Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sens Pre-Season Jumps The Shark

As expected when the Leafs are in town, tonight's umpteenth pre-season tilt turned into a fairly decent gong show at times with various Leaf players taking runs at Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and fragile netminder Pascal Leclaire.

The main positive the Senators can take out of this game was that they were far from intimidated. They responded with fights and goals and even Alex Kovalev dropped the gloves with Francois Beauchemin and actually held his own (or held on for dear life).

It shows the undeniable spirit of Kovalev who is wrongly labelled as passionless. There's a reason why his teammates love him. He's strange, wildly unpredictable, and allegedly "the most interesting man in the world". Beauchemin gave him a chance to walk away and even the linesman jumped in before Kovalev pushed him away and forced the fight to happen. He took a few good shots when his sweater got yanked above his head but he probably rose in esteem among Senators fans who were watching.

Yet, if I was Cory Clouston, I would have been cringing every time the Leafs started the forecheck. There was a lot of important players on the ice tonight for the Senators and the tone was set early when Mike Komisarek crushed Alfie in the corner. Sure, Milan Michalek did the right thing by jumping onto Komisarek, but it didn't do anything to calm matters.

The Leafs are a young group with nothing to lose, a bunch of hungry players trying to make an impression on GM Brian Burke by running guys through the boards. The NHL pre-season is a nice appetizer to the real thing but nobody wants to see important players injured in meaningless games.

It's money that drives teams like the Senators to cram in as many pre-season games as possible (Ottawa playing eight, just one shy of the maximum nine) but for most veteran NHL players, they don't need more than three to get ready nowadays.

Clouston has been very good about not overplaying the veterans but with another back-to-back this weekend and with some more roster cuts on the way, some of the big names are going to have to play both nights, a situation that shouldn't be necessary in the pre-season.

Eight games to decide who gets the last spot on the fourth line and who gets to be the sixth and seventh defenseman. Seems like overkill.

But if you think the NHLPA is complaining, remember that these games feed into the overall NHL revenues which lessens the amount the players lose in escrow payments to the league at the end of the season.

So it comes down to the fans and their ability to sit through a mini-marathon of meaningless games that somehow get much less meaningful by about the fourth one.

Tuesday night's match against the Sabres tested this scribe's patience to the point that he began to watch this video over and over again in a kind of delirium. Wake me up on opening night.

Gimme Pizza (Slow Version)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cowen Finally Making Some Noise

Maybe Jared Cowen makes this team after all.

I already had him back in junior hockey after the first pre-season game confirmed what I saw in the rookie tournament: a gangly kid who looked lost in all three zones.

Two games later, I'm not so sure anymore. To me, he's been the most improved player on the team since the start of camp. Last night against the Habs in Kanata, Cowen looked like an NHL player to me. Or at least close to it.

He made a few errors later in the game, but he finally started using his size and looked like he knew what to do with the puck for a change.

Now, I don't know what's happened with Eric Gryba. He had a great rookie tournament, opened a lot of people's eyes, but the team has only played him in one pre-season tilt so far, and when Ian Mendes interviewed GM Bryan Murray, Gryba's name wasn't even mentioned when the GM was listing the candidates to fill that one vacant spot on the blueline.

Reading the tea leaves, it sounds like Gryba is headed to Bingo. That leaves Cowen, Brian Lee and vet David Hale fighting for that sixth spot. Maybe two make it if the Senators keep seven defenseman like they have in the past.

I think it's a toss-up now deciding who gets it. During the telecast last night on Rogers, they showed a scrum with coach Cory Clouston who seemed to hint that possibly Hale could be the frontrunner. No one asked specifically about Hale, but Clouston volunteered the information and seemed to zero in on Hale in his comments, talking about his experience and solid play.

To me, this team needs Cowen and/or Hale more than they need Lee. They have a lot of guys with similar skill sets to Lee but only one guy, Matt Carkner, who is going to provide steady physical play. Hale is a known commodity. He's not spectacular at what he does, but he's not going to hurt you unless he takes a lot of penalties.

