Monday, October 28, 2013

Senators Playing Small In A Big League

What’s our identity?”

When your head coach says that in public, maybe it’s time to start worrying. Just a little.

Those were Senators coach Paul MacLean’s words after Sunday’s loss to arguably the league’s best team, the San Jose Sharks. It’s been a hellish October schedule for Ottawa but that can’t account for everything that’s going wrong.

Where’s the intensity from Erik Karlsson? He played one of his strongest games of the season against San Jose but there were still times where he looked to be in cruise mode like he has for most of the first month. He’s skating as fine as he ever has (and putting up points) but his body language is all too obvious. He’s banging his stick on the ice after goals against, shaking his head, yapping at the refs and looking very much like the young player he is. There just seems to be a little poise and focus missing, but you could say that about a lot of players on this Senators team that’s lost 3 of the last 4 with all those losses being on home ice.

They’re getting killed in their own end and they’re getting killed with sloppy starts to games and periods. They look soft in front of their net despite having two big defenseman in Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba that have the size to actually prevent Craig Anderson from being rattled. It doesn’t help that Gryba is in and out of the lineup due to being inconsistent and Cowen doesn’t seem to be as aggressive in his own zone as he was in the past. Marc Methot is as steady as they come and has been the defensive conscience of this team along with Chris Phillips, both of whom have showed up to play so far.

For the most part, the veterans have done their jobs but there’s a few struggling. Milan Michalek only has 2 goals in 11 games and just 1 in his past 8, despite playing regularly with one of the best playmakers in the game, Jason Spezza.

Don’t blame Michalek’s struggles on Spezza. The captain has been one of the better Senators this season, but he’s never really had great chemistry with Michalek. I get that MacLean likes Michalek’s speed combined with Spezza’s slower, more cerebral game, but Michalek is not the type of winger who hangs back and gets into prime scoring areas for a pass. Michalek is hell on wheels and scores his goals on the rush going top speed or banging in rebounds in the midst of chaos.

On the other hand, Bobby Ryan is the type of player who should be able to complement and read Spezza’s playmaking abilities, but a slow start on that line and some early success with Kyle Turris doomed the Spezza/Ryan partnership prematurely. Some would even say that combination hasn’t been given the chance to blossom like it should but I’m not in the habit of telling the Jack Adams award winner what lines he should play together. It’s hard to argue against the success of Ryan and Turris together, but it must be tempting to reunite Spezza with Ryan just to see if it sparks something.

Yet, it’s not goal-scoring that’s losing this team games. It just seems like they’re small out there all the time, and it has nothing to do with actual physical size. Colin Greening isn’t winning puck battles. Zack Smith is being yanked from centre to wing, sometimes shift to shift and it’s not working. He’s being physical but he hasn’t settled into a role as a centreman as he should, mostly because Ottawa went with younger, smaller players in that role, namely Stephane Da Costa and J.G. Pageau and it hasn’t worked out. At all.

All these Western teams have certainly made Ottawa look small, but if the Senators start slow and only bring the intensity and physicality when they’re behind in games, the Eastern conference teams aren’t going to be any easier.

The Senators built an identity the past two seasons under MacLean by being tough and relentless. It’s hard to deny that. They spent all of last season playing that way with most of the talent on the injured reserve. Somehow they’ve lost that mentality in the early going here and they have to get it back. If it takes someone getting in a fight that usually doesn’t fight, so be it. If it takes someone like Turris paying the price in front of the net to score a goal, that might do it. Something has to spark this team back to life and just scoring goals from outside the faceoff circle isn’t going to do it.

This Senators team is a little too nice right now. The pacifists will roll their eyes and get their hackles up, but this team wins when they play mean. Two first-round series wins were accomplished with that style. It has to come back, and come back soon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Black Aces" Now A Song - Check It Out

One of the readers of this blog, Matt Gower, pointed out to me recently that his local Ottawa band, Capital Grass and the No Men, have recorded a song, "Black Aces", (click on link to hear) and have entered it into a CBC contest called Song Quest, which seeks to find "Canada's next great hockey song". Matt mentions the title of this blog gave him an idea for the song, and I have to say it's a pretty strong entry, especially if you're a fan of Americana roots or Appalachian music as I am.

