Thursday, April 12, 2007

Senators 6 Penguins 3

(is this score getting familiar?)

Senators Goals
Meszaros (1) from Fisher (1) and Schaefer (1)
Kelly (1) from Corvo (1) and Neil (1)
Preissing (1) from Spezza (1) and Corvo (2)
Heatley (1) from Alfredsson (1) and Volchenkov (1)
Neil (1) from Redden (1)
Comrie (1) from Schaefer (1) and Volchenkov (2)

Team1200 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Neil
3. Volchenkov

CBC 3 Stars:
1. Emery
2. Alfredsson
3. Staal

My 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Corvo
3. Neil

In their tenth playoff, the Senators finally get it right. Among Senators fans there was a general consensus about what the players needed to do to ensure a victory. Come out hard and aggressive, stun the neophyte Penguins with the amped up intensity of a playoff game. Dictate the pace and style of play. Fire anything and everything at a sure-to-be-nervous Fleury. Forecheck like maniacs and play the body like never before. Play a full 60 minutes and never take the foot off the pedal whether the score is 1-0 or 9-0. Now, in a sense these expectations were a pipe dream. How we wished the Senators were capable of playing. After all, through an 82 game season the Senators failed to play a single game where we could say with authority and satisfaction, "they laid it all on the ice". But tonight, the Senators did exactly that. Now, it's only the first game of potentially long series, and the expectation was that the Senators would win. But it's the fashion in which they came to be victorious which indicates good things for the coming weeks. First, let us focus on the positives.

Daniel Alfredsson. He's been known to talk a big game but fail to convincingly deliver in the playoffs. Among optimistic Senators fans, this is simply a matter of taking too much on his shoulders, sinking under the immense weight of his own expectations. There is always a hope that this year, he'll learn to let it all go and just play. Among less forgiving spectators, Alfredsson's just a no-good Euro choke artist. Tonight, he played perhaps his best playoff hockey since the 1998 New Jersey series. He was busting his ass out there, throwing everything possible at the net (ok, throwing everything possible to within a 15 metre radius of the net). He was easily the hardest worker on either team, and his penalty killing work was one of the key reasons one of the league's most potent power plays was held to a mere two goals over nearly 17 minutes with the man advantage. Though he registered just 1 assist, Alfredsson's work ethic shows he's come ready to play and won't accept anything less than complete domination of the Penguins. Whether it happens or not is a different story, but with the captain enthusiastically leading the charge, it's hard not to feel optimistic.

Joe Corvo. He bottomed out in early January and seemed not only a signing bust but a psychological basketcase as well. Since then however, he buckled down immensely to become a solid and dependable defensive player; with added confidence in the past month or so, he's slowly worked the offensive flair back into his game and hasn't been burned in doing so. Corvo is the lone Ottawa player without NHL playoff experience, but seeing him tonight you'd think he was a seasoned vet. Now I'm not claiming he's Lidstrom here, but he looked creative and energetic in the offensive zone, was eager to shoot (something he'd been shying away from during the low points of his season), and was confident and dependable in the defensive zone. Though the powerplay was disappointing tonight, Corvo played a key role in the back-breaking Preissing goal to send the Senators up 3-0. Corvo finished with 2 assists on the night. If Corvo can sustain his play over the last six months, he could be a key contributor to the Senators playoff run, not just the warm body people were predicting mid-season.

Andrej Meszaros. The kid has had an unfortunate season and his confidence seemed irretrieveable up until tonight, but he got the opening goal less than two minutes in. I couldn't have been happier with anyone else scoring it; Meszaros' lit up, and his play the rest of the night reflected his refound confidence. He was solid at both ends of the ice and, bless his soul, finished a team-best +2.

Mike Comrie and the Fisher Line. For a guy who's last playoff appearance was in the first round of the 02-03 playoffs with the Edmonton Oilers, he sure looked like someone who was glad to be back. Playing like a man possessed on a dynamic line with Schaefer and Fisher, he recorded a goal and was hitting everything in sight. He also finished +2. The Schaefer-Fisher-Comrie line had been dominant in the waning days of the regular season, and it's encouraging to see their success has carried over to the playoffs, when their secondary scoring is crucial. They recorded 4 points between them, were a combined +6, and had 8 hits.

Chris Neil. Neil was everything he needed to be. Aggressive, physical and intimidating. That he recorded a sweet breakaway goal and an assist? That's just a bonus.

Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Hey guys, you know you already signed your contracts. So, uh, why are you still playing like money's on the line? Oh, because you guys love this team and will sacrifice anything for success? Sweet B-). Our shutdown pair combined for 10 hits, 6 blocked shots, 2 points and were +2 collectively. And spent almost 10 minutes each on the PK. Nothing but love here.

Penalty Kill. 2 goals. In 16:57 of PP time. Almost a full period on the penalty kill against one of the league's most deadly power plays, featuring the Art Ross winner, probably Calder trophy winner, and 2nd highest-scoring defenseman in the league. And then there's Roberts, Staal, Recchi and Whitney. Among others. Need any more be said?

Then we have to get to the negatives. Which I really don't want to dwell on, after a 6-3 victory. So to keep it simple:

Dany Heatley. Not the coming-out party any Sens fan was hoping for. Flubbed a lot of chances, still showed up on the scoresheet, but wasn't the reason we won. Wasn't even noticeable at even strength. A significant improvement is expected Saturday, as secondary scoring cannot drive this team. No, you're expected to drive this team.

Discipline. Sometimes it comes with playing an aggressive and physical game, but with the refs willing to call everything little thing, the Sens need to buckle down. Unless absolutely imperative, no holding, hooking, cheap shots to the back of the head, and keep your Goddamn sticks under control. Those four minuters are killer. And please, please don't shoot the puck into the crowd. Ever.

. It wasn't brutal this game, it just seemed to lack of sense of urgency. 5 on 3s must be capitalised on. While they aren't gimme-goals by any stretch, outside of a penalty shot there is no better offensive opportunity than a 5 on 3. So make use of it, because if Fleury is on his game, the score won't be 2-0 five minutes in. They might be the only chances you get.

I wasn't impressed with the poor sportsmanship shown by the Penguins late in the game. The game was out of reach at that point, and I just don't have respect for trying to drum up energy through goon tactics. I understand that the scrum gets underway, but Talbot's shot to Corvo's head after everything was settling down was completely bush-league. I don't like people throwing garbage at Talbot either, for that matter. Just keep the game physical but clean, it's better for everyone involved that way.

Staal's the real deal. Crosby and Malkin will get more points and accolades, but Staal's the kind of player every team needs. Watching him on the ice you'd think he was a 33 year old seasoned vet. The kid's 18 and only going to get better. I don't wish him success against us in this series but I can see this guy becoming one of my favourite players right quick.

And that's about it. Come out Saturday and do something you've never done before, take a 2-0 lead in a series. Don't get cocky, don't get complacent. Whatever the Senators did to get themselves in the frame of mind to come out like they did tonight, they need to do their best to replicate it. Because you can bet now that Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury have their feet wet, they won't be coming out the same way ever again.