Had you told me a couple of days earlier that I would even have had the opportunity to watch the Senators play a sixth game, you would have had an easier time persuading me to believe that Brian Lee could still develop into a significant cog for this team in the future.
Like many of you, I was lead to believe that barring a miracle, Eugene Melnyk's dreams of going on a long and prosperous postseason had perilously drawn to a close after the Senators failed to split games three and four on home ice. So when the team slowly climbed itself out of that three games to one hole and Pascal Dupuis scored that overtime goal to clinch the series, I sat there in disbelief as the Senators assembled at center ice to shake hands.
It had all happened so abruptly: a soft dump in; Erik Karlsson getting bumped off the puck; a quick pass by Staal out front to Dupuis; and a one time shot that sent men racing for the exits like Stuntman Stu had just announced that a Lilith Fair concert would follow the conclusion of the game. Faster than you could say denouement, the season was over. Penguins fans barely had time to celebrate. Those frontrunning frat boys were too busy trying to roofy the drinks of the women beside them.
It was only after the last handshake was made that I could rise out of my seat to applaud the team's effort level. When the last Senator had left the ice, I slumped back into my seat to collect my thoughts and buy some time while the other 20,000+ fans filtered out of the parking lot.
So here's the good news: for everyone's sake, a resilient and undermanned Senators team managed to provide us with a glimmer of hope and two unbelievably entertaining elimination games. Even if the team did demonstrate a lack of killer instinct to put away a Penguins team that was down by 3 goals late in the second period of game six. Dr. Chow can put the defibrillators away now that Pascal Leclaire has put together two consecutive quality starts and shown that his career still has a pulse. Two of Ottawa's best players were their rookies -- Erik Karlsson and Peter Regin -- and any playoff experience for these two freshmen is beneficial for the future. Building upon career seasons, the trio of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly, and Chris Neil was the team's most consistent line at even strength. Daniel Alfredsson, we'd learn, was playing with a torn stomach muscle and still somehow manage to tie for the team lead in playoff points (8).
And now the bad...
The team exhibited an underwhelming lack of speed and were outplayed in every facet of the series. The deficiencies of using an imbalanced blueline -- the lack of offence and mobility -- became abundantly clear. Even though Bryan Murray took a calculated risk assembling a big and physical blueline, it came at the expense of a quick transition game. If the forwards couldn't receive a clean first pass with speed in the neutral zone, it made the whole team look slower.
After a successful second half that showed that he didn't need rely on backdoor passes to Dany Heatley, the handsomely paid Jason Spezza didn't step up on the League's biggest stage and carry his team. With a NTC set to kick in on July 1st, the annual exhibition of Spezza trade rumours are destined to ramp up and even Spezza himself is admitting that he's growing tired of being a lightning rod for criticism. In the absence of some secondary scorers, Mike Fisher uncharacteristically avoided the scoresheet and bodily contact. At 37 years of age, it's difficult not to ignore Alfredsson's recent injuries -- knee, shoulder, stomach -- and that his goal totals have regressed for a second consecutive season. By bringing in two deadline acquisitions in Matt Cullen and Andy Sutton, Bryan Murray gave up two second draft picks and Alex 'freaking' Picard for two veterans who probably won't be retained when unrestricted free agency starts. Speaking of unrestricted free agency, Ottawa's shot blocking machine, Anton Volchenkov, may join Sutton and Cullen on the open market.
With the season now over, many fans and the other Senators website brethren are regarding this season as a success on the loose basis that nothing was expected from this team this season.
I'll agree that yes, in light of last summer's crisis, the season could be considered a success on the merit that this team came together and developed a blue collar workman-like ability to persevere. I just however, find it remarkable that so many people are putting that much stock into the pre-season prognostications of so-called "experts" who predicted that Ottawa wouldn't be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference when the dust had settled.
I know things were supposed to be different this year. When the Ottawa Senators had their eleven consecutive playoff appearances streak snapped last season, Ottawa's fifth place finish in the Eastern Conference was supposed to inject renewed optimism and vigour back into the fan base. Gone were the lofty expectations. In their stead, fans and the core of this team were supposed to embrace an underdog identity. Only it never truly developed until Matt Carkner scored in the triple-overtime of game five.
From the box office to the various opinions that have circulated for the past two weeks, the vibe in this city has been: Well, if they could only get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, maybe that's when I'll jump on the bandwagon. Maybe it has something to do with the years of languishing in the playoffs. It's like one big sect of the Senators populace has become like the dogs used in Martin Seligman's learned behavioural psych experiments. Caught in a perpetual state of learned helplessness.
