Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alfredsson Blows Minds .... Gilroy Blows Audition ... Milks Blows The Game Notes

Ottawa 6 Winnipeg 4

When the Ottawa Senators desperately needed to defy the odds and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night to stave off all the doomsday talk, it was captain Daniel Alfredsson who took the game over with 2 goals and 2 assists to get the win.

And on Monday night, with only 2 points separating the Senators from both the Capitals and Sabres at the bottom of the playoff race, it was the captain again who put this team on his back, twice breaking ties with the go-ahead goal against the Jets, both in the third period when things started to get out of control.

You begin to run out of superlatives. His second goal was the very definition of clutch, coming just 24 seconds after the Jets had unbelievably tied the game for the third time all-night. It would be the last. Alfredsson calmly slipped it past goalie Ondrej Pavelec for his 26th of the season and the game winner while Jets fans fell back into their seats groaning and grabbing their heads in disbelief. A 39 year old was putting their team out to pasture for good this time. Winnipeg's season is toast. It probably already was before they dropped the puck but Alfredsson made sure of it.

It also happened to be the 39 year old's 8th twenty-five or more goal season, his first since 2007-2008 when the Senators were still an elite team. But here he is doing it again, on a second line that doesn't score often and on a team that has guys so young they probably don't remember him co-leading the NHL in 2007 playoff scoring.

The win in Winnipeg can't seem to be any bigger (until the next one). They now go four points clear of both Washington and Buffalo and with those same two teams facing each other on Tuesday, at least one of them isn't going to get two in the bank. The worst scenario for Ottawa would be for that game to go into overtime but even then they'd still be 3 up on the 9th place team with the same amount of games played and only 5 to go.

Think of the implications if the Senators had lost to Winnipeg on Monday night.

They don't play again until Saturday and in the meantime you can be sure that one of the Caps or the Sabres would have surpassed them in the standings while Ottawa could do nothing but watch and practice. A week with that loss hanging over their heads would have been unbearable. And not just for the players.

The fans would be hanging from buildings and getting thrown into the Hull drunk tank left and right.

Thankfully, the fine hockey-crazed citizens of Ottawa can stay sane and keep their jobs and marriages intact for the time being.

Thanks Daniel. You saved the city from a social nightmare of no return. Again.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Erik Karlsson

Honourable Mentions:  Craig Anderson, Kaspars Daugavins, Filip Kuba, Kyle Turris and Zack Smith.


The Gilroy Audition Takes A Turn For The Worse

 When Matt Gilroy arrived in Ottawa more tanned than Wayne Newton and immediately remarked on the differences in weather between sunny Florida and the frozen wastes of West Carleton, you kind of got the feeling this guy wasn’t going to be a perfect match for Ottawa off the ice.

On the ice, Gilroy opened a few eyes with his skating ability and a willingness to rush the puck, but in the short-term he wasn’t getting any results, especially on a moribund power-play that not even Erik Karlsson could save for a while. Nobody was panicking with Gilroy, but nobody was too impressed either, including the very small minority of fans who were adherents to the strange and curious Cult of Brian Lee (formerly of the Cult of Martin Gerber and its rare offshoot, the Cult of Jonathan Cheechoo).

Then the hammer came down on Saturday night. The Senators, in danger of slipping out of the top eight in the race to the playoffs, were facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and they decided to do it without a healthy Gilroy. After 11 games with only 1 assist and 14 shots on goal, coach Paul MacLean decided to sit Gilroy and go with the currently out-of-fashion Matt Carkner instead.

The Senators won the game 8-4. Not because of Carkner, who played very limited minutes (yet was defensively solid), but because of the inspired play and leadership of Daniel Alfredsson and possibly the very real fear of extinction if they lost another one at home.

That’s tough timing for the soon-to-be UFA Gilroy who is on a “tryout” with the Senators, as some have called it. Or is it the Senators who are on a tryout for Gilroy? Pick your poison.

For sure Gilroy has all the tools – the skating, the shot and the flowing hair – but there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fully integrate him and get him playing comfortable before the fateful decision has to be made. If the Senators go on some unlikely long playoff run, then Gilroy, who will certainly get back in the lineup at some point, will have a chance to settle into a role. If they miss the playoffs or fall in the first round, the impression won’t be deep.

I’d wager that GM Bryan Murray will want to sign him no matter what, knowing the lack of talent on the free-agent market, but Gilroy probably won’t be sold on signing early with Ottawa, if ever. If you look at it from Gilroy’s perspective, why wouldn’t he at least wait to see what kind of offers are out there? He’s already been through the process after leaving college as a highly sought after free-agent. His camp may believe some of those teams that missed out the first time will take another shot in July. Essentially, that’s what Ottawa did by trading for him.

All of this uncertainty might eventually push Murray towards re-signing Filip Kuba, something that seemed unlikely just a few months ago. It’s a complicated situation with a lot of factors involved, but I’d say the chances of Kuba being back are nearing the range of 50/50. I don’t think we should be surprised either way, but if I were forced to bet, I’d say Kuba ends up leaving for a team that wants to give him three years on a deal, something Murray should avoid if possible.

