Kukla's Korner


The Battle Of The Nations’ Capitals

Today’s Ottawa Senators stories,

  • Washington comes to Ottawa, Sens seek a win after Caps’ sweep last season.
  • Fisher making strides, results to follow.
  • Road trip unites Sens.
  • Nikulin saga ends with a trade.

Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg says the Senators can’t afford to worry about what’s going on in the other dressing room.

“For us, we’re trying to make some strides,” Hartsburg said. “We want to get to be the type of team that it doesn’t matter who we play, when we play or where we play, that we play our game and play the same way.

‘‘That’s a process. We have to have some focus and adjustments depending on who we play, but our game doesn’t really matter (based on) the type of team we’re playing. When a team loses, or loses bad, and gets their best player back, it certainly (has an effect), but the focus for us is to get our game at its highest level.”

Ovechkin is 2-3—5 in 8GP, a slow start that has been attributed to thinking about his paternal grandfather’s illness. After a two-game absence to visit with him, a visibly energized Alex is definitely something specific for the Sens to focus on, not to mention that the other Alex (Semin, 8-8—16 in 10GP) is experiencing more than a little success as well.

22-12, 4-0; that’s how the goals and wins both wound up in the Caps’ favour throughout the full series of matchups last season. Playing other teams might present a more complete challenge, but considering the Sens’ defensive woes, containing Washington will be a good exercise, and any blowout a good reminder of how far the team still has to come. Auld is tabbed as the starting goaltender for the 6th straight time, with Gerber serving the backup role.

Perhaps the best part about tonight’s game? It’s on television! Enjoy, it’s sure to be an intense and physical game.

  • Fisher knows what needs to be done, fans just need to know that it will take time as it always has (Ottawa Sun, Ottawa Citizen).

The veteran centre is without a goal or assist in nine games to start this season and it was suggested that part of the problem is he is being weighed down by that noted bag of hammers, captain Daniel Alfredsson.

“Yeah, Alfie’s not cutting it,” Fisher said with a rueful laugh. “I can’t even blame that.”
“I felt bad the last game because he set me up for a couple of great chances,” said Alfredsson. “I told him, ‘Too bad I’m all Swedish and no finish.’ He’s playing good and I liked the way our line played in Tampa, playing a little more checking role, we outchanced Lecavalier’s line pretty good. I don’t know if we’ll get that assignment (tonight) against Ovechkin, but if we do, I think we’ll be up to the task.”

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg liked what he saw from Fisher, too.

“It was probably his best game. He did a good job defensively against Lecavalier’s line. He created some scoring chances not only for himself, but for his linemates. I thought he had a strong game. If he can continue on that path, he’ll start to see some rewards as will the team in some goals and assists.”

Streaky, streaky, streaky, and that’s what was always known about Fisher. Six points in his last 39 games, a 14-game pointless streak last season, and he still managed to go 23-24—47. He’s done plenty for the team as a whole though.

Only Neil (31), Volchenkov (29), and Smith (27) have more hits than Fisher (24). Among forwards, only Ruutu (11) has blocked more shots than Mike (7). His lone giveaway is tied for the team lead with McAmmond and Neil, and his 6 takeaways are right in the middle of the pack leading to Spezza’s team-leading 12.

One factor might well be the 12 shots he’s managed in his 9 games, on pace for 107, while going back three seasons he’s had 215, 193, and 150, for 23, 22, and 22 goals, respectively. His 8 missed shots certainly aren’t helping him either. With career shooting percentages hovering around 10%, I believe he will find the back of the net before the week’s out, and help others to that goal as well. If anything, that they can joke about it, rather than get bent up in frustration, is a sign that they have the self-recognition to see the issue, but not let their past problems with it distract them from their next shot.

“I think it was a big trip for us, to be honest,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. “We started playing a lot better the last three games on the trip. We played solid and we showed signs of being a real consistent team and giving ourselves a chance to win every night. I really like the way we played, so hopefully we can continue that at home with these two games.”
“We weren’t playing good hockey here and we were looking forward to getting on the road and sorting some things out,” said centre Jason Spezza. “I think we’ve come back with a better focus and a better understanding of where we need to be as a team and what we have to do to be successful.

“Now we’ve got to worry about playing that simple game on home ice and not get worried if we let in a goal or two early. We didn’t panic on the road and we can’t have that panic at home, either.”
“The trip was good for us to get that base and find an identity in our own end,” said Auld. “I think we’ve been a lot more consistent with that and that’s great.”

If it wasn’t for the often nearly and sometimes completely unavailable tv coverage of the Sens’ last three games, I’d be able to say that I’ve really seen the changes in the team too. But the stats show it themselves. That we’ve gone from a team who’d front our opponents several goals before mounting a valiant — if often futile — attempt at a comeback, to a team allowing just 2 GA/G for four straight games, that’s a big difference. Auld’s 5th in the League with 2.15GAA, and the team’s four game 2.00GAA would put them 4th behind Lundqvist’s 1.99.

