Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sens vs Refs In Beantown.... Andy Still On Vacation.... And AC/DC Fuelled Game Notes

Boston 4 Ottawa 3

It was all there in coach Paul MacLean's screaming red face after the final whistle had blown.

It was there in Jason Spezza's dismissive wave to the refs just seconds before that.

The Ottawa Senators feel they are getting jobbed by the officiating, before and after the break, and they couldn't contain their disgust any longer, even if it gives the refs just more reason to punish them.

As of this writing, it's not clear how much complaining the Senators will do to the media after a game where the Senators didn't get a single power-play against the meanest, edgiest team in the league (.....please), but I'm guessing Craig Anderson's embarrassing centre-ice goal flub that handed the Bruins the game won't get the same attention it normally would.

The fans have a lot of ammo to throw out in the next few days, but the reality is that the Senators inexplicably fell flat with a 3-1 lead heading into the final minute of the second period. Sure, the refs seemed hellbent on further repaying MacLean back for that public airing of the Erik Karlsson "diver" incident before the All-Star break, but when the Bruins raised their game, the Senators didn't really have an answer. In fact, they looked intimidated for long stretches of the third period and it took a few strong shifts by captain Daniel Alfredsson late in the period to get their legs moving again.

I did my best lip reading routine on what MacLean was screaming but the only words I could make out were "bullshit", "f**k off", "f**k you" and "baloney tits". That last one makes me think I'm not that good at lip reading, but it must have been something pretty good because assistant coach Mark Reeds was trying to haul MacLean down off the bench by his elbow before he really did say something stupid.

It will be interesting to see which gets more play on Wednesday morning - the refs or Anderson's Chris Osgood moment - but the Senators have now lost 4 in a row and the poor streak goes deeper than just a bad goal or a few missed calls. No one is saying the rot has set in - the losses have come under less than ideal conditions like a long road trip and immediately after an extended break - but now they have to rack up some points during the coming homestand against a few weaker teams or else the real questions will start to pop up for which there won't be any convenient excuses like refereeing.

The good news for Ottawa fans is that Alfredsson looks like he's 30 years old coming out of his deserved weekend in the spotlight and Kyle Turris seems poised to hit another level due to the obvious chemistry he's building with the captain. That line will be fun to watch in Kanata over the next couple of weeks against the likes of the Islanders, Leafs and Oilers.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Kyle Turris
3. Sergei Gonchar

Honourable Mentions: Erik Karlsson and Colin Greening,


Dean Brown certainly has a way with words. He described the Senators as coming out “hot and hard” in the first two minutes of the first. I guess that's better than "hot and heavy". Or is it?..... You have to like Zdeno Chara giving Jason Spezza a healthy shove in the back after the first whistle near the Boston net. It was his genuine way of saying the camaraderie of the All-Star Game was nice and everything, but he’s now going back to his favourite pastime of burying lanky centremen in the blue paint..... It’s strange that we’ve come to expect Erik Karlsson to regularly make the kind of plays like when he raced back and stole a scoring chance from Brad Marchand after the aggravating winger found an open seam towards the net in the first. There can’t be another player who can wheel back into his own zone like Karlsson can and catch guys without taking penalties. It’s something Sens fans will be glad to take for granted…. Sergei Gonchar, another fine skater, wasn’t so lucky when he had to haul down Marchand on a similar play just minutes later. The Big Z cranked one of those famous slappers home on the ensuing power-play for Boston's first goal. It seems Jared Cowen had certainly watched Chara break the hardest shot record at the skills competition on TV back home in Saskatchewan. If Cowen hadn’t jumped out of the way, Chara’s shot would have probably hit him in the leg and bounced into the corner (or into outer space). But can you really blame Cowen? It's entirely possible the puck would have shattered like the fake puck Patrick Kane used in his last shot of the Silly Goal Competition, and Cowen's leg might have shattered along with it.....

Has anyone seen Zack Smith lately? He's missing and there are no clues..... Two epic scraps in the first period sort of made it clear that the Bruins and the Senators are the two toughest teams in the East, if not the West as well. It’s working for the Bruins obviously and it’s working pretty well for the Senators this year as well. The difference is that no one in their sane mind takes cheap shots at Boston’s skilled players while guys like Alfredsson and Karlsson have taken a few this year. The Bruins have a reputation for not taking shit. The Senators not so much. Maybe Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli sat through those years in the Senators front office when they were getting pushed around by the Leafs and decided he’d never let that happen if he ever got control of a team. Mission accomplished….. Geez, I thought I was a fight fan but Jason York of Sportsnet was channeling his inner Ultimate Warrior when joyfully describing the series of bouts after the first period. He said he loved that the Bruins didn’t need to but “they’ll fight you anyways”…. Speaking of the Ultimate Warrior, remember how he used to run up to the ring, grab the ropes and proceed to thrash the living shit out of them in some sort of crazed heavy metal seizure? How much cocaine and steroids are needed to work yourself up into that kind of state? I'd probably need about one cocaine. That's how it's measured right?....

.....At first I thought it was sleep deprivation warping my senses and causing me to hear things that just weren’t being said, but as time wore on, I realized I wasn’t crazy - at least not yet by modern medical standards. No, in fact I was driving around the wilds of Kanata on Monday listening to the mid-morning show on the Team 1200 and fans were calling and emailing in strange ramblings that could only come from unbalanced minds on the brink of collapse and permanent damage. They were ripping players for their plus/minus in the All Star Game. They were angry at Tim Thomas for selfishly stopping a Daniel Alfredsson shot that denied him a hat trick. They were detecting weaknesses in Henrik Lundqvist’s glove hand from an exhibition game of shinny hockey. My hands gripped the steering wheel tight in fear that the repeated blunt force trauma of idiocy would cause me to lose concentration and end up at a Tim Hortons drive-thru ordering a dozen Boston Creme doughnuts and one big straw. Thankfully I was able to keep one hand on the wheel and use the other to turn radio dial off. It was a close call, my friends, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore than I have to…. Now here I go being two-faced and ripping something I don’t like about the All-Star game. The NHLPA should demand that there isn’t a “last player chosen” scenario at following player drafts. Don Cherry is right. It embarrasses the players and not just the guys picked in the last few rounds. Even nice guy Jarome Iginla called the whole process “awkward”. It’s completely unnecessary and is now just a chance for everyone on Twitter to be ultra-condescending at best, downright vicious at worst. Phil Kessel took it harder on the chin than Logan Couture but I don’t see any positives out of watching a guy be humbled in some schoolyard game of popularity that's forced on the players. Keep the player draft but throw sticks or something for the last six guys. Anything would be better than watching a proud athlete squirm. Then again, some people get their kicks out of that kind of thing. The players say they don’t care, but you know damn well they do…..

..... Still weird to see Chris Kelly wearing #23….. He’s not exactly Jonathan Cheechoo or Bill Muckalt, but Bobby Butler is colder than the concrete steps outside my front door. It’s tough to score when he can’t hit the net, even after getting a perfect pass into the slot with no Bruin near him for at least two steamboats. The shot Butler has is so deceptive when he’s confident. It’s a shame to see it go to waste right now….. Okay, now I’m officially done with the Tim Thomas controversy. I was one of the people calling him a whack job but people have come down so hard on him that it’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy. It was lame, but it doesn’t mean you have to bury the guy day after day. Some have gone so overboard in their reaction (see Jack Todd and Dave Hodge) that it makes you uncomfortable to have to side with them. What this all tells you is that there's no place for politics in the NHL. It’s escapist entertainment to the core and when you mess with the formula, whack jobs come out from every side. True, Thomas is the one who made this “political” in the first place but there’s no more fruit to pick on this story unless the Bruins decide to trade him this season, something not many can see happening. I’d almost rather talk about concussions at this point than I would Thomas and his strange Tea Party ramblings….

..... Name a song that never seem to get old at hockey games? This is a rare beast, as there are only about 20 songs in rotation in any given arena in the entire world, but AC/DC’s Back In Black still sounds as swinging as when it was recorded in 1980 and kicked people's heads off. Case in point was a grizzled Bruins fan behind the Boston bench closing his eyes in rocking meditation as those riffs kicked in. Maybe he was just stoned (almost certainly, even if it was just a food coma from the two plates of arena nachos) but it’s hard not to do the same when you hear that song count off. It's a perfectly recorded guitar album, in contrast to the ultra-compressed and brittle crap that passes for guitars in modern productions. But, by God, this is a hockey blog isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Black Aces All-Star Game Vintage

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved the All-Star Game - up to a point.

