Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bishop Steady In Big Win Over Bolts ... Leafs Misery Hitting 7 Years ... Greening Gets The Gordie ... And Plenty O' Game Notes

Ottawa 7 Tampa Bay 3

If you had given Ben Bishop a choice of when he'd have liked to make his Senators debut, his first answer would have certainly been “immediately”, but in the back of his head he must have been wondering if fate could have been kinder and spared him an initial matchup against Steve Stamkos, the purest goal scorer in the NHL today.

No pressure, kid. Do you mind stopping the ones going wide as well? Thanks.

Not surprisingly, the big goaltender got torched by Stamkos (his 48th of the season) on a perfectly lethal shot that Bishop could only feel burning past his ear, but he lived to tell the tale and helped the Senators gain two crucial points during a mini-slump that threatened to stretch into a prolonged one if the offense remained terminal.

But that wasn’t a problem for the Senators on Tuesday night. Some of their big names got on the scoresheet for the first time in a while, like Kyle Turris, Colin Greening and Sergei Gonchar. With two empty netters included, Milan Michalek got his 30th , 31st and 32nd of the season while Erik Karlsson continued to dominate with another power-play goal and a flashy, entertaining game as is the norm for the best defenseman in the league (yep).

Bishop, while not making the kind of initial splash that Robin Lehner made last week, had some tough saves to make in the third period and came away from this game looking like an NHL goaltender. Realistically, that’s all that was required of Bishop in this game and he delivered. With Craig Anderson gone for weeks and Alex Auld being unreliable as a steady backup, the Senators desperately needed both Lehner and Bishop to come in and at least give the team a chance to get points under bad circumstances.

Lehner did more than that, absolutely starring for a few nights and Bishop will probably get a longer chance to show some stuff. Meanwhile, with points gained here and there and with the number of games dwindling, the Senators are slowly closing in on that coveted playoff spot. No one is expecting them to start climbing the standings with Anderson out but at least they have a real good chance now of maintaining what they've already built.

Watching the Boston Bruins goaltending plight gives you a better appreciation of why Ottawa GM Bryan Murray went out and got Bishop despite already having Lehner in his back pocket, ready like some kind of caged animal starving for NHL games. When Tuukka Rask went down to injury the other night (for an estimated 4-6 weeks), the Bruins were forced to sign Marty Turco, who'd been living the dream in Austria, and put him through the waiver process. Even if he clears, Turco can’t suit up in the playoffs because of some arcane rule in the CBA. Not a great situation, especially if Rask is worse than feared.

The Senators have no worries when it comes to goaltending depth and Murray looks smart for not waiting until disaster forced his hand into some kind of Hail Mary deal like the Bruins were forced to try. And who knows? Maybe Bishop ends up being the goalie of the future here in Ottawa. At the very least, he’s pushing Lehner to be better.

Murray can't lose right now.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Colin Greening
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: Jared Cowen, Zack Smith and Kyle Turris.


If/when the Leafs miss the playoffs, it will mark their 7th straight finish out of the post-season. Before this horrific streak, the longest Leafs drought was 3 years from 25-26 to 27-28, and the first year of that they weren't even the Maple Leafs yet. They were the Toronto St. Patricks. Of the current Canadian NHL teams, here's the longest streak of years missing the post-season:

Calgary - 7 (96-97 to 02-03)
Toronto - 6 (05-06 to 10-11 and counting)
*Winnipeg - 6 (all in Atlanta; 99-00 to 05-06)
Edmonton - 5 (06-07 to 10-11 and counting)
Vancouver - 4 (twice; most recently 96-97 to 99-00)
Ottawa - 4 (92-93 to 95-96)
Montreal - 3 (twice; most recently 98-99 to 00-01)

.... According to the Team 1200 pre-game show, a sneak peek of the upcoming Hockey News annual Future Watch issue shows Ottawa ranked 2nd in the entire NHL for their crop of prospects, behind only the Edmonton Oilers. They also have 5 of the top 75 ranked youngsters outside of the big league. As Dave "The Voice" Schreiber said, it's just nice to see The Hockey News say anything nice about Ottawa in the first place. Kind of reminds me of the Keith Richards motto of "It's great to be here. Hell, it's great to be anywhere.".... Amidst the heroic and dramatic music that Sportsnet used to intro the game at 7:30 were clips of guys like Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza scoring big goals and other great action clips. Also in the montage were people eating nachos and drinking beer at a bar. For real. I don't know about you guys, but watching non-descript twenty-somethings plowing greasy nachos to emotional music really gets me pumped about the hockey game ahead. Clearly, Sportsnet is chasing a Gemini award with groundbreaking segments like that....

