Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 6, Round 1

Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 3

We could have had it.

That's what makes the game 6 loss so heartbreaking. We almost had it. The Sens played so hard and so well in the first 2 periods of the game the other night, they had the crowd yelling like a Cabinet Minister's House session, they developed a fantastic lead over the Pens and then, that crummy third period happened.

The difference between periods 1 and 2 and that dreadful third? We played those first two periods to win and we played that third not to lose. Simple as that. The defensive style of play in the third was basically as bad as the detrimental effects of loser talk. The Sens let the Pens take over that period and spent way too much time in their own zone, with only one good rush.

This was not the time to back off, especially not against a team with the offensive power of the Penguins. The Sens should have come in just as strong in that last period as they had in the first two if they really didn't want their season to end. But instead, they let the Pens walk all over them in that last period, played a very tentative game and they paid for it.

Matt Cullen had a great game. He was active, gritty, and he competed hard on every shift. Alfie played a good, strong, dependable game with very few errors, as to be expected from the captain. Pascal Leclaire also had a very good game with a few fabulous saves, particularly working well with the glove. Sutton didn't kill anyone, so we're happy with him and his big hits. He also had a few good defensive plays in front of the net and you have to give the big guy credit for being so calm in the zone. It's not just his size that makes him valuable, but his calm and his ability not to panic in tight situations. In the asset-liability debate, he is clearly an asset, if only he can keep his checks in control.

The duds on the ice last night were unfortunately two otherwise good players. Number 19 has had a big target for criticism on his back and for good reason. The guys on the team 1200 show said that it's not a question of effort with Spezza, but let's face it, it is a question of effort. Spezza does not play with any grit. He plays a very clean, soft, pretty game where he likes to have a lot of space to skate around and get nice goals. He's a showboat. He's not a workhorse. When it comes to the playoffs, it's not the showboating that wins you the games. It's work ethic. It's all about cycling hard, forechecking, getting into the dirty zones, fighting for position, battling in the corners and off the boards. You don't win games with players who are too pretty and important to bother with getting their hands dirty.

This is the reason that some hockey fans get into it over the two Conferences. The East is more focused on speed and skill, while most argue that the West is more about muscle and grit. A guy who plays like Spezza can't do a third of what one guy does on the Detroit Red Wings bench. He would be done in a couple of games. Many people argue that Spezza is a face of the franchise type player. But if the face of that franchise is one of soft play, big contracts and entitlement, this is not a face worth keeping. Let's also remember that this face hasn't won a Cup. The other side of this debate is that the only face of the franchise that can legitimately be called as such is Alfie's and I would have to say yes to that one. On that debate, it's worth a lot to me to keep him as our Captain.

The other weak link in this game is Chris Phillips. A normally stable presence on the ice, for some reason, either through panic or just simple miscalculation and absent-mindedness, Phillips had an unreal amount of bad giveaways, just throwing the puck at times right onto the Pens sticks. This is not something you would expect from a player who generally has such poise. It was a very disappointing display.

All in all, I do think that we have to be proud of the Senators for the kind of season that they had. This was their time to shine on home ice and it was a shame that they couldn't deliver in the end. But we did have that great run before the Olympic break this year and our team battled back from injuries and that horrible Heatley debacle before the season began. And if there's one reason for optimism, it's the performance of the young guys, the next generation of Sens stars. Regin, Karlsson, Elliott, and Zack Smith have all shown great potential and they're only going to get better. As long as we don't spoil them too much, not to name names or anything (Spezza, Heatley, Emery).

We've gotten way more out of our young guys than we've paid them for or could have paid them for. They've proven themselves time and time again and have battled hard all season long against seasoned teams. They deserve a ton of credit, not just because of their excellent show of skill, but also for their sheer desire and will to win. And we can win with them.

Go Sens Go.

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