 If Kuba does leave, that's a lot of quality minutes Murray has to replace somehow. It may end up being easier just to pay Kuba to continue doing the job. If Murray can’t find a suitable replacement, losing Kuba could damage the Sens playoff chances next season and taking a step backwards is not part of the 3-year rebuild Eugene Melnyk was eager to talk about this past weekend. Having a shallow defense is a season killer. Sometimes it’s actually wiser to bite the bullet and swallow an extra year on a deal and a little cash if it means remaining stable at that position with veterans. While there is nobody on the farm capable of sliding into Kuba’s spot alongside Erik Karlsson, the Senators might be counting on a promotion of Jared Cowen with Mark Borowiecki backfilling his current role. Seems reasonable enough but they'd be one injury away from being exposed.

Another route for Murray to to use one or two of those extra forwards in a deal to replace Kuba with a younger defenseman that has a good contract and the potential to go along with it. Not many GM’s are willing to move those kinds of players so Murray might have to settle for a “problem case”, like the Kyle Turris situation. Maybe this is Option A for Murray once the season is over, with anyone from Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Bobby Butler or one of their forward prospects being involved.

It’s all conjecture, and maybe a little misplaced at this point with a playoff chase underway that Kuba is going to play a major role in. Maybe Gilroy gets impressed by Britannia Beach (never mind the Ottawa trademark raw sewage floating by, Matt) and decides this is where he wants to be.

There’s time enough for these problems when the all the crying is done at the end of the season.



Kyle Turris actually scored the goal but he was much more amazed by Spezza’s sickening dangle through the entire Jets team on a play that started at the side boards, worked its way to the blueline and then weaved back to the net where the puck magically appeared on the stick of Turris for the tap-in. He could barely skate to the bench with his mouth hanging open and his eyes glued to the scoreboard replay. I’m guessing he didn’t see too many of those in Phoenix. Coach Dave Tippett would have had an embolism at the sight of one of his players trying something like that …

.... That’s two games in a row Spezza had to laugh during the anthems. The first on Saturday was due to the absurdity of the anthem singer taking half an hour to finish, and tonight was due to Jets fans screaming “true north” in ode to their corporate owners who brought the NHL back to town. Spezza seemed in awe of the noise they made and broke out in a huge grin and turned to look at an equally impressed Milan Michalek. You don’t hear that kind of noise in Ottawa very often unless it’s John Baird in Question Period…. Not seeing the Jets too often this season, I always forget just how skilled Alex Burmistrov is. What a great player to watch but I hear Jets fans get frustrated with him….. When Turris got steamrolled by Mark Stuart in the first period, Matt Carkner made sure to challenge the Jet. Not surprisingly, Carkner’s invitation was turned down. An interesting thing about Carkner is that he’s a traditional policeman – never looking for the fight but always ready to step up if the situation calls for it. A guy like Zenon Konopka goes onto the ice knowing he’s going to scrap no matter what the situation. Big difference. And that’s not a real knock against Konopka. There’s room for guys like him too, but if they ever need him to protect a teammate, chances are he’s already serving five minutes….

… You don’t see many of the original black Senators sweaters around, especially in other towns but after Chris Neil’s first period goal, the cameras caught a young woman standing amidst the swarms of blue and white with the original 1992 sweater that had the lettering on the border of the logo. I’m pretty sure you can’t buy those anywhere except for Ebay. If I’m wrong, please point me in the right direction… Kaspars Daugavins doing his skate-by barking at the Senators bench after every goal he scores is the best Sens tradition since Bruce Gardiner putting his stick in the toilet before every game in the 90’s….. Todd White and Bruce Garrioch had a pretty good verbal scrap going in the pre-game show trying to figure out who Ottawa should be worried about more – Buffalo or Washington. I don’t think anyone has ever heard White raise his voice before so if you missed it, you’ll have to wait another ten years…. According to Cap Geek, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the 8th highest spending team this season with over $63 million in salaries. The Senators are 25th in salary with just over $51 million committed. Somehow the Leafs sit 13th in the conference with no chance at the playoffs while Ottawa is battling it out for 7th with a 21 year-old Erik Karlsson not even in his prime yet, not to mention future studs Mika Zibanejad and Robin Lehner not even in the NHL yet. That’s gotta sting Leaf fans in the ass….

.... And finally, how great will it be to see this scene played out again in the very near future? If the Nords ever get reborn (and with a new rink being built it's now possible) let's hope they stick more to their traditional look than the reborn Jets did. By the way, that Jet is Pat Elynuik, also a former Ottawa Senator. He also has the hardest name to spell in NHL history. I just botched it three times in a row.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sens Hope Bishop Deal Mirrors Giguere Swap... Dull Devs Loss... Jobu Approved Game Notes

With seven games in the books as an Ottawa Senator, and with a respectable 3-2-2 record, Ben Bishop has settled in comfortably as option 1B for at least the rest of this season, even as his arrival seemingly coincided with the Senators entering a Twilight Zone of flat performances.

Option 1A remains Craig Anderson who is very close to returning from a freak Julia Child/Dan Aykroyd inspired kitchen accident, but if more of the unexpected happens, Coach Paul MacLean knows he can throw Bishop into the nets and his boys will have a chance to win hockey games.

Yet there was some anxiety for a few fans when GM Bryan Murray moved a 2013 second-round draft pick for the unproven behemoth, but they had good company in a few NHL GM's who were also chasing Bishop but didn't want to pay the asking price.

Here's the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman on Ottawa trading for Bishop: “Other teams (Toronto, Tampa Bay) didn't want to give up a second-rounder. But when the time comes to decide between him and Robin Lehner, you've got to figure the Senators get back that pick, if not something better.”

