Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Boston Curse Over ... Lehner Emerges From Bingo Purgatory ... And Lotso Game Notes

Ottawa 1 Boston 0

Wasn’t it only a few days ago that some were saying Senators management had “soured” on cocky prospect goaltender Robin Lehner? That he had already been passed on the depth chart by newly acquired Ben Bishop? The fans were buzzing about the 6 foot 7 Bishop and his part in a future tandem with a healthy Craig Anderson going into the playoffs and into next season.

If this was the fashion world, Lehner was suddenly like a pair of MC Hammer parachute pants.

His quick fall from favour made sense on paper when you saw that one-year, one-way contract extension given to Bishop, or took just a cursory glance at Lehner’s poor numbers down in Bingo. Or if you heard the whispers about Lehner’s “poor attitude”, an allusion to the intense and driven young Swede not being happy about being in the AHL when he clearly believes he’s NHL ready. In fact, this guy thought he was ready at the start of last year.

All the conjecture in the world doesn’t mean much until the guy in question starts to play actual games, and Lehner, with two straight wins in the book, including Tuesday's incredible shutout of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, has stormed back into favour with Ottawa fans. And I'm sure he's raised the eyebrows of GM Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean with his performance so far.

Against the Bruins, who Ottawa hadn't beaten in four tries coming into Tuesday's game, Lehner was the confident, aggressive goalie we've all heard about so much. On some saves, like a stunner he made in the third, he flashed the glove hand in the air and held it for a split second to let the Bruins know they'd been robbed. His body language bled intensity, whether it was between whistles or when the Bruins were tossing the puck around on the multiple power-plays they had late in the game.

I wouldn't describe Lehner's style as smooth in any way. It's more knife-like. When he changes position, he cuts instead of glides. When he catches a puck, he seems to stab it right out of the air. His head darts in every direction and he seems to stare holes into people, even his own defenseman.

Clearly, this is a kid who realizes the importance of these games for both his status in the organization and for the team trying to clinch a playoff spot.

It's only been two games and a few soft goals can change all this, but with Anderson down for a few more weeks at least, Lehner seems like the safest bet to win games in the short term.

But then we hear that Bishop had a big game down in Bingo at the same time, making 41 saves in a 5-1 win over St. John's.

These are problems some teams would beg for if given the chance.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Robin Lehner
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Filip Kuba

Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Neil and Milan Michalek.


With Matt Gilroy wearing number 97 (in honour of his late-brother), he not only becomes the first Senator to wear that number in a regular season game, he has the highest sweater number in Senators history. He beats out Stan Neckar who was the previous holder with number 94. Chances are Gilroy will remain the holder of that distinction forever unless someone takes 98 one day. We're damn sure no one is going to use 99…. It was almost strange to see Kyle Turris smiling and laughing for the Sportsnet cameras while getting ready in the locker room before the game. The guy is all business on the ice and rarely breaks character. Maybe it was the more light-hearted Zenon Konopka slinging a few jokes while tying up his skates next to him. Or maybe it’s the fact that Turris is no longer “the new guy”. That distinction now belongs to Matt Gilroy, but with the long locks and crooked grin, Gilroy seems like a character who could easily fit into any dressing room. The guy just looks like a hockey player. Brian Lee, while not a reflection of how he played, looked a little like the nice college kid who tries to sell you a laptop at Best Buy…..But just like Lee, Gilroy is one of those mouthguard chewers. There’s no grosser habit in the NHL nowadays (although Dany Heatley’s constant hoarking and spitting isn’t good for the stomach either)…. It’s nice of Sportsnet to flash the team lines at the start of the game, but they’re not much use if you happen to blink….. Not so nice of Sportsnet to accidentally switch to the Toronto/Florida game for 30 seconds while the Senators/Bruins were still in action late in the second. I wonder how that plays out in the control room? An intern reaches across the console for another donut and inadvertently flips a switch without anyone noticing?....

.... Remember the days when the Boston Bruins were terrible? When they had to trade Ray Bourque and Joe Thornton and fire about 30 coaches in 10 years. Seems like a lifetime ago. It's amazing the kind of turnaround a new GM can give an organization. Peter Chiarelli, an import from the Ottawa Senators, has done an amazing job re-building the Bruins..... Which brings us to Scott Howson. Not sure how he survives the disaster he’s ushered into Columbus. I’m not even sure how he survives day to day in his job, knowing that everything he touches turns yellow like sour piss. Putting a dull knife into the back of Rick Nash by revealing the once loyal franchise player finally asked for mercy and a ticket out of town will probably be the last significant thing Howson does as a Blue Jacket. It must be the most inept and bewildering performance as a GM since John Ferguson Jr. nearly sunk the Maple Leafs franchise back to Harold Ballard levels of incompetence. If Nash did ask for a trade, and there’s no reason to disbelieve Howson – he’s not that cunning to straight up lie to the press – then you can at least say he did it the right way. He didn’t go to the press when a trade didn’t happen right away. Through the whole ordeal, Nash made it clear that he enjoyed his time as a Blue Jacket and appreciated the fans. That’s about all you can ask for. The guy has had the patience of a monk while the Jackets wasted his talents for eight and a half seasons. Most sane men would have begged for release a few years ago but Nash, like Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson, stayed positive through the tough times and even went on a summer recruiting trip with Howson to Jeff Carter’s house to convince the pouting ex-Flyers winger that Columbus was a great place to play. Clearly, Carter wasn’t fully convinced. Even Nash could see that another rebuild was coming after they fell face first right out of the gate and there was a real possibility he wouldn’t see the playoffs for another three or four years. Now, thanks to Howson’s bitter and spiteful press conference after he couldn’t pull off a trade he’s had months to complete, Nash has to play out the string this season in an organization now openly hostile to him. While it’s not yet Eric Lindros vs. Bobby Clarke (Howson could only dream of having the Machiavellian streak Clarke once possessed), this is still headed to a place nobody could believe just months ago. Will Nash be stripped of his captaincy? Lose his parking spot? Have to pay for his muffins in the players lounge? More importantly, will he be booed by the Ohio fans? ….

