Ottawa Senators (31-21-4) Vs That Place Where No One Wants To Live (32-15-7) @ HSBC Arena, 7pm ET; Television: Sportsnet
A wise man once said, if God were to give the United States an enema, he'd insert it in Buffalo.
Here is my prediction that ran in James Gordon's prediction panel...
Ottawa 3 Buffalo 1
I was tempted to back up my prediction by simply writing, come on! It's Buffalo! But, I decided it was probably more prudent to write more than four words.
<Ahem> Here it goes...
After a small layoff following Saturday’s victory, I would be a little concerned that the Senators’ franchise winning streak might be due to come to a close but come on! It’s Buffalo! As if the Senators needed more motivation to keep their streak alive: Not only is the team playing their bitter rival, Cory Clouston can also use the Northeast Division title as a factor to keep his players hungry.
Here are the lines: Michalek - Spezza - Alfie; Regin - Fisher - Kovalev; Ruutu - Kelly - Neil; Shannon - Winchester - Cheechoo. Elliott gets the nod in the paint and there are no changes to the blueline.
Originally when Cowen signed his entry-level deal this afternoon, I didn't think much of it. However, Tim raised a valid point on the car ride over to the studio for tonight's podcast recording. If Spokane is eliminated from the playoffs before the AHL or NHL playoffs start, he'd be eligible for promotion and be able to play. Take that for what it's worth.
Early in the season, I openly questioned whether it was diligent for the Senators to squander the first year of Karlsson's entry-level contract as the undersized rookie gets acclimatized to the North American style of hockey. At the time, I augmented my argument by alluding to the combination of: his inexperience; his size; and the organization's ability to let him adjust to pro hockey in the AHL without losing a year off of his contract. I reasoned that because of these factors, allowing Karlsson to develop at the NHL was the wrong move to make because I didn't believe that he could be a serviceable improvement over incumbents like Chris Campoli, Brian Lee and Alexandre Picard.
I was wrong.
Erik, while I'm not willing to publicly decree that you will be the next Alfredsson within five years, I will say this. Not only have you surpassed all expectations with your recent play, I've learned a valuable lesson. I will never bet on the likes of Campoli, Picard and Lee again. (Ed. note: Annointing another Alfredsson is ridiculous and borders on heresy at the Church of Alfie. Searching for the next one is as innane as an NBA fans search for the next Michael Jordan. There will never be another Alfredsson for this organization. Never.)
Rekindle the Rivalry With More Of This
More On Phaneuf
I'm a bit empathetic for Flames fans. Sens fans are cut from the same cloth. We thought we'd get more for Heatley as well. (As an aside, has anyone checked in on Pierre McGuire to see if he's come out of his coma now that he has an opportunity to see Dion on a daily basis in Toronto?)
The 6th Sens Podcast
If you haven't listened to it yet because it was buried in this weekend's news, I'd encourage readers to check out the podcast that we recorded last week featuring Neate Sager of Sun Media and an inaugural Senators fan favorite, Darcy Loewen.
According to Erin Nicks, the Senators have a goaltending controversy because Brian Elliott is Brian Elliott and it's only a matter of time before the other shoe drops.
Brian Elliott may know how to keep the ball rolling, but he certainly didn't start it. That distinction belongs to Mike Brodeur, with his two victories over Montreal and the Rangers in mid-January.
Elliott was then handed the keys, and told not to crash. So far, he's been doing better than expected.
And what does this have to do with Martin Gerber? Well, it would appear like his predecessor, Elliott does not handle pressure with the greatest of ease. However, bring him into an already positive situation, and he'll perform as desired.
Maybe it's just me or maybe it's because it's just a case of the Monday morning blues that I'm having trouble grasping Nicks' assertion that there is a goaltending controversy in Ottawa. Now that Elliott can add the NHL's Second Star of the Week to last week's First Star on his mantle of accomplishments, there's no controversy. The Senators are going to ride the hot hand and stick with Elliott until he falters. When/if that happens, Clouston will give Leclaire an opportunity to reclaim his number one job.