It's strange how much of a no-brainer this seems now, only weeks after the deal. You'd think a second-rounder would be a very reasonable price to pay for an NHL goalie but obviously some felt differently. I think some fans feel the accumulation of draft picks is more important than actually winning hockey games but it's surprising to hear some NHL GM's were that cautious. If Bishop were to be drafted this season, he’d be a late first-rounder or a second at worst.

Of course, pro and amateur scouting has a lot to do with successful trades but when it comes down to pushing the big red button on a transaction, the GM has to have the nerve to make the decision, knowing it could flop and make him look foolish in the eyes of some critics.

Goalies in particular seem hazardous to the sanity of GM's. You feel for guys like Bobby Clarke and Rejean Houle.

Yet there's a fairly recent example of second-rounder/goalie swap that worked out well for the team acquiring the warm body.

The Anaheim Ducks traded a second-round pick to Calgary for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, another big goalie (for the pre-Rinne era at least) back at the 2000 Entry Draft. Giguere led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 where they lost to the Devils (Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy despite losing the series), and then finally won the Cup in 2007 against the Senators. That second-rounder traded away by the Ducks (and then later moved to Washington) became Matt Pettinger, a serviceable player but not a true difference maker like Giguere was for many years.

If you don't take any risks, you end up watching other team's parades.


New Jersey 1 Ottawa 0

This was another frustrating game for the Senators, who look like they've hit the wall after a long season of giving us entertaining hockey.

That's about 3 clunkers in a row and on Tuesday night the Senators were even without Jason Spezza who missed the game for undisclosed reasons, although it's been acknowledged he's had a tough week away from the rink

Whatever insight you could gain by breaking down the last week of plodding, low-scoring games might be misleading. The Senators look tired and frustrated on their own home ice but these kinds of spells hit most teams at some point in the season.

They remain 6 points up on idle Buffalo who seem to be the only team who could realistically pull the Senators kicking and screaming from the top eight. Ottawa's not going to catch the Devils for 6th and a Florida first-round matchup anymore, but they only need to tread water at .500 to reach their goal.

No reason to scream for the lifeguard just yet.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Ben Bishop (.971 SV%)
2. Chris Neil (9 hits, 4 shots)
3. Erik Karlsson (6 shots)

Honourable Mentions: Matt Gilroy


Matt Gilroy – still tanned…. Daniel Alfredsson has been fairly cold for a while now, but I suspect the wise veteran has learned a few hard lessons over the years (thanks to Mark Bell) and is making sure he reaches the playoffs healthy so he can put it all on the line when it matters. He knows this could be his last chance at the post-season and I’m sure these final few games can’t go fast enough right now…... As I said on Twitter this weekend, the Senators have fallen flat way too many times against the Toronto Maple Leafs over the years to call it a coincidence. It’s more like an incurable neurosis that spans generations of players through a mysterious process that no one can seem to grasp. I propose a dressing stall in the Senators locker room be cleared to make room for the exact same altar of worship that Pedro Cerrano from Major League set up for Jobu. “Tis' very bad to steal Jobu’s rum. Tis' very bad.”

…. Another reason hockey is the best? One woman proposed marriage to another Saturday night on the ice in Kanata. And the Senators helped facilitate the moment, which was a classy move on their part. But what if Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been in attendance that night (as he sometimes is at Scotiabank Place)? Would he have sat on his hands and frowned (as his core far-right supporters would insist he do) or would he have applauded like the rest of the crowd who clearly enjoyed the moment? That would have been ten times more interesting than the game that night…. No surprise we hear the typical hand-wringing from pundits horrified that the Devils and Rangers started off their Monday night game with three “staged” fights off the opening faceoff. “O, the humanity! The barbarism!” Personally, as a fan of the game, I loved it. I wish more games would start that way. If Ottawa went out for the opening faceoff last Saturday night against the Leafs and immediately started a line-brawl, it would easily go down as one of the great Battle of Ontario games, no matter what happened the rest of the 59 minutes. Nothing wrong with a good yard-sale once in a while, especially between bitter rivals like the Devils and the Rangers. The players seem to enjoy it. That’s good enough for me…

....If rumours are true that Patrick Roy already has a deal in place to take over as Montreal coach this summer, the Habs have hit the jackpot. There will be a lot of doubters out there but Roy is a winner and he’ll find a way to win as an NHL bench boss as well. And as an ex-player who clashed with more than a few head coaches, he’ll understand what his players are going through and what it takes to survive in Montreal as an object of fanatical obsession. Now, what's Mark Messier doing lately…. Lots of hype about Alex Radulov and the Nashville Predators, but there does remain the very real possibility that Radulov doesn’t make much of an impact and the Preds lose to Detroit or someone else in the first round. The expectations have risen so quickly that a potential disappointment may not be far behind. We’ve seen this type of thing play out so many times in the first round. Ottawa fans know this reality all too well. Nothing against Radulov or the Preds at all, but it just seems too storybook right now....

.... Here's Mel Bridgman, the Ottawa Senators first GM, on the cover of the Devils 84-85 Media Guide (click for larger image). I'd love one of those old foam and mesh caps the kids are wearing.

