Monday, May 27, 2013

The Annual Who Goes... Who Stays List

It was tough for Ottawa fans to watch the last two games of that Pittsburgh series, but the good news is there’s interesting times ahead as GM Bryan Murray tries to improve this team over the summer. Ottawa is going to have a lot of cap space but it’s unknown how much money owner Eugene Melnyk wants to sink into the payroll at this stage. Until the UFA market opens in July, most of the work will be internal and here’s where I think the current roster stands with management, broken into two sections – Players Under Contract and Free Agents (both RFA and UFA). (Source: Cap Geek)

Players Under Contract

Jason Spezza – Status: Safe. Look for a healthy Spezza to get back to the 80 point range in 2014. He’s still in his prime as a point producer but he’s only got two years left on his deal. There will be talk of an extension fairly soon but GM Bryan Murray might be a little twitchy about that back. It’s also time Murray got Spezza a true sniper to play with. Not so easy to accomplish.

Milan Michalek – Status: Safe. There’s not much Murray can do with a guy having knee problems, other than wait. He won’t get good trade value so the best he can hope for is that Michalek returns to camp in September healthy. Ottawa needs his speed and scoring desperately. If Michalek can’t find that old gear he’ll likely leave as a UFA next summer.

Chris Neil – Status: Safe. This one’s easy. Neil is the most competitive guy on the team after Alfie and does his job as good as anyone in the league. He’s probably a Sens lifer with three more years on his deal.

Mika Zibanejad – Status: Safe. He had a fine rookie year and has the potential to be a horse down the middle with a little more weight on him. The only issue is that he pushes Zack Smith down to the fourth line centre role or makes him a winger. But I guess that’s really Smith’s problem, not Zibanejad’s. I’m not entirely sure his chemistry with Jakob Silfverberg is all that natural. The duo seem chained to the ankle at times by MacLean and they tend to disappear together.

Jakob Silfverberg – Status: Safe. All he needs is more time to figure out the league and he’ll be pushing 30 goals with that ridiculous shot. Like I said above, it would interesting to see him moved away from Zibanejad from time to time, and get a shot with Spezza. The playmaker and the sniper seem a match made in heaven, no? Both right-handed shots but Spezza can pass pretty good with his backhand too.

Kyle Turris – Status: Safe. Signed long-term and seemed to put a tough season behind him with a great playoffs. At times he struggled being the go-to guy down the middle with Spezza out but has proven he can score clutch goals. As we said last summer, Turris needs to find a way to put some meat on his bones.

Cory Conacher – Status: Safe(ish). That’s a tentative safe but I’m guessing Murray will want to give Conacher a full year with the Sens coaching staff to try and get the yield he wanted from the Ben Bishop trade. The truth is Conacher didn’t look very good, barring a few big moments in the playoffs. He has speed and grit but looked confused at times or just out of the play. He has to score goals or turn into a third line pest with speed. Not sure how it will turn out but he’s going to get a chance at least.

Colin Greening – Status: Safe. Bad season but a surprisingly strong playoffs puts Greening back on track to get a new deal this year. They need him to become a power forward and it looks like he’s going to put the nice college boy attitude on the shelf and be a little greasier.

Zack Smith – Status: Safe. The only problem is where to play him. He’s too good for the fourth line but Spezza, Zibanejad and Turris are ahead of him down the middle. I can’t see him being traded because the Sens need his grit as much as they need Michalek to start scoring again. He’s also signed long-term at a very friendly cap hit.

Jim O’Brien – Status: Trade bait. He lost whatever small role he had this year and it’s clear MacLean doesn’t want to use him. It’s been said by reporters like Bruce Garrioch that O’Brien was unhappy with his playing time. That almost certainly means he’s gone, by hook or by crook. Wasn’t a Murray draftee so that also works against him.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Status: Safe. Ottawa’s new golden boy is likely here to stay. But how long until MacLean is forced to play him on one of the first two lines? He was that good in the latter part of the season and in the playoffs. This guy could be the next Daniel Briere.

Matt Kassian – Status: Likely To Return. Kassian was brought in to make sure guys like Patrick Wiercioch and Chris Phillips didn’t have to fight but surprised by playing a semi-regular shift on a line with Neil and Smith. He’s better than many gave him credit for but he’s going to be in and out of the lineup depending on the toughness of the opponent. He also seems hugely popular in the room which is typical of enforcers. No reason to move his contract.

Erik Karlsson – Status: Safe. No need to explain this one. Everybody just wants him healthy again.

Chris Phillips – Status: Safe. Last year of his deal and expect him to get another one, probably for a little less money. He’s as solid as ever and a true leader for the team. Can’t see him leaving next summer.

Marc Methot – Status: Safe. This guy was a revelation to most, like me, who didn’t put a priority on watching Columbus Blue Jackets hockey the past few years. He’s now an essential part of that defence core. Far exceeded expectations.

Jared Cowen – Status: Safe. He looked very good coming back early from the hip injury. Had a tough few games against Pittsburgh in the second round, but so did everybody. It will be interesting to see what kind of money he gets next summer coming out of his entry-level deal. He’s a cornerstone of the franchise going forward.