Matt says, "Ever since I started reading Black Aces, in the back of my mind, I've thought to myself, that would make for a great hockey song. Plus, being a Canadian songwriter, I know that it's required to have at least one hockey tune on the set list."

Anyways, I thought this was too cool not to share with the rest of the readers and wish the best of luck to Matt and the rest of the boys in Capital Grass and the No Men in the contest. Here's a link to their website. They play fairly regularly around town and have also taken the stage at Bluesfest.

The first song my old band, The Hitmakers, ever wrote was a joke called "Hockey Tonk". It wasn't very funny, nor was it very good. Luckily no recordings exist of this trashterpiece, so you've been spared.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spezza Steps Over Alfredsson In Biggest Test Of His Captaincy So Far

Watching last night’s game in Detroit, you got the feeling Jason Spezza was a little sick of talking about Daniel Alfredsson. After two goals and one much needed trouncing of a division rival, we’re now talking about the new captain, not the departed one.

From the day he was given the captain’s “C”, Spezza probably hasn’t gone 48 hours without answering a question about Alfredsson and how he plans to fill those shoes. Then there was the Olympic summer camp snub, which would have been painful for a proud guy like Spezza who only fell off the radar because of injuries that destroyed his previous season. It would be enough to make a man want to go out and prove something to everybody on the biggest stage of the campaign so far.

And that’s what this game was. Media were swarming Joe Louis Arena for the Alfredsson angle while the game was nationally broadcast on TSN with as much hype as your average Toronto Maple Leafs game. That’s a lot of hype, by the way.

Imagine the mood if Alfredsson had scored a couple of goals against his old team and Ottawa limped away with their second consecutive loss. Luckily for Senators fans, Spezza made sure that didn’t happen.

You can argue that Spezza scored the two most important goals of the game. Eric Gryba’s opener set the tone but a 1-0 lead in Detroit is nothing to dance about. When Spezza scored 5 minutes later to make it 2-0, that’s when people started to believe Ottawa had a chance of winning this thing. Sure, the true believers would still pick Ottawa against the 1984 Oilers but just look at yesterday’s Citizen Prediction Panel. Only one of eight, Steve Lloyd, picked Ottawa to squeak out a win. Wayne Scanlan, who only seems to miss when he’s feeling merciful, picked Detroit. I picked Detroit. Mothers of Senators players probably picked Detroit.

When Bobby Ryan made it 3-0, the faithful were moonwalking on Elgin Street but Todd Bertuzzi’s late goal before the end of the first, on a power-play no less, could have easily swung the momentum back in Detroit’s favour, and with guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Alfredsson, a two-goal deficit isn’t the end of the world.

That’s when Spezza put it away with his biggest goal of the year so far. He went straight down the middle at Datsyuk in the Detroit zone and buried his own rebound off the lively Joe Louis Arena boards. That was pretty goddamn impressive if you ask me.

A lot of guys would have hooked left or right and tried to feed someone coming in with more speed, especially facing two red sweaters, one of whom happened to be a 3-time Selke award winner. Maybe they expected Spezza to do just that but he went right at them, shot the puck, and kept going to the net. Simply put, Spezza was the hungriest player on the ice at that moment and Datsyuk could only swing at him as he blew by.

At 4-1, the captain had taken the spirit out of the building and probably a lot out of Alfredsson as well, who only days ago commented that he caught a replay of a Senators game, saw the “C” on Spezza and thought it was himself for a brief moment. The cameras continually focused on Alfie as he sat on the bench, with everyone sitting at home dying to know exactly what he was thinking as the whole scene played out. Was he regretting everything? Was he stoic, knowing that there’s a long way to go and many chances for revenge?

I was thinking about Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who had settled his vendetta with Dany Heatley only the day before, and was probably watching the Detroit game from Barbados or Toronto, relishing the moment. I joked on Twitter that he was likely drunk with power at the moment, but like games in October, that too will fade with time.

