Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Senators 2 Ducks 3

Senators Goals:
Fisher (4) from Meszaros (5) and Comrie (4)
Redden (3) from Alfredsson (8) and Spezza (14)

2 for 7 on the PP
4 for 4 on the PK

Emery made 29 saves on 32 shots.

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Rob Neidermayer
2. Getzlaf
3. Emery
Hardest working: Mike Fisher

Anaheim Media 3 Stars:
1. Getzlaf
2. Rob Neidermayer
3. Moen

NHL.com
1. Moen
2. Getzlaf
3. Giguere

My 3 Stars:
1. Getzlaf
2. Rob Neidermayer
3. Emery


Though the result was disappointed, it could hardly be said that the outcome nor the performance which lead to it was much of a surprise. The nine day layoff between games for the Ottawa Senators left far too much time to discuss the potential impact of said layoff; far too much time to mull over the potential stifling effect of the Pahlsson line, the stamina, intensity and versatility of Pronger and Neidermayer, or the size, creativity and aggressiveness of the so-called Kid line. There is no excuse, of course. For the first time in a number of years, the Stanley Cup final truly matches the best two teams in each conference against each other; nobody gets to this point without understanding how much it takes too win, and how much the littlest mistake can cost. The Senators knew full well that the layoff would likely amount to rust in the first game, not to mention contributing factors such as the time zone difference and unusual start time. They also know full well it would be no excuse. Accordingly, they came more lively than a team in their position perhaps should. Capitalising on the Ducks' lack of discipline early, the Senators converted an oddly deflected Fisher shot into the first goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. The goal was a result of some strong board work by Schaefer and Comrie, the latter who passed the puck to Meszaros, who instantly dished it off for a Fisher one-timer. The puck was bobbled and somehow found its way into the net off the far post, though Comrie was available had the puck not directed itself past the goal line. The goal was just the second of these playoffs for the second power-play unit, but demonstrated that the secondary scoring is more than willing and able to contribute this go-around. Though the Senators controlled the play slightly deeper into the period, the Ducks then affirmably took the reigns, starting with an Andy McDonald seeing-eye marker midway through the period to tie the game. Anaheim welcomed the Senators to the Finals with a shift by the fourth line about 12 minutes into the game, which was as commandingly dominant a shift as one can imagine. Though the Senators were scrambling, they managed to escape with the tie intact at the end of the first, thanks to some strong play by Emery, and sloppiness on the Ducks part. There were easily three or four chances where the Ducks, whether due to rustiness or whatever else, could not capitalise on glorious opportunities that would have surely buried the Senators before they even had a chance to respond. But with the tie in place, the Senators regrouped in the second and emerged a much more composed hockey club. A Wade Redden goal, scored once again on the power play, allowed the Senators to retake the lead. The Senators were furiously peppering everything possible at Giguere; immediately preceding the Redden goal, there were four shots, including a post-dinger from Corvo. Redden's own shot hit the post too, only to bounce favourably into the net. While the Redden goal may have given the Senators a step up in attempting to close out the game, Ottawa failed to capitalise on an extended 5-on-3 power play (about 90 seconds long), and failed to convert their strong play into any sizable lead. Understandably, the Ducks reasserted themselves in the third period, and the Senators found themselves without legs. A regrettable goal of a strong individual effort by sophomore star in the making Ryan Getzlaf forced the tie, and the Senators held on by the string of their teeth until Moen shut the book on game 1 with a goal that came as a result of yet another strong forecheck that found the Senators on their heels. By all accounts, Anaheim deserved to win the game, and ended up with a result that reflected their strong play. But by the same token, the vastly outplayed Senators ended up just one goal (or perhaps 2:51 minutes) from stealing a victory. Like many others observing Anaheim in their Western Conference Final series against the Detroit Red Wings, I felt that it said very good things about the Duck club that they could win games even when being outplayed; while it is difficult to apply the same observation to the Senators when they didn't win, the strength of this club is still apparent.

Though perhaps all too brief a list, the good:

Mike Fisher, Mike Comrie, Peter Schaefer. As Mike Fisher is best known for his consistent efforts, perhaps its not any surprise that he finds himself in the "good" column tonight, as he so often does. The other two, based on their relatively poor performances in the Buffalo series - perhaps they deserve the attention even more. It is no surprise to anyone to mention that Comrie has been fighting through a shoulder injury since the New Jersey series, but it appears if the layoff between series has done anyone good, its this guy. He was without a doubt our strongest player in the offensive zone tonight, combining the creativity he has made a reputation for throughout his career with the grit, intensity and strong board effort he came to embody in the Pittsburgh series. The Fisher goal was created by Comrie's board work, and very well could have been Comrie's goal had the puck landed an inch to either side. Peter Schaefer also rebounded with a strong effort - his ferocity on the boards has been missing for a while now and its nice to see some intensity from a player who seems to typifies lackadaisicalness on the ice, warranted or not. He even - gasp - shot the puck. The most surprising statistic for me was his 4 registered hits, the most of anyone on the team. The line was clearly the best Senators line on the ice tonight, and will have to continue to perform at this same level for Ottawa to have any success in this series.

Phillips and Volchenkov. These guys have had, what, one bad period all playoffs? If Alfredsson weren't on this team, these boys would be frontrunners for the Conn Smythe without a doubt. Perhaps the first ever co-winners. Phillips was first Senator to really stand up to the Ducks physical onslaught, driving Getzlaf to the ice on an early rush. Phillips and Volchenkov combined for a full quarter of the Senators registered hits. Volchenkov registered - wait for it - 10 blocked shots, in what was remarkably not some kind of NHL record or even his best of the playoffs so far. While netminder Emery likes to joke that Volchenkov stops more shots than he does, he isn't far off. Get this - Volchenkov registered 56% as many saves as Giguere... in less than half the time on the ice.

Penalty Kill. This goes out to all parties, even the ones who had rough nights - Redden, Meszaros, Alfie, McAmmond among them.

