Friday, April 27, 2012

Senators Summer 2012 ... Who Goes? Who Stays?

Too soon?

People aren’t even over their hangovers yet after a Game 7 loss for the Senators (hell, some people haven’t stopped drinking), and here we are trying to figure out who’s going to be in Ottawa next season.

Just think of it as a way to ease the pain. Your house might have burned to the ground an hour ago but it helps to go ahead and mow the lawn around it anyways. You might as well sit on the charred remains of the porch with a lemonade and think about the future.

Who’s coming back? Who’s going? Here’s the Black Aces take on the main roster players from this past season, their performance and what role, if any, they have going forward.

(Contract status in brackets)


Jason Spezza (3 yrs) – He took another big step forward this season by getting some Hart Trophy consideration but had it tough against the Rangers in the playoffs and was largely shutdown. The Rangers play a style that was the worst possible match-up for Spezza’s game. He can beat defenseman one-on-one no problem but it’s hard to beat five Rangers who form a wall around their goalie and force him to over-think. Spezza gets it every year from frustrated fans but if they don’t have him, they don’t even make the playoffs. He’s a vital piece going forward and is in his prime point-production years. Coach Paul MacLean has made a big difference in his game and it will pay off down the road if fans can remain patient.

Daniel Alfredsson (1 yr) – Not much else to say here. He was mostly healthy and back to being the same old Alfie. He’s got more than enough skill to play a couple more seasons at a high level but his body might be starting wear down. Everybody wants him back for at least one more year. We’ll have to wait and see what he thinks.

Milan Michalek (2 yrs) – Scored a career high 35 goals and is an essential winger for this team. Tough series against the Rangers where he couldn’t find any room but he’s their purest scorer until someone takes that title from him.

Chris Neil (1 yr) – Had his best year and was the Senators MVP of the playoffs. Cory Clouston didn’t use him properly but Paul MacLean let him play and we all saw what happened. No way the Senators let him go to unrestricted free-agency next summer. He’s a leader on this team and will be for a while longer.

Zack Smith (1 yr) – Hot and cold. When Smith is motivated and into the game at hand, he’s a goddamned bull out there and has a knack for big goals. When he’s not, he skates around doing nothing, looks sullen on the bench and gets frustrated with the refs. Smith should study how Neil plays the game and at least try to approach the same consistent level. He was a non-factor in the playoffs except for one game and the odd shift. He’s still young and has a big future ahead with this team.

Kyle Turris (1 yr) – Just got better and better after the big trade and peaked in the playoffs by being one of the most dangerous forwards on the team. He had a bad rep coming in but you can tell he cares and doesn’t do any floating. I thought this trade was horrible when it went down but I think I might have been wrong on that one. He’s a perfect fit for this team.

Nick Foligno (RFA) – For a guy who scored almost 50 points, Foligno can be a frustrating player to watch at times. He’s most effective when he plays simple and skates to the net but he’s in love with his own stickhandling skills and waffles the puck away just over the blueline on a regular basis. Lots of character and finally locked down a top-six role. He could get 20-25 goals next season.

Bobby Butler (1yr) – Oh boy. Butler came in to this season with some hype after clicking with Spezza under Clouston. Didn’t happen this season and he was a healthy scratch quite a bit. Maybe it was just the sophomore jinx but there’s a lot of kids willing to put him out of a job. Could be moved in the off-season for defensive help.

Peter Regin (RFA) – Nobody knows what shape Regin’s shoulder is going to be in or how much more bad luck he can take before completely disappearing from the Senators plans going forward. Regin’s time may have already passed with guys like Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad getting close but my guess is Murray gives him a qualifying offer and they take another look at him during camp. He could still be a top-six forward next season.

Colin Greening (2 yrs) – Great first half of the season then he started to fade after the all-star break. Just didn’t seem to have the same jump and maybe it has to do with playing a lot of hockey in the past two years after being used to the college schedule. No worries about his potential. He’s a player and his roster spot is safe.

Erik Condra (1 yr) – Great hockey sense but with hands of pure concrete. It’s hard to think of another Senators player who squandered so many scoring opportunities. He might be better off carrying a shovel instead of a stick. Still, he’s a great penalty killer and all-around depth player. He’s a lock to return.

Jim O’Brien (RFA) – We thought this guy was toast, a bungled first-round pick by the previous regime. Instead O’Brien kept momentum from a late audition last season and won the trust of MacLean down the stretch and into the playoffs. I didn’t realize just how fast a skater O’Brien was and he’s like a starved wolverine when chasing down a loose puck. No mystery here. He gets a qualifying offer and will battle for a job in training camp. Doesn’t seem to smile a lot though. All business on the ice.

Jesse Winchester (UFA) – Tough call on this guy. The coaching staff seem to love him and kept a spot open after he got over a concussion. It’s hard to make sense of what Ottawa will do with so many forwards and so many prospects expected to play. Winchester could be pushed out or the Senators might want his defensive prowess back in the lineup. He won’t get you points but he protects a puck along the boards like nobody since Peter Schaefer.

Zenon Konopka (UFA) – A player built for the playoffs if there ever was one. He was in and out of the lineup all season but was indispensable against the Rangers in the first round due to his faceoff ability and a his presence in front of Lundqvist. His body looked completely shot in Game 7 but still played a big role. He may not get an offer from the Senators if they want to keep Winchester or make room for a rookie, but MacLean seems to like him and he’s a big personality who’s perfect on a young team. If the Senators don’t want him, he’ll find another job without any difficulty. I’d keep him.

Kaspars Daugavins (RFA) – Between Daugavins and Konopka, you’d have a pretty good vaudeville act you could take on the road. I love these kind of character driven players who look like dump trucks on skates but manage to make a difference every night. Every team needs them and Daugavins should have been in the Rangers series instead of rookies like Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg. Good penalty killer and a terrific goal celebrator with his patented dog bark down the length of the bench. I don’t see a reason he wouldn’t be back to at least try to keep a job in camp.


Erik Karlsson (RFA) – Not even going to bother commenting on the kid. Give him whatever money he wants and put him on the ice for 25-30 minutes every single night.

Sergei Gonchar (1 yr) – The fans are tough on the veteran but Gonchar had a great year under MacLean and has enough in the tank for another strong season. With Filip Kuba likely taking a walk this summer, the Senators will need Gonchar’s smooth presence to eat up minutes on the blueline. He’ll never win over the fans but he’s an important player for this team.

Chris Phillips (2 yrs) – Steady as always and even better when the games mean something. He’s back in a comfortable role of a 3-5 defenseman and part of the leadership group. If you don’t like Chris Phillips, you probably don’t have a heart and hate Christmas.

Filip Kuba (UFA) – He’s likely gone. Had a good season partnered with Karlsson but the Senators might peg Jared Cowen for that role as a natural progression in his minutes. Kuba had a brutal Game 7 which might have sealed his fate – at least with the fans.