I'd get all cranked up on soda and stand glued to the spot during the player introductions, always the most glamourous part of the game. In the 80's the "glamour" consisted of bare lights, a rousing 80's keyboard anthem and miles of bad hockey hair. By the end of the first period I'd be in the basement pretending I was Wayne Gretzky and winging tennis balls off the washing machine, the game itself forgotten.

As a time capsule, here's the 1980 All-Star Game player introductions at the brand spanking new Joe Louis Arena in Motor City. Of note, this is Gretzky's first All-Star Game and Gordie Howe's last.

The Skills Competition was like every kid's dream to watch and remains better than the game itself. Here's the breakaway competition from 2002.

Let's go with the shooting accuracy comp in a random year - 1996 - which has all the big names you can think of, plus Brendan Shanahan as a Hartford Whaler being blown away by Mark Messier going 4 for 4.

The 1991 All-Star game may be the most memorable in the past 25 years. Held in Chicago Stadium during the start of the Gulf War, the anthem before the game was a complete madhouse and the roof almost came off the old building.

The following video showing highlights of that 1991 weekend is typical of the production values that the NHL employed at the time - full-on cornball. But there's still good stuff in here, particularly Phil Esposito letting off some kind of flash-bomb taped to the end of his stick during the old-timers game. And you thought Ovechkin's hat and glasses trick was flashy?

Of course, we have to end it with Owen Nolan's called shot against Dominik Hasekin 1997 (with glowing puck). This video shows his last two goals of the hat-trick with the big moment coming about 50 seconds in. Still one of the best things I've seen in a hockey game.

Hope everyone enjoys the All-Star weekend here in Ottawa for the first time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hard Night In Hollywood.... O'Rourke's Revenge .... Tim Thomas Fiasco... and Coffee Stained Game Notes

Los Angeles 4 Ottawa 1

Some might be tempted to call this game "Dan O'Rourke's revenge", in response to Paul MacLean's loose lips in Anaheim on the weekend (see below). Others might wonder if the Senators are showing signs of falling back to earth after a meteoric January by losing their past two games.

Meanwhile, many others didn't even watch this one because they were sleeping like most working people in the Eastern time zone. I persevered through a somewhat dull tilt (it had its moments) by plowing through a few cups of instant coffee and reading endless tweets about the Tim Thomas gongshow (again, see below).

To me, this Senators team looks like a group of guys who are in need of a vacation. That was their 12th game of the month, the first game of what will be their 3rd back-to-back in January, and their 8th on the road in 18 days.

To say the Senators are due for a few losses is an understatement. The fact that it took until the end of this brutal stretch is the only real surprise here. They have one more on Tuesday night in Phoenix, where Kyle Turris will be putting some good money on the board to try and get the win, and then it's the much needed All-Star break where the majority of Sens will get a chance to recuperate (ie. party) before they embark on the stretch run to the playoffs.

The fact that Jason Spezza took a puck off his helmetless forehead during the warmups and had to get stitched up before he even broke a sweat should have tipped off the wise that the breaks would be hard to come by in L.A.

Nothing to see here. Keep moving.

We'll take a pass on the Senators 3 Stars for tonight because there isn't enough to fill it out. But if we had to pick one, let's take Colin Greening who led the team in hits with eight and tied for the lead in shots with four.


With coach Paul MacLean putting the flamethrower to referee Dan O'Rourke for calling Erik Karlsson a diver, there was a bit of a free pass waiting there for Karlsson if he wanted to bury O'Rourke even further to the press. The fact that Karlsson chose not to and even had some sympathy towards the tough job referee's have just shows the kind of class #65 has. It's something you could imagine Nicklas Lidstrom or Ray Bourque saying..... With that being said, O'Rourke has been brutal. First the diving comment, and then he watches as the Kings captain Dustin Brown tries to break Karlsson's arm with a slash and keeps his whistle at his hip. My guess is O'Rourke wasn't too happy about MacLean's comments. Kind of brings you back to Cory Clouston's public plea that the refs were jobbing the Senators. Maybe Clouston was right..... Kerry Fraser seems to think that O'Rourke would probably apologize to Karlsson in person if in fact he did call him a "diver", something Fraser sheds doubt on in his TSN column..... Darryl Sutter is proof enough that redemption is always just around the corner in the NHL. This guy was called "done" more times than dinner around the league and now he's behind the reins of a Kings team that has more talent than the Flames squad he led to the Cup final in 2004..... Denis Potvin had a nice moment when he said Jonathan Quick's catching glove was like "a frying pan". In fact, I think some goalie's are using woks out there...... The collision between Colin Greening and Drew Doughty might be the most epic hit you'll see all year (with apologies to Brayden Schenn who I'll talk about later). Doughty basically exploded in mid-air and he was the aggressor in the play. Unbelievable..... Clearly, Doughty was just fine after that hit because he set up Jack Johnson's power-play goal which put the Senators to bed for the night.

....Tim Thomas is an incredible goaltender with a great story, but refusing to attend the White House event because of "political and ideological differences" seems petty and arrogant. Thomas is a hardcore Tea Party advocate, and in keeping with that party's ideological extremism, has found a way to turn what is always a mild, non-partisan event into a political cluster-f**k. Standing up for what you believe in is no offense, but if you can't even celebrate with your teammates because your adopted ideology won't allow you to shake the hand of the President of the United States, then something is truly off. A lot of people are drinking that sugary brand of Kool-Aid in America and it's not surprising to see it start to leak into areas where politics usually isn't welcome. Try not to get your feet wet..... What the hell is going in Winnipeg with Evander Kane and the fans? Sounds like Kane is getting the Ray Emery treatment - ie. rumour mongering and a local press that despises him. How does this not end with Kane asking for a trade at some point down the line here?..... One of the more bizarre calls the Senators have faced all season is Chris Phillips giving the Kings a penalty shot for allegedly covering the puck in his crease with a glove, even though the replays clearly showed he batted it towards Craig Anderson's pads, a perfectly legal and commonplace play. Of course - of course - the Kings scored on the penalty shot. Then Chris Neil takes a crosscheck in the grill from Kyle Clifford (accidental, but still a high-stick), goes down in a heap and the Sens still don't get a mercy call. Combine that with the slash on Karlsson, the non-call when Phillips had his stick axed in half right in view of the ref and various other borderline whistles that didn't go the Senators way, and you could almost imagine MacLean waving the white flag like Roger Neilson once famously did in Vancouver. But if the refs think you're a team full of divers, those whistles tend to stay pretty dry.

.....Two of the best things on Twitter: The Iron Shiek @the_ironsheik, and Don Cherry Parody @DonCherryParody. I'm pretty sure the Iron Shiek account is real (as he's as crazy as his tweets whenever he makes a public appearance) and the Cherry Parody is so spot on it hurts. Don Cherry himself would appreciate it if he even knew or cared what Twitter was, much like he appreciated the piano bit that hit You Tube not too long ago...... Lots of people had some harsh reactions to Tim Thomas on Twitter today, but as usual, one person went way too far and that person was TSN's Dave Hodge, who has a history of getting himself in hot water for various things (the flipping of the pencil being my favourite). Bringing up someone else's kids is never going to work, even if it was intended as a joke. I like Hodge a lot but I don't know how he's going to get out of this one.....It's always worth watching CBC's Ron MacLean and Don Cherry's routine on Saturday nights, even if you can't stand Cherry. You can't accuse it of being boring, but it used to be even less PC in the old days, if you can believe it and somehow louder. But the give and go has been the same and it's interesting to go back and watch a few from over the years. Here's Cherry in his prime when he had the much hated Ulf Samuelsson as a foil back in 1991 (it's funny how Cherry was calling out guys for dirty hits long before the shrill fourth estate of today). And here's Cherry coming two letters from swearing on national TV back in October 1993 and while MacLean sheepishly looks on in a cold sweat.....But that's nothing. How can anything compare to Don Cherry laying down a rap track on Rock 'Em Sock 'Em 5? This may blow your mind ("Listen, listen, never turtle, you do that they'll call you Mirtle. Let's Go!").....