Powerplay. Talked about earlier, both the first and second unit recorded goals tonight, and though the failure to score on a 5-on-3 was a massive disappointment and a turning point in the game, at the end of the day 2-for-7 is a satisfactory result.

And now, on to the bad.

Spezza line (yes, Alfredsson included). What is something that is found in every Senators loss, and none of their wins? Individuality. In every single Senators loss so far these playoffs, there are tangible incidents of the Senators big three trying to do to much, with too little support, and will their way to a victory. And inevitably, it fails. I'm not sure if their individuality emerges because they are feeling outplayed and they introduce it as an attempted counter, or if their attempted individuality caused them to be outplayed. Either way, whenever it shows up, bad things happen. Spezza has been so good these playoffs about making the simple play. The dump rather than carrying the puck in. The shot rather than the drop pass. The chip off the boards rather than the pass through centre ice. He reverted to an old Spezza, an entertaining Spezza no doubt, but a rarely successful one. It plays like clockwork - he dangles past a defender (ooh!), he drops it back to, uh, a Duck (aah!). He attempts to outmuscle a defenseman individually, is denied, and the play results in a chance for the other team. Alfredsson and Heatley were guilty of much of the same. Though both were playing with as much intensity and determination as I've seen, they were clearly rusty, off-time, and altogether out of synch. Alfredsson had an absolutely brutal giveaway at his own blueline which resulted in a prime scoring chance for the opposition team, and he was getting outmuscles in all zones of the rink. Heatley might have had the best game of the three. He impressed me with his work in front of the net on the Redden goal, and had one of the best chances of the game on a sniped shot from in close on the 5-on-3, and he managed to draw a penalty, but there was the same individual determination to take over a game by himself shared by his linemates which brought his game down. Of course, full credit needs to go to the Ducks for shutting them down. They were given no room, were being attacked physically, and the Pizza line failed to adjust. They'll need to be much, much better in game 2 if they want to have any hope.

Redden and Meszaros. I won't harp on this too much because I felt Redden did enough to win us the game, but he was -3 and, very likely, the cause of the first Anaheim goal. Meszaros had a poor showing, but these two have rebounded well so far in the post-season and unlike others jumping off the wagon or yet again calling for Redden's head (and apparently Meszaros too, at least according to some senile old man on the post-game show), I felt they have performed remarkably well for the majority of this post-season and will not throw them to the wolves for an average performance in a 3-2 game 1 loss. Especially not when one of them scored the go-ahead goal.

Christoph Schubert. I'll post what I mentioned elsewhere: Schubert's an odd one, he can play at his best and his worst in one game. He's obviously versatile, but he's also one of our most physical players, great on the forecheck. But he takes more stupid penalties than Heatley, is useless offensively as a forward, and is just lost in his own zone as a forward. I don't know how someone can completely lose their defensive smarts because they're playing a different position. And yet I find him to be our best physical forward next to Fisher. Despite his poor play the last few series, I find it highly unlikely he will ever draw out of the lineup, because the chance, even the slightest chance, that a defenseman might be injured in-game makes him far too valuable to ever scratch. I've attempted to make my case for Oleg Saprykin's permanent position in the lineup, but it is clear that despite being in the coach's doghouse for much of the season, Murray wants Eaves in the lineup, and has set his mind on the Schubert-McAmmond-Eaves. Barring a disastrously inept performance from one of the fourth line wingers or (God forbid) an injury, I can't for a second imagine Saprykin drawing back in, much as his play might merit it.

Too much typing. Here's to a split. But even if they go back to Ottawa down 0-2, I don't think it's the end of the world. When we lose one on home ice, then the trouble begins. But to take it one game at a time - onward to game two!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Senators 3 Sabres 2 (OT)


The Ottawa Senators, Your 2007 Eastern Conference Champions

Senators Goals
Heatley (6) from Spezza (13) and Redden (6)
Spezza (7) from Alfredsson (7) and Heatley (14)
Alfredsson (10) from Heatley (15) and Meszaros (4)

0 for 4 on the PP
6 for 7 on the PK

Emery made 27 stops on 29 shots.

NHL.com 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Afinogenov

Buffalo media 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Afinogenov


(to be finished later)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Senators 2 Sabres 3



Senators Goals:
McAmmond (4) from Meszaros (3) and Kelly (2)
Schaefer (1) from Comrie (3) and Corvo (6)

0 for 5 on the PP
3 for 4 on the PK

Emery made 19 saves on 22 shots

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Miller
2. Drury
3. Corvo

My 3 Stars:
1. Miller
2. Drury
3. Roy
Honorable Mention to McAmmond

It couldn't have happened any other way. Continuing the parallels from last season's Eastern Conference Semi-Final series between the two teams, Buffalo was all but guaranteed to win game 4 on the road to prevent the sweep. It certainly looked guaranteed when a poor clear by Meszaros just seconds into the game took a bounce off Derek Roy's skate, found its way to Drury's stick and, just nine seconds into the game, into the back of the net. If the victory didn't look signed, sealed and delivered then, it probably did when Afinogenov scored on a 5-on-3 (Buffalo's first power play goal of the series) early in the second. If not then, Emery's deflatingly weak performance on a Drury wrister midway through the second. might have convinced even the most skeptical observer. Despite getting their chances, the Senators were being completely stymied by Miller at the other end of the rink, picking up on his stellar performance from game 3. But as bleak as things looked midway through the game, the Senators found a way to claw back with some contributions from depth scorers (including Schaefer, who notched his first goal of the post-season to bring the Senators within 1 goal by the second intermission). With a McAmmond goal late in the second, the Senators found life and, it could be said, simply ran out of time, they were outplaying the Sabres that much in the final frame. It's no excuse; after all, the Sabres have scored goals with 5 and 7 seconds left in games to erase deficits. But it certainly eases the loss, and there were positives found even in their third loss of the post-season:

Depth scoring. The Big line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson failed to record a goal (or even a point) among them for the first time this post-season. They claimed they were getting their chances and as such they weren't concerned about being shut down in the future. While this is true, the line demonstrated some individualistic and headstrong tendencies which haven't been in their game since March at the latest. They appeared sloppy and hurried when in possession of the puck and even more lost and impatient without it. Fortunately it seems their (relatively) weak performance was just a blip rather than any indicator of regression. But without maligning the big three for one slightly weak game, my purpose is to emphasise that even in a poor showing from the Senators' stars, the role players found a way to step up and make the struggles of the Big line almost unimportant. The second and third line contributed (McAmmond's goal came as a result of a shift with Kelly and Vermette). Vermette pinged a puck off the post on a shorthanded breakaway opportunity in the third period, a shot which had it been an inch to the left would have resulted in a tie game. Without the contributions from Kelly, McAmmond, Comrie, Fisher and Schaefer, the game might have been the Senators first playoff shutout since the lockout. Now, a loss is still a loss, but the depth production that simply wasn't there in the past is an encouraging sign. The big guns usually find a way to get it done, but it is promising that the role players will step up when the stars can't.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Senators 1 Sabres 0

I've fallen behind in my game recaps, and since most people don't care to rehash games that happened a week ago, I'll keep the recaps for games 3 and 4 rather brief and to the point.



Senators Goals:
Alfredsson (9) from Heatley (13) and Spezza (12)

0 for 7 on the PP
6 for 6 on the PK

Emery made 15 saves for his third shutout of the post-season

Arena 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Redden
3. Miller

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Redden
3. Miller

My 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Miller
3. Volchenkov

Heading into Monday night's game three, the Senators found themselves in a situation unique to their 2007 playoff run. For the first time in their modern history, the Senators found themselves with a 2-0 lead in a series. Game 3 was evidently a critical junction in the series - should the Senators lose, their lead would split in half to 2-1 and the possibility of a Sabres comeback weigh heavy on their minds. But should they win the third game, the Senators would take a 3-0 strangehold on the series and, almost certainly, punch a ticket to the Stanley Cup finals. Well, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller did everything in his power to prevent the latter from happening - his teammates, not so much. For, as many strong performances as Ottawa has provided over the course of this playoff run, never in Senators history has a team been so thoroughly dominant. The 1-0 scoreline gives the lacklustre Sabres far, far too much credit; aside from an all-star showing from Miller and some competent penalty killing, the Sabres may well have given up the series at the first drop of the puck. But blaming the loss on a poor showing from the Sabres gives their opponent too little credit - the Senators put on a defensive clinic, and stifled the Sabres penalty kill with a perfection yet unseen. And still, the Sabres remained in the game thanks to outstanding goaltending from their young star netminder. The Senators lone goal came thanks to a wacky rebound of a Dany Heatley shot, bouncing off the boards before deflecting off Miller's glove and trickling through the blue paint, before Daniel Alfredsson tapped in his ninth goal of the post-season. It may have been a tough break for the Sabres, but as Alfredsson stated after the victory, "you make your own luck. If you work hard, you're going to get your bounces". In the playoffs, truer words could not be said.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Senators 4 Sabres 3 (2OT)

Senators Goals
Alfredsson (8) from Heatley (11) and Spezza (9)
Fisher (3) from Meszaros (2) and Preissing (5)
Redden (2) from Spezza (10) and Heatley (12)
Corvo (2) from Spezza (11)

2 for 4 on the PP
7 for 7 on the PK

Emery made 34 saves on 37 shots in 4+ periods

CBC 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Vanek
3. Corvo

Buffalo Media:
1. Alfredsson
2. Vanek
3. Spezza

Team 1200:
1. Corvo
2. Spezza
3. Miller
Hardest Working: Vermette

NHL.com:
1. Corvo
2. Spezza
3. Briere

My 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Corvo
3. Vermette
Alfredsson, Emery, Vanek, Fisher and Miller could have just as easily occupied slot 3.

Saturday night's double overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres was surely the Senators' most significant victory in over four seasons; though game 6 of the ECF in 2003 might currently occupy the throne as the most important in modern Senators history thanks to Chris Phillips' overtime heroics, some might argue this victory surpasses even that, as early in the series as the win last night may have been. As often as we have heard it this post-season, the facts are all there. This was yet another game that previous incarnations of the Senators would be destined to lose. And yet again, they found a way to win. The Senators found themselves overwhelmed early, not just in play but on the scoresheet. The Sabres came out with everything they had, and overcame an early overturned goal (itself a signal of the early dominance of Buffalo) to take a 2-0 lead before the seven minute mark of the first period, in what would normally be an insurpassable lead for any team. Throughout the 06-07 regular season and playoffs, the Sabres ratcheted up a stunning 46-0 record when leading by two at any point in the game. In the 2007 playoffs, they found themselves 6-0 when marking the first goal. The Senators were 0-8 in game twos after winning the first - every single stat pointed to doomsday for the Ottawa Senators. But rather than succumbing to the expectations set by past failures, the Senators willed themselves to victory by taking command of the game late in the first period, and never surrendering control. Thanks with a late goal by Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson on nice passing play from Heatley and Spezza, the Senators found themselves down by only a goal heading into the first intermission. The Senators emerged a new team, and continued their special teams dominance with powerplay goals from Mike Fisher and Wade Redden (on a 5-on-3 in the dying seconds of the middle frame), to not only claw back from a 2-0 deficit but take a 3-2 lead. Ottawa held the lead well before a final burst from Buffalo, when a deflected puck of the shin of Anton Volchenkov found Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere for an admittedly perfect backdoor goal - with less than 6 seconds remaining in the game. Any other year, perhaps any other team (say, the New York Rangers), and this goal would have been devastating. It was to be expected that the Sabres would carry the momentum to overtime, and like three recent playoff overtimes in Sens-Sabres history, end very quickly in favour of Buffalo. After all, that was the case last year. Instead, Ottawa took it to the Sabres for the entirety of the first overtime, including killing off a potentially costly interference call on Christoph Schubert. The Senators did not get frustrated or impatient, and carried their confidence into the second overtime, when an offensive zone faceoff win from Jason Spezza allowed a feed to Corvo, who one-timed a wobbly blast past surprised goaltender Ryan Miller. Another day, another curse broken. Another testament to Muckler (a summer UFA signing was the goalscorer). Another smart move by the coaching staff (having confidence to put Corvo and Preissing out in that scenario, even though they haven't had the strongest series so far). Another testament to the leadership and character of this team, to claw back from 2-0, to survive a potentially heartbreaking last second goal by the Sabres, and pull out a win. In Buffalo. To take a 2-0 series lead for the first time in Senators history, heading back to Scotiabank Place on Monday. How good it feel to have the shoe on the other foot. From here on out, the Senators are navigating uncharted waters. They've never had a 2-0 lead before. Certainly never approached winning two consecutive opening games on the road. With a victory on Monday in Ottawa, they will find themselves with a veritable strangehold on the series. Should they lose, the series is still 2-1 and the Senators still maintain the home ice advantage they stole from the Sabres with these two victories. Regardless of how things shake out, for the next couple days at least, things are looking good in hockey country.