Jared Cowen (2 yrs) – Could end up playing with Karlsson and playing over 20 minutes a night next season. Was in the conversation for the Calder and is going to be a beast in this league not long from now. The only fear is the sophomore jinx.

Matt Carkner (UFA) – Tough year with injuries and a new coaching staff who didn’t realize just how steady a force he can be when healthy. He’s the heavyweight of the league and has underrated hands. Makes a good pass out of his zone and tends to get his shots through from the point. The Senators should offer him a two-year deal to stay as a sixth defenseman. He’ll be cheap and well worth the roster spot.

Matt Gilroy (UFA) – The fans were tough on him and Gilroy didn’t really fit in after the trade that sent Brian Lee to Tampa. But Gilroy wasn’t as bad as many made him out to be and he still has the wheels that would be enticing to a lot of teams looking for speed on their blueline. I think the Senators give him a token offer at their preferred price but won’t extend themselves trying to make him stay. Gilroy will probably be looking elsewhere for a home. He’s already a nomad.


Craig Anderson (3 yrs) – Great year, great playoffs and a foundation piece for this team. There’s no question he’s the number one goalie and will get the majority of games next season if he’s healthy. He’s not elite, but he’s perfect for Ottawa at this stage of the rebuild. I can envision a future where his relations with the media get a little prickly if things ever go sour. He’s got an edge to him.

Ben Bishop (1 yr) – He’s huge, if you didn’t know. His acquisition bought some time for Robin Lehner to develop but it may also have signalled that the organization is worried about Lehner’s maturity and attitude. If Anderson goes down to injury or struggles, Bishop can probably handle it. Great pickup by Murray.

Alex Auld (UFA) – This is probably the end of the line for Auld in the NHL. He’s had a good career and almost made himself into a number one goalie for a few years. It’s a tough gig for guys like Auld but he seems to have been well liked wherever he played. He could probably play in Europe if he wanted to.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's Over For The Senators ... And Maybe For Alfredsson

New York 2 Ottawa 1 (Rangers win series 4-3)

It's officially summer in Ottawa.

In the end, the Senators just didn't have enough pucks to break down the near impenetrable Rangers defence and their horrifyingly dominant goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who put in a performance worthy of Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek.

The days ahead will be all about what went wrong for Ottawa and there will be some long knives pulled out of a few bony backs and bodies pulled out from under the buses, an annual April tradition in these parts (as it is in every NHL city but one).

Since you asked, if I had to throw a few stones myself, I'd be questioning why rookies like Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg were put in the lineup late in the series ahead of guys who have been with the team all season. Stone made one nice play on a big goal but both rookies didn't have an impact when they weren't struggling. How much energy could a guy like Kaspars Daugavins, universally adored in that dressing room, have given this team? Who knows. It probably wouldn't have made much of a difference because the Senators lost this series to a better team. The Rangers were better in the regular season and they were good enough to fend off a Senators team that had nothing to lose in the post-season.

There were other problems for Ottawa, most notably Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek getting checked and hounded into insignificance almost every single game and Nick Foligno's unfortunate goalie interference penalty in Game 6 that thoroughly killed the momentum they had in the early going, bad call or not. In my opinion, it was a turning point in the series and Foligno deserved the call. You could tell by the look on his face and the mocking hands in the air as he was slightly pushed from behind.

I'm sure Senators fans will wholeheartedly disagree with me, as they spent most of their energy trashing CBC personalities and blaming the referees for everything that went wrong. Sure, some calls were brutal, but it's always been that way in the NHL. One of the first things my father taught me was that referees were a sort of sub-human species who had it out for whatever team you were cheering for. Canadian kids get taught that before they learn about Santa Claus. Not much has changed in 2012 except everyone can now go on Twitter and flamethrow everybody and everything they see.

Well, I didn't intend to let this post get so negative that quickly, but that's Stella Artois and some shattered nerves for you.

When all the crying is done, the fans should look back on this season as a major step forward for this organization and along the way, people were treated to some of the best hockey they've seen in almost five years.

The Senators happened to come up a goal short in the last game, but so have hundreds upon hundreds of other NHL teams over the years. Most of them survived.

The real focus now turns to Daniel Alfredsson and whether or not he has played in his last NHL game. My hunch is that he comes back for another season but might need a month of healing to come to that decision.

There's too many good nights ahead for this young team to willingly choose to walk away from it, but if he does, he went out as the best Senator on the ice, just like he's been most nights of his career.

Black Aces will be back after a couple days, maybe the weekend, and we'll see how the lay of the land is then.

For all my readers, thanks for another season of sticking around ... for the weird, for the mundane, for all of it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Alfredsson Boils Over As Ottawa Gives New York Game 6... Sens Back In Underdog Role For Game 7 At MSG

New York 3 Ottawa 2 (Series tied at 3)

We all knew what Daniel Alfredsson was thinking as he utterly destroyed his stick on the bench after a tough 3rd period shift. But you have to wonder what was going through Jakob "Greener Than Grass" Silfverberg's head as he sat on the bench next to this suddenly maniacal Swedish legend and watched him stomp a water-bottle to death with his skate once the stick was taken care of.

Silfverberg was just thankful for the opportunity to play in an NHL post-season game while Alfredsson was just angry at seeing another opportunity slip away while he sat on the bench during a Senators power-play.

It was a disappointing night for Ottawa's star players with Jason Spezza playing his worst game of the series and Milan Michalek not helping him out much either. Coach Paul MacLean didn't use Spezza much in the 3rd, and that's understandable, but the coach also has to answer for changing a winning lineup just to insert a rookie like Silfverberg. Not that the young Swede was bad (in fact he was more noticeable than some other Senators) but you have to wonder what it felt like for players like Kaspars Daugavins and Bobby Butler who have been in Ottawa all year to suddenly get pushed aside for a rookie who hasn't been in that dressing room all year long or even worn the logo yet. It was an interesting chemistry experiment during a critical game. Not sure why it was needed, but you can't blame that situation for the loss.

There's no moral victories this late in a series. The Senators had their foot on the Rangers throats after the first period with a chance to clinch and they bungled it away with a sloppy second period that saw New York get two power-play goals and a heartbreaking late even-strength goal by rookie Chris Kreider.

Some thought the goalie interference call on Nick Foligno was soft, but to me it was clear that Foligno was pulling that "oops, didn't see you there" act at exactly the wrong time and he got dinged for it like he has all season. Brad Richards scored on that same man-advantage and it caused Ottawa to lose all the focus they had in a great first period. If Foligno is lucky, it won't be looked upon as the turning point in the series for the Rangers.

Not only was it a wasted opportunity for Ottawa, but it could have been their last one now that they have to go into a seventh game in New York with the momentum out of their hands.

