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.

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SENShobo
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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 NHL.com 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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kitchener Rookie Tournament - Game 2 vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Strangely enough, once more as I hopped off the bus, the rain started to beat down. Coincidence perhaps? Or a foreshadowing of events to come, as the Ottawa Senators' rookies prepared to take on the host Toronto Maple Leafs' squad? My guess is that mother nature just wants for all my coats to be soaking wet. This time around, I was indeed fortunate enough to be on time, so I could stand for the anthems (with the American one starting partway through), and hear the starting lineups get called out (with one wrong Senator being named). Yes, this is a very long game review, but since it wasn't televised or broadcast in any way to my knowledge, I thought I'd take a little deeper look at the game than I expect to see elsewhere in the media.

To start things off, we find ourselves with Mitch O'Keefe minding the net, having Derek Smith and Geoff Waugh to help make his life a little easier, and what I will refer to as 'the Big Line' of Alexander Nikulin, Ilya Zubov, and Jesse Winchester up front to carry the attack. But, instead of seeing them start the game with all cylinders firing, we begin instead with Waugh and the Leafs' Phil Oreskovic immediately dropping the gloves after the whistle. Like an embarassing first date, this fight is over nearly before it begins, with Oreskovic getting Waugh's jersey over his head, and Waugh tackling Oreskovic to the ice.

I can't and won't deny that I was one of the fans who wanted to see a very smashed in Leafs' face at the end of last season, but there is absolutely no reason to start off a game like this. Trying to prove yourself a good enforcer? Good enforcers stand up when things get hairy, they don't go crawling around looking for a fight. To reward behaviour like that just suggests that secretly, despite the instigator rule and the massive suspensions we've seen lately, the League wants fighting to be a key part of the game. For shame.

Enough preaching though, and on with the game. Despite what you'd think a fight would do, the action starts off with a rather tepid back and forth, nothing too special or exciting at all. But, just like yesterday, the game gets started quickly, and in the same way. On a Toronto rush, Derek Smith managed to deflect an initial shot, but the Leafs' Dale Mitchell takes full advantage of a screen and opens the scoring just 21 seconds in. I hate to say it, but is this going to be a pattern for the Sens' games?

In what will turn out to be one of the Senators' better lines, Jim O'Brien, Peter Regin, and Kaspars Daugavins started getting some good work down low on the boards around the Toronto net, and while the initial save was made, just as with Elliot at times yesterday, the puck was fumbled. I can't be sure that the excitement of playing in a Sens' uniform for the first time wasn't affecting O'Keefe though, as he looked a bit shaky early on, even committing a cardinal sin when he decided to track a slow moving puck going behind the net by turning his back to center ice for a good couple seconds.

Two minutes in and we get our first penalty of the game, a holding call on Ottawa's Brandon Roach. After a few shots though, Ottawa's penalty killers clear the puck, and a too eager Toronto powerplay comes in offside. The penalty killing unit of Ben Wright, Mattias Karlsson, Pierre-Luc Faubert, and Winchester looked very good on the ice, showing a good box with pressure, and good adaptive positioning, no doubt helping Ottawa to kill off the first penalty.

Perhaps frustrated, the Leafs started to play a very hard checking, aggressive paced game, and the Sens were not matching that intensity. I watched as O'Brien was just about to receive a pass, but wasn't mindful enough to avoid being completely crushed into the boards in his own end. The question I wondered was whether or not the Leafs could keep up this intensity, but that question seemed moot as Toronto's Chris DiDomenico's shot mimicked Corvo's from two seasons ago, and over O'Keefe's pad it bounced, and into the net it went to give the Leafs a two nothing lead.

Still struggling, it took O'Brien and Regin skating close and protecting the puck to get their next real rush in on Toronto, almost seven minutes in. Their reward at this point for their offensive efforts? Dauvganis takes a hooking penalty, and once again the penalty killers take the ice. Despite the box getting very tangled, they still manage to clear the puck. At this point you start to notice that it is bouncing like mad in the Ottawa end, whether due to ice conditions or players' actions I am not entirely sure. As reliable as the Winchester unit is, it is often more exciting to see Regin and O'Brien kill the penalties, as they seem to put a lot more pressure on the Leafs.

The pressure pays off as the Leafs take a holding penalty nine minutes in, and a mere 16 seconds later, the Big Line keeps the puck moving around and Zubov and Nikulin assist on Winchester's goal to get back in the game. After the goal, the team looked much calmer to me, as I saw Waugh pointing and giving his troops orders from in front of the crease. Perhaps I spoke too soon, as a minute later Waugh took a roughing penalty, and the Leafs started to put on some good pressure during their powerplay, which saw O'Keefe perhaps a little nervous as he was caught at one point with the post behind him looking at the puck in the corner, and nervous it was seeing the puck cross through the crease a couple times. Nonetheless, once again the Sens managed to kill it off.

It is said that killing penalties can help build a team's confidence, and not long after this one Zubov deftly steals the puck just outside Toronto's blueline, and a nice shot goes over the shoulder and ties the game at two. It would seem like a two-faced monster at times, as the Sens wound up looking shaky again, getting a bit too bunched up by some good Toronto puck cycling. Just as quickly though, we wing up seeing a great defensive demonstration by Roach, who followed the puck as it was passed between three Leafs rushing in, helping to keep them from any good scoring chance, and later Karlsson would do the same, swatting the puck under a sprawled O'Keefe with Toronto on the doorstep. It took a helmet-removing open ice hit by Zack Smith, at least I'd like to think it did, to finally get the Sens back on the attack, and sure enough it sparked a few more big hits, but no fighting.

My favourite penalty of the game happened in the closing minutes of the first period, when my perspective showed me what I can only describe as a Leaf choosing to grab a hold of Waugh's stick by the boards, and then choosing to finish it off with a nice fall onto his bottom. I can't say that the referees' angles gave them any other choice but to call a hooking penalty, but perhaps the team sensed Waugh's frustration, as they brought the puck to Toronto for most of the powerplay, and clearing it out of the zone the rest of the time. As the period ended, as shaky as O'Keefe had appeared, I had to chuckle at the score, tied at two, as the announcer mentioned that Toronto had eight shots, and Ottawa only had 3.

