Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spezza, Kovalev Combo Running The Show

With a dominating 5-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers, the Senators 4th in a row, this team is starting to look a lot like last year's streaky club - either down in the dumps or top of the mountain.

Now it's just a matter of how long this great run can continue.

The old saying is that whatever line Daniel Alfredsson is playing on is the Senators number one trio, but the Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev and Peter Regin line has quickly become the team's best since it was put together when Spezza returned from a groin injury a handful of games ago.

Against the Thrashers, Kovalev looked at times like he did when he was tearing opponents apart as a Ranger, Penguin and Canadien in the prime of his career. You can just tell he trusts his knee again, knowing that he can outskate guys like he used to going east to west. With skilled players like Kovalev, the hands never leave, but the legs and the confidence can wane and likely that was Kovalev's problem early in the season, when it seemed everyone and their dog wanted this guy out of the picture for good.

Before this line had success, you couldn't be blamed for wondering if putting Spezza and Kovalev together would create a defensive nightmare. Yet, there's Spezza killing penalties regularly, there's Kovalev chasing pucks down and making smart defensive plays with his stick that not many people notice. Peter Regin is just feeling grateful for getting linemates like this and is skating as good as he was last season, strangely acting as the line's only north-south player and getting chances because of it. If he gets himself into position, neither Spezza or Kovalev will have any problems getting him the puck. The goals for Regin will come.

And once again, Brian Elliott quietly had a very good game, somehow not making the official 3 Stars list despite making 35 saves on 37 shots.

He'll have no problem making the Black Aces list, which is presented right here:

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Brian Elliott
3. Alex Kovalev

Honourable Mentions: Erik Karlsson, David Hale, Peter Regin, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips


Frankly, I’m a little surprised that the anti-shootout sentiment is starting to gain traction in league circles. Detroit GM Ken Holland’s idea of four minutes of 4 on 4 overtime, followed by four minutes of 3 on 3, and then the shootout, is being met with some acclaim by a lot of old school hockey people, (yet not fully embraced at the GM's meetings on Tuesday) The shootout remains one of the most popular aspects of the game among fans but a lot of the hockey elite, such as the broadcasters and the beat writers tend to complain about the shootout only slightly less than headshots, which they still remain obsessed with. Now that scoring is again on the wane in the NHL, the shootout sometimes makes all the difference to a fan when it comes getting their money's worth after shelling out hundreds of dollars for the whole family just to watch one single game. To me, they should have went with 5 shooters a side instead of 3 right from the get go. Right now, the shootout is over way too quickly and if one team scores right away, the other side is pretty much doomed. At least with 5 shooters, you use more of your players, lessening the complaint that the shootout goes against the team concept in hockey. Plus, it’s often the only time you get to see pure skill in the NHL. Most goals in regulation time are scored by shots directed from the point or garbage goals from the crease. To me, the shootout is an entertaining way to end a tie-game and the NHL should give its head a shake if it is really intent on trying to make it happen less…..

…. Here’s a thought: Maybe Nick Foligno isn’t meant to be a top six winger after all. Watching the guy play, it’s clear that his biggest strengths are consistent with those of other third and fourth liners around the league. He’s most effective when he’s going to the net and battling for the puck along the boards, not when he tries to stickhandle through defenseman like he often gets caught doing when playing with guys like Spezza. Foligno likes to stickhandle with the puck way out in front of his body, a little like Spezza, but he doesn’t have the same skills or hockey sense that Spezza does, so he often doesn’t protect it well enough and the rush goes to waste. With his size, he shouldn’t be carrying the puck any more than absolutely necessary. He should be grinding it out and getting garbage goals off rebounds, like the goal he helped to create against the Thrashers on Tuesday night. Just a thought…..Seeing the Thrashers without Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov just seems weird after all these years. In fact, I can barely even picture Kozlov as a Red Wing anymore where he had his best years. Almost as if every year played in an Atlanta uniform erases two good years in another sweater, although Kovalchuk may be thinking it's the other way around over in New Jersey….

There’s something wrong in the hockey world when Brian Lee gets to stay with the NHL team and a guy like Zack Smith has to go back down to the minors. Sure, two different positions, but that one-way contract needlessly awarded to Lee has been nothing but a cap-eater. It’s almost as if he was a bought-out player, but instead of playing for another team or in some other league, he’s eating popcorn in one of your arena boxes every night. With David Hale and now Patrick Wiercioch in the system, ready to play (and in Hale's case, ready for full-time duty), it would be best for both the team and Lee if the young defenseman got a fresh start somewhere else. And soon. As for Smith, he hasn’t had the best start to the season, but he’s going to get his chance at a full-time spot next year when a few older free-agents depart the team. Until then, he only has to learn to compete the same on every shift and to get away from some of the penalties where he's just trying to show how tough he is by trying to explode guys. Once he learns to pick his spots, he's going to be a hell of a player.


Anonymous said...

You do a great job of abusing Brian Lee, whether we win or lose, or whether he's even in the lineup or not.

For that reason, I'm gonna stick up for him.

Just the facts. The guy is a top 10 pick from 2005. After being drafted, he goes to university for two years to play on a team with the likes of TJ Oshie and John Toews.

His first year pro is 2007-08. He plays in the AHL and makes the all-star team. All in all, he seems to be developing nicely at this point.

He gets called up at the end of the year, he plays in the NHL, and Murray states that Lee is now an NHLer.

In the summer of 2008, the team drafts Karlsson. Great pick. But, for some reason, they decide that they want to turn Brain Lee into a yo-yo.

I think that this is where the development got stalled. The guy needed to be nurtured and have his confidence built. Or, at that point, trade him for another first rounder.

He was an organizational asset. Whether he was part of the future or not, you gotta maximize the value of that asset. Instead, the management team made the guy feel like he wasn't important.

And, they continue to do so. I don't think that he's received the chance that other prospects have had in the past.

Lee will be a good player. To dump him now, while his value is the lowest it could be, is pretty stupid.

Hale's had a few good games for us. He may have some more. But, I'm guessing he got a two-way deal because not too many teams offerred him a one way.

Also, keep in mind that Hale was a first rounder from 2000. He's had ten years to develop, and he's holding on to the #6 D slot. The guy gets treated like he's a hero.

There's other players on the roster who've also been given ample opportunity and support, to carve out a role where they could excel.

I think Lee would be fine if he got a similar opportunity.

Anonymous said...

We can't give Brian Lee a similar oppurtunity to Karlsson because hes a bad defenseman. He's like
10th on the depth chart in terms of talent but 7th with respect to his contract.
He just doesnt do anything well.
Draft position does not equal oppurtunity... earning oppurtunities does.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:00am

Bryan Murray is on record saying, "if you make a player feel important, they become important".

That's a great management philosophy, and I think that explains a lot of the Brian Lee situation.

As for him not being good, he's no Karlsson, but I'm sure he'd show that he's a player if he was given a fair opportunity.

hambown said...

I'm so sick of people bemoaning the lack of opportunities for Brian Lee.

He's played 86 NHL games, 123 AHL games in the past 4 seasons. That includes 4 training camps where he couldn't crack the team at the beginning of the season. How is that not enough of a chance to show you can play at the NHL level and not hurt the team?

He has been given more opportunities than most players will ever get to show that he has the talent to play in the top 6 on defense in the NHL. His high draft status has always meant he's been considered important, especially since the Senators had almost no NHL calibre defensive prospects prior to the 2009 draft. It's far past due the time for Brian Lee to show that he's capable of excelling as a defenseman in this league.