You can go ahead and point to Ottawa's great record at MSG and their season long ability to bounce back from tough games, but as it stands, the Senators chances are 50-50 at best and in reality probably a little less than that. Ask any player and they'd tell you they want to play that seventh game at home with the last-change and their own fans giving them energy.

What does work in Ottawa's favour is that pressure is still on the Rangers to win this series. Never mind that the Senators have been the better team through six games. If the Senators lose Game 7, the press will be relatively easy on them and the exit stories will be all about how this team overachieved and almost knocked off the giant of the East if it weren't for a few bad bounces (or the best goalie in the world - there's no denying that). If the Rangers fall at MSG, guys like Larry Brooks will be all too eager to start carving the Blueshirts and everything from the Rangers system to their star players like Marian Gaborik will be called into question. Not so with Ottawa.

If you think about it, would the Senators be able to do this any other way? A home victory in Game 6 would have been way too easy on everybody. It's almost like this team needs the odds against them to play their best hockey. They looked terrible in the second period but got into the third with everything against them and they actually made a go of it in the last few minutes with that late goal and another opportunity in the last few seconds.

But that's just theory. Tell this stuff to Alfredsson and he might stomp your balls off if he's in the wrong mood. He was beyond upset for about 5 minutes in that last frame because he knew his team had blown it. The underdog stuff is fuel for the young guys, but the captain has seen just about everything now and all he wanted was that win.

He still has a chance to get it on Thursday night and the two day break will give both teams more than enough time to prepare.

It's going to come down to goaltending and a little puck luck. All the Senators can do now is go to New York and put it all on the ice.

May the best team win.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Chris Neil
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Kyle Turris

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anderson Puts Rangers On Brink ... What Will Torts Do Now?

Ottawa 2 New York 0

The Ottawa Senators are one win away from upsetting the heavily favoured top Eastern seed.

Let that butterfly flap around in your head for a while. Then prepare yourself what could be a nerve-shredding couple of games, because, despite all the celebrating going on by Senators fans, the New York Rangers aren't dead yet.

That last win can be a bastard.

It's important to remember that the Senators, despite putting 30 shots on the net, only got one by Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish King once again played like a champ with a .966 save percentage and a number of highlight robberies. Thankfully for Ottawa, their own guy was even better, which means he was absolutely perfect.

Craig Anderson has gotten downright nasty in this series and it looks like he might even be in the Rangers heads, if there's any room in there after god knows what John Tortorella has filled it with. The Blueshirts don't score much anyways but when you throw 41 pucks at a goalie and still lose the most important game you've played all year, it's going warp the mind of even the most hardened playoff vets like Brad Richards.

This series has been strange to watch because you see a Rangers team that has become so dogmatic in their defensive style of play that just one or two goals seems catastrophic to their fate. The Senators held a 1-0 lead off Jason Spezza's goal from the middle of the first right up until the last minute when Spezza again sealed the win with an empty-netter. The Rangers did look like they deserved a goal in that time but you never thought that either Richards or Marian Gaborik was going to take the game over.

The emotional push of the Rangers seems to come from their bench boss, Torts, but Ottawa's is spread around the lineup, whether it's Zenon Konopka again playing a critical role on faceoffs and the penalty-kill, or it's Spezza visibly shedding the weight of a whole city with a meaningful fist pump after his first goal of the series.

Even Ryan Callahan of the Rangers has been quiet since a great opening game at home. I'm hesitant to say that the Rangers are being held back by their total commitment to collapsing and blocking shots - it got them the Eastern crown, no small accomplishment - but Ottawa seems much looser out there and they don't tend to get down when something bad happens. They've gotten some questionable calls from the refs and go out and kill it off. Their power-play is absolutely brutal but they don't seem to go into a slump for the next few shifts like a lot of teams do.

After a regular season straight out of Fellini movie, the Senators have seen it all by now and the quietly efficient Rangers suddenly don't seem like such an unbreachable obstacle. It's as if the Senators don't get uptight because they know that someone will be the hero when they need it. It could be Kyle Turris, Erik Condra, Chris Neil... just go down the lineup right to the sixth defenseman. We've seen big plays from all of them.

You can't really say the same thing about the Rangers. Torts was chopping down the bench, sitting Artem Anisimov and playing Richards almost 25 minutes, about 4 more minutes than Spezza got in the game. Neil blew the hinges off the Rangers best player of the series, Brian Boyle, with a major hit in the second period and the big centre had to leave the game.

And the Senators have basically done all this without their heart and soul leader, Daniel Alfredsson.

Rumours are he may be good to go in Game 6 in front of the loudest fans of the playoffs. How much of a shot in the arm will that be for Ottawa? The Senators actually might have to rein themselves in a little so they don't go running around like adrenalin freaks for the first 10 minutes.

For all the excitement and hype Game 6 will have, the biggest hurdle remains the calm and collected Rangers who probably wouldn't change their game plan in any situation - unless Torts finally blows a circuit and chokes someone on the bench or begins swinging sticks at the fans. The Rangers coach has been completely under control so far but now that it's do or die for New York, expect him to play all his cards before this thing is through. A rousing, expletive filled pre-game speech may just be the start. As we learned from HBO, Torts knows words that even biker gangs wouldn't utter in each other's company.

The Senators could win this right away or they might not get another puck past Lundqvist. Both scenarios are completely possible and fans should be prepared for both.

Basically, hold on for dear life.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Zenon Konopka

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Great Senators Family Group Pogo Of 2012

As any honest fan will tell you, whether it’s the Senators or another NHL team, they truly want to believe that the guys are all one big happy family, both on the ice and behind closed doors in that almost mythical “dressing room” where we suspect so much high drama plays out safely away from the cameras and notepads.

They want to believe that the coach is giving some Herb Brooks type motivational speech to a captivated team before every single period and rookies and vets alike are taping up damaged body parts just so they can play one more game, one more shift, like Jason Smith or Kirk Muller in old clips from Coach’s Corner.

The average guy who works 9-5 in some office and can’t stand the humourless, constantly throat-clearing and dandruff cloaked person in the cubicle next to him likes to lean back in his chair once in a while and try to imagine what it would be like cracking jokes in a stall next to Chris Neil and filling Jared Cowen’s skates up with shaving cream before practice.

For this average, possibly bored-stiff guy, his world is a little more tolerable because he knows that at least somewhere, some people are still paid to hang out like kids at summer camp, play a child’s game and skate heroically on the ice (and sometimes bleed) to the adoration of an entire country. Sounds a lot like that movie Youngblood – overly romanticized and dumbed down for the masses.

While most illusions have largely been stripped away by a cynical press and an overwhelming avalanche of social media that is completely pre-occupied by telling us just how barbaric and stupid hockey is (when they’re not telling us how greedy athletes are), there is still a little room left for the old-school sentimental hockey fan in all of us when you see a team like the Ottawa Senators battle back from preposterous levels of adversity to win a game like they did on Wednesday night, down 2-0 after the 1st period and in serious danger of falling into a 3-1 deficit in the series from which they would never be able to recover.

