Kukla's Korner


Senators Face Differently Abled, Evenly Matched Thrashers

Michalek and Kuba stagger their returns, Regin rises as Foligno falls, and Leclaire needs to play, but first. . .

From Senators Extra (and NHL), Atlanta not a foe to underestimate,

THE STORY: Well, it’s official: The streaky Sens are back. Both general manager Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston said prior to the start of the season that they were hoping for a little more consistency from their group this year. As long as the Senators’ winning streaks are consistently longer than their losing streaks, I’m sure they can live with a few ups and downs. Ottawa has picked up five victories in its last six games to climb back into a virtual tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The fact they’re tied with four other teams (including tonight’s opponent — Atlanta), illustrates just how close they are to falling back again. If they’re to make the playoffs, it’ll likely be at the Thrashers’ expense.
THE OPPONENT: Is it possible that the Atlanta Thrashers are a better team without perennial 30-40 goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk? Just ask the New Jersey Devils. While they’re dead last in the NHL after the splashy in-season trade and controversial summer signing, the Thrashers are rolling right along. Exciting youngster Niclas Bergfors has actually outscored Kovalchuk so far this season (nine points to eight) after coming over from New Jersey, which also shipped solid defenceman Johnny Oduya, a first rounder and a prospect to Georgia in the Kovalchuk deal. Yep, Atlanta probably thinks that deal worked out just peachy.

You would think that with Vancouver, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all in the next ten days, Atlanta should be the easy bet for a few points along the way. You would think.

You could be forgiven for forgetting that last season, the Thrashers went 3-1 against Ottawa, outscoring them by a comfortable 16-7 margin. While some of the players who haunted Ottawa in those games — Armstrong, White, Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, and Kubina — are gone, and not a lone Thrasher left has a point per game pace against Ottawa the way Ottawa has a few on its roster, the two teams are tied in the standings.

And the Thrashers still have Pavelec.

Last year, while his record says just 2-1, Pavelec allowed just 4 goals on 98 shots. His numbers against Ottawa don’t bode well at .930 Sv% and 2.39 GAA. But it could be Mason, and his .938 Sv% and 1.38 GAA record. Despite this, they are a combined 4-5-0 against the Senators, leaving it up to the rest of the team to score a couple and lead the way tonight. They will lean on goaltenders the way Ottawa seldom can, and look to score by a larger committee than even the Senators have sought to, and by night’s end the tie will be broken. It’s not the same Thrashers of old, and even without the big name, there is still plenty to defuse Ottawa with.

From the Ottawa Sun (and OC, SENS), Michalek looks to boost Senators as Kuba remains shelved a bit longer,

Zipping around with confidence was Michalek, who has missed four games with tendinitis around his surgically repaired knee.

“It felt pretty good (Monday),” said the winger, who will be back on the first line alongside Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson. “We’ll see in the morning skate, but if it feels like (Monday) I’m going to play for sure.”

Management must feel certain Michalek will show up at the rink without issue, as Zack Smith was returned to Binghamton Monday.

There’s always Lee around to dress as a forward and log a couple minutes as he’s done previously, but all signs point to Michalek’s return, even if Kuba is still a game or two away from his season debut.

Update - 11:00 A.M. - Twitter tells us that Michalek is definitely in Kuba definitely out, Fisher in despite not skating this morning, and Elliott will start.

What better game for his return, though? He is 1-5—6 and a +3 in 6GP against the Thrashers, one of the few Senators to put up a point per game (though surprisingly Kelly is three quarters of the way there). Foligno, still goalless, should be well replaced on the top line, and will be going through his own version of the same stresses affecting Zack Smith as he continues his elevator ride between Ottawa and Binghamton.

From the Ottawa Sun, Regin and Foligno continue their rotating success story,

Cheap or not, Peter Regin has used points to buy himself a Top 6 forward spot with the Senators. That he has developed some chemistry with Jason Spezza and Alex Kovalev has helped his cause, too.
“Now I’ve had four kind of cheap assists the last two games, and then everybody thinks I’m playing great. That’s how we get judged every day. Sometimes it’s a tough business,” [says Regin.]