But for Jason Spezza and the Senators, this is one game, one memorable performance, that can lead to bigger and better things, and just maybe bury some old skeletons that had been haunting them for too long.

And that captain’s “C” on Spezza looks a little sharper today than it did yesterday. What a game.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jason Spezza
2. Bobby Ryan
3. Kyle Turris

Honorable Mentions: Eric Gryba, Craig Anderson, Jared Cowen, Mika Zibanejad

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Timing Is Right For Zibanejad Re-call

Pretty good timing by Bryan Murray.

With all the attention on Ottawa’s upcoming game in Detroit against ex-captain Daniel Alfredsson, Murray felt the time was right to bring Mika Zibanejad back to the NHL today.

Makes sense on a couple of fronts. First, the Senators can use his size and skill to try and energize a team that didn’t look overly inspired against Edmonton on Saturday. No matter how you look at it, Zibanejad is an upgrade on J.G. Pageau and Derek Grant. Hell, he’s an upgrade on most of the players in the bottom-six, especially if he comes in a little ornery from his surprising training camp demotion.

Going into Detroit is a quagmire, and that’s before you even get to the rink. If you get into the Joe Louis Arena with your shirt still on your back, you have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg waiting for you, and worse, they’ve stolen your best hockey player and, by all reports, he couldn’t be happier wearing the red and white (without the black).

And that’s the second point here. It won’t alter the media’s interpretation of this game much – it’s still Alfie vs. the Sens, but parachuting Zibanejad into the game changes the feel a little bit for the fans. If Zibanejad, who is a clear favourite around town, can manage to have a strong game, it will take some of the focus away from Alfredsson and maybe ease the pain a little. Of course, if Bobby Ryan gets a couple of goals, that would be more significant considering how the two will always be linked from that fateful day in July, but Mika has become a bit of a cause célèbre on Twitter with the #FreeMika hashtags and his stint as DJZbad in the summer. They love their young players here. Erik Karlsson is a rockstar and Zibanejad isn’t far behind. What better way to say goodbye to an old legend like Alfredsson with a win featuring his former Swedish students.

Think of it this way – imagine Ottawa went into Detroit with the same lineup that lost to Edmonton and ended up getting creamed. Fans would start to hit the panic button, especially with Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago next on the schedule and calls for Zibanejad, who’s had a strong start in Binghamton, would have been deafening.

The time was right for an infusion of energy on the ice and a welcome respite from the Alfredsson narrative. Murray managed all that with the call-up of Zibanejad.

Now comes the hard part. Actually beating Detroit in Detroit.

They have more of a chance to do that with Zibanejad here instead of in Binghamton.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Backhander: Notes From A Long Night At The Rink

It’s late, I’m groggy and there’s popcorn in my hair. But here’s a few notes from the Senators home opener against the New Jersey Devils which I viewed from the nosebleeds in lonely Section 306.


... There were only four people in our row way at the top. Looking around the rink five minutes before the opening ceremony, it looked like there would be swaths of empty seats, especially in the lower bowl. Those seats filled up quickly once everything got underway but it seemed like each upper corner was almost completely unsold from the middle to the top. Strange to see during a home-opener, especially one with free parking on a warm night. Yet it didn’t seem to damper the atmosphere at all once the game got going. It was loud from where I was sitting, with lots of “Andy” chants and profanity filled screaming at the refs. When Milan Michalek blew a puck by Martin Brodeur in the third to put the game away, it was deafening. It can still be a hell of a loud rink when it needs to be.... As for the pre-game ceremony and the hype that came with hiring the guy out of Montreal who used to do their in-house entertainment, it seemed to fall pretty flat. All that happened was they dimmed the lights and played a predictable video on the scoreboard before announcing the players one-by-one. Not much of a light show and the video was that tired old schtick with the Roman Gladiators that looked about 10 years old. As usual, anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge had to be relied on to get the fans pumped up and he came through. I don’t remember hearing the old beloved Senators entrance theme song but maybe I just missed it. If they’re thinking of screwing with that tradition again, they better get their heads screwed on right. No matter how cheesy that song is, it’s the Senators through and through and should never be replaced by canned UFC music....You could hear a few boos mixed in with the cheers when Eugene Melnyk was introduced at centre ice. Not too many, but it was there. I was cringing, to be honest....