..... Roy MacGregor, one of my favourite sportswriters,  has a little fun at Ottawa’s expense in Tuesday’s Globe by calling the capital city and Winnipeg “(t)he two lesser cities, of roughly equal size…” Oh Roy. Ottawa is the 4th largest census metropolitan area in Canada with a population of 1,236,324. Winnipeg is 8th with 730,018 people. But give Roy credit. He knows how to get an easy rise from us Bytowners, and that’s to call the city small and boring (in the same article he calls Ottawa fans “so librarian”). Hey, columnists have been doing it for a century. Roy’s just doing his small part. But here’s the catch - When you complain, like me, that someone is calling your town small, you’re basically confirming it by the act of complaining. I even trotted out the stats. How small-town and sad is that?.... Here's “Dobbervia Puck Daddy on the woes (and sudden emergence) of Columbus goalie Steve Mason, who recently switched to bigger pads, and what that could mean for a future crackdown on oversized goalie equipment: “Probably the worst goalie in the league from October through February, Mason has suddenly become one of the best. The reason? Bigger pads? If that truly is the case, then the NHL would have all the proof it needs to increase scoring. If bigger pads can turn a guy who was probably not fit to start in the ECHL into an NHL goalie with a 94% save percentage, then what would shrinking said pads do for league-wide offense?”

This is what NHL shooters used to face:

This is what they face now:

Sweet Lord.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alfie's Lady Byng Curse... Habs Drop Sens ... Guy Lafleur Disco... Yer Game Notes

Did Mocking Sundin With Fake Stick-Toss Forever Curse Alfredsson's Lady Byng Quest?

There’s no doubt Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has had a comeback year worthy of any in recent memory. After shutting down his 2010-11 season in early February due to a bad back which eventually required surgery, not many predicted he would be as productive as he’s been this year, let alone actually play. From interviews he’s done, it sounds like Alfredsson was sceptical himself.

Now with the Senators likely headed to the playoffs and Alfredsson with 49 points in 64 games, the long time franchise player may be in the running for a couple of NHL awards. He’s a longshot for both, but he should get some consideration for both the Lady Byng and the Masterton trophies.

The Professional Hockey Writer’s Association votes for both trophies. In the case of the Masterton, awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”, each team nominates one player, and usually it’s someone who has overcome some kind of injury to play at a high level. That sums up Alfredsson’s year pretty well and he’s a lock to be the Senators candidate. Ian Laperriere of the Philadelphia Flyers won it last season with ex-Senator goalie Ray Emery a runner-up.

The Lady Byng, officially, is awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability". Unofficially, they just give it to either Pavel Datsyuk or Martin St. Louis depending on who had the better year. That duo has locked up the award since the lockout, and deservedly so. Yes, a lot of it has to do with how low your penalty minutes are and how high your point total is, but there’s also the likability factor involved, and both Datsyuk and St. Louis are darlings of the press.

So where does Alfredsson come into this story? Firstly, he’s never convinced the PHWA that he deserves the trophy, probably because in his best years points-wise, he was always in between 30 and 50 penalty minutes, a number that probably disqualified him from the running. For instance, in 2006, Alfredsson had 103 points and 50 PIMs. That year, Datsyuk won the award with 87 points and 22 PIMs. In 2008, Alfredsson had 89 points and only 34 PIMs but Datsyuk took it with 97 points and 20 PIMs. Alfredsson’s best chance at the Byng was probably in 2004 when he had 80 points and 24 PIMs. Alas, Brad Richards took it with just 79 points and 12 PIMs. You can’t win when you look like a goon compared to these angels.

But forget the stats for a moment. Let’s go back in time to that night in 2004 when Alfredsson mocked his good pal but bitter foe Mats Sundin by pretending to toss a broken stick into the stands in imitation of the act that got Sundin suspended for a game that same January.

Coincidentally enough, that was the year Alfredsson had his best chance of winning the Byng, statistically at least. The Leaf fans howled in outrage and Alfredsson still gets booed to this day, partly because of that incident (and partly because he ran over Darcy Tucker in the 2002 playoffs before scoring the winning goal.) But did he ultimately disqualify himself for the Lady Byng by doing the cheeky stick-toss act in a city that’s home to a lot of voting members of the PWHA? Or was it the crushing Tucker hit that many thought should have negated the goal?

This is not some kid of conspiracy theory I’m advancing, but let’s just say this is my own version of the Alfie stick-toss - just a little harmless fun at the expense of Hog Town. So did Toronto area writers like Steve Simmons, Damien Cox, Mike Zeisberger, Bob Mackenzie, James Mirtle and others get an indelible impression of Alfredsson’s “sportsmanship” that night (or in seeing the endless replays over the years), an impression that was not altogether favourable?

Hey, it’s possible. That’s life. Alfredsson can play the game a number of different ways and he’s not always a gentleman about it. It also goes to show that some people’s sense of humour is like flashing a red cape to a half-crazed bull.

But, realistically, what are Alfredsson’s chances this season of getting his paws on the Byng? Let’s take a quick look at the some of the contenders and the appropriate stats as a start:

Claude Giroux: 80 Pts 27 PIMs
Phil Kessel: 72 Pts 20 PIMs
Marian Hossa: 69 Pts 16 PIMs
Patrik Elias: 67 Pts 16 PIMs
St. Louis: 63 Pts 16 PIMs
Datsyuk: 59 Pts 14 PIMs

Those are probably the top guys right there. You can make a good argument for others but let’s go with this list for argument’s sake. You can go ahead and eliminate Kessel because not only are the Leafs collapsing, the writers have never taken to the kid. Alfredsson, with his 49 points (64th overall in the league going into Wednesday’s games) and 12 PIMs doesn’t seem to be in the running, but there’s always the nostalgia effect. Seems like every other night this season, Alfredsson is being feted in one ceremony or another and the All-Star game in Ottawa gave him his highest profile in the NHL yet. They gave Wayne Gretzky the Lady Byng in his last season as a sort of going away gift and Ron Francis one when he was starting to wind down his Hall of Fame career in 2002.