.....What in incredible open-ice hit by the Flyers Brayden Schenn on the Bruins Steve Kampfer. I know that people don't like to see fights occur after clean hits like the one Schenn delivered, but the fact that Chris Kelly immediately went after Schenn and dropped the gloves shows the leadership Kelly is providing and why he's already an assistant captain for the B's after being there less than a year. While the fans and media don't like these post-clean hit fights, it's now de rigueur amongst the players and a failure to react after a teammate gets crushed is viewed as being soft. Right or wrong, that's where the game has evolved to. Kelly did the right thing in that situation. As for Kampfer, man, how do you not know to keep your head up when coming from behind your own net? Even in today's NHL?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ducks’ Hagman Might Be Option For Ottawa

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray has never been one to hide his intentions from the press, unlike some of his colleagues who apply to the old Cosa Nostra theory that “three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead”.

Murray telegraphed his wish to pick up another forward who can put the puck in the net and even owner Eugene Melnyk said he’d support Murray’s efforts at the deadline. With the Senators continuing to roll after a somewhat surprising 4-1 win over the Sharks, coming on the heels of a long flight into the Bay Area 3 time zones away, Murray is clearly in a position where he has to start thinking about the playoffs.

There’s some disagreement amongst fans whether or not Murray should be risking the chemistry of the team for a better shot in the post-season, and probably a near unanimous sentiment that he shouldn’t deal any top prospects, but some kind of move is inevitable. Especially when Murray has a history of adding at the deadline, even if a lot of those moves didn’t pan out as expected.

Those were different teams under different circumstances. This year’s edition of the Senators is the first team under Murray’s GM tenure that seems to have fresh momentum heading into the stretch, as opposed to the post-Cup final squads that were hanging on to past glories.

A smart deadline deal for a team on the upswing can really push them to the next level, while that same deal might just burden a club already fading under expectations.

Yet if you look at the situation closely, it seems like Murray has already pulled the trigger on the biggest move he’ll make this season when he dealt future offensive stud David Rundblad for Kyle Turris, a player who is making Murray look like a genius after bloggers like myself called him crazy. But that’s the hockey business. One day you’re on the ropes, the next you’re landing uppercuts.

Barring a stunning deal that brings in a well-known player with term and money on his contract, the Senators are likely looking for a veteran forward who is about to become a UFA, has a scoring touch and can fit into coach Paul MacLean’s system by being able to skate. Even if the Senators defense isn’t very fast as a group, it seems like MacLean insists on his forwards being able to play with speed.

Keeping that in mind, who would be a likely target for Bryan Murray when talks heat up after the All-Star break?

A guy that seems to fit is Ducks veteran winger Niklas Hagman, now a bit of a journeyman after stops in Florida, Dallas, Toronto, Calgary and now Anaheim. He’s had a few rough stretches in his career but he’s put up over 20 goals three times, has 30 games of playoff experience (all with Dallas), and would immediately become one of Ottawa’s best skaters. He also has experience playing either wing and would be an easy plug-in on any line. Other than inconsistency, Hagman’s biggest drawback is that he’s not physical but the Senators aren’t exactly lacking in that department.

If Hagman’s not to the Senators taste, there’s a buffet of players heading into UFA status on bad teams that would be available to Murray. Tuomo Ruutu will be a guy that everyone will be chasing but Carolina GM Jim Rutherford will probably want to hit a home run with the gritty winger which means Tuomo will likely miss being the third Ruutu brother to be brought into the Senators organization (after Jarkko and Mikko).

Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth of the Oilers are probably out of Murray’s range for similar reasons. But Sammy Pahlsson and Vaclav Prospal of the woeful Blue Jackets might be options for Murray. Pahlsson doesn’t have the offense Murray might want but he’s known as a greasy playoff guy and won a Cup against Ottawa while with the Ducks. MacLean knows Pahlsson well from the Western Conference and there might be some interest there. Prospal is ancient but has a history with the Senators and can play both wing and centre. He may still have a few goals left in him but he’s probably a long shot to join Ottawa.

But who knows? For all this talk, Murray might just decide to fold his arms and watch other teams fall all over themselves for past-their-prime players while his Senators plug the holes with prospects from Bingo.

Maybe Andre Petersson steps in and scores a hat trick in his first game. I’m pretty much through with predicting how this season will go for the Senators. There seems to be a surprise around every corner and I expect the trade deadline to be much the same.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Circus Around Battle Of Ontario Crazy As Ever

The beat goes on for the Ottawa Senators after another comeback win, this time on the road against God’s Team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was a game everyone wanted to see, and the hype was surprisingly strong for a mid-January tilt between clubs that play each other six times a season. Even if the game is ho-hum (this one wasn’t), the circus surrounding it is always worth a laugh simply because everyone takes it so seriously. Television’s talking heads lose their objectivity and seem to think they’re on the ice with the players (see Nick Kypreos). Or in the case of Damien Cox, use it as a platform to tell everyone what’s so awful about the NHL (ad-nauseum). Tweeters see every nuance of the game and tweet about it as if it was some vital piece of information, or proof that their viewpoint on the current state of hockey is being proven right beyond any argument.

Take the Nick Foligno – Dion Phaneuf incident. You all saw it. The hipcheck (or the “clipping”). Phaneuf going ass over chin and landing on his face. Phaneuf starting to get up and then faking an injury (allegedly). Then the big fight a little bit later.

As far as the two players are concerned, the fight was a natural reaction to the hit and the matter was settled. It’s not a complicated process for the players to understand.

Yet the reaction amongst the cognoscenti was far from simple and each side had to adjust the reality of it to fit their agendas.

The exchange between Nick Kypreos and Damien Cox on Sportsnet right after the game is a good representation of this.

Kypreos said that Phaneuf had to fight Foligno to send a message that it wasn’t okay to run him and think you can get away with it. Again, this is simple logic for most hockey players. It’s like an inherent truth, an archetype, a natural reaction.

Then you had Damien Cox with that sour look on his face exclaiming “But they lost the game!” His point was that Toronto was leading 2-1 at that point and that Phaneuf should have just accepted the fact that Foligno got a penalty and turned the other cheek.

This made Kypreos start flinging his arms around saying that you can’t let “guys like Foligno” take runs at you and not do anything about it. Kypreos was on the verge of hysterics while Cox smugly looked on like a kid who had just poked a hornet’s nest for the fun of it.

Cox’s theory is representative of a growing consensus in the game that players should leave all the policing up to the league instead of taking matters into their own hands.

If you read my blog at all, you probably already know my take. I think that’s complete bullshit. I’m on the pro-fighting side of the current debate and that’s that. I like the traditional way of players settling issues with each other on the ice, instead of expecting the league to take care of every issue.

Clearly I have my own agenda and I know that. Don’t bother calling me on it. I have a lot of respect for people on the other side of the debate like Roy MacGregor amongst others. There are lots of valid points in either argument.

Yet, I’ll go back to something I said about Don Cherry not too long ago. I’ll always respect the opinion of someone who genuinely seems to love the game, even if they tend to go off track once in a while either in the name of entertainment or bullheadedness. When I see Cherry or Mike Milbury get spitting mad about changes in the game, I see guys who are passionate and protective of a sport they based their entire life around.

I saw that same emotion in Kypreos last night. Cox won the argument simply by being cool and smug, and knowing that Kypreos could never articulate his points the same way a polished writer and communicator like Cox can.

But it doesn’t make Cox right.

To me, I will always err on the side of player’s opinion. They’re the ones who play the game and put their health on the line every night while guys like me sit and judge them for every move they make on the ice.

In short, I’ll take guys like Milbury, Cherry and Kypreos just as seriously, if not more than I would Cox, MacGregor or Adam Proteau. And that also means that players such as Stu Grimson and Chris Nilan have just as valid points to make. Maybe that’s a flawed approach, but it’s the one I believe in.

A major weakness I see in Cox’s argument, and the variations on it that you read in the blogs and on Twitter is that fighting largely has no effect on the game. People like to point out when a fight either hurts a team (like Toronto last night) or when nobody seems to gain momentum from it. But to acknowledge that it can have a negative effect also means you have to acknowledge it can have a positive effect on a team. That’s just logic, not some theory I invented in my spare time. You can’t separate the two in order to prove a point. If the fight was bad for one team, then it was clearly good for the other team.

But that’s the kind of world the NHL is in right now. It’s become so politicized that it’s a bit of a bummer at times. You can sit and watch your Twitter feed during a game and be amazed that so many people get sucked into the shallowness of it all, the pettiness and the egotistical crusades that make it like a deranged schoolyard atmosphere where grown adults embrace their worst impulses and try to peddle it as insight. The amount of straight-up bullies on Twitter is amazing to behold. It’s like stumbling onto the island in Lord Of The Flies and seeing people in rags trying to maim each other. It’s somewhat surreal.

But who am I to spoil everyone’s fun. It is what it is. I’ve waded into those waters myself from time to time.

