by SENShobo on 10/14/10 at 10:44 AM ET
Power play an early focus for Sens, careful goalie decisions needed (updated), Spezza has extra motivation this season, Alfredsson recognized for his place in the community, and a delightfully sobering reality check for those Senators fans currently bemoaning Toronto’s perfect start thus far, but first. . .
From Senators Extra, on tonight’s chance for redemption against Carolina,
THE WILDCARD: Daniel Alfredsson. He was questionable for this one but insisted Wednesday he’s good to go. With his team in desperate need for offence, it’s once again time for the captain to step up. He’s posted very un-Alfie-like numbers so far (one assist, minus-two through three games), which might lead some to question whether father time is finally catching up with the ageless wonder.
THE OPPONENT: The Carolina Hurricanes weren’t expected to be in the playoff mix this season, but don’t tell them that — they opened the season with two straight wins. Sure, they were against the Minnesota Wild (who are expected to bring up the rear in the Western Conference), but points are points. Unfortunately for them, those wins came in Europe, so fatigue could be a factor Thursday night.
No time like the present for the Senators to get going, with a conveniently devilish schedule ahead.
The Senators have six more games to go before they face the Panthers, the first team that Ottawa should really have a good advantage over, and the first to be a non-playoff team from last season, other than the Leafs.
Fatigue could well factor in when the 2-0 Hurricanes play their first North American game since returning from Europe, as could overconfidence that comes from beating the Wild. Look for rookie Jeff Skinner to be a threat, along with Staal to work hard to break into scoring mode. For the Senators, well, what you get remains to be seen.
“Our breakout was better, I thought we controlled the puck better, but obviously we’re not shooting the puck enough,” Gonchar said Wednesday, referring to the 0-for-5 power play performance in Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals.
“We’re making a step in the right direction and we have to focus on shooting the puck and having good (net) presence.”
“It’s the beginning of the season and I’m a new addition to the power play, so maybe we’re not knowing each other well enough yet,” he said. “It’s not only me being on the other side, but the other thing is guys learning from me, about how I bring the puck to the middle (of the ice) and the timing. The timing of it, when you’re under pressure, is so important.”
The power play will be a focal point of discussions until it starts to produce. The fact remains that the team has gone from Kuba, Karlsson, and Campoli offering the best weapons from the point, to now having a true reason to move the puck back to the blue line in Gonchar. As I commented upon yesterday, since the lockout, Gonchar has been at or near the League lead in power play production with the Penguins.
Taking on such a key piece means that the system must adapt to maximize its benefits, something that once again the team would have trouble doing with its squandered pre-season opportunities and three games in four nights to start the season. With a more time to use the right pieces, and time in between to refine their play, good or bad the true form will become apparent.
From the Ottawa Sun, on the goalie decisions that are so critical early in the season,
He’s looked sharp, focused, quick ... better than he did all last season.
One untimely Alex Ovechkin shot aside, Pascal Leclaire has been exactly what the Senators need him to be. And if Cory Clouston doesn’t start Leclaire Thursday against the Hurricanes, it could very well be his first mishandling of Senators goalies since March 4 in Carolina, when Leclaire, making his first start in two months, was inappropriately pulled after giving up two goals on five shots, neither of which were his fault.
Leclaire’s confidence never recovered from that whipping.
No, goaltending has not been the reason for Ottawa’s stutter start to the 2010-11 campaign. The problem has been at the other end of the rink. Through three games, the Senators have four goals.
As good as Leclaire’s been, it’s everything but his play that should see Elliott start tonight.
Clouston has already gone out and said that he wants a No.1 goaltender, wants one of his two goalies to step up and grab the opportunity. He has also said that Elliott will get his first start in one of the next two games. Despite his less than menacing look, his lack of professional hockey experience, and this being his first NHL coaching job, right after his first AHL one, Clouston has to maintain the respect of the team, and can’t afford to go back on his word.
Nor can he afford to fall into old patterns; yes, win-and-you’re-in just can’t make a comeback. So both goalies must be given their starts early on, with only a stellar shutout streak able to guarantee continuous starts. At this stage, Leclaire has proven himself capable, and Elliott has yet to have that chance.
Pitting Leclaire against the more pressured foe in Montreal, on the Saturday night spotlight, advances him to the stage where he can prove that he can handle the nights off and the spotlight. Pitting Elliott against the Hurricanes gives him a more relaxed start, with “fewer than 4,500 tickets” remaining in Ottawa on a more relaxed Thursday evening, the kind of environment to start his testing in.
