by SENShobo on 10/04/10 at 11:29 AM ET
David Hale stakes his claim over Jared Cowen, and Ruutu looks to let his play dictate his contract year decisions, but first. . .
The timing is perfect for the Ottawa Senators as they head to CFB Petawawa on Monday. They need some basic training.
After the shoddy defensive effort in Saturday’s 8-5 victory over the New York Rangers to conclude their National Hockey League preseason schedule — “It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure,” head coach Cory Clouston said — the Senators have plenty of work to do in preparation for Friday’s regular-season opener against the Buffalo Sabres.
Foremost among the issues is goaltending. It was worrisome for the Senators that Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott took turns allowing at least one bad goal per game early in training camp. Now it has gone from bad to worse, with Leclaire looking lost in the net on Saturday, allowing five goals on 30 shots.
Nine goals against in the last two pre-season games looks ugly, but it’s not where you’ll find the best representation of what you’ll see come Friday.
The telepathic-like connection that leads to the success of the Sedin twins comes from the same level of comfort with the other guys on the ice factor that helped lead to the results of the past eight games, be they good or bad. There have been failures in communication, but much of Ottawa’s work in the pre-season has been on giving younger guys a chance to work in front of management’s eyes, leaving more senior Senators less time to get in shape, and to get adapted to the systems the team needs at even strength or while up or down a man.
Over the next four days, the team will work to set up their strategies with the lineup set and roles finally defined. No guarantees that it will or will not work, but by the weekend, any blame or acclaim will be the result of the Senators’ play, and not pre-season politics. Mind you, I am not opposed to seeing Smith and Kelly notch a hat trick apiece.
From the Ottawa Citizen, David Hale is ready to steady the Sens,
“I’m not satisfied, but I’m definitely happy,” said the 29-year-old Hale, who is without question the most surprising name remaining on the roster. “I got six preseason games in, and they went pretty well.”
Hale essentially beat out 19-year-old Jared Cowen for the remaining defence spot in a roster battle complicated by the fact Cowen could only be sent back to the Spokane Chiefs of the major-junior Western Hockey League and not Binghamton of the American Hockey League. Hale, on the other hand, could be assigned to Binghamton at any time.
“We’re going to stick with him for a few more days here, and we’ll in all likelihood begin the year with him, until Kuba gets back, at any rate,” Murray said. “He is what we thought he was. He’s a hard-working guy. Competitive. Will fight if he has to. Will defend decent. The big problem for David has been his offensive skill to this point in time. If he keeps the game simple and we play him right, he’ll be able to contribute.”
Much as Carkner was suited to the third pairing last season, Hale has found his way into position to challenge and alternate duties with Lee, showing the stable presence that Ottawa needs, having Gonchar and Karlsson up front, as well as Campoli showing brighter play (8 points) in the pre-season, if you put more stock in individual performances there than team efforts.
It should come as no surprise that Cowen was sent back to the WHL. On the contract front, Lee was all but guaranteed that his one-way salary would not find itself in Binghamton again, leaving Hale as Cowen’s only real competition for a spot on the opening roster. Much has been made of how much more Cowen can (or cannot) develop in the WHL, but that is where he will best be able to.
Last season when Karlsson was kept in Ottawa, his role was obvious, as that of a power play specialist, and puck mover at even strength. Despite playing in just 60 games, his 26 points were second only to Kuba (28), with his 16 even strength points right in the pack with Phillips (18), Kuba (17), and Campoli (15), and his power play points (10) right behind Kuba (11), and well ahead of third place Picard (5). He was able to play to all his strengths, with little more left for him to work on within the lower competition of the AHL.
In Cowen’s case, while he has the physical element to his game, both Phillips and Carkner wind up ahead of him in that element of the game, and they along with Gonchar and Kuba, when healthy, all would wind up with the big chunks of penalty killing assignments. That much further down the chart to start, it makes sense to send Cowen away from third pairing minutes, and back to the WHL. Not only does he have the chance to play serious minutes, more along the 25-30 minute mark if you are to believe the comparisons to Chara that Cowen has received, but also to develop the rest of his game.
While his size has always been the focus, Cowen has the opportunity to add better puck skills to his game. He has gone 19-53—71 in 182 WHL games, improving each season to go from .265 points per game in 2007-08, through .438 and up to .508 last season. He likely will never be able to compare to Karlsson’s potential, or Chara’s NHL totals, but while Hale beats him now, this extra seasoning, plus a chance to make up for a disappointing 2010 World Juniors with a better showing this time around, should mean that unlike Hale, he will not have a mere 24 points when he reaches 302 NHL games. Shifting from the WHL to the NHL surely needs Cowen to rev up his play to those new heights in order to settle in to the higher gear.
From the Ottawa Sun, Ruutu won’t think about extensions just yet,
Making $1.3 million, he’d love to sign an extension with the club, but understands if the Senators want to wait. Meanwhile, he’ll let his pesky play speak volumes.
“I look at it like any other year,” said Ruutu. “What happens next summer, happens next summer. The only thing you can control is the next game and I approach every game the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s your contract year or not.”
“I haven’t thought about it at all,” said Ruutu. “It doesn’t really matter ... I want to stay here. I like playing for this team and I think we have a good team. I have no desire to change or go anywhere else.”
It will be an interesting decision to put to Murray when Ruutu’s agent finally broaches the subject. No Senators line has displayed the same consistent players as Ottawa’s third line, with Ruutu lining up beside Kelly and Neil. Two years ago, Pittsburgh was not willing to give Ruutu the third and final year, this year, on his deal. For $1.3 million a season, Ottawa has gotten excellent penalty killing, shift disturbing, and in pure numbers a great increase in production: Ruutu’s best pre-Senators season came in Vancouver, with 17 points, and he posted 16 in each of his pair of seasons in Pittsburgh. With Ottawa, he set new highs in goals (12), assists (14), and points (26), going 7-14—21 in his debut with Ottawa, and following up with 12-14—26 this past year, a 50% increase over his previous production.
Even with a dip to pre-Ottawa levels that I can’t see coming, Ruutu, now 35, should see a perhaps-shorter deal coming, depending on Ottawa’s outlook on its prospects; perhaps a Bass, Greening, or Locke could step up, perhaps not. The roles of Kovalev, Alfredsson, and Gonchar, all in their mid-thirties, have no peers in Binghamton to challenge them, but Ruutu’s unique skills won’t make it any easier for him to be beat.
One can only hope that Gonchar can match the success the Pittsburgh-to-Ottawa transition has afforded Ruutu. It all starts Friday, at long last.
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