As Bob Dylan once said in Talkin’ World War III Blues, “Half of the people can be part right all of the time, Some of the people can be all right part of the time, But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sens Have A Night To Forget.... Diva Goalies.... The Boss.... Chomsky-esque Game Notes

Winnipeg 2 Ottawa 0

Sometimes teams get sick of winning.

Okay, that's completely untrue, but for fans it sometimes looks that way. Against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night, the Senators barely had anything in the tank coming home from a mini-road trip and with a much bigger one probably looming on their minds.

They'll never use it as an excuse, but the Senators may have been looking ahead to Toronto on Tuesday and the scheduled full week away from home. And if they were going to offer up a clunker, Monday night was about the safest time they could do it.

Even after the loss, the Senators sit safely in 5th place in the East and the loss to the conference rival Jets doesn't immediately seem to pose a danger. There is still a 9 point gap there and the Jets were due for a win against Ottawa after dropping the first two of the season to the Senators.

All those games Ottawa won recently gave them a cushion exactly for nights like this in the dog-days of January when the bounces don't go their way, the legs seem like they're full of gravy and hands are dipped in cement.

It happens.

The only real emotion the Senators showed was when Erik Karlsson was elbowed by Evander Kane and Chris Neil had to jump in a few plays later to address the situation. Neil levelled Kane with a Flesherton handshake and all hell broke loose for a few minutes with Karlsson and all his teammates on the bench appreciating Neil's efforts. It was the absolute right thing to do for Neil - it was the only thing to do. If he doesn't let Kane know that elbowing Ottawa's best player is a punishable offense, then Neil isn't doing his job. Matt Carkner also got into the act by backing up Neil when the Jets fought back and the Senators gladly killed off the extra two-minutes. Those are the kinds of penalties any team will gladly take.

Yet the emotion from that scene didn't give either team momentum one way or the other. It was one of those nights where Bruce Springsteen and the whole E-Street Band could have personally ripped into Born To Run in the dressing room and the Sens would have been just as flat.

But the Leafs might have an angry Sens team on their hands on Tuesday night. Word is Eugene is personally flying in Bruce from Jersey for this one.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

Not much to pick from here but let's give it a shot....

1. Chris Neil (Stuck up for Karlsson, led team in hits with 5)
2. Sergei Gonchar (Led team in shots and blocked shots)
3. Craig Anderson (Solid outing with no goal support)

Goalies Still Have It Good....Too Good

It's a topic you don't hear much about anymore with the concussion issue taking precedence over everything. Yet, goalie equipment is still huge, scoring is trending downwards and nobody seems to know what to do about it, at least no one with any say on the matter. The guy responsible for enforcing the standards on goalie equipment size, Kay Whitmore, recently told the Hockey News that "Nothing is imminent...It’s always been a goal to find a way to get rid of the big catch glove without having sprained thumbs, torn ligaments and wrist injuries."  Please. The only thing those mitts protect is the net and everybody knows it.This doesn't inspire much confidence that change is on the way. The same article points out that "the league reduced goalie pads from 12 to 11 inches '05-06" but that goalie save percentages have risen during that time. Again, larger nets are being brought up as a possible solution. Pass the Gravol. Maybe the league should stop treating goalies like divas and just get the equipment shrunk drastically once and for all, just like they did so well with obstruction. We're talking about 60 guys in the NHLPA that will be upset and the rest will be high-fiving each other because more goals equals bigger contracts. The NHL has to make it so players can come over the blue line, take an unscreened shot and score a goal more than once a year. Half the goals in the NHL today are what we used to consider garbage goals, all within five feet of the net and off rebounds. Yes, the goalies are bigger, but the equipment is beyond being a joke. It was a joke in the 90's. Now everyone is just tired of talking about it and have accepted the one-inch change in '06 as the final say in the matter. Too bad. When it finally gets done, people will be wondering why it took them so long, just like obstruction.


Now that we've already broached my least favourite subject - goalies - the Senators would have been smart to look at the Ducks Dan Ellis before he tore up his groin and went on the IR as an option to shore up their back-up slot. The guy is a UFA next season and actually has a pretty good save percentage on a brutal team. Clearly, Alex Auld is not getting the job done and that's not giving the Senators many options if they want to rest Craig Anderson.  Now that Ellis is likely off the table, there's no real obvious candidate for Ottawa to trade for. Maybe if the Jets plummet in the standings the Sens could try to get Chris Mason in a bargain. He's also UFA but the Jets may have ideas of re-signing him or extracting a good pick in return for his services....The Winnipeg Jets must have felt right at home going to the rink for today's game-day skate. It sure felt like Winnipeg out there after a fairly mild winter so far in Bytown.....I'm a long-john's kind of guy but I recently had a pal tell me I was crazy and that no one wears long-johns anymore. What? Is this true? I wouldn't be able to survive an Ottawa winter without those red-striped woolen socks and the johns. Or maybe he's the freak. That would explain a few things....It seems like every team in the East plays 90 percent of the game in the neutral zone this year with variations on the classic trap. And Ottawa has just played three of them in a row. The Sens might be happy for a trip to Toronto and out West if only for a chance to be able to skate again. Maybe the NHL should just put the nets at the bluelines and put expensive seats in the old offensive zones. That's a million dollar idea right there......I think Dave "The Voice" Schreiber is the only person left on earth who likes to exclaim "Kowabunga" after big goals, like he did on Alfredsson's shootout winning goal against Montreal on Saturday. The reason is that he's the only guy who still sounds good doing it. Seriously, Schreiber is the best in the business and it's a shame more people don't know about him......

.....Brendan Shanahan made the right call on the Vincent Lecavalier punch to Evgeni Malkin's grill. It was dirty, sure, but basically harmless. The guy most in trouble should be the linesman who supposedly had Lecavalier tied up. One of the linesman's main responsibilities in fights or major scrums is to make sure that no one gets in a free shot while the other guy is immobilized by the other linesman. That didn't happen here and Geno had to take one on the chin. I liked Malkin's response though. He took it, shrugged it off and left the game with 5 points, including a hat-trick. He's got no place fighting anyways, unlike Lecavalier who's been known to throw them once in a while. That's for Arron "The Sandman" Asham to take care of the next game.....Not many inspiring shifts by an Senators line but the fourth unit of Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka and Bobby Butler hit the post twice with about three minutes to go. Interesting that Paul MacLean would put those guys out at that time but he seems to have a good feel for the bench. It almost worked....

....A strange trend I've noticed across the league in the past couple of seasons is guys showing their frustration by raising their sticks in a chopping motion (usually with one hand) and starting to bring it down on the ice or the boards before pulling up and skating off the ice. Of course, that's always been around but I've really noticed it this year as a sort of standard show of emotion by younger players. I think it's a bit like the chewing of mouthguards or the hockey pant strings dangling you see a lot of. Weird, meaningless trends that catch on amongst young players and proliferate. It's nothing to get up in arms about, but it's a bad habit. You know the old maxim: "Never let them see you sweat." In the old days, the only time you'd see a player raise his stick in a chopping motion was when he was really going to bring it down on someones head or ankle. I guess this is better when you think of it in that way.....Ryan Miller is officially killing me in my hockey pool. This is a guy playing like he wants to be in Anaheim. Maybe he'll get his wish very soon.....

.....Hitting the mid-point of the season, every self-respecting blog has to hand out their own set of team awards, so in order to do the minimum expected of me, here's two random ones:

Most improved player: Obviously a lot of candidates for this one but I've got my eye on Nick Foligno. Sure, Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar have bounced back from tough years, but we all knew the level they could play at when at their best. Foligno is starting to show that he can make plays, score goals as well as be a bit of a shift disturber out there, as Sidney Crosby can now attest. In years past, Foligno looked like he was missing a cylinder. He could make the nice plays in his head, as shown by his numerous failed attempts to stickhandle into the offensive zone, but this year he's getting past the blueline with the puck still on his stick and he's starting to show some hands nobody knew were there. I wrote a piece on Foligno early in the year saying he had to accept his fate as a grinder and just go to the net instead of trying to stickhandle like Spezza. Looks like I was wrong. He's like a hybrid now. One minute he'll have three guys trying to punch him in the head for going hard to the net and the next he's deking those same players out of their jockstraps.