Eric Gryba – Status: Safe. Had to play big minutes in a year he probably should have been in the AHL. Yet he earned the trust of MacLean and figures to be part of the top-six next season. The only snag could be if Gonchar is re-signed and Murray wants to bring in another offensive d-man on top of that.

Craig Anderson – Status: Safe. Unbelievable year, even with the major ankle injury that broke it up in the middle. Somehow there are still skeptics but they are of the tinfoil hat variety. A couple of tough games against the Penguins juggernaut doesn’t diminish his value to the team at all.

Robin Lehner – Status: Safe. He’ll work with Anderson in what could be the best tandem in the league next year. He’ll get over 30 games in while he bides his time.

Free Agents (both RFA and UFA)

Daniel Alfredsson – Status: UFA – Wanted Back. It’s up to him. He can write his own deal and give it to Murray to sign. My feeling is he returns and plays in the Olympics. Had a hell of a year.

Guillaume Latendresse – Status: UFA – Gone. Let’s face it. He didn’t make a difference. He still has hands but little else. It’s also clear that MacLean had little use for him. His defining moment was being bullied by Montreal’s Ryan White in the playoffs and skating away, only to have MacLean basically bury him for it.

Peter Regin – Status: UFA – Gone. He got a chance at the start of the season but couldn’t produce any offense, so MacLean wrote him off completely. This season was viewed as his last chance and it didn’t work out. He’s probably pining for the Cory Clouston days.

Mike Hoffman – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. Only injuries holding him back. The guy can skate as good as anyone in the NHL and you get the feeling he would have been a regular if he could have stayed healthy.

Erik Condra – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. Key penalty killer and defensive ace. He should get a 3 or 4 year deal and be a permanent fixture on the third and fourth lines for years to come. Every team needs guys like Condra.

Sergei Gonchar – Status: UFA – ?????. This is the biggest mystery going into the summer. The consensus seems to be that Gonchar and the Sens will part ways but don’t be so sure. He had a strong year and plays a lot of minutes both regular strength and on the power-play. Seeing that the Senators biggest weakness is offense, losing Gonchar would hurt more than people realize. It would be a tricky negotiation to get the money right, but we also don’t really know what Murray thinks at this point. He could be ready to move on and so could Gonchar. If he does leave, Murray will have to bring in someone with skill to replace him because even with Wiercioch, that leaves only two offensive oriented d-men on the roster with no logical replacements within the system. It would probably be cheaper and easier just to re-sign Gonchar for a year.

Mike Lundin – Status: UFA – Gone. Like I said earlier this year, Lundin is the most anonymous player in the history of the Senators. It’s hard to even picture what he looks like, let alone get a read on his play.

Patrick Wiercioch – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. I’m sure the Senators loved the way he developed this year and he will get a chance to play regularly on the power-play next season, especially if Gonchar leaves. Not sure what kind of money he gets, but I’m guessing he’ll be a bargain by the time the new deal expires.

Andre Benoit – Status: UFA – Borderline. He had a good year as a support player and has a lot of skill and a knack of getting shots through from the point. I’m sure Ottawa would like to have him in the same role next year but he has little time in his career to make money and he’ll probably jump at the best offer available anywhere. I’d say it’s 50/50 he returns.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

All Hell Breaks Loose In Kanata After Game 4 Collapse

There’s no disguising it. That was likely a fatal loss for the Senators in Game Four last night against the Penguins. Blown out, left for dead, vultures in the rafters.

An enraged Coach Paul MacLean pulled a John Tortorella after the game by throwing the game notes onto a podium and walking out of his press conference, presumably to go lay a cruel but necessary beating on assistant Dave Cameron behind closed doors. That was the kind of brutal night it was.

The fallout has been heavy -heavier than you’d think it would be considering how outmatched Ottawa is by their opponent - and the debris is collecting around three specific players. Namely Craig Anderson, Sergei Gonchar and Daniel Alfredsson.

Let’s quickly try to sort through it for the sake of everyone’s sanity so we can go enjoy that sunny weather here in Ottawa.

First, Craig Anderson.

He’s the best goalie in the league right now, but nobody can be expected to put up a wall against the best offense in the NHL. It’s just not possible over a series. You can do it in a single game and you can do it in individual periods, like Anderson did last night in the first, but they’ll always score on you eventually. That’s how the Penguins are built.

It doesn’t help that the Senators have been consistently sloppy in their own zone this series but the best defensive team would still be giving up 3 or 4 goals a game on most nights to this group. Momentum swings in the playoffs are sometimes unstoppable and that’s what happened last night to start the second period. If Anderson hadn’t played one of the best periods of any goalie in Senators history, it would have been 5-2 Pens to open the second, not 2-1 Ottawa.

Anderson is the Senators best weapon – and only real hope to make this a series. Unless MacLean has some wild scheme to radically change the chemistry and throw the Penguins off stride, I can’t see Robin Lehner starting in Game 5.

Secondly, Sergei Gonchar.

