Kukla's Korner


Battle Of Ontario Could Erupt Anew Tonight

The Sens aim to get back on the right track, Brendan Bell seeks to shore up Ottawa’s offense, team injury updates, and what could truly be a rivalry-rekindling game against the Leafs tonight, but first…

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the CASH line gearing up,

When Craig Hartsburg reunited his big line for the Nov. 17 game in New York, the line members approached the Ottawa Senators head coach with a question.

What style of hockey are we supposed to play?

Good question, considering Hartsburg’s speeches from the throne have generally preached defensive hockey.
“He said, ‘I’d love for you guys to score goals’,” Alfredsson said, “‘but you have to play a good checking game as well to set an example for the other guys. If you guys do the little things, the other guys are going to follow’.”

Right now, 27th in the League in goals per game (2.40), and 28th in 5 on 5 goals for/against (0.76), scoring could well be the best example to set, lest fans start asking “Where’s the pizza?”

Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson have mirrored the team so far this season. Expected to carry most of the load, they have, scoring 4 of the team’s 7 goals (57%) in their last three games, and 23 of the team’s 48 goals (48%) thus far this season. Last season they netted 115 of the team’s 261 goals (44%), suggesting they are actually ahead of the curve this season, pitching in more than their fair share, though behind the curve overall.

Team defense has been a great key to helping Auld play at such a high level. As Minnesota has fallen from 2 goals against per game to 2.15 in the past few games, Ottawa has averaged just under 2 goals against per game for a dozen games now. Time to pump up the offense indeed, but the slumps of the whole team will need to break through to that end, and should the trio be asked to pull full steam ahead with scoring chances, not thinking much about defense, they might need to work in front of Phillips and Volchenkov, to protect their aim, rather than the puck-movers in Bell, Picard, and Kuba.

If there was a night to start pouring it on, it’s hard to imagine a better one than at home against the Leafs.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the critical juncture the Sens find themselves at,

The Ottawa Senators can talk all they want about all about the importance of finishing checks and fighting for goals around the net, but the only thing that matters right now is earning points.

Even though they have 62 games remaining, including tonight’s matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Senators’ season is on a cusp.

Before last night’s games, they were six points out of a playoff spot in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with four teams to leap.

Looking south, they were only one point better than the last-place Florida Panthers, who played the New Jersey Devils last night.

If the Senators fall behind by much more—say eight, 10, or 12 points—it might be impossible to climb back.
“I think the key thing for us is continue to play the way we have for the last three games, and don’t go backwards,” Hartsburg said. “We’ve got to continue to take steps forward and see that same type of game for 60 minutes. If we can do that for a long period of time, then we should get some good results, but we don’t want to go backwards.”

Things are starting to look bleak. Eight playoff spots. Minus two because of the guaranteed 1-2-3 division leader seeding, now only 6 open. But watching the Rangers, Penguins, Habs, and Bruins play, it seems unlikely that we could claim top spot in the Northeast, or wind up ahead of any of those teams that don’t wind up as divisional leaders. Minus another three.

That leaves three spots that feel open in the playoffs, currently occupied by the Devils, Flyers, and Canes. They may seem surmountable, but there’s still the matter of the four teams the Sens must leap over before coming face to face with the butt-end of the last playoff spot. It was at this point in the season, with this many points, that the Sens turned around and went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and last year the Flyers found themselves deep before punching into the playoffs and making it to the Conference Finals. It’s within reach, but what happened Saturday needs to be more than just a game, it needs to be the beginning of a trend.

If there was a night to start into a winning trend, it’s hard to imagine a better one than at home against the Leafs.

From the Ottawa Senators’ website, on the rewards for Brendan Bell’s hard work,

Finally, Brendan Bell can say he’s exactly where he wants to be.

Even if it took a little longer than he’d hoped or expected.

With their offence struggling to light up the scoreboard, the Ottawa Senators simply couldn’t ignore the numbers the offensive-minded Bell was ringing up with their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.

“Fifteen points in 15 games doesn’t hurt,” Bell said when asked what made Senators general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Craig Hartsburg decided he was the man they needed to add some punch to their blue line.

Having signed with Ottawa in the offseason, hoping to get a spot on the team knowing that there should be room for a puck-moving defenseman with the departure of Redden and the spot opened up by Commodore when he signed with Columbus, being greeted with the signing of Smith and the trade of Meszaros for Kuba and one-way Picard was a hard knock to those hopes. The nervousness affected his camp, and he was sent down to Binghamton.

Rather than brooding, he spent his time contributing as best he could, notching a point-per-game pace on the AHL’s bluelines. Hard to ignore stats like that when your offense is sputtering, and now Schubert finds himself alongside Richardson on the healthy scratch list, wondering when he’ll make it back onto the ice, and perhaps even what jersey he might be wearing at that point. Bell’s focus is clear, though: to get the puck into the hands of scoring forwards, to put shots on net, and to help improve the club’s low 5 on 5 offensive numbers, as well as their sliding powerplay.

If there was a night to show the League that you truly belong, it’s hard to imagine a better one than at home against the Leafs (the team that originally drafted Bell in the 3rd round).

From the Ottawa Sun, injury updates,

As the Senators’ four-day break comes to an end tonight, so too will Mike Fisher’s 10-day absence.
After being helped off the ice on Nov. 17 against the Rangers in New York, it didn’t look like Fisher would be playing any time soon, but he’ll be in the lineup tonight against the visiting Maple Leafs after missing only two games.

