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New Goalie, Defenceman As Ottawa Eyes Buffalo Rematch

Elliott’s numbers should finally play in his favour, Murray attempts to address lacking defensive confidence in Kuba’s absence, Leclaire hits ice again, and Kovalev remembers the value of hard work, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Citizen (and SENS, SE), Senators finally admitting to their failures by addressing them,

Following Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and general manager Bryan Murray’s outburst Wednesday about underachieving players and trade possibilities, Thursday’s workout featured significant changes.

Struggling defenceman Erik Karlsson was bumped from the first power-play unit, which will now feature forwards Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher along with defenceman Sergei Gonchar.
[...]
“Just creating more shot opportunities, getting more shots to the net,” Clouston said when asked about the new alignment. “Having a net presence. Teams are pressuring us a lot, so we want to make sure we’re in position to relieve pressure, whether it’s closer passes or options where we put pucks in the corners.”
[...]
Thursday’s practice also featured a lengthy drill on proper line changes. The Penguins made the Senators pay for a penalty for too many men on the ice on Monday night, and Ottawa led NHL with 13 such penalties during the 2009-10 season.

A passive team? They bag skate. A bad power play? They switch it up. A failure to change lines? They go back to the basics. It almost makes sense.

Either way, a good change of pace from the usual rolling with the punches, waiting for results to come, and expecting different results from the same actions. Loading up on the first unit should give the Senators more reliable puck movement, and with luck less of a focus on one player for the penalty killers. At 8.3% currently, like the team itself, there’s nowhere to go but up.

From the Ottawa Sun, Elliott likely to get his turn against the Sabres tonight,

While Senators coach Cory Clouston won’t announce his starting goalie until Friday, on game day, Brian Elliott’s lifetime record against the Buffalo Sabres should swing the nod in his favour.

With the Senators trying to end a two-game losing skid, the betting money is on Elliott. He has a 8-0-0 lifetime record with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage against the Sabres. He has allowed only 14 goals in those eight games against the Sabres and has one shutout.
[...]
With Pascal Leclaire sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury, the Senators haven’t ruled out giving 19-year-old Swedish goalie Robin Lehner a start. That could come as early as Saturday against Montreal at home.

Of course, the decision will depend on how Elliott performs against the Sabres. If he keeps up his magic and the club scores a victory, there won’t be any need to make a change.

Considering how numbers affected Clouston’s decision against Carolina, sitting Elliott’s good record against the Canes and putting in Leclaire’s polar opposite stats, and the results of betting against them, I’d eat my hat if Lehner starts on Friday. Aside from the numbers, you’ve had one goalie fall to injury, and Elliott getting hung out to dry by his team: fail to put him in, and you’ve got an injured goalie, a goalie with shot confidence, and a rookie without a single NHL start to play with, not good odds on any front.

It took a win against Atlanta for Buffalo to break away from a tie with Ottawa at 1-4-1 on the season, and you can bet they’ll look to double up on the only other team they have triumphed over. One thing to watch for in Buffalo is that despite Elliott’s numbers, the team didn’t then have young guns in Myers, Gerbe, and Ennis, let alone the steady production they’re getting from Roy and Stafford, which might make it hard to hold on to that sub-2.00 GAA. Knowing the situation with Leclaire, Elliott, and Lehner, Ruff will likely have the Sabres press into any confidence Ottawa tries to have, just as they might be more aggressive in confronting a power play that Ottawa is only just starting to try out.

From the Ottawa Sun, Hale looks to supplement Ottawa’s blue line flash with firm reliable play,

Now, with the Senators struggling mightily in their own end, the 29-year-old has been recalled from Binghamton of the AHL just six games into the season. He arrived Thursday and will replace Lee in the lineup on Friday night at HSBC Arena.

“I’m not overly offensive (three goals in 302 NHL games). I’m not flashy, so hopefully I can bring some consistency and just play solid and be dependable,” said Hale.
[...]
The Senators aren’t expecting big numbers from Hale. What his presence does do is give the club flexibility to reunite fellow veterans Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips. Hale and Chris Campoli could form another pairing.

“The (defensive) pairings, we feel we may look a bit better as far as people who complement each other,” said coach Cory Clouston. “We might have a little bit better chemistry with the pairings and a little bit better mix with the pairings.”

It will be interesting to see whether Clouston spreads the three experienced blue liners across the pairings, or stocks up on the top half. Given the number of times Phillips has been seen scrambling to cover for his partner, needed or not, and it has bitten the team in the rear, it might serve the Senators well to pair him with Gonchar. As Karlsson slumps, putting him on the third pairing to regain some confidence alongside Carkner could be a stopgap measure until Kuba returns to try to bring Karlsson back into late last season form.

Lee has forced himself into an untenable situation, settling only for a one-way contract he is not ready to back up, and whether to Minnesota or elsewhere, he has likely written his ticket out of Ottawa.

From the Ottawa Sun, Leclaire skates out for the first time following his groin injury,

Pascal Leclaire is inching closer to a return.

The Senators goaltender returned to the ice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a groin injury last Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes at home.

He didn’t skate with equipment on, but is making progress. There is no timetable for his return, but coach Coach Clouston revealed that Leclaire may have suffered a small tear.

“It’s still a injury that you can’t really predict. It’s almost a day-by-day situation,” said Clouston. “He progressed and did some things (Thursday). If he comes out of the skate properly, he just keeps advancing. Hopefully, he won’t be much longer.”

While nearly every fan and pundit seems to have written Leclaire off, I have a sneaking suspicion that we have yet to see the last, or the best, from him in a Senators jersey. Fragility may still count Leclaire out of Ottawa’s plans, and at his current price out of the League entire, but in his games this season he has battled harder than ever, with lightning sharp reflexes making pad saves of an almost Hasek-like quality. Just make sure to push those forwards away from him after he makes a breakaway save.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Kovalev not giving up on himself,

The Senators need to get something going with the extra man, but using forwards on the point is risky. The key to production figures to start with Gonchar, the quarterback from the blue-line. He is a pro at getting shots through or dishing for one-timers.

At practice on Thursday, long after most of the team had left to pack up for Buffalo, one such potential recipient for one-timer duty stayed on the ice to work. Shooting. Shooting. Shooting some more.

His name: Alex Kovalev. The forgotten man. Doomed to the fourth line. Still lurking. Still skilled, even if his skating has slowed.

Still capable of doing something with the man advantage, down low on the right side, with his dangerous shot and ability to see an open man on the other side of the crease.

It was on the point that Michalek was beaten by Gionta in Montreal, and tonight will be just as risky, especially if it’s Kovalev and his diminished knee and drive attempting to back check. Still, it’s interesting to note that for most of last year, the talk was about Kovalev staying late to play puck possession games, and his work along the boards and team-leading 6 takeaways have shown that he at least still has those skills.

Maybe, just maybe, working on his shooting, not that we have the extra goalies to spare for him to practice on, could at least elevate his final season in Ottawa from abysmal. With $5 million guaranteed to be on the books, he will keep getting chances to prove he has what it takes to make an impact.

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