Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Senators Core Group Starting To Fade

Note: It's been quiet this week on Black Aces but I'll be posting regularly again very soon. First Christmas with a baby has been much more chaotic than even I could have imagined. For now, here's an article I wrote just before the Senators rang off a couple of wins. The pessimistic tone may seem a little out of place at the moment, but a couple of wins doesn't really change the overall outlook here.

Happy Holidays to all my readers and I'll be back soon with regular columns.

Sometimes it takes a while for it to really sink in, but soon enough, the signs are there for all to see.

When it’s over, it’s really over.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s what a core group of these Ottawa Senators who have grown up together in better times are starting to think right now. If they aren’t, then at least a lot of others are as they watch the 2010-2011 season slowly slip away for the Senators.

And that’s how it usually happens – slowly. Almost imperceptibly, a gradual weakening of the identity and team spirit through attrition and by letting important personalities leave, and soon enough three and a half seasons have gone by and the good times seem like ancient history for the Senators.

Yet it wasn’t always this way for a key group of Ottawa players who were once the darlings of this city.

For a full ten seasons, from 1997 to 2007, the Ottawa Senators were always on their way up, building towards a Stanley Cup that Daniel Alfredsson once famously said was not a matter of if, but when.

Starting from that foundation year in 1997, the Senators quickly turned into a powerhouse club, winning at first with defensive determination and character under Jacques Martin, and later, as a team that could score at will. It was a fine stretch of hockey, albeit with a few major playoff disappointments to the Toronto Maple Leafs .

Ten years of winning, exciting hockey. Not many teams outside of Detroit, New Jersey and Colorado could boast of similar consistency during most of that era.

And a lot of that consistency came from a small group of players the Senators drafted who became their heart and soul over the years, a tight-knit group of friends who were close on and off the ice. It maybe wasn’t the “Boys On The Bus” mystique of the 80’s Oilers, but there was a while there when Ottawa’s young and talented core was the envy of the league. They were the guys that were going to put it all together and win the Stanley Cup.

Daniel Alfredsson, Alexei Yashin, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Zdeno Chara, Ray Emery, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

They came and went, most notably the swapping of Heatley with Hossa, and that trade nearly put the Senators over the top with Heatley and Spezza starting the second wave of youngsters to compliment the established guys like Alfredsson and Redden.

But of that core group, only Marian Hossa has a Stanley Cup ring and three finals appearances to his name. And of course, he did it in another uniform, four teams removed from his Ottawa days.

And if the remaining group of Senators from that era want that same ring, and you know they desperately do, they might also have to leave the only organization they’ve ever known to do it.

For many, the time may be near.

Alfredsson, whose presence on the team naturally coincided with the rise of the organization, looks like a player who has run out of miracles. During the previous decade, he was sometimes able to will his team to wins when they didn’t have any gas left in the tank. He could drive to the net and protect the puck with those tree-trunk legs whenever he felt like it. He was the real captain, the “people’s choice”, even when Alexei Yashin wore the “C” on his sagging chest.

Now Alfredsson, while still a great player, doesn’t seem to be able to do it all on his own anymore. And no one is begrudging him that. On a team headed nowhere fast, he remains its best player. But will the constant losing make him rethink playing out the last years of his contract? Or even, dare we say it, accept a move to a contending team, something he has never completely ruled out when asked in the past?

As the season starts to tick away to oblivion, you can bet he is going to be asked those questions. And we may be surprised by the answer we eventually hear.

Then you have Chris Phillips, battling through a tough year, playing big minutes with different partners and doing it all without a contract for the next season. You can bet uncertain thoughts are running through his mind right now. For a player who has given everything to his team and to his community, he unfairly dangles in the wind most likely because General Manager Bryan Murray doesn’t even know if he’ll be back to manage the team next season. Like Phillips, Murray is waiting on a contract as well, one that might never materialize, depending on Eugene Melnyk’s frame of mind when the smoke has cleared after this season.

Phillips has already seen his best defensive partner of the past decade, Anton Volchenkov, leave town during free-agency and walk right into the disaster that is the New Jersey Devils, a team that is going through much of the same problems as the Senators after a fall from grace. Phillips may be looking at that situation and thinking the grass isn’t greener, but he may not even be offered a contract when it’s all said and done.

Mike Fisher has been in Ottawa almost as long as the others but he continues to struggle with injuries and inconsistent play. With a lot of good years still left in him, it would be inconceivable that he would be moved but if a shakeup of the core was deemed necessary, he’s the obvious candidate to offer up to the rest of the league once his full no movement clause expires after this season.

Jason Spezza is the tweener, just starting to round out his game as the franchise begins to decline. He’s too young and talented to consider moving but too old to be the basis for a complete rebuild. Spezza is also a player who needs a sniper on his wing to utilize his full talents but the Senators are incapable of providing that for him right now, and likely won’t be able to until they draft one. Don’t hold your breath.

For the most part, the remaining core players on this team have played well, even through the last three mediocre seasons, but they are also getting less and less support as the losses pile up. Moves made by Bryan Murray to bring in Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar have the feel of desperation about them, as if he is running out of fingers to plug holes in the dam that has started to leak like a sieve. Kovalev and Gonchar were important, key players on the teams they were plucked from, but the transplant didn’t take and the Senators are left with a bunch of spare parts that no longer seem to work together.

These moves, especially the Kovalev signing, don’t look good in hindsight, but it should also be remembered that Murray took over a team that already had its best years and he was presented with a host of problems that cropped up after losing the Stanley Cup final in 2007, this current team’s last gasp at greatness.

He inherited a lot of expiring contracts and a few swelled heads who quickly got bent out of shape when their roles were reduced by various coaches Murray brought in.

Murray will ultimately wear the failure of this team, but you could say they were headed this way anyways because of the difficulty of keeping teams intact during the salary cap era. Murray has, at least, shored up the farm club and because of him, there are a slew of good prospects in the pipeline and one or two skating with team right now.

And none more so than Erik Karlsson, the player who truly represents the future of this franchise.

Murray will likely be long gone by the time Karlsson realizes his full potential, but as the familiar names of Alfredsson, Phillips, Fisher and Spezza start to fade or are sent away, there is at least one player who carries that same sort of promise with him, in the way he skates, in the way he can change the pace of the game, in the way he competes when it means the most.

That promise of good times ahead may be carried by a skinny 20 year old, but at least someone is carrying the torch, as dark as the present may be.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Regin and Foligno's Lost Season

There are a lot of things going wrong for the Senators this season and blame can be placed in any number of areas, from a badly managed power-play, to the ultra-soft defense, to Pascal Leclaire's health to Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar's inconsistent play. Take your pick.

Yet when you get right down to it, the struggles of Peter Regin and Nick Foligno have cost this team more than any of those other obvious problems and here's why.

Like most teams, the Senators have a group of known commodities whose point production have either remained steady or regressed slightly. Guys like Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher. Core guys who are going to perform most of the time. But what really puts teams into a good position is when two or three young guys have career years and evolve into a consistent scoring threat, usually playing against other teams weaker defensive players or just in the shadow of stars on their own team. Every team needs at least one or two of these guys or they're dead in the water.

Unfortunately for Ottawa, the players expected to have career years - Regin and Foligno - have struggled and there's no one there to fill the gap as far as goal-scoring is concerned. Regin has fallen to the fourth line in recent weeks and has a single goal to call his own all season, and no points in December.

Going into this season, the Senators were expecting both Regin and Foligno to score somewhere between 15 and 20 goals apiece, and with the addition of Gonchar to the defense core, scoring was going to be a strength of this team, as opposed to last season where Fisher led the team with a measly 25 goals.