Best goal celebration: This is a tough one. It's hard not to like Jason Spezza's understated fist pump or Erik Karlsson's near Ovechkin-like joy when a teammate scores (ie. Alfie's 400th goal when Karlsson was jumping up and down like my sister at the New Kids On The Block concert in 1990). But I have to give the best goal celebration to Daniel Alfredsson who lately has taken to simply putting both hands straight in the air after a near two-second pause and staring down his teammates as if to say "Yup. That's how it's done, boys". This will surely go down as the classic Alfie pose, as he most famously did it in the 2007 Eastern final against the Sabres to send the Senators to the Stanley Cup final for the first time. It also helps that every time he seems to do it is because he just won the Senators the game. As the players pile on around him in celebration, the only thing you can see of Alfie is those two arms still in the air.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sens Keep Rolling Through East.... Cammalleri Fallout .... Cool Hand Luke... More Game Notes

Ottawa 3 NY Rangers 0

As Senators head coach Paul MacLean said after the game, this Ottawa team knew exactly who they were playing on Thursday night - the best team in the National Hockey League, at least at the halfway point of the season.

And the Senators played a game that was remarkably similar to what the Rangers have been exhibiting all year, which features, above all, China Wall goaltending, a commitment to defense and the patience of Job waiting for a scoring chance off a mistake by the opposition.

Hey, don't get too used to it.

While the Rangers may be winning, they aren't exactly a masterpiece to watch if you like to stay awake past 7:45. Out of necessity and inexperience, the Senators have taken a different approach through the first half, letting in a ton of goals but climbing back by scoring just a few more, many of them coming in nerve shattering comebacks that have left local fans in some kind of shock for hours after it's all over.

But maybe, with all these wins starting to pile up, the Senators are slowly beginning to take shape as a team that can at least have a chance of shutting down the opposition, especially in big games that actually mean something in the standings.

Craig Anderson had his first shutout of the season, Jason Spezza continues to play the best hockey of his entire career with two goals Thursday and MacLean, now solidly in Jack Adams Trophy talk, has the rest of the team galloping through a tough part of the schedule with everyone playing a role, from Erik Karlsson right down to Kaspars Daugavins.

You can see the kind of unity this team has and the momentum that's giving them.

A quick look at the standings tells just how crazy this is getting. The Senators are 4 points out of 1st place overall in the National Hockey League.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Now that you've done that, brace for the bad news.

The Senators have one hell of a West Coast road trip coming up in a really short time span and that's going to cause problems and slow the train down a little. But the points they are getting right now, many of them against top Eastern Conference teams, is giving them a cushion they can use for the inevitable downturn that comes in every season.

That's how you make the playoffs. Attrition. Get the points in the right parts of the schedule which lets you survive the tough stretches where winning is like climbing a mountain sometimes.

Right now, that's exactly what Ottawa is doing and it's even brought talk of adding salary at the trade deadline to really make a playoff push.

Some will have strong opinions about that, positive or negative, but the point is that people are even talking about it as a possibility.

That's a conversation that was almost unfathomable back on October 18th when this team was a dismal 1-5, quickly on the way to proving their critics right.

Yet, April still seems like a long ways away, doesn't it?

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

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

Honourable Mentions: Jared Cowen, Kyle Turris, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba and Colin Greening.


They spent all that time and money refurbishing Madison Square Garden this summer and it still looks dark and dingy on television, especially around the nets in both ends and in the corners where it's almost cave-like. I'm no engineer but it seems to me they're missing about four good television lights on that ceiling and have been ever since I can remember watching hockey. Yet, it does give the famous rink a distinctive look, like it never evolved past 1972. No wonder nobody can score in that rink..... Denis Potvin had a pretty good line near the start of the game when, describing a solid positional save by Craig Anderson, said "the puck just melted into his equipment". Wish I'd thought of that one.....Then Dean Brown got into the act at the start of the third period when he said that “Bobby Butler just chunked it into the corner”. Again, another description that just sounds exactly the way it looks. It was like these guys were doing a chocolate bar commercial. But maybe they just had a bag of peanut butter cups on the desk which they were plowing into during commercial breaks and started saying these phrases unconsciously. It would be hard to blame them. Those things are pretty good…..

….It’s been fascinating to watch the Montreal Canadiens completely implode this season, disaster after disaster. It’s no fun for fans to watch their own team become a laughingstock but for everybody else it’s almost cathartic in a way. Every season at least one or two teams become a complete side-show and it’s just part of the overall entertainment package the NHL provides. This year it’s been Montreal and Columbus. But Ottawa fans remember what it feels like because they’ve been through it a couple of times since the run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. It’s not a good place to be. But then again, you wonder if karma is coming around for Habs fans. When you call the cops because Zdeno Chara hit one of your players and make a tradition of singing that silly victory song “Ole” before the first period is even over, you kind of have this coming, don’t you?.....Then to compact their problems, they trade one of their most talented and clutch players, Michael Cammalleri, to the Flames just because he has the audacity to speak the plain truth at a time when that's exactly what's needed in that crazy organization. But we in Ottawa all know how Pierre "The Ghost" Gauthier feels about the truth. 1998: Sure you're not going to Anaheim, Pierre....

….Denis Potvin was really feeling it tonight. After Milan Michalek’s goal he pulled out a Paul Newman quote from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are these guys?” When you’re doing a hockey game and you’re quoting Newman, it’s pretty hard not to go right to Slapshot and Reggie Dunlop. Not bad Denis. But I’d have been more impressed if he went to The Hustler or The Sting. Or if he vowed live on-air to eat 50 hard boiled eggs like Newman does in Cool Hand Luke......No reason to get too upset about the Ruslan Fedotenko knee-on-knee hit on Spezza. Completely unintentional and Spezza was fine once he got the blood flowing again. Collisions happen. Not all of them are a conspiracy theory. Besides, Fedotenko is about as clean a player as you can find…..

.......Is there a more innocent looking face in the NHL than Chris Neil's after he does an "uh-oh"? When he hit Michael Del Zotto on an icing play at the end of the second period, Neil looked genuinely hurt that he was being called for it. Those refs just have no heart. It's like throwing Tiny Tim out into the cold at Christmas....Speaking of Del Zotto, here’s a pretty amazing stat for you - going into tonight’s game, Del Zotto was +25 to lead the team. The next highest rating on the Rangers going into the game was Derek Stepan’s +13. You might remember that Del Zotto suffered through a brutal sophomore season last year which actually saw him get sent back down to the minors after playing 80 games as a rookie defenseman in the NHL. With 23 points in just 40 games, he’s clearly one of the comeback players of the year…..

....Think you're good with your NHL history? Get a few buddies, a case of beer and play this game for half an hour before you're too bombed: Someone picks a random NHL team. The guy beside him picks another one. Now you've got two teams - say the Oilers and the Rangers. On a piece of paper, everyone individually writes down as many players as they can think of that played at least one game for both teams. After a few minutes, the silent buzzer goes and everyone presents their lists. Have the Official NHL Guide on hand or an internet connection to Hockey DB to check any disputes. You get one point for a correct answer but you also get a point taken off for a wrong player, so you actually have to put some thought into it instead of just scribbling down names you think might have played for both teams. Most points wins the game. Then another two random teams are picked and the next game starts. First person to win four games wins the series. And if you want to turn it into a drinking game, the losers of each game have to guzzle. Yes, I invented this time waster many years ago but I have since gotten what some people like to call "a life". But go ahead and try it sometime. It's way harder than you think and it will either humble you or make you look like an NHL Cliff Clavin amongst your drunk and somewhat dimwitted pals......

.....Get ready for the onslaught of the “The All-Star Game Is Terrible And Needs To Change” articles that you see every year at this time. But one thing to keep in mind about these predictably grouchy editorials – they’re all wrong…… How is it that Ottawa’s been rebuilding for less than a year and they already seem miles ahead of where Edmonton is, despite the Oilers having 3 of the best prospects in the game in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all progressing as expected? Probably because Bryan Murray realized he didn’t have to burn the thing to the ground and instead kept a few proven veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, all with a history of winning in this league, to keep playing key roles they had when the team was a powerhouse. Only Erik Karlsson is in a premier role while the rest of the youngsters are learning the ropes as support players. It also helps that their number one centre, Jason Spezza, is fully in his prime and still developing as a leader. On the other hand, the Oilers have thrust their top prospects into the most pressure filled spots while their vets, like Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, now seem more like “support players”, and very expensive ones at that (the exception is Ryan Smyth who is having a great year). It’s starting to look like the Oilers are going to miss the playoffs yet again while Ottawa is actually fighting for home-ice advantage in April. This doesn’t mean that the Oilers won’t turn into a powerhouse a couple of years down the road, but their kids are playing under a lot of pressure and losing hockey games while Ottawa’s youngsters are more protected from expectations and learning to win along the way. Which approach is better? If these same Oilers go on to win a Stanley Cup, we’ll know our answer then. But for now we’ll take the Senators model....