So now Cowen is the real wild card. Can he keep improving? If so, he looks like he may be the guy, especially with the knowledge that he would have to go back to junior if he doesn't make the team. Some say another year of junior would do him good. Some say he could develop best against better competition.

Either way, I've sure wasted a lot of virtual ink on what is going to be a marginal position in the big scheme of things.

But it proves one thing. This Senators team is on the right track if everyone is only worrying about who's going to be the sixth and seventh defenseman.

A good sign.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Patriotism Run Amok

Canadian hockey snobbery apparently has no bounds.

"Nationally, 53 per cent of the respondents in a survey commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies said they agreed with the idea that Canadian-based NHL teams should have a minimum percentage of Canadian players."

- Ottawa Citizen
Could you imagine if these cave-dwellers (in some fantasy Harper-land) actually had their way? Sorry Peter Regin, you can't play this year because you're not a Canadian. So that means you make the team this year, Francis Lessard.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Clouston Throws Open Door For Lehner

In a very significant quote (scored by the Sun's Don Brennan), Sens coach Cory Clouston layed it right on the table by saying if rookie goalie Robin Lehner keeps playing as well as he has, it could force the organization to keep him in the NHL at the expense of one of their established goalies (ie; Brian Elliott).

Here's the quote from Brennan's article:

"If he keeps playing the way he did (Tuesday) night, it would be pretty hard to not have him here... That obviously gives us opportunities to do different things, but that's a question to (GM) Bryan (Murray), that's not a question to me. ... I mean, he can't do anything more than he did last night. So we'll play it game by game, and if he forces us to do something we never maybe envisioned at the start of camp, then that's a positive thing for us and the organization. That gives us a lot more depth in a position that obviously is very, very important."

Sure, writers and talk-radio hosts have danced around the subject but I don't think anyone really suggested that Lehner had a realistic chance at staying in the NHL this year.

Yet there it is in black and white, straight from the coach's mouth.

Lehner supplanting Brian Elliott is now a possibility. Queue the goaltending controversy.

And that controversy won't be doused by Elliott's tepid performance tonight in Toronto in his first action of the season (rebounds continue to haunt him). But... insert cliche here: "it's only the pre-season". Yadda yadda yadda. You know the routine. You can't bury Elliott because of one bad game in training camp. Anyone who does so is really jumping the gun.

But if Clouston is liking what he sees in Lehner (and who wouldn't, with his second stellar training camp in a row despite still being a teenager), you know that the heat is going to be on Elliott big time. They're not going to toss Pascal Leclaire and his contract aside and go with two really young goalies.

Sure, it's a small fire, but Clouston just threw a little more gas on it. Get out the marshmallows.


As for the loss against the Leafs, not many fighting for a roster spot overly distinguished themselves for the Senators.

The exception would be Cody Bass, who played a helluva game tonight and firmly put himself back on the radar for this season. After going through some injury problems which kind of made him the forgotten man last year, Bass stepped on the ice tonight on a search and destroy mission, and reminded everyone what kind of wrecking ball he can be. It's going to be very hard to crack the lineup for Bass (he'd have to surpass Zack Smith somehow, an unlikely proposition) but he let everyone know that he's going to be an option for a call-up if someone on the bottom two lines goes down.

Jared Cowen had a solid night and looked much better than he did during the first game in Toronto on Tuesday. Maybe he's just starting to get comfortable now. You can see glimpses of what he can do, but it's like a wavering radio signal that keeps going in and out. If he can put it together quickly, maybe he still has a chance to stick. When he's cruising out there, his head is like a shark fin, poking out above everyone else (5 bonus points if you got that LL Cool J reference).

As for pure entertainment, the chaos was provided by 230 pound enforcer Francis Lessard who had a jaw dropping 324 penalty minutes in only 59 games for the San Antonio Rampage last year. And Lessard went on a rampage of his own in the first period. He was fighting, bleeding, hitting, spitting, falling, flying over the boards into TSN analyst Pierre McGuire and basically acting like a complete maniac with nothing to lose but a few more teeth. It was like watching Eddie Shack in a Senators uniform. Fantastic.