With such a good playoff run and all things clicking continually, it becomes a redundant to emphasise the good in one game when it's been the same all playoffs long. Alfredsson had a strong physical game. Is it really any surprise any more? Spezza excelled yet again as a smart, back-to-basics playmaker. Redden and Meszaros were for the Nth consecutive time flawless defensively and contributed key roles in the offensive zone. Fisher was aggressive, physical, and has proven again that at least at this point in time, contributing on the scoresheet is not an issue. The fourth line being yet again the most versatile fourth line in hockey. Flawless penalty killing and a lethal power play. Solid goaltending whether we're up or down by 2. On and on and on. Game after game after game. Consistency and dependability at an exceptionally high level. Just the 2007 Senators being the Senators.

All that being said, I would like to pinpoint Antoine Vermette, who easily had his best game of the playoffs and was possibly the Senators best player tonight (he certainly would have been recognised as such had his overtime scoring attempt been aimed at the gaping net and not Miller). Everyone would like some more offense from him, but much like Fisher, when he's on his game the stats never seem to matter much.

As a final note, Joe Corvo deserves a hearty congratulations for his earning his permanent place in the Senators record books. Any playoff goal is something to be proud of; a double overtime playoff goal to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals and put the Senators just two victories from the Stanley Cup finals - that's something to remember forever.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Senators 5 Sabres 2


Senators Goals
Fisher (2), unassisted
Alfredsson (7) from Corvo (5) and Spezza (8)
Saprykin (1) from McAmmond (3)
Spezza (6) from Redden (5) and Alfredsson (6)
McAmmond (3) from Heatley (10)

2 for 6 on the PP
5 for 5 on the PK

Emery made 18 saves on 20 shots

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

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Emery
3. Miller
Hardest working: Fisher

Buffalo media 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Volchenkov
3. Fisher

NHL.com 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Saprykin
3. Fisher

My 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Fisher
3. Saprykin

While Senators fans would be the first to tell you stats from years past should mean less than nothing, with Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators find past stats firmly in their favour. When winning the first game, the Sens have a 5-3 record in winning the series. Conversely, Buffalo has a dismal 1-13 record. The game 2 stats are a bit more muddied for both sides. Ottawa is a laughable 0-7 in game twos after winning the first game of the series; Buffalo is 1-13 in game twos after losing the first. But regardless of past statistics, the Senators put themselves in a good position by winning the first game. With the victory, they find themselves up 1-0 in the series, having stolen a game in Buffalo to coincide with stealing home ice advantage from the President's Trophy winners. At the very worst, the Senators will head back to Ottawa with a split; at the best, they could find themselves with a 2-0 strangehold against their greatest rivals by Saturday night. No matter how it is looked at, the Senators placed themselves in a good position with their strong play Thursday night.

The Sabres came out all guns ablazing in front of their racuous home crowd, even drawing a few early penalties thanks to some, uh, crafty work by Derek Roy. But the Senators got the best of them, generating a McAmmond breakaway off a turnover (and a seeing-eye pass from Alfredsson), before another turnover-created breakaway by Fisher resulted in a goal and a 1-0 lead for the visiting team. The Sabres were thoroughly sloppy with their passing last night, often making tape-to-tape passes directly to the opposing team. By the end of the night they accumulated 18 turnovers, resulting in no less than 3 Sens breakaways. Both of these teams thrive on their transition game and speed in generating an attack out of minor mistakes by the opposition; it isn't surprising that the team that made the most errors was at the losing end of the game.

The Sabres then found themselves in penalty trouble, and the Senators continued their special team dominance when Alfredsson one-timered a Corvo feed past Ryan Miller on a brief 4-on-3. The Sabres got a couple back thanks to a frighteningly strong night by the Roy line, and a poor second period from the Senators. By the third period the Senators regained control, when Oleg Saprykin tipped a McAmmond pass in front of the net past Miller. From there things opened up; Jason Spezza wired a shot through the legs of both Chris Drury and netminder Miller in a front-of-the-net scramble; McAmmond added an empty netter in the final minute to seal the deal.

To focus on the good:

Special Teams. Though the 5-on-5 play could be deemed equal, perhaps even with an edge to Buffalo when the dominance of the Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov line is considered, the Senators thoroughly dominated the special teams play. They went 2-for-6 on the power play, 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, scored a short-handed goal, and in every instance looked the better team regardless of who had the man advantage. A sign of a strong team, to be sure. The Senators have controlled the special teams battle all season long against the Sabres, and that the special teams superiority has carried over to a time where PP/PK strength is all but necessary to guarantee victory, it's hardly a bad thing from a Senators perspective.

Speed and transition game. Buffalo made a lot of errors last night, and the Senators capitalised on them. Ottawa found themselves with breakaways by McAmmond, Fisher (2), Alfredsson and Vermette. It's no surprise that the speedier players on the team were those that found themselves in alone. Though Fisher was the only one to capitalise on the breakaway, several of these plays drew penalties, including the latter Fisher one which drew a Roy penalty, a power play on which Jason Spezza capitalised. The Senators played Buffalo's game and beat them at it.

