Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Boston Curse Over ... Lehner Emerges From Bingo Purgatory ... And Lotso Game Notes
Ottawa 1 Boston 0
Wasn’t it only a few days ago that some were saying Senators management had “soured” on cocky prospect goaltender Robin Lehner? That he had already been passed on the depth chart by newly acquired Ben Bishop? The fans were buzzing about the 6 foot 7 Bishop and his part in a future tandem with a healthy Craig Anderson going into the playoffs and into next season.
If this was the fashion world, Lehner was suddenly like a pair of MC Hammer parachute pants.
His quick fall from favour made sense on paper when you saw that one-year, one-way contract extension given to Bishop, or took just a cursory glance at Lehner’s poor numbers down in Bingo. Or if you heard the whispers about Lehner’s “poor attitude”, an allusion to the intense and driven young Swede not being happy about being in the AHL when he clearly believes he’s NHL ready. In fact, this guy thought he was ready at the start of last year.
All the conjecture in the world doesn’t mean much until the guy in question starts to play actual games, and Lehner, with two straight wins in the book, including Tuesday's incredible shutout of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, has stormed back into favour with Ottawa fans. And I'm sure he's raised the eyebrows of GM Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean with his performance so far.
Against the Bruins, who Ottawa hadn't beaten in four tries coming into Tuesday's game, Lehner was the confident, aggressive goalie we've all heard about so much. On some saves, like a stunner he made in the third, he flashed the glove hand in the air and held it for a split second to let the Bruins know they'd been robbed. His body language bled intensity, whether it was between whistles or when the Bruins were tossing the puck around on the multiple power-plays they had late in the game.
I wouldn't describe Lehner's style as smooth in any way. It's more knife-like. When he changes position, he cuts instead of glides. When he catches a puck, he seems to stab it right out of the air. His head darts in every direction and he seems to stare holes into people, even his own defenseman.
Clearly, this is a kid who realizes the importance of these games for both his status in the organization and for the team trying to clinch a playoff spot.
It's only been two games and a few soft goals can change all this, but with Anderson down for a few more weeks at least, Lehner seems like the safest bet to win games in the short term.
But then we hear that Bishop had a big game down in Bingo at the same time, making 41 saves in a 5-1 win over St. John's.
These are problems some teams would beg for if given the chance.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Robin Lehner
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Filip Kuba
Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Neil and Milan Michalek.
With Matt Gilroy wearing number 97 (in honour of his late-brother), he not only becomes the first Senator to wear that number in a regular season game, he has the highest sweater number in Senators history. He beats out Stan Neckar who was the previous holder with number 94. Chances are Gilroy will remain the holder of that distinction forever unless someone takes 98 one day. We're damn sure no one is going to use 99…. It was almost strange to see Kyle Turris smiling and laughing for the Sportsnet cameras while getting ready in the locker room before the game. The guy is all business on the ice and rarely breaks character. Maybe it was the more light-hearted Zenon Konopka slinging a few jokes while tying up his skates next to him. Or maybe it’s the fact that Turris is no longer “the new guy”. That distinction now belongs to Matt Gilroy, but with the long locks and crooked grin, Gilroy seems like a character who could easily fit into any dressing room. The guy just looks like a hockey player. Brian Lee, while not a reflection of how he played, looked a little like the nice college kid who tries to sell you a laptop at Best Buy…..But just like Lee, Gilroy is one of those mouthguard chewers. There’s no grosser habit in the NHL nowadays (although Dany Heatley’s constant hoarking and spitting isn’t good for the stomach either)…. It’s nice of Sportsnet to flash the team lines at the start of the game, but they’re not much use if you happen to blink….. Not so nice of Sportsnet to accidentally switch to the Toronto/Florida game for 30 seconds while the Senators/Bruins were still in action late in the second. I wonder how that plays out in the control room? An intern reaches across the console for another donut and inadvertently flips a switch without anyone noticing?....