Rough, rough game for the vet. And whenever Gonchar gets a penalty or even stumbles on a word in an interview, the dyed-in-the-wool Gonchar haters come out and set fire to Twitter. He was as much a victim of bad calls as he was bad luck. The first penalty for interference was an early game call that wouldn’t have been made in the third. Every defenseman does that play a hundred times a game. It was a bad call. No harm, no foul – Ottawa scores short-handed.

The tough one to start the third, a high-sticking call on Matt Cooke that lead to a Pens goal, was a case of a defenseman battling a forward in front of the net. Cooke sold it pretty well but what was Gonchar supposed to do? If he’s not hard on Cooke in front of the net, the Pens score and he’s the one blamed. It’s all in the realm of acceptable battles but Gonchar got a little overzealous and hit a bent-over Cooke in the back of the head.

Yet he had some ugly defensive plays for sure and that’s hard to watch in such an important game. But like I said, momentum is a bitch and once the Penguins got rolling, all of the Senators defensemen were skating on cement. Jared Cowen had a similarly tough night with the speed of the Penguins.

Gonchar has been an invaluable presence on that blueline this year and has had a good run in these playoffs so far. To bury the guy for one bad game against an almost unstoppable offensive team is a bit rich. The future Hall Of Famer will bounce back like he always does. He’s too good not to.

Thirdly, Daniel Alfredsson.

I wish I didn't have to get into this one, but there’s no way to ignore it because it’s now a verified shit-storm of almost Bryzgalovian proportions.

You all know he said “Probably not” when asked if the Senators had a chance to come back and win three in a row.

He also said “But we've never quit, and we're not going to stop now. The odds are against us in every way. I don't think there's much going for us. Maybe that's the way we like it."

To me, this was a guy who was asked moments after a crushing loss when the emotions were still raw and unprocessed through the “don’t say something honest” filter that all NHL players have installed in their brains. I’m sure he regrets those two words now that he’s slept on it, but in context with the quote that followed it, it doesn’t sound like a guy throwing in the towel. It sounds like a captain who knows the odds are stacked against his team but is not about to say “die”. Just like the Senators have done all season long.

Some people will see it as heresy, but those people weren’t just humiliated on home ice in what could be the penultimate game of their entire career. You’d be emotional too. In fact, in the same situation, you might blurt out “We’re completely f***ed and I’m going to go out right now and get shitfaced. Thanks for coming.”

Think of it rationally for a minute. Do you really believe a guy like Alfie, with all that character and class, meant to say he was throwing in the towel on the team?

Come on. He shouldn’t have said it that way, but sometimes shit happens, as they say.

The Senators will move on and nobody will be playing harder than Alfredsson. Should be a good one Friday night.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leader’s Clutch Goal Gives Chance For Teammates To Shine

Not a bad one-two punch for captain Daniel Alfredsson this weekend.

He somehow ties Game Three short-handed as the final minute ticked off, setting up Ottawa’s double-overtime win on Sunday night, and Monday morning he’s announced as one of three finalists for Mark Messier’s Leadership Award.

Not bad at all.

And he'll probably take home that trophy from Messier, and not just because they both share #11 in common. Messier knows that Alfie doesn’t have much time left to win anything, and the time is now, seeing the kind of near-absurd adversity this Senators team had to go through and the fact they’re playing in the second round when nobody this side of hell gave them a chance.

The other two nominees, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Brown are both deserving but neither had a job as monumental as Alfredsson’s. There’s also the cumulative effect of his whole career here, being the face of the franchise through bankruptcies, rebuilding, the Heatley and Yashin gong-shows as well as the good years where the Stanley Cup seemed within reach. Messier almost doesn’t have much choice but to give it to Alfie because any other decision would seem unusually cruel. Alfie has been through it all and is still coming up big when the time is right.

Even though I’ve seen the kind of drama we all saw in Game Three played out many times before, I wasn’t getting ready for overtime. As the minutes bled away in the third and that Penguins 1-0 lead feeling more like a 3-0 deficit, it became a sort of “drink your beers now because we’re all going home in 5 minutes” mentality. It just looked and felt like Ottawa’s season was winding down thanks to their one major weakness – an inabiliy to score goals. It’s been a bigger hassle than their all their injuries - and definitely related.

And then that Erik Karlsson penalty came with just under two minutes to go and you could hear the drunks singing “Good Night Irene” all the way from Renfrew. Luckily all Alfie could focus on was getting the puck into the Penguins end at least one more time and going to the net. The result was pretty stunning. The bolts rattled in the girders of the rink while all across Ottawa people threw out their backs jumping off couches and bar stools. Pets were permanently traumatized by the sudden screaming and toppling of coffee tables. Yet nobody was really surprised it was Alfie raising his stick. That sort of thing just seems to follow him around.

One of the great things about Alfredsson being so clutch is that it gives opportunities to other players to do the same. If Alfredsson doesn’t tie that game up, there’s no double-OT Colin Greening goal and that guy doesn’t get to experience that same feeling and all the confidence and glory that comes with it.