Nearing the half-way point of the season, it's clear that both Regin and Foligno have failed to exceed expectations and that's why this team is more than likely to be on the outside looking in come playoff time in April.

Foligno has improved lately and is finally showing some scoring punch, with 5 points in 10 games but he still only has 3 goals on the season after struggling last year with just 9 goals. This was supposed to be his comeback season but in the early going, he got away from his strengths, which were driving to the net and playing physical along the boards. It looks like playing regularly with Fisher and Alfredsson has rejuvenated his game but is it too little too late?

Regin and Foligno make significantly less money than a lot of other players on this team who are struggling but that doesn't let them off the hook. Matt Cullen was let go and Bryan Murray chose to boost his defense in unrestricted free agency rather than bring in another big name forward. That's because Regin and Foligno were expected to take the next step in their careers.

Their utter failure to even provide modest scoring totals has set this organization back a full year and put more pressure on older veterans like Alfredsson, Spezza and Kovalev to produce every night even though they always face the other teams best defensive players. It also doesn't help that Milan Michalek has struggled after coming off a major knee operation. That leaves Alfredsson as the lone winger on this team who is providing offense, and he's coming off one of the longest slumps of his career!

And people are shocked this team isn't going to make the playoffs?

There's room for Regin and Foligno to grow and be an important part of this team going forward, but this is already looking like a lost season for the pair.


Looks like Mike Brodeur was wearing the Garth Snow inspired upper body armour and shoulder pads on the bench tonight against Washington. His shoulders were as high as his ears and he would also have trouble walking through a doorway with those things on. Those can't be legal..... Will Erik Karlsson be an All-Star as soon as next season when the game will be held in Ottawa? I'd put some money on it. In my mind, he's already this teams best player outside of Alfie...... Ever wonder what coach Cory Clouston would look like with a beard? Wait no longer.....

Most unintentionally hilarious moment of the night: Late in the first, Brian Elliott made a desperate, exciting save off of Mike Knuble in front of the net, which had Sportsnet colour commentator Denis Potvin enthusing "if you're a fan of the Senators, you have to be excited with the way they're playing hockey right now". Immediately the cameras went to the fans near the glass and it looked like they were watching the English Patient, all of them seated, unsmiling, with one old man sort of clapping half-heartedly with a sneer on his face.......Had to laugh at the Thrashers publicity campaign, where they had their mascot "Thrash" arrested on camera after he led police on an O.J. style car chase and "held in prison" until Atlanta fans snapped up 5000 tickets to upcoming games. Not bad, but it will never match National Lampoon's magazine cover in 1973 shown below when it comes to public extortion.

And finally, in case you missed it, Dale Weise hand an eventful first NHL game with the Rangers, having a fight and a goal he kicked in called back after video review. But the moment we'll all remember was this:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Little Glory For Brian Lee

No time for a post tonight, but I promised earlier in the season, after writing him off, that I would be the first to congratulate Brian Lee if he ever had another good game in a Senators uniform.

So there you go.

Classy move by Cory Clouston to get Brian Lee on the ice in his home state and it paid off because number 5 played a confident, solid game in about 17 minutes of ice time.

If "Mr. Hockey" gets into the Colorado game because Matt Carkner is still hurt, .... hey, you never know. Clouston might have a tough time taking him out.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars - Ottawa 3 Minnesota 1

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Pascal Leclaire

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thrashers Dim Sens Playoff Hopes With OT Victory

Essentially, one runs out of things to say with a team like the Ottawa Senators.

They played a spirited and competitive game against the bigger and stronger Atlanta Thrashers on Monday night and still lost in overtime, gaining a point but losing one to an opponent they are trying to catch in the standings, which really muddles the picture right now.

If they had lost to the Atlanta Thrashers in regulation, a lot of fingers would be pointed and speculation would start about imminent moves. But it would have been more cut and dried. People would be writing them off for the rest of the season, and with good reason.

Yet it's clear that this team has not quit on coach Cory Clouston. They threw everything they had at Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec and managed to score three goals, in a comeback no less, a rare feat for this team.

But it's not going to be enough in the end. Getting a point may have just postponed changes for another day or two, which still leaves this team without a direction. Are they bad enough to start making changes in order to improve next season or are they good enough to try and make a run for that eighth spot?

Most would pick the former option, but how do you rebuild with so many big contracts? That alone may give us the answer right there. The Senators are likely not going to be able to make any major moves before the trade deadline so all they have left to do is scratch and claw their way through each week living on the edge of a knife.

So how will the fans react? Locals are not used to watching a hopeless cause, even as bad as the Senators were under Craig Hartsburg or at times last season. Scotiabank Place is the only rink in Canada that is regularly filled to less than capacity. That problem is likely to grow worse as fairweather fans throw in the towel by Christmas.

A change in direction might spark some interest but it's also hard to clean out a coaching staff or replace a GM mid-season. From a hockey operations standpoint, there are games to be played every second night, scouting discussions, trade discussions, you name it.

The Senators built their team in the summer and now they are likely going to have to live with it until July, come hell or high water.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Clouston Makes The Right Moves After Day Of Turmoil

Good on Cory Clouston.

On a day when the Alexei Kovalev controversy ballooned into a public snipefest, Clouston took the highroad and decided to end his nonsensical experiment with Kovalev on the fourth line and made some changes that helped the team to a desperately needed win over the equally struggling New Jersey Devils.

Finally, and we mean finally, Clouston put back together the best offensive duo he's had all year, and that's Kovalev with Jason Spezza, a pairing that should never have been split apart in the first place. Surprise, surprise, that line, along with Milan Michalek, has a great game, creates some chances and gets an important goal.

After weeks of trying to force lines that just weren't working, he put Daniel Alfredsson back with Mike Fisher and put Bobby Butler where he belongs - on the fourth line, and suddenly the team had cohesion in the offensive zone and plenty of chances to score.

As frustrated as Clouston is with Kovalev, it made no sense to drop his minutes where you basically ensure he's not in the game. Guys like Kovalev need to play with a skilled centre and they need big minutes. What gave Clouston a change of heart, we may never know, but he even had Kovalev on the ice in the final minute trying to protect a one goal lead. Successful teams give their most skilled players the most minutes and have them on the ice when the game is on the line.

This is the way this team needs to go forward. Even Kovalev's biggest critics must acknowledge that it's almost impossible to move him within the season. Might as well use him while you have him.

Clouston also switched up the defense pairings with positive results and the duo of Erik Karlsson and Chris Phillips looked impressive all night. The coach might be on to something here.

And lastly, it would be ideal to see Clouston stick with Pascal Leclaire for a stretch to see if he can get on a roll. Just like Kovalev, he's not going anywhere this season. He gets paid like a top player so give him the minutes and the responsibility to help pull this team back into some sort of respectable state. Clouston sometimes opts too quickly for guys who were either with him in the AHL or guys who were just recently there, and does so at the expense of solid NHL veterans (see Shean Donovan the last two seasons). You get the sense he wants Brian Elliott to be his guy but there have been some road bumps along the way. Which way will Clouston lean? I don't think anyone can tell us for sure.

Overall, a much needed win for a team that, while still close to the brink, may be able to get some positives going for them with the new lines and defense pairings.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars - Ottawa 3 New Jersey 2

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Chris Phillips
3. Chris Neil

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard

3 Points 1st Star
2 Points 2nd Star
1 Point 3rd Star

Elliott – 20
Leclaire – 18
Spezza – 13
Karlsson – 12
Kovalev – 12
Fisher – 12
Alfredsson – 9
Gonchar – 7
Michalek – 6
Foligno – 6
Regin – 5
Phillips - 5
Ruutu – 4
Kelly – 3
Campoli – 3
Shannon - 2
Neil - 1

Kovie's Presser

Most of you have heard Kovalev's comments already, but the best thing about this video is watching Don Brennan's face as Kovie starts getting into the juicy quotes. It's Christmas two weeks early. (video from Sens Extra)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Misery In Kanata

Talk about a season defining loss.

