Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chris Neil And That Old Time Hockey, Eh

Ottawa 4 Minnesota 3 (SO)

Hell of a game. Hell of a night.

The Senators again displayed a gutsy come from behind effort that now seems to be some kind of DNA trait that wasn't there last season. Maybe coach Paul MacLean stamped it onto them by some of the hardest practices these players have ever seen, or maybe it's the young legs, but whatever it is, the Senators are suddenly more tenacious than Rudy Ruettiger.

But it wasn't easy yet again. This time the Senators were fighting a home rink that was in a peculiarly nasty mood, booing their own players, booing Dany Heatley, even booing the mayor (although that might have just been the OC Transpo riders - don't blame them). They dominated the Wild but the breaks were going against them and the mood got even blacker as Sergei Gonchar got singled out by the crowd on the power-play, making things worse for the team than they already were (more about the ugly reception the fans gave Gonchar and Filip Kuba later).

But the comeback was started by Chris Neil who looked like he was born just to play in this one game. It was incredible. Neil began by yapping with Heatley off a faceoff in the Wild zone near the start of the second period. Then he delivered a punishing hit to Clayton Stoner that would have topped Dion Phaneuf's stapling of Stephane Da Costa if it was only in the middle of the ice instead of behind the net. One of Neil's best hits in a long time:

He kept after Heatley all game, backchecking on a Wild rush so he could be shoulder to shoulder with Heatley and sent him to the ice amidst the roar of the entire rink. He took a handful of other runs at #15, cut the Minnesota lead to 3-2 with a huge goal that gave the Senators life, and finished +2 with 2 points and easily led the team with 8 recorded hits (they must have missed about five).

Something truly feels different about this spirited team, if only because they actually won a game in a shootout and didn't choke when faced with adversity. As TSN panned both benches before Milan Michalek took the first shot, the Wild looked nervous but the Senators were loose. Like some kind of miracle that these eyes have yet to see, all three Senators shooters scored, with Daniel Alfredsson capping it off and raising his arms in triumph as he glided along the boards.

Like I said, unbelievable game. If you saw it, you know exactly what I mean. It's way, way too early to call it a turning point, but that was a huge game for the Senators to win.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Chris Neil
2. Colin Greening
3. Nick Foligno

Honourable Mentions: Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips and Stephane Da Costa.


...David Rundblad looked solid in his first NHL game, playing a surprising 20:59. He'll likely get a chance to stay in the lineup ahead of Brian Lee because he did some good things offensively. Erik Karlsson played over 28 minutes and just kept getting stronger after a weak opening. Peter Regin played a strong game, skating well and going 10-7 in the faceoff dot. No chance he comes out of the lineup for either Bobby Butler or Nikita Filatov. His line with Nick Foligno and Chris Neil looks like a keeper....

...One thing we don't miss about Dany Heatley - the constant hoarking on the bench, especially those deep ones where it looks like he's about to hurl....Can't get over the fact Ottawa fans would take the time to lustily boo two of their own players - Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba - during player introductions. Real classy guys. You got 'em good. Yup. Embarrassed them to the max. Their families were likely watching. Hope you feel better about yourselves.....Good to hear Dean Brown ask coach Paul MacLean if any player "filled his role better than Chris Neil in the first two games". MacLean was quick with the praise, as expected. Neil doesn't get much credit for the role he plays but when he's doing his job well, and that's pretty much every game, he's one of the most effective in the league. He can fight. He can play. He's a leader. He sticks up for his teammates. He's entertaining. Can't ask for much more than that....

....Tons of awkwardness all around. Home team players getting booed mercilessly, Mayor Jim Watson gets booed, Heatley takes a spill during warmups and gets a big reaction from the fans, and then TSN shows a clip from practice of coach Paul MacLean going down hard to the ice on his back. Probably didn't help his mood much.....You have to wonder if Nikita Filatov's play in the first two games really warranted his scratching, or was it something else? Practice habits? I don't pretend to know but he seemed to be giving an honest effort in the games, even if he wasn't creating a lot of chances. We've all heard about MacLean screaming at Filatov and fellow healthy scratch Bobby Butler in practice the other day. Maybe there's something to that, maybe not. But I thought he played okay overall. Maybe that's the difference with MacLean. Okay isn't good enough anymore....