If it was a popularity contest, Alfie might have a solid chance this season, unless a few Toronto area writers have a longer memory than their bar tabs (ok, one last harmless shot of the Alexei Kovalev variety).


Montreal 3 Ottawa 2 (SO)

The Senators did Montreal in style by taking the train into town with old-school getups but dropped their second straight game in a shootout with Ben Bishop in net for both.

Bishop wasn't particularly good in the Sabres shootout, looking a little stiff and immobile but he looked fine against Montreal, making two good saves against Max Pacioretty and the resurrected Andrei Markov. Unfortunately for the Senators, Carey Price was perfect at the other end and that was all she wrote after another grinding, playoff style game, similar to the Sabres tilt last Saturday.

If those two games were a test to see if Ottawa could play that tight style, I'd say they passed. There's no shootouts in the playoffs and the Senators were dominating the overtime period and still got a point after going down by a goal early in the third period. It's those little signs that tell you this team is ready.

They also inched a point closer to the suddenly miserable Bruins. All those baby steps are starting to add up.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Ben Bishop
3. Colin Greening

Honourable Mentions: Jim O'Brien, Filip Kuba, Daniel Alfredsson and Kyle Turris.


Strangely enough, the acronym for the Professional Hockey Writers Association is shared by the "Professional Hypnotists of Western Australia". Don't believe me? Check it out here…  Just trying to find out who is a voting member of the PHWA (the hockey version) is a major task. Their website is a website in name only. It basically doesn't function anymore.... Did anyone catch ex-NHL player agent, ex-Tampa GM Brian Lawton on Sportsnet late Tuesday night saying that if he was Sidney Crosby’s agent, he would advise his client to sit the rest of the year because of possible contract extension talks this coming summer? Essentially, Lawton is saying that even though Crosby is healthy enough to play (and lord knows they’ve been more careful with Sid than any athlete in history), he should still shut it down for both contractual and health reasons. Completely ludicrous. Why would someone not play the games when he’s healthy enough to do so? To avoid being hurt so they don’t endanger their next contract? Sid’s deal doesn’t even run out until after next season. Maybe all UFA’s should shut it down just in case. A whole industry of self-congratulating punditry has sprung up on the back of Sid’s injury woes and when he starts playing games, they’ve lost their big stick to repeatedly bash the NHL with. We get it guys. The NHL is a “garbage league”. Some journalists have been feasting on Sid’s brain for so long that they seem uncomfortable with the idea of him actually playing hockey games. What a novel concept.....

.... A nice lad by the name of Paul Swaney emailed me a few links from his site Stadium Journey, which basically reviews most major stadiums across North America and they've now reviewed both Scotiabank Place in Kanata and the B-Sens classic rink, the Broome County Veterans Memoria Arena. A pretty good read, especially when you get into the NFL stadium reviews. These boys like their concession stand foods..…. Have to say it’s nice to see the GM’s are acting as the NHL’s version of the Canadian Senate – the “sober second thought” – at least at the Boca Raton meetings. There was a lot of hype about the red-line being instituted on the recommendation of the GM’s but they soundly shot it down, and rightfully so. In fact, they are only recommending a few minor tweaks and hoping to see how some other changes, such as the “ringette line” or “Bowman line” works in the AHL before instituting it in the big leagues. That’s how it should be. Let the fans and press scream for drastic changes as they do year after year, but let the hockey people take it as slowly and carefully as it needs to be done. Nobody will ever be happy with what they do, so they might as well do what’s best for the game. Slowing it down and potentially bringing hockey back to where it was in the 90’s shouldn’t be an option, and it looks like it won’t be..... It's official. The Sens have another college kid, this time a high-scoring left-winger named Cole Schneider (good hockey name) out of the University of Connecticut. He's headed to Bingo for his pro debut but if he ever makes the Senators, he'll be the second Schneider to play for the Senators. The first? Andy Schneider, also a high-scoring left-winger, but from the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. Schneider didn't make much of an impression with the Sens, only playing 10 games for them in the 93-94 season but he went on to a very successful career in Germany with teams like the Schwenninger Wild Wings and the Hamburg Freezers....

.....Tweet of the night has to go to Senators play-by-play man Dean Brown @PxPOttawa with "Habs honoured Harry Weiner tonight....longtime season ticket holder since 1968. not kidding." .... Alfredsson’s first ever regular season game in Montreal was on November 18, 1995 at the old Montreal Forum, but it wasn’t much of a performance. The future captain went -1 with 2 shots on Patrick Roy. The Habs won the game 5-1and somehow Lyle Odelein, the tough but low-scoring defenseman, who Matthew Barnaby famously nicknamed “Cornelius” after a character in Planet Of The Apes, managed to get a goal and an assist. Defenseman Sean Hill got the lone marker for Ottawa. Alfredsson eventually learned to play against Montreal, and going into tonight he had 102 points in 82 career games against the Habs, the most damage he’s done to any team in the NHL and the only club he’s racked up over 100 points against. His next most preferable opponent is the Sabres with 82 points in 85 games....

.... Here's the vintage moment I try to squeeze into every post. Yes, sports fans, it's Guy Lafleur's disco instructional album. Eat your heart out Barry Gibb.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sens Beat Rangers At Own Game .... Klinkhammer! .... Farley! ... Game Notes

Ottawa 4  New York 1

Let's not yank each other by calling this a huge statement game for the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators pumped 3 goals past funny guy Martin Biron, which was a little easier than putting 3 past probable Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, who watched this fairly slow tilt from the bench.

