Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nycholat Recalled to Play in New York

Lawrence Nycholat was recalled to the Sens today, to face the New York Rangers, one of his former teams. Nycholat has done well for the baby Sens, racking up 23 points in 31 games, good for second place on the team scoring charts.

The question remains though: who will Nycholat be replacing? Most likely bet would be Luke Richardson. Last night against the Hawks, Luke's age showed, as he was often outraced and outbattled for the puck. Bringing in the much more energetic Nycholat should help to keep the Rangers large scoring depth at bay, and hopefully we might get some additional scoring chances from him.

The only other possibilities would be that he is replacing Shubert, whose stick seemed to constantly repel the puck last night, or Mezaros, should his hurting foot finally put an end to his Ironman streak, so close to 200 games as it is.

Update 4:12pm - It turns out that he will be replacing Joe Corvo, who has a possibly strained groin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sens Age Shows Against Young Hawks

Tonight, the Sens lost 4-3 in overtime in their one and only meeting this season against the Chicago Blackhawks. The game was exciting from end to end, even from the highest row in the arena, with the standing room crowd behind yelling loudly. For all the smooth moves at both ends of the ice, countless chances hit crossbars and posts, or trickled just wide of the net (including another Chris Neil from behind the net wraparound, nearly identical to the one he missed against Atlanta.)

The best work of the game, once again, came from the top line. Heatley scored two very nice goals, and Spezza and Alfie helping to set up good chances and keep the Hawks at bay. McAmmond's lovely outwait-the-goalie shorthanded goal and assist on Heatley's second goal make him the best surprise of the game.

The Hawks, however, outworked the Sens on countless occasions. For long stretches, the Sens looked like they did around this time last year, slow and clumsy. The young Jonathan Toews would score the OT winner with help from Patrick Sharp, who took the puck from Chris Phillips right in front of Emery. Many of the Young Bloods gave plenty in this outing, and the win was certainly fully earned.

The disappointments from the Sens were many. Chris Neil took two very bad and unnecessary penalties, and the second one lead to the game-tying goal at the start of the third. Meszaros once again showed us all why pinching is a bad idea nine times out of ten. By far the worst performance came from Emery. Some would say that he did well, making key saves, but all of those came from very easy to handle shots. At least two of the four goals were successful because of Emery's lack of lateral speed. His quick glove and stick hands have shown us many great saves, and the quick-twitch muscles, typical of boxers (of which he is a huge fan) help to make his upper-body a tough nut to crack. However, boxing rarely focuses at all on any legwork or speed, and it always shows in his side-to-side movement. Hopefully Emery can begin to understand this vital weakness and fix it, before he is completely usurped by the Darth Gerber. Hopefully though, our defensive end work can tighten up, and we will see the Sens bounce back tomorrow against the low-scoring Rangers.

At least there was the satisfaction that we were beat by Khabibulin, who has a Stanley Cup ring, and not ex-Sen Lalime. We can also be proud that we kept Havlat off the scoresheet. He rewarded us by reminding us why we traded him, leaving the game in the second period with a sore groin.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Mounting Snore Threat

First off, for anyone who ever came here to read my little blog, sorry for no posts in 2 months. University is harder than a Volchenkov hip-check, and I've only now found time to think about taking a side pause.

When I do pause to think of the NHL, I look at the headlines and statements from high-ranking officials and hear that growth is the name of the game. We want to reach more homes in the US, so we should be on ESPN. We want to generate excitement abroad, so we should start more seasons with more games and teams playing overseas, and play for the IIHF's Victoria Cup.

But when I look behind them at the game we're peddling, I see it slowly being eroded. Hockey is by far the fastest paced sport in North America, and one of the top major sports worldwide. This is starting to change though. Fans in Toronto cheered earlier in the season, when their Leafs were finally able to beat the Sens, 3-0, in their fourth matchup this season. Despite the win, though, one would have to wonder what there was to cheer about, or even to show up and watch.

The game was highlighted by a tight trap by Toronto, leading to most of the game being puck, sometimes with player, enters Leaf territory, puck gets sent back out. On the other end would be puck goes into Sens territory, occasionally followed by a single Leaf, and eventually maybe a second. While it worked, it was about the dullest hockey around. Leafs management knows that fans want wins, and they are rabid and carefree enough to not care how they come.

Is that so wise though? The Isles beat the Sens later on in their losing stretch using a similarly tight and dull trap game. Looking into the stands, the announced 9,000 or so for attendance was all but an admitted farce. Even the Devils - who have captured the Cup and contended very well for many years, and who feature great veterans, exciting youngsters, and one of the game's greatest goaltenders - could not manage to fill their new arena just one game into its hockey lifetime, getting just over 13,000 fans for a 6-1 win in October over the Lightning.

The sportswriters are quick to suggest that lower scoring is what's taking the game down. However most would agree that 3-0 for the Leafs should have been exciting... only it was a snore. The most exciting game I've seen this season, and perhaps ever, was a 3-1 Sens victory over Montreal. Countless scoring chances, hard hits, end-to-end rushes, it was an edge of your seat thriller. All that excitement despite the fact that it only featured one goal in the first 55 minutes (interestingly coming at 11:11 of the first on the day before Remembrance Day), and the last goal being an empty-netter.

This goes to show you that exciting hockey is about just that - exciting hockey. The trap is not that, nor are the now ever-expanding teams who allow scant few shots on goal per game because of blocking, shooting lane sabotage, and crafty sticks. Not all bad things, but when it means that you only see just north of 20 shots in a game, and most of them being poor chances affected by the brick wall defensive play, it just destroys the game. The surprising Isles pay for it with their poor support. New Jersey is only now paying penance for their style, despite their success with it. Sadly, should Toronto push it even further, it will destroy the league even more.

Should Toronto take up the game of bore and trap hockey, it will sadly go unpunished. Their legions of fans clamor only for victory. That may suit Toronto well now, but what of the rest of the League? When a less-than-rabid fan tunes in for or attends a game featuring the Leafs 'playing' this kind of hockey - or worse, attempts to turn others onto the game by treating them to a game against the 'pinnacle of popularity in the league' - you will never win a fan over, and instead just turn them away. It would be the same in UFC or football. Nobody would be turned onto the sports if fighters only used a single-blow to end the match, and it became a trial of luck to see who would land it first. Nobody would tune into the Superbowl either, if the teams mounted a strategy that merely pushed the line forward 10 yards each down, holding back their opponents, and then on the last down attempted a field goal.

That is the problem facing us today, the real threat of boring hockey. Toronto may think that winning at any cost is what is best, but even they will feel it eventually. Boring hockey could cause league shrinkage, which would likely lead to fewer games for them to make money off of, or seasons of 10 visits from the Sens, which fans are saying even now is not what they want.

This is no easy problem though. Most fixes suggested so far don't tackle the heart of the issue. Decreasing goalie equipment or increasing net size only makes more of those badly blocked poor shots go in, and the latter would upset countless dedicated to the purity of the game. Tackling the boring play requires more than that, and simple rule changes would have difficulty in tackling the snore-fest slowly inching across the league. Real answers are needed, or else we may lose our game forever, Leafs fans be damned.