....As if the Sens don't get teased enough about their antiquated scoreboard, it begins to repeatedly malfunction at the start of the second period and TSN's Gord Miller has a laugh and says "Shades of the old Civic Centre". Isn't that just fitting with a dozen or so original Senators on hand....Some good news. No Nickelback goal song this year at the rink. The bad news: Nickelback is still writing songs. No one is safe yet....

...Great interview with former Sens GM and club founder Randy Sexton on the Team 1200 pre-game show where Sexton retold the old story about how Bruce Firestone, Cyril Leeder and himself were having a cold one in the locker room in 1988 after a beer league game when Firestone said they should try to bring an NHL team to Ottawa in any future expansion. Sexton said he and Leeder spit their beer out on the floor at the idea, which was somewhat similar to my reaction when I heard they had suceeded. I was too young to spit out any beer, but my jaw hit the floor and so did my father's. Haven't been able to shut it since.....It would be sort of interesting if Sexton some day made his way back into the Senators organization in a role similar to what he has in Pittsburgh right now as Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting. Stranger things have happened. Certainly, Sexton is a much more rounded hockey man than he was when given the thankless task of building the Senators post-Mel Bridgman..... Speaking of scouting, I've been reading Shane Malloy’s 2011 book “The Art Of Scouting”, and in it he says the consensus among most NHL general managers and directors of amateur scouting is you have to get two NHL players from every entry draft. Just two from seven rounds in total. Doesn’t seem like a lot but some teams have a hell of a time doing it. Malloy quotes Mike Futa, an L.A. Kings scout, as saying “It’s the only job where you can be right 15 percent of the time and be ruled a Hall of Famer (..) and if you hit on 2.5 home runs every draft, you are par with some of the best scouts ever.” If we quickly apply that gold standard to the Senators, we can see that they already have one player from the 2011 draft in the NHL – Mika Zibanejad, and some very likely prospects to do so as well such as Matt Puempel, Shane Prince and Stefan Noesen. Their 2010 draft, where they only chose four players is not looking as good but Mark Stone will probably play in the next two to four years. They also dealt their first-rounder to the Blues to grab David Rundblad who made his NHL debut tonight and looks to have a good career ahead of him. The 2009 draft has already seen Jared Cowen and Robin Lehner play some games. They’ve used three players from 2008, two of them regulars in Erik Karlsson and Zack Smith (Patrick Wiercioch being the other prospect on the bubble). In 2007, the last year of John Muckler’s reign as GM, the Senators again only had four picks and the only one to get any games is Jim O’Brien but he may not end up being an NHL regular at any point. Before 2007, every Senators draft produced at least two players who took part in at least one NHL game, either with Ottawa or with another team. Not all of them became regulars, but they made the show. That’s an impressive record….

…. I don’t know what it is about Brian Lee, but the fans in this city have fallen head over heels with the young defenseman and have nearly elevated him to martyr status. When fans first heard rumours that Lee would be a healthy scratch for the match against the Wild, the boards and the blogs lit up with indignation, as if they themselves were somehow the victims of a terrible injustice. Lee is a solid 6th or 7th defenseman on the periphery of being a regular. He may play better than Sergei Gonchar or Chris Phillips during any given game, but overall he can’t provide what those two can when at their best. It won’t be permanent. He’ll play plenty of games for the Senators this season and contribute where he can. If he keeps playing solid when he gets the chance, he'll force the coaching staff's hand. To get so upset about it strikes me as completely bizarre and unwarranted. Same thing happened with Martin Gerber and Jonathan Cheechoo. This town seems to love the underdog, which is admirable, but we’re beginning to lose perspective here….

….Wouldn’t it be something if Semyon Varlamov proved to be a better number one goalie this season than Tomas Vokoun? It’s entirely possible considering Vokoun is 35 and Varlamov is just 23. You can also imagine Varlamov giving Colorado that same surprise goaltending Craig Anderson did a few years ago and sneaking into the playoffs. Washington was so lauded for their off-season moves that you know at least one of them is not going to pan out as well as the pundits predicted. Not saying it’s going to be the Vokoun deal, but you never know. The hockey world has a weird way of evening things out after all the hype has died down….Speaking of the Avalanche (still a terrible name, though not as bad as the “Wild”), if Milan Hejduk had played his career in the East with those same numbers, he’d be a household name in hockey. Instead, he keeps on scoring goals year after year in near anonymity (11 seasons with 20 or more)….. Columbus just can’t afford to miss the playoffs again, not after being so aggressive in the summer. This team desperately needs something positive to happen to them. But they’re 0-3 to start the year. Uh oh…..


