Thursday, January 12, 2012
Sens Keep Rolling Through East.... Cammalleri Fallout .... Cool Hand Luke... More Game Notes
Ottawa 3 NY Rangers 0
As Senators head coach Paul MacLean said after the game, this Ottawa team knew exactly who they were playing on Thursday night - the best team in the National Hockey League, at least at the halfway point of the season.
And the Senators played a game that was remarkably similar to what the Rangers have been exhibiting all year, which features, above all, China Wall goaltending, a commitment to defense and the patience of Job waiting for a scoring chance off a mistake by the opposition.
Hey, don't get too used to it.
While the Rangers may be winning, they aren't exactly a masterpiece to watch if you like to stay awake past 7:45. Out of necessity and inexperience, the Senators have taken a different approach through the first half, letting in a ton of goals but climbing back by scoring just a few more, many of them coming in nerve shattering comebacks that have left local fans in some kind of shock for hours after it's all over.
But maybe, with all these wins starting to pile up, the Senators are slowly beginning to take shape as a team that can at least have a chance of shutting down the opposition, especially in big games that actually mean something in the standings.
Craig Anderson had his first shutout of the season, Jason Spezza continues to play the best hockey of his entire career with two goals Thursday and MacLean, now solidly in Jack Adams Trophy talk, has the rest of the team galloping through a tough part of the schedule with everyone playing a role, from Erik Karlsson right down to Kaspars Daugavins.
You can see the kind of unity this team has and the momentum that's giving them.
A quick look at the standings tells just how crazy this is getting. The Senators are 4 points out of 1st place overall in the National Hockey League.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Now that you've done that, brace for the bad news.
The Senators have one hell of a West Coast road trip coming up in a really short time span and that's going to cause problems and slow the train down a little. But the points they are getting right now, many of them against top Eastern Conference teams, is giving them a cushion they can use for the inevitable downturn that comes in every season.
That's how you make the playoffs. Attrition. Get the points in the right parts of the schedule which lets you survive the tough stretches where winning is like climbing a mountain sometimes.
Right now, that's exactly what Ottawa is doing and it's even brought talk of adding salary at the trade deadline to really make a playoff push.
Some will have strong opinions about that, positive or negative, but the point is that people are even talking about it as a possibility.
That's a conversation that was almost unfathomable back on October 18th when this team was a dismal 1-5, quickly on the way to proving their critics right.
Yet, April still seems like a long ways away, doesn't it?
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Craig Anderson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Milan Michalek
Honourable Mentions: Jared Cowen, Kyle Turris, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba and Colin Greening.
They spent all that time and money refurbishing Madison Square Garden this summer and it still looks dark and dingy on television, especially around the nets in both ends and in the corners where it's almost cave-like. I'm no engineer but it seems to me they're missing about four good television lights on that ceiling and have been ever since I can remember watching hockey. Yet, it does give the famous rink a distinctive look, like it never evolved past 1972. No wonder nobody can score in that rink..... Denis Potvin had a pretty good line near the start of the game when, describing a solid positional save by Craig Anderson, said "the puck just melted into his equipment". Wish I'd thought of that one.....Then Dean Brown got into the act at the start of the third period when he said that “Bobby Butler just chunked it into the corner”. Again, another description that just sounds exactly the way it looks. It was like these guys were doing a chocolate bar commercial. But maybe they just had a bag of peanut butter cups on the desk which they were plowing into during commercial breaks and started saying these phrases unconsciously. It would be hard to blame them. Those things are pretty good…..
….It’s been fascinating to watch the Montreal Canadiens completely implode this season, disaster after disaster. It’s no fun for fans to watch their own team become a laughingstock but for everybody else it’s almost cathartic in a way. Every season at least one or two teams become a complete side-show and it’s just part of the overall entertainment package the NHL provides. This year it’s been Montreal and Columbus. But Ottawa fans remember what it feels like because they’ve been through it a couple of times since the run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. It’s not a good place to be. But then again, you wonder if karma is coming around for Habs fans. When you call the cops because Zdeno Chara hit one of your players and make a tradition of singing that silly victory song “Ole” before the first period is even over, you kind of have this coming, don’t you?.....Then to compact their problems, they trade one of their most talented and clutch players, Michael Cammalleri, to the Flames just because he has the audacity to speak the plain truth at a time when that's exactly what's needed in that crazy organization. But we in Ottawa all know how Pierre "The Ghost" Gauthier feels about the truth. 1998: Sure you're not going to Anaheim, Pierre....
