by SENShobo on 10/08/10 at 10:48 AM ET
Spezza’s groin could keep him on the shelf, previewing tonight’s opener against Buffalo, Sens blogger predictions for tonight, Kuba’s ongoing recovery, the Senators need shootout success, and Alfredsson gives back to the community, but first. . .
Does the humble Zamboni have mystical powers? Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators likes to think so.
Talk of ice machines got Ruutu thinking about his Finnish pal, Antti Niemi, who worked part-time driving a Zamboni at a local rink in Vantaa, not far from Ruutu’s Helsinki home, to help pay the bills when Niemi was a semi-pro goaltender several years ago. A rags to riches kind of story. Last season, Niemi helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1961.
“I hope it will affect me the same way as Antti Niemi.” Ruutu says. “I hope it’s a step toward that.”
There have been rituals of luck far more odd for hockey players, but the video below is a small price to pay for a bit of luck. Had Ottawa gone for ice sculptures, despite Winterlude, it might have been too much.
Spezza, who looked sharp during the preseason, suffered a groin injury at practice Wednesday and didn’t skate Thursday. Considering that the Senators also play Saturday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and Monday against the Washington Capitals, the Senators won’t risk a longer term injury by rushing Spezza back too soon.
“We’re not going to push Jason just to get him into one game, then all of a sudden have him miss four or five games,” coach Cory Clouston said following a practice Thursday featuring juggled forward line combinations. “We want to make sure that when he’s back, he’s ready to go and it’s not going to be just kind of in and out.”
Spezza didn’t talk Thursday, but Clouston insisted it’s not considered a major ailment.
“He’s very disappointed that he was not able to practice (Thursday). If we’re going to have injuries, it’s good to get them out of the way early. The nice thing is, we’ve had a lot of adversity in the past where we’ve had a lot of key guys out. We’ve missed games without him, we’ve missed games without (Daniel) Alfredsson, (Milan) Michalek, (Filip) Kuba … I mean, the list kind of goes on and on with the guys we lost at certain times last year.”
The minuses are obvious. Top line centers bring up their points as much as those around them. The new top lines of Foligno-Fisher-Alfredsson and Michalek-Regin-Kovalev showcase as much familiarity (Foligno-Fisher, Regin-Kovalev) as they do unfamiliarity for Alfredsson and Michalek. While he plays center, Regin has been working all pre-season with the expectation that he was either fighting to play alongside the immensely responsible Fisher, or to grind it out with Smith as his center. The power play will also need a new look without Spezza’s skills.
The pluses are a little more dubious. Spezza may not actually have to sit out the opener, or any games, and the issue is expected to be minor. Early season slides have doomed many a team come April, and the intensity of opening night will be as high as the team could want it to be, and with three games in four nights there will be little time to stop and worry. As much as pre-season set up the combinations, Spezza’s absence has juggled things around enough to give new players (Regin, Shannon) a chance to try out different roles than expected, and Clouston will get to see first hand what possibilities he has in his deck that he may not have otherwise tinkered with. After a solid pre-season showing, Neil might find himself back in front of the net on the power play, helping to build confidence for a third line that can always surprise with timely scoring.
It is anything but a blessing, but there may be experience to be gained tonight for the Senators.
With training camp finally behind them, the Senators are excited to get going against two division rivals after a disappointing first-round playoff exit last spring.
“Because they are division games, you’re going to have the automatic rivalry and the intensity that is going to come with it,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston. “Sometimes, if you were to play a team you only see twice a year, you don’t know them and you’re not as familiar with them. We’ve already gotten a taste of them (in the pre-season). The intensity comes with the fact we’ve played these guys so many times.”
The Senators have pretty much owned the Sabres since the lockout ended in 2005. Ottawa has a 25-7-4 record vs. Buffalo since 2005-06. That doesn’t mean it has been easy for the Senators.
Bad blood between the rivals has built up over the years, although the Sabres will look different Friday without Adam Mair and Andrew Peters running around. Cody McCormick, however, showed during the pre-season that he is willing to mix it up.
Without Spezza and Kuba, and an expected start for Leclaire, this will be a challenging start. Coming up second at the Olympics led to some crazy eyes by Miller, and seeing the Bruins lose to the Flyers after holding a 3-0 lead must have stung the whole team, having fallen to them in the first round. Any edge the Senators had in the we-must-make-up-for-mistakes category is surely eclipsed for the Sabres. They have a continual Vezina-caliber goalie in Miller, a surefire Norris consideration in the towering Tyler Myers, and several crafty forwards who will only be augmented by the rookie debuts of Gerbe (who will be scratched tonight) and Ennis.