While it’s certainly more hip to talk about statistics, contracts and head-shots, nobody is really having much fun doing so, the same way nobody had fun listening to The Smiths and New Order for more than two awkward formative years in their life.

Luckily, the playoffs affords us some pure, visceral drama which doesn’t necessarily require another “ironic” Tweet or a blog post meant to show how much smarter you are than real hockey people.

You can watch Matt Carkner postpone his penalty box exit for just a split-second in order to surprise the Rangers defence by taking a long-bomb pass, stickhandling over the blueline and then dishing a perfect feed to a streaking Milan Michalek for the Senators first goal of the game which almost caved in the roof of the Kanata rink from the noise it created.

You can watch a quiet newbie like Kyle Turris snap a perfect shot over the once unbeatable Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder for the overtime win and notice that the incredulous look on Turris’ face is pretty much the same look on yours at that moment – pure disbelief and awe.

If you’re a Senators fan, and you’re probably a raving lunatic of one if you’ve found your way to some obscure blog like this, you’re definitely aware of the whole “Family” theme happening right now, from the players only t-shirts to the message scrawled by an absent Daniel Alfredsson on the dressing room board that simply read “Do it for the family”.

But the cynic in you probably says “Well, all teams do that in the playoffs. Millionaire athletes acting out a cliché. What makes this team more of a “family” than the New York Rangers or Nashville Predators?”

All you have to do is take a look at the footage directly after Turris scored the overtime winner on Wednesday night. As the Senators bench emptied and the players gang tackled Turris along the boards, the whole team broke into a spontaneous “pogo” that was both ridiculous and wonderful to see. Here are twenty grown men with their arms around each other jumping up and down in unison with pure joy on their faces, something you might see in soccer or occasionally in the NFL, but never in the NHL. Until last night.

The crowd in Kanata was going so crazy that the players almost didn’t know what to do with themselves so they just jumped up and down like kids in their first hockey tournament.

For any fan, it had to bring a smile to your face. You can’t put a stat on it and you can’t break it down to make it boring. It’s just a moment that exists in its own vacuum. It’s the same as Zdeno Chara leaping through the air with a monstrously huge bear roar onto a pile of Senators players in 2003 after Chris Phillips scored that huge overtime goal against the Devils. Even if the Senators don’t win the series, people will remember the Turris goal as a great hockey moment, especially in an organization without a history of championships or many iconic goals such as that.

The contributions of certain players that some fans thought were “useless”, like Carkner and Zenon Konopka, have been inspiring to see. Carkner completely changed the tone of the series with his beatdown of Brian Boyle in Game Two and Konopka is just one of a whole group of third and fourth liners playing strong minutes for this team. Give a guy like Konopka a 45 second shift and tell him to scrape and scratch for every single inch of the ice in front of Lundqvist and you get it exactly like it should be done. These kinds of players don’t reveal their true worth in the regular season because there’s so much more room and less intensity. In the playoffs when every play is made in a tangle of skates and sticks, Konopka quickly becomes more valuable because he doesn’t rely on skating and finesse for his game. He’s built for chaos. You can add Jesse Winchester and Jim O’Brien to that list.

The fact that the Senators are giving the Rangers the fight of their playoff lives right now without their leader and captain Daniel Alfredsson is evidence enough that this team might really be a “family”, or at least as close a Senators team we’ve seen since the Cup run of 2007 or possibly even before that. Some might even make the argument this is the closest Sens team of all-time after so many come from behind wins during the regular season and their surprising climb up the standings after an abysmal start.

We don’t really know because we don’t sit in a stall next to Chris Neil and tease a rookie about his “physique chiselled out of marshmallows” or share a cold one after a tough loss trying to cheer each other up. Like the average guy at the office, it’s probably enough to imagine that it’s happening.

Clearly something is happening with this team. How far they can take it on guts and will alone will be a hell of a thing to watch.

Turris Buries One For The Ages

I have to say that tonight was the wildest and loudest Sens crowd I've heard in years. When the Senators were dying a slow death after going down 2-0, the deafening arena noise after that first goal was piss-your-pants frightening and I've no doubt that played a huge role in getting the player's legs under them for the rest of the night.

No time for a game recap tonight but we'll be back Thursday breaking down that crazed group pogo dance the Sens did after the Kyle Turris OT goal.

Whatever happens in this series, this clip will never get old...

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Kyle Turris

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fans Start To Bail On Spezza Too Early

Uh oh. Here comes the mob.

The Senators are only down 2-1 in their series against the best team in the Eastern Conference and already the fans have started in on Jason Spezza who is stuck at 1 point in the early going of what’s been a memorable playoff round.

Granted, Spezza has built up enough goodwill over the season to keep the trust of most fans but the call-in show on the Team 1200 after the game wasn’t very pretty and the schoolyard twitter bullies have stepped into their own little time-machine to travel to an era when it was fashionable in Ottawa to boo their franchise centre.


For some people, the Ottawa Senators only ever play against themselves. In this comfortable little fantasy world (where everyone wears “little white shorts”), it’s as if no other NHL teams exist. Ottawa is playing against the EA Sports computer and when the results aren’t positive, it must be because Spezza is “the dumbest player in the league” (that’s a real quote from a caller today), Milan Michalek is “invisible”, Craig Anderson isn’t a clutch player and Erik Karlsson can’t play defense.

In this wonderful headspace, it’s easy to forget that the Senators are playing against the best goalie in world, against the best defensive team in the East and against a head coach who has a Stanley Cup ring. And somehow, they’re only down a game in a series in which Ottawa has outplayed them two out of three nights.

For the love of God, fans in Toronto would crawl over a mile of broken glass on lovely Sherbourne Street just to be down 3-0 to the Rangers if it meant being in the playoffs.

In reality, this is a great turn of events for Ottawa. They’re right there with the New York – with a lucky bounce going the other way, Ottawa would be up 2-1 – and their best two forwards, Spezza and Michalek, haven’t even played their best game yet. At some point, those two will find a way and it just might put Ottawa over the top.

Spezza is second on this team in shots for the series with 9. That’s not a player who’s shrinking away under pressure. That’s a guy who is being checked to death by the Rangers but is fighting his way through it only to find a Vezina trophy winner smiling in his face.

It’s the same story every year in the playoffs. When you only have a few offensive weapons like Ottawa has, it’s easy for an elite opponent like the Rangers to shut them down. All their resources go into stopping Spezza, Michalek and Karlsson. Because of that, you often see third and fourth liners become playoff heroes because they’re the only players seeing the third defense pairing and weaker forwards.

True to form, Chris Neil scores an overtime goal in Game Two. Erik Condra has a goal and Spezza doesn’t.