And speaking of entertainers, I forgot how much I enjoy seeing Jarkko Ruutu flying across the ice and coming late into a  scrum, grabbing someone in a bear hug and yapping in their face, even making the refs want to take a swing at him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lehner Handles The Leafs

Sometimes pre-season games can be fairly dull but the tilt in Toronto tonight was actually worth watching, and not only because it was the first Senators hockey since April.

The Senators romped past the Leafs largely thanks to some offense by veterans like Chris Neil, Nick Foligno and Chris Kelly, but the best player on the ice for both teams was easily rookie goalie Robin Lehner.

He was Ottawa's best goalie in camp last season and it looks like he's going to defy the odds and make a case for himself again this season, starting with a shutout against the Senators biggest rival. Nothing will endear him to management and to fans more than that.

As for those few Senators fighting for a roster spot, not many made a major case but no one seemed to really hurt their chances either.

Roman Wick looked good to start the game but was a non-factor the rest of the way. Corey Locke played well and got a nice goal and a couple of points. You can guarantee he'll be a call-up at some point this season if a top six guy goes down to injury. Zack Smith played his usual game, tough and smart, but I wouldn't really say he's fighting for a spot. He should be a lock to make the team in October.

Not many negatives in a 5-0 shutout, but Jared Cowen didn't look very good, continuing his underwhelming play from the rookie tournament. He made a nice play at one point by jumping up into the play and going to the net for a scramble, but watching him turn around in his own zone and behind his net is like watching a sea liner change directions. Right now, he's at least two steps behind the play. He'll benefit from another year in junior and be just fine because of it. There's no reason to worry about Cowen's future.

Both David Hale and Brian Lee played somewhat average but they still have lots of time to impress in the pre-season. You have to give credit to Lee for attempting to fight Christian Hanson, the son of the legendary Slap Shot goon Dave Hanson. Lee's heart was in the right place but he got destroyed in a matter of seconds with Hanson finishing it off by slamming Lee's face into the ice. Not a pretty sight. Lee should probably stick to his stickhandling in future games.

The boys are back at it tomorrow. And I am trying not to get sucked into over analyzing pre-season games. But I guess we can make an exception for the first one...

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Lee... Part Two

At the risk of being accused of picking on poor Brian Lee, I have two questions for you:

Even with Lee playing at his maximum potential, is he the type of guy you want in your top six going forward through 6 months of the race to make the playoffs, and then nearly 3 months of the brutal grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Likely that won't be the case anyways once Filip Kuba returns from injury, but the question is useful for the purpose of looking at a player like Brian Lee objectively.

Do the Senators really require the services of another offensive defenseman whose offensive skills are below those of Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli?

Jason York of the Team 1200 (himself a past offensive defenseman) made a great point this afternoon when he said that Lee will never be effective as a 5th or 6th defenseman because too often that pairing faces the other teams grind lines, guys who chip the puck in the zone and then try to run the defenseman through the boards a few seconds later.

He's got a great point. Lee is a make or break kind of defenseman. He either plays on the power-play and a top pairing or he's not going to help you much because he's not a physical rearguard and will quickly wear down over the course of a season, never mind the onslaught that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Just look at the kid's frame. He's not that kind of player. Never will be. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers will eat this kid alive if given the chance. It may seem unfair to make these kind of assumptions, but it's just common sense.

The Senators lost two fistfuls of toughness when Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton both unfortunately walked this summer. The Senators have gone quickly from having perhaps the meanest defense (with Matt Carkner in tow) to having one of the softest in the league in a matter of months.

That sensitive balance will really seem off with Brian Lee parachuting into the lineup mostly based on the fact that he has an ill-advised one-way contract. There's got to be a better way.

But then again, maybe Lee has the training camp of his life. If he does, I'll be the first to admit I was wrong and congratulate him for it. Yet, I just don't see Lee suddenly morphing into an effective NHL defenseman over one summer of training.

With camp in its initial stages, it's way too early to tell what will happen, but with Kuba gone for close to two months, the Senators have an opportunity to fast track one of two potentially tough defenseman: Eric Gryba and Jared Cowen (or turn to David Hale who has some decent NHL experience). If they both flop in camp, then let's bring Lee on with a vengeance. We at least know Lee can play an NHL shift and give you 10 somewhat average minutes a night. But you have to think if one of Gryba or Cowen shows the slightest hint of being ready (my money is on the 22 year old, 6'4, 220 pound Gryba) that Murray will find the room to add that salary to his roster.