Redden and Meszaros. I have to keep focusing on these two, because people are still criticising them for a way they haven't played in weeks. I have to keep emphasising it - these two have been good, really good, since game 5 of the Pittsburgh series. They were a combined +3 last night, and it wasn't until Murray switched them with the Corvo/Preissing pairing that the Senators were able to even contain the Roy line - Redden and Meszaros deserve all the credit in the world for this, because that line could have singlehandedly buried the Senators with the way they were being allowed to walk around early in the game. Redden and Meszaros shut down the Sabres strongest line last night.

Anton Volchenkov. He's had one bad game all playoffs (game 1 of the NJ series), but other than that he has been lights-out. A bone-crushing hit on Adam Mair, 3 blocked shots... all in a day's work for Volchenkov. A true blood-and-guts competitor who will sacrifice anything for his team. Gotta love it.

Daniel Alfredsson. Alfie! Alfie! Alfie! What else needs to be said? For the 11th game in a row, he was the best forward on the ice. There is not a player in the league I would want on my team over Alfie right now. Not Crosby. Not Yzerman. Alfredsson is doing everything. And doing it dominantly. He wants it bad this year - and if he keeps playing like this, he'll get it.

Mike Fisher. He's been strong physically and on the forecheck this entire playoffs, but he's starting to ramp up the speed and is finally finding some touch near the net. It was only his second goal of the playoffs, but Fisher could have had 3 more tonight. Another great game from yet another heart-and-soul character on the Senators.

Dean McAmmond. His speed was a utile asset last night, generating a couple of breakaways and an empty-net goal to cement the Senators victory. Oh, and he assisted on the game winning goal. The fourth line had some difficulty in their own zone last night (being paired with the Corvo/Preissing unit, who had an off-night defensively didn't help much), but they more than made up for it with their offensive zone contributions and aggressive and energetic forecheck.

Oleg Saprykin. Game winning goal. Nothing more needs to be said.

The bad stuff:

Corvo and Preissing defensively. Murray did well to get them away from the Sabres' third line, but they need to get it together because any Sabres line could pick them apart with the way they were playing last night.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Sens-Devils Unsubstantiable Predictions Results




First goal of the series is scored by Dany Heatley.
First goal of the series is scored by Jason Spezza.

Last goal of the series is scored by Brian Gionta.

Last goal of the series is scored by Scott Gomez.

Jason Spezza and Zach Parise will lead their teams in goals.
Half right. Spezza tied for the Ottawa lead with Heatley and Alfredsson (3 each), Gionta lead NJ with 3.

Jason Spezza and Scott Gomez will lead their teams in points.
Dany Heatley had 10 points, Gomez had 5.

Antoine Vermette and Jay Pandolfo will fail to record a goal.
Both got 1 each.

Chris Neil and Paul Martin will fail to record a point.
Half right.

Senators will have a better PP but worse PK than NJ.
Half right. They also had a better PK.

At least one game with 2 goals or less scored.
Correct, Game 3.

I should just give up.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Senators 3 Devils 2


Senators Goals
Vermette (2) from Preissing (4)
Spezza (5) from Alfredsson (5) and Heatley (8)
Alfredsson (6) from Spezza (7) and Heatley (9)

1 for 2 on the PP
2 for 2 on the PK

Emery makes 29 saves on 31 shots

CBC 3 stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Emery

Attending Media 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Heatley

My 3 Stars:
1. Alfredsson
2. Emery
3. Spezza
Very honourable mention to Scott Gomez.

And for the second series in a row, the Senators close it out in 5. For the fourth series in a row, the Senators rest after only 5 games. But unlike the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals of last season against Buffalo, the Senators celebrated a much more favourable conclusion against the New Jersey Devils. Winning on the road for the fourth time this post-season (the most of any team), the Senators upset the second seed in the East, their second series victory against the three-time Cup champions in three attempts. Though the Senators failed to show much of anything for much of the first period, let alone the "desperation" Mike Comrie claimed they would play with, Ray Emery kept them alive until they found some life late in the period. Though he let in a second-effort goal by Scott Gomez nearly 7 minutes into the game, the scoreline could have easily been 2- or 3-0 Devils were it not for a solid performance by Emery. Though he was helped by the post on a Parise rush, he made a highlight save on Patrick Elias on a sharp passing play by the Gomez line, preventing a goal which could very well have ensured this series went to 6. Fortunately, the Senators found their feet at the end of the period and carried the momentum into the intermission. Accordingly, the Senators came out strong in the middle frame and by any objective measure dominated the game for the next 20 minutes. Though they were outshot 11-3 in the first and down by 1-0, they turned the tide with 19 shots in the second, registering 3 goals.

The first came as the result of a frighteningly strong shift from centre Antoine Vermette, who kept the puck in play by a hairline at the blueline only to weave it back into play. The puck found it's way to Preissing who had advanced with one of his trademark pinches. Preissing took a sharp angle shot at Brodeur (cementing what might be another Preissing trademark), by which time Vermette had rushed to the front of the net to deflect it in. Though Vermette has had a difficult season offensively despite the best of efforts, he somehow manages to put the pieces together when it matters most - both of his goals this post-season have come in elimination games against the Pens and Devils. Frequently chastised for his lack of offensive production, Vermette silenced critics with another big game performance. Preissing, as equally unsung as Vermette, used his assist this game to propel himself into the backend scoring lead for the Senators. Finishing with 6 points so far this post-season (a point ahead of equally impressive Corvo and Redden), Preissing illustrates the value of smart positional play at both ends of the rink. It was the second pinch by Preissing in three games that lead to the game-changing goal.