Or maybe some fans are like me and aren't satisfied with an appearance and first round ouster. Before the season, I predicted that this team would finish as a 6th to 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, so maybe I'm not as surprised as others by Ottawa's playoff appearance. If the circumstances were different or if this was a young team like a Colorado or the Islanders, I might get more excited about a first round appearance. But given the veteran-laden roster that Ottawa had, if the team had missed the playoffs, I would have viewed the season as a colossal failure.
If I could draw an analogy for this season, I'd compare it to the movie Executive Decision starring Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal. Some people saw this as a good '90's action flick. Whereas I dwell and make a comment like, "Good movie? Sure. But I'm not happy because I paid to watch an action flick with Steven Seagal and he's dead within the first 10 minutes."
The point that I can't stress enough is that the ramifications of this offseason are huge. Will Volchenkov walk? If so, who replaces his spot? Will management waver and ship Jason Spezza out of town? Can Bryan Murray bring in a legitimate second line center to insulate Spezza? Can the goaltending combination of Leclaire and Elliott be better than they were this season? With a longer summer, how much size and strength can Erik Karlsson add? Is Nick Foligno a second liner or a third liner? Can either of Patrick Wiercioch or Jared Cowen make this team next fall? Would Bryan Murray consider moving a Chris Kelly or a Jarkko Ruutu to free up some salary?
They're all legitimate questions that I can't wait to see pan out. When does the Cup final end again?
- Bryan Murray kick started this morning's press conference by stating that there's reason for optimism for this club. He thought that the team had a good compete level and he was pleased with the fact that a number young players successfully enter the system and despite the team's injury problems, it still managed to clinch a playoff position with 94 points. From a disappointing perspective, Bryan was displeased with the number of injuries -- including Alfredsson's -- and the fact that the team blew a three goal lead in game six.
- On Volchenkov's impending unrestricted free agent status, Murray stated that he wasn't sure that he'd be able to get him signed to a deal that would be beneficial from a salary cap perspective. He pays homage to The Euge by stating that he's fortunate that he has an owner who's willing to commit the money necessary for the team to spend to the cap limit, but also mentions that he has some RFA's who he has to fit in as well.
- When asked about his priorities for the offseason, the name Matt Cullen is mentioned. When talking with a number of the younger players, they reiterated that they really liked Cullen who Murray characterized as a real professional.
- When asked if there was a Plan B if Volchenkov walks, Murray stated that a player of Volchenkov's ilk can't be replaced completely. He goes on to mention that a number of young guys will be expected to compete for roster spots and that if the numbers with Volchenkov don't work, he'll have to go to the market to add a defenceman. When pressed as to whether or not Andy Sutton is a guy who could get lumped in as a Plan B candidate, Murray says yes but reiterates that Ottawa's UFA's will likely get offers on the open market that Ottawa might not be able to match.
- One reporter asks Murray what the team's needs are. In response, Murray mentions: that his best players need to bring more; more mobility is needed on the blueline (mentions the loss of Filip Kuba as a significant factor); and says that getting more offence from the back end is an issue that has plagued the team.
- Discussion gets brought back to Volchenkov and Murray clarifies that the team isn't 100 miles apart in negotiations. However, Volchenkov's camp feels that the market will net him a contract that Ottawa simply can't provide.
- When asked about Jason Spezza's lightning rod status, Murray says "He is what he is." Blames some of the criticism on the fact that Spezza would be unfairly compared to his counterparts -- Malkin and Crosby -- in the series. Murray reiterates that Spezza's a good player who makes some plays.
- Asked if the possiblity existed for the organization to bury salary in the AHL or buyout some contracts, Murray said that the team already demonstrated that they would do it when the team sent Jonathan Cheechoo down earlier in the season. He went on to say that the organization has to make a decision on Cheechoo again but beyond that, there are not a lot of options that he wants to do.
- Murray touches upon how pleased he was with the team and how it managed itself in the post-Heatley era, or as one scribe put it, the crisis last summer. In Heatley's absence, Murray said the roster room gave a player like Peter Regin the opportunity to make the team and eventually get a chance to perform on the first line. In short, he was really happy.
- When Pascal Leclaire is brought up and Murray responds by saying that injuries plagued his season and contributed to his down year. For a player who's career has been marred by freak injuries, Murray doesn't think that Leclaire played particularly well after his first injury and that opened the door for Brian Elliott to assume the number one gig. When it came time to get Elliott ready for the postseason, it forced the team to shelf Pascal. Murray finishes his thoughts on Leclaire by stating how pleased he was with his postseason performance and that he hopes Pascal has a productive offseason that gives him a good chance to be successful next year. Murray concludes by saying that Leclaire's final two games demonstrated what kind of goalie that he is and he hopes that Pascal will carry that success over to next season.