Maybe I'm wrong. If I am, I know my readers will certainly let me hear it. I've been wrong before and I will be again. I was once really high on Lee's prospects, as a lot of us were after that great playoff series he had in 2008 against the Penguins. He looked like Wade Redden's heir apparent at the time.

Maybe that's the problem. He still reminds one of Redden, but not the Redden we all knew in Ottawa.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sometimes Nightmares Come True...

Filip Kuba destroyed his leg today during the first on ice session at Senators training camp and according to the Sun's talk with Coach Clouston, he may not be ready to play for a while.

That means Brian Lee's chances of making this team just got a lot better. The horror, the horror...

It could also mean Erik Karlsson gets paired with Matt Carkner again, a combination that seemed to work well at times last year (purely my own speculation).

It's funny how one guy going down on that back end all of a sudden shows how fragile that blueline really is. One more serious injury to one of their top two and it's "good night Irene", as they say.

If there is any compassion in this world, perhaps Eric Gryba or maybe even Jared Cowen outplays Lee by a mile and forces Bryan Murray to eat that one-way contract of Lee's.

If rookie camp was any indication, Cowen doesn't look very ready to me. Both Gryba and Patrick Wiercioch outplayed him but then again it's only rookie camp. It would be an interesting story if the Senators found their much needed grit and toughness from Gryba and not the much heralded Cowen this season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Scoreboard... Older Alfie

When Gary Bettman announced that Ottawa will host the 2012 All-Star Game, he might as well have announced these two unofficial, but sure-to-happen events:

1. Daniel Alfredsson is guaranteed to play at least the next two seasons so he can go out in style being feted by his home town fans in the league's mid-season celebration, before bowing out just before the next CBA meltdown,  and....

2. Eugene Melnyk and Cyril Leeder will finally shell out the 7 - 9 million it will cost to finally install an HD centre ice scoreboard to replace the 1987 RCA Home Model that now hangs by rusty steel wires from the rafters. This recent story at Off The Posts at least shows it is on Melnyk's radar, if not at the top of his list. But you can't really expect the Senators to stand pat with that creaky old model during the biggest showcase the team has had outside of the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals.

You can also bet on seeing some much needed refurbishing around the 15 year old Kanata rink. Nothing major, but you can see age creeping into the surroundings with some chipped paint here, some missing signage there. The outside of the rink has been looking a little ratty with some missing sponsor signs both on the front of the facade and the empty lawn signage along the Queensway.

It's still a great rink and serves the community well, but like all things, it could use a good touch-up.

As for Alfredsson, it's hard not to see him playing in that 2012 game, even if his play isn't on par with his usual excellence. While the fans get to choose the starting lineup by voting, as far as I know, the Commish can parachute a few players of his own choosing onto the roster to suit whatever marketplace they are playing in. It would be quite an ovation for Alfredsson when he steps on that ice and a great TV moment as well. There is no way Alfredsson doesn't play in the game unless he's in a body cast, and even then, someone will wheel him out to centre ice so the fans can go suitably nuts.

Bet on it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ryan Shannon's Days Are Numbered.... Remembering Hossa vs Quinn

I've been over it on paper again and again, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: Ryan Shannon is not going to crack this Ottawa Senators lineup.

Basically it comes down to six guys fighting to be on the fourth line:

Nick Foligno (a lock to make the team, possibly on a scoring line)
Jesse Winchester (also a lock)
Zack Smith (has shown he can play)
Ryan Shannon (had a down year but is cheap)
Bobby Butler (the wild card)
Roman Wick (even wilder)

If Bryan Murray decides to keep a 13th forward this year, then Shannon, a Stanley Cup winner, has a chance to stick around. After all, the guy will make a measly 625 grand on a one way deal, a huge boost to his chances on a team close to the cap. Yet Murray went out and got Butler for a reason. He was forced to pay him close to a million dollars on a one year, two-way deal after a competitive bidding process, and that's significantly more than Shannon, Winchester and Smith will make in the NHL this season. In one way, that hurts Butler's chances, but it also shows that Murray believes in him and wants him to be an impact player. You can't make an impact if you're playing in the AHL.

