Game Day Thread 51: Hawks Vs Sens

Game On! (34-11-4) Vs Take It Easy On Us (25-21-4) @ 7:30pm ET, SBP; Television: Rogers Sportsnet

The summer of 2005 was an exciting time to be a Senators fan. The NHL labour strike had just ended, salaries had been rolled back, Bettman and the league had promised to promote skill and talent through by reinforcing the rules and eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey, and Ottawa’s roster was loaded with talent. For the first time ever, the Senators had a legitimate number one goalie who had Hall of Fame credentials. On August 23rd, Marian Hossa who was arbitration eligible and signed a 3-year $18M contract at the twelvth hour before the hearing was dealt by John Muckler to Atlanta for the young Dany Heatley.

Hossa was understandably livid. He was a fan favorite who wanted to remain in Ottawa and had negotiated his deal in good faith. He was blindsided and devastated with the news. As difficult as it was to see Hossa go, fans were blissed out by the fact that Ottawa had rid itself of Greg DeVries’ salary and had acquired a Canadian who was labelled as a power forward. Considering that the Senators organization was still reeling from their consecutive playoff losses to the Maple Leafs, fans were ready to see their team lose the stigma of being a soft team to play against. So when John Muckler signed Heatley to his 3-year $13.5M contract, fans were dancing in the streets.

Little did we as Senators fans know that the 2005-06 season would be the most devastating in franchise history. Between Hasek’s adductor injury at the Olympics, Ottawa being upset in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres and watching the organization not do everything in their power to resign Zdeno Chara, the Senators were on their road to mediocrity. Only we didn’t know it at the time.

Now that Heatley has gone and Hossa has returned to Ottawa, it’s interesting to note that karma has come full circle and kicked our ass almost five years later.

Here is my prediction that was featured in James Gordon’s Ottawa Citizen prediction panel

Senators 3, Blackhawks 5

Has anyone else noticed that a good indicator for a hockey team that’s destined for big things when past-their-prime actors make a habit of attending games to keep themselves in the limelight? I call it the Vince Vaughn rule. (Case in point – have you seen Matthew Perry lately?) Even though Ottawa has strung together three inspired efforts against some middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference teams, it’s implausible to pick against the League’s best team that has strung together a record of 8-1-1 in their last 10.

Expect to see the same lines that were employed against Boston: Shannon-Regin-Kovalev; Foligno-Fisher-Alfie; Ruutu-Kelly-Neil; Donovan-Smith-Cheechoo. Brian Elliott is back between the pipes ce soir and Picard is the odd man out on the blueline.

Returning to the Fold

While Jason Spezza is likely due to return in the next week to ten days, Ian Mendes is reporting via Twitter that Milan Michalek has an outside chance of playing on Thursday night versus the Blues but is more likely to return from injury on Saturday night in a rematch against the Bruins.

“I think what has happened during this period of time is that we’ve seen some young guys step up and play pretty well, given the opportunity, so maybe our need isn’t quite what it was,” Murray said.

“You see Zack Smith play (against Montreal), you see Peter Regin play on a regular basis, Nick Foligno looks like he’s starting to get back to where he was a year ago.

“I don’t know when we’ll get a chance to see our full team, when we’ll have everyone healthy, but, at the end of the day, it would be nice to see what we have.” ~ Ottawa Citizen

As these integral pieces of the roster return, it’s going to be interesting to see how Cory Clouston and Bryan Murray handle the young forwards who have proven apt when called upon to play a significant role. Is Peter Regin likely to remain in the Senators top six? Will Zach Smith be returned to Binghamton? Or will Clouston scratch a guy like Shean Donovan and keep Smith around in a fourth line/PK capacity?

Goaltending Coach?

In Elliotte Friedman’s latest blog for the CBC, he uses his 30 thoughts bit to hit on a number of Senators related points including the goaltending situation. Here they are:

2. The Ottawa Senators are doing some serious due diligence on Clint Malarchuk. Bryan Murray coached him in Washington, but is contacting everyone he can to determine his state of mind. There is no questioning Malarchuk’s ability to coach goalies. Pascal Leclaire’s best performances came under his tutelage in Columbus, and Roberto Luongo swears by him, too. The concern: Malarchuk’s had some serious off-ice health issues, culminating in an October 2008 self-inflicted gunshot wound. (He said it was an accident.) There are a lot of people rooting for him to make it back.

3. Other possible contenders for the Ottawa job: Tom Dempsey, who was Marc-Andre Fleury’s junior coach and lives there; John Stevenson, who has a history with Cory Clouston and used to work with Edmonton; and Roland Melanson, who is in Florida. That’s not necessarily a problem, because the Senators want a consultant who travels around to see all their guys, rather than a full-time coach.

4. What I would really like to know is this: What is the problem the Senators have with Ron Tugnutt? Last summer, Tugnutt turned down three NHL jobs – Edmonton, Florida, Anaheim – because he wanted to be close to his sons, both midget-aged players. Ottawa is an easy setup for him. He played there and wants the position. But, this is the fourth time he’s applied, and they’re not interested.

5. In Leclaire’s last game, a 6-1 loss to Atlanta, he threw up his hands in frustration after an Anton Volchenkov mistake led to a goal. That didn’t go over well. No one on that team is more unselfish than Volchenkov. You never show up a guy like that.

12. There were rumblings that Daniel Alfredsson would sit out the Olympics to heal up for an Ottawa playoff run. He says no way, not true.

13. Really like when teams bring the players’ fathers on road trips. Laughed Saturday when Hasse Alfredsson was in the concourse when Daniel scored. (He’s probably seen a few.) Daniel said that Hasse – his youth hockey coach – would go harder on him as an example to the players, knowing his son could handle it. Mike Fisher said his father, Jim (never his coach), always accentuated the positive. Clearly, there’s room for different philosophies.

19. No doubt that Jacques Martin regretted saving Mike Brodeur’s career on Saturday night. Last season, as the Panthers GM, Martin brought Brodeur to AHL Rochester. The goalie, 25 at the time, was contemplating retirement.

28. Last year, when Luke Schenn scored his first NHL goal in Montreal, I tracked down his parents for reaction. Tried the same thing with Zack Smith’s parents in Maple Creek, Sask. Their phone was busy for two hours. Who doesn’t have call waiting anymore?

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