Craig Anderson gets to walk away from that game with a much needed boost of confidence after a rough Game Two. He earned it himself but he can’t score the goals. A one-goal loss would have been painful for Anderson after everything he’s done for this team. Jason Spezza gets to feel like he made a positive contribution after being away so long. The one thing a guy coming back from a long layoff wants to see is his team win so nobody can say you were a hindrance. All of these positives just flow from Alfie’s last-minute goal. And it’s not just Greening, Anderson and Spezza. It’s everyone watching that on the bench. You don’t necessarily need to play on the same line to make the players around you better. When you do your job, it gives everyone else an opportunity to excel at theirs.

Even if Ottawa never wins another game in this series, the young guys probably learned a hell of a lot about the NHL playoffs from that one Alfredsson goal. All it takes is one play to turn things around. You can’t quantify that with stats or analysis of systems. It comes down to character in the end, like so many things do in hockey at this time of year. That’s an old cliché but it’s a cliché because it’s always been true.

Down 2-1 in the series with at least one more game at home, Ottawa has a chance here and that’s more than most people thought for almost 9 periods when Ottawa couldn't even get a lead. Yet the Penguins are far from being devastated over that loss. They know they still have control of this series and will be coming for Ottawa in Game Four. The only difference is, thanks to Alfie – and now Greening – the Sens knows they can beat this team. And it can happen again.

So get your living room back in order and get your dogs calmed down. It’s only going to get more intense as we get into the core games of this series.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Goal-Challenged Sens Need To Get Flyers Ugly To Beat Pens

The Penguins are good. But you already knew that.

You have to go back to the 2002 Detroit Red Wings to find a similar collection of superstars all playing together in the same sweater. When Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby have a sub-par night and the Penguins still beat you 4-1, you’re going to have problems beating them four times in seven games.

Forgive me for being a tad fatalistic, but this reminds me a little of the old Winnipeg Jets when they were stuck in the same division as the Edmonton Oilers. The lost to Edmonton in the playoffs 6 times from 1983-1990, and that was a Jets team that had Dale Hawerchuk and a strong supporting cast of players that could have done a lot of damage if they played in any other division.

This is Ottawa’s fourth crack at the Penguins since 2007 and they have a respectable 1-2 series record, considering the upheaval Ottawa has been going through as the Penguins rose to dominance with Crosby and Malkin. Right now, things don’t look good for the Senators to even up that record but the same format that doomed the Jets will now work in Ottawa’s favour starting next year.

The switch to a divisional playoff format will be a boon to the Senators. Starting next season, Ottawa’s division will consist of Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay. With apologies to Toronto fans, there’s not one team in that grouping that have the makings of a dominant power on the rise... other than Ottawa.

There are good teams with a bright future, like the Leafs and the Habs, a few teams like Boston and Detroit that are on a slow decline, and the rest are big question marks. It’s only Ottawa that has two number-one goalies, a Norris Trophy winner who hasn’t even hit his prime yet, and a crew of elite prospects that are the envy of the rest of the league. There won’t be a first or second round series that will seem unwinnable, even for Toronto fans who will likely be traumatized for a few more years.

All of which probably leads you to believe that I’m saying the Penguins are unbeatable right now and Ottawa has no chance, so “let’s wait for next season”.

Not really. I think Pittsburgh can be toppled – and the Islanders came close – but Ottawa is going to have to drastically improve offensively for it to happen. And they won’t be able to sacrifice what got them here in the first place, namely toughness, penalty-killing and great goaltending.

That’s going to be hard to do against a team that can score enough to cover up all their defensive mistakes. Just like the 80’s Edmonton Oilers who almost put every Winnipeg Jets coach in the nuthouse permanently.

Right now the best way of gaining some ground seems to be through the rattling of Tomas Vokoun but there’s no indication that’s going to happen anytime soon. He was strong coming in for poor bewildered Marc-Andre Fleury in the Islanders series and was solid in Game One against the Senators. For Ottawa to win this thing, it’s going to be by breaking the law a little, and Chris Neil will be at the centre of that.

Taking too many penalties will kill you against the Pens but the Senators will have to walk the line with the refs and cause mayhem for this Pittsburgh team to come unglued. They’re not going to beat them with their power-play, but they might have a chance by winning every other battle. All Ottawa has to do is look to the Flyers. The biggest pain for the Penguins has always been Philadelphia, who go out of their way to try and bully the Pens. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the fact that it works some of the time is enough, especially when you simply can’t compete offensively. Erik Karlsson is at half-speed. Jason Spezza may not be healthy enough to play. What else are you going to do?

This series doesn’t get truly out of reach until Ottawa loses at home. Even if they drop Game Two, it will be interesting to see how they respond in their own rink.

But it does seem like a bit of a letdown in atmosphere after that Montreal series, doesn’t it? It felt like that for me leading up to the game and in my feelings towards it after as well. The test for the coaching staff will be to get that first-round adrenalin going again for the players. The test for me will be to get that feeling back through beer.

