Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Move

This is just a short note to thank any and all of you who have read my blog.

I am letting you know that you will not find any more new content on this blog, not here anyways. I will be moving my blog this evening, and I hope you will continue to read it. The blog will stay accessible at this location though, as I am not yet able to transfer any old entires, so it will remain as a temporary archive, and to remind me where I started.

When my blog has finished moving, you will find that the link below will take you to it. Thank you again for visiting, and I hope you'll continue reading.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Things We Want, and Some We Just Can't Have

Melnyk bidding for MLS in Ottawa, Sens PPV gone for this season at least, Schneider not an option due to his enormous cap hit and our spot in line, and everyone has a review of the new team.

Melnyk has every intention of trying to bring Major League Soccer to Ottawa, according to the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Senators' website. While the costs, $100 million for a stadium and $40 million in franchise fees, are steep, there is no lack of spirit that the MLS could find a receptive audience in Ottawa. The goal would be to build a 30,000 seat stadium capable of hosting an MLS team, a CFL team, and outdoor concerts, just southeast of Scotiabank Place on city land currently used to dump snow. It might just be the big push, thanks to Melnyk as a big sponsor, that gets everything rolling, rounding out the sporting schedule and selection in our capital. It will certainly be interesting to see if Ottawa can beat out eight others bidding for one of two franchises, including Montreal and Vancouver.

The Ottawa Sun has it that the Sens Pay-Per-View offerings will not trouble any more fans, due to cancellation. While I have heard some horror stories about Sens PPV, and on this very blog commented on an atrocious Caps broadcast that featured the Sens, seeing them disappear entirely will only isolate fans from their team, when they can't get tickets to a team that sold out 38 times last season, or when the game is one of the 41 not played in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Citizen doesn't see Murray making a move for Anaheim's Schneider, also mentioned in the previous Sun story. While the veteran defenseman would potentially fit the bill of a powerplay running defenseman, his cap hit of well over $5 million won't have him fit into our roster should we claim him off waivers, and should he come back on re-entry waivers, there are likely many teams who'd have first dibs on him at half salary. I've said it before, I'll say it again: we've got a defensively capable squad, with three solid defensive defensemen. If Hartsburg has it in him to split the three up, as Anaheim did successfully with its biggest blueliners, it will provide the perfect opportunity for our offensive defensemen to shine and to develop.

Everyone's thinking of the new look Senators as the season inches closer, with stories from TSN (featuring Heatley), the Ottawa Citizen (featuring Hartsburg and some core players), the Ottawa Senators' website (featuring Hartsburg, Murray, and some more core guys), the Ottawa Sun (featuring Garrioch's thoughts on the team), and the Ottawa Sun again (featuring Murray and Hartsburg). Thankfully, the repetitiveness of all the theorizing will soon come to an end, as Saturday marks the first exhibition game for the Sens, against the New York Rangers.

From the Rookie Tournament to Training Camp

A look at the final Rookie Tournament game as well as what the weekend leaves the rookies to be proud of, Alfie is ready along with all his teammates, a disturbing lack of faith in our rebuilt team, and the final roster for Training Camp which will begin today.

From the Ottawa Senators' website, a quick review of yesterday's Rookie Tournament game. The Sens fought hard but fell to Pittsburgh 3-1. Both teams finished with two wins and a loss, but I believe Pittsburgh had a better goal differential.

The Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen take a look at the rookies' performances this weekend. No doubt that the top rookies, Elliot, Nikulin, Zubov, and Winchester gave notice that they intend to compete hard this season, hopefully regardless of which roster they make. O'Brien, Regin, and Karlsson were not as high up on the radar, but all impressed nonetheless, and in a few years they should start to have a serious impact in Binghamton or maybe even in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and TSN all report that Alfie and the team are ready to get the season started. It's certainly shocking to think that only a few years ago, Alfie was almost ready to call it quits. The fact that the long summer has helped to make him feel as healthy and rested as he's been in years, and this should indeed be a season to watch the team. Yes, everyone's optimistic this time of year, but I really believe in the core players of this team, and that we can get a great deal from teamwork this season.

ESPN has a look at the Eastern Conference teams, and how he expects them to perform. There seems to be a continued negativity towards the team, but this is how I see the questions raised playing out. Heatley and Spezza will rebound from a disappointing playoffs by succeeding (Heatley) and maturing (Spezza) at the Worlds, and will benefit from a more determined and well-rounded coach. Hartsburg has had a lot of work done for him to help keep the dressing room in check, by removing potential sources of conflict, adding character players, and his experience in leading a diverse group of talented but not fully developed players at the World Juniors will only serve to aid him this year. Secondary scoring will come, from giving multiple scoring units a chance to gel and find chemistry, rather than assigning them defensive and checking duties constantly, and putting all the pressure on the constantly reappearing top line. Neither Martin Gerber nor Alex Auld has proven themselves an undisputed NHL starter, but with a better dressing room, each other's character, and a team that will be far more committed to defense, I fully expect that they will both get a shot to finally prove themselves. Hartsburg can and will bring together a remade blueline; the character and defensive skill of Phillips, Volchenkov, and Smith will bond well with the two-way play and maturity of Kuba, the exuberance of Lee, and whoever else manages to nail themselves down in the 6th and/or 7th slot.

