Well, we’re about a 1/4 way through the season at this point, so it seems like a good time to do a good ol’ roundtable exploring whether or not the team has met expectations. What have been your biggest impressions so far? Predictions for the rest of the year? Disappointments?
The team is playing a system: Probably the number one reason Ottawa is a bubble team when most were expecting them to run away with last place and the ‘lowly’ crown in every headline. They’ve overcome mediocre goaltending. They’ve overcome the loss of their captain and best all around player for a long period of time. They’ve overcome playing with about 156 rookies on the team. They’ve overcome long, challenging road trips, and being blown out early, and going 1-5 to start the year. They’ve overcome being scored on first almost all the time, and come back from huge deficits. And they’ve done all of this without being carried by any one or two players. Their depth in scoring, and a handful of unremarkable defencemen (our special little guy notwithstanding), are coming through for them nightly. That has to be the system. Not a brilliant system or anything. Just a system. Good to see a team buying in 100% when for all of these years they’ve been typecast as coach killing, unreachable stars.
Karlsson really, really is that good: 25+ minutes a night. Will probably score 50 points by the end February. Plays in all situations. Some game nights it’s like he’s out there the whole time. Do I need to point out again that he’s in his third season??? That’s incredible. Ottawa has its new franchise defenceman, and I sincerely hope that his next deal is of the long-term variety.
Streaky, but good streaky: This team’s been streaky before, but it was due to some freak occurrence, like Brian Elliott suddenly becoming unbeatable. The team is streaky again, but not due to any one player’s sudden surge. They truly do win and lose as a team. Better yet: they seem to actually be learning from it.
We’re finally seeing what a healthy Michalek looks like: I was never one to expect him to score 30 goals every season, just be a 20 goal ceiling, solid two-way guy. But the way he’s playing now explains his high draft position, why San Jose thought to sign him to a contract that pays $6M in its final year, and why Murray thought he was good enough to be the central piece of a deal for a two-time 50 goal All Star. Michalek has come into his own. He would never have been more than depth in San Jose, but in Ottawa he’s leading the team. He probably deserves a letter on his jersey at some point.
Filip Kuba is better than you think he is: Not spectacular, of course. But a guy who can play 20+ minutes a night of NHL hockey is a valuable asset, and exactly the kind of depth a team needs in the playoffs when one of their top four goes down with an injury. This guy is going to get the Senators good pick at the deadline. Or, if they’re hanging around the bubble, I expect them to hold on to him.
Alfredsson has a really tough choice to make: This is it. Probably his last year to try and win a cup. It’s not going to be with this team, even if they make the playoffs. Murray has said it’s up to him what he wants to do, and the team will accomodate. But if they’re in a playoff position, how does he demand a trade? (Surreal alternate reality moment: imagine he gets traded to, say, Vancouver, and then Ottawa goes on a freak run to the Finals and has to play against him. If this happens, I expect every reader of the blog to send me $5.)
This team is not only a lot of fun, it’s the team Sens fans have always wanted: They may lose the occasional game to a team like the Sabres or Cancuks, who are spending about a trillion dollars more on salary, but they’re doing so in a way that makes me admire their foundation moreso than their opponents’. I don’t know how many games I’ve seen where a line with Foligno, Da Costa and Condra will pen the puck in the attacking zone while tens of millions worth of the opposition’s salary lazily float around the blueline waiting for a breakout pass. Ottawa is finally the lunchpail team that fans started dreaming of back when they were losing to the Leafs in the playoffs. Hockey is a capricious game: a flukey bounce or two can make a rebuilding team seem like world beaters. That’s why even the best teams out there have to have the fundamentals right. I’m glad it’s the other fan bases that are struggling with that concept now. The Sens finally seem to have it figured out.
Prediction: We’re probably still not a playoff team: Obvioulsy I would love nothing more than to see this team defy all expectations and Colorado Avalanche their way into the playoffs through the sheer will of guys like Zach Smith, Eric Condra, Kaspar Daugavins, and Colin Greening. It’s as if they don’t really know that they’re not supposed to win out there. But this team is also being skated into the ground. Their system is based on out-skating and out-working the competition, and while that might make for some surprising victory’s this early on, it’s only going to get harder as the season progresses. When juggernauts like Vancouver get rolling, you’re not going to see them only putting up 24 shots like they did last night against the Sens. And these young kids have never played a full NHL season. And we also haven’t had to play a game without Spezza yet. (Still dreading Da Costa as our number one center.) Finally, the team is barely hanging on the eighth seed with two or three more games played than everyone below them. When you add it all up, the team is probably finishing outside of the playoff picture. Still, I’ll take it: the team is far, far better than anyone expected, and is perhaps only a few pieces and a year or two’s development away from contention. Not bad, considering all of these 4-5 year predictions we were hearing in September.