The second period would open very quietly, not even a hit to be heard. Not wanting to be left out of the early scoring I suppose, a good rush into the zone had O'Brien scoring just 58 seconds in, assisted by Regin and Wright. Half a minute later, Toronto would wind up with an interference penalty. A beautiful play on the powerplay ensued, as Nikulin took the puck from down low, circling behind Zubov, and eyed a clear pass to Karlsson coming in from the blueline, who takes it in and backhands it to Winchester for a quick shot from the side to give Ottawa its first lead two and a half minutes in. Jesse seems as though he might fit well with Spezza and Heatley, being very good at finding himself open in the right spot, just as Heatley is so good at doing.

A surprising penalty a minute later, as Benoit Doucet serves time for a too many men on the ice call. Good penalty killing kept Toronto from getting into the zone for a full minute, but once in they got the puck to the net quick, Ottawa having to get the puck out of the crease more than once, and a visibly jarred O'Keefe wound up knocking the net off its moorings by accident. Still they managed to get it out so that O'Brien could get a good shorthanded rush.

Suddenly it seems that it's Toronto finding themselves visibly shaken, as line after line of Ottawa players keeps the puck in deep, getting off good shots and hard shots, nearly winding up with Toronto causing an own goal. The line of O'Brien, Regin, and Dauvganis looks good down low, working the puck around the boards but being very good at keeping control and having a defensive mindset. The Big Line looks great too, threading passes through Toronto players and making it look easy. Yet eleven minutes in, it's Karlsson scoring with a clear quick shot from above the circle, with Roach and Mick Lawrence drawing the assists.

Finally able to shake themselves into action, Toronto starts pressuring again, but just in time O'Keefe is looking good, making solid chest saves. The only time the Toronto fans in the stands could cheer was after Brett Morrison lost the puck to a Leaf, but they could still only manage a rather slow and ineffective rush in off of it. Later they would get the result they wanted, as a pass to a Leaf rushing in brought the game to within one with two and a half minutes left in the second, but O'Keefe would try to prove himself fit by making a nice glove save on the next shot.

With a minute left, Toronto takes a boarding penalty, but nothing comes from the ensuing powerplay. As the period ended, the Sens appeared ready to do anything to win. They would control the puck, they would stick to their men, they would even make a crazy type of near blind pass where you have your body facing between where you're looking and where you're passing, rather than shoving the puck behind your back. Best of all, they never seemed to let up.

The third period winds up with a change in goal, as O'Keefe is replaced by Kevin Desfosses. I can't be sure whether it was a really short leash that brought this change in, or just a desire to see Desfosses get some playing time. At first the game returns to the dull back and forth, but just over three minutes in, Ottawa gets a rush in, and a slick side to side pass nets Doucet a goal, assisted by Regin and Faubert.

Not to back down after opening up another two goal lead, the Big Line takes the ice to keep up the pressure. Six minutes in, Toronto's captain Darryl Boyce takes a roughing penalty. To keep it interesting, half a minute later Mick Lawrence winds up in the box for hooking. I was happy to see Zubov and another Senator both dropping to block a shot during the four on four, not having seen many this far in the tournament. Not long after Boyce's penalty was up, Luke Schenn winds up on the wrong side of a holding call, and the powerplay does manage some good pressure and Zack Smith and Karlsson some good shots.

In what I would call a very foolish move, eleven minutes in Waugh takes an interference penalty in Toronto's zone. Half a minute later Boyce takes a cross checking penalty, and another thirty seconds and Kudelka gets caught doing the same. Despite being down to three men in front of Desfosses, Ottawa manages to keep Toronto from getting good chances, clearing pucks and mucking up powerplay plans at every turn, before Shawn Weller winds up with a slashing call fourteen minutes in. The sad part of the Toronto powerplay is that they looked rather unimaginative at this point. No fast cycling, no moving into good positions for quick one timers. Instead, you watch as the puck waits at the blueline for the forwards to create as big a screen as they can before a shot goes off.

With only three minutes left, Waugh takes a double minor for high sticking, and a minute later Derek Smith takes a roughing call. Just a few moments before the two man advantage would end, a snap shot from between the circles would go over Desfosses shoulder, giving Toronto their fourth goal. Feeling confident that they can tie it up in the remaining minute and change, they pull their goalie, only that leads to Zack Smith scoring an empty netter with 45 seconds left. As the fans poured out to get a head start on leaving the parking lot, not that half of the Aud has any traffic compared to a full Scotiabank place, Toronto finally got their thick screen to yield results, bringing it back to within two with 14 seconds left.

The game would end with the Ottawa Senators beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-5, and if I heard correct despite my disbelief, the final shot total was 28 for Ottawa, and a whopping 42 for Toronto. The game left me feeling a little sad that some bad bounces and frustrating screens kept it from being a blowout, but you could certainly see a team taking shape amongst the players, with lines and pairings working well, and certainly Murray's decision-making process will be just a little more complex because of it.

Kitchener Rookie Tournament - Game 1 vs Florida Panthers

What better way for the Ottawa Senators rookies to start their first game of the rookie tournament than to let the Florida Panthers squad open up the scoring less than two minutes in? It must be a pattern, since I started my first attempt at covering a live game by showing up just in time to see the Florida rookies gather in celebration of that goal in front of Elliot. It was a rainy day, the bus was half an hour late, so full that I had to ride on top of one of the wheels in a tiny space, and the ticket line was still long when the puck dropped. I’m sure if I keep mentioning excuses like that, I’ll have no trouble securing a one-way ticket to Russia. Needless to say, postgame I made sure to pick up my tickets to the next two games, along with a nice start times schedule, so there’s no need to let me go.

Quickly enough, the game was tied up on a goal by Weller, from Regin and Lawrence, and the game was afoot. Weller certainly earned his goal, working hard and skating fast whenever he hit the ice. Highly-touted Winchester looked very calm on the ice, never putting forth futile efforts, but when by position or by pass he was brought into a play, he quickly made his efforts clear. At first I enjoyed seeing the work of Zack Smith, who would join the rush without question and could take and dish out more than his fair share of brutal hits, but I did not see any need for him to get into a fight with Florida’s David Jarram with four minutes left in the period, a short bout with no clear winner before both fell to the ice. But let‘s get back to the game.

The Sens’ first powerplay did nothing to impress, with the team only mustering up a few shots without much zip, and nobody working too hard to get into a good, open position from which to score. However, when Zack Smith took his first penalty, the team looked startlingly good on the penalty kill, with Elliot staying sharp and guys like Regin and Weller working hard to keep up the pressure on Florida’s guns. When the Sens got their next chance after a kneeing penalty to Florida’s Jarram - about the only reason I could see for the aforementioned fight, and perhaps the reason I read earlier that Tampa avoided Ottawa rookie tournaments - the team worked hard to keep the puck moving around in the zone, and eventually Zubov, who looked quite comfortable moving the puck around from his spot down low, scored the team’s second goal, with assists going to Kudelka and Winchester.

