Last night the Senators renewed hostilities with last year's playoff opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Considering that it was Sergei Gonchar's return to Pittsburgh, one would have presumed that it would have been an opportune time to step it up and win one for their new teammate. Even when their lineup featured Alexei Kovalev - a player who Bryan Murray believed would have single-handily made a difference in last spring's quarterfinals matchup - the end result didn't change. Victory never materialized.
With an embarrasing 5-2 loss, the Senators now fashion an ugly 1-4-1 record that makes Cory Clouston's suit combinations look good by comparison. With three points, Ottawa is tied for having the least number of points in the NHL. If they're going to turn things around, they need to do it fast. Like really fast. Think Don Brennan jumping off of the Pascal Leclaire bandwagon fast. (Ed. note: Here's how Brennan felt on October 13th and here's his change in faith on October 15th).
As much as I want think that the world is over and act like Junior Seau, it's still early. Optimists can allude to modern history like Ottawa's 2006-07 season as evidence that the team can overcome poor start. Albeit, part of me wants to look at the more recent 2008-09 start under Craig Hartsburg in which the team went 2-4-1 as the more logical reference point. It didn't really help matters that during the second period of last night's game, I got a phone call from Francois wherein we discussed whether or not tonight's game was rock bottom for the team. In all honesty, I'm not sure that it is. As the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren (@Citizenkwarren) put it on Twitter before last night's game, (it will be) interesting to see how cory clouston matches up against sidney crosby tonight. Volchenkov and Phillips had his number — until the playoffs.
The correct answer was with a wish and a prayer. By bumping Matt Carkner up into Sergei Gonchar's stead, it was Cory Clouston's strategy to spread out the defensive depth (Ed. note: Depth? That can't be the right word.) and ensure that Crosby and Malkin wouldn't get some ridiculously easy matchups. Had you told me at the beginning of last season's training camp that Matt Carkner would be on Ottawa's top defensive tandem within one calendar year, I would have had a coronary. As it currently stands, Ottawa officially has no defence. A bottom four of Erik Karlsson, Carkner, Brian Lee and Chris Campoli isn't going to get the job done.
As I reflected upon this during last night's game, I asked this question on Twitter: What's the worst case scenario for this team this season?
Here are some answers...
@Don_inOakville: I think we are living it. Add Leafs success to the misery.
@JGasson21: 9th or 10th in the east. If we're gonna suck, please suck to epic proportions.
@lewysmith: Heatley scores 6 on us Dec. 2nd and hits Alfie, separating his shoulder and forcing him to retire.
Daniel Alfredsson should be pissed. He should be referring to Brian Lee, Alexei Kovalev and Pascal Leclaire as deadweight one, two and three. He should be cursing John Muckler for years of poor drafting and mismanagement that has severely handicapped this team since its 2007 Cup Finals appearance. He should record a video message to be played in San Jose thanking Dany for decimating his trade value and ruining whatever prospective return that Ottawa could get for him. He should hate Bryan Murray for being the guy who has either: (1) squandered cap space; (2) seemingly lost every trade, (3) dealt high picks for rentals; or (4) for being the person who ruined the last few seasons of his career by assembling patchwork rosters.
Poor Alfie. He's the one who I feel for the most. Injuries, poor teams, the subsequent coaching changes and a lack of playoff success... what he's had to endure for the past three seasons is a tragedy. (Ed. note: I feel for Cory Clouston a bit since he has shown that he can get a lot out of this roster. However, the passiveness of the power play and all of the too many men on the ice penalties are killers.)
So where do we go from here?
For Alfie's sake, we can only hope that Ottawa gets better and that his 1,000 career point isn't the only bright spot during the season. We have to hope that Ottawa's power play improves its efficiency. We have to hope (pray?) that Bryan Murray doesn't do something inane like move high draft picks or trade away expiring contracts. We have to hope that Filip Kuba doesn't return too late to improve Ottawa's blueline depth. And as naive as it might be, we have to hope that this current roster still has a little bit of magic left in them.
...And if this season doesn't work out?
Avoid talk radio. Avoid the message boards. Pray that Jason Spezza won't publicly ask to be dealt. Pray that this isn't Alfie's last season. Or better yet, use this website for your catharticpurposes. Send me your emails. Send me your comments. What are your feelings? What does Ottawa do?
Thought On Lehner:
Over on the Ottawa Citizen's Senators Extra, Wayne Scanlan penned a piece detailing how it's probably not in Ottawa's best interests to keep Lehner at the NHL level. After watching tonight's game, I concur but for entirely different reasons. Given the current state of the blueline, there's no reason for Ottawa to piss away a year off of Robin's entry-level contract for this.
On Sunday afternoon, the Binghamton Senators beat the Toronto Marlies 3-1 one and signified that at least one Senators team can win on national television.
One Thought On Kovalev From Saturday Night's Game:
I will never claim to be the biggest Kovalev supporter and I realize that there is a slew of animosity towards a well-paid player who is expected to shoulder some of the secondary scoring burden, however, there was one moment from Saturday night's game that stood out for me. During the third period, Kovalev had a shift in which he aggressively back-checked, stole the puck from the Montreal forward and went the other way. So what happened? Chris Kelly turned the puck over in the offensive zone, Montreal went back on the rush and scored the game winning goal.
As one of my friends noted at the time of the play, we would never see a mention of Kovalev's defensive takeaway in the local rags. He was right.