A couple of unrelated things percolating in the brain pan after watching the Senators lose 1-0 to New Jersey last night. First is Ottawa’s absolutely pathetic home record, now 19-15-4 compared to 18-12-6 on the road.
This stretch was supposed to be Ottawa’s chance to catch some rest after that Florida road trip, rack up some points, even challenge for the division. Fewer games, most of them on home ice, and against plenty of mediocre teams was an ideal opportunity to lock up a playoff spot. Instead we’ve seen six points out of a possible 12, with Ottawa facing down the (somehow) always-challenging Canadiens, the seemingly unbeatable Penguins, the Jets on the road in the toughest building in the league, and then almost a week off for other teams to catch up before playing on the road in Philly.
Suddenly, the Senators are in a dogfight just to stay alive. Only four points up on eighth in the conference and the Sens’ inability to win games at home has dug them a small hole.
Of course, given what we’ve learned about this year’s Ottawa Senators, they’ll probably waltz right into Philly and win it 4-1. They’ve made a season out of taking games they had no business winning only to promptly lose to the Islanders or Leafs at home. Why on earth the team is so lacklustre at Scotiabank Place is hard to know, though I think it goes back to expectations.
The Senators can win away games with all of the pressure on their opponent, who is “supposed” to win, because the situation lends itself to their fast and loose style of play. Last night’s game, where the team executed sound breakouts and passes, got pucks on net, but then they simply couldn’t get their sticks on the rebound or keep pressure in front of the net. It seemed like a case of gripping the stick a little too tightly. As the game went on, even the most elementary powerplay execution – which they must be practicing non-stop these days – looked completely lost, with passes back to the point sailing all the way back to Bishop to corral. Suddenly, those few simple passes they were pulling off at even strength were flying all over the place with a man advantage.
Maybe the problem with home ice is the same problem that plagues the powerplay – when this team is supposed to have the advantage, it has a brain fart. When it feels fewer expectations, it will surprise you.
You could also see it with all the whining to the refs last night. Karlsson’s arms raised in disbelief, even the usually-Zen Alfredsson looking back for the call. The refs made some weird decisions last night, granted, but when the team is blaming everything else on the ice you can tell they’re hoping something, anything, comes along and resolves their play for them.
Basically I’ve been building all of this up so I could recommend that the team have a pizza party. Relax, guys.
Everyone’s feeling mighty good about Ben Bishop these days. He’s playing lights out, and Bryan Murray must be basking in the accolades. Bishop’s been so impressive he even broke Sports Illustrated’s quasi-moratorium on hockey coverage long enough to be called the best deadline acquisition of the year. (Better than Paul Gaustad for a 1st? Better than…the other…trades that happened?)
I can’t help but think about Turris when he first came over from Phoenix. Those early games were used as all of the evidence we needed that Ottawa won the trade. Now, I’ve long maintained that Murray payed WAY too much for a risky second line center, and even when Turris was looking very serviceable I wasn’t thrilled with the deal. My attitude hasn’t changed, but I’m thinking there’s something we can learn about the early days of a trade.
Even a skeptic like me will admit that Turris came over looking energized. He had something to prove, was enjoying the ice time, or liked playing in a full building for a change. Whatever it was, he didn’t look out of place, developing chemistry with Alfredsson and putting up 13 points in his first 16 games. In the weeks that followed, however, he’s been ice cold. He has six points in his last 25 games.
If Turris doesn’t work out, the team hasn’t bet so much bet on him that they can’t turn it around. He’s an RFA on a very affordable deal. But if David Rundblad becomes even half the player Erik Karlsson is, it’s going to look like a mighty silly deal a year or two from now. It will look like Ottawa traded a high-end puck moving defenseman because they weren’t patient enough with him during a rebuild, when the only luxury you’ve got is patience. I won’t even talk about the draft pick, knowing that half the readership think draft picks are worthless and the other half think they’re the most valuable thing in the world.
So what’s this got to do with Ben Bishop? Well, he’s also a player with some NHL experience, albeit not as much. His organization deemed him expendable. He came to Ottawa with something to prove, energized, whatever. And just like with Turris, we’re prepared to call the trade a win and move on. It’s almost as if, just maybe, we should expect a peak in performance in the early days of a trade.
Now, I do agree with Elliott Friedman’s point that if Ottawa chooses to trade either Bishop or Lehner in the future they’ll get more than their 2nd rounder back for him. And it’s not like Ottawa threw in, say, Mika Zibanejad to get him or anything. I just think this whole “picks to win games now” thing is sort of short sighted. I don’t want to win a few games in March. (Though it would be nice.) I want to see Murray build a contender.
All of this to say that I’m reserving judgement for when Bishop’s played a few more games. He’s working out in the short term, and maybe that’s enough. I’m obviously not in the room with the scouts, and maybe they’re looking at the board and saying “we don’t like anyone in the second round anyway.” But the discussion of whether or not these trades that Murray is pulling off are worth it should never be “in the short term” discussions.