The blows just keep coming for the miserable Senators as they completely squandered two great periods by blowing a 3-2 lead in the third frame to the visiting New York Rangers and have likely sunk as low as they possibly can. And I say that because, sure, they could sink further in the standings, but that could only be a blessing as they would then be in line for a top draft pick.

Right now, they are in the worst position possible, floundering out of the playoff picture but still too good to finish below teams like the Leafs and Islanders, with three and a half months still to suffer through.

There is going to be a lot of scapegoating on Friday when the press and the bloggers and the radio callers get their knives out, but at this point the whole team is struggling so badly it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Going into the game, many were enjoying their favourite pastime - blaming Alex Kovalev. That seemed to help everyone's sanity for a while, like pretending Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter, but then Brian Elliott let in a brutal goal that tied the game for the Rangers, Chris Neil took an unnecessary roughing penalty which resulted in the winning power-play goal and Sergei Gonchar took a tumble at centre ice, allowing Ranger Brandon Dubinsky to steal the puck and ice it in an empty net. The fact that Gonchar even got up and skated back to the bench says at least something about his character. A lesser man might have stayed down in the fetal position until the rink custodian shut the lights off later that night.

Tomorrow night or the game after that, it will be another set of players that feel the wrath of the press and around and around we go.

When the team is playing badly overall, the individual errors are going to stand out, but they're only symptoms, not the root cause. If the team was playing better, they would have more wins and the occasional screw-up could be overlooked. Now if anyone even goes offside, it's like "oh man, you're terrible". The Senators have given themselves no room for error, which makes errors inevitable.

As for the big Kovalev controversy going into the game, putting him on the fourth line was a move by Cory Clouston to show he can assert himself when the ship is sinking around him. Fair enough. He has to do something to save his job. And yet, predictably,  it made no difference and only postpones the inevitable, which is that Kovalev has to play some serious minutes with a proper centre, preferably Jason Spezza, for the team to get full value out of him.

Benching or reducing the minutes of your best players NEVER works in the NHL. It just doesn't. Just this season, look at the Flames playing around with Jarome Iginla's minutes, or the Devils doing the same with Ilya Kovalchuk earlier.

Sure, it makes a certain segment of the fans happy, because their relation to the game nowadays is based on the desire to see these hot shot millionaires get punished, and if a hockey game breaks out, well, that's not really important. But in the end, Kovalev is going to have to be put back on one of the first two lines and this whole process will be about absolutely nothing.

Usually it only signals the last days of a coach and his desperate attempts to fortify the walls that are crumbling around him.

I'm not recommending Clouston be fired, because I actually believe he's a fairly good coach who has done a good job since he got to Ottawa, but it's starting to look like he can't fix this now.

When a team gets this deep into a hole, sometimes you need to reset the system. Throw the switch. Change the fuse.

Friday's game against the Devils could be one worth watching, if only to see how this team tries to pick itself off the floor. If they don't, watch for all hell to break loose.


Also, congratulations to Anne who won a Metro Family 4 Pack of tickets to Friday night's game against the Devils after our last ticket contest. She correctly identified Marshall Johnston as the former Sens GM who was also the Director of Player Personnel with the Devils for close to ten years.

Thanks to everyone (and there were a lot of you) who emailed in their answers. Have fun at the game, Anne.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clouston's Stubbornness Costing Team... Plus Ticket Contest

Another loss, another game where the Senators can't score and the unanswered questions keep piling up.

The Senators needed to beat the Habs on Tuesday night, and they needed a couple of their top guys to get a few goals, not just for the standings, but for their coaching staff and for the psyche of the whole team. Neither happened and now after a weekend which inspired a little hope, the Senators are back where they started.

I feel I may be testing the patience of some of my readers by saying this yet again (for the second week in a row), but what is Cory Clouston doing? Why is he so stubbornly sticking to his Spezza-Alfie and Fisher-Kovalev combos when they can barely even get the puck to the scoring areas, let alone score goals? It's bewildering, really, as if Clouston can't tell shit from shinola all of a sudden.

This has been going on for weeks now and Clouston won't even take a chance late in a game when the team could desperately use a spark. He did at least take Bobby Butler off the top line but it was the power-play which scored the goal, so the change had no real effect.

When the Senators were playing their best this season, Spezza was with Kovalev and Fisher was with Alfie. Kovalev's chemistry with Fisher is so bad right now that the line is essentially a write-off, with Milan Michalek playing at half-speed and Mike Fisher somehow still unable to hit anyone. It's painful to watch and essentially the Senators best two lines are their 3rd and 4th units. That's the death knell for any team.

Seriously, what is Clouston doing?

As hard as the players have worked for him ever since the San Jose Sharks embarrassment, at some point Clouston has to be held responsible for his team's lack of scoring and the apparent fact that they are quickly falling out of the playoff race.

Stubbornness can be a good trait at times for an NHL head coach (at least in the Original Six era), but it can also be the quickest way to the firing line and Clouston is now clearly headed that way, as bizarre as that notion may have seemed at the beginning of this season.

When you don't have a contract beyond this season, you're what they call a "lame duck coach" and when you can't win games or even score goals, it soon becomes a no-brainer for an impatient GM (or an impatient owner).

Clouston went on the radio earlier this week and defended his system, saying his team was still getting scoring chances and that it was just a matter of bad luck. He may have a point, but that's still not going to save his job, or Greg Carvel's or Brad Lauer's.

Bryan Murray has to make some kind of move now. He either needs to make a big trade and land this team a goal scorer, or he has to make a move behind the bench and get down there and coach this team himself. Hiring a new guy outside of the organization in a panic move is not in the cards.

Even if everything goes right from now on, and somehow Filip Kuba remembers how to play the game called "ice hockey", and somebody other than Chris Neil throws what the experts call a "body-check", the Senators will still be a long-shot to make the playoffs because the top eight in the conference tend to lock themselves in by Christmas and it's almost impossible to make up those points down the stretch.

Yet, Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston will likely preach patience in the coming days, and the pundits will simply shift their "must-win" ultimatums to the next set of games, this Thursday and Friday against the Rangers and Devils. At some point, the gig will be up and a lot of money and effort wasted in hoping things will magically get better.

It's a tough situation for the players, because you can tell they are giving everything they have on the ice for the most part, but whether it's the system they have to play, or whether it's just all in their heads, the goals just aren't coming and the losing culture is quickly becoming the new norm in Ottawa.

And in a cruel twist, they've recently faced two opponents with familiar characters from better times. Their former 50 goal man in Dany Heatley, who asked to be traded because Clouston strangely reduced his role upon taking over the team, and tonight in Montreal against Jacques Martin, a coach who was able to take much less skilled Senators clubs and bring them to the playoffs with a system that every player bought into, even Alexandre Daigle.

Those days are long gone....


Folks, we've got another ticket contest here at Black Aces, and this one is for the New Jersey Devils game this Friday, December 10. This time we have one of the Metro Family 4 Packs which consists of 4 tix, 4 hot dogs and 4 drinks which start at $99 bucks, tax included. There are four more games this season where you can grab this deal (including the Flames on Jan. 14), but we are giving away one of these packs to one lucky winner who can email me the answer to this trivia question:

Name this former Senators GM who was also the Director of Player Personnel for the New Jersey Devils for close to a decade previous to his tenure in Ottawa.