At the start of the game, they had looked more like a bunch of individuals looking to impress Murray and Hartsburg up in the stands, holding their sticks too tightly, but it didn’t take too long for them to start working well together. Nikulin, who I’m sure management had their eye on, looked hardworking on the ice, but would appear to be a little jittered, finding his spot by the net in just a little too deep and out of reach for a clear pass, and would have more than one puck heading towards him go whizzing right by, though to his credit he would find better consistency as the game wore on. In net, once he got settled, Elliot looked quite smooth, with good lateral movement and telescoping, and good positioning in full or half butterfly, although he still had some jitters, fumbling a save or two.

For me, the one pleasant surprise was Mattias Karlsson. The Swedish defenceman looked very smooth on the ice, calmly skating the puck out of his zone to make a series of good passes. Not only was he not afraid to take many a hit, but he looked particularly comfortable on the powerplay. In addition to his good passing skills there, he also had a distinct talent for keeping the puck in the zone. I’m not just talking about catching the pucks sliding around the boards with his stick or skates; Karlsson was able to keep many a madly bouncing or soaring overhead puck in play, always being in a position good for both passing and for lunging towards wayward pucks. Not that the rest of the team looked shabby, but for the first period and indeed the whole game, Karlsson was the biggest and most pleasant surprise for me.

In the second period, the team really started to look like one, which allowed for some good standout efforts by individuals. It was often the little things that caught my eye. At one point, Kudelka found himself behind his net, having fallen to all fours on top of the puck with a Panther trying to fish it out. Rather than attempt to cover it up until help could arrive, he deftly swatted it out between his legs to a team mate swooping in off the boards to clear the puck.

This time around, it was the Sens who opened the scoring, about five minutes in, on an absolutely beautiful rush. Getting the puck from Weller, Peter Regin drove hard for the net with a lone defenceman covering him closely. Despite this, he was able to keep the puck under control the whole way in, and right at the last moment he got off a nice pass over the lip of the crease to Lawrence, who completed the play with a very rewarding goal.

Yet again, I found myself proudly watching Karlsson’s play. Like Corvo, he wasn’t afraid to jump up and join the rush when warranted, and he seemed cool as a cucumber in any situation, like one where he lost his stick near the puck in his own end, but was able to casually pick it up so he could clear the puck. Later on he’d fall to one knee, I can’t recall whether on a trip or not, but still managed not to lose the puck, and instead was able to make a clean pass. That clean pass would help their powerplay when it hit the ice again after a Collins slash, and Zubov would once more keep a watchful eye from down low, waiting to take a good shot or else to get off a clean pass, indeed showing his development after a slow period in Binghamton’s second half of last season.

When the roles were reversed after a Kudelka interference penalty, the penalty killers showed real moxy. Thanks to some hard work, Derek Smith and Alexander Nikulin managed a good breakout and were almost rewarded with a shorthanded goal. A couple more offsetting penalties, and the open ice likely made Zubov feel more at home with more ability for skilled play, and he made some good pushes at the period’s end.

The third period didn‘t get off to a smooth start for the Sens. After a Panthers penalty, the Sens went took two more. On the penalty kill with only three in front, they managed a good triangle at first, but ended up spread out. At that point, conveniently, the puck ended up in front of Elliot’s left pad on the end of a Panther’s stick, and with a little bit of stickwork it was soon in the net. Not too long after that, a rush on Elliot had a whistle blown before he had full control of the puck, and he proceeded to drop it for a futile shot by Florida into the net, but after that Elliot started to get back into his groove, and the team started to give him a little more help.

The next penalty went to the Panthers for a hook, and the Ottawa powerplay took full advantage of the opportunity. Once again, we had Karlsson pulling every trick out of the bag to keep the puck in along the right side, and after some good work down low, Zubov and Winchester got the assists on a nice chip in goal by Lawrence seven minutes in.

While killing another Ottawa penalty, the guys really were killers, as O’Brien got the puck out to Zack Smith for another good shorthanded chance that ended with the puck in Plante’s chest. Keeping the puck out looked easy for Elliot at this stage in the game, who seemed to have no trouble seeing the puck through cover, and always a pleasure for me, he knew all too well that butterfly is a style, not a move, and knew when not to fall, making for some easy but effective off-the-chest deflections. Before it was all over, the Smiths and O’Brien would get another good shorthanded rush going, for a good tic-tac-toe shot.

Back in the box again for a cross check, the Sens still managed to hold up the Florida powerplay, clearing the puck time and time again, although their four man box seemed a little short, making for relatively easy passes near the blueline. Not wanting to waste time, O’Brien jumped right into the play when he left the penalty box, and was rewarded with a solid shot on goal.

Down to the last minute now, and Ottawa kept holding the puck in the Panthers end. After a Florida timeout, a little Panthers confusion kept the puck too close to their own net for comfort, and even with their goalie pulled, the Sens held on for a convincing 4-2 win.

While some of the guys didn’t seem to stand out against the rest, you certainly got the feeling that the ones we had our eyes on - Elliot, Nikulin, Zubov, and Winchester - were all getting into their groove, and give us plenty of reason to come back for the games against the rookies from Toronto and Pittsburgh. Once again, I have to give a hearty congratulations to Karlsson, who stood out amongst all Senators blueliners, and should surely see a good deal of quality minutes in Binghamton this season. Should there be an unfortunate injury or two on the Senators back end, I hope that Murray will give him serious consideration as a call-up, and I hope that in the next two games he will continue to show us great strides.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Season Draws Near

Words from the rookie tournament yesterday, Murray on the powerplay and his desire for consistency, and an important lesson that all hockey families should remember well.

Another look at yesterday's rookie tournament game from the Ottawa Sun. Once again we hear that after the team settled down, following that unfortunate early goal, the guys really started to come together and gain their confidence. Garrioch also has some thoughts on Elliot's last season and his chances to land in Ottawa, as well as Winchester's good start. As I've said before, considering the Auld contract and the very real possibility that neither Auld nor Elliot will be labelled an NHL starter by season's end, we might find ourselves browsing the goalie market once again. As for Winchester, I will give you my thoughts on his first game when I can sort through my first attempt at taking notes during a live hockey game.