From Senators Extra, predictions for Ottawa’s opener,
Graeme Nichols, writer/editor, The Sixth Sens blog and podcast
Senators 1, Sabres 3
I’d love for nothing more than to pick the Senators to win on opening day but I don’t see it. A Spezza tweaked groin is a proverbial kick to the groin and the goaltending tandem of Elliott/Leclaire wasn’t consistent enough during the preseason. I’ll play this one safe and pick Ryan Miller and the Sabres for the win. On the plus side, at least Pascal Leclaire’s numbers have been reset to zero. (Even if it is just for a day.)
Jeremy Milks, writer/editor, Black Aces blog
Senators 3, Sabres 4
A lot of NHL goalies will be nervous on opening night, but how do you think Ottawa’s pair of netminders feel? They’re likely entering Woody Allen neurotic territory by now. Whoever gets the start is not only going to have to deal with the Sabres, but also close 19,000 home fans just ready to start groaning if they let one by. It may take a couple of games for the Sens’ goalies to get the butterflies out and show what they’re really made of. Ryan Miller takes this one by a goal.
Miller’s acumen will be as important tonight as the increased pressure on him as the Sabres’ second highest paid player, and any nerves by Ottawa’s goalies will be matched by the knowledge that goalies today must succeed or fly to Europe, and both of Ottawa’s netminders are in contract years with Lehner waiting in the wings. Ottawa’s bottom six will help to energize the team and the rivalry tonight, and for all the questions about Ottawa’s defence, Buffalo too gives no great confidence.
Prediction: Senators 5, Sabres 4
From the Ottawa Senators, on Kuba’s successful rehabilitation,
Filip Kuba’s recovery from a broken leg is progressing as well as he’d hoped.
“I still have probably three or four weeks to go and that’s going to put me at about five or six weeks since the day it happened,” Kuba said in speaking to the media for the first time since the Sept. 18 mishap.
Kuba suffered the injury when his right skate got caught in a rut near the boards as he fell to the ice during the first day of practice at Scotiabank Place. The Czech blueliner said he “knew right away” that he’d suffered a serious injury.
“I could at least do some swimming. For the first week or 10 days, it was all I could do to stay in shape,” said Kuba, who stood in front of reporters without the aid of crutches. “Now I can ride on the bike and everything’s going to be fine, so it’s good.”
With a history of brutal injuries and botched recoveries, the Senators should at least hold some optimism that things are progressing as well as could be expected. All that can be asked is that guys like Campoli and Lee show what they have in the tank before their current runs are up.
From the Ottawa Sun, on the key value of shootout wins,
The point is the Senators best get good at shootouts. Last season, they were average.
“That’s an area we need to make sure we have a little more information going into the games,” said coach Cory Clouston.
“It’s a tough thing to practise,” said Alfredsson. “Once you do something in practice, when there’s 20,000 people in the stands, you might not want to do the same moves.”
Last season, the Senators were 5-5 in shootouts. While four of the eight teams to make the playoffs were above the .500 mark, only one of the seven teams to miss won more shootouts than it lost. In the West, six of the eight playoff teams finished above .500 in shootouts, led by the Coyotes and their 14-6 record.
“We haven’t been a good shootout team, but I think we got better last year,” said Alfredsson. “Hopefully we can improve that. Hopefully we don’t get put in that situation too often, but it’s pretty much inevitable to have from 7-10, at least. And that could be a big difference.”
As I recall, Ottawa is at or near the bottom of the League in shootouts ever since the side show was introduced. With parity and three point games keeping the League as close as ever and playoffs spots on the edge of a knife, the Senators will need to step up.
For Alfredsson’s thoughts on confidence, moves like Kaspars Daugavins shootout goal against the Bulldogs, while hardly a sure thing, can surprise a goaltender, who will have only three seconds to decipher a move that would never be seen in a game. If the Senators can get a knack for pushing out those unique moves that a goalie cannot use his conditioning to react to, they might have a chance.
To beat the side show, alas, you must become one.
From the Ottawa Senators, on Alfredsson’s support of mental health,
In Daniel Alfredsson’s mind, it is a ride of utmost importance and one that continues to inspire him every step of the way.
The Ottawa Senators captain was on hand earlier today as the Sens Foundation announced a new fundraising event, the Bell SENSational Ride & Glide for Mental Health presented by Huawei, which is set for Oct. 24 at Scotiabank Place.
“It falls in line with my involvement with the Royal Ottawa for mental health, and being affected by it myself, with my sister struggling with general anxiety disorder,” said Alfredsson. “Most of the people (at today’s media event) talked about that stigma that surrounds it. It’s pretty big and it’s tough for people to go and get help, and to admit they have it themselves or that a family member has a mental illness.”
“I didn’t know what effect (my involvement) would have it all,” he said. “I think because I am well known in the city and I dared to speak up about it and I’m not ashamed of knowing someone, in my sister, having a mental illness ... it’s hard. It’s not an illness that you can (see). You don’t have a cast on or you don’t have a fever or anything.”
It’s not always about scoring the game winning goal. When so many eyes are on you, it’s about doing the right thing, leading by example, and using that attention should never go unnoticed.
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