Alfredsson’s Ottawa address was a foregone conclusion, as much due to his cult status in the city to his current injury woes.
Given that exception, if you were to draw up a list of impossible trades that would never happen, Murray performing a coup de gras on the team’s leadership and community anchors, by shipping out Mike Fisher, would have been at the top of the list. But the man many thought might take up Alfredsson’s captaincy someday, leader enough to let Heatley have the ‘A’ before he departed, is indeed gone. There is much to like about Fisher’s game from Nashville’s perspective, and much to like about a first round pick whose conditional pick has never quite been explained properly (it’s a 2012 2nd round pick if Nashville wins two playoff series this year, but Ottawa hasn’t made it clear if it’s a 2012 3rd round pick if Nashville fails to win any rounds).
While Nashville will be the team talking more about intangibles when speaking of Fisher’s value to the team, you have to look at the intangibles Ottawa has further solidified in the act that sent Mike away.
There may not be burning jerseys the way LeBron James inspired Cleveland, but if you look around Ottawa, Heatley’s return is definitely getting all kinds of rise out of the city.
How could it not? Usually people speak of Ottawa as the town without a tongue, voiceless government employees who seem to willingly give up their seats to transplanted Canadian divisional rivals’ fans, a small market team with small upside.
As players and coaches determine how best to play the game as much for the two points they need in the standings as for the irate fans in the stands and other matters currently less apparent, the reality of Ottawa’s passion — and the reason there is a need for it — is much different.
Kuba’s return not all smiles, Elliott’s opportunity wide open, and condolences for the Richardson family, but first. . .
THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators’ challenging road trip got off on the right foot against the Boston Bruins Saturday night, but their next opponent is even tougher. The Philadelphia Flyers are feeling no ill effects from their long run through the playoffs last season and, interestingly, seem to be getting stronger with every passing game. Perhaps watching the Chicago Blackhawks pass the Stanley Cup around their rink last June is a motivating factor.
THE OPPONENT: Philadelphia has been dominant on both sides of the puck this season. Only the Washington Capitals score more goals per game (3.61 to 3.41) than the Flyers, and only four teams (Kings, Bruins. Habs and Blues) average fewer goals against. With a talented, young forward corps and a defence anchored by punishing elder statesman Chris Pronger, this is the team to beat in the East.
After a 2-0 blanking of Boston, it only makes sense to turn up the heat and see if the Senators can prove it’s not a fluke.
Notes on Fisher’s adjustments and a bad Ottawa omen, but first. . .
“In our first two shifts (of the third), we just didn’t break the puck out the way we should, the way we needed to,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “Three or four times we had the puck on our stick and made wrong decisions and they capitalized.”
Leclaire and the Senators wanted so much more, aiming to prove themselves against the Canucks, who have the look and the personnel of Stanley Cup contenders. While Leclaire wasn’t terrible — Clouston said the Senators “didn’t give him any support” — the loss certainly isn’t going to help him steal playing time from fellow goaltender Brian Elliott. It’s also not going to provide the Senators with much confidence when playing against the league’s elite teams.
“I thought it was a pretty good game for two periods,” Leclaire said. “I thought we were playing pretty well and it was a good up and down game. Then we had a couple of turnovers and they made us pay for it and they got a few bounces and things were going their way. It was just boom, boom, boom and it was hard to come back.”
The third-period blowout took away from what had been two spirited, evenly played periods. It was a bit of a coach’s nightmare, with odd-man rushes, countless turnovers and bouncing pucks around both Leclaire and Luongo, but it made for great entertainment.
Scoring and chances matched for two thirds of the game, and then things got out of hand. Or right where you’d expect them to be.
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. . .
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.
Leclaire’s turn won’t come easily, and Ottawa still slacking in seat support, but first. . .
The Senators were again led by centre Jason Spezza, who had two goals and one assist and seems to be following a odd pattern of inconsistency since returning five games ago from a groin injury. It’s all or nothing.
In two of those five games, he has had multiple points, a total of three goals and four assists. In three other games, he has had nothing. That’s production coach Cory Clouston would like Spezza to even out. For his part, Spezza said he was starting to feel normal after his return to the Senators’ lineup.
“I felt good in the preseason, worked hard during the summer, and got off to a bad start because of injuries,” he said.
“But I’m feeling better now and excited to get playing. Our line’s starting to get some chemistry. (Winger Alex Kovalev) is playing real well, and we hope to build off it.”
“It has been a process,” Clouston said.
“It didn’t just happen automatically. It was almost like we were playing to not lose instead of playing to win. But in the last little while we’ve been able to put more of a complete game together. Most of that is confidence and not having that 0-2 start, that tough record, in the back of your mind.”
Despite the healthy 5-2 score, the Senators managed to put on display their range of talents and show where they still have yet to measure up to their standards.
Michalek and Kuba stagger their returns, Regin rises as Foligno falls, and Leclaire needs to play, but first. . .
