Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Sens Fans Suffer More Indignities Than Your Average Stooge
Worst case scenario happened last night for the Senators.
They lose another big game where they desperately needed two points and in the process managed to let Matt Cooke go untouched, allowing him to have a strong game and assist on the goal that buried them in the third period.
And the topper is the Winnipeg Jets beat the Sabres to move within one point of the Senators and Rangers.
Basically it couldn’t have gone any worse for Ottawa.
Fans were worried that the Senators would be too distracted by Cooke to focus on winning the hockey game, but that wasn’t the case at all. It all boiled down to Cooke’s first shift of the game where he declined a challenge from Chris Neil and took a mild but penalized hit from Eric Gryba, resulting in a power-play that the Senators killed off. That was pretty much it for dealing with Cooke. They lost the game because Craig Anderson was human and they can’t score goals to save their lives, especially on a power-play that’s one of the worst we’ve seen in Ottawa for many years.
Yet there’s still that lingering narrative out there today that somehow Ottawa blew this game because they were focused on Matt Cooke. I didn’t see that last night, but I did see a Senators team that gets tight when faced with an important game, much like they looked against the Leafs last Saturday and a few Saturday’s before that.
It just FEELS like this organization can’t win the games that are most important to the fans. For sure they’ve won huge games before... many of them. But the ones that hurt the most linger in the memory. And it’s usually against the Toronto Maple Leafs or against a team that has somehow done them physical harm (before the Penguins it was the Rangers).
It’s tough for fans to endure that kind of humiliation time after time. I’m sure it’s tough on the players too but they live in a bubble far removed from anything the fans can experience. We don’t truly know what it does to the players so let’s not even pretend. But we do know how the average fan feels.
They have to endure that co-worker who comes in the next day wearing a Leafs jersey with a shit-eating grin on his face. They have to walk to the parking lots out of SBP with Habs fans chanting “Ole, Ole” like marauding gangs of drunken idiots. They have to watch a guy like Cooke, protected by the instigator rule, wipe his dirty, muddy sneakers on the Senators living room carpet and walk away unharmed.
Oh, I realize every team’s fanbase goes through this from time to time, but it’s only in Ottawa that their beloved captain gets booed in his own rink. It’s only in Ottawa that a head coach openly jokes about scoring a goal early to “take the fans out of the game”.
And just when it seems there’s an opportunity to reclaim lost pride, to gain more respect from their fanbase, we see a game like we did on March 30 when the Senators don’t show up to play the Leafs in their own rink on a nationally televised game on Hockey Night In Canada. We see a game like last night where they can’t beat a Penguins team that has almost all their best players on the sidelines and more motivation than they’ll ever need in Matt Cooke and a playoff spot waiting to be clinched.
That’s a bit of a mean-spirited thing to say because the Senators did show up to play last night against Pittsburgh and were once again beaten by a better goalie. And they’ve proven themselves all season long by winning hockey games when injuries said they shouldn’t.
Yet, like I said, it’s those painful losses that leave the biggest impression, and Senators fans are as familiar with those as anyone.
A playoff spot awaits this team with games left against Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. Chances are the Senators will still pull this off. But it all loses a bit of luster when you enter the party through the back door. A big win against the Pens and a big hit on Matt Cooke would have been going through the front door, making an impression around the league. Instead we get hand-wringing and excuses.
As some would say, as long as you get to the party, anything can happen. So let’s see what happens this week.
You can argue both ways on that Eric Gryba interference penalty on Matt Cooke. You can say it was a battle for the puck and it shouldn’t have been called or you can say Cooke didn’t get a chance to battle for it and the right call was made. I don’t think it was either. To me, that was the refs telling the Senators that Cooke was off-limits. It was sending a message that the Senators weren’t about to turn this into a rodeo with Cooke as the clown. If this was a Columbus-Florida game, that call doesn’t get made. But the refs read the paper like everyone else and no doubt discussed the Cooke situation in their pre-game huddle. They were going to call the first contact with Cooke if it even looked slightly sideways and that’s what they did. Like it or not, the rules protect the weasels better than a tough guy can protect his star players in today’s NHL.... I totally get the Pens point of view that what Cooke did to Karlsson was an accident, so why should he have to fight? I don’t think Marian Hossa should have had to fight for accidentally swinging his stick into Bryan Berard’s eye many years ago. But everyone knows Hossa is a clean player who wouldn’t be able to defend himself in a scrap. Not so for Cooke. He’s known as a weasel (albeit a reformed weasel) who has the ability to fight but often won’t. When you take out a Norris Trophy winner, someone like Cooke has to expect to answer for it. He’s twice turned down Chris Neil for a fight. That’s just a complete lack of character on Cooke’s part. No sense in beating a dead horse here so let’s move on....
.... Despite the gloom on Tuesday, the Senators can look forward to having Erik Karlsson back in the lineup as early as Thursday against the Caps. If this team truly needs a breath of fresh air to blow away the stink of the last two games and the off-ice crap that came with it, Karlsson is the guy to do that. He’s only been in Ottawa a few years but already he has a sort of myth building around him. He’s always smiling and happy, but that smile has an air of cockiness that someone like Jarome Iginla doesn’t possess, the only other guy I can think of who can light up a room day after day. He’s got healing powers beyond even Alfie levels and he has the franchise on his shoulders right now.
Bring on the sunshine.