Nov 132006
 

I know in the past I have put out the idea that the Senators should consider trading Alfredsson. My argument prior to the 2005-06 season was that the team changed the coach, gave super-talanted Spezza the #1 center role, swapped star wingers (Hossa for Heatley) and acquired a star goalie (Hasek) and that if this team still can’t win in the playoffs that they should consider a major leadership change by trading Alfredsson. They were once again a dissapointment in the playoffs but chose to keep Alfredsson as their captain and leader.

But 17 games into the season the Senators now sit at a dismal 6-10-1 with no real signs of breaking out of their slump. The question is, what do you do now? I would like to once again suggest that tradeing Daniel Alfredsson is what should be done. It seems clear that the goto tandem of the team is Spezza and Heatley. So far the coach has never even flirted with the notion of splitting them up and generally there hasn’t been a reason to as they have played great together. The problem is, if those two are the goto tandem, where does that leave Alfredsson?

Over the course of much of last season and most of this season coach Bryan Murray has tried desperately to find success for Alfredsson on a different line. There was some limited success last season mostly when Alfredsson was paired with Bryan Smolinski but as we know Bryan Smolinski is not in Chicago. This season finding Alfredsson some linemates to play with has been a complete failure. So if you can’t find Alfredsson another line to play on and if he is only going to be the #3 guy on the top line, and if you believe that his leadership abilities are questionable based on past failures to lead the team to playoff success, does that make Alfredsson the most expendable part of this team if you are looking to make an impact trade to turn the season around?

Sure, you could trade Fisher, but he has played poorly so far this season and his value is probably fairly low. You could trade Vermette but he has game-breaking speed and has been one of the few players who has contributed secondary scoring and honestly, would a Vermette trade be big enough to be considered a significant enough shake up to turn the team around? I am not sure of that. And trading any other forward (aside from Spezza or Heatley but they have been identified as the go to tandem so won’t be traded) would be considered enough of a shakeup to dramatically change the make up of the team.

So at this point it is clear that the team needs a significant shake up and that Alfredsson of all the forwards is both expendable and valuable enough to both be considered a major shakeup and provide signifant return in a trade. So, who do you trade him for.

First off, in trading Alfredsson I wouldn’t be looking for a player of equal talent, I would be looking for a pair of players who would bring a different set of attributes to the table. I would be looking for a defensivly aware, high-energy winger who would be able to play with Spezza and Heatley and also a solid all-round second line center to be able to play with guys like Vermette, Eaves, Schaeffer, etc. In an ideal world one or both of these players would have experienced some playoff success.

Here are a few examples of a trade that might work:

1. Alfredsson to Florida for Nathan Horton and Joe Nieuwendyk

Horton is a high energy, feisty power forward with enough skill to be able to play with Spezza and Heatley and he is young and someone you could build around for the future. Nieuwendyk isn’t the ideal second line center because at this point in his career he has injury issues but has the leadership and playoff experience that Ottawa desperately needs. You could try to get Jozef Stumpel but he doesn’t really have the playoff experience and leadership skills you would ideally be looking for. Gary Roberts is another option but doesn’t address the need for a second line center. Florida might consider a move like this because GM and coach Jacques Martin is very familiar with Alfredsson and they might be looking for someone to help alleviate the loss of Bertuzzi to injury.

2. Alfredsson to NY Islanders for Mike York and Trent Hunter

Both York and Hunter have had poor starts to the season but both are capable of playing much better. Hunter is a good all-round winger who can play physical, whill score some goals and won’t hurt you defensively. York is a good second line center with good playmaking abilities and also won’t hurt you defensively. York would be a good second line center for Ottawa. The downside is that neither of these guys provide the playoff experience you would be looking for and also both players have contracts ending at the end of the season. But you could probably get the Islanders to include a draft pick or a prospect in this trade because of that. The Islanders might do this deal to reunite Alfredsson with Yashin and hopefully get some more offense out of both of them.