…. It must have been nice for Gilroy to watch a very young Robin Lehner make 3 beauty saves to start the game after almost a full season watching a very old Dwayne Roloson letting beach balls roll slowly through his legs…. For those who thought Gilroy would be replacing Chris Phillips on the second power-play, they may have been surprised to see the Big Rig out there all night. It makes sense. He’s been great there lately, but as Denis Potvin said on the broadcast, it’s probably because Gilroy hasn’t had time to learn the power-play system MacLean uses. But don't be too surprised if Phillips keeps his spot after all.....  Daniel Alfredsson continued his quest for the Lady Byng Trophy by politely handing Tim Thomas back his goalie stick just seconds after Erik Karlsson hammered home a power-play goal with Alfie as the screen.... Brad Marchand really wanted a piece of Alfredsson near the start of the third when the captain gave him a little cross-check at the side of the Senators net. Good thing he was held back because Marchand had one of those “here comes a suspension” looks on his face. The young Marchand would probably be surprised to know Alfredsson has a bit more fight in him than a Sedin. I can’t remember them all but I do know Alfie fought both Darius Kasparitis and Doug Gilmour. He might have had to forgo the Lady Byng chase if Marchand had broken free there….

… The Bruins Adam McQuaid was an absolute wrecking ball out there in the first period. First he bulldozed Konopka with a tough hit along the boards that truly stung the Senators tough guy, and then he put Jim O’Brien flat on his back at centre ice during a rush. It's not really fair the Bruins have both him and Zdeno Chara. Now they have Greg Zanon. Man, that's a tough, tough blueline... Yet another sickening pass by Erik Karlsson in the last minute of the first period to send Milan Michalek in for a great chance that the winger blasted over the net. Karlsson makes it look easy because it probably is easy for him.... The devastating but unarguably clean hit Chris Neil delivered to Johnny Boychuk last Saturday night was truly a thing of beauty. The force of the hit was scary but awe-inspiring in its videogame-esque quality. Unfortunately Boychuck was concussed on the play but Neil couldn’t have approached it any different. It’s strange how Neil is considered a “pest” by some. Not even close. He plays the game tough but clean, and he’s having a hell of a year. He also accepted Chara's request to fight and handled himself well despite taking a couple hard shots. He even had the big man at his mercy but didn't pull the trigger. That's why there's a lot of respect for how he plays the game. It’s not hard to imagine Neil reaching the 1000 game mark in a Senators uniform. He’s currently sitting at 715 games, 4th all-time on the Senators but only has one more year on his contract before becoming a UFA. Unless he regresses badly next season, expect Bryan Murray to get his name on another contract at some point.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Murray Swaps Lee For Gilroy – Reminiscent of Anderson Trade

Hardcore fans will be making a big deal out of it, and understandably so, but the trade of former 1st rounder Brian Lee for former Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy is a fairly minor move by GM Bryan Murray, but one that helps both the Senators and Lightning move forward from past mistakes.

In ridding themselves of Brian Lee, the Senators put to rest one of their biggest first-round blunders from the John Muckler-era and avoid having to figure out what to do with Lee when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Clearly, Brian Lee wasn’t a favourite of GM Bryan Murray or coach Paul MacLean, although MacLean had recently been playing the baby-faced defenseman over the more grizzled Matt Carkner and it was paying off with Lee having some solid games as a bottom pairing puck mover.

In the meantime, the Bolts have gotten something for Gilroy, who is going to be a UFA this summer and may not have wished to continue playing for ultra-conservative coach Guy Boucher whose system doesn’t really showcase more offensive oriented d-men like the speedy Gilroy.

Some are probably scratching their heads (or taking to Twitter with pitchforks and torches) about why Murray would move a pending RFA defenseman who can give you quality minutes for a pending UFA defenseman who, although the better player in the deal, can walk right out of town this summer for nothing.

I think the answer is that Lee just isn't and was never going to be "Murray's guy". Clearly, he didn’t see a future for Lee in Ottawa. This is a deal he has likely been trying to make for some time but Lee was playing so little that nobody wanted to touch him. On the same day that Bolts GM Steve Yzerman traded for soon-to-be UFA Mike Commodore just to have somebody to dress the rest of the season, I’m sure the Bolts are happy to get a defenseman they can keep in the system. They don’t have the baggage of having picked Lee too early and then living with him as he struggled to even make the lineup on a consistent basis. Instead, Lee goes into Tampa and if he plays well, it’s just considered a bonus. There’s very little pressure on Yzerman or Lee in this deal.

Murray’s move will be under the microscope a little more, especially if Gilroy doesn’t contribute down the stretch and into the playoffs, only to leave in the summer for greener pastures. But even if that happens, this deal will only be a bust if Lee blossoms into something more than a peripheral, marginal NHL player. Clearly, Murray and his staff don’t believe that’s going to happen.

Both Gilroy and Lee need a fresh start and they’re going to get it. Both are slick, skating defenseman but Gilroy has more high-end potential than Lee, despite the risks with his contract. If Filip Kuba leaves this summer, Gilroy might end up getting his money and Murray doesn’t have to go out fishing in the open-market. If Gilroy impresses, we might see a repeat of the Craig Anderson situation. Murray didn’t wait long to sign Anderson to a contract extension once it was clear he was going to be a good fit on and off the ice. No doubt Murray will be watching for the same kind of characteristics with Gilroy.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you could have predicted that I’d like any deal that involved moving Lee out. And you’d be right. I don’t think Lee ever fit this team and in his defence, he might have gotten a tougher ride than he really deserved after being a high-pick and expected to deliver a performance he was never really capable of.

Now Ottawa has another college grad, one that was the subject of a bidding war when he was finally eligible to play in the NHL. If Murray and the team weren’t sold on Lee as a part of the future, or even the short-term playoff push, then you can’t blame them for a swap that brings in a player they obviously want.

The risks are low, even in the worst-case scenario. So why not throw the dice?


Since I wasn’t in town for the Ben Bishop deal, here’s my take on it:


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Karlsson's Epic Season Just Got More Epic... Get Serious About "Goon" ... And More Napkin Scribbled Game Notes

Ottawa 4 Washington 2

Erik Karlsson scares me.

Did you see that slap-pass off the boards from deep in his own end, straight onto Milan Michalek's stick in the first period? When Michalek stormed in and scored that highlight reel goal (probably the prettiest of the season for any Senator), I was still squinting in disbelief at my television, trying to process how Karlsson made that play look so easy and natural, like flipping on the light switch and whistling 'Strangers In The Night'.