.... Still hearing lots of criticism of Erik Karlsson, who ONLY got 3 points on the night, but apart from one or two bad giveaways that I saw, he played a slick game. Giveaways are going to happen for Erik just like they happen for Jason Spezza, because both players are trying to make plays out there instead of being safe, but Karlsson got everyone on their feet when he raced back from the far blueline and stripped Stephen Gionta of the puck after giving it away in the first place. That wasn’t the only strong defensive play he made on the night, something he rarely gets credit for outside of people who watch him every night. He could have easily been one of the 3 Stars last night. He’s going to have an incredible year.... Speaking of which, hard to understand why they gave Gionta the 2nd Star last night. It was a polite move, but if it had to go to a Devil, it should have gone to Steve Bernier who at least scored a goal and tied Gionta with 5 shots. I would have given it to Karlsson. .... The 3rd Star, Bobby Ryan, probably couldn’t have scripted a better home debut in Ottawa and the fans really embraced him throughout the game, including a video they played during a commercial time-out that welcomed him to the city. I’d still like to see him with Spezza again now that injuries and slow-starts are out of the way, but it’s hard to argue the chemistry he’s finding with Kyle Turris. Once again, Turris was flying out there. I was one of those people who turned my nose up at the trading of David Rundblad, but I gotta admit I was wrong there. It will be interesting to see if opposing teams load up defensively against that “second line” now with Ryan there, and how that will affect Turris. He struggled at times going up against shutdown defenseman when Spezza was out last year, but at least he looks stronger in the early-going and might be able to fight through that better.....

.....Michalek is showing no signs of struggling with that bad knee. The guy is skating as good as I’ve ever seen him in Ottawa. That was a nasty shot that beat Brodeur high in the third period. ..... Maybe shaving the beard off was bad luck for Eric Gryba. He struggled in his own zone last night and still looks like a guy who missed most of training camp. I still think he solidifies his spot on that blueline but he might be in and out of the lineup for a while until he gets better. ... Craig Anderson once again put to rest any worries about his play with a 40 save performance that included a desperation paddle save at the goal-line that will be in every best-of-year highlight package. For some reason, this guy has a lot of doubters when he struggles even for a few games, probably because Robin Lehner is still unblemished in many fans eyes, but Anderson always reels them back in with games like that. .... As usual, the parking lots after the game were a confused nightmare. Took a solid hour to get back on the road. But, hey, there’s worse things to complain about. It’s kind of a Kanata tradition to sit in your car and listen to the post-game show, wondering when you’ll ever see your bed again. They should just dig up that grassy hill and put 5 more on-ramps to the Queensway and say to hell with it.... It may have seemed like a less than glamorous opponent for a home opener, but seeing both Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr in person is still something all fans should appreciate. We’re talking about two players who are arguably Top 10 all-time in the history of the league, both first ballot Hall Of Famers. This might be their farewell tour but it’s still special to see them out there, especially if you’ve watched their entire careers. Brodeur had a tough night but I thought Jagr was still dangerous, especially in the Senators zone. The guy still has power. And he’ll have a chance to get a Cup this year. Expect him to be dealt at the deadline when the Devils finally throw in the towel. Imagine he went back to Pittsburgh? It could happen.


1. Craig Anderson
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Bobby Ryan

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Still Lots To Be Optimistic About For Senators Fans

I know it looks bad. 106 shots against in the last two games. Winless in 4. Goalies yanked. An early loss to the hated Leafs. And GM Bryan Murray has already fired a warning shot in the press that roster changes could be coming.

Yet with one win tonight in Phoenix, the last game of this ugly Western road-swing, the Senators could head home 2-2-2, with the toughest trip behind them and a few easier games coming up on the schedule.

Right away they face the Devils and Oilers to finish off the week, two teams that don’t have anything going for them right now, followed by three days off that will no doubt be used to practice and get comfy in their own rink, things they haven’t had much time to do after a bloated training camp and a time-zone changing road trip.