Finally, the Ottawa Senators' website has posted just this morning their roster for Training Camp. No surprises in net as all six goalies will be in attendance. The same goes for defense, where the full rookie roster plus some others, expected ones and not, will be in attendance. At forward, the rookie camp will see fewer players join the two Senators' mainstays, though Daugavins, Lawrence, Nikulin, O'Brien, Regin, Zack Smith, Weller, Winchester, and Zubov have shown enough skill and determination to make the final cut.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kitchener Rookie Tournament - Game 3 vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Something felt different as I walked over to the Aud for today's game. Maybe it was because I forgot to wear my Sens watch, or that I had put on my Sens socks; I still had my favourite Sens shirt tucked over me though. Must have been the fact that it wasn't raining on me.

The puck dropped with the big line of Alexander Nikulin centering Jesse Winchester and Ilya Zubov, with Brian Elliot in goal and Derek Smith and Geoff Waugh on defense, with Kevin Desfosses and Brett Morrison being the two healthy scratches to the lineup. The big line looked good to start, getting some nice hard passes off, but the play was mostly in the Ottawa zone.

A minute and a half in and Jim O'Brien (whose name I just noticed was misspelt in my roster sheet as O'Brian, an honest mistake I suppose) takes a hooking penalty. Mattias Karlsson, Tomas Kudelka (not Thomas, Mr. roster sheet), Geoff Waugh, and Zack Smith would start off the penalty killing, successfully clearing the puck again and again. When Pittsburgh did start getting chances, Elliot was looking good in net, staying ready and showing good lateral movement and anticipation, and in the end nothing would come of the Pens' powerplay.

Next we would see Mick Lawrence, Nikulin, Shawn Weller, Kudelka, and Karlsson displaying good puck control, eventually leading to Weller fighting hard against a lone defenseman on a rush and getting a good shot from it. At this point though, you begin to notice that there is not much hitting going on. It is not persistent, bone crushing, or board bashingly loud, giving a hint that this game might be different from the last very physical two that the Sens faced.

Once again as the big line took the ice, their skill showed with good puck control. Nikulin looked a little jittery at times though, not quite able to collect some passes that came his way. One thing that you do start to notice that the team does well, similar to the not-so-blind passes I mentioned yesterday, is that they will rush hard for the net, but when they get close to the crease, they have been pretty good at deciding whether a shot, or a pass across to the other side of the net and a rushing teammate is more likely to yield the better scoring chance, shown this point as Adam Miller rushed in and made the right choice in passing the puck on as he would not have had a good opportunity himself.

By this stage in the tournament, lines had started to take shape, and after the big line and their smooth skating and passing, one of the next best lines would be nearly opposite in style. Peter Regin, O'Brien, and Kaspars Daugavins tend to be the kind of line you will find rushing the net again and again, and working the puck along the boards and amongst bodies and crowds very well, not to mention that they are pretty sound positionally.

Despite their talent, the team did not seem to be adjusting well to the Pens' gameplan that abandoned pure physical play or superbly executed skill in favour of a high-tempo, team-based game that seemed to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. Their frantic pace would lead to some Ottawa mistakes, such as a tumbling Derek Smith trying to pass the puck behind the net, and instead forcing Elliot to be mindful against a potential own goal.

To get back to the point of what a light hitting game this was, when the big line got back on, it was a hit by Zubov that I really noticed, and with all the solid players on the team that surprised me more than just a little. The big line would stay on for a powerplay from a kneeing incident nine minutes in with Kudelka and Karlsson on point, getting some good blasts from Kudelka. I did find myself surprised that Nikulin, a center, would almost always be found waiting just to the side of the net, contributing little to any puck movement.

More good chances would come from the Regin line, getting some mucky chances whacking at the puck in the crease, but also working the puck well along the boards, before springing it out for a quick shot and a good scoring chance. A Ganzak giveaway near the end of the penalty could have lead to a very unfortunate goal, but Regin was there to keep things under control. Despite this, Ganzak ended up with a hooking call right as the powerplay finished. Elliot would continue to look good, poised and aware of the play and mindful of his options, but the penalty killers appeared to be slightly off their game, a little too eager to shrink their box, which would play well into some Pittsburgh efforts to screen Elliot. Regin and O'Brien would help end the penalty kill successfully, both showing a good mix of aggressiveness and of good positional coverage.