The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch has it from Murray at yesterday's game that he is still seeking a defenceman to run the powerplay. He says he's sure there are guys on the Ottawa Senators roster who can fill that role, but he wants to know he has one that can do it consistently. He sees newly acquired Kuba as being a fit on the powerplay, but says that while Picard can move and handle the puck well, he doesn't seem like he'll be on the powerplay. He expects the market for such defencemen to open up as the season gets going. Garrioch tosses out the names of Corvo and Kaberle of the Canes, and Ohlund of the Canucks. I can't see Corvo being shopped, due to his 21 points in 23 games as a Cane, nor do I think that a few more years of 34 year old marginal Kaberle is in our best interests. Ohlund has a no trade clause, so it remains to be seen if he would ever wind up moving, and considering the trouble new Canucks GM Mike Gillis has had in getting the players he's wanted this offseason, I'm not sure that we could or would want to meet the price he is asking. Right now, my mind is on seeing what the team can pull off in the exhibition games, as well as whether a bright spot from yesterday's rookie game can continue to sparkle against the Leafs and the Pens.

And now an important announcement from THN. Ryan Kennedy speaks out against the abusive nature of some hockey parents. Truly a cause worth championing, as no child deserves to undergo such pressure, and one can only imagine what might happen to a child with parents like this whose son follows the path of Stefan Legein.

I myself worry too about the flip side, not only of parents who either abuse their child to any degree, but of parents who see their child succeed and put them on a pedestal to the point where they become a negative, self-aggrandizing person themselves. I don't know what made a classmate of mine be the abusive bully to me and others that he was, but I do know the mixed feelings I felt when he was drafted and paid his first million.

Maybe it doesn't have the draw of stories like that of the NFL's Vick, but parents, family, and friends need to remember that behind the accomplishments, fame, and skill of every hockey player is a child or person, just like the rest of us. They can suffer, they can be warped, and sometimes it becomes too easy to get caught up in the excitement and excuse the wrong choices that are made. It's important to always remember that staying grounded can be the most important thing for hockey players and those around them to do, in order to send them soaring to the highest peaks of success.

Food for Thought and for Smiles

Ruutu's welcome to Ottawa, Zubov's desire to play in the NHL, Foligno and Bass' chances of becoming Ottawa mainstays, Redden's mourning ends, a look at the potential third jersey the Sens might be forced to wear, a brief recap of the rookies' victory over Florida, and an amusing diversion from Russia (likely without love).

Jarkko Ruutu was popular with the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and the Ottawa Senators webpage, scoring three very similar stories. He sounds excited to be joining the Senators, and eager to return to the excitement of playing in a Canadian city, Vancouver being his last stop up North. He admits to never being afraid to do whatever it takes to win, and that every game counts. It's good to know that there won't ever be a night off from Ruutu, who could easily challenge Neil for the most frustrating player on the ice, and I expect he will be keeping the opposition frustrated far more than we Sens fans. Just as he admits to being proud of his role as a hard-working agitator, Murray too agrees that he wants to see that role from Ruutu, and if the support he's gotten from every team he's played for is any indication, we can all be excited to see what he will bring to the team.

Both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun find themselves asking Zubov just how strong his desire to play in the NHL is. In Ilya, we find a man dedicated enough that he chose not to return home to Russia and his friends for the summer, opting instead to practice here, alongside Neil, and to work hard every day. That in itself should keep him high in the callup lineup, but more pleasing still is that he admittedly accepts the possibility that our NHL roster is too full, and he is prepared to continue his development in the AHL. Another Yashin, he is most certainly not, and his character should speak volumes of him, and just how much he does (or will) belong on the team, especially considering Murray's constant push for it from his players.

From the Ottawa Senators website, it is again suggested that Bass and Foligno have the edge on making the Sens' roster, due to experience and familiarity. It is suggested that Bass might not make the cut, as it might be better for him to continue developing in the AHL where he might score more, rather than on one of the Senators' less offensive lines. I can understand this, seeing as how we have plenty of veterans who can contribute as Bass is expected to do, and it would be nice to see Bass get a chance to develop into a bigger offensive threat than his physical role would suggest. I can't, however, see Foligno being sent down, not considering the strides he's made, and just how good he looked at season's end, especially entering the zone and curling around with the puck to wait for help, just as Alfie so often succeeds in doing.

The Ottawa Citizen has it that Redden is ready to move on. On the dreadful 07-08 season, his new deal and marriage have helped him move on. "I've already erased that from my memory bank." Glad to hear it Redden; we have erased your disappointing play from our memory banks as well, but we will eagerly watch to see if some of your former teammates might make it an interesting matchup the next time we meet.

Someone help me should the Ottawa Sun indeed have the official Sens third jersey pinned down. I've always loved the Sens' classic profile logo, also enjoying their third effort to remake the stalwart Senator. This jersey though, so absent any creativity or distinctiveness, is truly a bizarre and disappointing sight to see. I can only hope that it is a decoy, and that the true third jersey might bring back a more palatable, hopefully classic and enduring look to the team.

The Ottawa Senators rookies triumphed today in Kitchener, beating the host Florida Panthers squad 4-2 at the Aud in Kitchener, a great way to start the three day round robin tourney (although the goal they allowed less than 2 minutes into the game might have had some fooled early on). Forgive me my delays and lateness, but sometime early next week I hope to post my thoughts on all the games, which I have had the the pleasure of sating my hockey hunger with.

As a final diversion, the Citizen's James Gordon's hockey capital blog brings us some amusement from across the sea. If the thought of seeing Emery in a yellow jersey, allowing goal after goal, brings you pleasure (or if you want to see how a real spartan show is put on, no joke), I suggest you take a break and have a look.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little Things and a Whopper

Plenty of stories today, from further works on the roster overcrowding and Richardson's desire to play, as well as a look into Elliot's future and development, and an interesting conversation with Kuba.

The Ottawa Sun brings us more word that indeed there will be battling for roster spots. Of particular interest is Murray suggesting that we have less skill this season, but more depth, likely alluding to the fact that we could nearly fill the whole roster with NHL pros, while still having many AHL guys looking to get their crack at the big leagues. He goes so far as to say that "If we have to move somebody as the result of a young guy making our team, that's just the way it is." To me, that suggests that should some of the younger players (Bass, Foligno, Winchester, Zubov, Nikulin, Bell, Carkner, etc) outwork some of the older ones, we might see the senior players traded off. Considering in such a situation you would not be trying to fill out the roster, it might mean that they would be traded for younger prospects, or else picks. It's not like we couldn't use more picks to perhaps help us turn our late 1st rounders into higher picks in this reportedly deep 2009 draft.