To me, Karlsson's slap-pass makes David Rundblad's now famous lob-pass earlier in the season look like some kind of amateur play you might see a drunk beer-leaguer make in Cornwall on a Thursday night. A lucky bounce.

Karlsson's pass was no Hail Mary effort. It was fast, precise and sickening to watch for even hardened viewers of the game.

The kid made everything look effortless tonight and if this is just a hint of what he's capable of, how is anyone going to stop him once he hits his prime in five or six years? Right now, he's running on 90% skill and 10% experience. When that experience quota starts to fill up, he's going to be even more lethal. Now before I start growing hair in weird places and morphing into Eugene Melnyk, I'm not making any predictions that Karlsson will be "one of the greatest defensemen of all-time". No need to. He's already one of the best in the game right now and I don't think Ottawa fans even realize what kind of player they have here.

But enough of the hyperbole. The season's too long to tolerate some hack blogger going on and on about some kind of split-second play that seemed to scare him more than it impressed him.

It's like that story I've told before where Wayne Gretzky made some ridiculously unfathomable play in an Oilers practice in the early 80's that made the once bustling rink go quiet in real depression because guys like Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe couldn't believe what they had just seen. It ruined their day.

But there I go again. The Melnyk disease has gotten to me. Names like Gretzky and Messier slip out uncontrollably.

I better get on to another topic before I threaten everyone's sanity and say something really embarrassing.


So, how about those Washington Capitals?

Remember the fun old days in Washington? When Bruce Boudreau just opened the bench doors and let his players play the game they way it's supposed to be played? With speed, passion, skill and a few laughs along the way? Sure, the Caps had some playoff disappointments playing that wide open style but that had just as much to do with having a group of young guys than it was their system. Those losses created such a shit storm of criticism that the team seemingly had no choice but to stop the on-ice party and "get serious".

Only problem was the new style didn't fit the personnel. Alex Ovechkin reminds me a lot of the old Jaromir Jagr. He's a guy who needs the latitude to do what he does best or it just doesn't work for him or the team he plays for. Same goes for players like Mike Green and Alex Semin. These guys are born to freewheel but Boudreau was forced to try and tame them or lose his job (he lost it anyways) and now Dale Hunter looks like he's just come in and pulled the reins tighter. He might have to leave in the summer.

The body language on the Caps is depressing. To a man, they know they're capable of running teams out of the rink, or at least used to be, but management wasn't brave enough to stick to what made them great in the first place, and that was the run and gun style that maximizes Ovechkin's game. That's probably an over-simplification of what ails the Caps, but as a general take, I think it's pretty close.

It's strange, because they're only a handful of wins away from overtaking the Panthers for first in the Southeast and third in the East, but back to back tank jobs against Carolina and Ottawa makes you think they're farther away than anyone can imagine.

If you're going to lose (and there are 29 losers every single year), you might as well go out playing the style you do best. The Caps haven't just lost their identity. They actually might be close to the point where they have to tear half the team down. It seems insane, but....

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Milan Michalek
3. Craig Anderson

Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Nick Foligno, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.


TSN analyst Mike Johnson was speaking over a video of Alex Ovechkin on his phone walking into the Kanata rink this morning when Johnson hinted that Ovi might have only been pretending to take a call to avoid having to make eye contact with anybody. Wow. Ovi is getting torched every day now. Guy can’t even talk to his girlfriend without someone saying he’s dogging it….. For some reason, this reminds me of ex-Islanders GM Mike Milbury who, upon trading for Alexei Yashin from Ottawa in 2001, came to the defence of his new acquisition by telling the press that "Mother Teresa would have a bad reputation in Ottawa. You can't go down the street and so much as sneeze without something going wrong." For some more classic hockey quotes, check out this string of posts I did a few years back.....  Sportsnet was showing a program called “Marathon Highlights” tonight. I clicked on it and guess what I saw? A bunch of people running down a road. And it was an hour long show. Riveting stuff….. Erik Karlsson had the great TSN play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert hitting some vocal high notes in the first period. Cuthbert and Johnson had just finished marvelling about Karlsson’s stats this season when “the kid” started a give and go in the neutral zone and then led the rush to the net for a close scoring chance. Cuthbert barely had time to catch his breath before Karlsson laced a perfect shot between Tomas Vokoun’s legs for the first goal of the game, which made Cuthbert bark out “The Kid does it again!!” Listening to Cuthbert call a hockey game is to listen to the best there is…. Not to be outdone on the Team 1200 radio broadcast, Dean Brown called the second period Chris Phillips goal by screaming “Number Four, Bobby Orr!!”....

..... A few chaps seem to have a chip on their shoulder about a new hockey movie called “Goon”, presumably because the title and the advertising campaign seems to “glorify” the violent, nasty side of hockey (some of the ads got pulled because of an unrelated sexual innuendo - no surprise there). But what some completely fail to recognize is that comedy has no responsibility to be politically correct or universally sensitive, nor should it ever attempt to be. It’s a movie. It’s not real life. Relax. Some people take the game so seriously they fail to realize that nobody outside of their little insular world could give two shits about what they think is funny or not. The movie might be great or it might be moronic (I have no idea and I don’t really care) but I can guarantee it wasn’t made for people who want to find some kind of deeper meaning or political statement. Neither was Animal House, Slapshot, Happy Gilmour, Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack. (Even Adam Proteau of The Hockey News, perhaps the most hardline anti-fighting voice out there, realizes the movie is just entertainment and gives it a good review.) ......

.... It wasn't funny seeing Mathieu Perrault score a goal off his face and go down in pain in the third period, but it was pretty funny watching Karlsson look over hopefully at the ref, as if there might be some arcane rule where a goal couldn't go in off someone's grill. No luck Erik.….. With all this talk about Rick Nash and Jeff Carter being on the trading block, wouldn’t it be mind-blowing to see both of them go in the same deal? How about a mega-swap with L.A. that sees Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier and Jack Johnson going the other way? There’s my big contribution to the invented rumour mill…. Strange. According to Cap Geek, the L.A. Kings don’t have a single roster player with a No-Trade clause. Start carving guys….. Douglas Murray of the Sharks “fracturing” his Adams apple has to be the most painful sounding injury of the season….. Let’s all give Sens prospect AndrĂ© Petersson a mulligan for his “Binghamton sucks” comments to a Swedish newspaper. All NHL prospects don’t want to be in the AHL and most of them probably feel they deserve to be plying their trade for a big city NHL team. The fact they are stuck in small cities off the glory trail probably fuels some natural snobbery, especially in young guys like Petersson. They all say the same things to each other in private but Petersson made the mistake of doing it publicly. It’s happened to players before and it will happen again. It doesn’t make him a punk. It makes him young, and after this mini public relations disaster, he’ll be a little older and wiser with his words. Plus, if Erik Karlsson vouches for him, that sort of closes the case, doesn’t it?.....