Maybe somebody needs to get hit... and hit hard... for Ottawa to spring back to life. Keep your eyes on Neil.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Melnyk Show Threatens To Cloud Sens/Pens Series

For everyone's sanity everywhere, let's hope this doesn't turn into the "Eugene Melnyk" show.

Round One for Ottawa was defined by Michel Therrien's "no respect" tirades,  (or "no rispeck" as they came to be known on Twitter) and it seemed to snowball into a lot of people having an easy laugh at the expense of the proud Montreal organization with the Habs melting down both on and off the ice. Brandon Prust and P.K. Subban followed the lead of their unhinged coach with bizarre statements to the press and screaming at teammates on the ice. Even poor Carey Price, a very likeable and elite athlete, remained in an almost terrorized emotional state after the series, telling the media "I don’t even go to the grocery store anymore. I hardly do anything anymore. I’m like a hobbit in a hole."

In short, it was endless distractions from within and without that prevented Montreal from getting back on track in that series. They probably wouldn't have beaten Ottawa anyways but it shouldn't have looked that bad.

Yet for Ottawa, the tables might be turning a little here as they enter Round Two against Pittsburgh. Suddenly the cameras and the microphones are rushing over to their side, almost entirely because Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has a "thing" with the Penguins.

Whenever Melnyk speaks, there's a fallout. He tried to ban Montreal and Toronto fans from the Ottawa rink and he was ridiculed everywhere. He's running some sort of secretive forensics investigation into Matt Cooke's accidental skate slash on Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon - a story you all know too well for me to bother recounting here - and it's bringing Sens fans more grief from all corners.

Now he's attacking Penguins fans on Twitter with this beauty:

Now, I'm sure Melnyk is genuinely disgusted with the crap he gets in his Twitter feed. Anyone who's spent even 15 minutes on Twitter loses a little of their optimism for the human race. But Melnyk is just feeding the fire here, turning the focus onto him when he's got two perfectly capable hires in Bryan Murray and Paul MacLean who know what to say and when to say it during a playoff series.

This doesn't necessarily relate back to the Matt Cooke obsession he has, but it's all part of the same narrative. The conspiracy theory angle never works. Just ask the Vancouver Canucks how their never-ending beef with the officiating worked for them. Ask Michel Therrien how his "no respect" rants worked against his team. Playing the "eternal victim" is an unwinnable game.

The Senators story this season is incredible - overcoming injuries that would have destroyed most teams, and battling their way to the second round by taking down an original-six franchise that still has a huge grip on a large section of NHL fans in the capital city.

Ottawa players doesn't need Melnyk to come to their rescue right now. They don't need to talk about Matt Cooke after every game, every practice. They don't need it to be brought up. They have things under control.

Melnyk is a passionate, opinionated owner who's undoubtedly committed to NHL hockey in Ottawa. For that he gets everyone's eternal thanks. But there is a line that can be crossed where his intensity becomes a distraction.

Beating the Penguins will be tough enough for the Senators without Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson having to answer questions about Melnyk after every game.

"Young Guns"

When you get NHL players in an acting situation, the result is usually a giant setback for the acting industry, and for our community as a whole. Here's the exception... four Ottawa Senators - Kyle Turris, Erik Condra, Zack Smith and Craig Anderson (plus a surprise guest for the punchline) really bring it for Napolis Café. Scenery is chewed. A must-see if you haven't somehow run into this on Twitter yet. Zack Smith is an absolute star here:

Which brings to mind the great Pittsburgh Penguins car commercial from a few years ago that includes current Sen Sergei Gonchar (who wisely skipped the Napolis spot). Let's just say Gonchar's performance here makes Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV look like Laurence Olivier.

The Penguins have a history of doing ads. Mario Lemieux did a ton of them, often awkwardly:

Here's Marcel Dionne and Frank Mahovolich selling CCM equipment. Wait for the big laugh at the end. What we see is probably Take #35.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Black Aces Vintage: Classic Auctions Swag

If you've never had a chance to head over to, here's just a few samples of the many historical Ottawa Senators memorabilia pieces that have passed through their hands over the years. It's pretty amazing to go through their catalogue of closed lots and see what's out there, not just for Senators items but for anything NHL related. You could waste a day going through this stuff. And I have... today... trying to come down a little from the Senators absolute demolition of the Montreal Canadiens in Round One. Of particular note is that Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa program from 1927. Looks like the Senators staff will be printing off a few new copies sometime next week... See you then.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sens In Control, Habs In Chaos In Soon To Be Legendary "No Respect" Series

Like many of you, I had largely given up on seeing a Senators comeback after the first 10 minutes of the third period last night.

There were signs of life when the third opened, as Ottawa came in waves at Carey Price but for most of the night, passes were going off sticks and pucks were bouncing into skates on seemingly every rush. It was painful hockey to watch. Painful. Guys like Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek had sticks made of marshmallow and the clearly still-injured Erik Karlsson was botching as many plays as his rookie season.

Thankfully there are guys like Chris Neil playing in the red and black. He smartly just fired a puck at the net from the half-boards and Mika Zibanejad was there to kick it in. Yes, that’s a jab at Habs fans, but clearly I’m not in the same league as Paul MacLean, who was in fine form in his post-gamer, giving it endlessly to Michel Therrien... again. But more on that later.

