Archive for April, 2010

Awaiting the Fat Lady

The Senators’ season is drawing rapidly to a close — hopefully quite rapidly, because I can’t actually take much more of this. The first two games of the series against the Penguins were at least entertaining, but since I attended game 3, my enthusiasm for the playoffs has been replaced by an overwhelming sense of frustration with many different things.

The team’s general poor play and lack of physicality.

Jason Spezza’s consistently poor decision-making.

The terrible officiating, and on top of that, the Penguins’ schoolyard penalty drawing tactics, which even Don Cherry has criticized. I realize Sens fans are considered whiners, but quite honestly, as I sat there watching the second period unfold on Sunday night, I wondered for the first time why I bother watching NHL hockey if this is how they decide the games when it matters.

The fact is: I never thought the Sens would win this series, nor do I think they have played well enough to win it. I would not argue that the officiating or bad luck has cost Ottawa the series. They’re overmatched, and they simply haven’t been very good.

But …

With the game tied at 1 in the second period on Sunday night, I watched as Marc-André Fleury and a Pens d-man took turns punching Nick Foligno in the head behind the play. No call, and within the next two minutes Evgeni Malkin had scored to put the Pens ahead. It’s a goal I refuse to acknowledge because Ottawa should have been on the power play when it happened. It’s also a goal that changed the game immensely.

Also on Sunday: repeat offender Matt Cooke hit Peter Regin from behind during the second period. The play was called boarding and Cooke got two minutes. I have most certainly seen players given 5-minute majors and ejected from games for less. A few seconds after coming out of the box, Cooke, who arguably shouldn’t even have been in the game at that point, assisted on the Sidney Crosby goal that put Pittsburgh up 3-1. He may also have interfered with Brian Elliott on the play. No goalie interference was called.

With the Penguins up 6-4 last night, Chris Kunitz cleared the puck over the glass. It was a clear delay of game penalty. It was the kind of thing that gets called all the time. But this time, it wasn’t called. Less than two minutes later, Kunitz, who should have been serving his penalty, scored the Pens’ seventh goal. So we were going to lose anyway. So great, let us lose on our own lack of merit. Why make it such a painful experience?

All this, plus the most poorly-timed broken glass in NHL history. At a certain point, you have to conclude that the universe, the hockey gods, the NHL — whoever — has seen fit to kick the Senators and their fanbase in the gut repeatedly until we’re down, and then kick us in the face over and over till we bleed once we’re on the ground. And there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Call it fate. Call it conspiracy. Call it the bad luck that comes with playing badly. Call it whatever you like.

Bottom line: it sucks.

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April Madness: 2010 Edition

Once again, it’s that most excellent time of year: playoff time. With it comes playoff prediction time, when we all try to guess who will win what and how despite the fact that predicting the NHL is a very slippery business.

My post takes the same format as it did last year: my own predictions, followed by the predictions of my trusty psychic iPod, via one of my favourite musicians. (If you doubt my iPod’s powers, by the way, I would note that it accurately predicted Jarome Iginla’s two-goal performance against Germany at the Olympics as well as Canada’s win over Russia.) Last year, my iPod spoke to me through the songs of Radiohead. This year, I decided to use Tori Amos, whose often cryptic lyrics proved a bit challenging to interpret.

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens: Oh look, the Habs are the hopelessly overmatched eighth seed. Just like last year! Jaroslav Halak may be able to keep Montreal in this thing to a certain extent, but let’s be realistic. The Caps were the highest scoring team in the league this year. The Habs were 26th. The Caps had the best power play in the league by a fairly wide margin (25.2% — second place was, in fact, Montreal with 21.8%). There’s only so much one goaltender can do. Washington has a better recent record (6-1-3) than Montreal (3-4-3) does, so momentum is on the Caps’ side too. It just doesn’t look good for the Habs.