The fourth person to email me at jeremymilks@hotmail.com with the correct answer wins a Metro Family 4 Pack of tickets. The winner will be notified by email no later than Wednesday night. Good luck.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sens Show A Little Life

So what happens next?

That must be the question Senators fans are asking themselves after their team came back with 3 of a possible 4 points over the weekend after the season lowpoint of losing to the Sharks and Dany Heatley on Thursday.

A shootout loss to the Sabres on Saturday and a big win against the Rangers on Sunday may have outright saved coach Cory Clouston's job in the short term. Not just because of the much needed points, but because in both games the Senators looked determined for close to 60 minutes, signs that the players haven't quit on their coach. Clouston is basically fighting for his job every game now because he doesn't have a contract for next season. The Senators would have to eat very little money if they decide to make a change and have GM Bryan Murray go behind the bench. But that still seems very unlikely, at least for now.

Yet the goals still aren't coming as easily as anyone would like and that's still a huge warning sign to anyone who thinks the slump is over. The offensive players are just as snakebit as before, and Clouston is still too stubborn to try a new combination, in particular breaking up Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Clouston finally relented and put back together the best line he's had since last year's playoffs, and that's the Kelly-Neil-Ruutu line and they were again the difference makers in New York, with Kelly continuing his steady season by notching a hat-trick. Keeping that line together would be a good start for Clouston.

On the other hand, the Senators sure do lack the entertainment factor this season. For the most part, the games have been a bit of a drag to watch, with very few goals, very few memorable moments, and almost no physical play whatsoever outside of Chris Neil doing his part every night.

It could be the system they play, although they still seem to forecheck aggressively most of the time, or it could be the lack of speed on the team. The players they have on the roster have been exciting to watch at other times in their careers so why not this season? Are the reins on too tight or have the older players gotten too slow to do what they used to do?

Hitting seems to be going extinct in the NHL ever since everyone got up in arms over a few rare checks that ended in serious injuries. Now they're throwing out the baby with the bathwater and the entertainment level of all the games has dropped accordingly. So it's not just the Senators but they could still use another big body on the blueline with some nastiness (like .... uh.... Andy Sutton) as well as someone who can actually score to play wing with Spezza.

Chances of Murray getting these components are pretty much nil on the trade market, at least not until February when it might be too late anyways.

Still, there is a lot more to be positive about after this weekend then there was after the Heatley game.

The Senators have two goalies who are both playing excellent hockey right now and it seems that no matter who Clouston throws out, the team is going to get a good game out of them.

A game against the Rangers last season was a turning point for the Senators and the streak they pulled off after that was what put them in the playoffs.

Maybe lightning strikes twice?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Changes On The Way...Clouston In Danger For First Time

It's open season now.

After losing their 7th game out of the last 9, and this time to Dany Heatley and the San Jose Sharks, it finally feels like the roof is caving in on the Senators season.

It's not hyperbole. No one's job is safe anymore.

And we're talking the GM, the coach, and of course, most, if not all of the players.

It seems almost unthinkable due to recent history, but the Senators may, just may, be starting to look at the coaching staff once again as an area to make a change.

It's still a longshot at best, and a last resort, but Cory Clouston and his staff don't seem to have any answers and a housecleaning is not completely out of the question if things continue to fall apart.

You can point to the complete lack of offense this season despite having some very high-end skilled players. You can point to Clouston's strange stubbornness lately about his lines, trying to force combos that just don't work and not making changes during the games when it's obvious that the team has stalled. Or you can simply point to the body language of the players who may be in such a dismal mental state that willingly or not, they aren't buying into the current system.

But of course, Bryan Murray is going to make a move amongst the players before firing yet another coach. Brian Lee cleared waivers the other day and now David Hale is back on the wire, which makes it look like Murray had some moves in mind even before the shutout loss to the Sharks.

If Murray is simply trying to save cap space, it doesn't explain why he put Lee on waivers and then didn't send him down to Bingo when he cleared. Lee is still counting against the cap as we speak.

So what is Murray up to here? Is this a precursor to some kind of trade?

Murray can't stand still after all these losses. He's got to do something before the heat from the owner begins to blow in his direction.

The Senators are still only a handful of games under .500 and are by no means out of the playoff picture. But the atmosphere around the team now is so gloomy and forlorn that some kind of change is desperately in order.

The interesting thing is that the Senators went out and played extremely hard for most of this game until ex-Ottawa 67 Logan Couture ripped their hearts out in the third period. Even Pascal Leclaire was strong and certainly not to blame for the loss.

It's very telling when a team is throwing everything they can onto the ice and nothing seems to happen for them. This is not just a matter of players holding their sticks too tight.

They can't score, the losses are piling up and someone has to be held accountable for that now.

Whether it's the players, the coach or the GM, someone is going to moved.

Who that is, I get a feeling we'll find out very soon.


A lot of well-deserved booing for Heatley in Kanata tonight, but the best stunt was when a group of fans marched to the glass and threw a bunch of old Heatley Sens jerseys on the ice. Novel approach. For the most part, the Sens fans were loud and they needed their moment to let Heatley know how they felt. Now that the night is over, people should really move on. Some of the things that have been said recently have been a little over the line, which makes you think that some people are taking their hockey way too seriously. Like scary seriously. Which brings us to......

.....Leave it to the Ottawa Sun to go completely over the top with their vitriol and sensationalistic s**t-slinging. Just read any hockey article from Thursday's edition. Vicious.  But we shouldn’t be surprised because that’s the way they cover politics and everything else they deem newsworthy. If you’re not with them in their myopic right-wing views, then you’re the enemy, and there’s nothing that is off-limits in their attempts to shock and awe their readers, including bringing up Dan Snyder in Tuesday's paper. I’m sure the Snyder family is really overjoyed that their son’s name is being exploited so someone can score cheap points over something as unimportant as a hockey game. Revolting...….

......Not too long ago I got an email asking me to help promote something called the “Heatley Hate-Fest”.  A hate fest?  Seriously?  Someone spent time out of their lives to organize this? Could not delete that email fast enough. But after reading about the fest, and the fact they went out and got a whole block of tickets, I realized it was all in good fun and fairly harmless. Not sure I would have went with that name though........ Interesting to hear TSN's Pierre McGuire ripping coach Cory Clouston for not keeping Sergei Gonchar on the right point on the power-play all year, something that the local media have pointed out but have not really layed out in such blunt terms. Bizarre decisions like that must be hurting Clouston's reputation around the league, if the constant losing hasn't already.......

.....When we got word late this summer that Pascal Leclaire was changing his goalie pads for this season, it seemed like a safe assumption that Leclaire would accept the common wisdom that white pads make you look bigger in the net. But Leclaire merely switched his black and red striped ones for black and red unstriped ones. Sure they look cool, especially to shooters who can see the net behind him more clearly..... If the Nordiques were to somehow come back to the NHL in the next 3-4 years, either through relocation or expansion, would it not seem fitting that Patrick Roy would be their first head coach and Vincent Lecavalier their veteran captain? Roy’s already coaching in Quebec City with the Remparts and Lecavalier now seems like the forgotten man in Tampa with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis getting the headlines. And even though Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has told everyone that Lecavalier is going nowhere, you'd have to think he'd jump at the chance to get out from under that contract before it expires in 2020 (!!)….

