In which Luke, Varada, James, Chet, and Steph discuss the ways in which losing is not preferable to winning.
“For when the One Great Twitter comes
To mark against your name,
They write – not that you won or lost
But how you made your lineup decisions.”
– Grantland Rice (Mostly)
Friends, do you remember last week? It seems so long ago and yet I remember it as if it were only last week. Following six full weeks of sustained and improbable excellence, Ottawa had finally climbed the mountain to find themselves in a playoff spot for the first time since November, and Sens fans had a belief in the supernatural power of beef rarely seen in Western culture. It was heady times. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I guess you had to be there.
Since that time a number (again, that number is “zero”) of Tuesdays ago, the Sens lost their talismanic journeyman goaltender to an ankle injury, allowed 4 goals in under 20 minutes to the Toronto Maple Leafs (who are terrible and should be celebrated only for their unwavering ability to consistently ice a team of 20 players who are either, by definition, professional hockey players or Zack Sill), and had their hearts ripped out by a 40+ year old legend who surprisingly wasn’t Daniel Alfredsson this time. Also, the Bruins, with whom the Sens are fighting for the last playoff spot in the East/14th overall draft pick, took 5 of an available 6 points, and now the Sens are 3 points out with a game in hand. Again.
Basically this is the sort of thing that could just as easily happen in the middle of November as at the end of March, but if I may put on my “Amateur Psychologist” novelty t-shirt for a minute, I’ll make an educated guess that what happened didn’t gall most Sens fans so much as how it happened. Turns out experiencing a lifetime of torment at the hands of the Leafs isn’t one of those things you eventually get used to and learn to accept. However, while I’m not going to argue that the Sens have played well in their last three games, I am going to make like MC Escher and provide some weird perspective. To wit:
1. After going a quarter of a season without playing a true stinker, the Senators coming out flatter than a plate of piss against the Rangers had a certain air of inevitability to it.
2. The frustration of Ottawa blowing a two goal lead to a Tyler Bozak hat trick belies the fact that it was such a Black Swan Event as to be literally unprecedented.
3a. If Dave Cameron’s answer is “Colin Greening on the second line”, I have serious reservations about the phrasing of the question.
3b. On the other hand, putting in two fresh guys on the second half of a back-to-back isn’t entirely illogical.
3c. On a third hand which has suddenly sprouted from my chest, Dave Cameron doesn’t actually play so there are only so many ways he can affect the game.
3d. Speaking of players who played, Jared Cowen #actually played pretty ok.
3e. For all the hand-wringing regarding Mike Hoffman’s place in the lineup, he still had more ice time on Sunday than any forward except Mark Stone and Erik Condra. Sure 6:30 of that was time spent on the powerplay, but at least Mike Hoffman is now getting hella time on the powerplay.
3f. I don’t begrudge Dave Cameron making lineup decisions based on nebulous psychological reasons like “trying to give the team a spark” or needing to “change things up a bit”. As no less than Ian Mendes pointed out, it’s tough not to argue that something had to give after the preceding two gong shows. I see this idea on Twitter a lot that coaching should really as simple as sending out your best players and that any other coaching adjustments are a sign of overthinking things and that psychology is overrated. I’d be willing to accept this idea a lot more if it weren’t for the fact that a number of the most successful coaches in sports are especially noted as much for their motivational ability as for their skills as tacticians and teachers. If you want to tell people that coaching the Bulls was as easy as sending out Michael Jordan at the same time as Scottie Pippin, be my guest, but also be prepared to accept my serene dismissal of that opinion. Dave Cameron’s been hitting every note correctly for six weeks straight while trying to drag this team into the playoffs. He missed one yesterday, but the task he’s been set is analogous to playing Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto as the guest soloist filling in for Yefim Bronfman. Even the pros think that ossia cadenza is a real tricky bastard to get right every time. Selah.
The reality here is that despite the negativity in our souls, very little has changed. Ottawa still needs to win games. Boston losing games still helps a lot. The Sens need to go 4-2-1 in their remaining 7 games to make 95 points. 94 points has never been insufficient to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. If the Senators reach 95 points and still miss the playoffs (because reasons), I’ll be bitter only at the inherent injustice of it all, not at a team who will have done enough by any reasonable definition except the one that counts. I’m gonna focus on the process (winning), not the results (playoffs).