My Prediction: Caps in 4. Ovie will destroy you.

iPod Prediction: “She’s Your Cocaine,” which is about a person so overwhelmed by another person that he has basically no control over his own actions, with the lyric “we all like to watch, so shimmy once and do it again” being the song’s equivalent of shooting at someone’s feet and telling them to dance. “Bring your sister if you can’t handle it,” the song’s narrator says mockingly; I presume this is a cruel taunt Alex Ovechkin and co. might throw at the Habs as they make them their whipping boys. This one forecasts a rout.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers: Although the offensive numbers favour the Flyers here and Philly collected 10 points to New Jersey’s three in the season series between these two teams, the  Devils finished first in the NHL in goals against this season (surprise, surprise) and they’ve been the better team since the Olympic break. Then there’s the goaltending matchup: it’s (arguably — and your argument would be pretty strong) the greatest goaltender in the history of the game against … some guy who isn’t even Ray Emery or Michael Leighton. Okay, okay, Brian Boucher did win 11 playoff games 10 years ago, which is pretty good, but the fact remains that he’s taking on Martin Brodeur. And yes, fine, Marty wasn’t so great at the Olympics, and he didn’t exactly look like himself when he and the Devils were melting down against the Canes last season. But he’s still Marty. If I have to choose between Marty and Brian Boucher in a seven-game series, I choose Marty.

My Prediction: Devils in 6. I was tempted to say Devils in 5, but the memory of that Devils-Canes series last year is still too fresh and the Flyers actually do have a good team in there somewhere. Remember, people were picking them to win the Cup at the beginning of the season.

iPod Prediction: Tori comes up with one of her most well-known songs in “Cornflake Girl.” The songs has perhaps some of her more incomprehensible lyrics, but also features one of her most epic piano solos. A great demonstration of seemingly effortless virtuosity from a mistress of her craft? We’ll take this as a tip of the hat to Marty. The dismissive end of song refrain — “And the man with the golden gun thinks he knows so much, thinks he knows so much” — could be Marty thumbing his nose at the Flyers’ offensive players. (Come on, it’s obvious she’s talking about Jeff Carter.) “Rabbit, where’d you put the keys girl?” is about … clearly points to … I got nothing.

(3) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) Boston Bruins: The Bruins finished second in the NHL in goals against this season. Unhappily for them, that’s not much of an advantage in this series as Sabres were fourth in that category. To me, the key number for this series is 2.39. That’s the average number of goals the Bruins scored per game this season. Which brings me to the other key number in this series: 30. 30 is not only the rank of the Bruins’ offence in the NHL this season, but also the number worn by Ryan Miller, who, in case you missed it, has had a pretty good year.

My Prediction: Sabres in 6.

iPod Prediction: Coincidentally, “Pretty Good Year” is another Tori song; however, it’s not the one the iPod sent me for this series. Instead I got “Mrs. Jesus,” and who could this refer to but Ryan Miller, the American hockey messiah? “There’s someone always paging my Mrs. Jesus” — whether it’s Team USA or the Sabres, someone is always counting on Miller’s incredibly slight shoulders to carry all their weighty expectations. Instead of just focusing on the current series against Boston, this song appears to me to predict a second round loss to New Jersey: Miller will perform his “walking on the water bit, by far my favourite one” against Boston and lead the Sabres “up the stairs” to “heaven,” but there they’ll find only the “empty arms that come with the morning star,” a clear reference to Lucifer and by extension of course the New Jersey Devils.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators: The only series I really care about, and I’ve given my complete thoughts on it here. Don Cherry said he thinks it’ll be a great one, and I hope he’s right. If the Good Sens show up — a big if — then this might end up being one of the more interesting first round matchups.

