Monday, January 21, 2013

Sens Rolling The Dice With Rookie Defenders

For the Ottawa Senators, it’s nice to be on the other side of controversy right now. For all the goaltending doubts, the concern over the youth on defense and the standard opening night fears, the Senators calmed their fans down considerably with a lopsided victory in Winnipeg.

For Jets fans, their handwringing has only increased. According to Hockey Hall Of Fame writer Roy MacGregor, a lot of people in the ‘Peg already feel disillusioned – and that’s in a market where the honeymoon has just begun. Even the champagne is still bubbly.

With old pal Alexei Kovalev back in town with the rising Florida Panthers, some Senators fans may be reminded of some recent bad history and feel comforted that those days now seem so distant. For the most part, they are.

Yet the path to the Senators downfall is pretty clear, even to casual observers. And it’s not the goaltending (refreshingly).

It’s the defense – a top heavy group that’s thin and inexperienced once you get past the top four. What would happen if another D-man went down to injury? Or two? That’s not an unrealistic scenario. In fact, it’s likely, especially in a compressed schedule.

When you look at teams that have traditionally had success in the playoffs, they have depth and experience on defense, with people ready to step in when injuries strike.

Los Angeles refuted that theory last season when they had two greenhorns in Alec Martinez and Vyacheslav Voynov playing all 20 games in the Kings march to the Stanley Cup. Martinez wasn’t really a rookie, having played 60 games in 2011, but the point is made.

So it can be done, but you have to think Ottawa is going to address this issue with a trade before we get into the nitty gritty of the schedule in February.

Losing Jared Cowen was a big blow but the trade for Marc Methot looks to have filled that void in the short term. Methot is stable, experienced and big enough to protect his new partner Erik Karlsson. He’ll be a big part of this defense for years, especially with Sergei Gonchar likely leaving after this season.

The next pairing of Gonchar and Chris Phillips is a coach’s dream second duo. They’re both leaders and capable of playing big minutes in all situations.

Everything after that is a crapshoot – mind you sometimes a roll of the dice pays off handsomely. And it could again. But is Ottawa really going to contend with two rookies, Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki, along with AHL journeyman Andre Benoit when games get ramped up and they have to battle the Penguins, Bruins, Rangers and the Flyers?

I have my doubts despite Wiercioch looking like he’s ready to play some games and Borowiecki on track to be a Chris Neil clone on defense. Mike Lundin may help when his finger heals but he doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being battle hardened veteran. Those Eastern Conference playoff rounds were tough, mean and bloody and they’ll get harder with Rick Nash barreling down the wing and Sidney Crosby and Nathan Horton seemingly healthy again. Despite the Flyers losing their first two games of the season, they look dangerous and well-rounded. The Rangers and Bruins play harder than anybody and the Penguins are lethal offensively.

The Senators just can’t match that pedigree despite having the reigning Norris Trophy winner and a deep crew of forwards who can score a lot of goals. That top-four on D looks good when healthy but breaking in two rookies could soon turn into three and it may not even stop there. There just doesn’t seem to be any insurance and that’s a dangerous way to drive.

Youth on a hockey club is great and exciting for the fans, but when it gets ugly out there – and it will – you win with veterans. You win with guys who send their dentists Christmas cards and can actually grow playoff beards.

Bryan Murray, an old vet himself, surely knows this and will move when the time is right.


PvR said...

You might be the only person to give Gonchar and Chris Phillips any credit.

I hope you're right.

Anonymous said...

No need to worry. There are many UFA d-men still available. I like that they are giving the young guys a look. You need to assess what you have.

As a regular reader of your blog, I know that you like your d-men bearded and without teeth. But, I hope they go and sign Campoli, if the youngins can't get the job done.