Put Leclaire back in, and you risk falling into those old habits, that old desperation, and losing the team too early. The fact that Elliott is 3-1-0 with a 1.83GAA compared to Leclaire’s 1-3-0 with a 2.92GAA against the Canes (OC) should only further highlight the obvious choice for this evening. Clouston can put either in, sure, but there’s simply too much background distraction to be found should it be Leclaire and a loss to make any other option palatable.
Update - 11:35 a.m. - From Senators Extra,
The Ottawa Senators will start Pascal Leclaire in goal against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night, further solidifying his spot as the team’s No. 1 goaltender.
Coach Cory Clouston called Leclaire “our best player” this season and went back on a suggestion that backup Brian Elliott would start one of the next two games.
Clouston said there was “absolutely” a chance Leclaire would be right back between the pipes against Montreal Saturday night if he played well against Carolina.
Winger Alex Kovalev missed practice but will suit up for the game.
There goes consistency in message and approach, in going back on his “suggestion.” Yes, you want to get a win. Yes, Leclaire has been the best player so far, if you ignore Clouston’s comments in Washington. Yes, giving Leclaire the smaller spotlight and a chance for his first win after his hard work makes sense. But in the end, if any of this backfires, it will backfire in extreme fashion.
Here’s hoping for the best, while walking on the edge of a knife.
From the Ottawa Senators, more than media eyes on Spezza this year,
“It’s definitely an exciting time of the year,” said Spezza, 27, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. “You put all your time in during the summer and now you want to see where you are as a player. And you reap the benefits of all your hard work.”
But no addition to Spezza’s world was more celebrated than the one that arrived on June 8. That’s when Spezza and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their first child, Sophia Donna. The mere mention of his daughter brings a quick, easy smile to Spezza’s face.
“It’s been amazing,” he said of being a first-time dad. “It’s been pretty special to be around her all summer and to get a chance to watch her in the first few months.”
It’s been said that becoming a parent is a life-altering moment like no other. And Spezza expects it might well put hockey and life into a different perspective for him.
For Fisher, it will be the first season as a married man. In having a child, Spezza, too, could experience different calming and unnerving effects this season. One would hope that any responsibility to look after and set an example for his daughter might bring about just the drive Spezza needs to be the dependable player the Senators crave.
It’s not likely that we’ll see any Yzerman level changes, nor does Spezza’s current play compare to Stevie’s old heights of glory, but even the better back check hustle on display, coupled with a few more key moments where unnecessary dangles could be foregone, could go miles in his maturation. Three games is always too early to tell (check the current Rocket Richard leader to see), but it’s always interesting to have a picture in the back of the mind to link the positive little moments to.
From the Ottawa Senators, Alfredsson’s leadership in the community honoured,
Alfredsson received a surprise visit earlier today from United Way Ottawa, which presented him with its Community Builder Award for 2010. On hand for the presentation of a special plaque were United Way Ottawa chairman Michael Allen and CTV Ottawa’s Karen Soloman, also co-chair of volunteer recognition for the local United Way.
“You have demonstrated the ability to give, to speak up and take action on things that matter most to you,” Soloman said in recognizing Alfredsson’s “outstanding contributions” to the nation’s capital. “Thank you for helping to build a stronger, healthier and safer community for all of us.”
“That’s not what you’re looking for when you get involved in a charity,” he said. “It has been very rewarding for me, with the response I get from people I meet in the city. At the same time, the people at the Royal have done a great job getting out and being seen and promoting the campaign. They made me look good.”
Always a pillar in the community, and as deserving of respect for his work off the ice as on it, it’s good to see the captain being recognized for his work.
Finally, in case there is some concern among Senators fans that their team is 0-2-1, while the Maple Leafs are a perfect 3-0-0 so far, bear some important numbers in mind.
In beating the Canadiens and the Senators, the Maple Leafs were able to take pot shots on goaltenders putting up games with .875 and .868 save percentages, respectively. In topping the Penguins last night, they stared down a goaltender just able to pop out a .714 save percentage. They would have lost 3-2 had they faced even a .857 from Fleury. The 15th ranked save percentage this season is .932, and at the end of last season it was .915.
Toronto’s current average of 4 goals per game is higher than even Vancouver (3.27) and Washington (3.82) last season, and even last night they needed a goal from Orr, who started the evening with as many goals as he had NHL seasons (8), and two from MacArthur, who in three games now has 4 goals, a quarter of what he’d project to at the end of an 82 game season.
Just some reality to keep in mind, as the law of averages plays out.
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