Anonymous said...

I loved Chris Neil's and Colin Greening's game today. Neil's been great all year. And, Greening just seems like he's going to fit in here for a while.

You said it best a few posts ago, in describing him as a plug and play guy. It just seems like Greening gives you what you need no matter what situation you put him in.

Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I felt bad for Kuba and Gonchar as well. That's really sad when you boo your own players during introductions to start the year. That doesn't seem right.

As for our prospects, it's great that we have a lot of guys in the system. But, how many of them are difference makers as opposed to guys who are interchangeable third liners. We won't know for a while. But, my concern is that we'll have a bunch of guys competing for bottom six roles and third pair defense.

As for Brian Lee, I think a lot of fans, myself included, think that his play has earned him a spot. It's that simple. I think that if he's given a fair opportunity, he'll be in our top 4.

I want to see the players earn their ice with good play. Lee's done that.

I am tired of the Gerber days, when someone is good in the room, or a good guy, or a character guy, or wants to be here, or whatever.

There's a few guys who should have taken a seat before Lee. It's not about feeling sorry for the guy, it's about merit.

Anonymous said...

Gonchar should know exactly why he's being booed. He's done nothing to endear himself to these fans. Playing out of position and looking lazy and disinterested is how you earn yourself some boos from home fans. If he's going to be a $5.5 million anchor on this team for the next 2 years, he should know that we're not going to clap politely while he mails in his last 2 years of his contract. If he doesn't want to be booed, he can step up, be a presence on this team and at least look like he's trying to backcheck. Otherwise, he can finish his career in disgrace while we all resent him for it. I don't feel sorry for a professional in a high pressure situation getting some honest feedback in humiliating fashion. There are tougher punishments out there.

Steve Gower said...

I feel even more cheated now than ever re: the San Jose game last season. This is the kind of game that I wanted to see, not the lazy effort (if you can call it effort) we got against San Jose.

Oh well, I'm just happy that the team is really trying to win. It was bound to happen after the first two games, that we'd sneak in a win...and to do it in a shootout? Unheard of!

Anonymous said...

I was there, I booed.
People in my section yelled "ANDER-SIEVE" when he let in the third goal.

You're a pro, you're rich.
Suck it up and perform or hit the road!

The booing was lusty and it was FANTASTIC. It put our group in a great mood afterward and we had smiles on our faces the whole night through. Even gave to the various charity boxes around the arena.


Anshu said...

It's not about feeling sorry for the guy, it's about merit.

Completely agree. We've seen the high profile / high salary guys get playing time they didn't deserve, and it ended poorly. Fans are particularly sensitive to that in Ottawa because of the history.

Suck it up and perform or hit the road!

Yup, agree. The booing was specifically for two guys who are dramatically underperforming. It wasn't knee jerk or irrational, it was the response of an educated and opinionated fan base.

Anonymous said...

Hey Greg,

I hate people like you.

Blood Red Army said...

Greg and Anshu

This just in! When you boo your own payers, word gets out. Over time, fewer and fewer UFAs pick Ottawa, because, well, their shitty fans BOO THEIR OWN PLAYERS.

The fewer UFAs come here and the more eager homegrown talent are to get the hell out, the worse our team becomes. Then people stop showing up to games, and eventually Melnyk says 'to hell with it' and sells the team. And then some big shot buys it and moves it to Hamilton or Quebec or some other place dying for a team to CHEER for.

By the sounds of it, you guys aren't really hockey fans anyway, so maybe you don't care. But a lot of us do.

It's embarrassing to be at a home opener, before the puck has even dropped and hear ignorant mobs of fans booing the home team.

I used to think the fact that Leafs and Habs fans are allowed to boo Alfie in his own rink was the most embarrassing trait of the Sens fanbase. But I was obviously wrong.

Jeremy Milks said...

Anshu, it wasn't the response of an educated and opinionated fan base. It was the response of people who clearly have no perspective and don't realize they are embarrasing someone in front of their families for reasons that are completely superficial. Boo a bad play, but player introductions at the first home game? Whoever did that is pathetic, rude and a few other things I probably shouldn't say. Did you see Gonchar's face? How can you justify something so transparently mean as being "the response of an educated fan"?

Garbage. Pure garbage.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeremy and the other guy who calls the Boo's gutless class acts. Keep this crap up Ottawa and you can kiss your franchise G'bye.

FYI Melnyk is already shopping the team.