Kukla's Korner


Camp Opens With Fresh Club

Some light Friday news before Senators camp and my camping, on Leclaire’s new chance, competition from youth, the hope for Binghamton, and the search for a reliable team effort, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Senators (and OS), on a newly focused Jason Spezza,

He has trained hard this summer — “differently,” not with the cookie-cutter program but one designed to target his weaknesses, which he declines to name (a bad back, first-step quickness?).
“First of all, he’s in great shape,” Clouston says. “I spoke with him (Thursday) morning back at the rink. Real good attitude, excited about the season — to get going. To me, he’s in the best mental frame that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the organization — and we’re excited for him.”

Clouston agrees that the playoff catcalls might, to an extent, have helped Spezza.

“Any time you face a little bit of adversity, if you handle it the right way, you’re going to be a better person for it,” Clouston says. “I mean, you’d have to ask him how he approached that, but just by talking to him, the condition he’s in, the mind frame he’s in, I think he has handled it the exact way we wanted him to.”

There should never have been any doubt that Spezza would be back this fall.

No matter how many trade possibilities existed out there, the fact remains that not one would have given the Senators what they wanted: Alfredsson, part II. Spezza’s offensive prowess has never been in doubt, but it does not have the plateaus or independent game-changing power of a Crosby, and thus lacks the currency to bring in a top-flight two-way center. Full-game players like Alfredsson are hard to find and even harder to pry away from other teams.

Most important to remember is that Spezza wanted to be here, and unlike Heatley was not asking for a trade. After a season of injuries to the team, Spezza needs to be viewed for what he is, not what others wish he would be. With luck, the team’s direction change — as simple as Volchenkov for Gonchar, or with a coaching adjustment towards attack to boot — could amplify the natural value of Spezza, and leave the boo-birds for the Leafs.

From the Ottawa Sun, on Leclaire’s fresh, fresh start,

“I don’t think he was ever 100% healthy last year,” Clouston said of “Pazzy.” “When I talked to him, looking at the physical condition that he’s in, he was able to do a lot more things this summer, because of his ankle, and how much better health he’s in. I think that’s going to allow him to have a much better season, a more consistent season.

“I think all his bad luck has kind of run out on him now. Some good luck, I think, is coming his way.”

Just the same, Clouston isn’t about to anoint Leclaire his No. 1 goalie over Brian Elliott just yet. Even though a cold Leclaire made 56 saves with the Senators facing elimination in Pittsburgh last April. Even though Leclaire had a 2.84 GAA and .920 save percentage in the playoffs, while Elliott was 4.14 and .853.

Oft-overlooked was the injury that saw Leclaire first arrive in Ottawa’s roster with a cast. The same difficulty in hitting the ground running that Cowen saw in the WHL after his own leg injury also affects a player expected to lose pounds of weight in a game, especially one who can’t build up previously lost muscle in the off-season. A fresh start to the off-season, helped by an early playoff exit, will have help Leclaire as much as anyone.

From the Ottawa Senators, on the upspring of youth this season,

“There aren’t a lot (of openings),” Clouston said prior to teeing off at the 17th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic earlier today at the Kanata Golf & Country Club. “But we want is for our young guys to push for spots and make decisions difficult for us.”

And they’ll get a fair shot at proving themselves, he added.

“If, in fact, a player ends up down in Binghamton (of the American Hockey League), at least he’s been given the opportunity to show what he can do so if and when we need to call a guy up, we know exactly what he can do,” said Clouston. “We want them to make decisions difficult for us and if someone takes a spot from a veteran, that gives us more assets and more options down the road.”
“What we’re going to need specifically is going to play out as pre-season goes along,” he said. “We have a few different players that provide a little bit of a different flavour for us and they each have different strengths and weaknesses. How the pre-season plays out is going to determine a lot which one of the young guys — or if a young guy — stays with us. And we’ll go from there.”

To keep in mind, it’s not that there has never been competition for roster spots at Ottawa’s training camp. In the past, it’s only been that the hopes for the Binghamton-bound has been so low that veteran signings have been the norm. This time around, it almost feels as though the Senators could rotate through countless forwards and defence men, nearly filling a season of nine-game tryouts, never burning a year of entry-level deals.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on Binghamton’s new strength for the season,

The long-suffering hockey fans of Binghamton have not seen their team reach the American Hockey League playoffs in five years, since the lockout season of 2004-05, when it was loaded with NHL players from Ottawa.
“Before, we didn’t have that situation where we could say, ‘We’re going to bring up the best guy.’ That has been our philosophy, but on a lot of nights it has been the same guy.

“Now, instead of having one or two players only, I think we have two or three at each position that can come up and play, and not hurt us,” [said Assistant GM Tim Murray.]
“You never really know with injuries, and who’s going to be there, so it’s a little too early to speculate,” [Binghamton coach Kurt Kleinendorst] said.

“But the one thing that I’ve noticed is that it does seem like the Senators are developing some depth in their player pool. ... I like the fact that they’ve made the commitment and want to put a winning team back in Binghamton, and hopefully I’m part of that solution.”

The Hershey Bears will remain the standard in the AHL as much as the Red Wings in the NHL, but there can finally be some hope for a better showing. With talent enough in Binghamton to finally make call-ups hard, and plenty of them eager to impress new head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, a more willing team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot. Soon, hopefully, the pressconnects.com sports section will be up and running after Michael Sharp’s departure this off-season, and both team’s successes can be followed.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the Senators prime philosophical goal for the season,

“We want to establish ourselves as a very competitive team and be consistent,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said Thursday as the club kicked off its training camp with a charity tournament. “We struggled with that a little bit last season.”

A little bit? That’s an understatement.

The wild peaks and valleys of the Senators’ 2009-10 NHL season resembled a stock market chart. Consider the following:

The Senators had a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, but the club also endured a pair of five-game losing streaks and another four-game winless slide.
“I think that’s the situation for the whole team,” Clouston said. “We weren’t the most consistent team in the world. We had, obviously, stints where we didn’t play good hockey and we had stints where we played very good hockey, so I don’t think it’s a situation where consistency with Alex is an issue, it’s consistency with all of us.

“We do have to look at our injuries. There were times when we were quite depleted.”

Still, injuries are inevitable and every team has to deal with its fair share every season.

I, for one, look forward to seeing the same effort, night-in, night-out.

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