…. A book I highly recommend you find a way to read is Al Strachan’s “I Am Not Making This Up” which was just published in 2010. It’s purely an anecdotal collection which makes for an easy read on the bus or on the go somewhere and Strachan is one of the last old-school iconoclasts of the hockey journalism gig. The guy seemingly can’t go a page or two without clawing into Bettman and the NHL head office but he has the utmost respect for the actual players, an attribute that seems to be missing in today’s breed of writers who grew up in an era that demonized the players as “greedy” and now feel no need to challenge that theory for the public. Anyhoo, here’s Strach relating one of these stories and it involves the barely English-speaking Valeri Zelepukin of the early 90’s New Jersey Devils and head coach Jacques Lemaire:

“One day, when the Devils were going through a bad stretch, Lemaire gathered the players in the dressing room and started laying down the law… ‘We’ve not been playing well,’ he said, ‘and if we keep on playing like this, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?”

He looked at the team. There was total silence. Heads were down. Then Zelepukin gingerly raised his hand.

“Coach get fired?”


I’m off to Toronto this weekend for a wedding, so there likely won’t be a post until Trade Deadline day on Monday after the weekend games against the Bruins and Islanders. See you then folks. I'll try not to drink too many beers but Hogtown may drive me to unseen levels.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sens A Happy Group Heading Into Deadline .... Flatten Isles ... Plus Baffling Game Notes

Ottawa 6 NY Islanders 0

In today's Ottawa Citizen Senators Prediction Panel, I took what I thought was a reasonable gamble and predicted a 4-2 Islanders win.

Oooohhh. Just missed.

Okay, so I'm not The Amazing Kreskin but a few things are becoming clear that even near-sighted mouth breathers like myself can see with stunning clarity.

One, the Ottawa Senators are, indeed, far from collapsing out of playoff contention that the now distant 7-game losing streak might have suggested to those prone to outright panic. They've now racked up 9 out of their last 10 possible points and looked completely convincing in the process. People were nervously looking down to Bingo at Robin Lehner but Craig Anderson now has two shutouts in his past three games and people are starting to talk about Jason Spezza as a Hart Trophy candidate.

Two, this team, when running on the right oil, has shown that it's good enough to scare a few people if it can get into the playoffs healthy. And that statement should not be construed to mean this team is a lock for the playoffs. It's possible another team below them grinds it out to the final date on the schedule and pushes Ottawa out of the top eight by sheer will alone. But it doesn't look like the Senators are going to make it easy for anybody and in fact, they may even start taking a trip up the standings to fight for home-ice advantage if they keep getting hot at the right time. With over twenty games left to play and a whole bunch of teams promising to get better at the trade deadline, movement one way or the other is almost a guarantee.

But now we seem to know the parameters. We've seen Ottawa at their worst this season, when the defenseman can't seem to make a pass out of their zone and their goalie can't seem to make a timely save on pucks that are lobbed from the blueline. And we've seen them at their best, when the third and fourth lines step up and get important goals or when Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson decide to take over games.

When the Senators have all these things going at once, they look like world beaters. If they can get in, they'll give their first round opponents a fight they won't believe. They still don't stack up to the pulverizing Bruins or the technically perfect Rangers, but if they can avoid meeting either of those teams in the first round, they'll have a chance to further surprise some people.

But again, daydreaming about April in February is a bit of a fool's game. If so much seems to change in just a week's time, what the hell will we be looking at in over a month?

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Sergei Gonchar

Honourable Mentions: Craig Anderson (I know, a shutout, but that was an easy one), Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson, Brian Lee and Filip Kuba.


Seeing Jason Spezza "pop" the water bottle on his beauty goal in the third period reminds you of a better time when those bottles were free to hang out on top of the net without any holder and most top-shelf goals resulted in that camera friendly pop which was a better exclamation point than any red goal-light could hope to be. Sure, those loose bottles obscured overhead camera angles on disputed goals, but who didn't love to see those things go flying into the air when Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman roofed one from in tight?..... Can't see the Senators trading Filip Kuba or Sergei Gonchar before the deadline. Who's going to play their minutes? If you haven't noticed, after trading David Rundblad the Senators don't have a blue chipper on defense in their system right now. Unless GM Bryan Murray gets a young defenseman in return who can play this season, why does he bother? And why would another team trade a young defenseman already getting minutes for an older player like Kuba or Gonchar? None of it makes sense. Teams don't dismantle on their way to the playoffs. It just doesn't happen. What you can count on however is hockey fans throwing every possible suggestion against the wall to see if it sticks. There's a lot of undercooked spaghetti noodles sliding down that wall right now..... With that said, here's a noodle of my own. I've said it before, and I still think Niklas Hagman of the Ducks is the perfect fit at forward for this Senators team. He'd look good with Kyle Turris and Alfredsson don't you think? Or does my noodle need a little more boiling?...

.....Whenever Senators owner Eugene Melnyk goes on Toronto radio, all sorts of shit hits the fan and today he merely said that Erik Karlsson will end up being one of the greatest defenseman of all-time and that Ottawa will continue to replace older, expensive players with younger, "hungry" ones. Unsurprisingly this was all good fodder for Twitter and the oncoming mania of trade deadline day. So does this mean Kuba and Gonchar are really on the block after all? Always take Melnyk's comments with this in mind: the guy is a big kid who just happens to own a hockey team (think Adam Sandler in Mr. Deeds). He's a "big ideas" man, something that most entrepreneurs are at heart. They like to make big statements while letting other people take care of the technical details. If Bryan Murray goes in front of a microphone and says something similar, then maybe you have a big story, but until then, don't believe the hype.... But then Karlsson goes out and slams in two goals in the first period alone. Okay, believe the hype.....A lot of fans were somewhat worried knowing most teams above and below the Senators in the standings had, in some cases, four games in hand on Ottawa. When you did the math real quick you could see a lot of teams catching up or zipping by the Sens in the standings with those unplayed games. Yet, the old maxim remains true. Games in hand don't mean a thing if you can't win them. The Capitals, Panthers and the Leafs are learning that old lesson well.... There's something surreal yet comforting about listening to "Surfin' Safari" by The Beach Boys cranked to eleven in the middle of February..... Who could have guessed the Chicago Blackhawks would only be three points better than the Senators after both had played 60 games? Does that say more about Chicago or Ottawa?....