3. Alfredsson to Anaheim for Todd Marchant and Corey Perry

Todd Marchant would be a solid second line center and Corey Perry has the talent and ability to play either with Spezza and Heatley or with Marchant on the second line. Marchant played great in the playoffs last year as well so that would be a plus for the Senators. Anaheim might do this deal to rid themselves of the 3 years remaining on Marchant’s contract and also to get another proven and experienced scorer. Alfredsson’s salary is more than the combined salary of Marchant and Perry this season but the Ducks did save $800,000 in the Chistov trade so might be positioned to take on some added salary.

I doubt any of these trades will happen but they are the kind of trade that I think Ottawa needs to make to shake up their team and also address some holes that clearly exist in their lineup. The question is, does Muckler have enough guts (or lost enough patience in his team) to make a bold move like this before Melnyk makes a bold move of his own.

Nov 062006
 

The number 4 seems to be a big number for the Ottawa Senators these days.

-It was 4 minutes in penalties to #4 Chris Phillips that allowed Carolina to steal the win on Saturday
-It was another penalty to #4 Phillips that gave the Capitals the chance to send the game into overtime tonight.
-It was the Capitals 4th goal of the game and Chris Clark’s 4th goal of the season that gave them the overtime win.
-It was Ottawa’s 4th loss in a row.

But it goes beyond that. The Senators can hardly ever win when they score fewer than 4 goals and they can hardly lose when they score 4 or more goals. When scoring 4 or more goals the Senators were an outstanding 46-0-2 last season. When scoring 3 or fewer goals they were a lowsy 6-21-7. In the playoffs they were 3-1 when scoring 4+ goals and 2-4 when scoring 3 or fewer goals. This year they are 4-0 when scoring 4 or more goals and 1-7-1 when scoring 3 or fewer goals (the win being a shootout win).

It seems really strange that the Senators can’t win when they don’t score 4 or more goals. It is strange because this team should be able to do well in low scoring games. They have a good defense and have generally had pretty solid goaltending last year and this year. But something just isn’t right with this Senators team and hasn’t been for a long time. The Ottawa Senators just cannot win the close, hard fought games. They can be easily frustrated by good goaltending and don’t seem to have the leadership and work ethic to fight for every point. It’s generally hasn’t cost them in the regular season until now but it has cost them in several playoffs over the past decade. Most of the players have changed but the result has remained the same. The Senators just can’t get it done.

A few weeks ago (just prior to their 3 game 21 goal outburst) I had a theory that the fans and media might bear some of the blame. Well, maybe blame is a strong word, but lets say maybe they are a factor. You see, the Ottawa Senators fan is pretty much an eternal optimist. Even when they were scoring 10 goals in their first 6 games I heard fans calling in to the local radio station saying things like ‘this slump is might actually be a blessing in disguise. A little adversity will do this team good and once they learn to win again everything will once again be hunky dory and we can gun for the Stanley Cup again’. The local hockey media said many of the same things and even after tonights game a couple of the hosts on the Ottawa post game show (on TV) reiterated the same thing. Well, maybe this is not the right line of thinking. Maybe the fans should criticize this team the way they deserve. And I am not talking about ‘Alfredsson sucked tonight, lets trade him’ I am talking about ‘This team is not good enough to be a Stanley Cup contender and will be in a fight for the playoffs’.

Why do I say this? Well, because I see what happens in Leaf Land. In Toronto the Leafs get bashed for everything they do or don’t do. Nothing is ever good enough for most in the media and many of the fans. They are too old. They are too slow. They defence is horrible. Pat Quinn never talks to John Ferguson Jr. There are rifts in the dressing room. Just read a Steve Simmons column on the Leafs. He hardly ever has anything good to say. Even in a recent article where he was praising Pat Quinn for some of his draft picks he was making subtle jabs at JFJ for his lack of drafting ability. For some in Toronto nothing is ever good enough. And yet they generally win. Not so much in the regular season, but in the playoffs when it counts. Before this season everyone had written them off but they are now sitting with a 9-5-3 record. I am thinking that all this pessimism has given the players a reason to play hard; they want to prove everyone wrong. Maybe the Senators players believe everything that they hear, that everything will be better soon and that they will be better for it once they get through these tough times. But the reality is, maybe they won’t.

