30 Thoughts of Dubious Quality, Questionable Importance, and Debatable Insight

1. Big news today is Mark Stone’s suspension. I was ok with the phone hearing and ok with the two games. Am I happy about losing Stone for two? Nope, he’s leading the Sens in scoring, is terrific to watch, and one of my favourite players. Ottawa’s better with him in the lineup. Do I think it was an attempt to go for the puck that was awkward more than anything else? Sure. Do I think the hit was intentionally targeting the head? No, but I also don’t really think that matters. Sometimes intent seems clear, but often it’s hard to judge what a player’s thinking, so remove that from the equation. What it comes down to for me is Landon Ferraro got hit in the head, Stone was responsible, admitted as much publicly, and there are consequences. The NHL’s frightening lack of consistency on matters of discipline is irritating but consistency has to start somewhere and Stone’s hit is as good a place as any to start.
2. Stone’s a clean player and doesn’t have a history of these hits and some argued that a fine should have sufficed. But I’m ok with suspending players for first offenses and for harsher penalties in general when it comes to NHL discipline. In real life, I appreciate more nuance and think things like mandatory minimums are crap. But the NHL isn’t real life. Fines don’t get the job done. Maybe we should spend less time worrying about whether a player or individual play is clean or dirty. It seems a bit counterproductive.
3. What about Henrik Zetterberg’s leaping elbow to the face of Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Well, yeah, I would have given him like 10 games for that (I would have given Stone more too; I’m draconian when it comes to safety), but I’m not Director of Player Safety (I could sure use the money though). Player Safety was wrong about Zetterberg and their explanation was inadequate. I suspect there are a variety of factors that contributed to this: Zetterberg’s star power, Pageau’s less than star power (how can they not know about the Pageau chant?!) and probably most significantly, Pageau wasn’t injured (thankfully). The NHL responds to the severity of the injury and while I think that’s not the most impactful way to eliminate dangerous play, it’s what they do. The Zetterberg case is unfortunate, but doesn’t change things for Stone. If you’re being honest about your desire for consistency, than you want that Stone hit punished even with the knowledge Zetterberg got away with something more flagrantly against NHL rules. Ultimately, that’s how you get to a league that would actually suspend for both infractions (also, hire less former players to do these decision-making jobs, but that’s not going to change anytime soon).
4. Two reactions from two fanbases on hearing the Stone suspension news were disappointing: Ottawa fans upset that Stone was suspended only because he’s a Senator and Montreal fans suggesting this is karmic justice for P.K. Subban getting suspended for breaking Stone’s wrist. Worst.
5. I would like to see more follow-up when teams and players break concussion protocol. Ferraro went down hard (rightly so) and was slow to get off the ice. He went to the dressing room as per concussion protocols to be evaluated (so far, so good). But he was back on the bench and playing in a few minutes. I’m not suggesting Ferraro was trying to trick the refs into punishing Stone (he wasn’t) and I don’t think he’s guilty of anything more than being an eager young player trying to do everything to secure his place in an NHL lineup. I just hope he really is ok, because if he’s not, it’s another instance of players, and more so the medical staff charged with caring for them, failing to protect their patients.
6. Detroit isn’t especially duplicitous in this either. Every team fails in this department. For an Ottawa example, look no further than Clarke MacArthur. He’s currently on the sidelines recovering from his third concussion in 8 months. I’m not a medical doctor nor am I privy to all the details of each incident and his recovery process, but it’s concerning. I don’t know if he was fully recovered when he returned to the Sens lineup late in the season for Ottawa’s playoff push and first round series against Montreal in the spring. I don’t know if his training camp concussion was handled properly in September and if it’s just an awful coincidence he was out with the same type of injury a few weeks later, but it’s certainly possible. I hope the Sens and MacArthur are taking the long view this time and are concerned more with his wellbeing for the rest of his career and post-playing days.
7. Andrew Hammond has only played two games and is coming off injury so I don’t really have any opinions on his play so far. He looked bad in his debut, he looked good in his follow-up. I don’t love his new mask. Intermission panels can stop asking if he can live up to a mark literally no other goalie achieved anytime though, that would be nice.
8. Craig Anderson has had the bulk of the starts. That’s good, that’s the way it should be and it’s nice to not have a goalie controversy. We have a clear starter and I’m comfortable with Anderson in that role.
9. He’s looked terrific in a few games and has been lit up in a couple others. In the games he’s let in 4+ he hasn’t exactly been supported by his porous and mystifying blueline. Still, there’s room for improvement with Andy.
10. I cannot get worked up about line combos in practice and before games anymore. I get it, things aren’t optimal, but this doesn’t seem like the best use of my rage.
