Kukla's Korner


First Goals Often Win, But Not When Sens Hit Back With Five

Leclaire’s turn won’t come easily, and Ottawa still slacking in seat support, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Citizen (and OS, SE, NHL), on Ottawa’s 5-2 win over Atlanta,

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.

The Chris goal (Neil from Phillips and Kelly) boosted faith that the Senators can rely on more than one line of production as they used to, as did Winchester’s goal, powered by the hard work of Foligno on the fourth line. Spezza’s nose to get down low and convert Hale’s precision pass reaffirms that Jason has found confidence playing without Heatley and away from Alfredsson.

Despite the even pair each team drew on the power play, it was the fashion of Ottawa’s goals that stands out. For Gonchar’s, the pure precision of a draw won by Spezza back to Karlsson, a quick hard pass by Karlsson to Gonchar, and an observant Gonchar to spread to the far side in anticipation of an opportunity that only took three seconds to close. For Spezza’s the hard work of Michalek’s unit to pester down low despite failing to convert stood out, almost as much as Alfredsson’s deft stick work to keep the puck from being cleared with players already out of the zone, as Ottawa has started to show a determination to hold the line, allowing an opportunistic closure stemming not from precision power play setup but from hard work and tenacity.

With only Washington (5) and St. Louis (7) on longer win streak’s than Ottawa’s 4, and only St. Louis (16), Philly, Boston, and Vancouver (15) with more points in their last ten games than Ottawa’s 14, what is there to frown at?

As Spezza starts to see time on the penalty kill, he has yet to succeed in what would be asked of him there. While the Thrashers improved their 33% draw at even strength up to 40% while killing penalties, Ottawa’s conversely dropped from 68% down to 30%, with Spezza 7 for 16. It is a challenge, but that’s the desperation and drive he needs to draw upon to build a penalty killing foundation from.

With two apiece, defensive mainstays Carkner and Phillips need to hold on to the puck better. Both Phillips (9) and Carkner (14) are in the top five for Ottawa in giveaways, which includes fellow defence men Gonchar (14) and Karlsson (18). Not only that, but taking takeaways into account, Carkner (-12), Gonchar (-11), Karlsson (-10), Phillips (-6), Campoli (-4), Lee (-1), and Hale (0) need to improve; half of them are in the top 11 of the League for giveaways by a defence man.

Nitpicking? Perhaps, but when Ottawa sits back, much as they want to protect leads, or in this case a winning streak, the complacency hits.

From the Ottawa Sun, Leclaire getting ants in his pants as he waits to return,

Now that Tim Thomas has turned his game around, there’s not a more handsomely paid backup goalie in the entire NHL than Pascal Leclaire. Doesn’t mean he’s comfortable with his free seat near the end of the Senators’ plank, however. In fact, he rarely uses it. Leclaire is often standing when he’s wearing a baseball cap rather than a mask and helmet, viewing Brian Elliott and the rest of his teammates at work.

“I get more nervous on the bench than I am when I play,” he said Tuesday morning.

Ah, you mean nervous that Mike Fisher’s going to hit you in the face with a shot again?

“No, but I’m way more aware of what’s going on this year, though, for sure,” Leclaire said, chuckling. (Caught him twice covering his head during Tuesday’s win over Atlanta when he thought a puck was flying over the boards and headed his way). The way he easily shrugs things off, Leclaire gives the impression he doesn’t care as much as he should. That’s not the case.

“I’ve always been like that, even in minor hockey,” he said of the butterflies in his gut during a game his team is playing, while he watches. “I don’t like the not being in control feeling. That’s me. I almost become like a fan. You want the guys to do well. So you kind of get in the game anyway. It’s different.

“We all want to play. It’s weird. It’s a weird feeling.”

There was allegedly a few plans in Clouston’s mind for goalie duty. Having given Elliott the easiest team (Atlanta) in a stretch that features real challenges in St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia ahead, it’s not an easy path left for him.

Perhaps Leclaire will start on Saturday in Boston, the pressure of playing at home for his first game since injury replaced with the pressure of facing the top goalie in the League. Elliott would have taken on the top defensive team in the League under this scenario, St. Louis allowing just 1.42 goals against per game, and if he can continue to raise his .911 save percentage as he did Tuesday, going .946, he won’t make Leclaire’s wait any shorter or less anxious.

It is fitting for Clouston though. Leclaire will have to accept that “What have you done for me lately?” does not amount to much in the coach’s books, and he will have to earn every start he gets.

From Ken Campbell via Metro News, why can’t Ottawa draw its fans in?,

Someone apparently forgot to give the Ottawa Senators the memo about how crazed Canadian hockey fans are and how the league has never been more popular since the lockout in 2005.

Since then, every seat for every game in every Canadian NHL rink has been sold out with the exception of Scotiabank Place [...] For the rest of Canada, that’s a stunning 1,050 games where there were no tickets that have been available by the time the puck was dropped.

For the Senators, it has been a far different story. They’ve averaged under 100 per cent capacity each of the past two seasons and went into last night’s home game against the Atlanta Thrashers at a stunningly low average of 17,944 — which is 1,200 under capacity — and with just two sellouts in their first seven games.
My guess, though, is that the sports consumer in Ottawa is more discriminating and is unwilling to both make that trip on a weeknight and pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of watching an NHL game.

And good on them for doing so. The lockout was supposed to be about making ticket prices lower and we all know how that has turned out. Keep the organization’s feet to the fire on this one. After all, the Maple Leafs have sold out every game since the Depression and look where it has gotten them.

A Senators Extra Poll drew the same conclusions, that ticket prices were the main deterrent for 53%, and as James Gordon noted, between parking and busing, location still rung high as a grievance.

For me, living in Waterloo, Ontario, the absence is easy to explain. When Cyril Leeder finally does interview on the Sens Underground Podcast, hopefully he can offer some thoughts as to the rest, and assure fans that both on and off the ice, the team is doing all it can to put fans first and earn the bums in seats.

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


Da lil Guy's avatar

The comments about the butts in seats are probably warranted. I’ve complained here about the difficulties in getting to the SBP for games, and despite efforts to promote specials and cheaper seating at the games, Sens hockey is not a cheap date.

Still, it has to be remembered that Scotiabank place is a big arena - it’s hockey capacity is over 1000 more than the newly constructed Consol Energy Centre, and it’s even larger than the Air Canada Centre in terms of hockey seating capacity. In fact, we have the 8th largest arena in the league, and the 3rd lowest metro population in the league (slightly larger than Raleigh and Edmonton).

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/10/10 at 03:54 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.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net