Monday, February 20, 2012
Sens A Happy Group Heading Into Deadline .... Flatten Isles ... Plus Baffling Game Notes
Ottawa 6 NY Islanders 0
In today's Ottawa Citizen Senators Prediction Panel, I took what I thought was a reasonable gamble and predicted a 4-2 Islanders win.
Oooohhh. Just missed.
Okay, so I'm not The Amazing Kreskin but a few things are becoming clear that even near-sighted mouth breathers like myself can see with stunning clarity.
One, the Ottawa Senators are, indeed, far from collapsing out of playoff contention that the now distant 7-game losing streak might have suggested to those prone to outright panic. They've now racked up 9 out of their last 10 possible points and looked completely convincing in the process. People were nervously looking down to Bingo at Robin Lehner but Craig Anderson now has two shutouts in his past three games and people are starting to talk about Jason Spezza as a Hart Trophy candidate.
Two, this team, when running on the right oil, has shown that it's good enough to scare a few people if it can get into the playoffs healthy. And that statement should not be construed to mean this team is a lock for the playoffs. It's possible another team below them grinds it out to the final date on the schedule and pushes Ottawa out of the top eight by sheer will alone. But it doesn't look like the Senators are going to make it easy for anybody and in fact, they may even start taking a trip up the standings to fight for home-ice advantage if they keep getting hot at the right time. With over twenty games left to play and a whole bunch of teams promising to get better at the trade deadline, movement one way or the other is almost a guarantee.
But now we seem to know the parameters. We've seen Ottawa at their worst this season, when the defenseman can't seem to make a pass out of their zone and their goalie can't seem to make a timely save on pucks that are lobbed from the blueline. And we've seen them at their best, when the third and fourth lines step up and get important goals or when Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson decide to take over games.
When the Senators have all these things going at once, they look like world beaters. If they can get in, they'll give their first round opponents a fight they won't believe. They still don't stack up to the pulverizing Bruins or the technically perfect Rangers, but if they can avoid meeting either of those teams in the first round, they'll have a chance to further surprise some people.
But again, daydreaming about April in February is a bit of a fool's game. If so much seems to change in just a week's time, what the hell will we be looking at in over a month?
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Erik Karlsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Sergei Gonchar
Honourable Mentions: Craig Anderson (I know, a shutout, but that was an easy one), Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson, Brian Lee and Filip Kuba.
Seeing Jason Spezza "pop" the water bottle on his beauty goal in the third period reminds you of a better time when those bottles were free to hang out on top of the net without any holder and most top-shelf goals resulted in that camera friendly pop which was a better exclamation point than any red goal-light could hope to be. Sure, those loose bottles obscured overhead camera angles on disputed goals, but who didn't love to see those things go flying into the air when Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman roofed one from in tight?..... Can't see the Senators trading Filip Kuba or Sergei Gonchar before the deadline. Who's going to play their minutes? If you haven't noticed, after trading David Rundblad the Senators don't have a blue chipper on defense in their system right now. Unless GM Bryan Murray gets a young defenseman in return who can play this season, why does he bother? And why would another team trade a young defenseman already getting minutes for an older player like Kuba or Gonchar? None of it makes sense. Teams don't dismantle on their way to the playoffs. It just doesn't happen. What you can count on however is hockey fans throwing every possible suggestion against the wall to see if it sticks. There's a lot of undercooked spaghetti noodles sliding down that wall right now..... With that said, here's a noodle of my own. I've said it before, and I still think Niklas Hagman of the Ducks is the perfect fit at forward for this Senators team. He'd look good with Kyle Turris and Alfredsson don't you think? Or does my noodle need a little more boiling?...
.....Whenever Senators owner Eugene Melnyk goes on Toronto radio, all sorts of shit hits the fan and today he merely said that Erik Karlsson will end up being one of the greatest defenseman of all-time and that Ottawa will continue to replace older, expensive players with younger, "hungry" ones. Unsurprisingly this was all good fodder for Twitter and the oncoming mania of trade deadline day. So does this mean Kuba and Gonchar are really on the block after all? Always take Melnyk's comments with this in mind: the guy is a big kid who just happens to own a hockey team (think Adam Sandler in Mr. Deeds). He's a "big ideas" man, something that most entrepreneurs are at heart. They like to make big statements while letting other people take care of the technical details. If Bryan Murray goes in front of a microphone and says something similar, then maybe you have a big story, but until then, don't believe the hype.... But then Karlsson goes out and slams in two goals in the first period alone. Okay, believe the hype.....A lot of fans were somewhat worried knowing most teams above and below the Senators in the standings had, in some cases, four games in hand on Ottawa. When you did the math real quick you could see a lot of teams catching up or zipping by the Sens in the standings with those unplayed games. Yet, the old maxim remains true. Games in hand don't mean a thing if you can't win them. The Capitals, Panthers and the Leafs are learning that old lesson well.... There's something surreal yet comforting about listening to "Surfin' Safari" by The Beach Boys cranked to eleven in the middle of February..... Who could have guessed the Chicago Blackhawks would only be three points better than the Senators after both had played 60 games? Does that say more about Chicago or Ottawa?....
