Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alfredsson Blows Minds .... Gilroy Blows Audition ... Milks Blows The Game Notes

Ottawa 6 Winnipeg 4

When the Ottawa Senators desperately needed to defy the odds and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night to stave off all the doomsday talk, it was captain Daniel Alfredsson who took the game over with 2 goals and 2 assists to get the win.

And on Monday night, with only 2 points separating the Senators from both the Capitals and Sabres at the bottom of the playoff race, it was the captain again who put this team on his back, twice breaking ties with the go-ahead goal against the Jets, both in the third period when things started to get out of control.

You begin to run out of superlatives. His second goal was the very definition of clutch, coming just 24 seconds after the Jets had unbelievably tied the game for the third time all-night. It would be the last. Alfredsson calmly slipped it past goalie Ondrej Pavelec for his 26th of the season and the game winner while Jets fans fell back into their seats groaning and grabbing their heads in disbelief. A 39 year old was putting their team out to pasture for good this time. Winnipeg's season is toast. It probably already was before they dropped the puck but Alfredsson made sure of it.

It also happened to be the 39 year old's 8th twenty-five or more goal season, his first since 2007-2008 when the Senators were still an elite team. But here he is doing it again, on a second line that doesn't score often and on a team that has guys so young they probably don't remember him co-leading the NHL in 2007 playoff scoring.

The win in Winnipeg can't seem to be any bigger (until the next one). They now go four points clear of both Washington and Buffalo and with those same two teams facing each other on Tuesday, at least one of them isn't going to get two in the bank. The worst scenario for Ottawa would be for that game to go into overtime but even then they'd still be 3 up on the 9th place team with the same amount of games played and only 5 to go.

Think of the implications if the Senators had lost to Winnipeg on Monday night.

They don't play again until Saturday and in the meantime you can be sure that one of the Caps or the Sabres would have surpassed them in the standings while Ottawa could do nothing but watch and practice. A week with that loss hanging over their heads would have been unbearable. And not just for the players.

The fans would be hanging from buildings and getting thrown into the Hull drunk tank left and right.

Thankfully, the fine hockey-crazed citizens of Ottawa can stay sane and keep their jobs and marriages intact for the time being.

Thanks Daniel. You saved the city from a social nightmare of no return. Again.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Erik Karlsson

Honourable Mentions:  Craig Anderson, Kaspars Daugavins, Filip Kuba, Kyle Turris and Zack Smith.


The Gilroy Audition Takes A Turn For The Worse

 When Matt Gilroy arrived in Ottawa more tanned than Wayne Newton and immediately remarked on the differences in weather between sunny Florida and the frozen wastes of West Carleton, you kind of got the feeling this guy wasn’t going to be a perfect match for Ottawa off the ice.

On the ice, Gilroy opened a few eyes with his skating ability and a willingness to rush the puck, but in the short-term he wasn’t getting any results, especially on a moribund power-play that not even Erik Karlsson could save for a while. Nobody was panicking with Gilroy, but nobody was too impressed either, including the very small minority of fans who were adherents to the strange and curious Cult of Brian Lee (formerly of the Cult of Martin Gerber and its rare offshoot, the Cult of Jonathan Cheechoo).

Then the hammer came down on Saturday night. The Senators, in danger of slipping out of the top eight in the race to the playoffs, were facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and they decided to do it without a healthy Gilroy. After 11 games with only 1 assist and 14 shots on goal, coach Paul MacLean decided to sit Gilroy and go with the currently out-of-fashion Matt Carkner instead.

The Senators won the game 8-4. Not because of Carkner, who played very limited minutes (yet was defensively solid), but because of the inspired play and leadership of Daniel Alfredsson and possibly the very real fear of extinction if they lost another one at home.

That’s tough timing for the soon-to-be UFA Gilroy who is on a “tryout” with the Senators, as some have called it. Or is it the Senators who are on a tryout for Gilroy? Pick your poison.

For sure Gilroy has all the tools – the skating, the shot and the flowing hair – but there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fully integrate him and get him playing comfortable before the fateful decision has to be made. If the Senators go on some unlikely long playoff run, then Gilroy, who will certainly get back in the lineup at some point, will have a chance to settle into a role. If they miss the playoffs or fall in the first round, the impression won’t be deep.

I’d wager that GM Bryan Murray will want to sign him no matter what, knowing the lack of talent on the free-agent market, but Gilroy probably won’t be sold on signing early with Ottawa, if ever. If you look at it from Gilroy’s perspective, why wouldn’t he at least wait to see what kind of offers are out there? He’s already been through the process after leaving college as a highly sought after free-agent. His camp may believe some of those teams that missed out the first time will take another shot in July. Essentially, that’s what Ottawa did by trading for him.

All of this uncertainty might eventually push Murray towards re-signing Filip Kuba, something that seemed unlikely just a few months ago. It’s a complicated situation with a lot of factors involved, but I’d say the chances of Kuba being back are nearing the range of 50/50. I don’t think we should be surprised either way, but if I were forced to bet, I’d say Kuba ends up leaving for a team that wants to give him three years on a deal, something Murray should avoid if possible.

 If Kuba does leave, that's a lot of quality minutes Murray has to replace somehow. It may end up being easier just to pay Kuba to continue doing the job. If Murray can’t find a suitable replacement, losing Kuba could damage the Sens playoff chances next season and taking a step backwards is not part of the 3-year rebuild Eugene Melnyk was eager to talk about this past weekend. Having a shallow defense is a season killer. Sometimes it’s actually wiser to bite the bullet and swallow an extra year on a deal and a little cash if it means remaining stable at that position with veterans. While there is nobody on the farm capable of sliding into Kuba’s spot alongside Erik Karlsson, the Senators might be counting on a promotion of Jared Cowen with Mark Borowiecki backfilling his current role. Seems reasonable enough but they'd be one injury away from being exposed.