THE STORY: Well, it’s official: The streaky Sens are back. Both general manager Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston said prior to the start of the season that they were hoping for a little more consistency from their group this year. As long as the Senators’ winning streaks are consistently longer than their losing streaks, I’m sure they can live with a few ups and downs. Ottawa has picked up five victories in its last six games to climb back into a virtual tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The fact they’re tied with four other teams (including tonight’s opponent — Atlanta), illustrates just how close they are to falling back again. If they’re to make the playoffs, it’ll likely be at the Thrashers’ expense.
THE OPPONENT: Is it possible that the Atlanta Thrashers are a better team without perennial 30-40 goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk? Just ask the New Jersey Devils. While they’re dead last in the NHL after the splashy in-season trade and controversial summer signing, the Thrashers are rolling right along. Exciting youngster Niclas Bergfors has actually outscored Kovalchuk so far this season (nine points to eight) after coming over from New Jersey, which also shipped solid defenceman Johnny Oduya, a first rounder and a prospect to Georgia in the Kovalchuk deal. Yep, Atlanta probably thinks that deal worked out just peachy.
You would think that with Vancouver, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all in the next ten days, Atlanta should be the easy bet for a few points along the way. You would think.
Leclaire patiently waiting his return, and a quick preview of the week ahead, but first. . .
“It has been a process,” Senators head coach Cory Clouston said. “I know (some people) were ready to bury the season after the two games, but it was just two games and we used that to build on. We used that to become a better team.”
“It allowed us to kind of regroup and work on a lot of things and look at what we were doing well and what we weren’t doing well, instead of just panicking. We needed to correct our mistakes. We still have to improve, obviously, keep improving and playing better.”
Saturday’s game was one of the most complete for the Senators so far this season. They had a strong opening 10 minutes, keeping pressure on the Canadiens with forechecking. They opened the scoring late in the first period. If not for the outstanding goaltending of Montreal’s Carey Price, the Senators would have led by much more than 2-1 after two periods. They also played a solid third period, not backing up with the lead, as had been the case in previous victories over the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Still, there’s no such thing as perfection, as captain Daniel Alfredsson said before Saturday’s game.
“I don’t think you can look and say we’ve turned a corner,” he said, also echoing Clouston’s comments about establishing long-term plans for improvement. “There’s always something that’s not clicking in a game, whether it’s five on five or penalty killing or the power play.”
The biggest aspect of their game that Ottawa has improved upon? Perseverance.
Gonchar’s dividends, hosting the Isles tonight with injury timelines, steady confidence in Elliott, Alfredsson’s injury, musings on his post-career fate, but first. . .
Sergei Gonchar finally got it right. From the right point on the power play, that is. The Senators defenceman moved back to his preferred spot on the man advantage Tuesday against the Leafs in Toronto and it paid dividends as Gonchar had a goal — his first with Ottawa — and assist on the power play in a 3-2 win. [...] Gonchar, who is looking more and more comfortable with his Senators teammates, also set up Erik Karlsson’s third of the season on a blast from the point with the man advantage.
“I was comfortable on the other side, I just didn’t think we were able to create as much. It’s not only about me being comfortable. It’s about us as a unit creating things and scoring goals.”
Coach Cory Clouston said the switch was made because Karlsson has improved.
“A lot of that has to do with Erik. His game is a lot better as of late,” said Clouston. “That allows (those two) to switch. If you’re going to run the power play, Erik’s strong play allows him to make better reads. He was struggling earlier on in the season and we weren’t able to use him in more of that role. When you’re in that position on that (left) side, you have a little bit more responsibility. But I thought both of those guys played very well.”
You can bet that you won’t soon see Gonchar on the left; the success, even after one game, speaks for itself. For the first real time since coming to Ottawa, I had to question Clouston’s thinking.
It didn’t take long for Chris Neil’s cheap shots towards Boston’s Seidenberg in the dying minutes of Ottawa’s 4-0 loss to Boston on Saturday to make news.
Less so because of the incident or the players dressed that night, and instead because of a few comments from Neil’s former teammate, Brian McGrattan (from TSN),
“I heard about it,” McGrattan told Boston.com. “That’s typical Chris Neil. I had to protect that guy for three years when I was there. He’d do that and I’d have to fight all his battles for him the next time we’d play a team after he’d do something stupid like that. It doesn’t surprise me.”
“That’s the way he does it,” McGrattan told Boston.com. “He’ll do something where he knows he’ll get kicked out of the game and won’t have to come back and fight anybody. I’ve been around him long enough to know he does that. Then I’m the one who usually has to fight his battles the next time. It’s typical.”
Quickly, as happens in the hockey universe, voices came out both for and against his comments (sometimes both from the same place). Set aside for a moment the question of whether or not agitators have a place in the game, which I’ll get to at the end, and ask yourself whether or not McGrattan’s role helped Neil; to look at the numbers, was McGrattan even right?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org