Elliot would have to continue being mindful, dropping the length of his stick to the ice to make a save on a Pittsburgh shot that came from bad miscues on the big line. A little bit of physical play would ensue with some good hits from Lawrence, Zack Smith, and Waugh. Still, the guns can't get anything to work despite their hard efforts. Pierre-Luc Faubert would get a good rush in the last minute, working his way around the defenseman, and a little later the Regin line would come with some good energy and O'Brien would get off another good shot. The period would end scoreless however, with Pittsburgh outshooting Ottawa 10 to 6.

The big line would again take the ice to start the second period, but all three would look a little slow, lacking any real jump. A minute in, Winchester would take a hooking penalty, and the penalty killers would keep the Pens from making all but a lone shot off a rush. O'Brien continued to look great out there, never backing or slowing down. His face looks similar to Peter Schaefer's, which could explain his skill on the boards, but his eyes have a hint of Fisher to them, maybe alluding to his solid two-way skills. He also has an Alex Steen nose, but I'm not sure if that's significant.

Right after the penalty ended, Corey Cowick and Kudelka would get in a fight, whether by coincidence or because of a rough two man open ice hit on Miller, I can't be sure. Two men off for fighting won't give you any advantage, but the hooking penalty Pittsburgh took mere seconds later would. I find myself enjoying this rule that starts the powerplay in the offensive zone, ensuring a quick and at times nervous start. No successes would come on the powerplay though, despite Karlsson's continued efforts to keep the puck in and the energy of the Regin line. As things got a bit out of hand, Roach was also dependable, keeping the Pens from getting a shorthanded chance.

Weller took a tripping penalty next, which belied the rather back and forth nature of the game so far. Elliot would show a good glove hand at first, and Lawrence would cover the point well while going to one knee again and again to block any shot or pass. Finally the pressure would be too much. First a shot would go over Elliot's shoulder and ring off the crossbar. The next one would hit home, as a shot from the circle zipped under Elliot's blocker arm (as far as my eyesight could tell), opening the scoring 9:23 into the second period.

Being stymied so much and now down a goal, Ottawa would skate with more quickness, but they still looked too shaky to make much happen. Eleven minutes in and we would see a new powerplay unit as the Pens were called for hooking: Zubov, Winchester, and Regin. Unlike Nikulin's patience down low on the powerplay, Regin moved around the lower half of the zone, fishing for pucks and for position, and Winchester would wind up with a good shot from the side of the net, and Kudelka one from the slot. The second unit would feature Nikulin with Daugavins and Lawrence, but they did not have much success.

For the next few minutes it would seem as though the Pens were running circles around the Sens, and I'm sure the players were thankful when at 14:24 Pittsburgh was called for slashing. The new first unit would hit the ice again, but have trouble getting it in. Karlsson continued to work like mad to keep the puck in so they could get set up, but to no avail. When the Nikulin unit got on, instead of seeing Nikulin in a skillful sense, he wound up in a fight with Ben Lovejoy, who took him down quick, and both went off for roughing, with the Sens still being locked out of the zone for the rest of their powerplay.

Frustration would seem to set in as the Sens would return to their lone wolf ways for a time. With a couple minutes left, a great repeated individual effort by Faubert would lead to several chips along the board, winding up with a good rush. No surprise though when the Sens failed to keep bringing the attack to Pittsburgh, and the period would wind down with some more of the familiar back and forth.

Before the period would end though, a narrow offside call saved Elliot from having to deal with a shot from a nasty intercepted pass. Just as the crossbar earlier in the period had motivated the Pens to a goal, they would find themselves crashing the net, and wound up crashing the puck in behind Elliot for their second goal with 26 seconds left in the period, which would end with Pittsburgh once again outshooting Ottawa, this time by 10 to 4.

Getting desperate as the third period opened, coach Cory Clouston would again shuffle the top line, this time moving Regin out to make way for the crash and bang of Zack Smith, though it would not immediately generate much pressure at first. Rather, just shy of two minutes in, O'Brien would take a pass from Nikulin, perform the old pass the puck through the defenseman's legs while lifting your stick over him, and then proceed to shoot the puck over the goalie's shoulder to end Pittsburgh's bid for a shutout, and indeed to reward O'Brien for his great hard work this game and this tournament.

All good things must come to an end though, and a dozen seconds later Kudelka would be called for interference. Pittsburgh would only need eight seconds to score, shooting the puck over a shotblocking Senator to restore their two goal lead. Hardly unexpected was Pittsburgh's dominance, as they seemed far more aware of the puck and the bodies on the ice.