......In the much talked about NHLPA Player Poll, two ex-Senators and one current made the top 5 in the Toughest Player category. Zdeno Chara 17%, Brian McGrattan 7% and Matt Carkner 4%. Carkner is getting those numbers on rep alone because he certainly isn't playing or fighting much this season. For some reason, Carks hasn't been the same since that knee injury and now Senator-For-Life Brian Lee has surpassed him on the depth chart for the first time. To his credit, Lee is turning into the ultimate survivor. He should have been traded twenty times by now but here he is having a bit of a renaissance late in the season. Hey, next time Lee goes into the doghouse, remind me not to bury him.....While we're at it, let's not bury Carkner either. This guy made it to the NHL the hard way and will continue to scrape everything he can out of whatever opportunity he gets. He's just a couple of good games away from re-establishing himself as that dependable muscle in front of the net. The guy is all heart and should stay in the organization next season..... In the same NHLPA poll, an astounding 98% of players favour keeping fighting in the game. How will the anti-fighting crowd try to spin those numbers? You can just imagine Adam Proteau and Ken Campbell at The Hockey News office in Toronto locking themselves in a room with two pots of coffee and a chalkboard, desperately writing theories down and scratching them out, yelling at each other in frustration. "For the love of God, Adam, you wrote a friggin' book about this stuff. Don't tell me you got nothing.Throw me a bone here." Then they both slam the styrofoam coffee cups to the floor and start swinging at each other just asTHN editor Jason Kay breaks down the door to separate the two furious pencil pushers. Campbell gets the instigator and he's not happy about it.....

.....One thing Adam Proteau is 100% right about is the negative effect shot-blocking has on the game. In the Feb . 20 issue of THN, Proteau says "The game has regressed to the point where the main target (the net) cannot be reached unless there's an unpredictable deflection, a bad bounce or a player half-fans on his shot and fools the goalie with hockey's equivalent of a knuckleball." Proteau goes on to mention an idea by ex-Montreal GM Bob Gainey which would make it a penalty to block a shot with both skates off the ice in the defensive zone. That would eliminate the sliding shot-block that has proven so effective (but also extremely dangerous). Players would still be able to block a shot with one skate on the ice and one knee down. It's a win-win situation if you ask me. More shots get through to the net, less defenseman getting creamed in the head by shots. As Proteau quotes Jaromir Jagr in the article, fans want to see "six or seven goals a night". I happen to agree but a lot of people continually spout that now tired line of "I love 1-0 games if there are a lot of scoring chances". I don't buy it. Fans want more goals, more hits, more skating, more fights - all the best things the game can offer..... The question was posed by a fan to Hockey Trivia guru Liam Maguire on Twitter: Are body shots allowed under "The Code" in hockey fights, as we saw Isle Matt Martin delivering to Zack Smith in a second period bout? Liam answered yes and said Dave "Tiger" Williams was "going to the body in fights 35 years ago". I went looking for a little video but couldn't find what I was looking for. Yet, I did find this video of a Williams scrap and quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me. Williams of the Leafs and Behn Wilson of the Flyers are a little upset with each other and not even the linesman can get them to stop. I wonder what Wilson said to Williams when they were face to face there.....

......It's been a painfully slow development for Sens forward Jim O'Brien since he was drafted by the team in the first round of 2007, but it looks like that patience is going to pay off for the Senators. The guy has gone from an almost certain first-round bust to a big, strong skating forward who hounds the puck around the ice and has the wheels to actually get to it. In years past, O'Brien was more passive than anything else but now he looks mean out there, almost like a power forward. He was pretty good on the faceoffs this afternoon as well. He's a guy to watch going down the stretch here. Coach Paul Maclean obviously took a liking to an unheralded guy like Kaspars Daugavins. May the same thing be happening here with O'Brien?

Happy Family Day

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chris Phillips Has A Classic Game As Sens Stop The Bleeding ... Plus Pop Shoppe Game Notes

Ottawa 4 Nashville 3

Playing in his 1000th game as an Ottawa Senator in front of his hometown fans and his huge extended family, Chris Phillips had the kind of night we only thought Daniel Alfredsson was capable of.

The Big Rig scored his first two goals of the season and more importantly had a big hand in stopping the Senators brutal seven game losing streak that has brought them right back down into the pack of teams fighting for that last playoff spot.

In accordance with his career, the media and fan hype in the week running up to this game was surprisingly low-key and overshadowed by bigger things on the boil. It wasn't until Phillips played in game 999 that the media really started swinging on it and even then, it wasn't nearly the same kind of glow that Alfreddson generated when he was nearing his 1000 game milestone.

And that's perfectly understandable. But it didn't stop Phillips from delivering an Alfie-type clutch performance that quickly evolved this game from a nice moment to one of those nights that will be remembered by the fans for a long time. When the team turns 30 years old, there will be videos of this night played on the scoreboard when they introduce Phillips alongside Alfie at centre ice. The two goals against Nashville have already entered the "permanent reel".

In a way, it was refreshing to see another player get a piece of the spotlight, especially a player who only a year ago was getting booed by some people for not waiving his no-trade clause because he wanted to be part of the rebuild of the only NHL team he's ever know. It's just one good night, but it's a little bit of vindication as well after a few tough years for everybody.

As anyone who has watched the Senators for the past decade or so already knows, Phillips has a knack for showing up big when it really matters. How many times have we seen him get into that distinctive chug-chug skating stride as he comes barrelling in over the blueline during overtime games looking for that one shot he knows the goalie isn’t expecting to come from his stick. He doesn’t do it very often during the regular season but he has an underrated hockey sense that allows him to jump up at just the right moment and nobody seems to know where the hell he came from until it’s too late.

Yet Phillips will always be remembered for being a steady defensive defenseman, a role that doesn't come with much glamour or praise from the fans. They sometimes don't see the 99 things he does right every night but always notice the one giveaway. But that's life for guys like Phillips.

He's played in the shadows of Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and now Erik Karlsson.

