Friday, September 21, 2007

Ottawa 5 Washington 4

(Tony Caldwell/Sun)

In a fairly entertaining pre-season tilt, the Sens emerged with the comeback win over a revamped Caps squad at the Palladium…errr… Corel ….. Scotia Bank Place last night.

Some thoughts:

Nick Foligno is changing my mind fairly quickly. I was skeptical about this kid precisely because he was … a kid. The local fishwraps were squealing with anticipation about a kid who was barely a first round pick and it seemed evident that there was only one spot open on the squad. Why would a 19 year old from the OHL get it?

I’m starting to drink the kool-aid.

While I don’t think Foligno was as noticeable as he was against the Flyers on Tuesday, he did score one hell of a backhand goal against Olaf Kolzig and topped it off with some very adept passing in the offensive zone throughout the game. He seems to make things happen whenever he has the puck but is getting the shit kicked out of him through the press by none other than head coach John Paddock, who claims that Foligno is getting too “fancy”. We’ll talk about that later today in the Local Fishwrap entry, but needless to say, Foligno fed that backhander not so much past Kolzig but right up Paddocks southern hole.

We also got to see goalie Brian Elliott for the first time after he relieved a very ordinary looking Martin Gerber (back to earth after all!), and Elliott looked really strong in the time he received, making some stunning saves where he was forced to move from side to side. The organization can’t believe they snagged this guy in the 9th bloody round in 2003! At 6”2 and 202 pounds, he’s almost the exact same size as Ray Emery and exhibits similar athletic skills.

Now about Martin Gerber. He definitely had a poorer game than he did against Philly and he let out so many rebounds that it looked like someone had dumped a sack of marbles in front of him. He was also doing that thing where he gets behind the play and slides himself way out of position on his recovery. I’m still not convinced that Gerber is ever going to recover his form.

Alexander Nikulin played on a line with Alfredsson and Vermette and looked very comfortable in the process, moving the puck confidently and getting in the right places to receive dishes from Alfie. Bruce Garrioch was on the Team 1200 pre-game show last night and hinted that Nikulin might stay in North America after all, even if he is sent to Bingo. Nikulin, unlike fellow countryman Ilya Zubov, has a deal back in Russia if he doesn’t make the Sens but as his much talked about blog shows, he is hellbent on playing in the NHL and seems to be have a good head on his shoulders despite his youth. At this point, both he and Zubov look like sure NHLer’s at least by next year. If these guys work out, John Muckler should receive some credit for taking the Russians during the no-transfer agreement era.

I was really looking forward to seeing Cody Bass play but he didn’t really show much except some good hustle and a hardcore shot-block in the third period. I was convinced he might be a darkhorse candidate to make the team but I’m wavering on that bet now. He looks like he needs more seasoning on the farm.

Other standouts for Sens were in the veteran category as Alfie dominated at points and Christoph Schubert played a great game on the back end, throwing around his body, making good outlet passes and even rushing the puck a few times early in the game. At one point I thought he was back on forward for a shift as he ragged the puck all the way behind the net in the first period. I’m still not sure he should be sacrificed as a forward but he did look good playing with Wade Redden. Wade started the game paired with Nycholat but Schubert seemed to take over that spot after Nycholat spent time in the box for a scrap. Nycholat looked fairly good in the game, showing some toughness and hard-hitting but he is still on the bubble.

Wade Redden played another pedestrian game, picking up where he left off in the Cup final. Let’s hope it’s just a case of the pre-season legs not being where they should be yet. He made a really bad decision early on when he pinched on a puck that he had no chance to retain. That caused a 2-on-1 that Gerber stopped.

On the Cap’s side, I was most impressed with prospect Thomas Fleischman who showed an awesome skill level and definitely outplayed promising rookie Nicklas Backstrom. Alex Ovechkin showed bursts of inspired play but there’s something different about this guy from his first year in the league. Some of the spark seems to have worn off. Maybe it’s the losing. Maybe it’s the other teams using all their strength to shut him down. Who knows. I just hope that Ovechkin doesn’t turn into another Ilya Kovalchuk, where he comes into the league on fire and then just sort of settles into average stardom. Ovechkin is way too good for that.

Post Script: The Leafs looked terrible last night against Phoenix. The highlight of that game had to be Phoenix middle-weight tough guy Daniel Carcillo absolutely crushing Matt Stajan at the blueline. He also potted two goals in the game. He’s exactly the type of player that can help Phoenix. They already have a lot of young skill coming up through the ranks but Carcillo can add that toughness and leadership which can hold it all together. Having Carcillo and Keith Ballard (one of my favourite young players) is a bonus for a soft Coyotes squad.

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