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

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