Also from the Ottawa Sun, we hear that Richardson is looking forward to attending training camp. For the first time in his 20 NHL seasons, he is without a contract. In his favour is that Murray says that "He wants to play. He's really convinced he can continue. I go over to watch him skate, and there's not anything missing from last year. He's the same player." Working against him is that the 'same player' implies a reliable 5th-7th defenseman, competing against youngsters over a decade his junior, some with the offensive skills he lacks. Again, he might stick with the Sens regardless of making the team or not, as word is they like the coaching skills he's been showing while in the press box. The only way I can see him on the team is if all the rookies flop, or if some of our defensemen are a part of another trade, but that too is doubtful.

From the Ottawa Citizen, we get a good look at Brian Elliot, and the efforts being made to turn him into our goaltender of the future. No doubt, he has potential, and looked good in his single NHL game. With Gerber gone and Auld having one year left come season's end, I can't necessarily see Elliot making the jump to the team at that point. As Ken Warren points out, we have yet to develop a goaltender, with Emery being the closest we have come. Since we don't want to follow the example the Leafs set by rushing defensemen into full service too quickly, my guess is that Murray might look into getting a strong number one goaltender via free agency or trade, and keep him with Auld next season. Then, hopefully, Elliot might climb into the NHL as a backup, much as Emery did behind Hasek, only this time I would hope that the two have a more gradual transition between duties. I'd still take it as a good sign that there is faith in Elliot, since the Sens traded up to draft Karlsson this draft, rather than going with the common prediction and taking goaltender Chet Picard.

Via KK, a link to the Bolts Report, referring to a Tampa Bay Online story that suggests Kuba might have gotten the Boyle/McCabe treatment when he learned of his impending trade to the Ottawa Senators. "The way it was presented to me at the time, I knew even if I said no to the trade I wasn't going to stay here on the team," Kuba said. "So it didn't make any sense to say no I'm going to stay and then know I'm going somewhere else anyway." Hmmm, how else might we be able to interpret this? Another situation perhaps where a player is presented with a good deal, but then threatened to be placed on waivers to end up who knows where? Hearing this, I certainly hope that our team will give a very loud, proud, and warm welcome to Kuba, and I hope that Tampa will take over as heir apparent to the seemingly UFA-repelling champ Vancouver Canucks. How much Koules-Aid do you have to drink before you really start to wonder if guys like these and others under fraud investigations are better for the League than billionaire, hockey-obsessed men like Balsillie?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Sens Keep Growing - Updated

The craziest idea, evaluating Jesse Winchester's potential, new head coach Craig Hartsburg's vision for the team, and Jason Spezza ready to grow.

Updated - A few stories from the Sens website.

The Ottawa Sun reports that several sources have confirmed that Brian Murray has been making pitches to Sundin to join the Ottawa Senators. With about $5 million in cap space, and more than enough forwards eager to play, the Sens would have to move a forward or two in order to make room for Sundin and his salary. Only Vermette or Kelly on their own could be moved to get the roughly $7 million we'd need, but on good two- and four- year deals, it would be a foolish move. More likely might be to move someone like Neil, whom I keep hearing has some value to other teams and with Ruutu and Bass potentially less value to us, and then we could see another small forward salary tagged on, hopefully gaining us a good prospect and/or pick, since we don't want to recrowd the forward ranks.

Wait, did I just suggest that this might even be possible? Clearly I am as sick as I have been the past couple days. Sundin will not be in a Sens jersey. As much as I love hearing from the Sun that League Execs think Melnyk would love the signing as a knife to the heart of Leafs Nation, and I too would love it, it's just not in the cards. Wait until he decides he even wants to play, and until some of the other teams in the running have dropped out, and then there's enough room for you on the crazy train. Yes, I realize that $5 million is enough to sign him later on in the season, which is how long his decision is rumoured to take, but you should know how I feel about that.

Today the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren wants to remind us that we shouldn't forget about Jesse Winchester's potential. The NHL rookie (well, ok, he does have one game with the Sens under his belt) was passed over in the OHL and NHL drafts, but the Sens signed him among interest from many other teams late last season, arguably due to the fact that he finished his three years in college with 38 goals and 72 assists.

Indeed I will look for that potential as well, when I hope to take in two or three of the rookie squad's games this weekend. I do wonder how easily the winger might adjust, as Warren sugests, to being a winger alongside Fisher or Spezza. No, not because he's a rookie, but because even as much as we see Spezza as a passing machine, Winchester's assists make up a greater total of his point production than even Spezza. Going 8-29--37 in his last season should highlight this quite effectively. Nonetheless, I do believe he can and will contribute to our scoring, I'm just curious to see how long it will take for him to find his chemistry and his place.

The Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren also writes today about Craig Hartsburg's vision for this drastically different Ottawa Senators team. He sees the potential of both our star players, and the effectiveness of our role players. While he's eager to leave the party image of last year's team behind, he doesn't want to baby the team; Hartsburg wants to treat the team like men, and have them approach the game as men. Hartsburg observes that while all Cup winning teams have plenty of skill, they don't make the leap until the team finds the proper chemistry, trust, and character becomes a part of themselves, and the team as a whole. It would indeed explain the drastic turnaround between the last two playoff series between the Pens and the Sens, as the Pens had a very similarly talented roster in both, only they were able to find greater strength and draw on it the second time around. If Hartsburg can practice what he preaches, this will indeed be a season and team worth watching and cheering for.

From TSN, we hear that Jason Spezza is ready to be the all-around player the Ottawa Senators so desperately want to see in him. He talks about the stigma you face between being an offensive powerhouse, and the point where you break through as an all-around star player, and indeed the fans and media have made him feel it throughout his short tenure with the team. Hartsburg says he wants to put Spezza in new situations, draw out new areas of his game, and says that Spezza is excited at the challenge. While it will take a while to see what happens with Spezza this year, I'm sure the change in attitude towards Ray Emery between the last two seasons and his maturity's non-development might have hit home with him, and at the moment he's saying all the right things. If you watch the video clip by Brent Wallace of this same story, you'll learn that he's even finally switching to composite sticks, while keeping his wooden ones on hand, just in case. I'm sure we're all eager to see what this combination of attitude, pressure, and equipment change can draw out of our star center, and this season has waited long enough to start already.