......In the much talked about NHLPA Player Poll, two ex-Senators and one current made the top 5 in the Toughest Player category. Zdeno Chara 17%, Brian McGrattan 7% and Matt Carkner 4%. Carkner is getting those numbers on rep alone because he certainly isn't playing or fighting much this season. For some reason, Carks hasn't been the same since that knee injury and now Senator-For-Life Brian Lee has surpassed him on the depth chart for the first time. To his credit, Lee is turning into the ultimate survivor. He should have been traded twenty times by now but here he is having a bit of a renaissance late in the season. Hey, next time Lee goes into the doghouse, remind me not to bury him.....While we're at it, let's not bury Carkner either. This guy made it to the NHL the hard way and will continue to scrape everything he can out of whatever opportunity he gets. He's just a couple of good games away from re-establishing himself as that dependable muscle in front of the net. The guy is all heart and should stay in the organization next season..... In the same NHLPA poll, an astounding 98% of players favour keeping fighting in the game. How will the anti-fighting crowd try to spin those numbers? You can just imagine Adam Proteau and Ken Campbell at The Hockey News office in Toronto locking themselves in a room with two pots of coffee and a chalkboard, desperately writing theories down and scratching them out, yelling at each other in frustration. "For the love of God, Adam, you wrote a friggin' book about this stuff. Don't tell me you got nothing.Throw me a bone here." Then they both slam the styrofoam coffee cups to the floor and start swinging at each other just asTHN editor Jason Kay breaks down the door to separate the two furious pencil pushers. Campbell gets the instigator and he's not happy about it.....
.....One thing Adam Proteau is 100% right about is the negative effect shot-blocking has on the game. In the Feb . 20 issue of THN, Proteau says "The game has regressed to the point where the main target (the net) cannot be reached unless there's an unpredictable deflection, a bad bounce or a player half-fans on his shot and fools the goalie with hockey's equivalent of a knuckleball." Proteau goes on to mention an idea by ex-Montreal GM Bob Gainey which would make it a penalty to block a shot with both skates off the ice in the defensive zone. That would eliminate the sliding shot-block that has proven so effective (but also extremely dangerous). Players would still be able to block a shot with one skate on the ice and one knee down. It's a win-win situation if you ask me. More shots get through to the net, less defenseman getting creamed in the head by shots. As Proteau quotes Jaromir Jagr in the article, fans want to see "six or seven goals a night". I happen to agree but a lot of people continually spout that now tired line of "I love 1-0 games if there are a lot of scoring chances". I don't buy it. Fans want more goals, more hits, more skating, more fights - all the best things the game can offer..... The question was posed by a fan to Hockey Trivia guru Liam Maguire on Twitter: Are body shots allowed under "The Code" in hockey fights, as we saw Isle Matt Martin delivering to Zack Smith in a second period bout? Liam answered yes and said Dave "Tiger" Williams was "going to the body in fights 35 years ago". I went looking for a little video but couldn't find what I was looking for. Yet, I did find this video of a Williams scrap and quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me. Williams of the Leafs and Behn Wilson of the Flyers are a little upset with each other and not even the linesman can get them to stop. I wonder what Wilson said to Williams when they were face to face there.....
......It's been a painfully slow development for Sens forward Jim O'Brien since he was drafted by the team in the first round of 2007, but it looks like that patience is going to pay off for the Senators. The guy has gone from an almost certain first-round bust to a big, strong skating forward who hounds the puck around the ice and has the wheels to actually get to it. In years past, O'Brien was more passive than anything else but now he looks mean out there, almost like a power forward. He was pretty good on the faceoffs this afternoon as well. He's a guy to watch going down the stretch here. Coach Paul Maclean obviously took a liking to an unheralded guy like Kaspars Daugavins. May the same thing be happening here with O'Brien?
Happy Family Day