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Canucks Offer Ottawa’s First Stern Test

Notes on Ottawa’s improving defence, Kuba’s decision on his return, a nagging problem with Elliott, updates from the morning skate, the challenging games ahead, Spezza’s all around ambitions, and Butler’s progress on the farm, but first. . .

From Senators Extra (and NHL), watch out for the Canucks,

THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are rolling with four straight wins, but they have a major barrier to navigate around on Thursday night. His name is Roberto Luongo and he’s backed by a team many are picking to win the Stanley Cup this season. You could look at the Canucks’ 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday one of two ways: As a harbinger of a lousy road trip, or major motivation to pop in a bunch of goals against their next opponent.

THE SUBPLOTS: Could Pascal Leclaire make his first start since mid-October in this contest? If Brian Elliott hadn’t missed practice with a mystery tweak Wednesday, the answer would almost certainly be no. Leclaire just might get the opportunity to turn the tables on his puck-stopping colleague, however, who took advantage of an injury to swipe the No. 1 job and hold it. If Leclaire does start and manages to pick up a big win against a Western Conference powerhouse, coach Cory Clouston would have a tough call to make Saturday.

At long last, the real test begins.

They score more goals, allow fewer, take more shots, allow fewer, score more often on the power play, stymie better on their penalty kill, and are far superior in face offs. Not much to overcome, right? Word is Luongo will start, and you can bet that after Price showed him up in Vancouver’s 0-2 loss Tuesday, he’ll be motivated to improve on a record against Ottawa that’s just 6-11 with a 3.17 GAA despite a .914 Sv%.

What to look for? Look for Ottawa to try using their power play as effectively as possible. Being 12th on the penalty kill at 84.6% and 1st on the power play at 27.3% is why the Canucks, whose 5-on-5 Goals For/Against ratio (0.92) is just slightly better than Ottawa’s (0.90), are scoring more goals than Ottawa while allowing more than half a goal less per game. Ottawa can’t afford to take bad penalties, but Vancouver needs to be on their heels, the way they were in Montreal, down a goal less than seven minutes into the game.

On the penalty kill, Luongo’s .920 Even Strength Sv% drops down to .855, only about six shots to get a goal, rather than double that at even strength. But as .855 Sv% nearly matches their 84.6% on the penalty kill, you notice that in 64 times shorthanded, Luongo has faced just 55 shots and Schneider 15. Getting those shots through, be they from Karlsson and Gonchar, or forwards down low able to speed away from a solid defence corps, will be key; if Vancouver can continue to allow just over 1 shot per opposing power play, Ottawa will not survive.

Just as key will be the Senators draw against Vancouver’s 55.1% success rate, 2nd in the League. In Montreal, of the three Canucks taking regular draws, only Malhotra was above 50%, and going a mere 57% to drag his rate down to 63.6%, still tops in the League. Don’t underestimate the effect Montreal’s 57% success rate on the draw Tuesday night had on the Canucks’ plans, or how the mere 13% success rate Henrik Sedin had on the draw must have lessened the impact of that deadly line. It will be a huge test for Spezza, Fisher, and Kelly, in every situation.

From the Ottawa Sun, Ottawa blue liners surprising early season skeptics,

after a start to the season in which the play of the group could generally be described as offensive, Ottawa blue-liners have become offensive ... in a good way. In Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Atlanta, they totalled six points, with Matt Carkner the only one of the bunch who was held off the scoresheet.
[...]
“It sure is nice,” coach Cory Clouston said of the offence he’s getting from the defence. “It adds an element to our attack that wasn’t there earlier on.”

Leading the way are the two who are supposed to be: Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson.

Gonchar is flashing the skills that have made him one of the league’s top producing backenders in the last decade. The three goals he has in his past four games has drawn attention to the fact he now has 10 points in his last 10 games. Karlsson, who made a great pass to Jason Spezza for Ottawa’s second goal in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Atlanta, has four assists in his last two games and six points in his last four.

“We’ve played 15 games now, and the more games you play, the more you get into the game pace,” said Karlsson, whose four multi-point games ties him with Daniel Alfredsson for the team lead. “It just feels better and better.”

Ottawa’s defenders are averaging 1.2 hits, 1.2 blocked shots, 0.73 giveaways, 0.25 takeaways, 1.14 shots, and 0.32 points each per game, with only Gonchar (-5) and Phillips (-7) as minus players. The offensive totals are already trending upwards, and could get a boost very soon.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Clouston trusts that Kuba knows best when to make himself available to the team at long last,

It’s up to defenceman Filip Kuba to decide if he’s ready to return to the Ottawa Senators lineup Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Kuba, who has yet to play a game this season after breaking his leg on the opening day of training camp, has been practicing with the team for a week now and is on the verge of being ready to play.

Coach Cory Clouston said Wednesday that he’s comfortable with how Kuba looks, but said the call on when he will return is ultimately up to Kuba. A decision will be made following Thursday’s morning skate.

Hale, +3 with 2 points in 9GP, has been effective in helping to boost Karlsson’s confidence, just as the man who might soon replace him was alongside the youngster last year. There will be an update on Kuba’s status after the morning skate, and while Kuba’s return could further help the penalty kill, puck moving, and all aspects of Ottawa’s blue line game, he is not the only interesting news that will be coming this morning.

From the Ottawa Sun, Elliott not as perfectly healthy as he seems,

When Pascal Leclaire returned from the injury list a week ago, Cory Clouston took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to his goaltending situation.

Well, now it might be broke, at least a little. Brian Elliott was among the players to miss practice for “maintenance day” Wednesday. But while coach Cory Clouston said Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek would be fine for Thursday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, his response was a little different regarding the No. 1 goalie.