This team is too good to struggle this badly, and more games against a much weaker Eastern Conference is going to help in the long run, even if they still have rematches with Western powerhouses San Jose and Anaheim and a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champs Chicago before the end of October.

November will be much nicer to Ottawa fans. 9 of 14 will be played at home in Kanata, including 4 in a row that with teams like Florida and Philadelphia. Lots of ground can be made up in a month like that, even for a team that stumbles in October.

Other early weaknesses should turn into strengths when normalcy returns. There’s no way Jason Spezza is going to remain this team’s second best centre as long as he’s relatively healthy. Kyle Turris has been much more dynamic and dependable early but once Spezza gets rolling he’s going to be more than a point-per-game player, especially against an Eastern Conference that’s giving up goals all over the place.

Erik Karlsson will find himself at some point, and it’s going to be scary when he does. This guy can win games on his own when he’s feeling it, and if that depends on how he’s skating, then I’d have no worries. He’s still flying out there but his struggles seem to be more mental than physical. He looks a little unfocused, showing frustrated body language when calls don’t go his way or he misses a scoring chance. That can’t go on forever.

Craig Anderson hasn’t looked bad, but he’s not stealing games like he usually does. Already you can feel a shift of allegiance from some fans to Robin Lehner, which happens every time Robin has a strong game or two, but the pendulum always swings back to Anderson. Last year’s shortened training camp was full of calls for Lehner to take over but Anderson quietly shut down his critics and he’ll do that again. Anderson is just too consistent.

Lots of rumours out there that the Edmonton Oilers will be begging Murray to send them a goalie, possibly in return for one of their young star forwards like Nail Yakupov, but it seems way too early for a huge deal like that. At some point, Ottawa will deal one of their goalies because the return they can get will be too huge to pass up, but right now it’s one of their strengths and will be something they can ride all the way to the playoffs. The time for that deal isn’t now unless they get offered something unbelievable. It’s a deal that Murray has to win, even if it doesn’t come until next season.

In the short term, expect to see one or both of Stephane Da Costa and J.G. Pageau sent down to Bingo for Mika Zibanejad and possibly Jim O’Brien or another player (I believe Mark Stone is injured). Right now, this team is way too small down the middle with those guys and it’s not like Spezza and Turris provide much brute strength there either. There’s certainly a place for small players, especially over-achieving ones like Pageau, but you run the risk of turning into the Montreal Canadiens from the last few years if you have too many. With Zibanejad up from exile, that would allow Zack Smith to move back to the middle where he belongs and suddenly you have 4 bonafide NHL centres, while Zibanejad can also spot on the wing in the top-six if you need him.

It sounds strange that O’Brien would even be considered at this point, after MacLean publicly said younger players had passed him on the depth chart (and unsubstantiated rumours of O’Brien complaining about ice-time last season). Yet the Senators are paying his full NHL salary whether he’s here or in the minors thanks to a regrettable one-way contract offered by Murray. The budget might force their hand and give O’Brien that second chance no one thought was coming.

To me, it looks like the Senators are paying a bit of a price for over-thinking and over-evaluating during that monstrously long training camp where it became more about rewarding players for instant success rather than making sure they had the best team on the ice to start the season. Zibanejad has only himself to blame for not showing the intensity the team wanted, but now it’s time to see if the message has sunk in and get this guy playing important minutes down the middle.

Early season struggles can be just as misleading as training camp heroics, as we’ve seen with the struggles of Da Costa and Pageau. The Senators look terrible right now, but until they start losing games at home, (don’t put too much stock in their home opener against New Jersey after a long road trip – a classic trap game), I see this team the same way I saw them before the puck was even dropped – a playoff team and one of the top seeds in the East.

It may just take a month before we see the evidence.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

82 Game Schedule Better Suited For Bobby Ryan and Old-Man Bloggers

I was ready for the game. Upstairs TV, laptop, pajama pants, clear head.

The kid was tucked safely in bed, drooling. The wife was downstairs watching some kind of show I could never stand to sit through, our two cats nodding off beside her. It was a peaceful scene. Too peaceful.

I passed out.