But.... the Senators will take the two points and probably get a good dose of confidence from it. Just getting to the net is a bit of a feat when going against the Rangers, and Ottawa merely cashed in when the rare opportunity for a good scoring chance arose.

So let's take the goalies out of the equation. Skater to skater, the Senators were the better team on Thursday night in what turned out to be more of a playoff-style game than you might have expected with both teams not exactly desperate for a win to keep them alive.

For some reason, the rest of the league can't beat the Rangers but Ottawa matches up with them quite well, winning the season series 3-1. It's unlikely these two teams would meet in the first round unless Ottawa drops to 8th or the Rangers drop to 2nd, but you'd have to think the Senators would prefer this matchup than the one that's staring them in the face right now - the Big Bad Bruins and Tim Thomas.

Jared Cowen had one of his better games this season and Zack Smith looks like he's back to being that nasty, Undertaker-looking SOB after getting iced a few games ago for sleepwalking on the job. Even Nick Foligno scored a goal, the winner, which is cause to break out the good cigars for a change.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jared Cowen
2. Zack Smith
3. Ben Bishop

Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Filip Kuba, Rob Klinkhammer, Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar and Nick Foligno.

Black Aces 3 Star Season Scorecard

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

1. Karlsson – 50
2. Anderson – 49
3. Spezza – 45
4. Alfredsson – 40
5. Michalek – 35
6. Neil – 23
7. Cowen – 19
8. Greening – 17
9. Foligno – 16
10. Gonchar – 14
11. Smith – 12
12. Turris – 9
13. Lehner - 9
14. Kuba – 6
15. Phillips – 4
16. Da Costa – 4
17. Condra – 3
18. Butler – 2
19. Daugavins - 2
20. Winchester – 1
21. Carkner – 1
22. Bishop - 1


Is 40 goals the new 50? Some would say scoring 35 is the same as scoring 50 in the 80’s and early 90’s. If so, Milan Michalek is well on his way to a “50 goal season” with his current 32. Wait, I’ve confused myself…. With the new white mask and the all-white pads, Ben Bishop is going to look like a Stormtrooper the next time the team wears the road whites. The Sens already had Darth Gerber. And I guess Kyle Turris has the same look and build as Luke Skywalker. Also like Skywalker, Turris would stand in the Phoenix desert staring into the horizon, knowing innately that his destiny lay somewhere else….. One more for the road. Jared Cowen is definitely Chewbacca. I think he emits the same sound when he makes a bad play on the ice.... Henrik Lundqvist had perfectly coiffed hair sitting on the bench tonight. And I mean perfect. If I had hair like that, I’d be much more successful in life. People would respect me. They'd bring me towels and call me King Jerome. I guess I’ll just have to live with my rat’s nest….. Rob Klinkhammer has only played 3 games for Ottawa but the guy looks like he belongs. Seems like a more cerebral player than Jimmy O’Brien, more along the lines of Erik Condra. It’s early, but it looks like another smart pickup by Bryan Murray. The Senators could go into this summer’s draft and not pick a single forward if they were so inclined. In fact, if they use their first three picks on defensemen, would anyone be surprised? Now watch Murray draft six Swedish centres….

.... Matt Gilroy just played two consecutive games against the first two teams he started his career with. Talk about getting closure right away…. One good thing about trading Brian Lee: Sens fans will no longer be subjected to the “could have drafted Marc Staal” every time Ottawa plays the Rangers. Although pundits enjoyed pointing out that Ottawa could have drafted Chris Pronger in '93, even after Alexandre Daigle left town in a trade for Pat Falloon and Vaclav Prospal. Anyways, as they say, “show me a scout who hasn’t made a mistake and I’ll show you a blogger”….. Good thing the Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, occasionally obliges us by covering the Toronto Maple Leafs in such painstaking detail, because otherwise we would suffer from a lack of information and opinion about Canada’s true team. Take, for instance, the Wednesday edition of the Globe. Front of the sports section you come across the half-page photo of Leaf goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Underneath is an article by Roy MacGregor about the Leafs loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night with an opening paragraph that reads “When it comes to hockey, The Centre of the Universe is a bit of an understatement.” Okay, Roy’s being cheeky. Pretty good column. Now, let’s see what else is happening in the hockey world. Let’s skip past the two soccer articles because soccer is just as boring in print as it is on television. Top of the next page, David Shoalts weighs in on Mikhail Grabovski signing a 5-year deal with the Leafs. There must be a non-Leaf story somewhere in here, right? Let’s see. The next headline is “Toronto takes its lumps” and we get another synopsis of the Leafs loss to Boston, this time by James Mirtle. Another big photo of Gustavsson in his pretty Toronto blues. Directly below that is the continuation of MacGregor’s Leafs story with a picture of new coach Randy Carlyle. Oh wait. What’s this? Nestled snugly into the bottom corner of the page is a 2-inch column that says “Senators 7, Lightning 3”. Apparently Ottawa also played a hockey game on Tuesday night. Obviously, not very important. Turn the page and we get another vital Sidney Crosby article explaining to us that he may or may not be back this season. That’s it folks. Oh, wait, one more thing. The NHL standings and the box scores from the night before. There were 12 games on the Tuesday night but there’s only one of the box scores. Let’s see which one it is. Yep. It’s the box score from the Toronto game….. Thursday’s edition of the Globe had only one small Leafs story in addition to good coverage of the Habs and Canucks. Brian Burke must be in the Globe offices trying to get an editor fired….