The following goal came on a powerplay, when Jay Pandolfo of all people was nabbed for goaltender interference. Spezza sniped a shot - guess where - high glove side on Brodeur for the go-ahead goal. Assisted by Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, the goal was yet another indicator of the strength of the Senators' powerplay (best in the playoffs) and the unmatched dominance of the Pizza line (3 of the top 5 scorers in the playoffs, including Heatley at #1. The other 2 have since been eliminated). It was Spezza's 5th of the playoffs, meaning he's scoring at a remarkable 0.5 goal/game pace, not a bad feat for the playmaker of the line and someone who just a season ago only recorded 19 goals.

The final Senators goal of the night, and what would end up the game winner, was a perfect Spezza feed which found Alfredsson alone in the zone with only one defender back. Alfie tossed it through Brodeur's pads without incident. It was his 6th of the playoffs, placing him 4th in the goalscorer's race, and Gionta and Parise ahead of him have since been eliminated. Words cannot express how truly dominant Alfredsson was through this game and series, in all facets of the game. By the end of the night, Alfredsson had been on the ice for 12 of all 15 Senators goals in the Devils series. Ottawa's best scorer, forechecker, penalty killer, and the captain to boot. With his performance in the past two rounds Alfredsson has vaulted himself into a leading position as a potential Conn Smythe candidate. He's been hitting everything that moves, forechecking like a maniac, averaging the most icetime out of any Senators forward, and getting results for all his hard work. Alfredsson has never played this well - in the playoffs, regular season, internationally - this is the best Alfie has ever been.

Heatley registered 2 assists tonight, and though he didn't have the impact last night of his two linemates, he was the Senators' leading scorer with 10 points in the Jersey series. He hasn't failed to register a point since game 4 of the Pittsburgh series; it was the ONLY game of the entire playoffs he failed to factor in on the scoresheet. Thanks to the layoff between series which helped Heatley to rest his ankle, injured late in the season, he came back rejuvenated in the Jersey series and played like the Heatley we all expected. Never has a Senators' top line been so thoroughly dominant and driven. Never has a Senators' top line so steadfastly refused to back down or play nice. Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley's performances in the Jersey series were a sight to behold, truly.

All 6 Senators defensemen performed to their capabilities in the second round, including Redden and Meszaros. They proved yet again that they are, as a 6-man unit, the strongest group of defensemen in the league.

Emery had a solid game, particularly early and late in the game. He had two game-saving stops against Elias at both junctures of the night, first to keep the Senators in the game, then to protect the Senators' lead. He was not spectacular at any point this post-season, but he hasn't needed to be. And still, he has 8 wins and 2 shutouts. He showed great maturity and accountability in admitting he regretted being a distraction to the team with the car incident on Friday; his performance on the ice showed yet again that none of the sideshow matters when the game is on. He's probably the worst goaltender left in the playoffs, I won't disagree. But he's probably the most competitive and driven. He outbattled and beat the best goaltender in the world in 5 games. Here's to the next round.

Though Ottawa's depth had some trouble scoring in this series (as opposed to the Penguins series when they factored offensively in every game), it is important not to let the scoresheet dictate their impact on the game. The strong forecheck and physicality of all 4 lines was essential in wearing down the Devils and keeping the Devils' stars at bay, particularly with players like Fisher, Neil, Comrie and Schubert. The smart, instinctual penalty killing of role players like Kelly, Vermette, McAmmond and Schaefer was key in shutting down the Devils' best chance at offensive success. strong boardwork and cycling of guys like Schaefer and Fisher played a key part in maintaining possession, frustrating the opposition, dictating the pace and style, and forcing the Devils to play our game. The energy and enthusiasm of guys like Saprykin, Vermette and Comrie was important in inspiring our players and keeping the intensity level high. The versatility of players like Schubert or McAmmond to drop back to defense or move up a line as a defensive presence was a key part of holding leads in 5 very close games. Every single player on this team had an important role that cannot be overlooked or brushed aside. This is a team game, and the Ottawa Senators are a team, and any future success they will have will be due to all 20 players contributing just like they did against Pittsburgh and New Jersey.

There were so many encouraging things to be found in this round. The first is just fun stats-wise - three of the Senators four victories were by one goal margins. For a team that lost in the second round last year, all four losses by one goal margins, this is encouraging.

Congratulations to Emery, Heatley and Spezza, their first visits to the ECF as key contributors. Congratulations to Alfie, Redden, Phillips and Fisher for exacting revenge on the NJD, who dashed the hard work of our boys in getting to their first ever ECF four years ago. With that demon slayed, here's hoping for a better result this time around.
Congratulations to Bryan Murray for making it to the Conference Finals for the first time as a coach. There's a first for everything - let's hope it's not your last achievement this year.
Congratulations to the entire Senators team and organisation for making it this far. The players, the coaching staff, management. It's been a difficult year and even at our most optimistic points an ECF berth was looked upon positively as a reasonable goal. Many people said, if they made it this far they'd be happy. Others said if they made it this far while laying everything on the ice, they'd be happy. At the worst points of the season, the hopes became "if we can make the playoffs, I'll be happy". "If we can win another game, I'll be happy". A few months later, we were challenging for the NE Division title, only a handful of points behind a Buffalo team we were once 30 points and 12 teams behind. We've come along way. Muckler made some difficult decisions, lost some important players, brought in some questionable ones, but still he stuck by his decisions. And here we are, months later. Heatley. Comrie. Preissing. Corvo. McAmmond. One of the best backups in the league (err, ok this one still kind of stings). Capable and experienced fill-ins/injury call-ups. He stood by Murray, he stood by Alfie. And here we are. No matter what happens in the ECF against the Sabres... it's been a good year.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Senators 3 Devils 2


Senators Goals
Alfredsson (5) from Heatley (7) and Spezza (6)
Heatley (5), unassisted
Fisher (1) from Redden (4) and Emery (2)

Spezza Blocked Shot Count:
2 last night, 3 total.

