost got away with it. That's been Rundblad's weakness his whole rookie season so far - thinking he has way more time than he actually does. Maybe MacLean needs to put him on the old stopwatch routine. Two steamboats and then the puck has to go......

......Heard someone talking about hockey cards today and it brought back a painful memory. I lived in Montreal for about three years going to university in the early 2000’s and became a bit of a card collecting nutcase for a while, amassing a huge collection of cardboard. When I left to move back to Ottawa in 2002, I was forced to leave behind the cards to save space in the car (yes, I moved my entire life in the backseat of my buddy’s car), with the intention of going back for them later that month. Months turned to years and I forgot all about those cards and they’re either sitting at the bottom of a landfill right now or my old roomie who I lost touch with cashed them in for beer and steaks. Leaving those cards was either the worst or best decision of my life. My wife thinks it was the best by far. Marrying her came a close second…..Among those cards? A huge Alexei Yashin collection, probably the finest in the East. Go ahead and laugh….. As a kid I had the O Pee Chee Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy rookies. My mom tossed those like they were regular garbage. Go ahead and cry…..

Monday, December 5, 2011

Senators Welcome Tampa To New Conference With Comeback Win... Plus Notes on the New-Look NHL

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 2

After spending a majority of November on the road, the Ottawa Senators finally came home for the first of 9 games at Scotiabank Place in December and put up two much needed points onto the board right away against a Tampa team that looks like they're trying to win the 1996 Stanley Cup at the height of the Dead Puck-era (more on that in the Notes).

At one point in the third period, Ottawa was down 2-1 and a lot of people were singing "Good Night Irene", seeing that Tampa (per the encyclopedic Dean Brown) leads the NHL in one-goal wins. But then Daniel Alfredsson stepped into a muffin-soft Jason Spezza pass just across the Tampa blueline and decided to hammer home the tying goal past a helpless Dwayne Roloson. The puck actually had a comet-tail on it like those 96-era Fox glowing pucks. Or maybe I was just stoned (Note to cops, friends, family members, wife, suspicious neighbours - I haven't smoked weed since my 20's. I just pretend to in blog posts to deliver lame punchlines. I meant it more in the Van Morrison tradition).

But the real news of the night took place across the continent in Pebble Beach, California where a complete league re-alignment was tentatively approved, pending co-operation with the NHLPA and a few hundred reams of papers still to be signed.

The four new conferences are the same as Elliotte Friedman happened to scoop on Hockey Night In Canada's Hot Stove segment, meaning Winnipeg moves West... and no one moves East. Strangely, the West will have two eight team conferences and the East will have two seven team sets which may change with either Phoenix moving east next season or the future announcement of two expansion teams to bring the league up to 32 teams and balance the numbers.

For an Ottawa perspective, consider this. The initial plan, as TSN reports, is to have teams in the East play their conference opponents six times - three home, three away, and then a home and home against the rest of the league.

Let that sink in for a moment. For Ottawa fans, that means you only get to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin once a year as opposed to twice. If you look at it from the perspective of the current configuration, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be treated like Western Conference teams are now.

I find this to be quite a surprising change. Note that the four "divisions" are being referred to as "conferences", and that's a huge, huge difference as far as the schedule goes. The positive is that Ottawa fans will see every team in the NHL at least once, but that's also a negative when you apply that to popular eastern draws like the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers to name a few. Ottawa's "conference" will keep all the teams from their current division but will see both Tampa and Florida added while Carolina and Washington join the New York area teams to fill out the East.

The playoff format will also be divisional so expect more post-season matchups with Toronto and Buffalo and hopefully for the first time with Boston and Montreal. No one seems to know exactly how it will fly after the first two rounds. Some suggestions making the rounds will see the final four re-seeded regardless of East/West which means you could potentially see two eastern teams playing in the final and vice versa.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Zack Smith
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Craig Anderson

Honourable Mentions: Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza, Jesse Winchester and Nick Foligno.

Okay, it's been a while so here's where the season 3 stars scorecard stands (even if there isn't a post after every game, we still keep track of the stars, except when no stars are warranted)

Black Aces 3 Star Season Scorecard

1. Spezza – 20
2. Anderson – 20
3. Michalek – 19
4. Karlsson – 19
5. Smith – 10
6. Alfredsson – 9
7. Neil – 7
8. Greening – 7
9. Foligno – 6
10. Da Costa – 4
11. Gonchar – 4
12. Cowen – 3
13. Butler - 2
14. Phillips – 1


Again, David Rundblad provides little glimpses of the star defenseman he's about to become. In the first period, Rundblad knocked a knuckleball puck flat onto the ice at the Tampa blueline while a forechecker closed within a foot of him and then threw a shoulder-head deke and easily took the puck around him to create another play. There is just no panic to #7's game. Ottawa is going to have the best blueline in the league in two to three years. Hell, maybe sooner if Jared Cowen can show that his 28-plus minutes against the Caps on Saturday is just the first sign of being a 30-plus minute player....Brett Connolly decided to take a healthy run at Chris Neil along the boards in the first period. Not the smartest idea the 19 year old has ever had. But to be young is to be foolish....I guess we shouldn't be so surprised at just how passive the Tampa penalty-kill is. There's something to be said for consistency in approach......But how soon do we start hearing about Guy Boucher being on the firing line. Right now, the Bolts look like they're not having any fun. And they're not any fun to watch either. Considering they have players like Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, there's something wrong with that. GM Steve Yzerman is a man of incredible patience (look how long it took him to win a Stanley Cup), but he also seems to be a guy not afraid to make a move. He's facing a big problem down there right now....