There’s still time for Spezza and Michalek to make a difference in this series. For sure, they need to be better, in particular Michalek, but three games is an awfully quick turnaround for fans to start throwing guys under the bus.

They should be happy with a team that’s playing a near perfect brand of underdog hockey that could even see them topple the Eastern favourites. If you didn’t have Spezza, the Senators would already be golfing by now and you’d have nothing to do but complain about Don Cherry and Sidney Crosby for weeks like everyone else.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Tennis season is just around the corner.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Despite Loss, Senators Putting Scare Into Top Seeded Rangers As Game 4 Looms

New York 1 Ottawa 0 (Rangers lead series 2-1)

There will be a lot of virtual ink spilled about the soul-sucking performance of Henrik Lundqvist and the inability of Ottawa's top scorers Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek to even get a puck near the GQ force-field (the two combined for 4 shots - 3 of them by Spezza), so I won't bother going on about it tonight.

You've all seen it and I know by the site stats that nobody in Ottawa likes to read blogs breaking down games the day after a gut churning loss.

So on to the positives. And there were a never ending supply of them all night long in Game Three.

To cut right to point of it, the Rangers are in for the battle of their playoff lives.

The supposed first seed is getting everything they can handle from the eighth place Senators, and in true playoff fashion, the Rangers escaped by the slimmest of margins on a fortuitous bounce that local favourite Brian Boyle put past Craig Anderson.

The Senators put 39 shots at Lundqvist, which was 16 more than the Rangers managed. That's not exactly within the "margin of error". That's a sign the Senators outplayed the Rangers and simply got shutdown by a great goalie. The law of averages say the Senators will get a few by him eventually and if Anderson keeps playing strong, this series should go to six or seven games.

Other good performances were clocked by Zack Smith, who finally showed up in this series and was probably the best Senator on the ice the first two periods. Kyle Turris doesn't look intimidated and nearly tied the game with seconds left in the 3rd. The role players are doing a good job cancelling out the role players on the Rangers with Zenon Konopka, Jesse Winchester and Chris Neil all having a strong series.

If there's a chance Daniel Alfredsson can go in Game Four, it might be all the emotional spark the Senators need to get one or two past Lundqvist.

The Senators got that boost from the Matt Carkner scrap in Game Two but now that the scores have been settled and everyone was ready to play square hockey, Ottawa couldn't find that extra gear when they needed it in the third. Right before Boyle scored the winning goal for the Rangers, Ottawa had them on the ropes for three or four shifts but the big moment never happened.

The Kanata crowd was waiting for a goal to unleash pure hell but ended up kicking empty plastic beer cups out of their way on the sad march from the stands.

As painful as that loss was, the Senators look like a team who can actually beat the Rangers if they get a bounce or two to go their way. Whatever team can end up racking up two wins in a row will win this series.

There's still plenty of time and ice for Ottawa to surprise a few more people this year.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Craig Anderson
2. Zack Smith
3. Chris Phillips

Honourable Mentions: Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Colin Greening and Bobby Butler.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Senators Embrace Playoff-Style Hockey And Get Huge Win For The Road-Split In NY

Ottawa 3 New York 2 (Series tied 1-1)

Just minutes after Chris Neil backhanded a loose puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the overtime winner in Game 2, the much under-appreciated winger stood calmly for the traditional post-game HNIC interview accorded to all playoff heroes.

As the first question, Cassie Campbell described to Neil the scene in the hallway just moments after the winning goal where Senators coach Paul MacLean walked right up to the previously ejected Matt Carkner and shook his hand. Campbell asked Neil what it meant to the team that Carkner had been tossed for instigating a fight with Brian Boyle in retaliation for a Game 1 pummelling of Ottawa's best player, Erik Karlsson.

Neil, like Nick Foligno had also done in a 2nd intermission interview, praised Carkner's actions and said that the Ottawa Senators were a "family" and that it meant a lot to the guys in the room that Carkner addressed the problem right away.

It's telling to me that some were wondering about a possible Carkner suspension and moaning about his "brutality" while MacLean was going out of his way to shake Carkner's hand. The players and coaches know what that fight meant to the dressing room, and that's all that will matter in the end. The rest is just schoolyard chatter by so-called "experts" on the game.

You've all seen it by now. Carkner challenged Boyle right away for the Karlsson incident and didn't wait for the answer. Fists flew and Boyle took a couple hard ones before crumpling to the ice trying to protect whatever good looks he had. All Carkner did was deliver as many punches as Boyle did two nights before to Karlsson's head, only this time a lot harder.

It got Carkner tossed but it also gave the Senators a five minute disadvantage despite Ranger Brandon Dubinsky getting tossed for being the third-man-in (Dubinsky also savaged a Gatorade cooler on his way to the room, a clip that will be played for years during montages across all sports networks regardless of context).

Reaction was split along the usual lines. People who don't like the rougher side of the game were already bemoaning the fact that Coach MacLean had started Carkner and Zenon Konopka and when Carkner took the extra five minutes, those people were throwing their hands in the air. Others saw it as something that just had to be done, regardless of the consequences.

Turns out, the Rangers didn't even come close to scoring on the extended power-play and the Senators seemed like a different team after that.

In Game One, it was like the Senators had completely forgotten how intense you had to be in the playoffs to make a difference. If you had seen the Penguins-Flyers or Predators-Wings opening games, you saw four teams exploding on every shift, dying for the puck and battling each other for every opening of ice.

The Senators saw that from the Rangers but didn't have the spark they needed to respond properly. Rightly, MacLean saw the weakness and fixed the problem by inserting experience and toughness with Carkner and Konopka over Matt Gilroy and Kaspars Daugavins.

It didn't pay off right away, and at moments in Game Two it looked as if the Rangers would sneak away with another victory because Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson couldn't get pucks to the net. Yet, after the gong-show opening, the Senators at least rediscovered that never-say-die mentality they had during their best stretches of the regular season. The chemistry worked. Konopka didn't do anything outlandish all night but win faceoffs and look like a de facto Boston Bruin out there.

Karlsson, suddenly feeling a little taller and more confident thanks to Carkner's payback, was the best Senator on the night, constantly rushing the puck and putting it on net every chance he had. His 10 shots (and those were just the ones that got through) were twice as many as second place Zack Smith's 5.

Jared Cowen rebounded from an awful Game One and was a physical force most of the night being second to Karlsson in credited hits with 4 (the MSG statisticians seem to be a little stingy in the hits department).

Craig Anderson again couldn't control any rebounds but he made some important stops after giving up a bad goal to Anton Stralman on the power-play halfway through the first.

Of course, the big negative to come out of the night was Daniel Alfredsson leaving the game after taking a cheap shot elbow to the head from Carl Hagelin in the second period, and as of this writing, nobody knows what kind of shape the captain is in.

