Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hartsburg's System the Real First Star

After a troubling start to the Stockholm Series, the Ottawa Senators roared back with a nearly perfect game today to take 3 out of 4 points against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What stands out the most from the weekend was the Senators penalty-kill which was only beaten in the last second of the last game by Penguins rookie Alex Goligoski. Other than that, the PK forward tandems of Chris Kelly-Antoine Vermette and Daniel Alfredsson-Dean McAmmond were brutally efficient.

Of course, it helps to have a competent goaltending performance and the Senators got that and more from Alex Auld who was a split-second away from a shutout.

For folks who read this blog regularly, you'll know that I've never been a Martin Gerber fan. With that being said, I don't see any reason to further pile on the hapless netminder as it's just too easy a shot.

Right from the start, Auld looked confident and large in the net. As CBC commentators Craig Simpson and Jim Hughson said today, pucks just seem to hit Auld in the crest due to his size and efficient positioning.

No one knows yet what Craig Hartsburg is thinking but he'd be remiss if he didn't give Auld a chance against Detroit on Saturday. The simple fact is that Gerber has never earned anything in his Senators career unless you count being a "nice guy" the only criteria for starts.

Another great example of this team coming together nicely is Chris Phillips jumping to Alfie's defence after he got run over by Matt Cooke (in retaliation for Alfie hitting Maxime Talbot just a shift earlier).

For a team that last year didn't even bother trying to avenge McAmmond's sickening injury at the hands of young thug Steve Downie, this is a major, major step forward.

Filip Kuba really cranked up his play today after a so-so training camp and a lacklustre effort on Saturday. You barely noticed him but he used his size well in his own end and looked confident with the puck. I'm still not convinced he's the answer on the power-play but he won't hurt you there either.

Jesse Winchester keeps impressing me with his hockey smarts. He always seems to make the right decision with the puck. Once he gets more comfortable, he'll start chipping in offensively.

Did anyone really miss Mike Fisher today?

Probably not and that's because Chris Kelly really asserted himself on every shift. If the players keep executing Hartsburg's seemingly smart and effective system (hard two-man forecheck and aggressive penalty killing), Fisher will be even better than in the past. This system is made for Fisher, if only he could get healthy.

Overall, a positive weekend, even if having to take a tough loss on Saturday opens the door for the unheralded Auld to finally give this team some confident goaltending, something they haven't had since Ray Emery backstopped them to the 2007 final.

There were many stars, but Craig Hartsburg probably deserves kudos for finally delivering a defensive system that works, and doesn't put the shackles on the skilled forwards.

Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza both played great all weekend (despite Spezza's gaffe which should have been stopped by Gerber anyways) and Heatley seems to be on a mission to erase memories of his ordinary play from last season. The dude was blocking shots and seemed very vocal on the bench.

Despite the inevitable goalie-controversy angle the media will play on this week, the Senators have already answered most of the questions that lingered over them during a long summer. Yes, it's the improved play of individual players, but fans should be more excited about the system that Hartsburg has implemented.


nate. said...

It's basically the same system that bryan murray has had in the past, only, like in the sens trip to the finals they are buying in. Interesting that hartsburg is choosing 2 man in instead of the 1 man in trap that has worked so well in the past. I think we will begin to see that last year wasnt reflective of personel problems on this team as much as it was just "personality problems" with an overall level of fatigue (stanley cup hangover) which only made things worse. Many people forget that alex auld jumped into a starting goaltending situation as a rookie in vancouver when cloutier got hurt and performed pretty well. No one has really given him a chance. He played very well for boston, but was overshadowed by the amazing play of thomas. This version of the sens should make life pretty easy on the goalies anyways

Anonymous said...

i agree with everything thats been said, however, its early days so lets not get carried away yet. Also I get concerned when I look at the time the big line played, we dont need them getting burned out in february.

nate. said...

Yea, youre right we are getting a little exited but i think its safe to say that the sens are going in this direction. I think the reason the pizza line played so much is because the sens have such a long time off until the next game. I suspect that hartsburg will try to split up the line as much during the reg. season tho. It was just important to put their best foot forward on this trip.

Tim said...

I could be wrong, but I think I remember Brian McGratton trying to take a run at Downie after the McAmmond The problem was the officials basically went to him right away before he could get at him. Remember all the skates around poor Dean's head? The Sens didn't really have a chance to do much. Now, if you meant later in the game, then that's a different matter.

Normally, I'd agree with you (see last year's hit on Alfie by Bell -- that lack of reaction was disgusting).