Time for some random vintage New York Rangers programmes found on the net:

...... "There's no better pass in hockey than a rebound." Not a bad line from Denis Potvin tonight immediately after Turris put one past Martin Biron from a Daniel Alfredsson rebound.... Speaking of Potvin, I know it's sort of vogue for people on Twitter to pick apart everything he says in an attempt to ridicule him. I realize it's probably all in good fun and it makes you look ever so clever. But before you do it, think of it like this: Denis Potvin has 4 Stanley Cup rings. Have you even had 4 good tweets? The answer is probably no..... The NHL made the right decision not to suspend or fine Niklas Kronwall of the Red Wings for his perfectly executed hit on the Flyers Jakub Voracek on Tuesday night. Why are we even talking about it in those terms anyways? It’s the toe-in-the-crease rule all over again but this time applied to hockey hits. Voracek was skating up the boards with his head down like it was a game of shinny. No surprise he ended up on his back…. A pretty good read over at The Score by Daniel Wagner about the fact that referees are “on pace to call 200 fewer hooking penalties and 100 fewer holding penalties this season”. Not surprisingly, scoring is down and many are wondering if the “dead-puck era” is back for revenge. Brooks Orpik of the Penguins thinks it has something to do with the league wanting to decrease concussions by allowing some obstruction back into the game. Jaromir Jagr says there are “a lot more hooks. I feel it myself; I’m losing the puck…They let it go.” The article has a whole table of stats for the stat nerds but you can probably see the difference just by watching the games with your own eyes. I’m sure I can speak for all of us who had to sit through most of the 1990’s watching clutch and grab defensive hockey – we don’t want to go back there. However they decide to do it, whether it’s putting the red line back in, further decreasing goalie equipment, banning blocked shots or any other idea, the NHL has to open the game up for its star players and keep it that way permanently through vigilance. Scoring, skating and hitting need to be the priorities here. That’s hockey at its best. If it means another crackdown on obstruction, I’m all for it. Just don’t let the league slide back into that crap we all had to endure when goalies and coaches took over the league the minute Mark Messier handed the Stanley Cup back after the 94-95 lockout.....

Enjoy the weekend pals. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Here's a little Chris Farley to get things started on the right/left foot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

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

Ottawa 7 Tampa Bay 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murray can't lose right now.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lehnsanity Rolls On But Ex-Sens Take The Two Points .... Leeder's Not Bluffing... And Friday Night Game Notes

Chicago 2 Ottawa 1

Give Ray Emery his due.

On Friday night he played his first game in Ottawa since being run out of town in 2008 and didn't show many nerves in helping take two much needed points for the Blackhawks as they fight to stay in the playoffs out West. He had a lot of help from another ex-Sen, Marian Hossa, who has played back in Ottawa so many times that the fans don't even seem to care anymore. But Hossa still looked like the same powerful winger who used to blow the ads off the boards as he roared by, carrying two defenseman on his back on his way to the net.

It was a strange night because at the other end of the rink from Emery was a young goalie who, in many ways, is very similar to the young and brash Emery we all remember from the Stanley Cup run in 2007.

Robin Lehner, a confident kid who clearly believes he's too good to waste away in the AHL, was coming off a shutout of the Boston Bruins and very nearly stole this game from Chicago, making 37 saves, including a big one on a Patrick Sharp penalty shot that he caught in his glove and gave the Statue of Liberty pose for the fans who went predictably berserk in the stands.

If you remember, Emery got his chance to be the number one in Ottawa after future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek went down to injury halfway into the 2005-2006 season. Now Lehner has temporarily taken over for Craig Anderson after the veteran mysteriously sliced a tendon in his hand fumbling around in the kitchen and Lehner hasn't disappointed one bit.

No one is saying Lehner has stolen Anderson's job but the similarities between he and Ray are too weird not to mention.

If an article came out tomorrow saying Lehner ate a cockroach on a dare from Daniel Alfredsson, would anyone be surprised?

Despite the loss on Friday, there's no way Lehner is coming out of that net for Sunday's tilt against the Panthers.

Looks like Emery is going to get the same chance in Chicago.

Two pretty good stories, and you don't often hear Senators goalies, either current or past, in that kind of context.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Robin Lehner
2. Milan Michalek
3. Jason Spezza


Leeder Not Bluffing In Fight Against Tax Change

The story about how the Ontario provincial government has asked the Feds to look into possibly eliminating tax deductions on corporate-bought sports tickets seemed to sneak up on everyone but the headlines were pretty grim for Ottawa Senators fans.

Essentially, Senators President Cyril Leeder said the team could outright fold if all those luxury boxes go unsold because of an unexpected change in tax laws. In fact, it’s been hinted some current owners of those boxes are already getting gunshy about renewing for next season in case they can’t write off a portion of the cost as they’ve been able to do in the past. Ontario would reap an estimated 15 million annually from the change according to the Ottawa Citizen, but lost ticket sales for the Senators could, according to Leeder, be catastrophic for the small market team that already has trouble moving their regular seats. If you think Leeder is just being dramatic for the benefit of the press, you may find it interesting that he’s being just as emphatic with internal staff.