It was that kind of night. The CBC talking heads kept using the words "circus" and they were pretty close. We saw elbows, slew foots, dives, rabbit punches, headlocks, phantom penalties, pummelings, blood, blocked shots, blocked shots with groins and an overtime goal by Neil.

Hell of a game.

To me, there's a direct correlation to Carkner deciding to stand up for his teammates and the Senators finally finding the balls to play playoff hockey the way it's supposed to be done. It's rarely pretty and victories sometimes come on strange bounces, but the Senators couldn't continue to go down the path of taking punishment from the Rangers and trying to turn the other cheek by rigidly sticking to a ho-hum game plan that was completely lacking in emotion and drive.

They needed a gutsy effort and they got it, even if they took the long way around.

First game back in Ottawa should be a doozy.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Matt Carkner
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Chris Neil

Honourable Mentions: Jared Cowen, Nick Foligno, Zenon Konopka and Filip Kuba.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

History Repeats Itself As Sens Look Flat In Game One ... Plus Opening Night Game Notes

New York 4 Ottawa 2

It wasn’t pretty, kids.

Not for Senators fans, hockey fans or even the brain damaged. It actually takes some effort to find a lousy hockey game in the first round but we witnessed a classic fugazi on Thursday as the Senators bombed on Broadway opening night.

For those of us who have had the pleasure of seeing every single Senators playoff game in their relatively brief history, the flat performance in the first game of a series is old hat. We’ve seen it more times than we’ve seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. The "lousy Sens playoff game" went into syndication years ago.

That’s the good news/bad news.

Just because Ottawa stunk doesn’t mean they’ll stink the rest of the series. This is just how they do things. They like to dip their toe into the pool while their opponent usually cannonballs naked into the deep end with two beers in their fists and a snorkel on upside down.

Yet, for this Senators edition, after the character-filled regular season they had, this was a weird one.

Ottawa’s first power-play was a true dud without a single shot on goal. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal early in a scoreless game but it was a missed opportunity to throw a little doubt into the Rangers psyche. Even if you don’t score, you can put a scare into your opponent by moving the puck around and getting shots through. Didn’t happen and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan scored the first goal of the series shortly after.

It was good work by CBC cameras to quickly cut to Erik Condra on the Sens bench after Callahan’s goal. The blood pouring out of Condra’s face suggested that the refs might have missed a penalty call just moments before the puck went in (replays showed it wasn’t illegal) but coach Paul MacLean looked on silently while Condra bled and the Rangers celebrated.

If this was the regular season, we would have seen MacLean mutter one of those wry “for f**k’s sakes” moustache ripplers and maybe wave a hand at the ice. Instead, MacLean kept his cool and it made you wonder if this was some kind of tactic, as if to say to the refs “Hey, you’re going to hear waves of hell coming from the Rangers bench every time you blow the whistle. You won’t hear a peep from us. Maybe remember that down the line here.”

Not a bad idea, especially when MacLean already has a reputation with the refs. Let John Tortorella bury himself with the zebras while you wait darkly in the shadows.

Turns out, the Senators could have used some emotion rather than trying to keep their heads cool.

At one point early in the game, Brian Boyle used Erik Karlsson’s face as a speedbag ala Marchand on Sedin last year and nobody really did anything about it. Clearly, the Rangers had the emotional edge in the first period and carried it through the game until letting up after they got a four goal lead. Tortorella even called a time-out with his squad up a goal in the second and absolutely gave it to his players. Again the cameras cut to the Senators bench while this was going on and all we saw were a few guys drinking water and the coaching staff staring blankly at the ice. Strange to say the least.

To be fair, the big story wasn’t the Senators coming out flat. It was the Rangers coming out with speed, grit and emotion and all their star players had a good night. Callahan was an animal in the first half of the game and the Senators had no answer.

Chris Neil threw his body around as expected but nobody followed his lead, with the exception of Colin Greening, and later, after it was a bit too late, the dazzling stickhandler Nick Foligno.

Zack Smith was a ghost for most of the night and only woke up when a Ranger hacked him near the benches on a change. Smith ended up being credited with 3 hits, all coming in the 3rd period. He had 0 shots and 0 blocked shots. It makes you wonder – how does a grinder not show up in the first game of the playoffs?

Star players can get shutdown offensively because their opponents game plan is based around it. Happens all the time, even to good teams. But grinders are always free to play hard and make hits. Smith had 17 shifts and didn’t make a difference on a single one of them. He’s had episodes like this throughout the regular season and was even made a healthy scratch at one point by MacLean to wake him up.

Lest it be thought I’m blaming Smith for the loss, most of the Senators had a flat game, although Daniel Alfredsson had jump most of the night and Craig Anderson played well early until the team fell apart in front of him with giveaways (and once behind him with Foligno’s unforgivable reverse play that got botched as badly as any I’ve ever seen).

Still, there’s reason for faith. The Senators got two pucks behind Henrik Lundqvist late in the game and that will at least take some pressure off going into Game Two. If they had gotten shutout on Thursday, their minds would have been in a cranked vice if they somehow got stoned by Lundqvist again in the first period on Saturday.

Instead, the Senators can tell themselves that they got the worst game out of their system right away and from now on it’s going to be playoff hockey the way every other team plays it in the NHL. Emotion can be a hindrance or it can be a positive. Usually, it’s not lacking in the playoffs, it’s just how you use it.

For some reason, the Senators miraculously looked like they had none at all for two periods, defying all the odds of science, culture and civilization.

My guess is they’ll get a little of that New York spirit after another day spent in Manhattan, brooding over their Game 1 flop in the spotlight.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Chris Neil


Started out Wednesday night watching the Flyers-Penguins game but was switching to Wings-Predators during breaks. Pretty soon I was glued to the much more exciting Western match-up. The Flyers game had a great start and wild finish, but it couldn't compare to the speed and flow of the Wings-Predators. Not even close. I might be crazy but I still think the Wings can win that series despite looking a lot older and slower than the Preds. But that's the thing - for everything Nashville threw at them, the Wings were still in a position to tie it up to the very end. It's brains versus brawn in that one. I'm still taking the brains.... Speaking of brains, Shea Weber brained Henrik Zetterberg with a force-feed into the glass that looked worse than it really was. Many thought it should be a suspension but the resulting fine seems appropriate enough. To me, it was over the edge but not enough to be suspended for. Weber was just introducing himself. Nothing wrong with a little "How do you do?" on occasion. If anything, Weber needs to play on the edge the whole series. He's got the size to defend himself. Might as well push the Wings around because if there's one weakness the Wings have, it's a lack of toughness. Exploit it....

