Monday, March 9, 2009
Starting To Roll
Has the Pascal Leclaire acquisition put a burr under the saddle of rookie goalie Brian Elliott?
You'd have to think so with the way he's been playing since the trade. Tonight he stopped 25 of 26 Leafs shots and a handful of them were lightning quick glove saves. More telling perhaps was the fact that a lot of shots were hitting him square in the crest which is more a sign of good positioning than the Leafs faulty aim.
On a night that should have been all about the return of Martin Gerber, Elliott let it be known that he plans to stick around for next year and give both Alex Auld and Leclaire a competition for that number one spot.
Overall, it was an entertaining game that had a strange twist (literally) at the end when Leafs coach Ron Wilson asked for a measurement on Jason Spezza's banana shaped blade, which turned out to be a good gamble on Wilson's part.
Unfortunately for the Leafs and their legions of Alfie booing fans, they couldn't get a puck by Elliott on the ensuing power-play and the rink went home divided in emotion.
If anyone had the chance to catch the pre-game show on the Team 1200, guys like Bruce Garrioch and Mike Eastwood were going apeshit over Wilson's decision not to start Gerber and I have to agree with them.
The decision seems to be made more out of spite rather than strategy and that's Wilson's m.o. all the way. It would have made for a bigger draw on television and possibly in the stands if Gerber got a chance to get revenge against Bryan Murray and the Senators but Wilson is not in the entertainment business. He's in the "taking the piss out of the media" biz and he does a good job of it.
The Leafs don't play in Ottawa again this season and with them probably goes the last chance for Gerber to play against his old team with which he went through an ugly, prolonged divorce.
This will be the first year since 1991-92 that no Ontario team will be in the playoffs. In that 15 season span, the Senators made the playoffs 11 times (straight) and the Leafs 10 times. The Senators won 8 playoff rounds and the Leafs won 11 (4 of those against Ottawa), including 4 trips to the Conference finals.
While the Senators did make a Stanley Cup final, the Leafs can claim to be legitimately more successful than Ottawa in the big picture.
Probably not what Senators fans want to hear, but them's are the facts.
Antoine Vermette is wearing number 50 for the Columbus Blue Jackets. His old number 20 is already being worn by Kristian Huselius. The only other ex-Senator on Columbus nowadays is Mike Commodore who probably couldn't get out of town fast enough after the gong show that he walked into last year. Current Jacket Michael Peca should have been a Senator at one point but that's a discussion for another day......After Ian White opened the scoring by beating Brian Elliott through the 5-hole, he found himself back on the bench while Martin Gerber leaned over and said something to him. It must have been funny because White cracked up. Maybe a bitter Gerbs said "I told you he sucked"...... No matter how you slice it, when Cliff Fletcher traded Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for Lee Stempniak, he left a huge steamer on the welcome mat for Brian Burke. Colaiacovo has actually put up an almost injury free season and he is the top scoring defenseman on the Blues while Steen is averaging over 15 minutes a game. Stempniak has played okay but he only has 8 goals since coming to the Leafs and that's a huge disappointment. I know the Leafs were more than patient with Colaiacovo while he struggled through a series of injuries but if they had only held on for just a little longer....
Poor Vermette. Unless he finds himself a Senator later on in his career, he fell just 5 points short of passing Alexandre Daigle for 14th in all-time team scoring. Now it looks like Daigle is firmly cemented in the top 15 for awhile as the next Senator nearest him is Chris Neil with only 130 points to Daigle's 172......Bryan Murray has already said that he'd like to add another scoring forward for next season but maybe he already has one under his nose. Ryan Shannon has been an absolute revelation late in the season playing on the second line. With his speed and skill, it's not inconceivable that he can get 20 goals and 50 points in a full season with the team. It's scary to think that Murray may not have even given Shannon a chance if Cory Clouston had not gotten in his ear about bringing him up to the NHL. I get the feeling that Murray might have thought Shannon was too small for the NHL after he got hurt in a collision earlier this year but so far, Shannon has proven his critics wrong. Shannon, who currently makes a trifle 605,000, is a restricted free agent after this season and he will probably sign for just around 1 million or less on a short term deal and that could turn out to be one hell of a bargain for Ottawa. The only fly in the ointment could be the fate of Clouston after this season. Murray hasn't made any commitment to the rookie coach and if a new guy is brought in, that could change the odds for Shannon. My guess is that Clouston is as good as hired for next year anyways.......
Peter Regin is only the 2nd player to wear number 43 with the Senators. The first? The long forgotten Serge Payer. If Regin sticks with the team, and it looks like he will, he should grab Vermette's vacant number 20. Forty three is a bad looking number.....Tonight was Dany Heatley's 300th game as a Senator putting him only one game behind, yup, you guessed it, Alex Daigle...... As he displayed in the 1st period, Christoph Schubert has an absolute cannon from the point. Too bad he can't hit the net with it...... If you don't know much about recent Senator's signee Craig Schira, you might be impressed with his +44 rating with the WHL's Vancouver Giants. He'll turn pro next year with the Binghamton Senators. Now that Schira's in the bag, can Murray pull off a miracle and beat 29 other teams to unsigned Boston University defenseman Matt Gilroy? He is a contender for the Hobey Baker award this year, and according to The Hockey News print edition, Gilroy turned down 24 seperate NHL offers just last year. The number of offers is sure to rise and Murray is probably front and centre...... There must have been some awkwardness when Gerber was traded to the Leafs. Their goaltending coach is Corey Hirsch and he was in a bit of a nasty public feud with Gerbs during the last NHL lockout. Read all about it here....
It was nice to see Ottawa fans show some class and give referee Stephane Auger a hand after getting up from a nasty looking spill when his left leg buckled under him in the corner. But I guess you'd have to give the Toronto fans credit too. They made up half the audience.
At least Senators fans seemed to make a better effort at shutting up the boo's that rained down on Alfie every time he touched the puck. It probably felt pretty good for number 11 when he cranked home the tying goal in the midst of all those loud jeers. It might just be the last he ever scores against Curtis Joseph as the veteran Senator killer is due to retire after this season ends.