So maybe Senators fans should start realizing reality that this team is not good enough. They haven’t and aren’t good enough to win in the playoffs and maybe now they aren’t good enough to win easily in the regular season. Maybe then the players will work harder to prove the fans and the doubters wrong. Maybe mass doubt amongst the media and fans is the adversity the players really need.

Oh, and can someone tell the Senators play by play guy (Dean Brown?) that the worst lead in hockey is 2 goals not 3. I have heard him say the worst lead is a 3 goal lead several times this season and it is flat out wrong.

Jun 212006
 

As we head into the off season and the very important free agent signing period it is time we take a look at how some teams are positioned in terms of salary commitments and fee cap space and what they might do in the off season. Today I’ll look at the Ottawa Senators and tomorrow I’ll take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

To the best of my knowledge here are the players the Senators currently have under contract (excluding players on 2-way contracts that are not expected to make the team).

Pos Name 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
RW Daniel Alfredsson 4,662,894 4,662,894 4,662,894
RW Dany Heatley 4,500,000 4,500,000
C/W Bryan Smolinski 2,242,000
D Chris Phillips 1,976,000
C Mike Fisher 1,500,000 1,500,000
D Anton Volchenkov 1,300,000
D Andrei Meszaros 984,200 984,200
C/RW Patrick Eaves 942,400 942,400
RW Brian McGrattan 525,000 525,000
Total 18,632,494 13,114,494 4,662,894

Key Restricted Free Agents:
Martin Havlat
Jason Spezza
Peter Schaeffer
Antoinne Vermette
Chris Neil
Tyler Arnason
Chris Kelly
Christoph Schubert
Ray Emery

Key Unrestricted Free Agents
Zdeno Chara
Wade Redden
Brian Pothier
Dominik Hasek
Mike Morrison

Although the salary cap will be $44 million next season it is uncertain whether the Ottawa Senators will spend to the full cap level. More likely they will have an internal budget limit of no more than $38-40 million. That leaves about $20 million to spend this off season. Of the players under contract I am sure the Senators would love to trade Brian Smolinski and free up his $2.2 million. But who will take him? I suspect the best they can hope for is to get a mid-round draft pick in return or to use him as a throw in in a trade similar to DeVries in the Hossa for Heatley trade last summer. Whatever happens, I think there is a decent chance that Smolinski is traded to free up that cap space.

But that is only a small fraction of the Senators problems this summer. Star defensemen Chara and Redden both need to be signed and even if they can get them on a loyalty discount it might cost them close to $12 million. Spezza is going to want a substantial raise, possibly as high as the $4 million range, or maybe more if they try to get him on a long term deal. Those 3 guys could account up to $15-16 of the $20 million. They still need to sign a couple goalies. Emery will likely be wanting $1 million or more and Hasek might want a similar $1.5 million to last year. Neil, Vermette, Schaeffer and Pothier will all be looking for money in the $1-2 million per year range. And Martin Havlat might be looking for up to $4 million as well. All this means someone will have to go and all signs pont to Havlat. There has been some rumours of the Senators wanting to trade for one of the top picks. Could Havlat be packaged (with Smolinski maybe) in a deal for a top 5 pick in the draft? That would free up a lot of cash in the short term and give them a key component of the team in a year or two (if not next year). If they think they are going to lose Chara or Redden then maybe trading for and drafting Erik Johnson is an intriguing option. Stay tuned, the draft is only a couple days away.

All in all, John Muckler is going to have to do some creative player and contract management this summer if he wants most of his players to return. He won’t be able to keep the whole team in tact so who he keeps and who he lets go will be the biggest question on Senators fans minds this summer.

May 152006
 

Ok, I am back from vacation and a lot has happened over the last 10 or so days that I was away. Since I was in Florida where hockey news is sparse and hockey coverage on TV was non-existant I was dependent on the internet to keep up to date on what was happening. Let me say that I am not surprised that Buffalo defeated the Senators. In fact, I predicted it, though I am a bit surprised they did it in just 5 games. So, what was wrong with the Senators. Well, before the season I thought there were three question marks with the Senators.

