Kukla's Korner


Gonchar Now Showing His Value For Present And Future

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. . .

From the Ottawa Sun (and OC, SENS), on the reason it took so long to play to Ottawa’s true blue line potential,

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.

“Comfort,” as Gonchar described the feeling of being on the left point, is not what you want on the power play. Comfortable is safe, and at least in this case Tortorella was right: safe is death. On the power play, you have to feel that you can make a difference, that you are energized. Comfortable has no place there.

As I said yesterday, playing on the normal side as the pair were originally, they would have an easier time picking pucks up off the boards as they were rimmed around, and in passing to each other. Switched to their off side, the key benefit was obvious: the one-timer. Once goalies set themselves in this League, it is hard to get one by them, not to undervalue the help that Fisher and Neil played in front of Giguere on the two goals.

As teams key off of a pair like Karlsson and Gonchar, playing on the off side will also make it easier to dish the puck to a player on the half wall, where space will hopefully have cleared up for someone like Spezza or Kovalev to work with. If Karlsson couldn’t be trusted on the off wing, he should have been on a separate unit.

From Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, on the real value of Gonchar,

When the Ottawa Senators shelled out $16.5 million over three years to Sergei Gonchar last July 1, they got a lot more in return than those three seasons.

The player himself may only be contracted for three years, but his teachings and influence on young blueliner Erik Karlsson, in particular, could have 10-plus years of impact.
“He’s an experienced guy and he knows how to talk to people to make them understand what needs to be done,” Karlsson, 20, told ESPN.com Tuesday after the pre-game skate at Air Canada Centre. “For me having him on the team, it’s been great so far and I think it’s going to be even better.”
“We’re on the same power-play unit so sometimes you see things that can be done a little differently,” Gonchar said. “We always talk and he’s a great listener. It just happens naturally. I’ve been around a bit longer so you know maybe how certain things should be done. When you have a guy like Erik who has all the skills in the world and can do things, you can tell him something and he can do it. It was the same with those two [Goligoski and Letang]. It’s a natural process.”

Karlsson can’t learn anything from Gonchar if he’s not in a position to apply the lessons, nor is the opportunity there to learn the key elements when Gonchar’s thrown into an unfamiliar and less workable situation. Considering the end of Karlsson’s season last year — 4-8—12 in his final 10 regular season games and then 1-5—6 in Ottawa’s 6 playoff games — how could Clouston suddenly lose so much confidence in the youngster? The team knew last season when he struggled early that he couldn’t be sheltered, sending him to the minors to log the confidence-building minutes he needed, and you can’t well hide him in a less effective spot this season and expect results. Let the kid grow.

You can also bet that a reason three years wasn’t as scary was because that’s roughly how long guys like Goligoski and Letang got with him in Pittsburgh, and Murray will still have hope that he can pass on some of his skills in the seasons to come to guys like Rundblad and Wiercioch.

From Senators Extra (and NHL), previewing tonight’s visit by the Islanders,

THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are again withing striking distance of a .500 record, and a have a good opportunity to reach it against an Islanders team that is plummeting down the standings. As was the case against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes last week and Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday, this is a game the Senators need to win to make up the ground they lost during a slow October start.
THE WILDCARDS: Nick Foligno and Peter Regin. The Senators’ young guns have been firing blanks this season, posting no goals and just seven assists between them. Foligno has already gotten a talking to from the general manager and Regin’s due for one as well. The secondary scorers must produce if the Senators are to continue climbing the standings.

Despite the talent gap you would think of, just one point separates the two teams. For Gonchar and Karlsson on Ottawa, Wisniewski has found his stride with the Islanders with 11 points in 10 games, 10 on the power play, leading New York to a 22.6% success rate compared to Ottawa’s 18.2%. Take away DiPietro and the 13 goals he’s allowed in his past two starts, and with Roloson you can get some confidence that they won’t be an easy foe to deal with, especially as they’ve failed to die down as the games wind on the way Ottawa has: offensively they top Ottawa’s latter two periods in goals for, and defensively their final frame is their stingiest.

From the Ottawa Sun (and OC), Leclaire’s return won’t easily shake the team’s confidence in Elliott,

“We’re not going to say who is going to start, but there’s no need to change things right now,” said Clouston. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Brian has played well.

“He has given our guys an opportunity to get our feet back underneath us when we have struggled at times in a game — whether it’s the third period or off the start. He has been there for us. And, he’s been a real big part of how we’ve started to turn things around.”

The Senators have won four of their last six games with Elliott in the net. He will make his ninth straight start since Leclaire got hurt. Elliott can’t be blamed for the losses the club has suffered.