But all you have to know about Chris Phillips is he's always the guy standing at the open door after a win and congratulating every single player as they come off the ice before he's the last one to step off it and follow his team down the runway.

That says something about the role he plays off the ice and thankfully he should be doing that very same thing for at least a few more seasons.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Chris Phillips
2. Jason Spezza
3. Milan Michalek

Honourable Mentions: Bobby Butler, Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Chris Neil and Nick Foligno.

Let's take a look at how the season-long BA 3 Stars are coming along:

Black Aces 3 Star Season Scorecard

1. Anderson – 46
2. Spezza – 35
3. Karlsson – 34
4. Alfredsson – 34
5. Michalek – 27
6. Neil – 20
7. Foligno – 16
8. Greening – 14
9. Cowen – 13
10. Gonchar – 13
11. Smith – 10
12. Turris – 8
13. Kuba – 5
14. Phillips – 4
15. Da Costa – 4
16. Condra – 3
17. Butler – 2
18. Winchester – 1
19. Carkner – 1


It was a tough morning at the Team 1200 in Ottawa as on-air personalities Jim Jerome, Phil Melanson and Mike Sutherland were layed off as part of "corporate restructuring" at Bell Media (an almost Orwellian term that exists solely to make firing people sound nicer than it actually is). Also caught in the shitstorm was Michael Harris at CFRA, the only host on that station who was worth listening to on any given day. Lee Versage of Sportscall survived the cuts but lost his second co-host in a few years with Melanson being shown the door. Melanson's predecessor, Glenn Kulka was let go in late-2009 after a few entertaining years of getting completely outraged with the callers on a daily basis. Jerome, who is the son of a former House of Commons Speaker (James Jerome) seems to have taken a different route to fame than his father did. Some people didn't like Jim Jerome but I thought he was fairly amusing when he actually showed up. He's probably thankful he doesn't have to wake up around 4:00 Edmonton time to do a 6:00 Ottawa show anymore. For a guy who seems to like the odd pint or two, it's actually pretty impressive Jerome managed to call in from Edmonton most mornings. Jerome's refusal to take Pierre McGuire seriously was probably the best thing he did for that show, as well as his classic "Turkey Skin Luggage" tune that I've hummed in my fog-addled brain on more than one occasion against my will.....

..... Jason Spezza punched the glass so hard after he scored in the first period that he could have broken his hand, broken the glass, or punched a perfectly round hole through the glass and knocked out the unlucky fan on the other side. Nobody needed a goal more than that guy (except Bobby Butler). You could tell Spezza was angry and giving everything he had in the loss to the St. Louis Blues but was fighting his confidence all night long. Once he got that first one tonight, he was absolutely flying for the rest of the game. Can’t find much fault with Spezza’s performance this year….. Spezza opted for the lowered knee, downward fist pump for his second goal. The guy has a lot of moves….. Goaltenders continue to be unreasonably coddled by the league as Nick Foligno’s slight brush against Pekka Rinne’s glove somehow cost the winger two minutes for goalie interference late in the first period, even though Foligno wasn’t impeding Rinne from making a save or anything else for that matter. The “collision” might have ruffled Rinne’s sweater a little…..

.....Strange scene with the big rookie Jared Cowen tying up Alex Auld’s loose equipment during a stoppage in play. I guess there’s no task too menial they won’t make a rookie do nowadays. Pick up the pucks after practice. Buy dinners. Tie up a veteran’s loose jockstrap on live television….. Every time I turned the channel to watch the Leafs/Flyers game on TSN, Scott Hartnell was up to something no good. That guy is incredible this year. At one point he banged in a garbage goal and before he could celebrate, he and Dion Phaneuf dropped the gloves and went at it right outside James Reimer's crease. This guy is turning into a modern Eddie Shack…..

..... Chris Neil had a hell of a shift in the third when he had the whole Nashville team chasing him around the neutral and defensive zones while he hacked and whacked at the puck like a crazed lumberjack. The Preds ended up taking a penalty call because all they could do was hack and whack right back..... I don't really know what it is but lately I've rediscovered Family Feud and caught it right before the game tonight. One of the answers on the board to the question "Name something a man takes ten minutes to do" was - for real - "Pinch A Loaf". Apparently that is the most family friendly term they could come up with. It would have been even better if nobody had guessed it because at the end of every round, they reveal the unguessed answers one by one and the whole crowd repeats it out loud, but in this slow, dragging tone of voice. What I would have given to hear a whole studio audience moan the words "Pinch A Loaf".... Mike Fisher was pretty quiet in his return to Ottawa tonight despite playing over 17 minutes in the game. He didn't have a shot on net but typically finished +1 with 3 blocked shots and a handful of hits. Same old Mike....

.....It never gets old watching this Chris Phillips 2003 overtime goal against the Devils in the Eastern Conference final, if only to watch Zdeno Chara nearly kill five teammates with his now legendary celebration jump.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sens Collapsing Down The Stretch.. Hungry Raccoons... Plus Painfully Etched Game Notes

St. Louis 3 Ottawa 1

Right about now seems as good a time as any to outright panic.

And why not? As an Ottawa Senators fan, you have every reason to start breathing heavily and climbing the walls.

As we’ve seen over the past few years, when things start to go south for the Ottawa Senators, it doesn’t seem to stop until they reach the outer gates of hell.

They can’t just have bad goaltending. They have to have goaltending so puerile that even Don Rickles would feel bad making fun of it.

They can’t just lose to their biggest rival across the province. No. They have to go out and get bulldozed on Hockey Night In Canada as they’ve done countless times against the Leafs, usually when just the opposite kind of game is vitally needed.

They can’t just lose two, maybe three games in a row. They must go on some kind of self-annihilating quest of nothing less than five games in the tank which wipes out whatever gains they made when they were playing like one of the best teams in the league.

There’s no middle ground, which is where most NHL teams call home, a comfortable place where you can drop a few games in a row without spinning into some kind of confidence destroying bender that blows the minds of even the most reasonable hockey analysts on the planet.

Coming this late into a season where Ottawa had only suffered one such abysmal plunge (back in October), a seven game losing streak would be a massive surprise if these weren’t the Ottawa Senators we all know and love.

Yet it’s not a funeral procession just yet. Shockingly, the Senators are still a playoff team after tonight’s loss with a two point lead on the Florida Panthers, who fell out of their third place spot as Southeast Division leaders, overtaken by the Washington Capitals.