1. Goaltending. After playing just 14 games in 3 years can Hasek return to form and stay healthy?

2. Spezza. Can Jason Spezza peform like a true #1 center which is something Ottawa has lacked for several years.

3. Experienced depth, especially on defense. The top 10-12 players on the team looked excellent but they were going to have to depend on a lot of inexperienced players.

Though not a prime reason for losing, goaltending did seem to be a bit of a factor. Hasek wasn’t healthy and though Emery played great at times, at other times (like game 1) he wasn’t there to make the big save. Miller clearly out played Emery.

Though Spezza performed excellent at many times during the season and post season, at other times his inexperience and someone weak defensive play showed. He clearly has the talent and ability to be a dominant #1 center but his inexperience still showed at times. His game needs a bit more refinement and I think he, like many of his team mates, has to use his size a bit more.

I got a lot of flack for listing Ottawa’s lack of experienced defense depth as a weakness and it didn’t show up as a problem in the regular season but it seemed to in the playoffs. Pothier played fairly well but by all accounts Mezsaros had a pretty mediocre playoff and Volchenkov struggled at times too. And when Phillips and/or Chara stuggled with injuries the team was hindered because they couldn’t lighten their work load any because they didn’t have an experienced defenseman who could step up and take on more minutes of ice time.

But maybe the biggest problem with this Senators team is they just seem to not know how to win. They seem to rely on talent far too much and not enough on hard work. Too many players on this Senators team just do not have that never quit even if I have to plow through a brick wall attitude. A little bit more effort from one of several players on that overtime goal on Saturday night and the goal doesn’t go in. Talent is great but hard work is what wins and I just feel they Senators as a team, and especially their top tier players, don’t put in that extra effort in. This team needs some quality, hard working veterens with playoff experience. A Chris Drury type. Or a Teppo Numminen. People talk about signing Joe Sakic, and certainly he would help, but the Senators don’t need his talent, just his experience. All they need is a player or two who has experienced playoff sucess and who will work his butt off and pressure the more talented players on the Senators to do the same and show the team what it takes to win. The team needs to be taught to win as apparently it isn’t learning how to do it on their own.

Finally, before the season I also posed the question of if the Senators faultered in the playoffs again, should the Senators consider trading Daniel Alfredsson. Think about it. The Senators have suffered playoff disapointments for several years now. Since the last disapointment Lalime was shipped out of town, Spezza replaced Bonk as the #1 center, Heatley replaced Hossa as the co-number 1 winger and Bryan Murray replaced Jacques Martin as coach. Apparently none of those were the problem so could the problem be with the captain Alfredsson? Should the captain and the supposed leader of the team finally get some blame for the constant playoff disapointments? What do you all think? Vote in the poll in the right sidebar.

Apr 202006
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions. I really hate taking all the favourites but aside from an outside chance of Montreal upsetting Carolina I just can’t see any of the other underdogs winning barring unexpected key injuries.

Just a note: The predictions are my predictions, not my algorithms. I am retiring the algorithm for the season as I don’t think it makes sense to use in the playoffs. I also likely won’t be making predictions on every game since it is really the series that matters. I may post some comments each day on the previous nights results and that nights games but it will depend on how busy I am with other stuff.

Ottawa vs Tampa

Season Series:
October 21: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 1
November 3: Tampa 2 at Ottawa 4
March 6: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 0
March 14: Tampa 3 at Ottawa 4

Ottawa swept the season series and that might be a good indication of what might happen in this playoff series. This is the dream match up for Ottawa as I think Montreal would have given them a much bigger challenge. For both teams the key to the series is goaltending. If Tampa wants any change of winning they need to have Grahame or Burke come up with a several excellent games. Unfortunately for Tampa that hasn’t happened with a whole lot of consistency this year. Grahame has 5 shut outs this year which shows he can be a good goalie but while he can shut out a team one night he can give up 6 goals the next. The key for Ottawa is getting good goaltending from Ray Emery. In March they got excellent goaltending from Emery but in April he was mostly horrible. He apparently has a bit of a hip injury that might be taking away some of this quickness so if I am Tampa I pepper him with as many shots as I can. That will be their only hope to win this series. Prediction: Ottawa in 5.

