The Battle of Ontario is alive and well. Even with a pre-season game, emotions were running high last night at ScotiaBank place, where a crowd of 15,000 fans, divided between virulent Leafs fans and the Sens Army, took in the action in a nail-biting finish that saw the Sens fall short. There were plenty of fisticuffs to report, some going unreported by the refs, and more than one questionable hit on the night. Some nervous moments? Alfie going down on a hit by Komisarek and Leclaire being taken into his own net. Some great moments? Jay Rosehill getting the bum’s rush out of the game with a fighting major in a first period standoff with Lessard and Kovalev, yes, Alexei Kovalev, taking off the helmet and gloves and fighting. For real.
O Captain, My Captain
The battle of Ontario was underlined by what promises to be another great rivalry- the fight of the team Captains. Toronto fans have harboured a deep sense of hatred for Daniel Alfredsson that you can still hear everytime he touches the puck in Toronto; Ottawa decided to repay the favour by doing the same for Toronto’s newly appointed C, Phaneuf. The boos were loud and hard to miss. It’s good to see Ottawa fans get a little fight in them.
It’s also good to see the team sticking up for each other. Milan Michalek gave Ottawa fans more reason to love him as he defended the team Captain after a big hit by Komisarek. Michalek is a true team player, working hard and playing consistently on the ice and not letting his team get pushed around. He fits right in on this squad and even though he doesn’t produce the kind of points that Heatley did, his attitude and work ethic bring more to the team than a grumbling star player- goals or no goals.
The Plus Group
The good news first for the Sens:
Nick Foligno and Jason Spezza both look like they’re warming up for the season. Foligno competes hard every night and he looks hungry on the ice for goals and is not shy in the least about charging the net. Jason Spezza’s looking more laid back, but he’s beginning to show a little life and take a few shots- some of which were beauties, but just short on the post. There may be hope for Spezza to have a good season ahead of him; as long as Ottawa stays patient with him.
Showing great patience on the ice and veteran leadership is Sergei Gonchar, suiting up for Ottawa for the first time on home ice. Experience has taught Gonchar to watch and assess carefully the action on the ice and anticipate situations- hockey sense, as they say, and he has it in spades. He did make that mistake on the blue line that resulted in a hooking penalty in the 2nd period where he lost the puck- but that was just one mistake.
Chris Campoli seems to have woken up from a long summer and showed some fight himself the other night, resulting in a goal. Campoli is usually invisible on the ice, but on the nights where he does score, it’s a direct result of more aggressive play. He has the potential to put up some decent numbers- not great- but it won’t happen unless he’s a bit more aggressive. It can be very frustrating to follow his game and I think that even he knows he can be better.
For the Leafs, it’s clear that their success story of the night was Nazim Khadri, fighting for a spot on the team that he may get after his performance. He played a good game and his improved performance may be due to the company that he keeps. Khadri played on a strong line and he could be a potential first liner for the Leafs if he keeps a cool head. He’s a player that excels with other good players to feed off of, but it will be up to the management to assess if they feel he’s mature enough. From the stands, though, I’d say Khadri’s ready.
J.S. Giguere showed that he’s still got it and put in a solid performance with some beautiful glove saves. He absolutely robbed Spezza a few times during the night. The only thing stopping me from calling his performance stellar? The amount of shots on goal that he actually saw were not that significant. Overall, not a very busy night for Giguere.
The Minus Group
And now the bad news for the Sens:
Pascal Leclaire looks shakey. His history of bad luck spills is keeping Ottawa on edge and when he took that knock off the net in the second period, there was a collective groan from the fans, praying that it wasn’t happening again. The defense is also playing like Leclaire’s about to break in a thousand pieces- they’re sitting in the blue paint too much themselves and not playing a man-on-man defense that would be infinitely more helpful.
With the exception of the second period, the Sens spent way too much time in their own zone. They didn’t do themselves any favours by racking up penalty minutes, but they were sitting on Leclaire. At any point, there were 2 of them in the blue paint while the Leafs were circling and this is just bad strategy. With 2 of them there, they were giving the Leafs more time and space. As well, they were not giving Leclaire a fair chance at a save, making it harder for him to track the puck and making a screen.
Ottawa’s defense has got to play smarter and show a little more confidence in their goaltender. Leclaire had some great little saves during the game, but some of those wouldn’t have been necessary if the defense was clearly on their man. Leclaire does need some conditioning down low- a couple of those goals went 5 hole on him.
A final note and this one’s for Sens’ management. Get Jared Cowen on the team. I know it’s up to them to decide if he’s ready, but we need his size on this squad. With Volchenkov and Sutton gone, this team needs some physical, pure brute presence. At 6’5 and over 220 pounds, this is clearly the man for the job.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.