The Ottawa Senators website has a trio of stories today, dealing with Hartsburg's readiness to start the season, a look at the rookies who want to challenge for roster spots, and Richardson's goal to play another NHL season. Very similar stories to the previous ones, stressing Hartsburg's desire for accountability (hopefully fewer stupid penalties and no look passes), the odds that Foligno, Lee, Bass, and Winchester all have a good shot at making the team (which means what for guys like Zubov and Nikulin, who have a ton of desire but temptations to play in the KHL?), and mention of Richardson's desire to play another NHL season. He has been invited to training camp, but with only two potentially open spots, and Lee, Picard, Bell, Schubert, and Richardson all challenging for them, it will be anything but easy for Luke to make the cut. He appears to have been offered some sort of coaching position, but you have to wonder if he might not go somewhere else where there's room. Or, whether there's some chance that there might be room for him, but that's a long, long shot.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Head Must Shake

Just a short thought. Here is an article from TSN, on the Sedins' upcoming UFA status, and potential new contracts.

Here is my first exhibit, screenshot A:


Here is a quote:
"I think we just need to discuss where they (the Sedins) fit into the marketplace." Barry told the Team 1040. "We need to get into that kind of detail, and we haven't gotten there. We haven't discussed term; we haven't discussed their intention of what kind of term, or ours. So, until we get thru those discussions and term, we probably won't get to the dollar stage."
Wait. Wait just a second...
"So, until we get thru those discussions and term, we probably won't get to the dollar stage."
I know I'm not an arts student, and my application for a posted job, a writing position with the Ottawa Senators, never panned out. But still, does TSN really mean to tell me that "thru" is not only what passes for hockey journalism now, but also the quoting of hockey agents? I mean, it is J.P. Barry, and maybe he doesn't have enough time for full words, what with all the Sundin meetings going on, but still. Not to mention the fact that he's saying this on the Team 1040, and unless it's an email you'd have to be a pretty good psychic to know he really meant to say it 'thru', to be cool and hip like the MSN kids. It's 2am, I just noticed this, and I'm entitled to my belief that I must chuckle that TSN quotes others as having said "thru". Maybe he really did say it in an email, but even when you record a conversation, your transcription's goal is to get the proper intent of the speaker, and I'm pretty sure a professional agent, dealing with players earning millions of dollars, would not want to be quoted as being the guy who said "thru".

Come on, TSN. Come on.

Thus ends my griping for the early morning, goodnight.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Variations on a Theme: Work Ethic

Today we have a quaint ticket reminder, a ray of hope for Bass with a spector of darkness for Neil, the power of home ice, and the least fun part of coaching the Sens.

First, I just thought it would be a good time to wake everyone up, and remind them that in a very short twelve days, we will finally be able to buy single game tickets. Yes, there are those of us who are so passionate about our Sens, but still unable to buy season's tickets or even a Hockey Country game pak, due either to our humble pay, our busy schedule, or that we are rarely in the right area code to partake of Alfie's hockey nectar. Tickets for October and November games go on sale next Saturday, September 20th at 10am.

NHL.com sees Bass breaking out this season, earning himself a full-time roster spot. In looking at players who didn't quite fit into the NHL or the AHL, playing between 15-60 NHL games (Bass appeared in 25), with the departures of forwards McGrattan (who appeared in 38 games last season), Robitaille (68 games), and Stillman (79 games, split between Carolina and Ottawa), Bass should be able to unpack his bags permanently. I have a little more faith in him than that, and hope I can give him more credit than just making the team 'because we've lost people'. It seems to me that too many people are suggesting that some of our two-way deals will have a good shot at making the team, whereas I simply think many of them are good depth signings that can help the team in Binghamton climb out of mediocrity. I also think that Bass will bring a good deal of toughness, which will help offset the loss of McGrattan, Commodore, and the less tactful choices Neil has made of late. I see him being a good contributor on our 3rd and 4th lines, and I'm sure he has it in him to give us a line that the opposition won't be fond of playing against, much like the Laraques line in Pittsburg or the Moen line we faced a year ago in the Final.

From FOX Sports, Spector's Blog lists today a bunch of players in the East who might find themselves on the block this season. From Ottawa, he suspects that Neil might be the candidate of choice to move. While he has been a fan favourite, and usually works hard and has the right dose of pest, times might be a-changin. The end of last season saw Neil take more than his usual share of dumb, unnecessary, and unfortunately game affecting penalties, not to mention the fact that he was completely absent when Mark Bell took out Fisher, Alfie, and nearly Redden as well in that one 'memorable' night. Couple that with some more sensible muscle and pest in Smith and Bass, and Neil's expiring contract could indeed see him moved to help toughen up a team, or at least thrown in by Murray to sweeten a trade deal just enough. The question that remains is whether or not Murray can pull the trigger on such a popular player, and to where Neil might be launched.

In another preview feature, NHL.com has the Ottawa Senators' top line of Alfie, Spezza, and Heater among the East's top 10 scorers on home ice. Alfredsson ranks 3rd in the East, while Heatley is 7th and Spezza comes in 9th. I'm not often proud to see such rankings, as being among the best scorer at home usually means you suffer on the road, unless you're vying for the Ross, as Malkin (leading home scorer in the East) and Ovechkin (2nd) were. Sure enough, crunch the numbers, and you'll find that while Alfie (1.40P/G) and Heatley(1.27P/G) scored prolifically at home, both experienced a 11-19% drop in P/G when they went on the road, down to 1.14 and 1.03P/G, respectively. Interestingly, it's Spezza that takes the consistency cake, as his production stays very close to 1.200P/G, and he actually has a better P/G on the road, by a narrow margin (1.19P/G home, 1.23P/G road, a 3% increase). Perhaps this speaks to the effect that the home crowd has on our boys, or maybe it was on the road where the locker room troubles really hit hard; either way, we can only hope that consistency remains the key focus this season.

Via KK, Ian Mendes of sportsnet writes today of a way in which we might find better scoring consistency: splitting up the NHL's most dominating line of last season. Speaking to both Alfie and Spezza, it would seem that the big three are expecting to find themselves competing to bring out the best in their teammates, rather than trying to take advantage of the amazing skills they all possess (and in speaking to Alfie, we hear that only four weeks after the end of the season, he felt all healed up from his run in with Bell, which would explain the lack of any limp when he called Karlsson down during June's draft). Indeed, many blame Paddock's reliance (and over-reliance) on the big three working best together, and I myself lost faith in his coaching skills when, during an interview, he flatly stated that he had no qualms about throwing them together at any time, and constantly playing them over anyone else, so long as nobody else was able to live up to his scoring hopes.