The Neil play, which led to a momentum shift that lasted through Conacher’s last-minute game tying goal and ended with Kyle Turris (another frustrating player to watch for most of the night) putting a shot past Peter Budaj minutes into overtime.

Just a bizarre series of events.

Think of it this way.

Pretend you were that kind of fan who decided to bail from the arena with 10 minutes to go in the third period. You left your buddy Deaner at the game because he was too hammered. You get in your car and play some Rick Astley because you can’t stand to hear any Senators talk for the night. You get home and put on a movie to further escape. Deaner calls your phone, just screaming and you can barely make out what he’s saying. But he tells you Ottawa scored twice to tie it up, including one with less than a minute to go from Cory Conacher, who was in the process of playing one of the worst hockey games any Senator has ever played. Then Deaner tells you Carey Price exploded his groin waving at a shot in the final seconds of the third. Then Turris scored in OT against Peter Budaj to blow the roof off the joint.

Think of how unbelievable that sounds. But that’s exactly what happened last night and nobody can get their heads around it. Except maybe Deaner.

Nobody is sure how Montreal responds to this crushing blow. It at least looks like Price could be out for Game 5. Heart and soul player Brandon Prust can be scratched right now because he could barely move his arm near the end of that game and had to leave early. Nobody really knows what’s going on with Brian Gionta, and Max Pacioretty is in the same zone as Michalek – playing hurt and thus playing ineffectively.

Then there’s P.K. Subban, the wonder boy. He clearly plays for his own team. He was at it again last night, showing moments of brilliance tempered by scenes of childishness and chaos. He celebrated his first goal of the series like he had just broken the Senators backs, going to the one-knee fist pump and generally just yelling and screaming at nobody and nothing. But then he ended the period by essentially slew-footing Turris and having a temper tantrum on his way down the hallway off the ice.

In the third period, Subban had nothing, probably because he’d expended all his energy acting like Hulk Hogan after a belt-winning match through the first two periods. Meanwhile, his team is in flames all around him.

I’m telling you, I’m nearly spent here. Four games in and this series has seen as many incidents as last year’s NHL playoffs in total. It’s like going to see The Rolling Stones and we’re on the third encore and they haven’t even played Brown Sugar yet. How loud and crazy is it going to be when they pull that one out?

And there’s Paul MacLean, setting up at least one more battle in this series by challenging Erik Karlsson to be better in his press conference and poking the big grumpy bear, Michel Therrien, by once again talking about Habs sweater numbers and smiling like he was in complete control, not only of this series, but of Therrien’s fear-addled mind.

Once again you hear MacLean stepping on Therrien’s neck and part of you wonders if this is giving too much ammo to the Habs. But they may not have enough strength left to use it anyways. We all saw the life being sucked out of that Montreal team in the one-two blow of Conacher’s goal and the Price injury.

MacLean’s presser reminded me of that old Louis CK routine, where he talks about seeing a barrel of duck vaginas on sale in Chinatown – just a big barrel with a metal scoop in it - and wondering “Could we possibly dominate a species more than that? That we’re selling their vaginas in a f***ing barrel? The ducks are like ‘Dudes...please... you won the war, take it easy’”.

Seriously, it’s getting almost that bizarre now. They had the MacLean look-alike sitting behind Therrien fer chrissakes. Just sitting there and smiling. Not banging on the boards or holding a dumb sign. Just sitting there like some kind of Jungian vision, a ghost from Therrien’s mind.

No respeck”.

Get ready for another one on Thursday. And get a beer or two for the nerves, because this one won’t be easy either.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I'll try and gather some thoughts tomorrow on this ridiculous Sens team and the series that is quickly becoming an all-time classic. Too much has happened in too short a time to make any sense of it.

The question that will linger overnight is who disrespected Michel Therrien and his team more tonight - The Walrus or The Tim Peel?

Rest assured, the finger of respect will be pointed.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

MacLean Living Inside Therrien's Head As Sens Bully Habs

Your move, Michel.

Paul MacLean made his point right off the opening faceoff by starting his gentlemen line of Zack Smith, Chris Neil and Matt Kassian.Not only was that symbolic of MacLean's mindset going into this traditionally vital third game of a playoff series, but it was prophetic of the shitstorm that was to ultimately unfold here tonight.

Over 230 penalty minutes comprised of outright brawls, slashes, high-sticks, elbows and cross-checks. We saw Ottawa respond to a timid Game 2 performance with Jared Cowen feeding Ryan White, Neil and others hitting Brendan Gallagher at every opportunity and just generally beating the life out of the Canadiens in the alley, on the scoreboard and psychologically.

We saw the holy triumvirate of the Habs franchise suffer a complete mental and physical breakdown tonight - P.K. Subban, Carey Price and Michel Therrien - at the hands of Coach MacLean, who seemed to have a shit-eating grin strategically hidden beneath that "walrus" moustache that Brandon Prust is so fond of.

