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.