Even if Butler doesn't follow up a strong rookie camp with an equally impressive main camp, there's still Zack Smith in Shannon's way. Smith is a prototypical grinding fourth liner as opposed to Shannon, who is a guy who should be in an offensive role. Yet, there's no chance Shannon climbs over both youngsters Foligno and Peter Regin, let alone Milan Michalek for one of those top six spots.

It's hard to conceive how Murray won't opt for youth knowing that Shannon is a UFA after this season anyways. You could argue Shannon was only brought into the organization because of a major lack of talented youngsters coming up the pipeline. Now that those youngsters have arrived, is Shannon even relevant anymore?

Shannon is still a good player and can certainly help another team in the NHL. But it doesn't make sense to keep him in Ottawa if players like Smith, Butler and Wick are ready. We already know Smith is capable. Butler looks close.

I don't see Shannon surviving training camp. Maybe he'll prove me wrong.


It struck me as poetic justice that Marian Hossa raised his first Stanley Cup this past season after going to the finals three years in a row, while Pat Quinn saw his long coaching career come to an end in a disastrous season in Edmonton.

It's hard to forget the way Quinn viciously went after Hossa in the media after the unfortunate accident that caused Bryan Berard to be blinded in one eye near the end of the 99-00 season. Quinn seemed to insinuate that Hossa was a careless player and even repeated that claim years later after Berard had not only resumed his career, but had publicly forgiven Hossa for the unfortunate accident.

Both Hossa and Berard conducted themselves with class after a devastating situation, something that could not be said for Quinn in the days and years that followed.

Sometimes, the good guys do win in the end.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On Sweaters...

Just a quick thought:

Reading Bruce Garrioch's piece on rookie camp player Cory Cowick being excited to wear the Senators uniform for the first time today in London, it occurred to me that the actual NHL uniform is devalued somewhat when guys who have no hope of making the team are allowed the luxury of wearing the real sweater.

Not to be a grinch, but wouldn't the legit NHL sweater be more of a threshold if the rookie camp players wore different sweaters, something similar to the practice jerseys, in rookie camp games? And why not extend that to pre-season games as well?

That way, when you actually make it to the NHL and play your first regular season game, putting on that real NHL jersey really means something.

As it is now, even try-out players put on the jersey for meaningless games in September. It's like having two Stanley Cups - a fake one sitting in the Hall Of Fame in Toronto so people can get their picture with it and the real one touring around to various events. It doesn't feel right.

Plus, the team could then experiment with different style jerseys and even sell them to fans who would gladly pay for the kitsch factor of owning a rare but official Sens jersey with a different design. You'd have 3 different sets of sweaters. Rookie, Pre-Season, and Season Official.

Hell, let the rookies try out those super vintage jerseys like the one pictured above. Now that's a marketers dream.

Just a thought....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Senators Have Best Team Off The Ice

While it's bad news for Senators fans that Garry Galley is leaving the team's Sportsnet broadcasts to join Hockey Night In Canada full-time, his replacement, Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, isn't too shabby.

You can kind of look at it like the Sens losing Anton Volchenkov but gaining Sergei Gonchar this summer. You lose a young guy in his prime but you gain an experienced vet who's going to bring another dimension to the broadcast booth.

Well, that's a tad corny, but you get my meaning.

If you've had the pleasure of having the NHL Centre Ice package (and the displeasure of having to pay Rogers Cable a fortune for it), you likely have seen at least a few Florida Panthers games over the years (then again, maybe not - even NHL diehards likely watch the Panthers as a last resort) and Potvin was always a calm voice of reason during those telecasts for the large part of a decade. He was also pretty good at the often moribund NHL Network and their dreary highlight show On The Fly.