There’s something to be said about the fact that it took an agonizingly long period of time – about three weeks – and an unprecedented winning streak for Ottawa to claw its way into a playoff spot, and then it took all of three days to fall basically out of contention. With every win it seemed like our playoff probability increased by, what, 3%? Then, two losses later, it’s plunged from the lofty 70%+s that sent us, Viking-like, to the tops of our coffee tables, roaring in the faces of loved ones and sending the ottoman tumbling chaotically from its feet to its side, to the 20-whatever% that has me standing in the driveway and looking up at the moon and saying softly, so softly, “Beyond those mountains lie madness.”
I said this on Twitter, and now I say it again on this actual, legitimate website: It’s weird when you have hobbies that don’t make you feel good. And with this win streak followed by this losing streak, the Senators have become a hobby on par with all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. It was so, so good for a while. Then you could see through time for a while. Then the depression and angriness set in.
So I guess Ottawa could go on another ridiculous run, but with games against Tampa and Detroit and shit, it’s hard to see it happening. Their special sauce has turned. There are so many positives to take from this magical, nigh-Matrix-like run. But we tasted the nectar of the gods and had that gourd pulled away from our luscious lips at the last moment BY THE FUCKING TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS seriously we all knew that was going to happen.
As for line combos, I feel like it’s a matter of not really having any other interface with which to criticize a team. It’s no coincidence that line combos are basically the only thing coaches ever get criticized for. But I have to admit, Greening is on some NEXT LEVEL cursed existence thing here. If you had told me that with only a few games left in the season Colin Greening would have one empty net goal…and that’s it…I’d tell you that you were being an hysterical mouthbreather.
Sent from a mobile phone
I’m not here to be a complete apologist for any and all weird coaching decisions but for me, if the team is really struggling for a couple of games I’ve just come to expect some line up shuffling. Like Luke said, in-game, there’s really only so much a coach can do to provide a spark outside player assignment. There’s an argument to be made (and a good one) that players need consistency to break out of a funk. Troo, troo. Also, on the other side, if a player you count on is not performing or looking lethargic, the concept of giving them a temporary demotion in favour of someone who doesn’t get much of a shot or who might have more legs and could potentially give you the level of play that you’re looking for, isn’t exactly mind blowing either.
The other thing, when shit drastically hits the skids like now, I have such a hard time assuming that because guys are in the line up consistently that they are all 100% healthy. I mean, we are 75 games deep in the season. Also, Andrew Hammond seen limping out of arena, has to start game two days later and heyyyyyy cant move side to side very well…I think more than a few of us were shocked. He can’t start the next game, magically Craig Anderson who hasn’t even been backing him up much is good to start. Probably not. The team’s also been without Milan Michalek who, like him or not, was absolutely flying during the run. I’m saying, I personally think these injuries have hurt things more than some line shuffling.
As to what happens next, well, in a post-sweeping the Kings, Sharks and Ducks on the road paradigm, I’m officially on “I have no fucking idea” status for the rest of the season (thx 4 reading). That’s also the reason why even the height of the Sens crazy streak I was looking at it long-game, as such a positive for next season. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up or don’t “believe” or whatever. The Sens do the impossible? Guess how long Ima cherish that: Guess. The rest of my sad, li’l lyfe. If not, I’ve seen it before. In all my years on the force, workin’ the beat, I’ve seen a lot of odds defying, Cinderella teams and I’ve seen a lot of 4 line, relentless killbot factories and guess which of those two I’ve seen more of succeed. Guess. K.
Consistency through the season gets you into a position where you don’t have to do things like run the table for like 2 months to squeak into a wild card spot. You just, you know, qualify. You know like we did back in Covered Wagon Tymes.
A healthy, signed Marc Methot, a couple 20 goal rookies who look like the belong in the top 6, Zibanejad surpassing expectations, a coach who despite a couple of clunkers looks like he’s shifted the teams playing style to the more uptempo brand they looked like they were built for…oh and living proof the team is better off without Phillips and Neil. Sorry, but if this streak proved one thing it’s that a changing of the guard is looking more than clear. Those are the things that make me believe the Sens can be in the playoff conversation for more than a few weeks but maybe a whole season going forward.