Carolina vs Montreal

Season Series:
December 31: Montreal 3 at Carolina 5
January 23: Montreal 3 at Carolina 7
January 31: Carolina 8 at Montreal 2
March 15: Carolina 5 at Montreal 1

This is one of those series which I think could definitely end up in an upset despite the fact that Carolina went completely nuts vs Montreal in the regular season out scoring the Canadiens by a 25-9 score in their 4 games. The first 3 of those games has the departed and struggling Jose Theodore in net and the last had David Aebischer. Huet has been the much better goalie and should be the Habs main goalie in the playoffs so that should help. Huet’s outstanding goaltending got the Canadiens into the playoffs and they will only go as far as Huet takes them in the playoffs. For the Hurricanes they key their success will be how Doug Weight and Mark Recchi play. These two guys were traded for to add some depth to the Hurricanes offense, particularly after Erik Cole went down, but they haven’t produced a whole lot up until now. These two veterans need to take some pressure off of Eric Staal to produce all the offense. If they can do that the Hurricanes could go deep into the playoffs. Prediction: Hurricanes in 7

New Jersey vs New York Rangers

Season Series:
October 8: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3 (OT)
October 13: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 4
November 3: NY Rangers 4 at New Jersey 2
November 5: New Jersey 2 at NY Rangers 3 (OT)
December 20: New Jersey 3 at NY Rangers 1
January 22: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 3
March 4: NY Rangers 1 at New Jersey 2
April 9: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3

This is the only battle amongst division rivals in the first round of the playoffs and it should be fun series to watch. Both teams have good goalies. Both teams have pretty good defences despite not having a bunch of big name players. And both teams have a top line that can score in bunches. In my mind the key to this series will be who can shut down the opposing teams top line the best. Can the Devils keep Jagr to no more than a point a game? Can the Rangers shut down the trio of Gionta, Gomez and Elias all of whom have been awesome in the push for the playoffs? Those are the keys to this series. Prediction: Devils in 6

Buffalo Sabres vs Philadelphia Flyers

Season Series:
December 19: Buffalo 2 at Philadelphia 1 (SO)
February 2: Philadelphia 2 at Buffalo 4
March 11: Buffalo 6 at Philadelphia 5
April 7: Philadelphia 4 at Buffalo 2

I really like Buffalo to win this series. I just think they are a better all round team and I think Buffalo’s speed will give the Flyers defence fits. The only concern one might have for the Sabres is goaltending. Generally Ryan Miller has had a very good rookie season but he struggled a bit in late March and early April. He picked his game up in his last 3 starts of the season so he should have his confidence back. If Miller can give they Sabres good goaltending Buffalo will be a very tough team to beat in the playoffs. There are two keys to the Flyers success. The first is Forsberg’s health. If Forsberg isn’t healthy and playing at his top level the Flyers will struggle to get the offence needed to win. The other key to the Flyers is goaltending. Of course this is nothing new as the Flyers haven’t had top quality goaltending for years and it has never been adequately addressed by GM Bobby Clarke. Goaltending is key in the NHL and if you don’t have it you won’t win and I just don’t think Esche and Niittymaki are good enough to take a team deep into the playoffs though anyone can get hot for a short period of time and win a series.. Prediciton: Buffalo in 6.

Jan 202006
 

I have watched a fair number of Ottawa Senators games this year and I have to say that this is one of the hardest teams to figure out. They started the year out dominating everyone winning most of their games. But since early December they have been much closer to average than dominating.

The image below show the number of points Ottawa (blue) has gained in running 10 game segments (i.e. point 1 is points in games 1-10, point 2 is for 2-11, 3 is 3-12, etc.). For the first half of their schedule up to now they floated around the 16 points in 10 games mark but then quickly dropped to the 12 points in 10 games mark. So which is the real Senators? The 16 point team or the 12 point team? Also shown on the chart is the trend line which is clearly a strong downward trend (and statistically significant).

I’ve also included 2 other top eastern conference teams, Carolina and Philadelphia for comparison sake. Carolina started off very good, then slumped to as low as 9 points in 10 games but has returned to being very good again. Philadelphia has been much more consistent but has struggled significantly in last week or two.