Clouston has liked more than the points about Regin’s game.

“He’s a little bit stronger on the puck,” Clouston said. “He’s competing harder in those little battle areas, and we need him to do that. He’s obviously skilled and skates well, but you need to do more than just do that. I think he’s starting to add that to his game, that element, just a little more physicality around the net, the corners, and be just a little more of a presence on the puck.”
“I’ve tried to stay more on my wall now, when I’m playing with Spezz, instead of going into the middle and taking his spot all the time,” Regin said. “I know when I’m playing with him, the puck will get to me eventually.”

It’s just enough of a hair of a difference between the two. 14 games apiece, and Regin sits with 7 assists to Foligno’s 4, +2 rather than -2, only 23 failed shots compared to 25, and in 14:27 of ice time as opposed to 15:53. These two have switched to and fro since last year, rarely clicking at the same time, and competing for the same top 6 spaces. Where Regin has a better defensive sensibilities and more puck finesse, Foligno has a harder game and better puck pursuit. Both are signed through next season, and with a new CBA coming up alongside their contracts, they may figure to be pushing each other for Ottawa’s roster spots, lest either back down by choice or performance.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Leclaire finally ready to play, but when will Clouston let him in?,

Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston has a delicate problem. As is so often the case, it involves Senators goaltenders.

Even though Brian Elliott has seized the No. 1 job, Clouston has to get Pascal Leclaire back into a game sooner rather than later. Clouston can’t let Leclaire, who hasn’t played since leaving an Oct. 14 game against the Carolina Hurricanes with a groin injury, become a bucket of rust on the bench, which would happen if he sat there much longer.

Besides, Leclaire (0-2-1) did start the season well, even if he didn’t get anything to show for it because his teammates were playing so poorly. Might as well see if he can pick off where he left off when he got hurt.
“We have kind of a plan mapped out in our head, but we also have Plan B and Plan C,” Clouston said. “But, yes, he needs to start playing here in the next little while. [...] Pascal played well when he was in, but the team struggled in front of him, and, since his injury, Brian has really stepped it up.”

I have hated goalie logic this season thus far. When every number in the book, career to plain old proper workload juggling, came into play, Leclaire still got put into the Carolina game last month, with fate correcting Clouston and his injury bringing Elliott in soon after. This time the numbers aren’t so clear — both goalies are sub-900 save percentage players and around 3.5 goals are surrendered to the Thrashers by the pair — but with the schedule ahead, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

If the team wants to keep Elliott in for the most part, they can easily give him Vancouver, Boston, maybe even Philly, and then St. Louis, easing Leclaire back in with Atlanta and Carolina. That might just make a bit too much sense though, if instinct serves me well.

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


Da lil Guy's avatar

The one thing that’s not being said that seems often repeated lately is ‘the team plays better in front of Elliott’. I don’t know what kind of credence you give to the philosophy that players play better ‘for’, or simply have more confidence in, one goalie over another.

Despite Elliott’s great performance lately, you can’t overlook the fact that Leclaire’s strong play prior to his injury was the one bright spot in the Sens slow start.

But then, if you subscribe to the above theory, you also can’t ignore that the team was awful despite the goaltender’s performance.

Will be good to have Michalek back. Hopefully we’ll finally see him stick long enough to get going this time.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/09/10 at 02:00 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

Elliott to start.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 11/09/10 at 05:33 PM ET

SENShobo's avatar

He will indeed, as noted in the post, though not necessarily as shocking to me as it was when Leclaire started against Carolina. Both cases Clouston shows how much he wants to establish a No.1.

As far as confidence, I put Clouston as enough of a systems coach to believe that he wants specific things from his players, no matter whether it seems in or out of character (see Gonchar, Power Play). Elliott still failed to get a win out of his first two injured-Leclaire starts, and in those first seven starts allowed two goals only twice, never less. The Senators still seem more about situational rather than personnel confidence: having the record they had in front of Leclaire should sap the confidence, just as having wins under their belts helped them in Montreal.

Posted by SENShobo from Waterloo, ON on 11/09/10 at 05:41 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Most Recent Blog Posts

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