My two cents:
Definitely enjoying the secondary scoring, that was a huge hole during last season. One half of the equation of why there were so many guys with atrocious, mind-bogglingly bad +/-. Karlsson has been awesome too. I think it’s time to back up the smelts truck for King K.
This team is an awesome draw, watching them on TV is a fun exercise. Trying to guess who is going to come up with which contribution is the best part. Could have sworn Konopka scored on this road swing (Brick crashes through patio door) Whaaaaa? He did! As an aside games are really fun to go to as well. Watching the Edmonton game with its tired re-tread of classic rock sound track was just painful. I know they need a new barn but can we chip in for some new records? @senatorsdj is spinning circles around these guys. The game day experience is fun again! Especially when Varada cracks into the suite’s beer fridge like a raccoon prying open a garbage can!
Notice I haven’t mentioned the p-word yet? I’m not so concerned with the playoffs. I think there’s still alot of room for draft picks on this club (btw Prince of our hometown barber poles is become worth the price of admission in the house that Andrew Cassels built). To be fair I don’t think a first round exit benefits these guys. I will disagree with Varada about the whole stamina thing. These guys logged a ton of minutes in AHL last year on their cup march. It doesn’t seem they’re acutely aware of their failings anyways.
Segwaaaaaaaaay: Coaching, this is the biggest difference. Varada hinted at the specifics of a system but I’m going to go one further and reference a possible culture change. Obviously I have no insight into the locker room (do they still call Carks “Snot Eye”?) And until Ian Mendes changes his twitter pic to an image of him gazing lovingly into the eyes of our beloved Walrus, (srsly check his profile pic to see some serious eye-banging) we’ll never know. Basically, all the secondary scoring and playing above expectations leads me to believe that the kool-aid is being guzzled hard core. And I say huzzah for them. Don’t the world tell you you’re the Andrews sisters when really you’re the Pointer sisters.
What to look for: David Rundblad is a Radio Department song come to life. Peter Regin, Chris Neil and Snot Eye are on they way back. Who gets the boot? Kaspar and his penalty kill trio are the talk of the town. How do you mess with that?
(PARENTHETICAL THOUGHTS CARRY MORE WEIGHT, IT’S SCIENCE)
Remember that show Parker Lewis Can’t Lose? Neither do I but if I did I would imagine that the Ottawa Senators are pretty comparable to Parker Lewis right now.
I don’t mean they can’t lose games as they’ve shown they have the gumption to lose when the time comes, but to me they are in an ideal situation when it comes to where they end up at season’s end. Playoffs? Pffffffft, WOW, they’d be our special little miracles. The Anderstud of old has done it before and as I always say (?) anything’s possible in the NHL. If they were to defy all odds, likely they get killed by the no1 seed that they’d no doubt have to face in round 1 (please don’t be the fucking Penguins AGAIN if that happens) but triple sparkly gold stars for everyone for surpassing the EFF out of my expectations back in training camp. Tank in the latter half of the season? Ottawa is who they were “supposed” to be and picks up a healthy draft position. The fact that Murray has gone on record saying that he will not sacrifice the plan and the team’s future for a hot streak has given me peace of mind that this is going to be a fun season of ups and downs and very realistic expectations. Mistakes are allowed, hard work is rewarded, goals are getting scored, goaltending has not been a pile of microwaved garbage so far…this team is fun to watch and there’s only a load of prospects on the way.
Other Impressions at the Quarter Mark:
Doin’ The Right Thingz: A Spike ME Joint
Managing to land Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron AND Mark Reeds for the coaching staff. Look, haters gunna hate lovers gonna love, people were talkin’ smack about how MacLean’s success in Detroit wont translate, Cameron’s in Melnyk’s pocket, yadda yadda yadda talking aaaaaaaaaall this mouth full of garbage. Well, garbagemouths, like Varada said, the coaching staff quite clearly have the team motivated, have actually got them playing a system (bonus: a system that is entertaining to watch!), scoring, and playing damn respectable hockey for a squad of greenhorn rookies and vets who are almost exclusively coming off career worst years. So far so good gents!
