Kukla's Korner


Senators Chipping Away Their Rough Patches

Leclaire patiently waiting his return, and a quick preview of the week ahead, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Citizen (and OS), the Senators inch forward as they try not to fall back,

“It has been a process,” Senators head coach Cory Clouston said. “I know (some people) were ready to bury the season after the two games, but it was just two games and we used that to build on. We used that to become a better team.”
“It allowed us to kind of regroup and work on a lot of things and look at what we were doing well and what we weren’t doing well, instead of just panicking. We needed to correct our mistakes. We still have to improve, obviously, keep improving and playing better.”

Saturday’s game was one of the most complete for the Senators so far this season. They had a strong opening 10 minutes, keeping pressure on the Canadiens with forechecking. They opened the scoring late in the first period. If not for the outstanding goaltending of Montreal’s Carey Price, the Senators would have led by much more than 2-1 after two periods. They also played a solid third period, not backing up with the lead, as had been the case in previous victories over the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Still, there’s no such thing as perfection, as captain Daniel Alfredsson said before Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think you can look and say we’ve turned a corner,” he said, also echoing Clouston’s comments about establishing long-term plans for improvement. “There’s always something that’s not clicking in a game, whether it’s five on five or penalty killing or the power play.”

The biggest aspect of their game that Ottawa has improved upon? Perseverance.

The team has nearly leveled their goals against on a per-period basis, now at 12-13-14 for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods respectively, since being seen as a final period flame-out. But it’s also been the tale of personnel; Alfredsson has played injured, while Spezza and Michalek have missed significant time, with Kuba yet to appear in any of Ottawa’s first 14 games, and Leclaire missing several as well.

Dealing with injuries is always tough, but Ottawa has found their ability to juggle with changing lineups early, not leaning on Spezza and Alfredsson as the key offensive weapons, but seeing Spezza finding chemistry with Regin and Kovalev; not seeing Kuba able to work with Karlsson, but Hale stepping in to cover for the youngster, even as he leaves increased pressure on Karlsson’s puck carrying abilities.

When Ottawa sees a full lineup iced for the first time this season, hopefully by the end of the week, real evaluation of their overall skill can begin. The biggest area for Ottawa to improve upon, in my opinion? Ottawa currently sits 25th in 5-on-5 Goals For/Against, at 0.80. Powerplay success is needed, but an opponent can stymie it with a good penalty killing unit, or better responsibility and fewer penalties taken.

All season, Ottawa has slowly evolved their attack, getting better at moving the puck out of their own end, through the neutral zone, and controlling it in the offensive zone. Even as some criticized the pairing of puck-hogs Spezza and Kovalev, each has honed their hogging in different ways: Spezza in the open ice areas, and Kovalev as a dogged pursuer along the boards and walls.

And yet the actual scoring has still been slow to develop. Their 5-on-5 24-30 margin in goals for-goals against may not seem huge, but the team still has yet to look completely fluid in moving the puck from the boards behind Elliott to the twine behind the other goaltender, as they have also had trouble preventing the same from their opponents.

Then again, not everyone seems to agree that the team needs to improve, as the Sun’s article opens with “It’s looks like the Senators have turned the corner.” Maybe that should be “It’s looking” or “It looks,” but hockey wouldn’t be as exciting if we didn’t get a chance to accentuate every rise and fall, would it? Hmmm.

From the Ottawa Sun (and OC), Leclaire knows that he can’t force his way in,

The Senators don’t want to tinker with much as they ride a three-game winning streak, and that would include Elliott, who has started 11 straight games and has gotten better during that stretch.
“It’s a bit like last year. I felt good all week. I’ll wait my turn,” said Leclaire, who has dressed as the backup for the last three games. “I cannot control (the situation). It’s the (coach’s decision) that will allow me to return to the game.

“I cannot complain. The team is fine. Brian did a good job. Certainly I would like to contribute. The goal is always to play. The only positive thing is that I feel as though I was (playing well) early in the season.”

Not quite the pining the Sun would have you believe, but Leclaire certainly offers a better attitude than the pine-riding goalies of Ottawa’s past have offered up. Hopefully some details will emerge about his status, as well as that of Michalek and Kuba, once practice is under way this morning.

From Senators Extra, notes on what to watch for this week,

Tuesday vs Atlanta Thrashers, Scotiabank Place, 7:30 p.m. TV: Sportsnet. Radio: Team 1200-AM: Beware The Thrashers, tied with the Senators for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Last season, the Senators problem was keeping the Thrashers off the board. Atlanta won three of the four meetings, including 6-1 and 6-3 victories. Dustin Byfuglien, who starred as a power forward in Chicago’s run to the Stanley Cup, is now a defenceman. He has five goals and eight assists, trailing only Detroit’s Niklas Lidstrom in scoring among all NHL defencemen. [...]

Thursday vs. Vancouver Canucks, Scotiabank Place, 7:30 p.m. TV: Sportsnet One. Radio: Team 1200-AM. [...] It will be interesting to see if coach Alain Vigneault will give the Senators game to back-up goaltender Cory Schneider, who is pushing for more action behind star Roberto Luongo. Identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin are tied atop the Canucks scoring leaders, with 16 points each. [...]

Saturday at Boston Bruins, TD Garden, 7 p.m. TV: CBC. Radio: Team 1200-AM. The game kicks off a four-game, eight-day road trip for the Senators and the Senators need no reminders about the stellar play of veteran goaltender Tim Thomas, who shut them out 4-0 at Scotiabank Place Oct. 30. [...] The Bruins weren’t pleased that Neil picked a fight with skilled defenceman Dennis Seidenberg in the final minutes of the Oct. 30 game and the Bruins tough guys — Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic and maybe Brian McGrattan — will be waiting for an opportunity to retailiate.

With Boston, if Thomas begins to struggle after being pulled against Washington on Friday, expect that exacting some revenge on Neil will be the only excitement in a game where you’d expect to see the team trying to boost Thomas with familiar success. With the Canucks, it will also be interesting to see if the lone visit from the farthest Canadian team can fill the building for the attendance issue Senators. Finally, with the Thrashers tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if the Senators can make some headway in the aforementioned 5-on-5 area against one of only half a dozen teams with more even-strength goals against than Ottawa.

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

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