Looking at how close this series has been against the Habs – every game won by one goal, two in OT, Sens holding the lead for longer than Montreal – I can’t help but think of how the results might have bent ever-so-slightly in Ottawa’s favor if they’d been able to rely on a bottom pairing of defencemen other than Gryba or Borowiekci.
I’m not trying to jump up and down on anyone after the fact – they’ve been dependable warriors for this team throughout the miracle run to the playoffs – but the fact remains that after two straight months of playoff-like hockey, it looks like some of the younger, less skilled d-corps are wilting.
Add to that a lack of size and experience, and it’s only natural to wonder “what if?” Chris Phillips’ decline has been well documented. Jared Cowen has faded out of existence, going all the way from franchise darling to distant memory. Patrick Wiercioch, possession mustang though he is, is soft as hell. Cody Ceci is still very young, and it’s shown at times. And Erik Karlsson is playing every single important moment of the game. That’s a lot of risk tied up in basically Karlsson and Methot. Having at least one other NHL caliber vet to rely on might have made all the different heading into tonight’s “what the hell (shrugging emoticon)” fourth game.
The free agent market, unfortunately, doesn’t offer up much. But there are a couple of dependable, workhorse guys who log 20+ minutes on their teams now. If Ottawa signed, and then insulated, a Zybnek Michalek or Francois Beauchemin, I could see them spreading out some of the risk in the lineup. I’m not saying these guys are the answer – older and increasingly injured as they are – but just that they could turn in a solid 17+ minutes, providing opportunity for favorable zone starts for the puck movers.
If Murray, or his follower, really wanted to swing for the fences, they could get into the running for Johnny Oduya, which, to me, would seem somewhat similar to Tampa going out and spending for Anton Stralman to be a second-pairing guy. Or they could break the bank on a do-everything, Christian Ehrhoff type. Then there’s Andrej Meszaros, who was overshadowed this year because he played on a terrible Buffalo team, but he’s been known to play big minutes and put up points if the stars align.
If Ottawa is swept tonight there will be a lot of questions, some of which will have nothing to do with the defence. Where have Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman been, for example? But the fact remains that outside of Erik Karlsson and Methot’s reliable unspectacular play, the defence has had its challenges. It won’t take much to improve, but it’s becoming clear that it will take something.