Like the goaltender controversy argument, I don't really understand the hatchet job that Nicks performs by stating that Elliott does not handle pressure with the greatest of ease. In the past year and a half, when the hell has Elliott ever played in a pressure cooker of a game?
The closest he has come to a pressure situation was when Mike Brodeur started this winning streak after the Senators had lost four in a row and fell ill. In coming off of the flu and being thrust into a situation in which his work was going to be measured with Brodeur's short-term success, Elliott had to step up and perform so that his job security wouldn't be questioned.
When will pundits finally give Elliott credit for what he's done throughout his hockey career? Whether it's been Wisconsin, Binghamton or Ottawa, Elliott's development has improved at every level that he has played at. Instead of giving credit to Eli Wilson or feeling compelled to shit down Elliott's throat for overachieving, give credit where it's due. I can't actually believe I'm citing Don Brennan to articulate a point but, he's making saves. The kind of saves he's supposed to make. Sure, he might not be the entertaining, athletic netminder that Pascal Leclaire was supposed to be but Elliott has been able to limit something that he can control -- the number of soft, deflating goals that have become the norm in Ottawa.
Instead of focusing on if/when the wheels are going to fall off the Brian Elliott bandwagon, maybe a bigger concern should be whether or not the Senators are peaking too early.
Another Enigma in the Senators Stable
Playing without their best offensive players for a long stretch (and maybe that was critical to the advancement of the cause), Ottawa has come together. There is visible effort. There is passion. There seems to be a joy about their successes. And with the return of their captain and their talented but enigmatic centre, they are on an eight-game winning streak. Doesn't seem to matter who plays goal. Doesn't seem to matter who plays with whom. What does seem to matter to the players is that they break a sweat on every shift and that they pick themselves up after a loss. ~ Mike Milbury, failed GM and analyst for CBC
Alfredsson For Selke Consideration
Thanks to James Mirtle's work at the Globe & Mail, he has provided some statistics to objectify what Senators fans see on a regular basis. Instead of relying upon the use of plus/minus to determine who is a good defensive player, Mirtle makes use of three measures -- quality of competition, goals against at even strength and goals against on the penalty kill -- to characterize Daniel Alfredsson as one of the elite two-way players in the NHL. As a baseball fan who appreciates how sabermetrics have altered the landscape for evaluating players, it's fantastic to see that hockey has started to move beyond some flawed statistical interpretations of the game.
First, there was the Mike Komisarek free agent signing, then there was the Phaneuf trade. Now the Maple Leafs are a Sean Avery trade away from owning a monopoly on hockey players who have had relationships with Elisha Cuthbert. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been surprising for the Leafs GM to shake up his roster and the rest of the NHL by consummating two separate trades today. If you have not heard, Brian Burke dealt Ian White, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom respectively. And an hour or so after that deal had been consummated, Burke had shipped Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to the Anaheim Ducks for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
For those of you keeping track at home, that's a combined 57 goals that Brian Burke moved to strengthen his team's blueline and goaltending situations. By parlaying a slew of inexpensive depth for Phaneuf, Burke conceded that he's willing to sacrifice immediate cap space (Stajan and Mayers are impending UFAs, White is a RFA) to invest in Dion.
Personally, I love this deal for Calgary. Darrly Sutter had to shake things up and could no longer afford to pay Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf top dollar to underachieve. (Ed. note: He also could have fired the goaltending coach. Apparently it works wonders.) Between Dion's reported arguments with the Sutters and the fact that Bouwmeester signed this past summer, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Dion's the odd one out.
Despite the fact that White, Stajan and Mayers are all on the final years of their respective contracts, their acquisitions will give the Flames some short-term offensive production while offering some salary flexibility that otherwise wouldn't have been available had Sutter held onto Phaneuf. And it can't be said enough that although Ian White is not a sexy name player who can replace Phaneuf's physicality, his offensive numbers this season -- 9 goals, 17 assists -- are understated.