.... Remember the days when the Boston Bruins were terrible? When they had to trade Ray Bourque and Joe Thornton and fire about 30 coaches in 10 years. Seems like a lifetime ago. It's amazing the kind of turnaround a new GM can give an organization. Peter Chiarelli, an import from the Ottawa Senators, has done an amazing job re-building the Bruins..... Which brings us to Scott Howson. Not sure how he survives the disaster he’s ushered into Columbus. I’m not even sure how he survives day to day in his job, knowing that everything he touches turns yellow like sour piss. Putting a dull knife into the back of Rick Nash by revealing the once loyal franchise player finally asked for mercy and a ticket out of town will probably be the last significant thing Howson does as a Blue Jacket. It must be the most inept and bewildering performance as a GM since John Ferguson Jr. nearly sunk the Maple Leafs franchise back to Harold Ballard levels of incompetence. If Nash did ask for a trade, and there’s no reason to disbelieve Howson – he’s not that cunning to straight up lie to the press – then you can at least say he did it the right way. He didn’t go to the press when a trade didn’t happen right away. Through the whole ordeal, Nash made it clear that he enjoyed his time as a Blue Jacket and appreciated the fans. That’s about all you can ask for. The guy has had the patience of a monk while the Jackets wasted his talents for eight and a half seasons. Most sane men would have begged for release a few years ago but Nash, like Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson, stayed positive through the tough times and even went on a summer recruiting trip with Howson to Jeff Carter’s house to convince the pouting ex-Flyers winger that Columbus was a great place to play. Clearly, Carter wasn’t fully convinced. Even Nash could see that another rebuild was coming after they fell face first right out of the gate and there was a real possibility he wouldn’t see the playoffs for another three or four years. Now, thanks to Howson’s bitter and spiteful press conference after he couldn’t pull off a trade he’s had months to complete, Nash has to play out the string this season in an organization now openly hostile to him. While it’s not yet Eric Lindros vs. Bobby Clarke (Howson could only dream of having the Machiavellian streak Clarke once possessed), this is still headed to a place nobody could believe just months ago. Will Nash be stripped of his captaincy? Lose his parking spot? Have to pay for his muffins in the players lounge? More importantly, will he be booed by the Ohio fans? ….
…. It must have been nice for Gilroy to watch a very young Robin Lehner make 3 beauty saves to start the game after almost a full season watching a very old Dwayne Roloson letting beach balls roll slowly through his legs…. For those who thought Gilroy would be replacing Chris Phillips on the second power-play, they may have been surprised to see the Big Rig out there all night. It makes sense. He’s been great there lately, but as Denis Potvin said on the broadcast, it’s probably because Gilroy hasn’t had time to learn the power-play system MacLean uses. But don't be too surprised if Phillips keeps his spot after all..... Daniel Alfredsson continued his quest for the Lady Byng Trophy by politely handing Tim Thomas back his goalie stick just seconds after Erik Karlsson hammered home a power-play goal with Alfie as the screen.... Brad Marchand really wanted a piece of Alfredsson near the start of the third when the captain gave him a little cross-check at the side of the Senators net. Good thing he was held back because Marchand had one of those “here comes a suspension” looks on his face. The young Marchand would probably be surprised to know Alfredsson has a bit more fight in him than a Sedin. I can’t remember them all but I do know Alfie fought both Darius Kasparitis and Doug Gilmour. He might have had to forgo the Lady Byng chase if Marchand had broken free there….
… The Bruins Adam McQuaid was an absolute wrecking ball out there in the first period. First he bulldozed Konopka with a tough hit along the boards that truly stung the Senators tough guy, and then he put Jim O’Brien flat on his back at centre ice during a rush. It's not really fair the Bruins have both him and Zdeno Chara. Now they have Greg Zanon. Man, that's a tough, tough blueline... Yet another sickening pass by Erik Karlsson in the last minute of the first period to send Milan Michalek in for a great chance that the winger blasted over the net. Karlsson makes it look easy because it probably is easy for him.... The devastating but unarguably clean hit Chris Neil delivered to Johnny Boychuk last Saturday night was truly a thing of beauty. The force of the hit was scary but awe-inspiring in its videogame-esque quality. Unfortunately Boychuck was concussed on the play but Neil couldn’t have approached it any different. It’s strange how Neil is considered a “pest” by some. Not even close. He plays the game tough but clean, and he’s having a hell of a year. He also accepted Chara's request to fight and handled himself well despite taking a couple hard shots. He even had the big man at his mercy but didn't pull the trigger. That's why there's a lot of respect for how he plays the game. It’s not hard to imagine Neil reaching the 1000 game mark in a Senators uniform. He’s currently sitting at 715 games, 4th all-time on the Senators but only has one more year on his contract before becoming a UFA. Unless he regresses badly next season, expect Bryan Murray to get his name on another contract at some point.