“I wasn’t sure. I was hopeful on the weekend and when I was skating Monday (thought he might return to the lineup tonight),” said Fisher, one of the last players off the ice at practice yesterday. “I’ve had a few good days and it’s come along quite nicely. I’m definitely happy that I didn’t miss much.”
“I’d like three goals,” he said with a laugh. “I just want to come in and just try to pick up and get going. It’s a big game for us.”

Chris Neil has yet to skate, but could return to the rink this weekend, if he gets medical clearance. Ryan Shannon has participated in practice now, returning from concussion symptoms after the Isles’ Pock took an elbow to his head, and he too is just waiting for the official word to suit up again. Dean McAmmond has missed a few practices with a bad cold, but he is expected to play tonight. Yet again, not related to injuries but rather to who will play, Auld will make his seventh consecutive start.

Fisher will most likely find himself on a new line tonight, having skated with Ruutu and Donovan during practice. All three play a sound defensive game, and add a good physical component to their work. What’s more, while Fisher is the only one of the three generally thought of as a regular offensive contributor, all three have surprised with scoring flashes this season, and it could prove to be an interesting line to watch.

If there was a night for a new line to show that it has solid potential, it’s hard to imagine a better one than at home against the Leafs.

From the Ottawa Sun, on the expected flood of blue at Scotiabank Place tonight,

Craig Hartsburg got an earful from Canadiens fans last week. Tonight, he’ll be exposed to the leather lungs of Leaf Nation.

“The Montreal game here (last week) was kind of the first time I was exposed to the crowd and you’re not sure what building you’re in when you walk out there,” said Hartsburg, cracking a smile yesterday. “I understand it’s the same, or even more so with Toronto, so it’s certainly going to be an electric atmosphere in the building. I have obviously been part of the rivalry (last month in Toronto), but I anticipate an intense game.”

While a game in the Battle of Ontario used to bring much anticipation, it hasn’t been the same since the end of the lockout in 2005. No longer do the Leafs have characters like Pat Quinn behind the bench or Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Gary Roberts and Mats Sundin in the lineup.
“It takes away for you guys,” said defenceman Chris Phillips, pointing at reporters. “It made for more exciting stories when there were characters (the media) could feed off and have fun with. We had fun with it as well. It got everybody going and saying things, but that’s not there as much.

The lineup may not breed the same festering contempt that it used to, but the white and blue jerseys — on the ice and in the stands — will still bring that element to the game. Roars will be heard from the crowd for each and every goal, a raucous noise will erupt from the crowd with each solid check or if the gloves ever drop, and Alfie will likely still be booed whenever he touches the puck, over what might still be one of the best jokes in Ottawa’s memory.

From NHL.com,

The Leafs are close to signing Brian Burke, architect of Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup-winning team, to replace interim Cliff Fletcher as their new general manager. If Burke does come aboard, his first order of business might be trying to shore up the defense.

The Leafs have scored 3.10 goals per game and converted 21.8 percent of their power-play opportunities. However, they have also given up 3.57 goals per contest and killed off [only] 73.2 percent of their penalties.

That might bring some extra fight to the Leafs’ bench, knowing that Burke is coming in (if NHL.com is reporting on it, you know it has to be all but done), and that being made the highest-paid GM in the League is not going to make him sit still, every Leaf fighting for his job. Rumours abound of Burke being anti-Euro (despite his trades in Vancouver to select the Sedin twins), and that he may go as far as Tampa did in making sure Toronto can get a return off of its players with NTCs (notably Kaberle and Kubina), but who knows what will happen, only that it will be talked about to no end, and that tonight likely marks the last time we will see this Toronto Maple Leafs club.

One member of the club who won’t be seen is Jason Blake. No, he is not being benched again, he is suffering (as onetime Senator Patrick Eaves did during their Cup run) from a Colby Armstrong hit to the head from Tuesday’s tilt with Altlanta.

If you were the Leafs’ GM, and you lost your highest paid forward, the one who was signed specifically to be an offensive contributor, who would you call up? Andre Deveaux is probably not the name that pops into your head.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on Andre Deveaux,

With Blake out of the lineup, the Leafs decided to inject some toughness into the lineup by calling up Andre Deveaux from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

The six-foot-three, 240-pound forward has six goals this season. But a more important stat might be Deveaux’s 54 penalty minutes and six fights.

“He does have a degree of toughness,” Fletcher said of Deveaux, who recently served a four-game suspension for kicking a player’s face and then kneeling on his head.

Fletcher added that there is value in having a heavyweight on the bench.

“I think as your team became a top team in the league, maybe that’s something that is a necessity. But what we need more of is more aggressiveness from our top-nine forwards.”

Lose scoring punch, add in punch punch? From the stats I’ve been able to find, Deveaux has played in the AHL since 04-05, and this will be his NHL debut. He has averaged 3 penalty minutes a game, and when I hear “suspension for kicking a player’s face and then kneeling on his head,” I don’t think of hooking calls made to prevent breakaways.

So we have here a player making his NHL debut against his team’s bitterly-hated provincial rivals, being called up to add toughness to the top-9 forwards (though I don’t think he’ll be top-9, nor do I agree with Fletcher that the Leafs are “a top team in the League”), and being known as a brutal fighter.

From the National Post, Ian White on how the Leafs should play,

“We’re obviously not the toughest group, but everybody can stick together,” White said. “There’s five guys out there at a time and you can get in guys’ faces. I think the biggest thing is if they’ve got a skilled guy coming across the middle, don’t try to poke the puck away from him. You’ve got to put him on the ice.”

If there was a night for a smoldering rivalry to burst into flames again, it’s hard to imagine a better one than at home against the Leafs.

Just please, Andre, Leafs, don’t look to make an impression on Leafs fans, part II, with White’s and Fletcher’s advice on how you should play.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net