Below is an excerpt from an e-mail sent by Leeder to employees of the Ottawa Senators. In an omitted portion of the e-mail, Leeder asks staff to distribute a series of approved letters to all their associates and contact their local MP (“ideally” by phone) as well as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (who is the highest ranking local Ottawa MP in Stephen Harper’s cabinet):

“You all have heard by now that there is a proposal being circulated to curtail the tax eligibility of deductions for corporations that purchase seats or corporate suites to sporting events. This was a proposal made by the Provincial Government to the Federal Government. (…) The Federal Government is releasing its latest budget on March 29th and could, if it chose to, amend the legislation at that time. That would be devastating to us.

“I cannot overstate how important this is to us. Please take the time to contact your MP and the two ministers today or tomorrow. When you do, please let XXXX know via email that you have done so and how many contacts you think we can count on for you and your network. We are trying to create a rush of contacts in the next 48 hours.”
Clearly, this is an issue that caught the Senators organization off-guard and the tone of the email is unmistakable – they’re going to the mat on this one. It’s somewhat rare for an organization like the Senators to turn to their rank and file employees to do an ad-hoc public relations blitz, so that should tell you something about how upset the Senators really are about this proposed legislation.

It would be one thing for the microphone loving Eugene Melnyk to sound the death knell publicly, but when the calm, collected and highly respected Cyril Leeder does it, you tend to take notice.


How many articles have you read in the past week about why Erik Karlsson doesn't deserve the Norris Trophy? I think I've read about ten too many and it's left me with one thought: Some of these writers are resentful they didn't see it coming. Many hockey pundits were caught off-guard by a young kid they either didn't know too much about or simply had pegged as a small, defensively weak power-play specialist who would never make much of a ripple, especially on a terrible team like Ottawa who they almost universally panned in the summer. The fact that Karlsson escaped everybody's attention until they were forced to acknowledge his amazing season probably feeds into the current mania to discredit him as a favourite for the trophy. How could he be this good if they didn't see it coming? That's the mindset here. Karlsson is making a lot of experts look bad, hence the need to point out why he's not as good as known commodities like Shea Weber that most pundits pencilled in for the Norris last September. Same thing happened to Nicklas Lidstrom early in his career. One day Karlsson will win a few Norris Trophies, but don't count on it being this season. He'll have to pay the price for playing on a team nobody paid much attention to and not already having name recognition....

.... Eric Duhatschek, after another one of those articles trying to explain the "Karlsson problem", went on to other matters and had a good point about the steady decline of offense in the NHL since the lockout:
It is Year 7 now since the lockout ended, which was supposed to usher in a new era, featuring more offence, more attack, and more of the stuff that lifts fans out of their seats. So what happens? Goal-scoring, in that seven-year span, on a per-game average, is slip-sliding away. From a high of 6.1 in 2005-06, it dropped to 5.8 the next year, and then had seasons averaging 5.4, 5.7, 5.5, 5.5 again - and this year, the league is on pace for a new low, 5.3. (...) On Thursday night, in a matchup of the league’s two top teams, St. Louis and Vancouver, it was 0-0 until five minutes into the third period... Maybe time for a second Shanahan Summit. Something’s gotta change.
….. You’d have to think the Senators would have no problem finishing 6th in the Eastern Conference. In that spot, they’re pretty much guaranteed a first-round matchup against the winner of the weaker Southeast Division, currently the Florida Panthers. But it could also end up being the Washington Capitals or the Winnipeg Jets, all teams that are beatable. Dropping to 7th or 8th would mean a much tougher ride with either the Rangers or the Bruins. Yet, NHL history is littered with teams that fell to opponents they thought "favourable". The Florida Panthers themselves proved that back in 1996 as they stormed all the way to the Stanley Cup final against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche until Uwe Krupp finally buried them in overtime of Game Four. The Panthers had already upset Ray Bourque and the Boston Bruins, Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers, and Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.....

…. Jeremy Roenick went for the bone marrow when he called Mike Milbury “soft” on live television for saying the Stars Eric Nystrom should be suspended for his perfectly legal hit on the Penguins Kris Letang. But the real laugher was Roenick saying he was going to go get Milbury a “Shirley Temple”. Watching two grown men trying to “out-macho” each other is a little sad, but anything that gives us confrontations between Milbury and Roenick is worth watching. When analysts go at each other, the fans win. It’s too bad Al Strachan is no longer on HNIC’s Hot Stove in the second intermission. I’d love to see Strachan fix the young Eric Francis with one of those patented withering looks and a perfectly timed insult that Francis wouldn’t have a clue what to do with. At least CBC now has Elliotte Friedman who actually likes the hockey players he covers. Strachan was like that as well but unlike Friedman, he seemingly enjoyed getting various owners and management types furious with him, especially Brian Burke who tried to get Strachan fired on various occasions. There’s not much of the old battling journalism spirit left in the hockey world and that’s a shame. When they finally succeed in taking Don Cherry off the air, who’s going to be able to take blowhards like Burke down a peg or two just for the hell of it? …. My three favourite hockey writers of all-time? I’m sure you’re just dying to know. The list changes year to year but right now it’s Strachan, the late Jim Kelley and Red Fisher. I once stood right behind Fisher in a line at the Ottawa Greyhound terminal for a bus to Montreal. I remember finding it strange that Fisher would be taking a Greyhound but then again sportswriters are notoriously frugal. But I also remember fighting with myself whether or not I should try and talk to him. In the end, I didn’t say a word, not wanting to be “that guy” who bothers a complete stranger just so they can stammer and gush a bunch of bullshit. But what I would give to sit and listen to Fisher tell stories over a couple of beers….