Have a great weekend folks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sens Show No Mercy In Steeltown .... Keep Kuba Revisited .... And A Set Of Cut-Rate Game Notes

Ottawa 5 Pittsburgh 1

You had to feel for the Pittsburgh Penguins going into this one. Minus Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Paul Martin, they didn't seem to have much of a chance, even with Sens whiz kid Erik Karlsson being a late scratch with an "upper body" injury.

The whole scenario reminded me of this dramatic scene from Norm Macdonald's 1998 masterpiece of cinema, "Dirty Work".

There's not much to learn from this game other than Ottawa went into another rink and got the two points from a team they couldn't afford to give mercy to. The Senators now (shockingly) sit 6 points up on the Pens in the East.

They just got 5 of a possible 6 points against the Flyers and Pens in the past four days and now they are closing the gap on the Bruins for first in the Northeast.

And it's not even cold this winter in Ottawa.

What the in the good name of hell is going on?

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Nick Foligno
2. Milan Michalek
3. Craig Anderson

Honourable Mentions: Jason Spezza, Colin Greening, Kyle Turris, Chris Neil and Filip Kuba.

Here's where everybody sits in the year long 3 Star contest:

Black Aces 3 Star Season Scorecard

1. Karlsson – 33
2. Anderson – 31
3. Spezza – 29
4. Alfredsson – 27
5. Michalek – 25
6. Neil – 16
7. Foligno – 15
8. Cowen – 13
9. Smith – 10
10. Greening – 7
11. Gonchar – 5
12. Kuba - 5
13. Da Costa – 4
14. Butler – 2
15. Phillips – 1
16. Winchester – 1
17. Condra – 1
18. Carkner – 1
19. Turris - 1


Keep Kuba Take Two

We’ve been over this terrain so many times now that we’ll have to re-pave it soon, but as long as the Senators remain in the playoff picture (and right now there’s no reason to think they won’t be unless the rest of January turns into the road trip from Hell), I don’t see any reason why they would trade Filip Kuba (a pending UFA), let alone Sergei Gonchar (as I already wrote about here). What they would get in return for Kuba is not even close to what they can gain by making the playoffs and possibly even winning a surprise round. Every playoff game is a cool million dollar profit for Eugene Melnyk and just dumping a defenseman like Kuba, who has taken on an important role alongside wonder kid Erik Karlsson, for a measly second rounder (but more likely a third) would be pointless. Both Ian Mendes and Graeme Nichols recently covered this story and it’s not going to go away until the trade deadline comes and goes. Like I said before, this isn’t the same situation as Ottawa letting Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov walk for nothing. Those were two players in their prime getting their first crack at free agency who were foundation players on the Senators. Kuba is an older defenseman who is more of a component than a key cog, but a component who is working wonders for the team right now. Why mess with that? If he walks in the summer for nothing, the Senators save cap money, clear a roster space for Mark Borowiecki and possibly have a tidy little profit from a playoff run in their pocket. Not to mention the experience and intangible benefits that come from being a playoff team. The CBA rules flood the market with mid-tier UFA players even if the elite get locked up in multi-year contracts and never make it to July as free men. The Senators will have plenty of options in the summer. To me, it’s a no-brainer. Keep rolling. Keep Kuba.


It’s not just Erik Karlsson chasing down Norm Maciver for a Senators milestone. Filip Kuba is only one point behind both MacIver and the late Karel Rachunek for 28th in all-time Senators scoring with 96 points. When Kuba breaks the 100 point mark this season, he’ll be the 7th defenseman to do so in a Senators uniform, on the list behind Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Zdeno Chara, Jason York, Erik Karlsson and Andrej Meszaros….. Okay, time to re-do the math on Chris Phillips’ possible 1000th game. He was originally going to hit the magic number at home against the Leafs on Feb. 7 but since he missed a few with a concussion, that game is now scheduled for Feb. 9 at home against Nashville as long as he can stay healthy. Maybe they’ll have an appropriately themed Country Music night at the rink for the big Alberta boy. Maybe Big Rig will do the warm-ups wearing a Stetson. People would freak if he did that. Freak. Get your tickets folks….Good to see that Matt Carkner didn't let Matt Cooke out of the game without at least one punch in the face after the big hit on Sergei Gonchar. Carkner got his shot in as the whistle blew. Just doing his job, as was Cooke.....I bet Gonchar is okay with getting booed heartily in Steeltown as long as he's not getting booed in Kanata anymore.....A lot of Pens fans on Twitter getting upset that Gonchar was being booed in the building, including @Evil_Jagr who tweets "Please stop booing Gonchar. Breaking my heart. Genos not hurt and I'm sure he's still buddies with him. Why can't our fans leave him be"......

….After all these years it’s still mind-blowing to me that if you took away all of Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals, he’d still be the NHL’s all-time points leader with just his assists. He has 1,963 helpers to Mark Messier’s 1,887 total points. And yet Gretzky is the NHL’s invisible man right now, nowhere to be seen except when his daughter is in the news. The first thing Gary Bettman needs to do when the Coyotes get sold is give Gretzky his damn money, re-name the Lady Byng trophy after him and put 99 on television with an NHL logo behind him whenever possible. There’s so much negativity around the league in the past couple of years and Gretzky is one of the only personalities who can make people forget about that for a few minutes when he’s talking. But right now, the silence is deafening…..Hey, it’s sort of the same deal with Chris Neil. Take away 1,000 of his PIM’s and he’d still be the all-time PIM guy on the Senators. Neiler has 1,763 going into tonight while the next guy on the list is Chris Phillips with 667. Come on Phillips, let’s get the misconducts going here…..Alfredsson‘s 459 career PIM’s are only 3 back of Andre Roy’s 462 for 8th on the Sens all-time list. Only on Black Aces will this impending milestone be celebrated…….

.... Hey, it's old-school hockey card time, featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins: Current CBC hockey personality Craig Simpson broke into the NHL with the Penguins before being packaged off to Edmonton (where he won two Stanley Cups) for Paul Coffey (who won his fourth Cup in Pittsburgh in 91 before rejoining Wayne Gretzky in L.A.). Recently fired Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle had a good run with the Penguins in the early 80's before becoming a fixture in Winnipeg (where he may one day return as coach). Senators fans might remember Phil Bourque who was a character guy in red and black for a couple of seasons in the mid-90's. But before that, he was rocking a classic Kentucky Waterfall in Pittsburgh while winning two Stanley Cups. Bob Errey shared those same two Stanley Cups and is now doing good work on Penguins television broadcasts. Some other old names from Penguins past: Jean PronovostZarley Zalapski, Pierre Larouche,  German Titov, Syl AppsUlf Samuelsson, and Les Binkley. (Most of these images courtesy of Penguins-hockey-cards.com.).....

…. I just can’t seem to get too upset that the NHLPA grew a set of balls for the first time in years and rejected the NHL’s re-alignment plans that would see four uneven conferences and hopelessly skewed playoff races. The setup didn’t look right, like it was drawn up on a napkin after a couple of quarts down at the Dominion Tavern in the Market. For starters, it seems plain weird that Eastern teams in the other conference like Philly, NYR, Pitts etc will only play in Ottawa once a year under the new scenario. Sure, you get to see every team from the rest of the league at least once in your own building but for Ottawa to lose dates with Crosby, Ovechkin doesn’t seem worth a guaranteed Blue Jacket and Wild game in the middle of the winter. It’s the same for every team, East or West. For every star player guaranteed to come into your building, you lose a date with another. I agree with the players in that it’s unfair and harder to make the playoffs in the West than it is in the East. And let’s not forget that one of the reasons it changed to the current format is that fans were sick to death of seeing the same teams play against each other in the playoffs every single season in the 80’s. And the proposed set-up would also mean the end of the 8th place team upsetting the top seed, not to mention the wide open race to make the top eight that is one of the most exciting part of any NHL season. The first April after this goes into effect, fans will be the first to complain that a team made it to the playoffs in one conference with fewer points than their own team in another. And if you ask me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the playoffs as they are right now. The first round is the best in all of sports. You’ve seen it since the lockout. Tell me when it’s ever been better? A couple of teams complaining about travel shouldn’t be enough to scrap a playoff format that’s working so well ......