11. Absolutely tired of discussing Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki. I get that this is the main topic of conversation for Sens fans right now, and whatever, have at it, I guess, but I’m out. It’s boring and tedious and no matter how many words I write about it, it isn’t likely to change Bryan Murray’s or Dave Cameron’s mind. So, I haven’t written about either player in a while and it’s likely to stay that way. I might get frustrated about their play during a game, I just can’t be bothered to debate it endlessly each day of the week. The topic is so tired, it’s almost a matter of consensus: they’re bad, we’d be better with other internal options, we should have made a trade. For me, it’s simply not interesting to talk about this anymore
12. I will say that I think each of Ottawa’s regular defensemen can be better.
13. Cody Ceci’s game is a bit different so far this season. He’s definitely more willing to not only join the rush, but lead it with speed through the neutral zone and into the other team’s end. This led to a Ceci goal against Arizona on a rush with Bobby Ryan. It might be the sign of a young player more comfortable in the NHL or with his role on the team, but it will be interesting to see if his game continues to grow in this area given his offensive flare with the 67’s and B-Sens.
14. Erik Karlsson hasn’t scored. He will.
15. Digging a bit further, Ottawa’s powerplay is struggling and EK hasn’t managed a PP goal yet. I have no doubt that he’ll pot a half dozen goals on the powerplay by time the season’s finished, but as it stands currently, he hasn’t. The Sens have been fairly good (especially the first unit) at building pressure but don’t have much to show for it yet. If you’ve been watching at home, you’ve no doubt seen a few clip sequences of EK not being able to get his shot through all the bodies in front of the net, EK having a shot blocked, and EK not being able to find a lane. Here’s the thing: one of Karlsson’s most underrated skills is his ability to get his slapshot and his wrist shot through traffic. The shots and goals will come.
16. That said, maybe a change on the powerplay isn’t the worst idea. Karlsson regularly can and does play the full two minutes with the advantage. There’s a few reasons for this (Cameron wanting to roll four forwards, no other overly offensive defensemen, EK is amazing etc.) and while it might be the best option for the powerplay, I’m not sure it’s the best option for even-strength play. Given the team’s depth issues, I’d rather have EK play more at even strength.
17. I also think, despite his struggles so far this season, that Patrick Wiercioch is capable of running the second unit. It’s not a move designed to break him out of his funk or whatever, but his strength is his passing ability/distribution and that’s what you need from your PP quarterback. Wouldn’t mind seeing Ceci here too. What’s the harm in keeping the pairing together on the PP?
18. Part of this is I’ve always hated the forward playing the point (or playing along the point/along the boards) on the PP. It’s not that defenders don’t get burned or make poor decisions that lead to odd-man rushes, they do, it just feels like this is something defending teams try to exploit when there’s a forward back there. The Sens might be ok if it’s Turris as the forward back there, but the first unit tends to oscillate between Turris and Ryan, with Karlsson as the fulcrum. When Turris is in an advanced position, it means Ryan is on the point. I’m less confident in Ryan’s defensive play and speed. The shorthanded team is more willing to challenge that forward. It’s entirely possible this is confirmation bias on my part. Still, not having a forward back there gives Cameron a chance to add some more skill to the second unit.
19. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by Milan Michalek of late. He seems to have his legs back and has found a home on the third line. He’s chipping in offensively and is spending a lot of time near the opposition net. He’s picking up penalty killing duties too. With all the Ottawa penalty issues the last few games he’s logged a lot of minutes recently and I do have questions about whether he can sustain it, but basically, he’s been a good third liner so far. But what about his contract? Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s bad and not what you want to pay a third liner. But right now he’s not going anywhere and I’d rather him find a niche and contribute.
20. A lot of people felt like this would be Mika Zibanejad’s breakout year. There’s still plenty of time for that, but right now Kyle Turris and Pageau are doing more to get noticed. Turris’ hot start seems to be ending the silly “Is he really a number one centre, tho?” conversations. He’s getting noticed as a really good two-way centre on his own merits by more people around the league. Before the season started I had a chat with a fellow WTYKY member about whether Turris could hit 75+ this season. He was of the opinion it was too much of a jump, I thought it would be a lot, but doable, especially if he played with Stone all year (to be fair, I hedged a little too). I don’t think either of us expected a start like this (7G, 5A, 12P in 11G). When they’re all in the lineup, Turris-Hoffman-Stone look like one of the most dangerous lines in the league. Now, I don’t expect him to keep up this goal scoring pace all season; his shooting percentage is currently over 23% well above his career average of 10.7%. However, I do think Mark Stone will start scoring more and Turris will factor into that.