0 for 4 on the PP
4 for 5 on the PK

Emery stopped 29 of 31 shots

Arena 3 stars:
1. Heatley
2. Alfredsson
3. Emery

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Heatley
2. Alfredsson
3. Emery

My 3 Stars:
1. Heatley
2. Alfredsson
3. Volchenkov

Thanks to Wednesday night's 3-2 victory, the Senators find themselves with a 3-1 stranglehold on the Eastern Conference semi-final series with the New Jersey Devils. The Senators won both games at Scotiabank Place to maintain the home ice advantage they stole from the Devils, after winning the first game in Jersey.

While it might be misguided to claim Senators netminder Ray Emery has outplayed Jersey counterpart Martin Brodeur, game 4 was perhaps a testament that pedigree and reputation mean quite little in the playoffs; winning is all that matters. Brodeur's heroics in game 3 were a sight to behold, to be certain, yet the Senators gained the W. Emery might have bobbled the puck a number of times in game 4, yet he notched his 7th win of the post-season, while Brodeur mounted his 5th loss. Much was made after the game about a comment by Brodeur, when he claimed Emery "doesn't look too good" when heavily tested. Considering this was a rare occasion where Brodeur lost the game for his teammates, any criticism of the man at the other end of the rink might have been ill-timed.

The delay in writing this recapitulation has caused some of the finer points of the game to elude my memory; however there was one clear moment, already touched on in many articles, which stands out above all else. Though it might not have translated as well on television, roughly four minutes into the opening frame, the boisterous and energetic crowd, fresh off "Razor" and "Go Sens Go" chants, twenty thousand voices strong, united in respect and admiration for the Senators' captain, began an "Alfie" chant. "Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!", the crowd roared. And suddenly, it happens. Heatley's tape-to-tape pass from behind Brodeur's net finds Alfredsson in the slot, who proceeds to one-time it past Brodeur. 4:34 seconds in, 1-0 Senators. Though Alfredsson didn't hear this chorus of cheers, it was a special moment for Senators fans. The goal was his 5th of the playoffs, tying him for second in the playoff goal race. By the time the night was over, Alfredsson's presence on the ice for Senators goals was up to a remarkable 10 for 12.

Alfredsson's goal would be the only one Brodeur might not have been shaking his head over. Taking a cue from both Lecavalier and St. Louis from Tampa, Heatley, standing on the goal-line, fired a would-be pass to Spezza past Brodeur. With the success of would-be passes making their way to the back of the net for the Senators this post-season (think of Spezza's wobbly deflected goal in the Pittsburgh series), perhaps the pass-first mentality isn't so bad after all. It was Heatley's 5th of the post-season as well, and, with the assist on Alfredsson's first period goal, he now finds himself in first place in post-season scoring. A remarkable feat, if you consider his achingly slow start in the Pittsburgh series. New Jersey fans (and fans league-wide, mind) might still say that Lecavalier and St. Louis are the more lethal duo than Heatley and Spezza. I'm still not convinced I disagree, but there is not an inch of doubt in my mind that Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson are the deadliest trio in the league, bar none. Any combination of the three should rank within the top 3-4 deadly duos in the league. And that's just the stats. When you factor in their drive, intensity, competitiveness, creativity, chemistry, clutch play, increased physicality and increased defensive awareness, I don't want any three players in the league over these three.

Fisher's goal, credited to his quick release, was one Brodeur should have had. Still, it marked Fisher's first goal of the playoffs (finally), and his second point in two games. After impressing in all areas but the scoresheet through the post-season, it's good to see him contributing in the manner that matters most. The Schaefer-Fisher-Comrie line has now produced two goals in two games, and though the 3rd and 4th lines still need to contribute offensively, at least the two lines most expected to factor in on the scoresheet are doing so.

Neil had a fantastic game, a definite improvement over the first couple games where he looked rather slow and out-of-place. Kelly and Vermette both had good games, yet Neil was probably the best on the line, so credit to him. A third period individual rush by Neil was impressive, and if he could one day finish, he's got some highlight reel in him.

Volchenkov was his usual shot-blocking madman self, and probably had a bigger role in shutdown the Devils' stars than Emery did. A-Train registered 6 blocked shots to take sole possession of the post-season leaderboard, in his rightful place.

I'd also like to take a moment to give some consideration to Meszaros. He had an exceptionally difficult year, not what anyone was expecting after a strong rookie campaign, but he deserves some credit for the things he has done right this post-season. He and his partner Wade Redden have built up a reputation for poor play this year, whether due to injury or lack of confidence or poor decision making or whatever else. People circle like vultures waiting for them to make a mistake, and then lambast them when they do; when they perform well, no credit is given. I won't claim Meszaros has had a brilliant return to form nor has he had a remarkable post-season, but he has been very solid and done many little things right. For example, Wednesday night he was second to Volchenkov with 4 blocked shots. He now ranks third on the team in blocked shots. He ranks third among defensemen on the team in hits. He was +1 again last night, and still sits second in the league with a +7. He hasn't been out for a goal against ALL SERIES, in fact the last goal he was on the ice for was in game 4 of the Pittsburgh series. He is a key part of our PK, averaging nearly 3:00 per game shorthanded. He hasn't had a PP goal scored against him ALL SERIES. In fact, he hasn't had a PP goal scored against him ALL PLAYOFFS. Give him some credit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Senators 2 Devils 0


Ottawa Goals
Preissing (2) from Comrie (2) and Fisher (3)
Spezza (4) from Alfredsson (4) and Heatley (4)

0 for 4 on the PP
5 for 5 on the PK

Emery stopped all 25 shots for a shutout, his second of the playoffs.