......Talking to a pal about Brian Lee and he suggested the kid should try and catch on in Russia for a while, and it’s not a half-bad idea. The Russian League would play into all his strengths. There’s no hitting and plenty of skating. Lee could really rebuild his career over there and then try to come back to the NHL with a little more life experience under his belt. If he can survive it, he’ll be a better player……A pretty good Christmas schedule for guys on the Sens with a family. They have the 20-22 off to do some Xmas shopping, a quick flight into Nashville on the 22nd to play on the following night and then they’re home for a week straight with only two games on the sked. Although that leaves plenty of time to strap on the feed bag and they may be waddling onto the ice in Columbus on New Years Eve. But Erik Karlsson could use the pounds anyways…

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lee Era Ends With Whimper

I'm not sure why this was never brought up, but with Brian Lee put on waivers today after being a healthy scratch for so long, did the young defenseman at any time get asked to go on a conditioning stint to the Binghmamton Senators? And if so, did he refuse to go (as would be his right due to his one-way contract)?

It wasn't too long ago, maybe three weeks, that assistant GM Tim Murray was on Ottawa radio and was asked if Lee could be sent down for a conditioning stint. Murray said it was definitely possible, but no one could force Lee to accept the assignment. The CBA rules seem to say that players can be sent down for a maximum of 14 days with the players consent (and with the player receiving his full salary and it also counting against the cap).

Now, with the complexity of the CBA, perhaps Lee wasn't even eligible for an assignment in the end (he hasn't been injured, just scratched), but Tim Murray at least seemed to believe it was a legitimate move at the time if Bryan Murray so chose.

Nobody has reported on this since then, to my knowledge, but logic would tell me that Lee must have been asked and decided not to go. Is there any CBA experts out there who can shed some light on this?

Regardless, being put on waivers probably means that his career with the Senators is over, at least for this season, because calling him back up would allow another team to claim him and stick the Sens with half the bill. Having a one-way deal in the minors is a bad proposition for players like Lee. It's a black hole.

In a way, it's surprising this move wasn't done a while ago. Every day Lee was on the roster ticked off money from the cap and he wasn't even the seventh defenseman. He was the eighth once Filip Kuba returned from injury and stuck behind David Hale in the pecking order. Likely Murray was just trying to get some kind of asset in return before being forced to bury him in the minors where Lee is bound to play out his two-year deal unless a team gets desperate enough to make a trade rather than wait for him to become available on waivers again.

As of this time, Lee hasn't cleared waivers yet. Maybe he does get picked up. Colorado? Minnesota?

That one-way deal is a big hindrance to both Lee and any suitors out there.


On a sad note, Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Kelley passed away today after a fight with cancer. Anyone who took the time to read his columns regularly over the years already knows he was one of the better ones. Always had something interesting to say, and had a colourful career to say the least.

Along with Red Fisher, Roy MacGregor and Stan Fischler, Kelley was one of the writers I've always looked up to and tried to learn from.

He'll be missed .

Monday, November 29, 2010

Senators Stunned Into Silence By Gerber and Oilers

Watching the Edmonton Oilers slowly suffocate the Ottawa offense Monday night made the game feel like a lowpoint in the Senators season for good reason.

It was the middle game, the valley between two peaks, the supposed "gimme game" between the Saturday night special against the Leafs (which Ottawa won) and the Thursday night return date with Dany Heatley and the Sharks that's been marked on calendars across the NHL since the schedule was released.

Reading the papers and watching the blogs, it was like this game meant nothing and was a certain two points in the bag.

Not to Martin Gerber.

The once spurned ex-Senators goalie barely had to do anything (but what he did have to do, he did well) as he watched the young Oilers play a near perfect road game against an Ottawa team that still seems to have no clue how to score goals.

The coaching staff' for the Senators have been shaking up the lines every which way for nearly two weeks now but when they really needed to make a change - late in the game to get something going - Cory Clouston kept sending out trio's who just weren't working well together all game long.

It's a bit strange that Clouston has completely abandoned the Jason Spezza- Alex Kovalev pairing that worked so well for awhile before being split up, and the third period was the time to try them together again.

People will point to all the penalties the Senators took, and the tying goal given up while short-handed, but the real culprit is a lack of cohesion among the lines Clouston has going right now, even after the great game Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher had together on Saturday night.

And it's an extra shame for the Senators because this was a match they should have won with two tougher games ahead against San Jose and Buffalo.

Now, if you can believe it, the Senators have more regulation losses than the Edmonton Oilers. Those same sad sack Oilers who everyone is writing off as a lottery pick.

Now that's a lowpoint no matter how you look at it.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

Edmonton 4 Ottawa 1

No stars awarded tonight, for the 6th time this season.


....At least it was a good move by the Senators to pick the game against the Oilers to be their first time wearing road whites this season at home, allowing locals to get a look at the nicest non-original-six jersey's in the NHL. Those Oiler throwback's are pretty stellar. Now if only they could switch back to the original white jerseys that Gretzky and company wore and they'd be in business. As it is, the Oilers current road whites are the plainest, dullest, most uninspired sweaters in the league by far. Most other teams practice jerseys are nicer.... I've never been much of a gambler or a guy who plays the lottery, but those 50/50 draws at the rink suck me in every time. I spend most of the game completely believing I've got the winner in my hands and then sit dejectedly for the last half of the 3rd after they announce the numbers. There's a sucker born every minute....

....This Opinion Won't Be Popular Dept.: Fans are going to have their fun booing Dany Heatley and they definitely deserve to vent their frustrations after all this time, but if you really look at things honestly, the guy who did the most damage to the Senators during a similar time span was on the ice tonight for the Oilers, and that would be Martin Gerber. Frankly, John Paddock's little golden goalie was brutal during his time in a Senators uniform and set this franchise back much further than Heatley's trade demand ever did. At least when Heatley was a Senator he helped lead this team to the Stanley Cup final and twice scored 50 goals. Yet it was Gerber who became a minor folk-hero in town during the Ray Emery fiasco because the Swiss goalie apparently was the "nicest guy in the world" and the "hardest working athlete in sports history". And I'm barely exaggerating the remarks that were thrown out in the media about this guy. That golden rep has followed him around ever since. "Luckiest guy in the world" would be more apt. Still, you have to give Gerber credit for fighting his way back to the NHL with the Oilers this year. But let's just say I never have and never will drink the Kool-Aid concerning this guy..... That was a tough summer for former Senators GM John Muckler back in 2006. He lets Zdeno Chara and Dominik Hasek walk and signed Wade Redden and Gerber instead. Even a trip to the Cup final was not enough to save his job after that....

.....Tough to see Jesse Winchester getting a penalty for lightly laying his stick across an Oiler with only one arm in the second period, but that's a call the referees need to keep making. There should be zero tolerance for using your stick on a player who's carrying the puck. I lived through the "dead puck" era where obstruction was king, and I never, ever, ever want to go through that again. Sitting through Stanley Cup final series like the Avalanche-Panthers in 96, Stars-Sabres in 99 and Stars-Devils in 00 was like getting a hockey lobotomy. The game is so much better now, even if the price is a few chintzy penalties here and there that annoy everyone..... There was also an interesting discussion on the Healthy Scratches show on the Team 1200 today, where they discussed how hard it is to get pucks to the net in the modern NHL because everyone is so good at blocking shots and collapsing in front of the net. They re-set Bob Gainey's idea from a few years ago to make going down and blocking shots on the ice an illegal defensive move. Sure, it seems silly at first, but I actually think it makes sense. A lot more pucks are going to get through all those bodies if defenseman are only allowed to do the standing flamingo in front of shots. Combine that rule with even smaller goalie equipment and you may have something that will make a difference. The NHL needs to keep pushing for more offense. The game is better, but there's still a ways to go....Speaking of making the game better, where have all the big hits gone? Was there even one hit thrown in the Oilers-Senators game other than Nick Foligno's in the third that got him a penalty? Players are spooked by the new blindside rule and don't seem to want to commit themselves to any kind of hit anymore, legal or not. It's a sad state of affairs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sens Need To Be Wary Of Oilers

Should be an interesting week for the Senators, and of course we're alluding to the Sharks game on Thursday when the Dany Heatley circus is going to be at its peak.

