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Clouston Tinkering For Balance That Makes Sens

How should age affect the Senators, and notes on Gonchar’s milestone, Ottawa’s injuries, the team’s outside ranking, and the unflappable Eugene Melnyk, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Citizen (and OS), Clouston crafting his chess game for Senators,

The Ottawa Senators’ 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night was not as bad as it looked.
“We worked hard coming back into the zone,” Clouston said Monday. “We created turnovers, (but) we did nothing with the turnovers. Therefore, we get the puck, do nothing with it, it ends up being turned over again in our zone, and you just spend the whole game on that vicious rollercoaster, and we just couldn’t get off of it.”
To tackle the X’s and O’s, Clouston spent Monday’s practice on what the team didn’t do against the Canadiens: supporting each other, especially their defencemen.

“We worked on breakouts, regroups, everything under pressure, making sure we have a plan once we gain puck possession,” he said. “We did a good job of creating turnovers just about every time we had numbers at our blue line, which we wanted. We gained puck possession ... and we didn’t do anything with the puck. The result was that we ended up in our zone way too much.”

It’s the subtle differences that make it all the much harder to engrain.

Last season, at the end, the Senators were getting used to playing with a defence corps of Phillips, Volchenkov, Sutton, Carkner, Kuba, and Karlsson. The goalies were much more protected, opponents had less space to move around in, and a basic play or pass would be retrieved by the forwards to start the rush.

Now, switch it up, and the defence looks quite different, with Phillips, Carkner, Hale, Gonchar, Karlsson, and Campoli. The steady blue liners are short in number and comparable experience, and the puck movers are in unfamiliar territory, either because of the new team in Gonchar’s case, or the new expectations, pressures, and game style for the younger set. Gonchar’s own unfamiliarity, both with the team and when being played on the side opposite the one where he’s found his success, only trickles down, just as Phillips still has to find a comfort level with his partner to avoid trying to do everything and accomplishing nothing.

While the pressure is on those defence men to create more plays and start more zone exits for the Senators, it seems as though the forwards expect it too much, hoping for the long bombs that some may remember from Ottawa’s blue line heyday, or that others might expect from the hype around Gonchar and Karlsson. It’s still a team game, and the Senators need to start playing like a more cohesive one, Clouston doing the right thing in bringing them all onto the same page.

From Senators Extra (and OS), it’s not age but how it shows that matters,

“This is not an old hockey team,” he roared, during his state of the franchise address last week. “I hear the implications all the time. That’s bull. We’re an average aged hockey team. There are a couple of older players on every team as I look around the league.”

Average? Not exactly. According to nhlnumbers.com, the Senators are the 7th oldest team in the NHL with an average player age of 28.2 . The age of the roster as of Oct. 25 is 28.3) And, if defencemen Filip Kuba and goaltender Pascal Leclaire were healthy, the average age would leap to 29.2 making the Senators the 4th oldest team in the league.

Age is relative, of course. Rosters change almost daily, changing average ages. The entire league, though, with an average age of 27.8, is trending younger. The youngest team is the L.A. Kings at 25.5. The Detroit Red Wings are oldest at 31.

By that logic, fans should feel as though Ottawa is an average team in the standings (at 3rd worst), allow an average number of goals per game (3.25 for 7th worst, compared to 2.62 at the mid-range), and score an average-ish number of goals per game (2.00, compared to a midpoint of around 2.80).

What is a key difference for Ottawa is the reliance on age. Over a quarter of Ottawa’s cap is going to the 35+ set. Of the 30 oldest players in the League, Ottawa has 3, triple what you’d expect. Look at the others though: for Lidstrom and Selanne, and a few like Recchi, Weight, Whitney, Holmstrom, Rafalski, and Hamrlik, the rest are all role players, with few among those higher calibre players expected to produce on the level of Alfredsson, Kovalev (as far as his salary is concerned), and Gonchar. Not only do few teams have such high expectations of their vets, but they have so few vets at all.

It’s no guarantee for failure, but consider that while the Red Wings have an older set, and Lidstrom is among them, you have to get down to age 30, 31, and 32 to find the likes of Zetterberg, Franzen, and Datsyuk, as opposed to the 36 years of age Gonchar will have when Ottawa hopes to make the playoffs, or the 38 years of age on the odometers of Alfredsson and Kovalev at that time. It’s not just the numbers, but the context, and it may well figure into the seasons ahead for Ottawa.

From the Ottawa Citizen (and SENS), Gonchar quietly follows Alfie’s milestone from last season,

By the time Tuesday night is over, it will have taken Sergei Gonchar a little more than 15 years to play 1,000 games in the National Hockey League.
“One of my friends told me a couple of days ago … he said, ‘Already, 1,000?’” said Gonchar, who is now 36. “And, yeah, I never thought this was going to happen. And believe me, it seems like those 1,000 games just flew by. It feels like I just got into the NHL and started playing. I never thought I’d get 1,000 games. It’s an achievement I’m probably going to be proud of, but there was never a time when I thought about it that much.”