..... Ryan Kesler truly embarrassed himself and his organization Wednesday night with at least two pathetic attempts to sell a penalty. The first was when he was tangled up with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and shot back his head as if he had been butt-ended in the face. Not even close. The second, and even more embarrassing was his barrel-roll to the ice as he and Mike Richards battled for position. Kesler even threw his stick for good measure, like a sniper had put one between his ribs from the 3rd deck. Alain Vigneault shouldn't let his brats get away with that crap but Kesler isn't the only Canuck known for soccer-style dives and chronic whining. If the Canucks get swept in four games, it will still have taken too long. Seeing the Canucks lift the Stanley Cup in June should make any hockey fan outside of B.C. retch.... Okay, too far? I am a fan of the Sedins. And Kevin Bieksa. And Manny Malhotra. And Sami Salo. And Vancouver is a nice city. I lived there for a while back in the 90's but back then the face of the franchise was Trevor Linden whose biggest sin was drinking real milk instead of soy. Times have changed .....

…. So Tampa GM Steve Yzerman put the kibosh on Guy Boucher going back to the Montreal Canadiens organization to take over for sitting duck Randy Cunneyworth next season. It’s no surprise that Yzerman ended speculation right away on Boucher, who still has two years left on his contract to the Bolts. But it’s strange that some would assume Boucher would welcome going back to the Canadiens organization. In Tampa he has Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Martin St. Louis. In Montreal he’d have a goalie in Carey Price, but not much else. Tampa can turn around and win their division next year. If Montreal does, jaws will hit the floor....

.... I love how people have been disregarding Tomas Holmstrom of the Wings after he had a sub-par season and then he goes out and scores a big goal bulling his way to the net on the power-play in a maze of legs, arms and fists. Nobody since the 1970's has taken more horrific abuse in front of the cage than Holmstrom. Anybody who has had a laugh at Holmstrom's expense this season should put down their potato chips, stop tweeting, and go watch some highlights of the Wings Cup runs in 98, 02 and 08. The fact that he can walk, let alone skate, is a miracle of human endurance. Guy is a legend.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Senators Get Rangers In First Round ... Torts Ready For War

A week ago, it was all but certain Ottawa would face the Bruins in the first round. Hotel rooms were booked, Google maps checked for Cheers and tickets bought for Fenway on the off-day. It would have taken a bizarre series of circumstances for the Senators to drop to 8th in the East and play the Rangers, but that's exactly what happened. There was an earthquake, a loss to the Devils, a stalled scoreboard clock, a Washington win, a player on the bench touching the puck, a series of concussions and a Panthers win that resulted in some mathematical algorithm which ensured an unforeseen 1st round matchup.

Also, the Senators simply stopped playing once they clinched the post-season.

So now what?

There's a lot of Senators fans thrilled at the idea of taking on the Rangers but you won't hear a hint of that coming from the players or the Senators organization. If you go by the regular season, Ottawa seems to match-up better against New York than Boston, but nobody wants to provide bulletin-board material for a team that was on the verge of winning the President's Trophy. How can you say you'd rather play the 1st place team than the 2nd? When you overthink the game, anything is plausible.

Ottawa is still the decided underdog going into this series, but like I said on Twitter, if there's one coach the referee's hate more than Paul MacLean, it's John Tortorella. That's worth at least one road victory in the first two games.

It will be a faster skating, less physical series than it would have been against the Bruins, and we'll also be treated to Tortorella's wonderful wit. Get ready for quotes like "I don't give a s**t about Erik Karlsson. I'm just worried about my team." Or "Spezza is the dirties f**in' player in the league and if MacLean has anything to say about it, tell him for me that I'll meet him in the parking lot and we'll settle this the old-fashioned way".

As with all playoff series, the goalies will decide this thing in the end and the Rangers have the best one in the league in Henrik Lundqvist. I know Jonathan Quick is in vogue right now but I'm guessing most GM's would take Lundqvist over Quick in a heartbeat. All would take Lundqvist over Craig Anderson to win a playoff series as well, but if the Senators goalie plays well enough to keep it close, Ottawa's offense can beat the Rangers over seven games. Will it? Nobody knows.

With Tortorella seemingly a living, walking, talking exposed nerve these days, this series is ripe for some serious off-ice drama if things don't go the Rangers way in the early going. If New York starts strong, expect Torts to keep his mouth shut, even against his best instincts.

Should be worth the wait.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Experience Gap Between Bruins And Sens Not So Wide

If the Senators do end up facing the Boston Bruins in the first round, it’s a given that Ottawa will be the heavy underdogs and oddsmakers from Vegas to Venice will be picking the Bruins in their sleep. It's a bet even your grandmother would approve of (although, knowing my Granny Jean, she'd probably lay $50 on the Sens if she knew a bookie and maybe drop a few choice f-bombs at the TV if required - I've yet to know a more devoted fan than her).

In a first intermission interview on Sportsnet during Thursday night's possible first-round preview, captain Daniel Alfredsson spoke the line you'll be hearing all week from most members of the organization - "We have nothing to lose." In a way, it's Hockey Psychology 101. Going in with that mindset can take a lot of pressure off a room, especially when there's a nucleus of young guys going into their first NHL playoffs.

Except the balance of playoff experience between Ottawa and Boston is not as lopsided as one would initially think.

If you take the top 10 from each team in terms of post-season games played, the Senators suddenly don’t look so green.

Granted, the Bruins have more depth of experience throughout the lineup and a lot of it was accumulated recently, which counts for something, but Ottawa still has five players who would make it into Boston’s top 10. They also have two players, Sergei Gonchar and Alfredsson, with more post-season games than Zdeno Chara, the Bruins leader.

And if you look at that list, Ottawa’s top 10 in experience seems a little more skilled than the Bruins. Chris Neil and Shawn Thornton play a similar role but I’d take Neil in a playoff game over Thornton.

In the end, it’s just numbers on a piece of paper and if you go beyond the Top 10 on the Senators, you’ll see a lot of 0’s in the games played column. Yet a lot of those “zeroes” won a Calder Cup championship in the AHL just last season.

Maybe the gap just got a little smaller….

If somehow the Senators end up in 8th and have to play the Rangers .... well, never mind.

Ottawa – Top 10 in Post-Season Games

1. Sergei Gonchar – 118
2. Daniel Alfredsson – 107
3. Chris Phillips – 97
4. Chris Neil – 74
5. Jason Spezza – 46
6. Milan Michalek – 40
7. Filip Kuba – 24
8. Nick Foligno – 10
9. Four players tied with 6 games (Erik Karlsson, Matt Carkner, Zack Smith, Jesse Winchester)

Boston - Top 10 in Post-Season Games

1. Zdeno Chara – 100
2. Andrew Ference – 99
3. Brian Rolston – 70
4. Shawn Thornton – 62
5. Chris Kelly - 61
6. Milan Lucic - 55
7. Patrice Bergeron - 54
8. David Krejci – 52
9. Joe Corvo – 45
10. Dennis Seidenberg – 44

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Turris Heating Up On Eve Of Playoffs

Not many people were talking about it, but Kyle Turris was going through one hell of a slump recently, and you can be sure Senators management were getting a little uptight watching their prized second-line centre they made that big deal for go pointless in six straight games during a vitally important stretch.