Comparing the team to Lundqvist, Thomas, and Miller in that category says many positive things about the team defensively, although the 2 goals per game we’ve gotten in the last three games (excluding the Buffalo 5 goal game) still shows us as a team that gets as good as it gives, where we’ve been for a couple years now, not so successfully. If Hartsburg can continue to ingrain his defensive style as a whole, not as one dependant on who you’re playing with or against, the offense can start to creep out; it’s been too shy of late.

We’ve seen your strides, 2nd and 3rd line, and your hard efforts, Vermette and Fisher. Don’t worry about us, you just go do your thing. Feel a bit parental, but that’s what you get for a try try try that doesn’t seem to click. Not yet anyways.

“It’s nice that it’s kind of over,” B-Sens coach Cory Clouston said of the Nikulin situation. “It’s obviously in the back of players’ minds, and it was a situation that seemed to drag on. But to be able to get a defenseman with some experience, and who can play a very solid defensive game, and be difficult to play against, that’s a bonus for sure.”
“[Drew Fata]‘s a defensive defenseman,” Clouston said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed defenseman who’s solid in his own zone. He’s got some experience, and like I said, when we played against him, he was difficult to play against.”
“From a player’s point of view, I don’t think anybody holds a grudge against Alex,” B-Sens center Josh Hennessy said as Nikulin was preparing to leave, but well before the trade was announced. “Because to a certain extent, you have to look out for yourself. Hockey is a business, and he has to do what’s best for him. And we all understand that, so personally, there are no issues at all.

“From a team perspective, especially that we slipped a little bit in the past few games, it’s going to be nice to know this is the team we have moving forward. Obviously, his skill will be missed. But we just have to fill that void.”

I posted yesterday on this trade, and I’m not sure there’s much more to say. While Fata is no Comrie, Nikulin is indeed a Russia-interested forward, as Kaigorodov was when we traded him to Phoenix. Kaigorodov was in Russia at the time of that trade, and remains there still. He was pegged with more potential than Nikulin, but the trade return dropoff from Comrie to Fata would suggest that Phoenix has learned at least a little from their first experience obtaining a disgruntled Russian from Ottawa.

On one side, that Murray was able to deal with Nikulin’s threat, and get out of it not only a player to fill a need in the system (Binghamton’s system, to be precise), but a player who’s had the character to accept being bounced for years between the ECHL, AHL, and a brief stint in the NHL (his lone goal there coming against the Sens), is a great compliment to his skills as a GM. But you do have to wonder how much he and the other 29 GMs view this move as caving to Nikulin, and whether or not it will elicit similar moves from other Russian or KHL-interested players.

To contrast with Nikulin, we have a story from the Ottawa Senators:

Smith was pretty much just another guy on the ice his first two full seasons for the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos, coming up with 38 points total in 135 games combined. He was rugged, but his skating was average at best and he slipped untouched through the 2006 and 2007 drafts.

“It’s obviously really disappointing seeing some of the players who did get drafted and I knew I was better than them,” he said. “It did cross my mind. You start thinking about what you’re going to do after your junior career.”
Motivated by his repeated draft snubs, he attacked his last year at Swift Current like a hungry man eyeing a stack of pancakes. He produced 22 goals and 48 assists and 136 PIM in his last season there, then was invited to join the Moose on a tryout deal at the end of the season.
Smith, 20, had enough of being typical. He worked his way into the lineup for a very good Moose team in a tough, physical playoff series. Although he chipped in with only one assist, his grinding gears fit in perfectly with the tone of that showdown.

“It was a big confidence boost. I think that’s why I had a good start here,” Smith said. “I had a little bit more of what to expect. It was a really big step in building confidence for me. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned so far in hockey, that you have to play with confidence.”

NHL teams could sniff that out like sharks trolling for blood. Smith said Ottawa had designs on taking him in the draft, but maybe toward the back end. Smith’s pressure-tested effort in the playoffs forced the Senators to grab him with a prime third-rounder.

Recognizing his own shortcomings at the time, and what it would take to be the player he knew teams would want, he took matters into his own hands. Rather than demanding something of his team, he gave them so much that the Moose, and then at the draft the Senators, could not resist him.

That’s character, class, and the hardworking ethic that this team wants and needs, to be successful now and in the future. Smith was one of the quiet but pleasant surprises I encountered at the Kitchener rookie tournament this September, and he is doing well for the Binghamton Senators, 6-2—8 in 9GP. At some point, he’s sure to find his way to Ottawa, and he will find further success and appreciation there.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, Trades, | 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