Another route for Murray to to use one or two of those extra forwards in a deal to replace Kuba with a younger defenseman that has a good contract and the potential to go along with it. Not many GM’s are willing to move those kinds of players so Murray might have to settle for a “problem case”, like the Kyle Turris situation. Maybe this is Option A for Murray once the season is over, with anyone from Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Bobby Butler or one of their forward prospects being involved.

It’s all conjecture, and maybe a little misplaced at this point with a playoff chase underway that Kuba is going to play a major role in. Maybe Gilroy gets impressed by Britannia Beach (never mind the Ottawa trademark raw sewage floating by, Matt) and decides this is where he wants to be.

There’s time enough for these problems when the all the crying is done at the end of the season.



Kyle Turris actually scored the goal but he was much more amazed by Spezza’s sickening dangle through the entire Jets team on a play that started at the side boards, worked its way to the blueline and then weaved back to the net where the puck magically appeared on the stick of Turris for the tap-in. He could barely skate to the bench with his mouth hanging open and his eyes glued to the scoreboard replay. I’m guessing he didn’t see too many of those in Phoenix. Coach Dave Tippett would have had an embolism at the sight of one of his players trying something like that …

.... That’s two games in a row Spezza had to laugh during the anthems. The first on Saturday was due to the absurdity of the anthem singer taking half an hour to finish, and tonight was due to Jets fans screaming “true north” in ode to their corporate owners who brought the NHL back to town. Spezza seemed in awe of the noise they made and broke out in a huge grin and turned to look at an equally impressed Milan Michalek. You don’t hear that kind of noise in Ottawa very often unless it’s John Baird in Question Period…. Not seeing the Jets too often this season, I always forget just how skilled Alex Burmistrov is. What a great player to watch but I hear Jets fans get frustrated with him….. When Turris got steamrolled by Mark Stuart in the first period, Matt Carkner made sure to challenge the Jet. Not surprisingly, Carkner’s invitation was turned down. An interesting thing about Carkner is that he’s a traditional policeman – never looking for the fight but always ready to step up if the situation calls for it. A guy like Zenon Konopka goes onto the ice knowing he’s going to scrap no matter what the situation. Big difference. And that’s not a real knock against Konopka. There’s room for guys like him too, but if they ever need him to protect a teammate, chances are he’s already serving five minutes….

… You don’t see many of the original black Senators sweaters around, especially in other towns but after Chris Neil’s first period goal, the cameras caught a young woman standing amidst the swarms of blue and white with the original 1992 sweater that had the lettering on the border of the logo. I’m pretty sure you can’t buy those anywhere except for Ebay. If I’m wrong, please point me in the right direction… Kaspars Daugavins doing his skate-by barking at the Senators bench after every goal he scores is the best Sens tradition since Bruce Gardiner putting his stick in the toilet before every game in the 90’s….. Todd White and Bruce Garrioch had a pretty good verbal scrap going in the pre-game show trying to figure out who Ottawa should be worried about more – Buffalo or Washington. I don’t think anyone has ever heard White raise his voice before so if you missed it, you’ll have to wait another ten years…. According to Cap Geek, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the 8th highest spending team this season with over $63 million in salaries. The Senators are 25th in salary with just over $51 million committed. Somehow the Leafs sit 13th in the conference with no chance at the playoffs while Ottawa is battling it out for 7th with a 21 year-old Erik Karlsson not even in his prime yet, not to mention future studs Mika Zibanejad and Robin Lehner not even in the NHL yet. That’s gotta sting Leaf fans in the ass….

.... And finally, how great will it be to see this scene played out again in the very near future? If the Nords ever get reborn (and with a new rink being built it's now possible) let's hope they stick more to their traditional look than the reborn Jets did. By the way, that Jet is Pat Elynuik, also a former Ottawa Senator. He also has the hardest name to spell in NHL history. I just botched it three times in a row.


Anonymous said...

Great wins by the Sens. The last two games have been super entertaining.

That whole Gilroy/Kuba situation that you described is why I think that Brian Lee should not have been traded. I think that it would have been natural to let Lee grow into a bigger role next year on this team.

As for your Option A of possibly trading Foligno, I'd say that would be a big mistake. The guy is the real deal and he's going to get better.

According to NHL.com, Foligno averages the sixth most ice time among Sens forwards, but is fourth among forwards in points.

His points per game average is better than Turris, and he doesn't get as many quality opportunities as Turris (i.e. playing with Alfie).

Now, Turris has big upside and is sure to get better next season, but I'd expect Foligno to grow a bit as well.

In short, Foligno's great value, and under appreciated.

As for your tidbit on the Leafs, I'm at the point where I want them to turn it around. I hate the Leafs, but even I'm fed up with them. It's better when the Leafs and Habs are in the big dance. There's more playoff energy.

Time for a re-think. Why are they ripping Schenn and Kadri? They were both top 10 picks. For all their faults, go with them. What's the worst that can happen? They might finish closer to the bottom and get a better pick. Or the young guys may surprise and help them get better.

phil said...

on kuba, i get the (hopeful) feeling that management is positioning the team for a suter/weber-type UFA signing..

Anonymous said...

Its clear that the sens "rebuild" is going alot better than the toronto make you laughs so i'm just going to say it Brian Murray
should be GM of the year and Brian Burke should be fired