First it was Subban, running around like the alpha male gone lone wolf on his team, trying stickhandle through every Senator on the ice, getting demolished at centre-ice by Colin Greening and subsequently getting into a screaming match on his own bench with Max Pacioretty. The entire sequence was caught by the CBC cameras near the end of the first-period and right then you knew something was rotten in Denmark. He was a man alone the rest of the game and got himself thrown out after a chickenshit mauling of 125 pounder Kyle Turris a few shifts after the real fights went down and saved himself the embarrassment of having to partake in the last half of the third period.

Then it was Carey Price, who was left to rot in the net by Therrien, even when Tomas Plekanec was forced to play defense on a 5-on3 penalty kill because Montreal didn't have a defenseman who they could put on the ice. Price got hammered here tonight and there's no telling how he'll respond in Game 4. There's no way he could play worse.

Finally we get to Therrien. The most surprising aspect of the night was the fact that Therrien restrained himself from going over the glass and into the Senators bench when MacLean called a timeout with barely any time on the clock and a 6-1 lead heading into another power-play.

Sure, Therrien squawked and screamed at both the Sens bench and the refs, but the fact no one got choked is a miracle of humanitarianism.

"The Code" says a coach doesn't call a timeout when you have a huge lead in a game. MacLean knows the code very well. What he chose to do was break it willingly just to piss off Therrien, hoping that the historically volatile Montreal coach would lose his freaking mind. Maybe not at that moment, but possibly after a sleepless night stewing over the insult... or later this spring when he duffs a golf shot and it all comes out on an unsuspecting golf cart that gets flipped over and beaten into scrap metal while horrified children run from the scene. MacLean already knows Therrien is homicidal because of the Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller, and the imagined insult of MacLean not knowing the name of Raphael Diaz and blah blah blah. It's hard to keep up with what Therrien finds so insulting.

MacLean knows that Therrien is capable of being pushed to the brink of rationality. Everyone remembers the "old Therrien", the guy that couldn't keep a job in Montreal and Pittsburgh because  he pushed his players too hard and was over-emotional at even the slightest provocation. All year, everyone has been raving about the "new Therrien", the coach who has learned to relate to players and keep his raging inferno of emotions largely in check.

Cue the MacLean time-out call late in the third with a 6-1 lead.


Or is it? Therrien smartly used the "disrespect" angle once already in getting his team ready for Game 2. Now he has the opportunity to use it again. But at what point does a team move past using "insults" as a motivator into just being a perpetual victim? I hate to bring up Montreal fans calling 911 on Zdeno Chara... but I guess I have.

Therrien made a point in post-game press conference to say that MacLean's timeout was to "humiliate" the Habs. MacLean responded by saying "They did a pretty good job of that themselves". He also said he was resting his players. At one point he had only five sitting in front of him, so that makes sense, right? ... nah. This was MacLean turning the screws.

Again, Montreal is playing the perpetual victim and MacLean is openly mocking them. As he should. Clearly, MacLean has gotten into Montreal's heads way more than Chris Neil ever could.

And shame on me for waiting until now to mention the latest left-field playoff hero Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the would-be Daniel Briere clone who got a hat-trick tonight. And for losing a tooth on the first one from a Subban high-stick at the moment he released the puck. The sight of Pageau leaning over to pick up his teeth from a pool of blood while his teammates celebreated the goal around him (pictured above) is just as incredible, if not better than Price handing his teeth to the trainer on the bench in Game 2 or Craig Anderson smiling like Bobby Clarke after his win in Game 1.

You could also hear fans chanting "Pageau, Pageau, Pageau, Pageau" to the "Ole, Ole, Ole" chant, which must have been mindblowing for the rookie who was just hoping to catch on with Binghamton in the AHL this year. Allegedly the Sens in the locker room were doing the same thing after the game when he walked in after taking a bow on the ice as one of the game's 3 Stars. Not sure how MacLean is going to keep that kid calmed down after the night of his life, but I'm sure he'll find a way. Like scratching him for Game 4...

There's way too much to talk about after that mindbender of a game. That was a night everyone will remember for years no matter how this series turns out.

The next day or two will be full of fallout from the craziness we all were witness to. Let's see how it falls, but for Sens fans - enjoy the moment of being the team that some people will consider the bully.

I'm betting it feels nice to be on the other side of that equation in the playoffs.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Backhander: Sens Deflate Fabled Montreal Crowd

You don’t need another rehash here of the devastating hit Eric Gryba laid on Lars Eller last night in Game One. Everybody’s formed an opinion on it already and probably watched the footage to the point of surrealism.

A lot of hockey people said the same thing last night, with which I agree completely, that it was a clean hockey check with no intention to target the head. I could go on a rant about how boring and soulless it is to dissect every hit in the NHL like some kind of half-assed forensic specialist but I’ve done that many times before. To me, it was a play that’s just part of hockey – and should remain so. To quote Sportsnet’s Mike Brophy tweet, “Not every hard hit is a dirty hit. People who like hitting in hockey should understand that. People sometimes get hurt on hard, clean hits.” Gryba has a hearing at noon today and I guess there’s a chance he could sit a game, but it would be tough for Brendan Shanahan to rationalize it without confusing everyone.