More frantic chances for Ottawa, as Zubov would rush in and get a pass off to Karlsson, but the pass wouldn't connect. The defensemen were not standing out too much this game. Usually, you'd say it's a good thing to not notice a defenseman, but considering it's Phillips, Volchenkov, and Smith up in Ottawa, being an offensive standout is probably the only way any of the rookie defensemen stand a chance to get a shot in the NHL anytime soon.

The team just didn't seem to be able to get chemistry going today. Faubert would find himself working hard deep in the zone, but find himself without any help. The big line would rush into the zone, but without any real support would wind up right back out again from the slightest incidents.

Ten minutes in a slashing call would give Ottawa another shot on the powerplay. Much of the time tonight like last night it would seem as though the tough guys were out to make a name for themselves with their play, today Aaron Boogard taking the place of Toronto's Phil Oreskovic from yesterday's game. Some good chances would come out of this powerplay from both units, but nothing clicked.

As Pittsburgh's slashing penalty ended, Weller would take one for Ottawa. The confidence of the penalty killers seemed a little low, as the box would focus too much on the lone man between the circles, setting up potentially lethal screens, though they would get the puck out, and start to stand up at the blueline to kill off the penalty. Regin would work especially hard, managing to fish the puck into his control even when he lost the faceoff in the Pens' end.

Another penalty, to O'Brien for holding, would give the Pens 13 seconds of 5 on 3, but to no avail. Even a little good penalty killing can boost the spirits, and they started to move more, to think more before acting. A good stick by Karlsson wouldn't stop Pittsburgh from entering the zone, but it would put them offside. Faubert would also show some good aggressive penalty killing to finish it off.

Three minutes left, and the Pens would call a timeout, and end up holding back a very hungry Ottawa team looking like they were in powerplay mode. Elliot would leave and Ottawa would ice the original big line, plus O'Brien, calling their timeout to strategize. The strategy would seem to fail, as the puck spent most of the last minute down by Ottawa's empty net, although Regin would succeed in keeping Pittsburgh from getting and empty netter. A last rush would wind up offside, and Ottawa would finish the game being held back from mounting a last attack. The final shots for the period were Ottawa 15, Pittsburgh 9, with the Pens outshooting Ottawa 29-26 over the course of the game. Having won their first two games by two goal spreads, it didn't seem entirely unfair that they would lose their last game of the tournament to Pittsburgh, who beat them in last year's final game in Kitchener as well, by a two goal spread of 3 to 1.

Today's Top News, as Always

Reviews of yesterday's game at the rookie tournament, Hartsburg's plan for the team as well as his plan to split up the big line, a few thoughts on emerging rookie Kudelka, and Fisher getting noticed around the league.

A few reviews of yesterday's rookie tournament game against the Maple Leafs, from the Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Senators' website. It was rather impressive to see our guys come back from a 2-0 deficit to win the game, and they were working a lot better in their roles, looking more like teammates than individuals competing for roster spots. You can see my previous entry for a lengthy look at the game's events.

An Ottawa Sun story on Hartsburg's vision for the team and the way he wants to see them play. Like a good boss would, he made the effort to contact the players over the summer, not to tell them exactly what he wants from them, but to talk about his expectations, and also to hear what their feelings were on the past season and their goals for the season ahead. Everyone will be asked to play to their role, but there will be an increased focus on defensive awareness and on working as a team, both simple ideas, but effective and essential ones nonetheless.

Another Ottawa Sun article has word that indeed the big line will be split up this season. He suggests that he'll keep Heatley and Spezza together at first, but that they will have to find other combinations that work, with my hope being we get an opportunity to see Spezza with neither Alfie nor Heatley on his wings, to see him really prove that he doesn't need players earning as much as him to be worth what he makes. Alfie might wind up with Fisher, but Fisher should also be expected to contribute as a solid two-way player regardless. I like hearing that Hartsburg has expectations from all our players, regardless of who they have to work with, since they need to be adaptable. His plan for three scoring lines with one hate-to-play-against line would seem to imitate the successful plan of champions past, and I hope the players really buy into it this year.

The Ottawa Citizen has a nice little special look at the hopes for prospect Tomas Kudelka. It sounds as though Binghamton coach Clouston and Tim Murray both agree that he has potential, but that one of the bigger adjustments for him will be to adapt to the increased skill and especially pressure of the AHL and eventually the NHL. I hope to see him continue his solid play at today's tournament in an hour, and with any luck see him stand out among the blueliners, no easy task this tournament though.

Finally, an story about some of the toughest guys at both ends of the ice brings us Fisher. You don't hear two-way player if you're a Sens fan without thinking of Mike, and there's plenty of good reason for that. Hopefully he's all healed up from his season-ending injury, and I would not be at all surprised to see him sporting an 'A' on his jersey this season, with all the ability to live up to that responsibility.