It's going to be interesting to hear the kind of chemistry he creates with lead play-by-play man Dean Brown. While Galley was more bubbly than Potvin will ever be, it may actually improve the balance a little because Brown tends to act like a colour commentator half the time with his dry humour and elongated stories while Potvin is more old-school and laid back. It should work fairly well in my opinion.

With Potvin coming aboard, Ottawa remains blessed with likely the top group of hockey related TV and radio personalities in the country. I've lived in each of Canada's four biggest cities in the past 15 years and Ottawa's current lot is still the best in my opinion. Toronto may have the quantity, but not many as likable as the Sens crew.

The best, in no particular order:

Ian Mendes (Sportsnet): It's rare for a modern analyst to be fair to a fault and actively try to present the players point of view instead of being comfortably cynical in their approach, yet Mendes achieves this with ease.

Dean Brown (various): Who doesn't like Dean Brown? His jokes may be corny, but he can call a mean game and knows way more about the NHL than he lets on. He's been around so long that we tend to take him for granted, but he's one of the best in the league at what he does.

Dave "The Voice" Schreiber (Team 1200): He's in a league with legendary Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret in terms of excitement while calling a game. When the Senators score, even your grandma knows about it (actually my Granny watches every single Sens game and loves Chris Kelly!).

Gord Wilson (Team 1200): He's been here with Dean Brown since the first modern day Sens game and he's one of the best when he gets really wound up. Of all the guys who calls games in this town, he's the one you can most likely picture having a cold one while he does it. He comes across as just really loving the game and is worth the listen just for him calling a big scrap on the ice. He makes it sound like Ali vs Frasier every time.

Steve Lloyd  (Team 1200): One half of the best radio show in town, the Healthy Scratches, and the host of the Sens pre-game show, Lloyd always seems equally comfortable holding court with big names like Bob McKenzie, jokesters like co-host Jason York, or the mixed bag of reporters who snipe at each other before Sens games on the Team 1200. I got on him a little last year for his non-stop coverage of "hits to the head", but he's probably the smartest of all the local hockey guys and is never boring to listen to.

Jason York (Team 1200): Who knew this dude would be so good? He doesn't seem to care too much and that's likely the secret of his success. He still has that player's locker room mentality where everyone gets a nickname and gets razzed a little bit. And then he'll come out with a totally reasonable and smart observation that only an ex-player could give the fans. I find he's almost always on the money with his analysis when he finds the time to give it. Don't underestimate Yorkie. He could go far and let's hope he doesn't ever change his laid back ways.

Honorable mention to John Rodenburg who seems to be a smart hockey guy but hosts a morning show that is traditionally more about comedy than sports.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Top 4 Priorities For Coach Clouston in 2011

It's been a rapid and somewhat painful drop for the Ottawa Senators from their once lofty perch near the top of the NHL's elite class.

Since their march to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, the Sens have lost in the first round twice (both times to the powerhouse Penguins) and missed the playoffs once altogether. They've burned through a couple of ill-equipped coaches (John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg), a couple of starting goaltenders (Ray Emery and Martin "The Horror" Gerber) and one superstar winger (Dany Heatley).

Yet, last season provided a glimmer of optimism, chiefly from the play of future star (and Alfie replacement?) Erik Karlsson and the late, but inspiring play of goalie Pascal Leclaire in the playoffs.

The tough loss of Anton Volchenkov this summer was mitigated somewhat by the surprising acquisition of power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar and after a mini-squabble between Jason Spezza and the fans, it seems that the team's number one centre is staying in town for the foreseeable future with a healthy chip on his shoulder, looking to prove his army of critics wrong.

In short, there's a slight chance here that the Senators are actually capable of reclaiming their status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

But coach Cory Clouston still has a lot of finessing to do. Most of the pieces are in place, with the exception of a real goal scoring winger. You can argue that the team may be soft on defense now (and I might argue that myself) and soft in goal, but at least the potential is there for success.

With that in mind, here's what I believe to be the top 4 priorities for Coach Clouston this upcoming season - the keys to turning this team from average to intimidating.