Despite Craig Anderson’s weak goaltending tonight against the Blues, the Senators showed way more emotion and drive than they did against the Leafs on Saturday night. Usually, that’s the first sign a turnaround is on the way.

When teams get into these death spirals, they always seem to lose one or two games at the end that they deserved to win. It’s a bit like turning around a canoe with a turd for a paddle. You’ll get where you want to go but it’ll take three times the rowing.

Or something like that.

Let’s see how this group responds against the Nashville Predators on what should be a proud night for the franchise as they celebrate Chris Phillips being the second ever player to suit up in the red and black for 1000 games. If there’s a game the Senators have to win, even if half the team has to spend the night on IV’s because they gave too much blood, then it’s against the Predators on Thursday night.

If they don’t pull that one off, there’s no telling how bad this could get.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Colin Greening

Despite having a tough year down in Bingo, you have to wonder if GM Bryan Murray has at least pondered the idea of giving Robin Lehner a game or two if Anderson and Alex Auld’s troubles continue. Do you risk pissing off Anderson and possibly sending him further into a funk or do you gamble that a Lehner promotion will give Anderson some focus that may not be there with Auld as his nonthreatening backup? It’s a bit of a psychological game with the goaltending right now. A Lehner callup might signal to the players that management is panicking which could make things worse for everybody. Or, as these things sometimes do, it could work out that Lehner gives them a small charge and they ride him until the adrenalin wears off.... According to Jeremy Rutherford at STLtoday.com, David Perron of the Blues walked into a Hockey Life store in Ottawa on Monday night in an anonymous fashion and started ripping pucks at the net set up by the hockey stick racks, blowing the mind of the store clerk who apparently had no idea who he was.....

..... My wife, the wildlife lover, made me take a bowl of old cantaloupe slices out to the backyard during the game to throw into the bush “for the racoons”. The second my foot hit the icy back step I was flat on my back with exploded melon as far as the eye could see. My wife heard it, came to see what happened and proceeded to laugh her ass off. As I lay in the snow and water, I hear Dean Brown call the St. Louis Blues second goal from the living room. Meanwhile my neck and elbow are basically done for good. I hope those raccoons enjoy their f***ing cantaloupe tonight..... The Sportsnet cameras caught Craig Anderson applying some lip balm as he sat in the locker room before the game. The question is whether Andy is a cherry, strawberry or vanilla guy.….. Some old-school hockey in New York tonight as there were two separate fights right off the opening faceoff between the Rangers and Devils. Makes you wonder – if Glen Sather and Lou Lamoriello went toe-to-toe in the hallway, no blocking, just one of those hammer jobs, who do you think would win? I’ll take Sather in a close one. That cigar chomping bit gives him the edge over college man Lou….

..... Scary scene today on the Ottawa transitway when two buses collided. Anyone who takes the bus down the transitway probably at one point or another wondered when this would happen. For the most part, buses fly through there at up to 100 km hour with no barrier between lanes in case a driver made a mistake. I don't know all the details of how the accident happened but when you hear the roar of another bus hurtling just inches away past your window, you end up imagining a few really bad scenarios, much worse than the usual stuff like the guy sitting next to you falling asleep on your shoulder and breathing in your face, which happens to my brother almost every night after work..... The Islanders made a smart move by re-signing Frans Nielsen for four years at $11 million. I always thought Nielsen should have been a Red Wing with the style he plays. He might have even ended up there if he went to UFA this summer. Would have looked good in Ottawa too for the second or third line.....

.... Hearing about longtime Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff having three ribs broken during an accident in practice and Oilers boss Tom Renney getting beaned by a puck in the head may remind Senators fans of when assistant coach Ron Low collided with rookie Nick Foligno during a drill in 2007 and hit his head on the ice which caused a pretty serious injury. Most coaches just wear a track suit, a whistle and hockey gloves on the ice during practice which means at least one goes down hard every year or two. But don't expect them to start putting the gear on. Can you imagine a coach being taken seriously by players when he's wearing a helmet and visor out there? It's just not gonna happen..... It's funny, but even just ten years ago you could conceivably go on the internet and read most of the major papers and come away feeling like you had digested all the hockey news out there. Now, you could spend six hours on the web and only catch a quarter of the hockey commentary out there. It's mindblowing how many people are writing about the NHL today.....Down in Bingo, Francis Lessard has 132 PIM's in just 34 games. You don't meet too many guys named Francis anymore.....

..... All this losing must be nudging coach Paul MacLean out of Jack Adams Trophy territory. There's still time but the voters won't like this big scar in the middle of the schedule..... Leave it to Matt Carkner to come up with the best line of the day when he told TSN that he hoped he would get switched up front so he could try to run former teammate Brian Elliott..... Speaking of running St. Louis goaltenders, I can't help but think of the 1996 playoffs when Leaf Nick Kypreos ran Blues goalie Grant Fuhr and tore up the Hall of Famer's knee, putting him out for the rest of the season. There doesn't seem to be video of it anymore on You Tube but rest assured it was a vicious act on the part of Kypreos. Still, it didn't exactly work out for the Leafs. Jon Casey came in and finished off Toronto before falling to the Red Wings in the second round off the famous Steve Yzerman goal in double-overtime of Game 7. Simply, one of the best shots ever taken in an NHL game. Perfection. This goal also ended Wayne Gretzky's short stay in Missouri.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sens Forget What Got 'Em Here .... Plus Unpopped Popcorn Fuelled Game Notes

Toronto 5 Ottawa 0

Why is it when the bottom falls out for the Ottawa Senators, it always seems to be against the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Many people across the capital city on Sunday morning will be wondering how in the hell their Senators could have come out so emotionally flat in the Battle Of Ontario - something that has happened many times before - even while their comfortable playoff lead continues to get eaten away by hungrier teams below them in the standings.

There just doesn't seem to be much of an excuse for getting steamrolled by the hated Leafs in your own rink while failing to show even the slightest heartbeat until the embarrassing score on the scoreclock forced you to get angry enough to engage in a few hits.

The Senators became the league's surprise team partly because they had an emotional edge on other clubs in the first half of the season. They'd go and get kicked around in the first two periods like some kind of stray dog but keep scrapping through it until their legs outlasted their opponents in the third.