……It's kind of uncomfortable for me but I completely agree with Brian Burke. He's right. This is the age of the rat in the NHL. There’s no fear anymore when you run another team’s star players. Nobody can touch you and neither can the league as long as you don’t hit them in the head. The only “tough guys” left are the players who don’t fake being hurt anytime they get hit along the boards. But it seems that’s what the fans want. So you’re going to get a steady diet of it until the pendulum swings back to where it should be. But hey, that’s just Old Man Milks yapping again. Take no heed….In case you missed it, Chris Stevenson reported on Saturday that hitting is significantly down in the NHL this season. Take from that what you will....

Okay, one last clip. I didn't want to, but you forced me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sens Fans Live The Near Perfect Day .... And Other Strange Rumblings From Capital City

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 1

Just as I was going to write something about the Senators win over the Bolts tonight, I catch sight of Sens prospect Mika Zibanejad scoring the overtime goal for Sweden to win the World Juniors and doing an incredible "Foligno leap" as his teenage teammates swarm him in a shambolic blur of yellow jerseys.

 It was an unbelievable goal by a can't-miss kid who has power forward written all over him.

Could Ottawa Senators fans possibly have a better day in January?

Their top prospect stars in the World Juniors and scores the clutch overtime goal to become a hero in his homeland.

Four Ottawa Senators - Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek - get voted into the starting lineup of the All-Star game right here in Kanata while the Leaf's golden boy Phil Kessel gets buried before the finish line as Sens fans stack the ballots at the last minute (Oh the indignity! Kessel gets picked last in the "fun" draft last year and now the millions of Leaf fans hang him out to dry).

And just to make sure everybody gets a gift bag, the Senators roll over the Lightning for their 4th straight win that temporarily puts them ahead of Pittsburgh for 5th in the East.

Not sure I should write much more because most Ottawa fans are probably in some kind of happiness coma or else blind drunk in an effort to deal with the mind shattering events of today.

Allright, one more for the deranged.

Alfie had a 3-point night.

Grown men are weeping across the city.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Kyle Turris

Honorable Mentions: Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Jason Spezza and Erik Condra.


Expansion Twins Starting To Grow Up

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators both entered the league in 1992 when the rather dapper NHL President John Ziegler was the king of Palm Springs and nobody but basketball fans had heard of Gary Bettman (nor had they heard of an NHL "Commissioner"). Here’s a few random comparisons between the two relatively young franchises:

1. After their first two NHL seasons, the Bolts had 53 wins while the Sens had 24.

2. To date, the Senators have had 9 head coaches (including Roger Neilson for two games) while the Lightning have had 8. Basically a wash.

3. The Lightning have had 8 different captains. The Senators 7.

4. The highest sweater number worn by a Senator was 94 by Stan Neckar. For the Bolts it’s 97 worn this season by Matt Gilroy.

5. A few notable players that fans may or may not remember that have played for both Ottawa and Tampa are Alexandre Daigle, Filip Kuba, Vaclav Prospal, Bruce Gardiner, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Sillinger, Zenon Konopka, Cory Stillman, Janne Laukkanen, Andreas Johannson, Brandon Bochenski, Grant Ledyard, Ryan Shannon, Stan Neckar, Luke Richardson, Colin Forbes, Jody Hull, Andre Roy, David Hale, Darren Rumble and Juha Ylonen.

6. The Lightning have had the first overall pick in the Entry Draft 3 times, taking Roman Hamrlik, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. The Senators also picked first 3 times taking Alexandre Daigle, Bryan Berard and Chris Phillips.

7. The Bolts best late round pick has to be Pavel Kubina, taken 179th overall in the 7th round in 1996. Obviously Ottawa’s is Daniel Alfredsson taken 133rd overall in 1994’s 6th round. Maybe Ryan Dzingel will change all that in a few years.

8. Ottawa has used 27 goalies in its existence. Tampa has used 37. Remember Dieter Kochan? Who’s calling who a goalie graveyard now?

9. The Bolts have made the playoffs 6 times in their 18 completed seasons, with the most in a row being 4 from 2003 to 2007. The Sens made it 12 times in the same span, doing it 11 years in a row between 1997 and 2008.

10. The one comparison that really matters? The Bolts have a Stanley Cup.


Some more good news for Senators fans: the players voted into the All-Star game will be spending the month of January trying to prove to everybody they truly deserve to be there. Daniel Alfredsson already mentioned something like that around Christmas, saying he wished it was his play qualifying him for the game and not just his popularity (to paraphrase). Is it a coincidence he’s been on fire lately? The player this should give the biggest boost to is Milan Michalek who’s been pretty cold since he returned from a concussion. I don’t think it matters to Erik Karlsson. He’s too green and otherworldly to even know what pressure is. He’d still have 20 assists if he was playing with a broomball stick and wearing a pair of old Kodiak’s.....It's always funny when you hear a player very forcefully yell "f**k off!" during the play on live TV and guys like Dean Brown and Denis Potvin have to pretend we all didn't hear it......Played Pro-Line again on Wednesday night for the first time in a while and picked Winnipeg to beat Montreal and took the Under. Habs win 7-3. I took Boston and New Jersey to tie. Bruins win 6-1. And yet I seemed so sure of my own genius when I forked over the two dollars to the strangely smirking clerk who said "Good luck" like he knew something I didn't.....

.....Kyle Turris. Pretty good hockey player. Not the greatest interview. I felt for Ian Mendes as he tried to get a few moderately entertaining answers out of the young man after his first goal as a Sen. Mendes would have had better luck mining for diamonds in Major's Hill Park.....You might be surprised but a lot of NHL coaches don't go around patting backs on the bench. Hell, some coaches barely even talk to their players outside of the dressing room. But there was Paul MacLean going right up to Kyle Turris to congratulate him on his first goal as a Senator. And we've seen that type of thing all season from MacLean. It's somewhat normal for assistant coaches to do the rah-rah thing but the stereotype of the head coach is a guy who eats ice chips and sneers like Mike Keenan (who really did eat ice chips from a Gatorade cup every single game). It's no surprise the players love playing for a guy like MacLean. If he can get them into the playoffs, they'll go through the wall for him......Kerry Fraser recently penned a really good column over at TSN about some of the more vicious and controversial trash talking that goes on in the NHL between players. As Kerry points out, it can often go over the line into territory that gets everybody in trouble. But for every taunt that goes over the line, there's probably 50 that are pretty funny. I've been reading Fraser's new book about his career called "The Final Call" (which I will probably do a review of in the near future here on the blog) and in it he recalls a time when New York Islander (and now TSN personality) Ray Ferraro made then-New York Ranger Tie Domi go completely berserk with rage. Seeing that it was right around Halloween, Ferraro waited until the linesmen had Domi tied up in an after-whistle scrum and then yelled at the young tough guy "Domi, with a fuckin' head like that, you should be sitting on someone's porch!" As Fraser tried not to laugh, Domi had to be held back from "ripping Ferraro's head off to hang on the rear-view mirror of his car." Halloween-themed trash talking clearly has potential for greatness.....

.....Now that Stevie Yzerman's running the Bolts, can we start calling Steven Stamkos "Stevie" too? I think the only one who still calls Yzerman "Stevie" is Don Cherry, but that's a tradition that should be carried on. It's not too hard to remember Stevie Y as the kid who Detroit pinned all their hopes on to drag them out of their ghetto early 80's era.......One last thing about the Lightning - their new uniforms this year are a huge improvement (remember these old 3rd's?). Simple, clean but still bright and those lightning bolts on the pants are a nod to their early years. Yzerman said the organization wanted a classic look and in a way the Tampa uni's are close to a blue version of the Wings look. Pretty sharp....

......John Vogl of the Buffalo News gives us a great quote from Ville Leino on the quiet and lifeless atmosphere in Buffalo’s home rink this year: “Married couples fighting upstairs, you can hear that on the ice."…..Geez, I’m guessing the Sabres would love to get their hands on Ryan Getzlaf if all the scuttlebutt about him being available in a possible yard sale in Anaheim. Getzlaf is exactly the kind of big, proven, playmaking centre they’ve needed for a long time. Could even be worth sacrificing Ryan Miller for….

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sens Pull Another Late Comeback .... Plus Why Ottawa Shouldn't Trade Kuba and Gonchar .... And Endless Game Notes

Ottawa 3 New Jersey 2 (OT)

Is anyone really surprised anymore?

Yet another scrappy third period comeback.

A clutch Daniel Alfredsson overtime goal, this one nearly identical to the one he scored against the Calgary Flames just after Christmas for his 400th career goal.