1. A bit too obvious - get the power play working again.

No brainer here. The Sens finished 21st in the league in power play percentage last season, despite having three of the most skilled guys in the game in Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza and Alex Kovalev. That shouldn't be the case after signing Gonchar and having a more confident Karlsson on the points. If you think about it, the PP could be downright scary for opponents this year. Even if Kovalev can barely skate this season, he's worth having around if he can learn to work with Spezza on the man advantage. The big problem was the loss of Heatley, a guy who was actually criticized in some circles because all he wanted to do was shoot. But that's exactly the mentality the Sens need on the power play now. Spezza and Kovalev need to shoot more instead of playing hot potato. With everyone on that top unit more attuned to playmaking instead of scoring, Clouston needs to insist they start sniping. Both Kovalev and Spezza have incredible shots. They need to use them more. The second unit will be a step down for sure, but there's potential there with Peter Regin and Nick Foligno, even though one of them, likely Foligno, will be hard pressed to supplant Milan Michalek in the regular formation. Which brings us to our second priority...

2. Turning either Regin or Foligno into a goal scoring winger.

I say "goal scoring winger" lightly because I don't believe either will ever approach the goal production of Heatley or Marian Hossa before him. But the Senators don't have the cash to go out and buy one, so either Regin or Foligno need to score more than 13 and 9 goals respectively. One of them needs to hit 25 goals this year, period. While Regin is likely the one to break through this season, don't count out Foligno. There's something rangy about the young winger that gives you hints he could be the kind of guy to pot 25 goals from within five feet of the crease. He did score 17 goals two seasons ago, so 25 is not out of the question if he can earn top six minutes. But in order to do that, Foligno either has to outplay Regin or Michalek (or rely on someone getting injured) because, likely, that third line is set with Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu. So it may be second line or bust for Foligno this season. In fact, if he doesn't turn it around, he may find himself on another team where he can get a proper chance. Other than Leclaire, Foligno is the guy who needs to play the season of his life in order to stay employed by the Senators going forward. Clouston needs to nurture the talent of Foligno. In my opinion, the young winger is worth the patience.

3. Making sure the vets are rested come playoff time

The Senators actually had a good shot at beating the Pens last season in the first round but injuries were just too much to overcome. Alfredsson aggravated a hernia playing at the Olympics but didn't help himself by staying in the lineup after the Sens clinched a playoff spot (although seeing him play his 1000th game was a highlight of the season). Kovalev was injured in a meaningless game in April and Filip Kuba was hurt late in the season as well. Of course, a coach can't really control who gets injured or not, but Clouston needs his veterans healthy going into the playoffs, and if that means sitting them down even when they say they're fine, then so be it (assuming the Sens aren't fighting for their lives for a playoff spot). Some of the Sens most important players are 35 and older, such as Alfredsson (37), Kovalev (37) and Gonchar (36). That's most of the first PP unit right there. Obviously they can't afford to have these guys either playing at half-speed or not playing at all. Key defensemen Chris Phillips and Kuba are not exactly young and invincible either. Detroit was able to win multiple Stanley Cups with older players in key positions so it can certainly be done, but luck and a little skillful managing will make or break the Senators year.

4. Play Leclaire even when he struggles

Yes, it's up to Pascal Leclaire to save his career by staying healthy and stopping pucks, but Coach Clouston needs to go to the wall for this guy as well. You could just sense Clouston didn't put his trust in Leclaire until he was forced to by Brian Elliot's poor playoff performance. Miraculously, Leclaire played lights out, giving everyone optimism going into this season. But be warned. It's not going to be pretty right from the get go. This is a goalie who has played a measly 46 regular season games since 2008. He still needs time to work his game out but he's not going to get there if Clouston keeps going back to Elliott, a goalie who Clouston seems to like, if only because he's familiar with him going back to their Binghamton days. Elliott has only proven to be a good backup goaltender so far in the NHL. He's good, but what's his real potential? You can see glimpses of Leclaire being an elite goaltender, but he needs the time and the starts to begin to get there again. The future in the Ottawa goal is either Leclaire or Swedish youngster Robin Lehner. Whenever Elliott plays, this team just seems to be treading water. It may be more stable, but it won't get you to shore.

Anyways, Black Aces looks forward to another great year of NHL hockey and we'll be updating more regularly once training camps commence.