Frankly, the Senators are playing like a team that's lost their hunger and maybe felt like clinching the playoffs was just a coasted few weeks away from their All-Star break. They've gone from eating scraps in the alley to feasting on Alpo in front of the fireplace, even while the burglars rob the house blind.

Certainly the coaching staff is going to wake these guys up, either through the bag skate routine or with a garbage can or two hitting the walls in the dressing room, but once the tide turns against you, it can be hard to turn it around, even if you're heart is back in the right place. Six losses in a row has essentially wiped out the strong stretch they had in late December, early January which put them in the position to become lazy in the first place.

But that's just numbers. What's important is that the Senators have seemingly forgotten what it means to battle for goals and for a team that already gives up a lot in their own end, that's going to kill them if they can't get that bulldog mentality back.

When the Senators lost games in the first half of the season, they at least went down swinging and you rarely felt like they didn't leave it all on the ice. Now when they lose, there's a strange empty feeling where it seems like they didn't even give themselves a chance. It's not about working hard - that's a cliche that's used way too much - but it seems more like a mental fog has descended on these guys after revelling in all the great press they deserved up to this point. Now it's up to Paul MacLean and his staff to get these guys a little uglier again.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Spartacat (kept the kids from crying too hard)
2. Beer vendors (kept the kids from getting too drunk)
3. The stairs (allowed people to leave the building)


The big black shield the Senators have in the walkway to the ice still looks a little strange when you catch it on TV. Almost like a huge piece of hash stuck to the concrete wall with a circle of laurel leaf foil stuck into it. The shield might have been put there as a sort of touchstone or good luck charm for the players to tap with their gloves on the way out to the ice but only one or two guys ever do. Just aesthetically, it looks kind of ugly but at least it’s original. It would be cool if all the players punched it once before hitting the ice because after time it would become a tradition and new players would be tapping the same shield that guys like Daniel Alfredsson did. Think if a team like the Habs had something similar. Imagine tapping the same shield that guys like Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau did? Not saying the Senators legends will ever be on par with that but that’s the kind of tradition you can build with a little foresight. Or, maybe some arena attendant gets an order to tear it down this summer and throw it in the dumpster out back. These things can go either way…. People like to take shots at the CBC and Hockey Night In Canada, but the fact is nobody does hockey better than HNIC. The pre-game Inside Hockey segment with Elliotte Friedman before tonight’s game that featured the struggles of ex-Senator Brian McGrattan and Jordin Tootoo with alcohol was HNIC at its best. The entire Saturday night production is seamless and nobody can touch what they do. Not TSN. Not ESPN. Sportsnet wouldn’t be able to put together 5 minutes of HNIC quality work. Clearly, it’s not just tradition keeping HNIC relevant……

..... Did you ever notice that when a team gets a goal scored on them, the players on the bench for that team almost all automatically grab a water bottle and take a big drink? It's instinctual, I guess. That's their subconscious way of putting the goal behind them and resetting the brain. Goalies in the net seem to do that too. What would Carl Jung say about it? We all know what Sig Freud would say - the bottle is a phallus or something like that..... I wonder why Saturday night against the Leafs wasn’t a Heritage jersey night for the Senators? Instead they wore their road whites at home. If there’s one Senators sweater that needs to be retired it’s their underwhelming, already dated Reebok Edge-era whites. A new road jersey with a couple of normal horizontal stripes at the waist would be a welcome addition to the wardrobe…… Somehow, the Senators still have 5 more back-to-back sets of games this season…. I actually think Dion Phaneuf is now somewhat underrated. I’d take him on my team anyday…. If Jacques Martin hadn’t been shitcanned by Pierre Gauthier at the first sign of trouble, I truly believe the Canadiens would be right there with Washington and the Leafs fighting for a playoff spot with Ottawa. Martin-coached teams always seem to even out with that consistent approach the veteran bench boss takes year after year.….. Geez, the shot that Kyle Turris heeled on the fresh wet ice of the second period reminded me of when you’re playing pool with your buds at the bar and wind up for the break but completely whiff on the cue ball while everyone laughs so hard that beer comes spraying out their nose. I’ve done that like twenty times in my life, usually a few pints in at the Dominion Tavern in the Market….

....Only being 3 games from his 1000th in a Senators uniform, you’d think Chris Phillips would be getting a little more press than he actually is right now. Barring injury, the Big Rig will play the milestone game in Ottawa Thursday night against the Nashville Predators. He would have gotten it done at home tonight against the Leafs if he hadn’t missed two games to injury. Ottawa’s been lucky to have a guy like Phillips over the years. Like I said before, he’s their Glen Wesley. Always under appreciated but one of the foundation pieces of the entire organization. Hopefully he gets his due from the fans when the time comes….. Jason Spezza, with 212 goals going into Saturday's game against the Leafs, is closing in on another Alexei Yashin mark, being only 6 markers behind the former franchise centre and #19 jersey wearer, who had 218 goals in 504 games. Once Spezza does that, he’ll be ahead of Yashin in all the main statistical categories. Some people have been waiting a long time to see Yashin’s name slowly removed from the leaderboards. It’s just about done…. Why is it that when you finish eating a bowl of popcorn you feel like you have to eat a few of those unpopped ones? All they do is break your teeth and taste like wood. But still, we perservere....

.... Jaromir Jagr, with 1,637 points, is closing in on Joe Sakic for 8th in NHL all-time scoring, needing just 5 more to put him right behind his former mentor and teammate Mario Lemieux who sits 7th with 1,723. Passing Mario might be tough but if Jagr plays another year for a good Philly team, he’ll have an outside chance (he’d likely need two more seasons). Pens fans will be pissed…. Jared Cowen has had a couple of games he’d like to forget, especially on Friday night against the Islanders. Yet Bryan Murray well knows you have to live with those stretches, even with a rookie who’s been as solid as Cowen. It always seems like a rookie defenseman is allowed fewer mistakes than a rookie forward, but the fact we’re even talking about this reminds you of how little we’ve had to point out Cowen’s faults. That’s a pretty good sign. If anything, it would be nice to see Cowen step up a little more in the offensive zone like he was doing a bit more in the months before Christmas. It reminds me of how Chris Phillips seems to find that extra gear whenever a game goes into overtime. You’ll almost never see Phillips take a chance during regulation but he gets goal hungry when it really matters. Cowen has a bit of that in him and might have better hands than Phillips if he chose to use them more.....

Remember when the Battle Of Ontario used to be like this?