Kukla's Korner


Team Quirks Forcing Senators To Adjust

Fisher laid bare in strip shootout at practice, Gonchar looks to find way back in Pittsburgh but needs Clouston’s help, and hoping for Michalek to put on a show for his brother, but first. . .

From Senators Extra (and NHL), Ottawa hopes to respond to the challenge of the Penguins,

THE STORY: It’s only five games in, but the Ottawa Senators would be wise not to underestimate the hole they’re digging for themselves. Golf courses are often littered with players who dominated in the second halves of the seasons, only to fall short because they couldn’t gain enough ground on teams embroiled in three-point contests every night. If they lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Northeast Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs beat the injury-depleted New York Islanders Monday night, the Senators will trail by seven points despite having played one match fewer. How’s that for a wake-up call?
THE QUOTE: “I don’t think we’re at or near the bottom of the league in terms of our ability. We don’t see ourselves that way. We see ourselves as a better team than that. Stats, you can use them anyway you want, and five games to me is not indicative of what this team can do, or is able to do. It may be this is where we’re at, at this point in time, but that’s not where we feel we’re going. We’re more concerned about our overall game and just sticking with our foundation. That’s our biggest concern.” — Senators coach Cory Clouston, downplaying the Senators’ struggles so far.

One piece at a time, the Senators appear to be catching on, but trouble lies ahead if they can’t get it and hold it together quickly.

Letting the Habs pound just under 40 pucks at the Senators on Saturday makes one wonder about Murray’s logic in acquiring Gonchar, having said that the move would mean that Ottawa’s opponents would be doing the shot blocking. Since last year, the Senators have gone from 28.5 SA/G (4th) to 32.8 SA/G (21st). Superfluously, this would appear to be an indictment of the defence, but it is exactly what the Senators should have expected.

In fact, last season Ottawa’s players blocked 14.55 shots each game; through five games this season, they have averaged 10. Add in that 4.55, and last year’s shots against total balloons from 28.5 up to 33.05, right in line with their current 32.8 shots per game; in fact, the Senators have dealt with 0.25 fewer shots/blocked shots per game compared to last year, an improvement, but should it continue that Elliott and whoever else the Senators rotate into the crease face nearly five extra shots per game, they should expect their goals against total to balloon by 0.4-0.5 per game, with a save percentage of .900. Which it almost has, from 2.84 GA/G (18th) last season, to 3.20 (tied for 24th) this season, an increase of 0.36, indicating better than expected returns in net.

It was not so long ago that I suggested that lower levels of blocked shots would actually help Leclaire, his 24-17-6 with 9 shutouts season in Columbus coming with 10.8 BS/G, and a record of 25-38-6 with 1 shutout coming over four other seasons with blocked shot averages of 12.4, 12.1 (the lone shutout season), 12.5, and 15.7. While Wamsley’s reunification as Leclaire’s goaltending coach, a proper off-season without injury, and a more confident style could all play into this, the stats do too. What it means for the rest of the season, we’ll just have to see.

From the Ottawa Sun, on lightening the mood to bond the team,

You females out there will be interested to know that Mike Fisher was the loser in a game of Strip Shootout held immediately following practice at the Ice Castle, in Castle Shannon, Pa. The rules? If the goalie, rookie Robin Lehner, stopped you, then you were taking off a piece of equipment.

Fisher was down to a bare chest when he was out-duelled by Erik Karlsson and Peter Regin.
“We just wanted to work through some of the basics, some breakouts, some regroups, just a little bit of structure ... and then just have (some fun),” he said. “You play the game because you love the game. We’ve had a tough first couple of games. We felt we got our game back on track, then all of a sudden, you think you have the game in hand, then you get away from your game plan, and instead of just relaxing and feeling confident, we still don’t have that 100% foundation we need that when things are going tough, we can fall back on that. We had the effort, but it was like the first couple of games. We were scattered and individualistic. Not cohesive like a team.”

The problem hasn’t exclusively been individualistic play; at times, the team has connected on some very good plays, with crisp passes and good puck control. The problem with those stretches is that Ottawa has focused too much on swinging the pendulum in that direction, seeing far too many passes in those instances, always looking to one another for better opportunities and for others to take the shots, foregoing higher offensive pressure and allowing opponents more leeway to regain control.

On the individualistic side, it has often been inappropriate. No one would begrudge Ovechkin streaking in alone to outduel a defence man and fire a puck into the twine, but Ottawa has seen players going after far too many one on three or one on four rushes. Seeing Foligno squeeze through two Detroit defenders, only to stumble and still manage a goal two seasons ago doesn’t come every game.