Already the hype machine has started but the real danger for the Sens is not losing to the Sharks, but looking ahead to far and losing to the Oilers Monday night.

Just like the Toronto game, this is a must-win for the Senators, facing a team that should be an easy two points at home. But that's never really the case is it?

While the fans may be looking ahead to the Sharks, it's likely the Sens coaching staff is drilling home the importance of beating the Oilers because that would mean they can finish no worse than .500 on this current 4 game home-stand with two tougher games ahead in the Sharks and the Sabres.

As for the ongoing saga with the defenseman, Cory Clouston's benchings of both Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner last week backfired for the most part and it wasn't until the real core was put back together with David Hale sitting that things returned to "normal".

Hale has been excellent this year in his role as a substitute, but that's what he should remain when everyone is healthy - a substitute. The core of this defense is already set and Hale was brought in as insurance. He's provided that and more but he shouldn't be displacing guys like Karlsson or Carkner in the lineup. Hale will get plenty of chances to play this year as an injury fill-in. Both Karlsson and Carkner play very specific roles on this team and I'm still not sure what Clouston achieved by sitting them. If he wanted to sit a player for not playing well, there were other, more deserving candidates than Karlsson and Carkner on defense.

Perhaps it's a lesson learned, for the scratches and for the coaching staff.

This team was playing well before the week when tragedy struck. Clouston made too many changes after some understandable losses and didn't allow his team to play their way out of it, casting away working line combos and making questionable scratches.

With a big win against Toronto, maybe this team has found it's rhythm once again.

We'll see tonight against an Oilers team with speed to burn and nothing more to lose on a season that has already hit the ocean floor.

As for the Senators, they're just treading water right now and need a big finish to their home-stand.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Is Clouston Thinking?

After yet another stunted offensive game by the Senators where they again managed only 19 shots and a few limited scoring chances in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, you have to wonder what coach Cory Clouston is thinking by benching one of his best offensive defenseman for a second straight game.

Of course we're talking about Erik Karlsson who for some reason is the one feeling the wrath of the coach after the entire team went into a tailspin the previous week due to very understandable circumstances.

Not many people questioned the decision due to the fact that the Senators escaped with a win against the Kings despite struggling offensively for much of the game. Clouston didn't want to change things up for Wednesday night's tilt against the Stars but it backfired on him.

The Senators weren't getting scoring chances or shots because they didn't have the puck in the offensive zone. The reason for that is because they couldn't get there with the puck and they couldn't score on their few power-plays, two things that Karlsson is best at. Even his detractors would have to admit that.

Look at it this way -  going into the Dallas game, Karlsson was fifth in team scoring and second among rearguards with 11 points. He's tied with Sergei Gonchar for goals and tied for the team lead in game winning goals. He leads the defense in shots on goal and consistently gets the puck through the neutral zone.

Yet he was eating popcorn Wednesday night while the Senators trudged their way to 19 shots and one fluke goal by Ryan Shannon that was a softie let in by Andrew Raycroft.

It didn't make sense to sit him against L.A. and it made even less sense to sit him against Dallas. There was nothing so wrong with his game that couldn't be solved with a meeting and a stern reminder to stay away from bad penalties. Benching the kid was an overreaction.

In short, Clouston didn't ice the best possible team and the Senators looked haggard in a snoozer of a home loss.

So what's the reasoning here?

The Senators were flying on all cylinders but were put into upheaval by the tragedy that everyone already knows so much about. They had a hard week on the road and most, if not all, of the media and fans were very forgiving, realizing that the three straight losses were not indicative of what this team is usually capable of. In a sense, it was a mulligan week. It was time to move on.

But instead of keeping the course steady, Clouston scrambled the lines that were responsible for five wins in six games before the slump took hold. He split up the successful pairing of Jason Spezza with Alexei Kovalev and with Karlsson now sitting, has inexplicably put Sergei Gonchar back on the left side on the power-play even though that pairing with Karlsson on the left was working so well previously.

Doesn't make sense.

Surely, reason will prevail here and Karlsson will be inserted into the lineup for the game against the Penguins on Friday afternoon. If and when Karlsson doesn't work miracles and single-handedly win the game for the Sens, people will be on his case even more, especially if the very effective David Hale is the one who has to sit. Tough situation for the kid no matter how you look at it.

But you won't win a lot of games in the NHL if you're sitting one of your best weapons, no matter what kind of point you're trying to make by doing it.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars - Dallas 2 Ottawa 1

1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Ryan Shannon
3. Chris Campoli


Watching Nick Foligno suffer through the early part of the season has been nothing but a downer for everyone, but, as always, Foligno is his own worst enemy.

Seeing the decisions he makes on the ice kind of lets you in on his mindset. It's clear that in his head he thinks he's a skilled top six forward but the evidence suggests otherwise. Breaking down the left side in the second period, Foligno had a chance to shoot the puck at Andrew Raycroft but instead decided to do a spinarama and try to feed the puck blindly to the slot. His feet and hands aren't the quickest and of course the gambit failed and a scoring chance was lost. This type of thing happens all the time to Nick. If he would have been thinking straight he would have snapped that shot away even though he was to the outside and taken a chance that someone would be there for the rebound.

In a strange way, Foligno skates and carries the puck a lot like Spezza, hunched over with the puck way out in front of him, but he just doesn't have the speed or the hands to make those creative plays. He should be grinding out a north/south groove in the ice towards the net at all times and the less he handles the puck the better. I don't know because I've never seen it up close, but it almost seems like Foligno's stick is way too long. Maybe it's just the impression I get because of his skating style, but a guy like him should borrow Ryan Shannon's stick for a game and keep that puck close to his feet instead of hanging it out there on a broken yo-yo string like he always does. If he wants to have a long career, he's going to have to completely change the way he plays. He should realize he doesn't have the foot speed to be a scoring winger and start playing a greasy type of game. The sooner the better.......

.....The NHL is getting it right big time by allowing cameras to follow the Oilers around this season for the TSN show Oil Change.  You can learn more about life in the NHL by watching a single show than you can watching years and years of hallway player interviews conducted by journalists content with asking questions no one cares to hear the answers to.  It’s also interesting to watch the show for Sens fans as they can get a glimpse of Ladislav Smid, a player that was part of a trade package headed to Ottawa before being nixed by Dany Heatley. He’s a big, steady player on the ice and a bit of a jokester off of it, having the kind of personality that would fit into any locker room. Even coach Tom Renney can’t help but laugh (most of the time) at “Laddy”.  And from what we hear, Smid was happy the trade was nixed because he likes life in Edmonton. Now that’s a player you want to keep around..…. If you believe these sorts of things, talk is that Dustin Penner is available at the right price (well, duh). Could Bryan Murray still have interest after not getting him in the ill-fated Heatley trade with Edmonton? It would be hard to fit his salary on the Senators unless they moved someone like Milan Michalek for him, who’s signed for two more years than Penner at a near identical salary. Not sure that would be a good trade for Ottawa but it's something to chew on….. Okay, geez, I'm always poking fun at hockey rumour blogs and their ilk, but can I start one of my own, just this once? How about Nick Foligno and Brian Lee for Andrew Cogliano? Ottawa could sure use some more speed in that lineup and you can almost see Foligno in an Oilers jersey if you squint a little.....