To Burke's credit, he somehow managed to find a way to rid his organization of Jason Blake's albatross of a contract. And all it cost his team was an additional $2M in offset between Blake's and Giguere's respective cap hits next season to do it. It was a deft move that has immediate dividends for both teams.
Could Brian Burke have dealt the aforementioned assets for more than he received in return? Maybe. Could he have moved those same players for any prospect who would have a higher ceiling than Dion Phaneuf. Probably not.
The risk that the Leafs may have overpaid to bring in a defenceman who draws comparisons to Ed Jovanovski or a more physical version of Bryan McCabe, is very real. If he can't develop into that elite defenceman, Burke may have potentially hamstrung the budget for the next four years by adding Phaneuf's $6.5M salary. And there are also concerns like the one that Mike Brophy brought up by asserting that there's an inherent risk in building a team around notoriously flaky players like Phil Kessel and Phaneuf.
The list of questions surrounding Phaneuf will continue to grow for the next few days: Will he be able to play under the intense scrutiny that comes with playing in Toronto? Will he get paired with Komisarek on the Sloppy Seconds pairing? Can he overcome his defensive liabilities and develop into that Scott Stevens'esque kind of presence on the blueline? Or will he wilt under the pressure become a footnote in the list of players who used to induce Pierre McGuire stiffies?
As a Senators fan, today's moves are bittersweet. On one hand, it's funny because the Leafs no longer have any scoring depth. The question of who is Kessel going to play with before they made these moves? has now been replaced by who is left for Kessel to play with? Without their first round pick, Sens fans can joke that the Leafs don't even know how to tank properly. Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Boston Bruins management staff likely haven't stopped doing cartwheels since the announcement of the deals was made. Their path to landing Taylor Hall likely just got a little bit easier. As a divisional rival, it's tough to stomach seeing Boston receive a top three pick in reward for mishandling their cap situation.
In the end, Calgary's decision to move Phaneuf and his large contract is a lot like Australian sprinter, Jana Rawlinson's decision to remove her breast implants. Sometimes it's not about having some sexy top heavy pieces like Phaneuf. Sometimes it's more important to have a well balanced whole to reach peak athletic performance. As a Sens fan who has endured life after Heatley, I can attest to this.
On this week's episode of the podcast, we were fortunate enough to share the studio with Sun Media's Neate Sager. Aside from working for the Sun, Neate is also the writer of the popular Out of Left Field blog and the CIS blog. I highly encourage you readers to check both out.
Aside from sharing the studio with Neate, Tim and I also were afforded the opportunity to talk to an inaugural Senators player, icon and legend -- Darcy "The Chainsaw" Loewen.
As always, the podcast is available for stream/download/subscribe to for free on Itunes and if you don't have Itunes, you can download the link by right-clicking and saving this link. Or you can simply stream the episode below. I hope you readers enjoy it and I hope you all enjoy this afternoon's Senators game on Hockey Day in Canada.
Here's the tracklist for the podcast: The Constantines Young Lions; Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man; Neil Young Down the Wire; The Rural Alberta Advantage Edmonton.
As a John Muckler draft pick who was selected in the ninth round, 291st overall, the odds that Brian Elliott would ever develop into a useful commodity at the NHL level were long. (Ed. note: I really can't emphasize the point that he was a Muckler pick enough.) It's because of these circumstances that it's refreshing to see a homegrown product who has overcome adversity and considerable media scrutiny to help stabilize the Senators goaltending situation during this time of need.
With Glasscal Leclaire on the sidelines, Elliott was named last week's NHL First Star. With two more wins this week, he has now strung together six consecutive victories and has allowed only 6 goals on 170 shots - good enough for a 0.965 save percentage. If Brian can muster up another successful start on Hockey Day in Canada against the Canadiens, it's reasonable to assume that he'll have an opportunity to receive another NHL Star distinction.
Despite the League recognizing Elliott's strong play of late, perhaps the biggest gauge of Elliott's success is the fact that two days after dropping this quote,
The play of the Senators' goalies is a bit overrated. Yeah, they're making saves. The kind of saves they're supposed to make. Tell me when, during the winning streak, did you watch Brian Elliott or Mike Brodeur make a stop and say, "Wow!" Me, not once. I think the team plays pretty solid in front of them, and when the Senators get some scoring and even adequate goaltending, they're pretty tough to beat.