….Denis Potvin was really feeling it tonight. After Milan Michalek’s goal he pulled out a Paul Newman quote from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are these guys?” When you’re doing a hockey game and you’re quoting Newman, it’s pretty hard not to go right to Slapshot and Reggie Dunlop. Not bad Denis. But I’d have been more impressed if he went to The Hustler or The Sting. Or if he vowed live on-air to eat 50 hard boiled eggs like Newman does in Cool Hand Luke......No reason to get too upset about the Ruslan Fedotenko knee-on-knee hit on Spezza. Completely unintentional and Spezza was fine once he got the blood flowing again. Collisions happen. Not all of them are a conspiracy theory. Besides, Fedotenko is about as clean a player as you can find…..
.......Is there a more innocent looking face in the NHL than Chris Neil's after he does an "uh-oh"? When he hit Michael Del Zotto on an icing play at the end of the second period, Neil looked genuinely hurt that he was being called for it. Those refs just have no heart. It's like throwing Tiny Tim out into the cold at Christmas....Speaking of Del Zotto, here’s a pretty amazing stat for you - going into tonight’s game, Del Zotto was +25 to lead the team. The next highest rating on the Rangers going into the game was Derek Stepan’s +13. You might remember that Del Zotto suffered through a brutal sophomore season last year which actually saw him get sent back down to the minors after playing 80 games as a rookie defenseman in the NHL. With 23 points in just 40 games, he’s clearly one of the comeback players of the year…..
....Think you're good with your NHL history? Get a few buddies, a case of beer and play this game for half an hour before you're too bombed: Someone picks a random NHL team. The guy beside him picks another one. Now you've got two teams - say the Oilers and the Rangers. On a piece of paper, everyone individually writes down as many players as they can think of that played at least one game for both teams. After a few minutes, the silent buzzer goes and everyone presents their lists. Have the Official NHL Guide on hand or an internet connection to Hockey DB to check any disputes. You get one point for a correct answer but you also get a point taken off for a wrong player, so you actually have to put some thought into it instead of just scribbling down names you think might have played for both teams. Most points wins the game. Then another two random teams are picked and the next game starts. First person to win four games wins the series. And if you want to turn it into a drinking game, the losers of each game have to guzzle. Yes, I invented this time waster many years ago but I have since gotten what some people like to call "a life". But go ahead and try it sometime. It's way harder than you think and it will either humble you or make you look like an NHL Cliff Clavin amongst your drunk and somewhat dimwitted pals......
.....Get ready for the onslaught of the “The All-Star Game Is Terrible And Needs To Change” articles that you see every year at this time. But one thing to keep in mind about these predictably grouchy editorials – they’re all wrong…… How is it that Ottawa’s been rebuilding for less than a year and they already seem miles ahead of where Edmonton is, despite the Oilers having 3 of the best prospects in the game in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all progressing as expected? Probably because Bryan Murray realized he didn’t have to burn the thing to the ground and instead kept a few proven veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, all with a history of winning in this league, to keep playing key roles they had when the team was a powerhouse. Only Erik Karlsson is in a premier role while the rest of the youngsters are learning the ropes as support players. It also helps that their number one centre, Jason Spezza, is fully in his prime and still developing as a leader. On the other hand, the Oilers have thrust their top prospects into the most pressure filled spots while their vets, like Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, now seem more like “support players”, and very expensive ones at that (the exception is Ryan Smyth who is having a great year). It’s starting to look like the Oilers are going to miss the playoffs yet again while Ottawa is actually fighting for home-ice advantage in April. This doesn’t mean that the Oilers won’t turn into a powerhouse a couple of years down the road, but their kids are playing under a lot of pressure and losing hockey games while Ottawa’s youngsters are more protected from expectations and learning to win along the way. Which approach is better? If these same Oilers go on to win a Stanley Cup, we’ll know our answer then. But for now we’ll take the Senators model....
Have a great weekend folks.