.....Prediction: Bryan Murray won’t find a taker for Brian Lee, will put him on waivers and watch him clear and wonder why he kept him on the NHL roster for so damn long for no damn reason…… Will anyone want Doug Weight at the trade deadline?  You just know Weight doesn’t want to end his career playing for the miserable Islanders. He’d be an interesting fit on either the Vancouver Canucks or San Jose Sharks as a part-time veteran role player. One of those guys like Dave Andreychuk with the Lightning, you know, “let’s win for Dougie” type of thing. It seems both the Sharks and the Canucks are so close but they need an emotional element to put them over the top. I’m not saying its Doug Weight who will do it, but they need more to motivate them than being called underachievers year after year. They need something or someone to rally around to push them over the top. Otherwise, it looks like Detroit is again the team to beat in the West, maybe in the whole NHL. Their rallying cry? One more Cup for Nick Lidstrom, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood before they retire.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No Need To Sit Karlsson

Interesting bit of news after Sens practice on Tuesday when Cory Clouston seemed to imply that sophomore defenseman Erik Karlsson would be sitting out a second straight game as a healthy scratch against the Dallas Stars.

Obviously, Karlsson is being punished for a string of bad play during the last week and a handful of bad penalties, but is it really necessary to make him sit two games in a row?

If Clouston indeed does go ahead and scratches Karlsson, the Senators will once again struggle to create consistent offense. Without Karlsson against the Kings, the Senators had under 20 shots and could barely break out of their end.

If you say it's for the good of Karlsson's development, I don't really buy it. Sure, one game sends the message, but sitting a guy for multiple games when he's obviously one of your most dangerous defenseman just seems like overkill and unnecessary posturing by the coaching staff.

It would seem to imply that the kid "just doesn't get it", yet from all we've heard about this guy, he's a hard worker who respects his coaches and his teammates. For sure, it's going to light a fire under his ass when he returns but we suspect he'll settle down and continue to be one of this team's best players on the blueline, something he would have done if he was made a healthy scratch or not. In the meantime, we play psychological games.

I just didn't see enough offensive opportunities against the Kings to justify Clouston sitting down one of his top weapons for another important home game.

What's the point? I just don't get it.


In case you missed the Chris Neil- Kevin Westgarth scrap.... behold.

Monday, November 22, 2010

3 Huge Moments Carry Sens Over Kings

I don't know what it is, but you never seem to witness a boring Senators-Kings tilt.

Go back to Brian McGrattan pummeling Sean Avery in a blind rage, or Jani Hurme throwing down with Felix Potvin, or even Bryan Murray screaming obscenities at Jim Fox, Kings broadcaster, in the hallways at the then Corel Centre.

There's always something going on and it's usually not a tupperware party.

Monday night was no exception, as there was a strange buzz in the air before the puck was even dropped, as if people could sense they were going to get their money's worth.

And for the most part, they did.

The Senators pulled off a victory in a game that they just had to have after a brutal week on the road where all their chemistry and enthusiasm seemed to disintegrate. A loss against the Kings at home would have really thrown the fans and media into a whirl, but thanks to three big plays, the Senators clawed their way back to that desired state of "normal" after an emotional week.

And we're only talking about three plays here. For a lot of the game, the Senators looked exactly like a team that just got off the road - disjointed, sloppy and tired. The victory with the new forward line combinations may look good in the stats column but Cory Clouston seemed to out think himself with some of his decisions. None of the lines looked particularly good and they seemed more randomly constructed than anything else.

Chris Kelly with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson? Mike Fisher with Nick Foligno and Ryan Shannon? And even the benching of Erik Karlsson seems like overkill - they could have desperately used his offensive skills after throwing just 19 shots on Jonathan Quick.

Yet, the two points were taken and that's all that really matters in the end. But those points were won, like I said, on three big moments.

The first was the Kovalev goal, his 1000th career point. The crowd stood to cheer but then something strange happened. They kept standing and the roar grew louder, and louder, until near pandemonium had hit the rink. The guy seemingly everybody loves to grumble about was being feted like a hometown hero, and chants of "Kovie, Kovie" sprang up from the 300 level. Go back about a month and the possibility of tonight's fan reaction would have seemed absurd. In fact, his popularity at that time was so low that I even mused openly on this blog if some mean spirited fans would actually take to booing the Russian when he hit his milestone.

The Kovalev celebration was sandwiched in between announcements that both Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu were playing in their 600th game on the same night, and the crowd was eating it up and a big win seemed inevitable from that point on.

Until lethargy struck and the Kings began to take it to the Senators for the rest of the first period and about half of the second.

That's when the next big play happened to spark the home side.

Chris Neil, sensing his team was about to fall apart after a Ryan Smyth power-play goal made it 2-1 Kings, got ahold of 6-5, 240 pound Kevin Westgarth, and proceeded to clean him out with left after left until Westgarth finally buckled under the blows, ending a scrap that seemed to go on for minutes. As Neil went to the penalty box, he motioned for the fans to make some noise and the roof nearly blew off the barn at that point.

That was exactly what the Senators needed at that time. Neil picked his spot perfectly and the Senators had a noticeable jump, even after Neil had to leave to go to the dressing room, no doubt nursing a sore hand (or worse). They tied the game by the end of the period and their heads and hearts seemed back into the task at hand.

And of course, the third play that clinched the night was Spezza's jaw dropping goal on Quick, where he undressed a Kings defenseman, cut into the front of the net and put a shot right under the crossbar with an entire rink hanging on his every move. As the puck dropped to the ice behind Quick, Spezza pumped his fist as his teammates mobbed him and at that point, everyone knew how this one would turn out now (although a late goal that was called off on a high stick nearly killed the party).

It was one of those games, where, if you looked at the whole, the Kings probably deserved to walk away with the two points, but the Senators few big moments outshone the Kings big moments, and there you have it. The Senators couldn't afford to lose and they didn't.

We'd be remiss not to mention the great play of Pascal Leclaire who took over between the pipes for a struggling Brian Elliott. Knowing Clouston's seemingly unwavering trust in all things Elliott, it was somewhat surprising to see Leclaire get the call, but it worked out in Clouston's favour and now he has to do the right thing and give Leclaire another good shot going forward here to be the starter.

It seemed Elliott had the job locked up when the Sens were winning all those games in early November but history began to repeat itself, with Elliott continuing to waver between unbeatable and downright lousy for long stretches at a time.

Amazingly, after all the ink that has been spilled about Leclaire being finished in Ottawa after that final straw, the groin injury that supposedly put him to pasture, here he is again in what could be the beginning of yet another chance to win the hearts and minds of the coaching staff and team.

Will he be in nets against Dallas on Wednesday?

Does a bear s**t in the woods?

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Pascal Leclaire
3. Alexei Kovalev

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Elliott Should Start Looking Over His Shoulder

After another tough loss on the road, this time to the St.Louis Blues, it seems like a perfect time for the team to be idle and have a weekend off before starting another tough stretch where they will play four games in six days but at least three of them are at home.

Essentially, the Senators have to hit the reset button here. They got clobbered on the road this week and now find themselves under .500 again and out of a playoff position in the top 8. Yet, if they are the same sort of streaky team they were last season, they have a chance to get back into form with a couple of home wins, starting Monday against the Kings.

The goaltending has crashed and burned, with Brian Elliott playing so poorly of late that it begs the question: Does Pascal Leclaire get a chance to start an important game soon?