OttawaCarolinaPhiladelphia 10 Game Comparison

Dec 102005
 

Which of these numbers stands out from the rest?

17
13
6
6
9
12
9
9
13
11
7
22

I even made it easy for you. I put it last. Yes, the number 22 is substantially higher than any of the other numbers listed above. Those numbers above are the total number of power plays in games played on Thursday and Friday and the 22 represents the number of power plays in the Ottawa-Vancouver game. In what was one of the most anticipated games of this NHL season we saw the referees ruin the flow of the game by calling way too many penalties. It was a disgrace and what could have been an amazingly entertaining game turned out to be good, but nothing spectacular.

One could argue that all of the penalties call were legit and I would tend to agree, if you use the strictest rulebook around. But was it necessary to call so many penalties when half of them had no significant impact on the play (220 pound guys should be able to shake off a love tap on the hip). I could possibly accept it if every game was called that strict, but none are. No other game in the past week featured more than 18 power plays. Was this game that much worse than every other game this past week? Certainly not. The last time there were 20+ power plays in the game was a November 26th Dallas-Nashville game with 21 power plays. Congrats referees, you managed to ruin what could have been one of the best games of the season.

As for the game itself, the better, more energetic and enthused team won so at least the penalties didn’t ruin that. But what is with Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley? They were absent from the score sheet once again. In Ottawa’s last 5 games Alfredsson and Spezza have both been held pointless in 3 of them and Heatley in 2 of them. In games against Florida and Vancouver Spezza has had 0 points, 0 shots on goal and is a -2. Heatley has 1 assist, 2 shots on goal and is also a -2. Ottawa has been held to 27 or fewer shots just 5 times this year, 4 of those in their last 5 games. The lack of production from Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley has been the main reasonf or that. Have teams figured out how to play them? I think so. Vancouver just didn’t give them any open space to roam or make plays within 20 feet from the goal and. The Spezza cross ice pass to Heatley for a one-timer slapshot, usually into an open net, that was so deadly for most of the first 20 games of the season has been pretty much taken away in recent games. We’ll have to see if they can make the adjustment and start shooting from further out rather than try to make the fancy play in close all the time. If they do it should draw the defenders out and once again open up space close in to make the fancy plays. If they don’t, well, they will likely continue to struggle.

Nov 162005
 

So I went to the Carolina-Ottawa game last night. I could give you a complete redux of the game but Chris McMurtry has done a great job of that over at Hockey Country. I’ll just add a few additional comments.

In general, Ottawa didn’t have the same scoring touch as they have in most other games this year. Although they had some good scoring chances they just couldn’t finish it tonight like they have most other nights. Certainly some of it was Martin Gerber’s excellent play but as Chris pointed out there were a lot of missed/fanned on shots, shots hitting posts or going wide, etc. Something just wasn’t there for them tonight.

Ottawa’s power play continues to struggle going 0 for 8. I think one of the reasons Ottawa’s PP doesn’t seem as as good as 5 on 5 is because Ottawa scores so many of their goals via the transition game. They play a high pressure defense and immediately upon a turnover they hit the rocket boosters out of their own end and score a lot of goals on the (odd man) rush. For obvious reasons this doesn’t happen during PP situations. Even in the offensive zone they play a high-pressure forecheck really challenging the opposing team to make perfect passes to clear the puck out of their own end. Any indecisiveness and they force the turnover which they frequently capitalize on. Again, this situation doesn’t present itself as much in powerplay situations.

I can’t figure out Martin Havlat. He can look so dominant in short handed situations seemingly being the most skilled player on the ice but on 5-on-5 situations seems not to have the same creativity consistantly. Outside of his 4 goal game in Buffalo he hasn’t been anything special most of the time.