“He should be okay,” said Clouston. “Just a little banged up, kind of a nagging injury with Brian. We just want to make sure we’re not aggravating it any further.”

That means Leclaire could play against the Canucks? “Ask me that (Thursday) morning,” said Clouston.

Be it the naggingly injured Elliott or the freshly healed Leclaire, Canucks like Kesler will have even more motivation to push the boundaries of the crease and goalie contact, especially seeing how two little pushes from Carolina forwards pushed Leclaire out of play for a month. Combine that with what lies ahead, and you’ve finally got a real test lined up.

Update - 10:35 A.M. - Twitter reports that all Senators are out for the skate, and Leclaire

looks probable for the

will start, Kuba hoping for Saturday as his return.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the rising tide facing Ottawa,

The Senators’ previous seven opponents had a combined record of 40 wins and 55 losses through Tuesday’s games. Exclude the Boston Bruins from that list — a 4-0 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 30 is the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect Ottawa record during the seven-game span — and the Senators have defeated teams with an aggregate record of 33 wins and 51 defeats during the hot stretch.

Now, look at the next five opponents: the Canucks, Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues. Together, they have 41 victories and 26 losses.

Time to shift to high gear, but clearly the Senators can’t lose sight of the present by looking too far ahead. The Canucks are anxious to win again after being shut out 2-0 by the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, ending Vancouver’s six-game win streak, and the Senators have to contend with the league’s most potent power play.

At the same time, however, the Senators can’t help but be aware of what lies beyond.

“We’ve played well the past few games and obviously, it’s a cliche, (but) you try to take it one game at a time, but you do look and see that we have four games on the road against good hockey teams,” said Senators centre Chris Kelly.

A good reason that excitement over Ottawa’s current streak, or their 6th place position in the East, has remained dull. Records against the weaker teams always need to be good (just ask the Penguins and Capitals about that during last year’s playoffs, or the Blackhawks when it looked as if the Predators would be up 3-2 in their opening round series). But doesn’t it fit that Ottawa might be healthy, at long last, in time to meet this oncoming onslaught? Doesn’t it make sense that the team is elevating their play bit by bit up to this point?

From The Province (and SENS), Spezza adding to game and forcing fans and opponents alike to take notice,

Jason Spezza wants to be the man. He has lobbied for it and now he’s playing like he can be the difference for the Ottawa Senators. He’s even shooting more and smiling more.

It’s quite the departure from a sullen Spezza, who was fed up with being in the crosshairs of civic discontent when the Senators were sidelined by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
[...]
Spezza, 27, has earned the trust of coach Cory Clouston in a transformation from one-dimensional playmaker to a two-way performer who also kills penalties. His team-leading plus-7 rating is as impressive as a run of seven points in his last three games on a line with Alexei Kovalev and Peter Regin.

“You just want to play in every situation and contribute to wins,” said Spezza, who has 12 points (4-8) and 25 shots in 10 games. “It’s something I’ve wanted in my career and something I’m starting to get.”
[...]
“He has complemented his offensive game with a good defensive mindset and he’s obviously still a work in progress,” said Clouston. “But he’s working hard to develop that part of his game. He’s been given the opportunity and making the most of it.”

It’s hard to believe that, should he play through to 77 games this season, he could reach the 30-61—91 and +53 he projects to. Very hard. But he’s growing, and by the 25 game mark, which would be nearly a quarter season at the 20 games he’ll have played by him, and with the tougher opponents he’ll have faced, we’ll get to see where he’s headed, if he can improve his face off success rate, increase the 45 seconds of shorthanded ice time he sees each game, and get back to the offensive form he’s never shown since both the Cup and Heatley moved out of reach.

From the Ottawa Senators, Butler showing the all-around game Ottawa hoped for when reeling in the much sought after free agent,

Butler is coming off a huge offensive weekend as the B-Sens prepare for tonight’s home matchup with the Rochester Americans at Broome County Veterans’ Memorial Arena. The 6-0, 180-pound forward racked up seven points in three games, including a hat trick in Sunday’s 5-0 triumph over the Syracuse Crunch. That followed another three-point effort (one goal, two assists) in a 7-3 whipping of the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday night.
[...]
“Bobby was close when he left (training camp),” said Kleinendorst. “In fact, Bobby’s probably the kind of player that, under the right circumstances, could be playing in the NHL right now. But I will say there’s a beneift to what he’s experiencing right now in the American league. He gets to play in all situations. He’s playing on the power play, he’s playing penalty kill, he’s doing 5-on-5.

“He’s playing 18, 20, 22 minutes a night and getting used in all situations. And he’s learning how to play the game and be responsible defensively. [...]”

All of that is fine with Butler, who considered himself adept at both ends of the ice during his years at New Hampshire, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last season as the top player in U.S. college hockey.

“In my four years there, I always thought I was sound in the defensive zone,” he said. “That was one of the biggest parts (of the game) that the coach didn’t have to worry about with me, being able to put me in all situations. It’s a little different and everything’s faster (in the AHL), but that was one of the good parts of my game, the defensive zone. And you generate offence from good defence.”

Binghamton has not made the playoffs since the lockout, and that’s exactly the kind of punch the developing youngsters and anxious fans need to parlay their 6-5-2 record into a playoff spot in a division whose top three teams are a combined 24-8-3 with 137 GF and 96 GA. It’s also the kind of play that, if it pans out into an NHL roster spot, could ease the pain that will come when Ottawa eventually sees the poster boy of two way play, Alfredsson, finally hang up the skates.

Filed in: NHL News, 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