....Doesn't it seem fitting that both the head coach and the captain of the Ottawa Senators are both still furry well past Movember? We all know Paul MacLean is a lifer, but Alfredsson has a good thing going there now and let's hope he goes into the playoffs with it. Yes, I said playoffs.....Thought we'd see Zack Smith out there in the final minute with the Tampa net empty trying to get his first NHL hat trick.....In case you were wondering, there have been 61 players with the last name Smith to play a game in the NHL. Zack is the only Smith to start with a Z. Other Smiths? Hooley, Wyatt, Alf, Clint, Dallas, Floyd, Wayne, Nakina, Sid, Stu and Vern...... And there was one Milks to play in the NHL. Good ol' Hib Milks who played from 1925 to 1933 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Quakers, the New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. He also played amateur with the (get these names) Ottawa Gunners, the Ottawa Landsdownes and the Ottawa New Edinburghs. To be honest, I have no idea if I'm related, but let's just pretend I am. I need the cred.....

......Woah! Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun pulls out his flamethrower and calls Toronto GM Brian Burke a liar, a bully and a "local embarrassment". Life has always been contentious between Toronto scribes and the team they devoutly cover but this brings the animosity to heights not seen since the days of owner Harold Ballard and GM Gerry McNamara. Ballard enjoyed calling reporters a "bunch of c**ksuckers" and once told female journalist Barbara Frum that women were only good for "lying on their backs", but Simmons implies that Burke wants to actually "run the newspapers". Surprisingly, Simmons gives coach Ron Wilson a pass, even though it was the glib Wilson's fib about starting goaltenders that caused the uproar in the first place. At least the Leafs are never boring.... A couple posts ago we talked about a guy having a hard time getting the customized heritage jersey and all the extras he paid for from the Sens Store. Got word that the Senators made amends and compensated the guy a little extra for his troubles. All's well that ends well....

......I’m sure it’s frustrating and annoying for many Rogers basic cable subscribers in Ottawa who get Sportsnet as part of their package but not the secondary Sportsnet Sens channel. I thought this Sens Sportsnet was there so Ottawa fans weren’t inconvenienced when NFL or MLB coincided with Senators games? From what I hear, there are still a lot of Ottawa fans who are forced to watch Senators games illegally streamed over the internet because their $75 packages (including HD box) still doesn’t get them all the Ottawa games broadcast into the area. It’s also a big middle finger to consumers that you can get Sportsnet in HD but have to pay a premium to get TSN in HD. Rogers, who owns Sportsnet, reap the benefits by forcing a large portion of their customers who want to watch highlights in High Definition turn to Sportsnet instead of the far superior, but standard definition, TSN. Sure you can get anything you want by paying for it, but a lot of people don’t have the budget to spend into the three zeroes just to watch a few Sens games when all they have to do is go to some shady website and watch a choppy stream for free.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Zack Smith Archaeology

Dallas 3 Senators 2

Oh Nellie.

Out of sheer compassion for my readers, I won't bother to recap the Sens-Stars tilt tonight. Chances are you watched it. It was bad enough that the first two periods were unwatchable, even for Roger Neilson and Bobby Fischer acolytes, but when the third opened up, the Senators blew a late lead and left Dallas with zero points. Let's call it a filler game. You're gonna get a handful of these just to pad out the schedule, just like AC/DC would pad out albums with songs like "Mistress For Christmas" or "Got You By The Balls".

So instead....

Zack Smith has got me intrigued. Even being a fan of tough hockey players, I was somewhat sceptical about Smith until this season started but let's just say I've recently been converted. And in converted, I mean Bob Dylan in 1979 deciding that Like A Rolling Stone was meaningless and he was only going to write songs about Jesus. That kind of converted.

And it made me want to dig back a little and try to see what I missed when Smith was slugging it out in Swift Current and Binghamton.

And then I stumbled upon this video of a fight from Febuary 14, 2010 between Smith and Kenndal McArdle, then of the Rochester Americans and now a fellow NHL'er with the Winnipeg Jets. I don't think I could find a more perfect capture of what Zack Smith is all about. And I'm not trying to just glamorize a fight here. This goes beyond the actual fight.

Watch Smith get absolutely rocked by McArdle, collapse to the ice like anyone would, but then get right back up and just power a beating on McArdle to totally turn the tables and win the fight. No way he should have gotten up after that punch, but he did. That has nothing to do with how strong he is. That's pure character, competitiveness, "balls", whatever you want to call it. That was plain will.

I remember guys like Tim Murray just raving about this Zack Smith kid and looking at this video, I can understand why.