..... The good news for Ben Bishop is that people in Ottawa will one day get over how tall he is and talk about something else. The reason I know this? People in town have finally stopped asking Paul MacLean about his moustache. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, despite us Valley folk being so fascinated by human freakshows….. Don’t think you’re getting off any easier Rob Klinkhammer. That’s a real funny name you got (cue the banjo music)….. As mentioned on Team 1200, the Lightning and Steve Yzerman were very interested in Ben Bishop before Murray managed to grab him from St. Louis. Before that happened, many were touting Dwayne Roloson as an option for Ottawa after Craig Anderson went down. Can you imagine that horrifying parallel universe? Murray 1 Yzerman 0.... If you remember, both Alex Auld and Mathieu Garon were unrestricted free agents this past summer. Auld signed with Ottawa and Garon with Tampa Bay. Murray 1 Yzerman 1…..

Brian Lee is wearing number 15 for the Bolts, a strange digit for a defenseman but it’s obvious he’s attached to #5 so it makes sense….. Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman has a real nasty streak in him. The former Swedish defense partner of Erik Karlsson famously contributed to Sidney Crosby’s concussion woe’s last season and he took a healthy shot at Spezza’s head early in the first period down in the Tampa corner. Hedman was so intent on harassing Spezza that he allowed Sergei Gonchar to sneak in from the point and score Ottawa’s first goal from point blank in front of a helpless Roloson. Imagine Hedman and Karlsson playing as a pairing in the NHL? You wouldn’t even need a third pairing. Just have two ringers to go on the ice when the dynamic duo needs a drink of water…. Matt Gilroy’s flowing locks fooled me into thinking I was watching Karlsson a few times. Long hair has been a rarity in Ottawa over the years. Just trying to remember any of them is giving me a hard time. I have Alfie, Phil Bourque and Mike Peluso. I know I’m missing a few. Help me out…. That being said, the Senators have had a lot of guys who were follicly challenged: Shawn MacEachern, Bryan Smolinski, Rob Zamuner, Ray Emery, Martin Gerber, Craig Anderson and Alex Auld to name just a few....

.... Colin Greening and Keith Aulie absolutely went at each other tooth and nail in the second period and ex-Leaf Aulie landed some pretty frightening bombs on Greening’s chin. I was surprised that Greening didn’t go down and take a knee but he ended up on top of Aulie when it was finished. One of the toughest scraps I’ve seen all year for sure. It also gave Greening his first Gordie Howe hat-trick but he had to go to the dressing room to get looked at. Karlsson scored on the ensuing power-play. A fairly entertaining few minutes, don’t you think?..... If all it took was one game watching as a healthy scratch to get Zack Smith’s legs moving again, then clearly coach Paul MacLean made the right decision. After sitting out the Florida game on Sunday, Smith was all hussle and grit Tuesday night against Tampa. His body language was transformed from a guy who actually looked disinterested some games to a guy who remembered what it was that got him to the league in the first place. If Smith could get that Chris Neil mindset going which means playing every shift like it’s his last, he’ll be hard to stop, especially in the playoffs when guys like Smith become more important. He’s got a lot more tools than Neil and I don’t think anybody knows how good he can actually be. Except for maybe MacLean who seems to be pushing Smith like all good coaches do…..

.... Hit of the year, right here, on Tuesday night by the best hitter in the league, Niklas Kronwall on Jakub Voracek of the Flyers. Kronwall has elevated these hits to an art form the likes we haven't seen since Scott Stevens. Nothing dirty about this one:

.....  Don Cherry’s Ontario/Brian Burke rant on Saturday night was one of the funniest in the history of Coach’s Corner. It didn’t make much sense, but that’s when Cherry seems to be at his best. Especially when everyone gets outraged and starts throwing out stats to refute him, like that makes any difference to Cherry. He finds a "small truth" and wraps some barbed wire and chains around it and starts swinging on national television. You have to admit it's great entertainment whether you take his side or not. The Burke – Cherry feud has the potential for greatness because both are extremely hot-headed and rarely admit to being wrong. The difference is that Cherry doesn’t take himself as seriously as Burke and thus will always have the upper hand. If it is true that Burke tried to get Cherry fired, it’s hard to blame Don for fighting back. I just finished Al Strachan’s book “I Am Not Making This Up” and in it Al relates a similar story of Burke going to the CBC and trying to put Strachan on the unemployment line for various reasons. Seems like there’s a pattern to these stories…..


Anonymous said...

That's a headshot. Should be a suspension.

I'm looking forward to the Cherry/Burke feud. I can't see Burke taking to many punches without swinging back. Should be some good drama.

As for the Leafs struggles, what do you do? Maybe a great goalie acquisition in the summer can make a big difference.

With Carlyle there, I wonder if Kessel keeps the same pace. If not, I wonder if they become players for Nash. Kessel for Nash? More of a Carlyle type of player.

Not sure I agree with you about our goaltending depth. Outside of Anderson, none of the guys have proven that they can sustain success in Ottawa. I'm very optimistic about Lehner, though.

Anonymous said...

"Don’t think you’re getting off any easier Rob Klinkhammer. That’s a real funny name you got (cue the banjo music)….."


Love this blog...