I think it's that kind of responsibility that doomed the team, let alone the negative impact comments and decisions like those have on hardworking but struggling players on the team. While Mendes seems to be suggesting that Alfie will move down to work with Fisher, while Spezza continues to feed Heatley on the first line, I have a different vision. I remember that when Spezza, Vermette, and Fisher were all out a couple seasons back, Heatley and Alfie still worked well sandwiched around Chris Kelly. I also remember just how well Heatley was at the Worlds, playing with Getzlaf as his centre while Spezza worked the 4th line. I would honestly love to see the three wind up on completely different lines. I could see Kelly or Vermette working well to feed Heatley, who works a lot harder but still finds his points when Spezza isn't hunting for him on the ice. Fisher worked well with Alfie when they hit the ice together last season, so that's some chemistry I probably wouldn't want to mess with.

As for Spezza, I believe it's time he proved he can make things happen, rather than merely work with the two best players on the team and benefit from it. It may not be a contract year, but if I'm not mistaken, this is the season that Spezza's No Trade Clause is still inactive. If he really wants to prove himself of value to the team, and I'm sure Hartsburg will give him that chance and push him towards it, it's on his own that he needs to prove it. The best centers, like Crosby and Malkin, have taken 4th liners and made them look like they belong in the starting lineup, and that's even without yet being relied upon to kill penalties and take on those less-glorious responsibilities. With his massive $7 million for 7 seasons contract kicking in, it's time for him to prove that he's really worth it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kuba Looking Good for Senators

The Ottawa Sun tells us today that Kuba was indeed shocked when he heard he had been traded. He was excited to see a practically new team with new players, coach, and owners, but he has hope that he can do well in Ottawa. He's not the only one either. John Tortorella was on TEAM 1200 Thursday, saying that Kuba will get a chance to shine offensively, even speculating that he might not yet have hit his peak performance years, which would indeed be a boon to Ottawa.

Considering how many people were stoked when Torts was still a potential candidate for the Ottawa Senators head coaching job this summer, hopefully they can get stoked for Kuba too. Last season, he had 75GP, 6-25--31 for .413P/G, going -8 with 40PIM. How can we further brighten that? Well, he managed to do it on the worst team in the league last year, and that should speak for itself. Of his 31 points, only 11 were on the powerplay, so he's not just a one-use specialist; he even has a shorthanded assist to his name. Yes, that's right, he kills penalties too (imagine that! a defenseman who can help put numbers up on the board, and prevent the other team from doing so as well?).

Indeed, he spent five seasons in Minnesota's defensive system before moving to Tampa for the last two. Despite the defensive leash the Wild's players find themselves on, he still managed to get between .312 and .400P/G, and it was undoubtedly his honed skills at both ends of the ice that drew Feaster, and now Murray, to him. People might continue to be down on plus-30 players as they certainly seem to feel in Ottawa, but last season he would slot in right behind Meszaros' point total on our team, and his -8 put him right in the middle of Tampa's pack. Just as the solid defensive instincts of nearly all our players would have helped Mez had he stuck around, I can't help but be excited to see what Kuba can, and I'm sure will, bring to the rink this season.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rookie Squad Ready for Tournament

The Ottawa Senators today announced that the roster is set for the upcoming rookie tournament in Kitchener. The full roster can be viewed here.

I, for one, am excited to get any kind of Sens action. I will attend the games (hopefully all three, if I can get off work early), and hopefully shortly after the tourney I'll be able to give a rundown of who's looking up this season, whether Nikulin's training with Gonchar and Malkin has paid off, if Regin is as good as I've heard, and what all those boys on amateur (and professional) tryouts have that nobody's seen yet.

I keep marveling at how many new people the Sens keep finding. Of the 23 man roster, 13 players were not at the tournament last year, and nine are on either amateur or professional tryout. It will certainly be a great show, and at only $10 a game, a real bargain.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sens Sign Forward Brad Isbister

Via KK, marketwire has the Sens signing forward Brad Isbister. Update with more details to follow...

Update - 6:20pm EST

The Ottawa Senators story, which has many tales from Brad's glory days. His lifetime stats (Brad being 31, 6'4 and 225lbs) are 541GP, 106-116--222 for .410 P/G, going -43 with 615PIM. Other than the fact that he's not a right wing (or did I mess that up?), Brad seems to be the man that had been talked about. Indeed, he's not Parrish or Murray, as I suspected, and the two-way deal means he can play for either squad.

Donovan is one of the few Sens that Isbister outproduced last year (excluding the boys with two-way deals). Donovan had 82GP, 5-7--12 for .146P/G, going -3 with 73PIM, while Isbister had 55GP, 6-5--11 for .200P/G, going -4 with 38PIM. For comparison, Foligno had 45GP, 6-3--9 for .200P/G, a +/- of 0 and 20PIM, while Bass had 21GP, 2-2--4 for .190P/G, going -1 with 19PIM.

What does this say? Interestingly, two departures from last season are Lapointe (70GP, 6-7--13, .186P/G, -5, 70PIM) and McGrattan (38GP, 0-3--3, .079P/G, +/- 0, 46PIM). Both averaged at least a PIM/game last season, while Isbister, Donovan, Foligno, and Bass were all under that threshold. Both had less than .200P/G (Grats less than half that), while those who will be in a Sens jersey this season were .146 on the low end, and then .190 with two at .200P/G. What you have now are boys who can be big and mean, but not excessively, with the same non-excess present i their scoring, but they can contribute, with the potential for better results next season too. And, with the exception of Donovan, you wouldn't be surprised to see the rookies or Isbister's two way deal spending a part of the season in Binghamton, which gives Murray better options with better players.

Dare I say, I might even think of Darren McCarty of the Wings, a man who had troubles but found his way, and found his way into a two way deal, when I think of Isbister. The two are not the same, but along with all the moves Murray's made, I can only think of classy players who put their heart into it, and are willing to make sacrifices for the team, in one way or another. I'll say it again, I have hope, and I am really looking forward to seeing the vastly different Sens squad this season. Hurry up and end already, you offseason that has been way too long!

Daily News Mystery

From a new mystery player to Tortorella getting a job, news is indeed picking up this month.