Like with baking a cake, putting on your socks and shoes, or plotting the perfect murder, the order in which you do things matters. If the Senators’ last three losses had happened in early February, when we were all closing down the bar with one more karaoke version of “Tanke Schoen”, and NOW they were on a 17-2-2 run? We’d all be high as gin-soaked kites. And yet where would we be? Three points out, with a game in hand.
Or say the Senators took that 17-2-2 run and spread it out over the course of the year, rather than the last month and a half. For just one more win a week, *Sarah MacLachlan music starts, sad-looking dogs shuffle in* YOU can help have a consistent hockey squad that people are still vaguely unsatisfied with, using terms like “bubble team,” and “tweeners”, and “disappointment, just like when my son flunked out of clown school.” Clown school is harder than you think, though. And where would we still be? Three points out, with a game in hand.
Yes, it’s nice to be consistent sometimes. But what makes for a better story – doing the speed limit on the highway all the way to where you’re going, or taking a few crazy-ass detours, outrunning a couple cops, seeing some weird backwoods stuff you can’t unsee, partying with a bear, trying pies you’ve never even HEARD of… and still making it to where you’re going just in time? Because one of those is consistent, and one of those is memorable. And if you’re gonna ultimately finish the year three points out again, which would you prefer?
We all know the Senators aren’t as good as their last six weeks, but they aren’t as bad as the last three games, either. I have no clue what’s they’re going to do in their last seven games and neither do you. We can’t predict when a team will suddenly go on some inexplicable hot streak or cold streak, only that hockey players try to have memories like goldfish for a reason, so that last night’s game doesn’t affect tomorrow’s. Does it always work? Of course not. But does losing to the Leafs and Panthers mean they’re going to lose to the Red Wings and Lightning? This year, I wouldn’t bet on it. Seven games left, three points out, with a game in hand, let’s see what happens.
*looks at tomorrow night’s lines*
So how’s everyone’s hangover? I’m assuming you all got blackout drunk to forget the nightmare that was this weekend in Sens hockey. I honestly can’t fault them for the Rangers loss, but the Leafs game should have been a guaranteed 2 points instead of the shaky mess that it was. Tyler Bozak got a career high 4 points. Bozak. Career high. Help. And I mean the rest of the schedule is also not amazing, even if the teams that clinched or are almost guaranteed a playoff spot all rest their top players. I stupidly checked how the Sens have fared against the teams in their remaining schedule and it’s not good (getting less than half the total possible points against those teams kind of ‘not good’). But as much as I loved Hammond, we can’t lay all the praise on him for Sorta Saving the Sens (trademark pending) and all the blame on Anderson for Fucking Up Everything (sad trademark pending). I have to assume this sudden downturn is mostly attributable to end of season fatigue-like they played 15 games in 29 days in March and got 22 of a possible 30 points type of fatigue. That’s pretty incredible but it makes me tired just writing it.
Should some lines have not played nearly as much as they were? YES, FUCK YES, WHY, CAMERON, WHY? And maybe I’ve been having night terrors about Colin Greening, maybe I haven’t. Plus there have been some injuries (Michalek) and some players presumably pretending to not be injured (Hammond) too that people kinda seem to be ignoring in favour putting the blame on easy (read: also deserving) targets like Cameron and Anderson. I’d love for the Sens to get into the playoffs, but if the price to be paid is 4 players recovering from injuries for half the following season, maybe no thank u. Really, a lot of the things responsible for the Sens sudden slowing can be attributed to fatigue, which isn’t very optimistic for the remaining games, but obviously I’mma still be optimistic because why the fuck not, optimism never hurts. Like these other humans said, it’s a lot more of the same-Sens have pretty bad odds of winning these games, but, you know, COULD. Longview: it was two shitty games that happened at a bad time, but playoffs are not out of the picture. The Bruins are not irredeemably ahead. Shit could happen. Good shit, I mean, not like the shit that happened this weekend which we will never speak of again. Anyway, even with all the things I just wrote, I think the Sens will get the same sort of manic sprint-to-the-end energy that every student going into exams knows, and totally NOT get run out of the playoffs in the first round (and that wasn’t even sarcasm).