The good news about the Senators’ game last night against the Washington Capitals is that the team actually showed up. Although they lost in overtime with a late hot shot by Washington’s prime hot shot Ovechkin, the team gets an A for effort for playing their best regular season game so far.
It’s too early to press the panic button in Ottawa after a couple of lousy games, but let’s face it: those first two games were really lousy. Ottawa looked clumsy against Buffalo in their opener and then they looked downright foolish against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an embarrassing loss. The problems? Poor communication on the lines, drop passes to nobody, and more turnovers than Pillsbury’s. The one problem that Ottawa fans had been fixated on never occurred: goaltending. Unfortunately, just about everything else did.
Pascal Leclaire was solid again for Ottawa, although the late goal by Ovechkin is probably a shot that he would like back. Nevertheless, this was a game that Ottawa deserved to win. They put a lot of great pressure on the Caps and managed to keep the scoring chances pretty even, considering the offense power of the Caps. Regular season leaders in scoring, Semin and Backstrom were relatively quiet and even Mike Green didn’t get a chance to capitalize on the night.
Coming out to play were Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich and John Carlson. Easily the most active players on the ice all night, these guys kept the Senators in check and made scoring chances happen for them, with Fehr getting 2 points on the night. Neuvirth did a good job replacing Varlamov and put in some good saves.
Overtime heroics of Ovechkin aside, it was not a night for the star players to shine. The third line for both teams were their best, showing the highest compete level and skating hard for the net. Ruutu re-directed a great shot for Ottawa’s first goal and Shannon knocked one high and hard for Ottawa’s second off a feed from Regin. It was good to see Regin coming back to his former self- at least a little bit. He looked more focused and played harder in this game than he had in both season games combined.
Showing some assertiveness on the ice the other night was Chris Phillips, tossing aside players like nobody’s business. Spezza and Alfredsson haven’t been able to capitalize so far on their best chances, but it’s just a matter of time before those bad bounces start to go in the right direction. Cory Clouston’s concerns over the first two games was that there was not enough team effort and that many of the stars were guilty of trying to do everything on their own. Although it’s a work in progress, it looks like the team is slowly starting to come out.
Everyone talks about chemistry on the lines as if it was some elusive quality, like knowing in your gut when you meet ‘the one’. But the strong point about the Ruutu-Kelly-Neil line is that they work together and have a good sense of where everyone else is. This takes hard work, communication and putting aside your ego so that you can work effectively together.
They are also Ottawa’s most adaptable line; they change up their game and are the most unpredictable on the ice. As a result, they don’t get their passing lanes jammed like Ottawa’s more conservative top lines, who always play the same game style. Anyone in the Ottawa faithful knows what that looks like: the never-ending passing game in the zone where you keep yelling at them to shoot for the net, and then there’s that one pass too many that results in loss of puck possession.
Ottawa’s problem is not some elusive chemistry that’s missing or goaltending. It’s communication, adaptability and a sense of team. Of course, those things are easier said than done. Clouston’s got his work cut out for him, but at least they’re on the right track. And if anyone can do it, Cory can.
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.