The Ottawa Senators are probably feeling black and blue after their 5-2 loss to St. Louis. After suffering an embarrassing 7-1 loss in the previous game to Carolina, it was hoped that the team would redeem itself and play a sharper, smarter game this time around, taking into account the lessons learned from a highly disorganized defense that failed to contain anything. Unfortunately, for all the talk that defense is Cory Clouston’s priority and Ottawa’s strongest point with Gonchar, Karlsson and now Kuba back from injury, it hasn’t been stellar on the ice.
On paper, there’s no good reason for Ottawa to be suffering these losses. Gonchar is a puck-moving veteran defenseman who’s also a great two way player. Karlsson has also proven that he’s a talented all around player showing both defensive speed and skill, as well as hard shots on goal. Kuba consistently makes smart plays and has good hockey sense. So why is this defensive machine falling apart?
For all the things that the defense seems capable of doing individually, it fails to do it collectively. Ottawa seems to be running around a lot in their own zone, chasing after themselves and doing a lot more of the little panic moves that result in unnecessary penalties. 7 penalties on the night, including 2 by Chris Kelly in the second period, and most of them were just poor decisions by the players.
Frustration is clearly a factor in Ottawa’s losses. The little mistakes, the silly penalties, the sloppy turnovers and a clear lack of communication on the lines are causing this team to fall apart. Even the grinding lines aren’t working for the team, with the exception of Jesse Winchester, who shows up every night on the ice and doesn’t give up on plays. Battered and bruised several times already in the season, Winchester stills plays on and he’s opportunistic with the puck, something that the rest of the team could learn from. His goals are often not pretty, although his short handed goal in the third last night was.
Other players should start to play more like him. He’s always working hard and getting into the dirty spots on the ice. There’s nothing glamourous about his game style and he doesn’t act self-important or lackadaisical on the ice. He never gets cute with the puck and he’s one of the only players who looks like he’s fighting for his ice time. Every player should play with that kind of grit and determination.
People who are looking to make excuses for this team are going to quote injuries. Fisher’s injured, although he did score one in the first, Phillips looks injured and the slow play of Alfredsson makes some people question whether he’s fully healthy as well. Everyone who has been injured in the past has some post-injury something or other and the lack of team time has caused them to communicate badly for lack of practice time.
People who are looking for scapegoats for this team are going to point the finger at Brian Elliott, saying that he should have stopped those shots and that his numbers were poor on the night. His numbers were poor on the night compared with what he has been able to do in the past, but they only tell half of the story. He gave a phenomenal kick save in the first period which is sure to make every high light reel out there. As for the multiple goals in the second period, Elliott was there to make a lot of those initial saves, only to be left high and dry by Ottawa’s defense. Offensively, there was also no support provided by his team in that second period when it would have counted the most and the game would have still been well within reach. This is not the way to treat your number one goaltender.
This was clearly another team sinker, for which injuries and goaltending may get the blame, but those are excuses and they’re beginning to wear thin. If the team can’t learn to play in the face of adversity, they will never make it to elite status like those teams who have battled hard and pushed through like the relentless Flyers. And now that the goaltending debate should be closed in Ottawa, it’s time for the team to rally for their new number one.
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.