Saturday, April 7, 2007

Senators 6 Bruins 3

Senators Goals
Comrie (19) from Schaefer (34)
Spezza (33) from Alfredsson (57) and Phillips (18)
Heatley (50) from Alfredsson (58) and Meszaros (28)
Spezza (34) from Schubert (17) and Heatley (54)
Alfredsson (29) from Redden (29) and Heatley (55)
Eaves (14) from Neil (16) and Corvo (29)

Emery 3 goals on 32 shots.
1 for 4 on the PP.
5 for 6 on the PK.

3 stars from Team1200
1. Heatley
2. Alfredsson
3. Spezza
Hardest working Senator: Schubert (HM to Corvo and Eaves)

3 stars from Me
1. Spezza
2. Alfredsson
3. Heatley
Hardest working: Volchenkov

These are my three stars for tonight's game, but I'd like to extend it a bit and reflect on how they performed throughout the season, and what their recent performances indicate as we head into the playoffs.

1. Jason Spezza
It wasn't just that Spezza scored two goals to increase his goal total to 34, good for 22nd in the league and furthering his career high by 12 goals, and besting last year's goal total by a remarkable 15. It was the way Spezza got these two goals, the first of which tied the game and the second of which cemented the Senators' lead. As he seems to be doing a lot lately, Spezza was in the shooting lanes, paying the price to get some goals. That Spezza has decided to do this in time for the playoffs cannot be understressed; for a team that has been constantly criticised for remaining a perimeter team in the playoffs, that Spezza has taken it upon himself to get "playoff" style goals is very good news. He's still the great playmaker he has proven himself to be, but that he has now proven himself to be a deadly scoring threat, he'll keep defenders honest in the playoffs. It's no longer all about Heater (although you wouldn't know it with the way Alfie and Spezza had been trying to feed him for 50). Spezza was this team's MVP through the difficult first half of the season. Even as the team struggled, he was accountable and took responsiblity for his actions; not only by accepting his errors (namely turnovers) publicly, but by buckling down and phasing them out of game. Spezza found himself in the top 3 in league scoring, and was the Senators' most consistent performer night in and night out. He has displayed a commitment to improvement, and he will only get better as his career winds on. Spezza is a determined player - don't be surprised if he becomes Mr. Clutch come Wednesday. Spezza had exactly the kind of game tonight you would hope for leading into the playoffs. Just as he had Thursday against Pittsburgh, just as he had Tuesday against New Jersey. He's ready to step up.

2. Daniel Alfredsson
Alfie was just Alfie tonight, and it paid off. 1 goal and 2 assists, leaving him with 87 points. While his offensive totals were a far cry from his top-5 performance last year (103 points), it does leave him with his second most-productive season to date. All that after a dreadful slump to start the season, nagging injuries throughout, and only a handful of games played alongside Spezza and Heatley. Attempting to predict his playoff performance is far too difficult, but he's been playing well the last few months and we can only hope that Spezza and Heatley step up to take the burden of offense off Alfie's shoulders; he'll be the better for it. It is difficult to predict beforehand whether a series against media darlings the Pittsburgh Penguins will have the Senators out of the limelight while the media focuses on Sid the Kid, or if the media scrutiny will be even more intense than during the Leafs-Sens matchups of years past. Alfie's got to know how to handle the media by now; he just needs to say the same old generic line, not worry about media and fan expectations and just be himself on the ice, and he'll be fine.

3. Dany Heatley
Sure last season was a great offensive season, and Heatley rebounded extremely well after questions about his health and emotional stability following a very difficult couple of years, but it wasn't until 2007 that Heatley firmly recemented his position as a supreme player in this league. Carrying this team on his back through the Spezza injury, Heatley was NHL player of the month through January, a no-brainer All-Star selection, and quite obviously the Senators' MVP throughout the second half. He finds himself just 2 goals from the Rocket Richard lead, in 4th place in NHL scoring, and a legitimate candidate for the Hart trophy (though he won't win it, I would not at all be surprised to find him 6th or 7th in voting). He set a new career high in assists (55) and points (105), and has the first back-to-back 50 goals seasons in 6 years (a feat accomplished by Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket himself ). He has the most goals of any NHL player in the last 2 years, with an even 100. He has 208 points in just two years as a Senator. There can be no complaints on the offensive side of things. But he has shored up his game in the last few months; he's no longer a one-dimensional triggerman. He's deadly at ES, PP or PK. You want him on the ice with a minute left whether you're down or up a goal. While he still doesn't bring 100% effort night in and night out, he's an awful lot closer than he was last year. While his 05-06 playoff performance was labelled disappointing by some, I personally give Heatley a mulligan on his first playoff. This year he gets no such free ride; he is the crux of the Senators offense and will be expected to perform as such.

Good signs: aggressive offense with a killer instinct. A couple weeks ago, the Senators might have sat on the 4-2 lead, saying (to quote Chris Kelly), "we've got enough goals". Fortunately, the Senators kept pressing hard and got some revenge against a team that's given them serious trouble this season. For any other team, beating Boston 6-3 would not be much of an accomplishment. For the Senators, winning a must-win game against a team and goaltender that's given them a tough time this season... it's a good win.

Bad signs: We might well have been playing without defensemen during the first period, this team was all over the place. Emery did not have a good start. They need to shake this defensive performance off and come out hard, aggressive but smart on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.