by SENShobo on 11/02/10 at 11:22 AM ET
Trying to score on lately scoreless Leafs, Lehner sent down as Leclaire returns, and Alfie spooks the team updated, but first. . .
“You want to say, ‘Go and play with confidence,’ but that’s not something you just go pick up at the grocery store,” Phillips said Monday.
“You try to block that stuff out and play with confidence, but it’s a funny game. Those things get in your head sometimes, and it’s tough to block them out. When you make a mistake out there, you try to (forget) it. You watch video the next day and learn from it. But, when you’re out there, if you let it affect you, that’s exactly what it does. It’s going to affect you when you go to make your next play, and it gets to be a snowball effect. If you can nip it in the bud right away, you’re a lot better off.”
“Sometimes he puts too much of the burden on his shoulders, and he just has to worry about himself a little bit more,” Clouston said.
“He cares as much or more than anybody on this team, and he wants to help the team win, but sometimes, when you get in that situation, less is more. Simplify your game. Don’t try to do too much. Just make the simple, easy play. And then, once the confidence and the game get going, then you can maybe add to that. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, though. You tell him to simplify it, (but) the tendency is to still try to make plays that aren’t there.”
The talk has been (and will still be) of injuries when it comes to the Senators, but after that, no struggle has been as pronounced as that of Phillips, who simultaneously lost the highest priced and complementary departure in Volchenkov, while gaining the highest priced arrival and most polar opposite player in Gonchar.
As an all-but-team-worst -5, not all the statistics hurt Phillips’ case. He is on pace for roughly 100 hits, in line with last season, and 120 blocked shots, a slight decline. Surprisingly, he is only set for 40 or so giveaways, well below the per game pace he set playing alongside Volchenkov.
But the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
It’s not just that there is no statistic for how many times someone takes the puck away from you, or that giveaways are tracked with perfect consistency, but Phillips more than anything has been trying to play beyond himself. He could mesh into his role with Volchenkov, knowing exactly what to do whether he was chasing the puck or backing up his partner, but now he has seen time with several different players, the only common thread being that he cannot expect the same defensive play from any of them.
What should follow is that to expect the same defensive results, Volchenkov’s presence has to be replaced with better support from the forwards, let alone allowing Phillips to mesh with Gonchar or any other player, so that consistency, no matter how much more spotty a consistency, can be developed. While some wonder about the organization’s decision to wait on an extension, which can’t reasonably be given out so quickly with Phillips four years older than last time and without the Heatley to his Spezza, one detail might spend a little more time in his thoughts.
According to the Citizen, Phillips’ father Garth is ill. Suddenly, thoughts of Redden dealing with his mother’s illness and passing come to mind, whether or not the comparison is fair. But soon enough, perhaps Phillips can find himself out of the spotlight. Gonchar can get his first goal of the season. Carkner can fight Orr tonight. By Saturday, Kuba will likely suit up for the first time this season, and more stability will come with him. Either way, this will not be Phillips’ lasting image.
“They always play us tough,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said.
Maybe that’s about as technical as the analysis needs to be. The Leafs play Ottawa “tough.” They have generally outworked the Senators, even on nights when the Senators have pulled out a win.
On the nights when they start poorly, Fisher said, “we kind of panic a bit, lose our composure. We have to stick to it.
“We’re so much better when we play with a lead,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to get in there and have a good first period and get rolling. That’s kind of the key to our game early on.”
Just a few years ago, the Senators were held up as an example of a team no one wanted to fall behind against early because they would get a lead and put it away. Now, veterans like Fisher watch with envy as some of the team’s closest rivals return the favour. In particular, Fisher referred to losses to Boston and Montreal over the past week or so.
“We did not get outplayed (in those games),” Fisher said. “But they sit back, they wait. They’re smart. They’re patient.”
“These games are huge,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to beat these teams and adjust to the way they’re playing.”
They’ve been injured, they’ve undergone change, and it’s become a much tougher conference, all of this is true. What does make one raise an eyebrow, however, is how the team has still failed to adjust to its new situation.