A first-round pick of the Capitals in 1992 (14th overall), Gonchar started his North American career with Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine. He played a couple of Stanley Cup playoff games in 1994, was returned to Portland to begin the 1994-95 season, and made it to the NHL for good on Feb. 7, 1995.
However, Gonchar would like to play at least another season after that so he can be eligible for the 2014 Olympics at Sochi, Russia. He has played for Russia in four Olympics — 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010 — helping win a silver medal in 1998 and a bronze in 2002.
“That’ll be the first Winter Olympics back home in Russia,” he said. “People back home are doing a great job to build all the arenas and infrastructure, so it’s a really (nice) thing and I’m hoping to play there, otherwise I’ll just try to play as long as I can.”

One can only hope that this more specific and pertinent motivation keeps Gonchar rolling as he has done throughout his years in Pittsburgh, and that it doesn’t take him much longer to finish his customary feeling-out-the-new-team period.

From the Ottawa Sun, healing takes priority for injured Senators,

Jason Spezza did not practice with his teammates Monday morning and is “doubtful” for the Senators home game against the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday. Coach Cory Clouston also listed his No. 1 centre in the “hopeful” category for Thursday’s visit by the Florida Panthers.

“He had a skate this morning without the team, and he’s made some real good progress,” said Clouston.
Meanwhile, Clouston said defenceman Filip Kuba and goalie Pascal Leclaire are inching closer to making their return from injury. Kuba, who suffered a broken leg the first day of training camp, should be back in about 10 days. Leclaire, who pulled a groin five games ago, is expected back sooner.

“They’re going to need a few practices with the team before they can play,” said Clouston. “Until both of them feel the pressure of a practice, and test it in that practice, it’s kind of day by day. But they had a good skate this morning and everything seemed real positive.”

On one hand, Ottawa needs all the offence it can get. Still, considering the luck Ottawa has had in bringing players back too quickly with all but Alfredsson, Spezza should not be rushed. If the team depends so critically on Spezza to even get into playoff position, let alone to climb higher into the top eight, then there is no point in risking him, just as a team with no real shot at the playoffs should not be making deadline deals for rental players.

From TSN, Ottawa won’t be seeing love anytime soon,

How long has it been that the Senators have sought secondary scoring? Following RW Daniel Alfredsson and C Jason Spezza, who are at a point-per-game, D Sergei Gonchar is third on the team with four points in eight games.

That would be the comments on Ottawa’s 30th place ranking, despite a better record than the 29th place Devils (2-6-1), and more points than the Oilers (2-4-0), without quite the 6.33GAA they have had in their past three games. Still, it’s where the team needs to realize it is, if they’re going to accept that they have much work to do.

From Senators Extra, on tonight’s matchup with the Coyotes,

THE SUBPLOTS: What will it take to motivate this team? Last week, general manager Bryan Murray threatened to trade players and coach Cory Clouston bag-skated his troops to shock them out of their stupor. It lasted all of one game. With the team hard against the cap and owner Eugene Melynk probably unwilling to park big salaries in the minors, they’ll probably have to live or die with this group. If the Senators continue to show the kind of listlessness they did in Saturday night’s loss, that would make for a long season.

THE WILDCARD: Mike Fisher. He was Ottawa’s best player for lengthy stretches last season and needs to regain that form. The longer Jason Spezza remains out of the lineup with a nagging groin injury, the more the Senators need their de facto No. 1 centre to step up to the plate. He has just three points this season (one assist in his last four games) and is a minus-two.

Closing out three games in four nights, and on the second night of back-to-back games, possibly sitting star goaltender Bryzgalov, the Senators might have a chance to put some early pressure on the Coyotes, largely missing from Ottawa’s game as it has been.

Also watch out for rookie Swedish defence man Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was taken 6th overall in Karlsson’s draft. At 6’2 and with significantly more defensive poise, it was thought that Murray had hoped to trade up to get him if he was available or fell, but the Coyotes took a worthwhile gamble on the kid. Not yet a star with just one assist in 7 NHL games, he is still tied for second on the team’s back end as a +2, with a blue line average of 0.

Finally, from the 6th Sens, Eugene is the eternal fan optimist,

Q: Well Eugene, what do you think of your hockey team?

EM: I think they’re doing fantastic! You’re talking about the St. Mike’s Majors, right? Oh, you mean Ottawa?  Okay. I thought we were going to spend the time talking about the Majors and the Memorial Cup.
Q: What do you think of Alexei Kovalev?

EM: He is an enigma but in a positive way. One day, he is just going to explode. When he has that puck, it’s phenomenal what he can do. What he does in practice is unbelievable. I know there are criticisms that he doesn’t show up in games but we still have faith in the guy.

Q: There must be nights though when you just want to scream at the guy.

EM: Look, he does things to the beat of his own drum. He’s too much of a veteran for us to sit down and tell him what to do. I think things will eventually click and when he does, he’ll be the straw who stirs the drink. We have to be careful here. Hee’s a veteran player and we just can’t get in his face and starting making demands. I am a firm believer that the GM has to make hockey decisions, the coach has to coach and the players have to play. I would have to be a serious situation for me to get involved in that level.

Fans may want more screaming from the owner, but publicly this is the way you want it. A man who stands by his team, the men he’s charged with leading it, and lets them choose the course. If it turns out that he does want the Senators to be a profit machine as a priority the way MLSE does, or that he wants to get involved the way Len Barrie and Oren Koules did in Tampa Bay, that might change, but the one positive characteristic shared by guys like Melnyk, Mike Ilitch, and Jim Balsillie is that they are fans and supporters of their team first and foremost, at least one key element in any owner.

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

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