I'd bet that Elliott gets some more rope by Cory Clouston, because, let's face it, Elliott is Clouston's guy. 

It's just a hunch, but I'm guessing Clouston learned to trust Elliott in Bingo when the two were there together and he's just more comfortable with him. They both have the same demeanour, whereas Leclaire is loose and doesn't seem to get too uptight after bad performances (although his stick swinging tantrum in practice last week was rare moment of intensity). You got the sense that Leclaire started this season as the top guy because Bryan Murray and the rest of management expected it (or, dare we say, demanded it). That's purely speculation but it's likely close to the truth.

I wrote just last week that Leclaire is bound to get another shot, even though Elliott at the time was held in semi-deity status during his hot streak. And for a while, he was worth the hype. He was a rock. But Elliott has the tendency to go through real rough patches and he seems to be in one now. If Clouston allows it, Leclaire could have a chance to get that number one spot back if he steps up and plays lights out whenever, or if, he gets that opportunity.

It's interesting to wonder what this team would look like if Leclaire hadn't hurt himself early into the season. People were saying he was the Senators best player, but when the groin popped, some were saying his career was toast because he couldn't be trusted to stay healthy.

That's still the case. But when it comes to goalies, always expect the unexpected. Especially in Ottawa.

Something to watch.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sens Look For Redemption In St.Louis

The toughest day the Senators surely will have to face this season is over.

Starting with an emotional ceremony in Ottawa for the Richardson family and then on into Carolina where they were trounced to perfection by the Hurricanes, Wednesday was a long one.

Now the Senators are sitting in Missouri, waiting for their chance to get back on the ice to do what they do best - play hockey. There's no insensitivity in getting back down to business. Often that's the best remedy anyways.

So the scene is set for a game that, at one glance, can mean so much to both teams, but at another angle, may mean very little to a group of shaken up players in that Senators locker room.

But you can bet this Ottawa team wants a win more badly than at anytime so far this season. They've lost 3 of their last 4 and have obviously lost momentum for a variety of reasons.

On the ice, the Fisher-Alfredsson-Michalek line is struggling big time even though Alfie scored his 8th of the year in the Hurricane wipeout. Mike Fisher is hurt and doesn't seem able to hit. Milan Michalek still isn't right somehow. The goaltending has come back to earth a little, with both goalies getting shelled in recent games. The defense has had their shares of troubles. In short, they've been a mess at times, but they've also come on strong, like they did in the second period against the Canes. If the Senators had played the whole game that way, it would have been 2 points in the bank, but they didn't have the legs in the end.

So who will be more desperate? The Blues have lost 5 straight games and have a couple of really good players in T.J. Oshie and David Perron on the injured list. Jaroslav Halak has struggled since opening the season looking like he was going to haunt Habs GM Pierre Gauthier until his dying days.

The safe bet is that the home team will come out on top in a game like this, and that's why I picked St. Louis in today's Citizen Prediction Panel. Yet there's that intangible the Senators have.

The Blues may want to win this game. The Senators may feel like have to, for whatever reason you want to name. But are their heads in the right place? Are their legs back under them? Will Alexei Kovalev get his 1000th career point against a team he has had very little success against over the years (13 points in 21 games, tied for his lowest total against any team, barring the expansion clubs)?

We'll all see for ourselves tonight.


Congratulations to Kevin for winning the Subway Savings pack we gave away in our last post. He's got four tickets to the upcoming Kings game on Monday. Thanks to everyone who sent in their answer to the trivia question. Shawn McEachern was the guy we were looking for.


Could we see a re-match here in tonight's game? Not sure if he is going to be in the lineup, but Cam Janssen is incredibly tough and durable for such a smallish fighter and he gives Matt Carkner all he can handle in this somewhat epic scrap from last season. But Carkner also has to weigh the fact he'd be off the ice for 5 minutes. Choices, choices.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ticket Contest... Plus... Avery Mania

We got another ticket contest folks.

This time we are giving away a Subway Savings Pack (priced as low as $99), which includes 4 tickets and 4 six-inch subs from Subway, a pretty good package if you want to bring the family to the game or a few buddies.

The package we are giving away today is for the Monday, November 22 game at Scotiabank Place against the Los Angeles Kings (there's three more games you can get this deal for - the Thrashers on Dec. 13, the Ducks on Jan. 18, and the Islanders on Feb. 15).

In order to win this package for the Kings tilt, just be the 4th person to email me at jeremymilks@hotmail.com with the correct answer to this question:

Name This Former Ottawa Senators Player: He finished his Senators career with 142 goals and went on to play two seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. Hint: He also briefly played for the Los Angeles Kings in his career.

Send me the name of the player and your full name (so you can pick up the tickets at Scotiabank Place) and the 4-ticket package is yours. I'll email you by end of day Thursday at the latest if you've won the tickets.

Good luck


A few quick thoughts for your Wednesday morning:

1. Count me in the group that puts some of the blame on the Oilers Ladislav Smid for not being prepared for Sean Avery's "sucker punch" on Sunday night. Everyone knows Avery's penchant for doing the unexpected, and Smid should have had his guard up after asking Avery to dance and getting declined. I've heard two different stories - one is that Avery flat out said no to the fight request from Avery, the other that he kept telling Smid "wait, wait, wait". Whichever one is true, Smid was facing Avery at the time and even tried to get away from the punch. Sure, it was greasy, but Smid left himself open to a blow the moment he challenged Avery to a fight. It may not have been the honourable sort of fight that we are used to seeing with the heavyweights who tend to schedule the scraps before a faceoff, but to call it a sucker punch is stretching the truth a little. What Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore was a suckerpunch. This incident was more like bad manners.

2. Sean Avery is hated by many for good reason, but some people in the media get way too riled up and over reactive when it comes to his antics. People should remember guys like Dave "Tiger" Williams, who was every bit as controversial on the ice as Avery, yet people look back on his antics rather fondly. Even though Williams won't admit it, and there's no video footage of it, it's commonly accepted that he was the Vancouver Canuck who skated by the Buffalo Sabres bench in a 1980 playoff game and hit Sabres coach Scotty Bowman over the head with his stick, knocking the legendary coach (with a sensitive metal plate in his head) to the ground behind the players who were involved in a bench area scrum, unaware that Williams was about to go head hunting for some of the biggest game in NHL history. Now imagine for a moment the response if Avery did that? Whoa Nelly!

3. Gotta love this version of events relayed by the Hockey News Ken Campbell about the hapless Islanders announcing the termination of coach Scott Gordon on Monday:
The New York Islanders held a conference call Monday morning to officially announce Scott Gordon’s firing as coach and the promotion of Jack Capuano to replace him and, in true Islander form, it turned into a comedy of errors. At one point it was announced GM Garth Snow had joined the conference call, followed about five seconds later by an announcement he had left the conference call. Later on in the call, all you could hear was play-by-play of a soccer game, then Bad Romance by Lady Gaga.
4. Why isn't Chris Phillips signed yet? Bryan Murray should just get this done right now. Phillips is the kind of guy, on and off the ice, that you want in your organization for life. If they both wanted to, it's not far fetched to think of Phillips and Daniel Alfredsson one day having a hand in running this team. It was tough to see Anton Volchenkov leave, but losing Phillips would hurt even more.

5. There's a lot of guys who battle hard for the Senators, but overall, not many exert more brute effort than Jesse Winchester. This guy always has his head down, ready to grind out whatever space he can and he takes more abuse than almost anyone on this team. Winchester doesn't get any headlines, and precious few points, but he's a great fourth line player for this Senators team right now.

And finally, our thoughts are with the Richardson family on the day when they celebrate the life of their daughter Daron.