The entertainment value of the Ottawa Senators hasn't been this high since the mid-2000's but for much different reasons than anyone would give those old teams credit for.

The old Senators teams won on a vast array of overwhelming skill while these ham-and-eggers win games on what often feels like character alone. I've lost track of how many third period comebacks we've all sat through and watching this game go into overtime, I'm sure many Senators fans just knew this team was going to find a way to get the extra point. The fact that it was another Erik Karlsson to Alfredsson play just adds to the awe factor that is quickly creeping into this storybook season.

Further below you can read my take on why the Senators should be in no rush to trade their veteran d-men and tonight's win just further cements my theory. Something is happening with this team and where it will end, nobody seems to know right now.

They can play the game any way you like it. With speed, with skill, with fists or with a huge dose of plain old luck. And it all seems to come at just the right time.

For the first two periods against the New Jersey Devils, it clearly looked like the Senators were the inferior team. The Devils just looked bigger and faster while they played a textbook road game, backed by the ubiquitous Martin Brodeur who looks pretty much the same now as he did in 1995 behind that tiny gear.

Then the third period switch was flicked somewhere in that Senators dressing room and Ottawa created an unstoppable flow of momentum that now seems so strangely familiar.

How do you explain it?

Maybe it's time to drop the pretense and just admit that this is a good hockey team, much better than we all thought.

But then again, nobody wants to lose the underdog label. Sens fans might want to curb the effusive praise and just see where this "underdog" role carries the team.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Condra
2. Daniel Alfredsson
3. Craig Anderson

Honourable Mentions: Jason Spezza, Chris Neil, Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson.


Sens Might Want To Hold On To Their Older Defensemen Past The Deadline

No one can be sure in the first week of January, but this Ottawa Senators team doesn’t look like a club who’ll be desperate to shed two of their top defenseman, even if one of them is a UFA next season (Filip Kuba). It’s rare for a team in 8th place in January to fall out of playoff contention completely, so if Ottawa is still within striking distance of the postseason at the trade deadline (very likely), I can’t see either Kuba or Sergei Gonchar getting dealt like many believe.

Sure, that seemed a likely scenario at the start of the season when it was expected that Ottawa would be a lottery pick team, but circumstances have changed and the Senators would be doing a disservice to themselves and the fans if they moved important players for draft picks. Both Kuba and Gonchar, targets of cave dwelling boo birds to start the season, have rebounded quite nicely from disastrous years and both would play big minutes in any playoff series the Senators find themselves in. If a team dangled a first-rounder, then maybe you reconsider, but what are the chances of that happening? Nil to zero?

It doesn’t mean that Bryan Murray has to actually add more salary at the deadline to help in a playoff push, but he would likely be loathe to subtract. You have to take into account Murray’s position here. Ever since he took over as GM following the Senators run to the Cup final under John Muckler, he hasn’t won a playoff series. Don’t think for a second he isn’t dying to get in there and see what this overachieving team can do to restore some of his reputation. I highly doubt he’d sacrifice any of his own draft picks to do so, but Murray wants to win now just as much as he wants to win in the future. See the Kyle Turris trade. Turris helps the team right now and in the future. David Rundblad was more of a future prospect, even if he is somewhat more highly touted than Turris at this point.

As for losing Kuba (and possibly Gonchar in a year from now) come July 1st, that’s just reality in today’s NHL. While it’s great to get a pick to show for a pending UFA, it’s not the end of the world anymore if you don’t, especially for a mid-level player who can be replaced by prospects already in the system. What you lose in a UFA you gain in cap space and the opportunity to do something different with that money. You’d never want to see a star like Jason Spezza walk away for nothing, but a playoff spot is far more valuable than what you can get on the market for players like Kuba and Gonchar. Enough said.


Robin Lehner getting in trouble again for going absolutely nutzoid during an AHL game may signal that the competitive young man gets frustrated from time to time playing in a league that he clearly feels he’s too good for. Or it might suggest that it’s actually the NHL that he’s not ready for. Take your pick. He’s not having the best year he could have, but I’m betting Lehner will be a better NHL’er than he ever will be an AHL’er because he has the type of personality that thrives on competition. If, in his mind, he feels he’s not competing against the best, maybe he doesn’t bring his best. Or maybe that’s all a load of s**t. Again, take your pick….I'm guessing Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons is going to get some heat from Ottawa fans after he tweeted this at around 5:00 today, "I used to think the dumbest hockey fans in Canada were in Ottawa but not anymore. PS - I voted for a Sedin for MVP in each of the last 2 yrs". This was in response to some heat he was getting from Vancouver fans. It's pretty impressive when you can inflame two fanbases in one tweet. Yet, any good sportswriter worth his salt should piss a whole swathe of people off once in a while, just to make sure he/she still has it. Clearly Simmons does.....

......How does Erik Condra, a right-handed shot, not fire a laser when Daniel Alfredsson sets him up with a perfect pass on the left side of the ice during a 2-on-1 with Martin Brodeur in motion across the crease? Could he have been intimidated by the legendary Brodeur? If he was, you can't really blame him, can you? I wonder if Alfie told him to smarten up when they were back on the bench. Whatever it was, Condra got over it pretty quickly as he started firing shots from all angles, including the beauty that resulted in his game-tying shortie in the third.....

....That was one of the meanest, hard-nosed scraps of the year when Chris Neil and former Atlanta Thrasher Eric Boulton went at it late in the second period. Neil was landing heavy bombs early on but Boulton evened it out with a strong finish. All of it was nasty..... Speaking of tough guys, does anyone else find it strange that Matt Carkner was pegged to be a healthy scratch until Sergei Gonchar pulled the chute after warm-ups? Especially after one of Carkner's best games of the season? For cherub Brian Lee of all players? Either Paul MacLean was trying to keep big #39 humble or he was still hungover from New Year's Eve when he made that decision......Someday, an NHL player will separate his shoulder after jumping into the glass to celebrate a goal. And that someone will probably be Peter Regin.....

.....Finally got a chance to see the new scoreboard in person after taking in the Calgary game last week. That thing is a beast. It almost seems too big actually, though I'm hardly complaining. From where I was sitting in the lower bowl, it blocked out most of the other half of the arena. I kind of like the bare bones look of it with just the huge screens. Makes the rink look like a massive living room with 20,000 people spilling soda all over your couch and carpet.When they finally add the fancy casing to it, the rink will look more like Pizza Planet from the Toy Story movies.....I have yet to be in the rink to hear a louder roar than when Daniel Alfredsson uncorked his 400th career goal in overtime against the Flames that night. Pure bedlam in the stands. I think the girl next to me peed her pants for real. So did my brother on the other side of me, but he does that whenever he hears loud noises. Erik Karlsson looked like a kid running down the stairs Christmas morning and the guy on the goal horn was putting some major stank on it for close to 30 seconds. And Alfie evidently still had the adrenalin going when he was announced as first star of the game. He launched the traditional giveaway stick into the stands like it was a javelin. The folks rushing for the parking lot missed the sight of two middle-aged men fighting tooth and nail over that very same stick to the point where I thought punches were going to be thrown. Alas, cooler heads prevailed and we all walked out into the freezing rain having just seen a hell of a show......Unfortunately for Spartacat, he was shooting blanks at the Calgary game when his t-shirt gun went on the fritz. Those shirts were popping about three feet into the air and dropping to his feet rather sadly. So he got the natural guns out and started heaving them into the upper decks on his own. That's what you look for in a mascot - the ability to improvise.....

.....I have a friend who went out and bought a ticket to the last home game of the season, April 5 against the Bruins because he thinks it might be Alfie's last game. After watching the way Alfie's been skating the past month, I think I'll tell him he's going to need another ticket for April 2013....Wonder what it was that Martin Brodeur said that Milan Michalek found so funny after a scramble at the Devils net in the third period......With the way Henrik Lundqvist played in the clutch during the Winter Classic today (and through the whole season), it makes you think the Rangers aren't really that far away from winning a Stanley Cup. They don't seem to have much firepower outside of their two big forwards stars but they could win it all with goaltending and coaching. If Marc Staal can stay healthy, the Rangers will give the Bruins all they can handle in the East.......Both the Flyers and the Rangers did a great job with their retro sweaters for the game (as seen below). The bright orange looked incredible in HD (although white shoulders would have been better than black) as did the "vintage white" of the Rangers with the simple blue and red stripes. I was skeptical before but now I'm completely sold on vintage white as a good choice for a permanent road colour for the Senators, maybe as a mirror to their current black retro's.