I’d like to add one more ‘bad’ to Chris’s list. That is the Ottawa fans for booing every penalty called against the Senators. The two minute standing ovation for Alfredsson quickly converted to a bunch of boos when an Ottawa penalty was announced. You can’t have it both ways. You want he game called tight so you can have open ice for your free-wheeling players but then you criticize the refs when they call the game tight against you. Plus it is one thing to boo a borderline hooking call but quite another to boo Hasek playing the puck in the forbidden zone. Hasek did it, it’s an automatic penalty, get over it. Yes it was close, but close still counts. Blame Hasek (or the rules making committee), but not the referees. That penalty is a black and white call.

Finally, in Ottawa they have been trying to name the Senators top line of Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley. I am thinking they should be called the Tornado line since they can blow by you and cause a lot of damage but still play second fiddle to Hurricanes.

Oct 062005
 

I watched all of the Leafs-Sens game last night as well as some portions of several other games. Here are my random thoughts from what I saw.

Leafs
Overall they looked very good and only some weak defensive play resulting in Alfredsson’s second goal put a damper on an otherwise good night. If they can play like that every game they will have a very good season. They looked big, strong on the puck, and their average speed didn’t appear to be major liability. Losing Sundin to injury in the first period seemed to hurt the Leafs a lot, especially on the power play.. It has been a common problem for the Leafs the last several years but I really think they need to shoot more often while on the power play. For the most part while on the man advantage they controlled play in Ottawa’s zone but just didn’t generate the number of scoring chances they should have from 11 power plays. The new guys did their part though as Jeff O’Neill had eight shots on net and Lindros had five while the rest of the team only recorded 12. There is no reason why Kaberle should only have 1 shot from all that power play time.

Senators
Although they got the win, any realistic Senator fan has to be somewhat concerned by last nights game. The Senators took way too many penalties and the Leafs managed to keep the Senators offence under control for most of the game. The other thing that might concern Senators fans is that Brian Murray’s plan to distribute the offence over three lines appears to have failed so far. Although Alfredsson played well most of the game, he simply couldn’t generate much offence playing with Fisher and Neil. And maybe more concerning is that the second line of Schaeffer, Smolinski and Havlat haven’t been producing much offence through the pre-season and now into the regular season. In 21 combined games so far they produced just 4 goals and 9 points. If the Senators are going to have a successful season they need that line to contribute more goals.

The Shoot-Out
Ummm, maybe I would have a different opinion had the Leafs won the shoot-out, but I doubt it. People talk about how interesting the shoot-out is, but to be honest it wasn’t one tenth as interesting as the actual hockey game. It just seemed that going from a fast paced, hard hitting, nail biting regular game and overtime to a slow paced shoot-out was a bit of a let down. The shoot-out takes about 10 minutes to take place but most of that is just watching players stand around waiting for one of them to take 5 seconds skating down the ice on a breakaway. And when you think about it, all it proved was that the Senators have more pure talent than the Sundin-less Leafs, but didn’t we already know that?

Other Notes
In other games, I think last night showed that despite the new rules and smaller pads, good goaltending is still a key component of the game. Hasek and Belfour played great, and Theodore saved 29 of 30 shots to get Montreal the win. Luongo once again over came a sub-par defence and stopped 34 shots to give the Panthers a 2-0 shutout win. And Martin Brodeur looked nothing short of awesome in stopping 17 first period shots from the Pittsburgh Penguins and 36 of 37 overall in a 5-1 Devils win. Conversely, in Philadelphia, Robert Esche struggled at times giving up 5 goals on 27 shots allowing the Rangers to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3. Nikolai Khabibulin’s carrer in Chicago didn’t get off to a great start as he gave up 5 goals on just 24 shots to the Ducks from Anaheim.

I was watching bits of the first period of the Buffalo-New York Islanders game (not sure why, just was), and some guy names Chris Campoli really caught my eye. He is a rookie defenseman for the Islanders and he completely dominated while quarterbacking one Islander power play and scored his first career goal in his first NHL game shortly after. I am not sure he will have any kind of long-term success but for those couple minutes he was excellent.

And finally, so far things look positive in the NHL’s desire for more goals. As you may have noticed from the table in the top-right corner of this page goals per game after 15 games is up to 6.33 from 5.00 in 2003-04. Of course it is still way too early to say whether it will continue but so far so good.

 Posted by at 4:21 pm