It hasn’t been a perfect season for Elliott, nor has he been throwing out highlight-reel saves, but he has been getting the job done, under the radar. If anything could kill the Senators’ confidence this season, another goalie debacle could do it. How about, for a change of pace, instead of win-and-you’re-in, just play them like a backup and starter, and re-evaluate the division of starts every five to eight games? Show a little faith, for once.

On the injury front, it sounds as though Kuba will look to return, if up to it, on Saturday in Montreal, where Leclaire may get his first start barring Elliott epics, though Michalek is still in need of rehab.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Alfredsson’s healing powers a team effort,

For being able to play in Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was quick to give credit where it was due: team athletic therapist Gerry Townend, assistant athletic therapist Domenic Nicoletta and massage therapist Shawn Markwick. They worked on Alfredsson’s sore back from the time he made an early exit from practice on Monday through the hours leading up to Tuesday’s game.

By game time, to the team’s relief, Alfredsson said he felt fine. He wasn’t 100 per cent—anyone who watched him could see that—but he was good enough to have one assist and be one of Ottawa’s better players against Toronto. Even on Wednesday, Alfredsson was still feeling fine and said he would be ready for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders.

“I wouldn’t have been able to play if it wasn’t for them,” he said. “They always do a good job to look after us. It was enough time to get it where I wanted it to be going into the game. After the pre-game skate, I felt good and obviously excited to play. I hope it’s going to be one of those things where it locks up and, once you release and look after it, it shouldn’t be a problem going forward,” the 37-year-old right-winger said.

In all his years, Alfredsson has seemed to develop an unnatural (or true hockey) ability to play through and heal quickly from most injuries, bumps, and bruises.

From John Buccigross of ESPN, answering a question about Alfredsson’s Hall of Fame case,

Alfredsson had two things working against him, Hall of Fame-wise, before his NHL career even started in the fall of 1995.

1. He was about to turn 23 years old, thus getting a late start on accumulating statistics. Sidney Crosby is not the best example to use here because he is a phenom, but as an example, Crosby is 23 right now and is already over halfway to 1,000 career points.

2. Alfredsson began his career as the NHL was becoming a defense-first, clutch-and-grab league with iconic goalies. It was the beginning stages of young goalies combining the legends of Patrick Roy and his butterfly with Dominik Hasek and his slinky, flexible, style.
But, he does have some things working for him. Alfie has played on good teams and with good players during his career. Outside of his rookie of the year season, when Ottawa went through three coaches, the Sens have been in the playoffs every year except for the 2008-09 season, and, even in that season, the Sens won more games than they lost. Yes, he has helped greatly in making those teams very good.

Other things working in Alfredsson’s favor. He has a very good playoff record. In 107 career Stanley Cup playoff games, Alfredsson has 45 goals and 43 assists. In four Olympics, he played 20 games and had 11 goals and 12 assists. He’s been more durable in his 30s than his 20s. He’s played in five All-Star Games (it would have been more if not for the Olympics) and played in All-Star Games 12 years apart. He’s made only one postseason All-Star team (2005-06 second team), but Alfredsson has superb regular-season and playoff season numbers. And, he did this with the burden of being captain.

It’s kind of a close call with Alfredsson and in cases of close calls things like captaincy, playoff record, professionalism, style, two-way play and Swedish-ness matter. He can shoot and he can skate and he would be a classy, welcomed addition to downtown Toronto at the Hall of Fame.

Not that Toronto would likely welcome Alfredsson in any form, it’s still tough to see him getting in for a while. More and more, the Hall of Fame seems to look beyond numbers to truly impressive moments. Leading Ottawa in their trip to the Finals, and scoring their only two goals in the Final game, would help, but being a quiet leader who has little shot at adding any more impressive hardware or achievements to his list won’t do him much good.

Barring miracles, I’m a bit more skeptical. But you can bet that numbers won’t be raised to the rafters at Scotiabank faster than his No.11 when he finally lays down his stick, nor will any join him there for a long, long time.

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


Da lil Guy's avatar

It was great to see Gonchar, Karlsson, and the Sens powerplay finally click the other night. However, I’ll wait to see more consistency before I declare our woes a thing of the past.

The Leaf’s penalty kill is in the lower third of the league and they were really letting the Sens move the puck around and pick their shots. Their defense was also shorthanded due to Phaneuf’s injury by the time the powerplay goals were scored. A better, more aggressive penalty kill might not have made it as easy.

That said, I do think Gonchar has a lot to teach Karlsson - but the one thing he can’t teach is size. Karlsson has to get bigger so he doesn’t shy away from checks in the defensive zone. There were a few times last game when he coughed up the puck while trying to avoid a hit.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/04/10 at 06:49 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

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