10 minutes before a 10:30 PM puck drop and I was a goner. Missed the entire West Coast Senators-Kings game. Didn’t even get a sniff at it.

Missed Bobby Ryan’s first goal in an Ottawa uniform, missed seeing Dustin Brown, a new pick-up in my pool, score a couple goals for me. Missed what looked like one of those now patented “pesky Sens” comebacks which we’ve seen a lot of the past two seasons (this time unsuccessful). Missed what sounded like a strong game from Stephane Da Costa.

And the Western swing continues, challenging my manhood as I struggle to even make it to midnight as a relatively young 37-year old who used to stay up until 3 in the morning every night of his twenties. What ever happened to that good-looking guy?

I guess it’s all in the pacing. An 82-game schedule where every game isn’t life and death is a strange beast to get used to again. The early-season feels important, vital almost, when you’ve been deprived of the game all summer. Missing a game feels like missing a week. Snap judgements are made on the basis of one night, which is why you see superstars (like Bobby Ryan) getting thrown under the bus while adrenalin-fuelled rookies with early success are praised to death (like Sean Monohan).

Yet when the pace evens out and the veterans get into a groove, the training camp and early season heroes tend to fade and get forgotten. It’s that type of dynamic that allows a player like Da Costa to unseat future blue-chipper Mika Zibanejad on the roster, but I’m betting in two months we’ll be talking a lot more about Zibanejad than we will Da Costa.

Hey, some guys are slow starters, which can be murder in a condensed, lockout shortened season, but in a full year you can afford to have some lulls, no matter how much the hyper-driven media tells us the opposite. Just not too long.

As Ian Mendes pointed out in the Ottawa Citizen recently, Bobby Ryan is historically bad in October but has still ended up with four 30-goal seasons. Jarome Iginla was another notoriously slow starter. Look at Alex Ovechkin last year. People were ready to put this guy on a plane to the KHL or at least revoke his superstar status. He ended up winning the Hart Trophy.

Luckily for Ryan, he scored last night in Los Angeles, but you can already sense a bit of defiance in him towards some of the “slow start” talk. I don’t blame him at all for getting his back up, but he’ll quickly find out that won’t help him either. Not in this market. But Ryan’s got 79 more games to score 29 goals and prove Bryan Murray was right bringing him in here. Fans will be patient because they’ll have to be. The playoffs are a long way away and so are the dog days of January and February when even the most hardcore hockey fan occasionally mixes a movie into their routine.

Even for a blogger it’s tough to find a pace early-on with late night games and endless days in between. I usually like to get a rhythm going of 3 articles a week and see how it goes. Sometimes there’s nothing to write about when you pass out before games like an old sheepdog after a meal.

Yet it’s a bit of a luxury to know you have a full season of hockey to look forward to. So what if you miss Matt Kassian scoring a hat-trick against the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. That type of thing will happen again, right?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sens Lose Shootout In Hogtown... Turris Line Rolling Early...And More Game Notes

If the season opener in Buffalo didn't exactly live up to the hype, Saturday's tilt against the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada certainly made up for it.

After the 1-0 goalie battle on Friday, it was a welcome sight to see a few goals no matter what team you were cheering for. The Senators were a victim of their own success after Jason Spezza and Jared Cowen opened up the game with two goals in 15 seconds to go up 4-2 in the second period. That got James Reimer the hook (maybe for good) and Jonathan Bernier came in and absolutely stoned the Senators the rest of the way, allowing the Leafs to chip away until winning it in the shootout.

You could see Coach Paul MacLean rewarding the best Senators on the ice as the line of Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher kept getting sent out, and for good reason - they were incredible tonight. Turris and MacArthur in particular were all over the Leafs, while Jason Spezza was the only one making anything happen on the top line (more on Bobby Ryan in the Notes section below).

Erik Karlsson, the hero from Friday in Buffalo, didn't seem to have much going on and looked a little too casual until finding his legs late in the third period. Craig Anderson didn't have much of a chance on the goals he gave up and still made 38 saves in total.

The real positive for Ottawa has to be the fact they showed some secondary offense with the Turris line, while Spezza also scored and looks healthy. If that holds up, it's only a matter of a few games until Ryan and Milan Michalek get their first of the season as well.


