This is a weekly feature that takes an uncharitable look at the Senators’ upcoming opponents.
Tuesday, December 1 – Senators vs. Flyers
Hey, these guys again! The Senators played their last home game against the Flyers a little more than a week ago, and now that Ottawa’s back from a western road trip it’s the Flyers that are up again. It’s like they never left the Canadian Tire Centre, or just spent the last week shuffling around Kanata, buying Kirkland-brand jeans and developing strong opinions about its overcrowded English public schools. But can you blame them? The Flyers, as predicted, are sputtering near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division (“Cities You Like Visiting, Plus Columbus!), so even hanging around suburban Ottawa is probably better than going back to Philadelphia and having children pelt you with batteries as you get off the plane.
The Flyers have actually won three of their last four since splitting up their two good players, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek; Voracek is now tasked with bringing offensive skill to the Flyers fourth line, sort of like Shane Prince if he just signed an eight-year, $66 million extension. Voracek’s demotion is a nice reminder that every team makes bizarre lineup decisions from time to time, suggesting that you can take your own team’s only so critically. You may have rolled your eyes at some of Paul MacLean’s moves, but the constant impulse to screw with a lineup is a viral condition that lies dormant within most of the adult population of NHL coaches, and Paul MacLean was just another guy trying to manage it. Sure, they control it successfully most of the time, but then the holidays roll around, they start feeling stressed, and boom, total flare up. Now Zack Smith is on the second unit power play. Ask your doctor if Paultrex is right for you.
PREDICTION: You know when you want somebody to leave your house, so you just take off for a while and figure they’ll take the hint and be gone when you come back? Then you get home from work and they’re still there, telling you they’re happy to pitch in until “things calm down, legally,” and that vodka bottle you had in the freezer is gone? You are the Ottawa Senators in this game, tossing the Flyers’ gear bags out onto the sidewalk as calmly as possible. Look for Curtis Lazar to wave goodbye cheerfully. Senators 5, Flyers 0.
Thursday, December 3 – Senators vs. Blackhawks
One of the dumbest and most myopic tropes about hockey players – and you can tell Don Cherry I said this – is that they’re all “good guys”. They’re not, because there’s no profession, category, or class of people for whom this is true, anywhere. There are good and bad politicians, good and bad cops, even good and bad people in the low-stakes world of whatever it is you do; after all, somebody keeps stealing your Go-Gurt out of the breakroom fridge. Assuming hockey players are any different is naïve and asinine, and reason enough why you should never wrap your identity so tightly around something you can’t control that you end up on the Internet, with absolutely no facts at hand, arguing the finer points of law you have no training in because it affects one of “your guys”.
Should we expect better of the teams that employ these guys, though? Maybe. After all, they’re corporate entitities, and they have management structures, and codes of conduct, and all the other checks and balances and shared liabilities that are supposed to prevent any one individual from ruining everything. Of course, they also exist to make money, and in every hockey city outside of Toronto, making money means winning games. Taking a moral stand against an underperformer isn’t brave, it’s business. Against a star, though? Well, do the fans care enough to stop buying tickets, and jerseys, and team-branded grill sets? They don’t? Then it’ll blow over. That’s the free market for you, and assuming your team operates any differently is just as naïve as assuming the players are all good guys. It’s fine to expect teams to be better, but the teams also work for the fans. We should expect better of everybody.
PREDICTION: Wooooooo, who’s ready for some HOCKEY? Senators 5, Blackhawks 0.
Saturday, December 5 – Senators vs. Islanders
The New York Islanders play in Brooklyn and wear black now, which has finally allowed hockey writers to break out their own take on hipster jokes that were old ten years ago, when “hipsters” were something other than mainstream culture; even your dad rolls his eyes when he hears a Pitchfork joke these days. These days any real hipster will tell you Williamsburg is over and the new thing is to care passionately and be right-wing, and no black uniform changes the fact that this team remains Long Island all the way, the stink of I-495 and Billy Joel still all over them.
The Islanders did some great stuff in the early 80s but have been pretty terrible ever since, much like Van Halen or most of your uncles. They’ve been on the upswing for the last few years though, slowly building a semi-likeable team around homegrown superstars like John Tavares and complementing him with underrated castoffs like Nick Leddy, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin. In some respects they are Clarke MacArthur, the team. Still, not everyone wants to be an Islander; witness the recent trade request from defenseman Travis Hamonic, who’s asked to be moved closer to his family in Winnipeg. It’s the first time since the fur trade was a going concern that anyone has asked to be sent to Winnipeg, but maybe Hamonic is just tired of getting run over by strollers and fixies every time he tries to get a gluten-free cronut on his way to the Barclays Center and – see, now I’m doing it too. Brooklyn, man.
PREDICTION: The Islanders had a pretty good shot / To get at least as far as Denis Potvin got / But something happened on the way to that place / The Sens threw 55 shots in their face / And we’re living here in Allentown. Well, 15 minutes west of Allentown. Good bus service, though. Look for you to think this is a stupid reference. Senators 5, Islanders 0.
Sunday, December 6 – Senators @ Rangers
And last, the Rangers, the Paul Simon to the Islanders’ Billy Joel, in that they’ve spent the last 50 years being more influential, more respected, and not nearly as successful. There’s a reason why the theme song to The Chet Sellers and Luke Peristy Podcast is a riff on “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” – it’s because we know what the people want. The Devils in this analogy are Springsteen, in that most people only pretend to enjoy them. Come on, NHL. Move the Devils to Staten Island so we can finally bring Wu-Tang into hockey.
After the Senators, the Rangers are this season’s “ACTUALLY (*white doves fly skyward*) They’re Not as Good as Their Record” team. In a way it almost makes me want to like them. But I don’t. We talked last time about how hating the Rangers starts with hating Henrik Lundqvist’s impossible cheekbones; this time let’s talk about Chris Kreider, who’s run more goalies during games in Ottawa than Nick Foligno ever did, which is even more impressive when you consider Kreider’s had to do it as a visitor. Perhaps he’s trying to play the kind of hard-nosed game that eventually earns you a leadership role in Columbus, which is where many ex-Rangers end up once the useful phase of their career is over. Keep your eye on Kreider in this one, particularly if you are Craig Anderson.
PREDICTION: God, four games in a week – I’m exhausted just from previewing them, so I’m trying to imagine how the Senators will feel by Sunday night. Unflappable? Energetic? Casually dominant? After all, the Rangers aren’t nearly as good as their record would have you believe. Look for the Senators to put the “fun” in “underlying fundamentals”. Senators 5, Rangers 0.
Season prediction record: 12-6-5
Next week: Florida – the Jared Cowen of America.