Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Feels Like The Playoffs

Everybody loves a mean and nasty Philly-Ottawa matchup, but nobody revels in it like that sick, twisted soul Anton Volchenkov. He's seemingly found a soul brother in Andy Sutton who joined the bruising Russian in waging an all out physical battle in a game that was as close to a playoff matchup as you can get in the regular season.

While it was no all-time classic like the March 2004 doozy that still holds the NHL record for the most penalty filled game in history, tonight's match was a sometimes vicious affair that ultimately ended up as a huge win for Ottawa as they have suddenly given themselves some much needed breathing room in their battle for a playoff spot. Combined with Atlanta's deflating loss to the Bruins, it will take a drastic turn of events for Ottawa to miss now.

It also happened to be Brian Elliott's second straight shutout, a statistic so unexpected that it's almost beyond comment.

Yet the game didn't feel like it was won between the pipes, but rather in the trenches.

In what was an incredible sequence of events in the second period, Erik Karlsson battled with Flyers agitator Daniel Carcillo in the corner and ended up taking a retaliation penalty. When Karlsson and Carcillo stood face to face after the whistle, Carcillo quite clearly asked Karlsson if he wanted to "go". There was no way Karlsson was going to get sucked into something as lopsided as that potential scrap, but as soon as that invitation was extended, Andy Sutton did the right thing by stepping in to show that Ottawa's skilled players were not going to be touched by someone like Carcillo.

8 times out of 10, the referees let something like that go, especially when they have already called a previous penalty on the play. Yet Sutton has had some bad luck with the refs lately and the Sens were down two men for a full two minutes. A lot of people will call that a stupid penalty on Sutton's part but I'd disagree.

Sure, Sutton took a chance by getting rough with Carcillo, but everytime you let another team intimidate your star players, you lose a little something that is hard to get back. While teams find it hard to kill off penalties that arise from someone being lazy, no doubt the Senators wanted to snuff this one for Sutton and Karlsson who went to the box for standing up to the Flyers.

There's a real difference there, and when a team survives that kind of situation, as the Senators ultimately did, everyone is boosted by that unified feeling. To put an exclamation point on it, as the crowd stood wildly applauding the great penalty kill against the Flyers, Sutton stormed out of the box and crushed Carcillo to the ice with a pulverizing hit in almost the exact same spot that Volchenkov caught Carcillo earlier in the game. The crowd nearly blew the tin roof off the joint.

Sutton was telling the Flyers, "the refs can put me away all night, but when I'm on the ice, I'm coming for you". That's a language perhaps the players on the benches understand a lot more clearly than the giddy fan in the stands.

To me, that was the turning point of the game. Of course, Alfredsson's quick goal to start the third period cemented the win and Elliott pushed aside 26 shots. But it was that team aspect, that very visible hunger by all the players to do whatever it takes to get those two points.

Despite what that post-Olympic losing streak hinted at, the Senators still have that gang mentality that will serve them well in the first round of the playoffs, no matter who they face.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Anton Volchenkov
2. Brian Elliott
3. Chris Phillips

Honourable mentions: Andy Sutton, Chris Kelly and Daniel Alfredsson.

Here's the season scorecard updated after tonight's game:

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

Alfredsson – 38
Elliott – 30
Spezza – 25
Kovalev – 25
Fisher – 21
Volchenkov – 18
Michalek – 16
Neil - 14
Phillips - 13
Leclaire – 11
Foligno – 10
Regin - 9
Karlsson - 8
Ruutu - 8
Shannon – 8
Brodeur - 8
Kelly – 5
Winchester - 5
Kuba – 5
Carkner – 3
Cullen - 2
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Cheechoo - 1


Chris Campoli has actually been a very effective player since he returned from injury and once Filip Kuba is healthy, Campoli will give Cory Clouston a few things to ponder before making him a healthy scratch.

You could sit Matt Carkner (who had a great game against the Flyers) but, assuming that Clouston keeps the duo of Andy Sutton and Erik Karlsson together, a pairing of Kuba-Carkner seems like a better balance than a Kuba-Campoli one. While Carkner has pretty much been steady all year, Campoli's effectiveness sometimes takes a swan dive for a stretch of games.

If you look at the potential pairings this way - Phillips-Volchenkov; Sutton-Karlsson; Carkner-Kuba, you have your premier shutdown pair and a couple of tandems that can play at either end of the ice. If you put Campoli with Kuba, you essentially create an unbalanced pairing that theoretically would struggle in their own end. But if Campoli keeps playing well, he'll be awful hard to take out of the lineup.


Anonymous said...

As long as Elliott keeps posting shutouts, we'll win every game.

But, in games that we need to score some goals, we'll need more than Karlsson to generate offence from the back end.

We need a spot for Campoli.

hambown said...

Nasty encounter indeed. Didn't see every hit that people are talking about, but the only one I felt was really over the line was Volchenkov on Gagne; that was at least a boarding call.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody remember the beginning of the season, when Kuba was amazing? I know it seems weird to even say right now, but it's true. I think he got hurt and has been nursing something ever since. Campoli/Carkner are really good right now. Let Kuba sit as long as it takes to be completely healthy (as long as it's no more than 9 games). If he comes back healthy, a Campoli/Kuba pairing could actually be dominant in both zones. IMO


The Tif said...

I have such a man crush on Volchie and Sutton. We have two lines that will punish anyone who steps into our zone, and each has an offensive upside (with Phillips and Karlsson respectively).

I never thought Phillips would be an offensive force, but he's moving up, pinching and is scoring the occasional goal too. It's kinda nuts up in Sens land.