Last season, even with Volchenkov and for a time Sutton, Ottawa’s concern was still with its defence, its goaltending, and its ability to keep the puck out of their net for all the trouble they still had in finding the back of the other one. Now, with a bit more consistency between the pipes from both goalies, the defence has been mobilized with a full season of Karlsson, increased confidence in Campoli, and the acquisition of Gonchar.
And yet the team seems as scrambled in their own end as ever. Murray has redefined Ottawa’s strength as its puck moving ability, harkening back to the more run and gun days of the franchise. But despite this, the team is not pushing even as hard offensively as last season. They have taken a proven veteran in Gonchar, the second highest cap hit on the team, and use him on his unfamiliar side on the power play (and yet it hasn’t been thought of as a rational idea for Clouston to have one of Kovalev or Alfredsson playing on Spezza’s left with the other to the right).
Somewhere there is a better team in this group, even if it can’t contend for a Cup as it used to. So much more is expected of them than they have delivered, and there lies some pressure. The Leafs, meanwhile, have comparatively little expected from many individuals, and the pressure has allowed some of them to rise despite disappointments from the likes of Bozak and Phaneuf.
There will be the bulky nemesis pads of Giguere, tension waiting to boil over between Carkner and Orr, and endless booing whenever Alfredsson touches the puck. But the Leafs have fallen from their torrid start, have not scored in over two games, and will finally start to feel the heat turned up. Ottawa can look forward to getting in line, looking for more of the renewed chemistry of Kovalev and Regin, and Fisher and Alfredsson. That, and the key confidence boost of impending returns.
Leclaire is hopeful he’ll be ready to see game action sometime in the next week.
“The next five to seven days, we’ll see, but we’ll go from there,” he said after taking part in a full Senators practice for the first time since suffering the injury more than two weeks ago. “I don’t want to get into that (speculation) and then if it happens, great, but if it doesn’t, then it’s (press) the panic button. But so far it feels good, I’m moving forward and I’m pretty happy on that count.”
While there were some suggestions last week that Leclaire had possibly taken a step backward in his recovery, the 27-year-old native of Repentigny, Que., was merely following a cautious approach toward an injury that can be unpredictable.
“I started skating and then I backed off a bit,” he said. “It didn’t mean it was getting really worse. We decided to give it a rest a little bit and that kind of worked. After that, you try to push it a little more and since then, it’s been good. So a lot of progress. The first week was rough but after that, pretty much every day it’s started to get better.”
After “just” two weeks, the team feels confident enough that Lehner has been sent down to Binghamton to start his second professional game, while Leclaire will back up Elliott tonight in Toronto, perhaps starting Thursday. Thursday, of course, also being the possible early return for Kuba, with Saturday the target. Saturday, of course, also being the final weekend the team hopes Michalek will be out after regression in his knee.
So perhaps there’s some hope.
From the Ottawa Sun, as with the rest of the team, Alfredsson nursing some discomforts,
About the last thing a team that’s struggling offensively needs to see is its leading scorer leave practice early in discomfort.
Coach Cory Clouston is optimistic Daniel Alfredsson will be in the lineup when the Senators play the Maple Leafs in Toronto Tuesday night, but having already had front line players Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek pull up lame on game days this season, he also has to be somewhat concerned.
With 12 points in 11 games, Alfredsson has figured in on almost half of Ottawa’s 26 goals.
“He’s not 100 percent, but he knows his body better than anybody,” said Clouston. “It’s a little tweak, lower body and I think he should be fine for tomorrow. I told him to go off, ride the bike and we’ll see how things are tomorrow. I expect him to be ready for tomorrow.”
Not perfect, but still with hope. Maybe it’s finally the season where Alfredsson can no longer miss just a single game for anthroscopic knee surgery. But if Alfie can keep healing, keep fighting, and keep leading the team on the ice in all zones with his example, there’s no room left for the Senators to feel sorry for themselves.
Update - 12:35 P.M. - According to Ian Mendes and others, Alfredsson will be a game time decision, with Shannon skating in his spot on the top line and Lee dressed as a Schubert-esque fourth liner as Alfredsson did not feel up to the morning skate today.
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