Probably the biggest thing for me as a fan is that I could not be happier to see a team that doesn’t go into games looking like a bunch of 15 year olds being forced by their parents to attend their neighbour’s kid’s First Communion on a Saturday morning. Could this year be any greater proof of how bad a vibe the Sens’ dressing room must have been under Clouston? I don’t want to start too much of a Cloustie beat down but it looks like night and day out there. I think we haven’t seen the last of CC in the NHL but MacLean has shown that you have to throw in the odd pat on the back to mix up the finger wags. Klustie the Klown aside, even the mere injection of youth has (probably) got the shitty Latvian/Swedish house music blasting in the dressing room while the younsters huddle in front of DaCosta’s locker to play a spirited game of Pogs (for keepsies). Unlike last year when everyone would solemnly gather ‘round Old Man Phillips’ stall while he sipped a tincture of port and rutabaga juice and spoke quietly about how bad the food was during the war.
Bryan Murray: You had me at “wont sacrifice the future.” *Throws bucket of cold water on face* I LIKE the new BryMurr! I was also really, really impressed when despite Peter Regin’s fresh injury, he STILL sent Mika Zibanejad back to Svenska. I think I would have buckled and kept him as soon as Regin went down. Showed some guts to make the right move. NEXT year’s the bigger year. Also, Pumpel, Noeson, Prince, Pageau, Stone all making Murray look good right now in the junior ranks. Let’s hope a couple of those guys work out.
Don’t look now but Filip Kuba might fetch something at the deadline! Guy is playing quite well. Starting to make me think we were pretty effing hard on the guy through his back and leg injuries. Still wouldn’t kill the guy to throw a hit…actually maybe it would. . . leave that to Mighty Karlsson. BTW can we keep Gonchar? This is the guy I used to hate out there. Keep up the good work!
More on Karlsson, I think when we are on the other side of this rebuild and begin to see the future become the present, we’ll be looking at King K not only as the defenseman with eleventy trillion points but also as the Shaemus in short pants who kept the team exciting through the blurst of times. I know it was he and not a lot of other dudes who kept me tuning in and buying tickets last season. I agree with Pete, let’s leave a giant thing of riches on his front step.
Jared Cowen may not be the sexiest story of the young season but his absence from the moans and groans of comment sections shows how smoothly he has taken to his 16 mins a game. Phillips aint getting any younger and is more effective in an increasingly reduced role. This development seems to be going well. Defense is one of the toughest positions to look competent at and the kid’s been lookin’…competent!
First line looking like a first line out there. Though it has been stated the secondary scoring has been what’s kept this team hovering around .500 the first line has been great too! Everyone who said Spezza and Michalek have zero chemistry was bang on. Right? Right? RIIIIIIIIIIIGHT? Wrong. My take is that Greening is a combo of hard-nosed work and physicality and part (courtesy of Jason Spezza) “Whoa, how did the puck just get on my stick?! I’d better shoot it!” right place at right time goodness that is part of playing on a gifted centre’s wing.
Pretty awesome when your biggest disappointment has been Milan Michalek’s inability to jump from second to first place in the NHL scoring race. That and wanting so badly for Erik Karlsson to rub the lead in assists in Daniel Sedin’s bulbous, bulbous face. Even if it’s just for a little while. IT’S ASKING A LOT. Maybe my biggest disappointment lays in this Filatov mess. Regardless of each and every one of our important and special feelings about this situation I’m talking more about how it’s disappointing that despite having a feel good team we didn’t get ONE year off from a distracting controversy of some sort. That said, another thing is that he was brought on board in the last year of his ELC I would like to see what he can do. Ditto David Rundblad. I completely get that the team’s been doing surprisingly well in stretches, the coach has to show that though spots are up for grabs they won’t be given away and also may not want to mess with a good thing he has going but I don’t know…auditions for all! It’s early, let’s hope the kids in waiting can keep a Brian Leeesque stiff upper lip while serving time in the press box/ in the minors.
X Factor: The Eastern Conference. Up is down, Florida is good, Alex Semin has fewer points than Nick Foligno, Brian Elliot is a marquee goaltender [Ed’s Note: (We have an Ed?) St. Louis is in the West, but that is pretty effed up]. I don’t know where you pixies came from but I sure do like your pixie drink. The East is so messed up it’s like the Wild West – YOU CANT WRITE A BETTER ANALOGY THAN THAT!!!!!!!! There are of course some reliable factors, the Rangers we’ll always be middle of the pack mayonnaise and the Penguins will continue to kick people’s buns now that they have what looks to be a player so hungry he’s gunna bite someone’s arm off back in their lineup. Though I am starting to get a bit nervous about the ongoing season and the thinness at centre I am looking forward to checking back in with you guys around the all star break…you know, or whenever. Sorry this was so long…oh what’s that? The Sens don’t play until Friday? You’re welcome this is so long.