Kukla's Korner


Plenty of Decisions Left for Senators

Alfie ready to go tonight after recovering from a sore groin, Hartsburg will ice a more prepared team tonight after reminding the team to keep a consistent playing style, Murray has plenty of positive things to say about his team and his staff even as he has plenty of roster trimming left to do, Heatley looking to step up his responsibility by trying to earn Redden’s ‘A’, Darth Gerber returns with what could be a menacing new mask that gives hope that he can strike back at last season and wage wars of revenge around the league for our disappointments last season, and Murray remembers his last NHL trip to Sweden as an experience not to repeat.

Alfie will make his exhibition debut today, feeling recovered from a sore groin (OSW, OS). He missed the first two games against New York as a precaution, but will suit up tonight against Philly.

“You take it step by step,” he said. “You start skating on your own, then you start skating with the team (in practice) and then you play an exhibition game. It’s kind of an evolution, the whole thing. I’m looking forward to (playing).”

“We skated so much the first three days (of training camp),” he said. “I could have played, no question. But I didn’t want to go back and pull my groin or whatever because I needed to play an exhibition game. I feel fine now and should be ready to go.”

Alfie will play alongside Kelly and Vermette, a line that will no doubt have good two-way sensibilities, and only the chemistry is an unknown at this stage. Unfortunately, with the return of Alfie, Fisher will be sidelined for at least tonight’s game, having tweaked his groin a little, though they do not believe it is serious. With the exception of Winchester, the remaining players without a guaranteed spot will find themselves battling hard on the third and fourth lines.

“The players that really want to be important on the team have to compete at a high level,” said Murray. “There are a couple of guys that were with the team either last year or part of last year, that I’d like to see a little more from in the compete area.”

With only two games left after tonight’s matchup with the Flyers, there is little time to waste, as the roster will have to be trimmed down to regular season size before heading to Sweden, with only one extra goalie (Elliot no doubt) and one extra player allowed.

Expect a much better game from the Senators tonight, as changes from the lackluster loss in New York should make a difference (OC). Not only will the return of Alfie and the suiting up of Gerber, Spezza, and Heatley help, but Hartsburg made sure to speak to the team about the importance of structure.

“Sure, you take something out of (the game) or you wouldn’t play it,” he said. “You learn some things about players and some lessons as a team that we have to have a better mindset. We improved (as the game went on). The first two periods, we weren’t very good in that area, but in the third we checked better and were better defensively, and more competitive. At this time of year, it’s all part of the process. You’re going to see some ugly games and ugly periods, and you try to learn from it and get better from it.”

Against New York, the team lacked a coherent structure, once again looking a bit like wild guns. Only while killing penalties, when structure was of the utmost importance, did the team really come together. With some more senior Sens around to help impress upon the rest of the team the discipline they need, and to help calm those players still looking to earn their spot, tonight should be a good test of the Sens’ mettle.

Murray likes what he sees from the team, and isn’t shy to say so (OC). The only questions that remain are between him and Hartsburg on how to trim over a dozen players from the roster before their flight this weekend to Europe.

“We’ll try not to be too quick in making judgments, but unfortunately this year some of the players are not going to get the ice time in a game or scrimmage situation that might have helped them,” says Senators general manager Bryan Murray. “That’s simply because we have to get our team selected probably by Saturday morning, at the latest.”

Certainly more than any other team at the Kitchener Rookie Tournament earlier this month, the Senators had plenty of reason to bring plenty of watchful staff along, to get as much post summer training evaluation of the team’s NHL-ready youth.

Some people seem to think that with the long season, exhibition games are unnecessary. However, the reality is that this is a needed exercise, to determine who can play, and who best they can play with. Otherwise the regular season serves this setup purpose, and teams with established rosters, lines, and chemistry would have a distinct advantage over any team shuffling the deck, or welcoming aspiring young players to the team.

As if nearly succeeding in scoring 50 goals in three consecutive seasons was not enough pressure, Heatley is looking at a pair of big shoes to fill this season (OS). With the departure of Redden over the summer, his assistant captaincy will have to pass, and Heatley would like to take on that responsibility.

“I really think that in the room (Dany) wants to be an important guy and I’ve seen that already in camp,” said Murray. “Dany has really tried very hard to be that all-around guy that good players become if they want to become it.”

While no official decision has yet to be made, Heatley might face some challenge from Fisher. Captaincy seems to go not only to the leaders (as Alfie most certainly is), but also to some of the veterans who are solid and dependable (as Phillips has proven himself to be, and Fisher as well), and also to the scoring stars who can lead by example, and use the responsibility to motivate their teammates and themselves to continue pushing hard (the role Heatley would have). It will be interesting to see who winds up with the letter, and whether or not it motivates the other to keep leading in a freer way.

Gerber may have found a replacement for his solid black mask of last year (OS, OS photo gallery). Only supposed to be a temporary fixture while another version of the new mask was painted, Gerber could not convince himself to take off the mask after a very good run in it. His success in net, along with constant playings of the Imperial March at Scotiabank Place, led him to be dubbed ‘Darth Gerber’. Not yet sure if he will stick with the mask tonight as he plays his first full 60 minutes, the combined Vader look with the new Sens logo on the side in dark shading looks like a surefire winner to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it imitated elsewhere, especially if he can keep up his excellent form from last season’s playoffs.

Updated - 1:30PM: Upon returning from this morning’s practice, the Ottawa Citizen’s James Gordon brings word to his blog that Gerber will indeed be sporting his stylish new Darth Gerber mask. Also, if the sighting of the forward line combination of Foligno-Fisher-Neil is anything to believe, perhaps Fisher’s groin might be feeling well enough to make tonight’s lineup, we will have to wait and see.

Murray’s first trip to Sweden nearly 20 years ago carried a much higher cost than this round is likely to take from him (OC). As head coach of the Capitals, 1989 saw Murray lead his team to practise in Sweden before facing the top Soviet teams, but it wasn’t the competition that killed the experience for them.

“We had training camp in Sweden and then we went to play the (Soviet) Red Army, Riga Dynamo and St. Petersburg, and half of our guys were sick when we were over there.

“It was the water. I know I got really sick. I was sick for about two months, pneumonia and all that. In St. Petersburg, they had a (bug) in the water and you catch it if you drink the water. If you live there, you’re immune to it. It was from all the burials during (the Second World War), there were about 250,000 killed. I didn’t drink any water, but I ate tomatoes and lettuce, and it was washed in the water.”

After a dismal start to the season due to the rigors of the trip, Murray was fired. We all know that he has been a great NHL coach, so maybe this should give fans some hope that Hartsburg, despite his time in and out of the League, can be a success too. Plus, thanks to his experience and discussions with Burke about the London games last year, we can also have hope that we will not pay a steep price for our trip.

Filed in: 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