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


Anonymous said...

You know, I've been following your blog for a couple of years now, and you've always had photos that were pretty high-res.

You've had that Foligno banner up for a while now, and it appears to be a grainy image. Here's what I'm getting at, Foligno's in a slump, and it's your fault. Either put him in high-res, or take him down.

I'd bet that the slump ends shortly after that happens. Help the guy out. He's a good young player who needs a boost.

Anonymous said...

Man, I felt bad for Foligno. He was buzzing all over the place, but it got near comical with how often he managed to fall, or cough up the puck, or something.

Seriously, the guy can't buy a friggin' goal right now.

Anonymous said...

no effin way leclaire starts wed.