21. Pageau keeps getting better and better. We wondered how much Erik Condra stirred the drink on Ottawa’s excellent third line of Pageau, Condra and Curtis Lazar and while Condra’s departure hurts, Pageau seems like he’s taking another step forward this season. Ottawa’s had some great third line centres over the years and guys like Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly really defined the role in Ottawa. Pageau’s taken a page from their books combining speed, enthusiastic forechecking, and strong defensive play to be a threat at both ends of the ice and on the penalty kill as well. He’s already got three goals, including one shorthanded and it would be great if he can keep building on that. A third line Dave Cameron can feel comfortable rolling out there is essential if this team is going to make the playoffs.
22. So what’s up with Mika Zibanejad anyway? There’s still plenty of time for his season to get rolling, but through the ten game mark things have looked a little shaky. The point totals are fine (2G, 6A, 8P, 11GP) but the advanced stats aren’t kind to him right now. Some of this is due to who’s on his wing and he’s really missed the speed of Mike Hoffman. He also seems hesitant (for some reason) to drive through the middle of the ice using his speed and size (both the neutral zone and his centre lane). I’d like to see him have at least one speedy winger (Hoffman most obviously, but maybe Shane Prince?) to work with in addition Bobby Ryan. I think Mika and Ryan can work as linemates, but if Cameron is going to do that, he needs to give Zibanejad some help stirring the drink.
23. Chris Neil looks better than he has in a few years. Like Michalek, I have questions about whether he can keep up this play all season and with everyone fit I’d still rather see someone else in his spot. That said, it’s a marked improvement from last year and the season before. It’s also helpful for him to have some jump if there’s any possibility he’ll be moved at the deadline (I’m holding out hope).
24. However, penalties remain an issue with him. He’s got 37 minutes already and while there’s misconducts and a fight mixed in, he’s taken 6 minor penalties so far and that’s too many in 11 games. It’s a liability and it’s hurting the team because the Sens only have one reliable PK defensive unit. Adding to the problem is linemate Zack Smith, who also has 6 minors (including 2 costly penalties against Detroit). This needs to change.
25. It’s not just fourth liners spending too much time in the box. Erik Karlsson has 6 minors so far (perhaps the best example that he’s not yet at midseason form, aside from the fact that it’s the start of November), Patrick Wiercioch, Alex Chiasson, and Mark Stone all have 5 minors. Ottawa needs some discipline. It’s not just as simple as discipline issues. Ottawa’s porous blueline means the team spends too much time defending and getting trapped in its own end. The result is an increase in minors.
26. Shane Prince. Like what I’ve seen so far from him. He’s chipped in despite the limited role (playing primarily with the fourth line). We got a chance to see him in the top-6 the last couple of games and I think we’ll see more out of him if he stays there. Given that Mac and Stone are both out of the lineup currently, seems like that’ll be the case.
27. Alex Chiasson is playing like someone who listened to his coach’s concerns, but it’s just not paying off so far. He’s trying to use his speed and size more and while he’s had some jump on a line with Milan Michalek and Jean-Gabriel Pageau and is a better option in front of the net than Chris Neil on the PP (not that this is saying much), the results haven’t come so far. He has just one goal and one assist in 11 games and the penalty minutes are accumulating (10 PIM). If I had to guess, he’s the most likely candidate to come out of the lineup if Dave Cameron changes things up.
28. The news that Mike Hoffman and Curtis Lazar are ready to return doesn’t exactly mean Matt Puempel and Max McCormick are headed back to Bingo (especially with the Stone suspension). Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m probably wrong, I don’t pay as that much attention to roster moves), but the Senators started the season with 22 players. Add to that the fact that Clarke MacArthur is still dealing with a concussion and both players might stay up since there’s room. There’s probably a procedure since both were emergency call-ups (I think?) but the point is, there’s room for an extra body once everyone’s in the lineup.
29. Given a choice between McCormick and Puempel, it seems Puempel is the clear choice. He’s chipped in a goal in his three games this season, had an extended look with the team last year, and Cameron has shown a willingness to move him up and down the lineup, sometimes pencilling him in on the second line, sometimes third, with some penalty killing duties. McCormick had a goal correctly called off against Detroit and hasn’t been bad or anything, just less noticeable. Part of that is playing on the fourth line but that’s also a result of not being as trusted as Puempel.
30. Daniel Alfredsson. When former players return to take front office jobs, their responsibilities are often nebulous or poorly defined (to the public anyway). Alfie’s back in the fold and while I’m still not clear exactly what his job entails, he’s not shying away from the hands on stuff. He was on the ice with the injured Curtis Lazar last week, talking and instructing. On a team that still has a lot of young players, it’s nice to have that kind of experience available. Hoping Chris Phillips can find a similar role with the Sens when he officially hangs them up.

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