- On Clouston: He got the team into the postseason with 94 points and helped some young players emerge as viable players. He was impressed with Clouston's structure and discipline but hopes that Clouston learned some lessons throughout the year that will make him a better coach moving forward. He said that he hopes to sit down with Cory in the next few days to discuss the season, the players and how they can work together to make next season more successful. He mentions that they might talk about the handling of Leclaire, the allocation of ice-time for some players. Murray drew an analogy between his talks with Clouston and the team's black aces and says it's no different. In every facet of the organization, you need productive discussion to determine how everyone can get better at what they do.
- I believe it was Ken Warren who asked Bryan Murray to clarify when Jason Spezza's NTC kicks in -- was it July 1st, 2009 or is it July 1st, 2010. Murray reiterates that it's this July 1st when it kicks in but he refuses to disclose whether or not he's willing to listen to offers on Spezza.
- Murray gets into his expectations for Cowen and Wiercioch next season. He believes that both can play next year if he wants them to and they're ready. He believes that they're strong candidate to push for roster spots. He states that the difference between the two is that Cowen could feasibly go back to junior hockey while Wiercioch is a likely candidate to go to Binghamton and possibly be promoted throughout the season from there. He concludes by stating that he wouldn't be surprised if both need a little bit more seasoning.
- On the subject of young players, Robin Lehner's name is mentioned. Murray says the contract situations of Elliott and Leclaire will give them an edge in any goaltending battle but Lehner has expressed to Bryan that he wants to challenge the veterans for a job at the NHL level. Like any other roster decision, Murray believes that Lehner's emergence will be a matter of timing and determining what's the best course of action for the young netminder. That being said, he mentions that he will keep an open mind.
We had two featured guests join the show this week. The first is an Ottawa Sun columnist who was nominated for the Gene Florcyk Memorial Award. He's also the writer of the best Sunday hockey column around. Yes, that's right -- Bruce Garrioch joins in and breaks down the Pittsburgh series and potential moves that this team could make this summer. Joining Bruce on the progam is Aaron, the creator and star of The Jonathan Cheechoo Song and The Even More Better Jonathan Cheechoo Song YouTube videos.
As always, you can subscribe/download/stream the episode or entire catalogue of episodes from Itunes. Or you can download the file by right-clicking and saving this file. Or you can simply stream the episode below. We hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions or comments about the podcast, please leave us some feedback in the comment thread below. Thanks for listening, we hope you enjoy the show.
Tracklist for the podcast: The Gaslight Anthem Red At Night; Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Last Days; We Were Promised Jetpacks Moving Clocks Run Slow; Brimstone Howl Suicide Blues; and Crowded House Don't Dream It's Over.
I'll keep this short. I will get to eulogizing this season in the next few days and we -- Tim and I -- will be jumping back in the studios tonight to record a podcast. Both should be available soon, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear how my readership views this team, the season, management, et al. Leave your comments/feedback in the comment below.
At this time, I would also like to thank our featured podcast guests for willingly donating their time to contribute to our amateurish showsAlso, I just wanted to thank the readers and listeners who regularly came back to this website and either read our material or listened to our podcasts. Tim and I really appreciated your emails, comments, Photoshopped images and pictures.
Thank you for making this a successful year for The 6th Sens.
From the National Post...
SOUTH FAYETTE TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A Pennsylvania man is accused of murdering his wife and torching their home following a dispute over an NHL playoff game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators Thursday night.
WPXI in South Fayette, Pa., reported Friday that — according to investigators — Robert Abrams stabbed his wife and beat her with a hammer. She was apparently angry because her husband insisted on staying up late to watch the Penguins and Senators battle it out in a triple overtime thriller, won by the Senators 4-3.
“She had 10 episodes of blunt force trauma to the head resulting in multiple skull fractures,” medical examiner Dr. Carl Williams told the Pittsburgh-area news station. “In addition, she had at least four stab wounds to the chest.”
The man attempted to cover the incident up, WPXI reported, telling witnesses that the family dog may have knocked over a candle. Abrams reportedly told witnesses that he jumped from a window to escape the flames.
He is charged with criminal homicide, arson and abuse of a human corpse.
Yikes. Hopefully the Pennsylvania justice system is more impartial than the referees calling the Senators/Penguins series.
Big thanks to Chris, Tom and Marco for their Photoshopping skills. Here are some other submissions from Marco and Scott:
Live to play another day.
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