1. Kyle Turris
2. Clarke MacArthur
3. Jared Cowen


When Clarke MacArthur made that semi-breakaway dash to the Toronto net at the start of the third, it was like watching Shawn McEachern again in a Senators uniform. MacArthur is a lot faster than I thought he was and could end up being the sleeper UFA signing of the summer.... Hmmm, not sure I made the most brilliant move dropping Kyle Turris from my hockey pool. With Spezza healthy, Turris is going to get away from facing the best shutdown combos that slowed him down at times last year. The only thing slowing me down is my annual tendency to overthink everything about my fantasty team. Just saying "fantasy team" makes me think I'm lucky to have ever kissed a girl..... It looked like Dion Phaneuf was ready to turn around and floor the Senator who pressed him to the glass at the first period buzzer, but when he saw it was old buddy Clarke MacArthur he let it slide. If that was Chris Pronger, whom Phaneuf was compared to early in his career, the ex-teammate would have eaten at least three fingers of Pronger's glove....

..... Speaking of brotherly love, Brian Sutter, longtime NHL coach and player once said to The Hockey News, "Let's put it this way: if one of my brothers were standing in front of the bus last night and we were about to leave and he was on the other team, I'd have run over him. I wouldn't have called out first to ask him to get out of the way, either. That's my mentality, that's the way it is. I don't really care." That's one of the best hockey quotes I've ever come across. Insane, but probably true. Luckily Brian was never presented with that situation in real life, although it's not hard to imagine a Sutter brother standing in front of a team bus wanting to fight every single person in it..... James Van Riemsdyk looks like he's going to have a huge year. I never really understood why Philly let him go in the first place, but they also moved Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who both went on to win the Stanley Cup almost immediately....

....Don Cherry is right about Dave Bolland looking like Doug Gilmour. He doesn't have the same skill, of course, but Bolland just looks like one of those guys on the early 90's Leafs teams that went to the conference finals a couple of times. He's going to be a blue pain in the ass for the Senators for the next few years..... Interesting moments in colour commentating: Glen Healy criticizing the Leafs defense after the first period Turris goal by saying “It’s like the Three Musketeers out there. Too much stick checking”.... Veteran move by Chris Neil not to fight Colton Orr moments after Jason Spezza had made it 4-2. Ottawa had nothing to gain from a fight at that point.....

...... Colin Greening has always looked strong in puck battles, but this year he seems to be meaner against the boards and a little quicker and more involved. Wonder if it's just maturity or that new multi-year deal he signed in the summer that's given him some jump. Not sure he'll ever score 20 goals in a season but his value really isn't in points anyways. It's early, but I like the way he's playing so far.... Tough watching Phil Kessell lying on the ice near the end of the 2nd period after taking an undetected high-stick from Erik Condra. I'm not saying it didn't hurt, but lying there like you've been hit by a sniper waiting for a call while the Senators break out with the puck is a little much. He looked fine complaining on his way to the bench. Hopefully he recovers....

.... CBC did a nice job isolating Bobby Ryan on a replay of the Kessell goal that tied the game 4-4. He had gotten tied up with a Leaf defender behind Jonathan Bernier, but it also showed Ryan coasting back down the ice before he realized his team was in trouble and had to start moving his legs. Not a very flattering few seconds for the highly touted winger.... Not completely surprising to see Joe Corvo sub-in for the rusty Eric Gryba in Toronto, but Corvo didn't exactly make a strong case to keep Gryba on the sidelines for more than a game or two..... Stephane Da Costa was a healthy scratch and Matt Kassian went in to the lineup in case there problems with Colton Orr and others. Nothing ended up happening but Kassian played a pretty strong game when he got onto the ice by going to the net and being part of a few rushes. The guy doesn't get much respect from the snippy Twitter heads but MacLean sure likes him. I do too..... It's nice to have hockey back, isn't it?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Season Opener: Karlsson Delivers Win In Final Minutes

It was exhausting watching all those saves.