Don Brennan unconventionally pulled a 180-degree turn and fellated Elliott's play in Pittsburgh last night. Hell, Elliott was even Pierre McGuire's got in on the love-in by naming Elliott his monster of the game last night. With the way Pierre has gone out of his way to drop trou on Elliott's rebound control for the last year and a half, who would have seen that coming?
Things are going so well for Brian that the only legitimate gripe that can be made against Elliott right now is the fact that he has a barbed wire decal adorning the bottom portion of his mask. I thought this fad died in the 1990's when Pamela Anderson starred in that horrendous Barbed Wire flick. Seriously though, the only socially acceptable use of the barbed wire graphic should be reserved for women whose profession involves walking down a flight of stairs as an emcee tells a group of men to give it up for Trinity!
I digress. Bryan Murray's in an intriguing situation right now: The status quo -- sans Leclaire -- is getting the job done and the Senators are pressed against the salary cap ceiling. A number of credible outlets are reporting that he'd like to add a piece like Ray Whitney but obviously such a move would require some kind of roster casualty to offset any additional salary. I don't envision the Senators would bury Cheechoo's contract in the minors to placate the team's cap situation. So I wonder, would Bryan Murray be willing to listen to offers for Pascal Leclaire? (As an aside, Jonathan Willis, the writer of The Score's Hockey or Die! blog, has written a piece detailing how the Oilers goaltending has been adversely affected in the absence of Nikolai Khabibulin. Maybe there's a match to be made.)
Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are?
Patrick Kane used to be the only thing that Buffalo citizens had to pay attention to in their rear view mirrors. With Ottawa's latest winning streak, they're now only 5 points back of the Northeast Division leading Sabres. Granted, Buffalo does have three games in hand but they also have to play Ottawa three more times this season. In homage to Mark Christopher packing it in, eff Buffalo.
No More Olympic Games For Alfie?
James Gordon was bang on when he wrote that it’s hard to think of a player as productive and durable as the Ottawa Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson hanging up the blades for good, but he confirmed Thursday the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be his last trip to the Games.
Not only is it hard to fathom, it's uber-depressing to read about. With The Euge's optimism rubbing off on everyone in the Hockey Capital, and the team's winning streak in tact, no Senators fan wants to listen to the Captain forecast when his hockey career's internal clock will wind down.
Washington needs a physical defenceman and Volchenkov's Russian. Great fit right? According to the Rock the Red website that's devoted to its coverage of the Capitals, Volchenkov's the guy that George McPhee should be targetting...
One area the Caps have not been able to shore up is adding a pure Defensive player, one who is effective in puck-movement, blocking, hitting, and speed. Sure, Washington’s roster seems bottomless, but it is filled with youth (Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan), penalty prone members (Shaone Morrison, Mike Green), and little offensive upside (John Erskine). While there are several viable options available on the market, some would not be a long term option due to age (Scott Niedermayer, the return of Sergei Gonchar), overpaying for offensive abilities that are already filled by Green and Brian Pothier (Cam Barker, Dion Phaneuf), or would not be a visible upgrade (Andrew Ference, Chris Campoli). That being said if I were able to suggest a player to McPhee it would have to be Anton Volchenkov, who carries a pretty price tag for his hitting and shot-blocking abilities, but is worth every penny. At 27, the current Senator would fit in nicely as a long-term stay-at-home defenceman for the Capitals. Although The Capitals might have to pinch some pennies to make Volchenkov’s potential bidding-war friendly salary fit, they would have more room next season as Pothier, Morrisonn, and Jose Theodore are all defensive unrestricted free agents, and have the potential to come off the books.
It's always fun to watch an out of town fanbase collectively wave their boners in air clamouring for a Volchenkov trade without contemplating what it would actually take to acquire such a key cog for a Senators team that now has a 91.7-percent chance of making the postseason. Pony up McPhee!