From Spector, it appears that there is indeed a mystery right winger coming our way. I had heard the rumour from less trustworthy sources, and ignored it until now. It seems that Binghamton's beat writer Sharp has indeed spoken with Tim Murray, who says that he has a verbal agreement with a right wing who could challenge for a spot in Ottawa alongside Foligno and Bass, and should be a top 6 forward should he stay in the AHL, if he isn't in the top three. I would forget about suspecting Parrish and Murray; I'd have a hard time believing they could drop from their NHL jobs (and pay) down to potentially landing in the AHL, so I'm wondering if it's some unknown character, or a vet wanting to prove he's still got it.

Sharp also points out that Picard is very likely to be playing with the Sens, considering he'd have to clear waivers to wind up in the AHL, along with the fact that he has solid puckmoving skills and hockey sense, both of which are needed in Ottawa this season. The fact that he reminds us of Tampa's reluctance to include him in the Meszaros trade, along with the fact that Meszaros might well flounder as a team's most experienced defenseman and that both Kuba and Picard could do well alongside our solid defensive stalwarts, well it certainly suggests that they might angrily lash out at us by snatching Picard off waivers. But Tampa's GM wouldn't do that, would he? Oh, right, they don't have a GM... just a few assistant GMs, assistant to the GM, and a director of hockey operations. Hmmm...

Tortorella has come on board to work for TSN as a panelist this season, commenting on 60 games alongside other hosts. He is also joined by ex-NHLer Ray Ferraro. His boisterous style, which was both effective and occasionally distracting behind the bench, should further add to the TSN experience. He might well be able to challenge Don Cherry for viewers looking for wild and crazy commentary (and the Hockey Night theme), and it is only fitting that he takes up the post as a wild and crazy commentator, considering that Barry Melrose, who took over Tampa's bench after his departure, was known for exactly the same kind of material.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Information Overload

As the calendar is securely fastened, showing us the month of September, the hockey news world is gearing up into action, as we get some Sens previews, and even more talk about Meszaros and the Lightning.

NHL.com today posted their League-wide season previews today, among which you can find several Ottawa Senators related articles.

First off, there's the full Sens preview. As has been the case since Christmas, there's plenty of talk about the 'meltdown' we experienced this past season, but there's plenty of hope remaining in this preview, not to mention the joyous news that apparently Meszaros hasn't actually left our blueline.

Next up, a look at our second-round selection at this year's draft, defenseman Patrick Wiercioch, and his inspirational story of hard work and determination. Definitely one of those feel-good players you like seeing on your team, and whose successes are always a little sweeter. He'll need to bulk up his 6'2 frame significantly from the 178lbs they list him at, and continue to work on his skating, but here's a kid I still know little about, and yet I'm already looking forward to seeing his progression, hopefully into the mould of an offensive defenseman who's not afraid to throw his weight around.

The preview is at its most pessimistic in the By the Numbers section, where knowledgeable John Kreiser dissects all the ways our team let us down last season, and how every shining light was counterbalanced by a shadow cast at least as large.

You'll also find a mention of some Senators in the East Elite Scorers breakdown. Heatley makes the top ten, and while he endures some criticism for his skating, there's little doubt he will fail to live up to the work ethic warranted by his sparkling new contract. I for one don't fail to remember how successful he was at the Worlds on a line without (gasp!) Jason Spezza, which gives me hope that Hartsburg might take road Paddock could only shudder while looking at, and splits up the big three, with any luck splitting up Spezza and Heatley in the process, as that pairing always negates the third linemate, with the two of them constantly trying to be the yin to the other's yang. Also mentioned in the top ten scorers of the east is Alfie, and it's no surprise that his hard work has been able to silence the naysayers and critics over the years.

Ok, I'll try to resist the temptation of continuing the propagation of these stories, but the media can't seem to get enough out of the Meszaros saga. THN's Sam McCaig comments on the sad state of Tampa's blueline, where Meszaros' 246 NHL games ranks tops on the team. He correctly points out the promise of the Bolt defense, especially with moving the puck, but he is even more spot on in reminding us that all of these boys need more time to develop. Meszaros does have offensive flair, but can you see him playing 25 minutes a night in all situations (even the dreaded PK, where Schubie replaced him last season)? Does it make sense that a 28 year old who hasn't cracked the century mark of NHL games played (Hutchinson) will likely fit into the top 6? Everyone was reminded of how badly Toronto has botched promising blueliners when no commentator could resist the subject as they traded up to select Luke Schenn this season, but how long before the overeager and presumptuous Lightning face the same criticism? Considering the market, it's probably a ways off.

One last interesting note on that story is McCaig's mention of the 18 highly qualified NHL forwards the Lightning possess, suggesting that they might be traded for some defensive help this season. Considering the behaviour of Tampa's management, threatening to go after Malone so his rights would be traded to them, threatening to give a bloated offer sheet to Mez so that Ottawa forked him over, and considering that while no team can scoff at guys like Roberts and Recchi, no team absolutely needs them, I wouldn't be at all surprised (rather completely happy) if GMs held fast against Tampa this season, and forced management to make deals as lopsided as the Meszaros trade to get them out of this mess. Tampa Bay management, congrats, you've officially made it onto my list. Don't be proud.

Parting Shots

Murray makes sure his thoughts on Meszaros are heard, while newly acquired Picard is still in shock.

For all the sensibility of Murray I mentioned yesterday, the man still knows how to shoot from the lip. It seems that he didn't want Meszaros to be out of the city, riding all those stories of how he really wanted to be here, and worked so hard to come to terms with the Ottawa Senators. But why did he leave? Was it the money? Not too likely, since Murray offered a five year deal with a $3.5 million cap hit, along with an even higher hit in a last minute offer. That, and of course there was the KHL offering the same as Tampa, minus our high taxes.

The big shocker comes from Murray mentioning that Meszaros felt that Smith would not be a good enough defensive partner for him. Yes, we're sorry we couldn't keep Chara instead of Redden, but to suggest that Jason Smith isn't up to the task, that is truly insulting. Just makes me happy that Meszaros is now down in Tampa, home of the boys who forced Boyle out of town, and who, in signing Meszaros, still don't seem to understand good cap moves, considering his very back heavy contract. You two, you were made for each other. End fuming.

On a happier note, Picard was indeed in shock when he learned of the deal. It must also be flattering to know that Murray insisted that you were part of the deal. Picard says he sees himself as a transition defenseman, getting the puck out of the zone by whatever means necessary. But no, wait, that's not all (are you listening Meszaros?): he also promises to use his 6'2, 220lbs frame to hit opponents whenever possible. He even has the nerve to think that his defensive maturation will only be aided by the presence of Phillips, Volchenkov, and Smith. What a crazy boy, eh? Pass me some more of that TBL Kool-Aid, please.