Numbing almost, save for the beer. But if it wasn't for Ryan Miller and Craig Anderson making ridiculous stop after stop, we might have had a real yawner on opening night in Buffalo.

The Senators came out in the first period like a team convinced Miller was going to be shaky, and pounded 23 shots on net. You have to wonder if the early message from the coaching staff was “shoot the f***ing puck”, knowing that the first twenty minutes were going to be sloppy with nerves and lots of offside calls (which there were). But whenever Ottawa managed to break into the zone cleanly, they raided Miller, starting with Patrick Wiercioch who rang a high one off the post behind the chronically unhappy Sabres goalie. Both Jason Spezza and J.G. Pageau chose to shoot the puck during a couple of 2-on-1’s as well. Probably a smart strategy when the hands are a little tight in the first game of the season. Miller was game.

Then the second period hit and both teams were skating in molasses, a dreary spell that didn't lift until the last half of the third.

It used to be Daniel Alfredsson who would step up in those moments, especially against Buffalo, but on Friday it was Erik Karlsson, taking a cross-ice feed from new guy Clarke MacArthur and finally getting a puck past Miller.

You had to love Karlsson's celebration of the goal. He just pointed at MacArthur as he drifted away from the net with an expression that was all business. It almost looked like he knew he'd have the chance to end the game like that, while MacArthur seemed a little dazed by it all as he skated to the bench. They didn't have defensemen like that in Toronto and Buffalo when MacArthur was playing his first 400 pension-guaranteeing games.

Bobby Ryan's debut in the red and black was uneven, taking a couple of penalties when he lost his man. He seemed a little behind the game at times, too far head at other moments, but he did manage 5 shots and seemed like a strong presence down low. Everyone's favourite TSN 1200 radio host has been butchering Ryan on-air for a month now and this game won't change his tirade much, but Ryan looked dangerous with the puck on his stick. You can't please 'em all, Bobby.

If you're a Senators fan, and you're probably a mouth-frother if you're reading this on a Friday night or Saturday morning, there's a lot to take positives from, even if the nightmare of a low-scoring team is eating away at your sub-conscious. Ryan Miller was incredible on Friday, and Spezza would have had two goals and four points if it were any other night or any other goalie.

The Senators go into Toronto on Saturday for Hockey Night In Canada, a stage they never seem to shine on, so an unglamorous road win in Buffalo is something most Ottawa fans can be happy with.


1. Craig Anderson
2. Erik Karlsson
3. Jason Spezza


Play-by-play man Dean Brown’s line of the night after both teams traded chances late in the 2nd period: “Ooohh. Magic at one end and witchy spells at the other.” You don’t hear the term “witchy spells” too often in hockey broadcasts. You hear it a lot in Black Metal I guess....Lots of new looks on the Senators Sportsnet broadcast. Dean Brown is going with the goatee in the early going and host Ian Mendes has been replaced by the young Shawn McKenzie, who did a good job as the rookie. However, Denis Potvin is still Denis Potvin, everyone’s favourite uncle ..... Not surprising that it was good ol' Cory Conacher who delivered the first bump on Ryan Miller in the crease. He got about six hockey gloves in the face for his efforts........ Eric Gryba’s early season playoff beard is a fierce look. All he needs is a few missing teeth in the front so he can give guys like Lars Eller an Ottawa Valley smile that will haunt their dreams.... You can tell Gryba didn’t play much in the pre-season. A little shaky with the puck in his own end, but he’ll get better once he settles in after a few games. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Corvo step in against Toronto on Saturday in Gryba’s place....Those white Senators road jerseys have to go – soon. Whatever that design is, it’s not a hockey design. They’re pajamas....

... Still hard to fathom that Stephane Da Costa is playing in Ottawa instead of Mika Zibanejad. Hey, Zbad only has himself to blame, but you look at Da Costa out there and he still doesn’t look like an NHL player. I can’t believe this little “lesson” will last long. The Sens need Zibanejad’s size and skill in the middle.... Very happy to have been asked to join the Ottawa Citizen’s Prediction Panel again this season, but it has only reminded me why I don’t play Pro Line anymore. Try it yourself for a year and be happy if you hit .500.