CBC 3 Stars:
1. Brodeur
2. Emery
3. Spezza

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Emery
2. Brodeur
3. Alfredsson

My 3 Stars:
1. Brodeur
2. Alfredsson
3. Comrie

Something was different last night. Because this, this was the type of game the Senators were supposed to lose. Not only was it precisely the type of game the Senators always lose, but it was a type of game outside observers point out as a reason why the Senators will never have extended post-season success. Couple this with the fact that this type of game is the kind the New Jersey Devils excel at, two periods in to a scoreless battle of the goaltenders, any other night it might have seemed the Senators were doomed. Instead, the Senators got the lucky break on a semi-controversial goal early in the third period, and held on long enough to have Jason Spezza salt it away with an empty netter in the final minute, perhaps making up for his disallowed goal two periods earlier. Martin Brodeur was nothing short of spectacular, and yet his lack of offensive support gave Ottawa the slight edge; though firmly outplayed by his counterpart, Emery recorded his second career playoff shutout (and second of the 06-07 post-season). Thanks to the victory at Scotiabank Place, the Senators take a 2-1 edge in the series, with another game still to be played in Ottawa on Wednesday before the players head back to New Jersey for game 5. The 2-1 lead ensures that, at the very worst, the Senators cannot be eliminated in less than 6 games. On a more positive note, the winner of game 3 traditionally has a 69% chance of advancing to the next round.

Between games 2 and 3, Ottawa's depth scoring was questioned, with the big line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson had been the only Senators line to contribute offensively in the first two games of the series, outside of a McAmmond shortie in game 1. Answering the call for more consistency in their attack, Schaefer, Fisher and Comrie line came out guns-a-blazing on the opening shift, setting a strong offensive tone. The line combined for 5 hits and 8 shots, and played a key role in the game-winning goal (Fisher and Comrie both assisted on the scoresheet; Fisher assisted with more than just his pass, as New Jersey fans can attest). Fisher, who has had a strong playoff in all manners but the scoresheet, avoided the penalty trouble that was so costly in the game 2. Though his (accidental) slew-foot on Brodeur brought into question the validity of Preissing's goal, the fact remains had that goal not been scored, fans would be crying out for the Senators' to get in Brodeur's face, cause trouble in his crease to throw him off his game. Fisher's actions were, perhaps, penalizable. And yet, the goal stood. That's hockey. The Senators have witnessed more than their share of agonizingly painful breaks afforded to the other team; that they received a break in their favour last night is not a matter to question from a Senators standpoint.

After a lacklustre opening two games, Comrie emerged with fire in his belly, and was only revitalised after he felt slighted on a non-call after being bowled over by Brodeur. He came out with wheels on the ensuing pair of shifts, and managed to draw a penalty (though appeared in some discomfort after crashing awkwardly into the boards on the play, and left for the bench favouring his shoulder, he did return to the game). His smart play led directly to the Preissing goal.

Schaefer, unfairly criticised for his performance in the opening series versus Pittsburgh but perhaps receiving some due criticism for his invisibility early in the New Jersey series, woke yesterday. His strong board play continued, but rather than cycling endlessly, it resulted in some significant scoring chances. He even (shock and awe) registered two shots on net. Schaefer seems to have settled into a role where little recognition will be received for strong play; he is a crucial cog in the Senators' strong penalty kill, is easily the Senators' best boardman, and is a strong playmaker when his head is in the game. He's also got some great hands, but his refusal to use them to score won't net him many admirers. As a second line winger, I won't disagree that more is expected of him. But like Mike Fisher, who does a lot of little things right and gets praised for it, Schaefer should get some recognition for his play despite the lack of scoring.

The big line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson remained frighteningly strong in game 3, further the argument for the arrival of Heatley and Spezza, and (hopefully) the final shedding of any underachiever label for Alfredsson. Murray tried matching the trio against the EGG line, but they also received considerable icetime against the Madden line. There was no significant difference in performance noticed; the Spezza line is determined to dominate regardless of who they're matched up with. A strong Alfredsson net-drive resulted in a goal by Spezza, though it was waived off as the referee had lost sight of the puck. Brodeur, at his best of the entire playoffs, robbed Alfredsson blind on several occasions, and made the save of the night on a beautiful Spezza feed to Heatley, sprawling to avoid a disastrous 2-0 deficit shortly after the Preissing goal. Were it not for Brodeur's stunning performance, the Spezza line would have yet again been the story of the night. Though it took an empty net goal for them to register any points, they combined for 14 shots, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot (a late game committal by Spezza that offer yet more proof that he's buying in to playoff hockey). Alfredsson was once again the Senators' leader in icetime, and second only to Volchenkov for the lead in short-handed minutes. Heatley continued his resurgence after a relatively weak series against Pittsburgh, very likely caused by a debilitating ankle injury, and now sits tied for second in the league in points. Spezza registered a goal, a blocked shot and 5 shots, all stats which showcase his separation from the offense-only, pass-first player he was as recently as March.

The Vermette line had a much stronger game tonight, and though they failed to register any points, there was evidence that things were coming along. Vermette enjoyed a brief period on the PP, and looked damn good while there. Perhaps Murray is reluctant to use him in offensive situations because the poor kid can hardly buy a goal (and certainly not one that comes before the buzzer), but he assisted on the late, game-tying Heatley goal in game 2, and looked impressive on the PP in game 3. A regular PP spot, over Schaefer or perhaps even Fisher, should not be out of the question when the second unit is not rolling. Kelly continued to be the defensive God we've come to know and love, and with the way he was playing last night, a goal from our first-round leading goal scorer can't be too far away. Neil has looked competent the last couple games and is delivering his standard physical presence (4 hits, tied with Phillips for the most on the team), but his lack of foot speed brings his utility on a speedy line into question.

The fourth line was great again tonight, aside from a brainless elbowing penalty from Saprykin.

Phillips and Volchenkov were much improved, and for the first time all series it felt like all 3 pairings were playing up to their level. Corvo had a potentially costly giveaway in front of the Ottawa net, and Redden had a pair of fumbles, but none resulted in anything for the other team. Redden's play has been extremely strong in the New Jersey series and any gripping about his play is completely unwarranted and either based on unfounded bitterness or blindness. Meszaros has also looked much better this series. Preissing continues his unheralded play, but it was yet another smart pinch by our master smart-pincher than lead the game winning goal.

There has been a lot of gripping about Emery and how he looked shaky, unsure of himself, whatever else. I'll say what I always say about shutouts: he stopped everything that was thrown at him. That's perfect goaltending. Period.