From March 10 to March 23, Turris came up blank against division rivals Montreal in 3 separate games, as well as once each against Buffalo, Toronto and New Jersey. The Senators record during that time was 1-3-2. In fact, Ottawa came perilously close to losing control of their playoff position before they ran off 4 straight wins to clinch this past weekend against that old punching bag they call the New York Islanders.

Not surprisingly, the wins started coming when Turris turned around his game (or started getting puck luck). In the four most recent games (before Tuesday night against Carolina) Turris had 8 points, including a four-pointer against the Islanders when he skated with Milan Michalek because Jason Spezza was racing back home in time to see his new baby and Daniel Alfredsson was out with the flu.

Yet consistency still seems to elude Turris. The 6-game pointless streak was not even his worst of the season. He had a brutal 7-gamer back in early February which was the biggest chunk of a 1-point-in-11 game stretch where the kid couldn’t buy a goal for 10 of them. We won’t count the 6-game pointless streak he started the season off with in Phoenix before getting moved to Ottawa. Turris had missed training camp and the first two months while demanding a trade out of Dave Tippett’s Fort Knox regime and when he showed up in Ottawa, all anyone could say privately was that he needed a few hamburgers to get that wiry frame of his out of adolescence.

The Senators paid a very steep price for Turris, but in hindsight, and with the shock long since faded, it seems like a smart tactical move by GM Bryan Murray. When it was clear Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa weren’t ready for the role, Murray addressed the team’s biggest need and stayed young and cheap in the process. David Rundblad may turn out to be a better player than Turris in the long run (something I still expect to happen) but Turris might be a better fit for this team for at least the next 3-4 years. And in NHL hockey, 3-4 years is an eternity. I will have posted about 20 more times on this blog by then.

Hell, Turris even has the chance to be the kingmaker as soon as the first-round. That sounds a little hyperbolic, but Boston (assuming the matchup) will be throwing everything they have against both Spezza and Erik Karlsson on the backend. Those are Ottawa’s two pillars and both will be hacked, whacked and hounded by the Bruins all over the ice (and even in their dreams, with Brad Marchand wearing a red and green Freddy Kreuger sweater and spouting off corny one-liners).

Now, granted, the Bruins have so much depth that they can send an equally effective checking line out against Turris and linemate Alfredsson, (lets not forget about Chris Kelly) but over a seven game span, Turris will find life at least a little easier than Spezza.

Some will say Turris doesn’t yet have the size to grind through a playoff series where referees basically stop giving a s**t that you’re being hooked through the neutral zone or that you keep taking punches to the face in goalmouth scrums (Marchand again). The first few games of the series will see some calls made but it always, always lets up. Turris, who experienced the NHL playoffs for the first time last season where he impressed with 3 points in 4 games, will find the Bruins a tad more physical than the Detroit Red Wings of 2011.

His 4 point night playing on a line with Milan Michalek may also give coach Paul MacLean a little trick he can use at home or a little more carefully on the road when the Bruins have last change. If Spezza isn’t able to get going against Boston in the early going, MacLean can pull the switcheroo with the centres and put Spezza with Alfredsson, a combo that’s also worked in the past. At the very least, MacLean has more options with Turris playing well.

You can bet Murray and MacLean are really crossing their fingers that this recent offensive surge by Turris is much more than just a reflexive curve in a season full of hot and cold moments. Turris has a real chance to make a difference with the unbelievable skill he has, especially when every opponent will be preoccupied with Karlsson skating through the middle and zipping a no-look bullet to Spezza.

If Turris can find just one month of consistency, the Senators would at least have a chance at a major upset in the first round. Let’s see what happens.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sens Have Been Here Before But Date With Bruins Looks Tough

There were some sketchy, nerve-bending moments of pure fear for fans of the Ottawa Senators over the past couple of weeks. On the morning of March 17, their favourite team looked to be a lock to make the post-season but then lost ugly to the Toronto Maple Leafs just hours later. The Senators then dropped their next two games and suddenly the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres were close enough to see the air holes on the backs of their RBK sweaters.

A huge win over the Penguins one Saturday later was the start of a timely four game parade that officially put the Senators in the post-season and an almost sure date with the Boston Bruins in the first round, although there still remains a slight possibility they could rise to 6th over New Jersey or back down to 8th below Washington.

But the smart money is on a 7th place finish which would give Tim Thomas another chance to smother the Senators offense, this time when it really matters.

So, really, what are Ottawa’s chances if they have to go into Massachusetts to face the defending Stanley Cup champions and Zdeno Chara, who is, as Keith Richards once described himself, “half-man, half-horse, with a licence to shit in the street.”

If you go by their record against the Bruins this season, it doesn’t look good.

Ottawa is 1-4 with a game still on the schedule but the good news is that Ottawa won their last matchup and that just happened to be in Boston which could indicate an important breakthrough in confidence. If they end up facing the Bruins, they can at least go into Boston’s rink with the knowledge they’ve won there once already. The old cliché is that road teams in the playoffs are just looking for that one win – the split – to start the series. That task would be much harder for Ottawa if they had went 0-3 during the regular season. The two teams have never played each other in the playoffs, so there’s no Leaf-like curse hanging over the Senators heads.

The Ottawa franchise has been the 7th seed going into the playoffs 3 times in their history. Only once did they manage to knock off the 2nd place team and that was in 2002 against the Philadelphia Flyers for their second ever playoff series win. Below is a quick recap of how the Senators fared as a 7th seed:

96-97: Lost to Buffalo in 1st Round – 4-3

01-02: Beat Philadelphia in 1st Round – 4-1; Lost to Toronto in 2nd Round -4-3

07-08: Lost to Pittsburgh in 1st Round – 4-0

In the unlikely event Ottawa ends up dropping to 8th place and facing the New York Rangers, they might like the matchup a little better as they went 3-1 against the Blueshirts this season. Yet they won’t have much history to draw upon, never having played the Rangers in the playoffs and just once being the 8th seed:

97-98: Won against New Jersey in 1st Round – 4-2; Lost to Washington in 2nd Round – 4-1

A better way to look at Ottawa’s chances might be to see how many times a 7th seed knocked off a 2nd seed since the lockout. It’s happened exactly twice, most recently in 2010 when the Flyers knocked off the Devils 4-1. The Avalanche also surprised Dallas in 2006. That’s it folks.

In fact, the 8th seed has fared better in the upset category in the same time period. It’s happened 3 times, most recently in 2010 when Montreal beat Washington.

In short, the Senators are in for a hell of a fight if they want to beat the odds.

Yet that’s just what the Senators are good at. Nobody picked them to be where they are right now. So who says they can’t do it again?