Even Phillips has struggled. Paired with Karlsson early, two goals then were as much a result of Karlsson’s defensive liabilities as they were of Phillips abandoning his man in a lack of confidence in Karlsson, only to find himself hampering Leclaire in his bail out attempt, or see the abandoned man taking his revenge. Against Montreal, Plekanec’s goal came with Phillips abandoning him in an attempt to bail out Carkner. Lacking the quiet steady confidence in his partner since Volchenkov’s departure, he has appeared more out of sorts than ever.

From a business standpoint, it makes sense: with separate expiry years, Ottawa will get to see if Phillips can handle a new situation, not forcing management into a Redden/Chara decision where adaptability didn’t get a chance to showcase itself. The same will happen with Kelly, should Ruutu depart and he spend next season in a contract year with new partners, and would have happened with Heatley had he not left, his deal expiring a season before Spezza’s.

There is still plenty left to prove, and plenty of season left: which will resolve first is the key question.

From the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review (and OS), Gonchar’s return to Pittsburgh sure to bring an interesting game,

Two friends had a lunch date planned for Sunday afternoon, but their favorite Japanese restaurant—Umi in Shadyside—wasn’t open. So, they adjusted. Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar have been doing a lot of that the past few months. The biggest adjustment will come tonight at Consol Energy Center, when Malkin’s Penguins play Gonchar’s new club, the Ottawa Senators.

“We were talking about that at lunch,” Gonchar said. “He’s playing a new position (right wing), and I’m going to be playing defense on him at some point. It won’t be easy. I can’t give him too much room.”
“It’s kind of normal between us now,” Gonchar said. “He’s grown into his own man. He’s doing his own thing. That’s growing up. He’s maturing. We don’t see each other every day, so now when he calls, he asks, ‘How are the kids?’ We talk about hockey, but not as much.

“The toughest part for me, probably, was leaving my friends behind. They’re still friends. I’ve played against old teams before. You kind of want to pass to them.”

Perhaps instead of passing to Malkin, Gonchar might remember what made him so successful in Pittsburgh. Or Clouston might remember it, too.

One of Ottawa’s better defence men — tied for 2nd on the back end with a -1 in 5 GP, and leading the team in time on ice (27:12) and shifts (26.8) per game — Gonchar still has yet to break into form. Notoriously a slow starter with new teams, Clouston has been hurting Gonchar in one key respect: playing him on the left side.

Watching highlights of Gonchar on the power play in Pittsburgh, you’ll notice Gonchar always playing on the right side, opening up the ice with his left shot, and producing great chemistry and results. But he has been shifted to the other side, leaving the angle of his shot and his passes reversed, and has just a lone assist to show for it.

At 36 years of age, Gonchar is bound to have his methods for success formed, and Clouston should play to them. Sure, putting Karlsson on the right side can help him play alongside Gonchar and develop his skills, but at times you have to wonder if he would be better served watching Gonchar from the bench, on his natural side, rather than in robbing him of it, or at least as the more malleable youngster gaining experience on both sides while his youth still helps his versatility.

One can only hope that Clouston doesn’t play into Gonchar having a miscue on the left side in front of the team that saw him work the back end like few others in the League for half a decade. After all, Clouston knew it was the right place to have him, putting him there in the dying seconds against Montreal, but undoubtedly the back and forth played at least some small part in hurting his performance from there, leaving the Senators to lose yet again. He may be known as a coach who asks his players to work within whatever situation he asks of them, but after coming from the WHL and AHL, he needs to see the different beast of the NHL for what it is, and when it requires you to bend rather than break.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Michalek in for an interesting game as his back end brother forced to watch injured from the press box,

Ottawa Senators winger Milan Michalek was hoping a rivalry that he had with brother Zbynek when both played in the Western Conference would be revisited now that both are in the Eastern Conference.

That will be on hold at least until the next time the Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins meet.

Zbynek, now a Penguins defenceman, is out with an injury to his right shoulder.

The last time the brothers played against each other was last season when the Senators visited Phoenix to play Zbynek’s former team, the Coyotes. Before that, they played against each other often when Milan was with the San Jose Sharks.

Being beaten by Gionta on Saturday after a sputtered pass from Alfredsson couldn’t reach Michalek on the point, the supposedly speedy winger may still be hampered from knee surgery last season, diminishing one of his most prized assets. While he may lack the opportunity to face off against his brother, knowing he won’t have to nail him into the boards, but that he is still watching from the press area, may well give him some motivation.

That, and with three goals in the past two games, coming from hard work less than speed, he may have the assets on hand to work with.

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


Da lil Guy's avatar

Be nice to see a little less of the quirks, a little more of the adjustment.

And ‘back end brother’? Sounds like something off urbandictionary.com!

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 10/18/10 at 02:56 PM ET

SENShobo's avatar

That’s why I am not being asked to write professionally I guess smile

Posted by SENShobo from Waterloo, ON on 10/18/10 at 03:01 PM ET

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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.

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