Regardless, it was a hell of a way to open up a series and last night’s tilt in Montreal was full of everything you want in a playoff game. P.K. Subban’s hit on Chris Neil looked incredible on the camera from the stands. When Subban connected, Neil shot down out of sight behind the boards but his stick exploded into the air as the fans jumped to their feet. Jared Cowen’s monstrous hit on Max Pacioretty in the first period was almost as good.

Erik Karlsson’s goal to open the scoring was a thing of beauty – a textbook give-and-go with Kyle Turris. The Norris Trophy winner made it look so easy that it was almost spooky. Yet Karlsson didn’t look particularly good leading up to that play and seemed to be missing that extra gear – understandably of course. But at the end of the night he had a goal, an assist, was +3 and played 29:11.

Not surprisingly Craig Anderson was stellar. He’s been that way all season and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t be in the playoffs. All that noise about Robin Lehner possibly starting Game One has been silenced pretty firmly.

It was such a strange thing to hear how quiet that Montreal rink was in the third period once Ottawa climbed back out of that 2-1 hole with goals by Jakob Silfverberg and Marc Methot. Not only had they witnessed one of their better players face down in a pool of blood and seen shot after shot miraculously kicked out by Anderson, but Carey Price suddenly seemed fragile under pressure. It was almost like being at a ball game when the skies open up with rain. People were drooping in their seats and slowly the boos started to come out during the last two minutes when it was clear there was no comeback in the cards.

I have no doubt the crowd will be revitalized and just as loud to open the game tonight, but already this Senators team knows they can shut off the Bell Centre switch. That’s an important experience to have.

An experience they’d like to repeat.


Showing the replay of Cowen’s hit on Pacioretty during their highlight package, TSN’s Jay Onrait called Cowen “aka Little Jerry Seinfeld”..... TSN also showed a crazy scene of Montreal GM Marc Bergevin running wildly through the bowels of the arena towards the ambulance that was about to bring Eller to the hospital. Bergevin first had to contend with a large black curtain that he couldn’t seem to get through for a few slapstick moments. It kind of reminded me of all those 80’s B-action movies where just a simple net thrown over someone’s head could confound them into total submission. Just a bizarre series of events..... Tough outing for Price but at least he gets right back into the net 24 hours later, not allowing himself, the team or the press too much time to squirm about his Game One performance. Apparently Price dodged the media last night, but that’s understandable. If the team could somehow keep Price away from microphones and questions during the day today, that might be a good thing for everybody (except the press). If there was a day off between games, there’s no way Price could duck the reporters but the quick turnaround, especially if he plays well tonight, could really change the tone.....

.... Have to say I was more than impressed with the Habs pre-game presentation with the little kid skating the torch around by himself and then “lighting up” the centre-ice dot which engulfed the whole arena in flames. Such a simple concept executed perfectly. Then they had flames trailing the Habs skaters as they lapped around their zone prior to puck-drop. I felt like a slack-jawed hillbilly watching that, wondering how they did it. “How de heck dey get them flames comin’ outta those skates like dat? Dey’s gonna go and melt the ice wit dat fire.” Seriously though, was it some kind of chip in their skates that allowed a programmed spotlight to follow them from the ceiling? Or was it old school with 6 guys in the rafters with a spotlight each? ...

.... Cory Conacher only took one shot on net last night and that must be frustrating for the Senators coaching staff, seeing that he passed up a few really good chances on the rush to try and make a more complicated play. All the signs point to Conacher being the first guy to take a seat if Paul MacLean decides to make a change at some point. The only guy who played less than Conacher’s 9:17 was Eric Gryba who got tossed out of the game.... Daniel Alfredsson looks pretty good, doesn’t he?....

.... The strange thing about having the first two games of a series played on back-to-back nights is if you lose both, like the Habs are in danger of doing, you wonder what the hell hit you. It’s like a quick left-right to the head and it’s over. Thursday afternoon you’re ready to battle and Friday night you’re on your ass looking for a licence plate number. Normally, the team that loses Game One gets a day to readjust and get the emotions back in check. Montreal doesn’t have that opportunity. Like I said, that could be good or bad. I guess we’ll find out in a hurry.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Black Aces Vintage - Full 1984 Stanley Cup Game 5: Oilers vs. Islanders

The first Stanley Cup I remember staying up to watch in it's entirety - the Oilers putting an end to the Islanders 4-Cup dynasty in 1984. I was 8 years old at the time but I remember clearly the look on Messier's face when he got handed the Conn Smythe Trophy and Gretzky almost falling while putting the Cup over his head.

There's a whole slew of full historical NHL games on YouTube now and here's one of the best - in it's entirety from the original CBC Hockey Night In Canada broadcast - Game 5 of the 1984 Stanley Cup Final. I still get chills watching this today. The great Bob Cole calls the game, as he'll do tonight for Ottawa's first game against Montreal in the 2013 playoffs.