My Prediction: Penguins in 7. Sorry, Sens. If this comes to pass, I will be crushed. Any time your team loses in game 7 is obviously crushing. Still, I would be extremely happy with the Sens for the season they put together.

iPod Prediction: “Talula,” which includes the line “What you want is in the blood, Senators.” Repeated twice. Okay, yes, it’s a reference to the crucifixion, but whatever. SHE SAID SENATORS, and she said it in a way that, to me anyway, suggests they have the level of desire needed to win this thing. That has to be a good sign! The song also mentions Russians dying on the ice. Since Alex Kovalev already “died,” this must indicate a possible injury to Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, or Anton Volchenkov (yeesh, I hope not). Other than that, the song is about having something precious you don’t want to lose, like maybe the title of Stanley Cup Champions … or an outstanding shot-blocking defenceman. (Nooooooooo!) The song also references the executioner who cut off Anne Boleyn’s head, Big Bird, and Mary Magdalene. Make of this what you will, but since the song says Senators and not Penguins, I’m saying the iPod likes the Sens.

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Colorado Avalanche: There just isn’t much to favour the Avs in this one. After a great start to the season they faded away, playing sub-.500 hockey after the Olympics. The Sharks, meanwhile, won eight of their last 10 games. I was scoreboard watching yesterday, hoping the Blackhawks and Kings would both win so the Sharks would end up having to play the Wings, which I’m sure would have brought on another chokefest. Alas, the Blackhawks couldn’t quite pull it off. The Coyotes get Detroit, and the Sharks get what should be an easy win even for them. Then again, I also predicted that Colorado would finish dead last in the West this year.

My Prediction: Sharks in 4. Don’t worry, fellow Heater haters, I’m sure they’ll blow it in round 2.

iPod Prediction: “Wednesday,” a happy-go-lucky little song about meandering about not doing much of anything. Then suddenly you get this nagging sense that there’s something you should be focused on. Hmm. What could it be? What could it be. I can’t quite put my finger … OH RIGHT, THE PLAYOFFS! Oh crap, you mean we’ve been eliminated already? Hi, Sharks. This one’s for you. iPod likes the Avs.

(2) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Nashville Predators: To be fair, I should note that I think I only watched one Predators game this season (when they played the Sens, naturally) so I’m not at all familiar with them. Just looking at the numbers, though, the Blackhawks are significantly better than the Preds in offence, defence, and special teams. Nashville has put together a very solid run since the Olympic break, but then so has Chicago. The Hawks also have last year’s experience of making it to the conference final under their belts.

My Prediction: Blackhawks in 6, because 6 is my default prediction when I truly have no clue.

iPod Prediction: “Northern Lad,” quite a sad song about a lost love with a northern lad who doesn’t come around much anymore. It’s one of my favourite Tori tunes, but I’m not sure how it applies here. Both teams have a few “northern lads” on their rosters, especially if you assume any Canadian boy could be considered a northern lad. In the end, I think I have to take this as a vote for Nashville. Chicago is further north than Nashville, plus the song mentions sugar cane, which leads to Patrick Kane. So there you go.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Los Angeles Kings: The Canucks, featuring Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, have the second most potent offence in the NHL this season after Washington. Not too shabby. They also have Roberto Luongo, who has been somewhat inconsistent since coming back from the Olympics. One of his worst performances, when he gave up 8 goals on 29 shots on a night when the Canucks could have clinched a playoff spot with a win, happened against none other than the Kings. Still, I think Vancouver has some big expectations this season and I just can’t see them blowing it in the first round. Vancouver’s bad night aside, LA seems to have been struggling to win games for the last little while, plus they’re a young team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2002.

My Prediction: Canucks in 6. Just a gut feeling.

iPod Prediction: “Riot Poof.” More appropriate for Montreal. Rimshot! Well actually, this song is about a person who “breaks the terror or the urban spell” and makes a primal discovery about himself which allows him to “blossom.” Do either the Canucks or the Kings seem prepared to do this? I don’t know, but perhaps Roberto Luongo can be said to have crossed some kind of barrier at the Olympics, when he was able to succeed in an extremely high pressure situation. Maybe the reason he’s been so inconsistent ever since is that he just wants to get back to that place. Maybe the playoffs are the arena he needs. The end of the song references a desert and the warming sun, no doubt meaning that Los Angeles is where Roberto must go to rediscover this higher plane of existence.

And that is probably my best song interpretation ever.

(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings: I think it’s fair to say not many people thought the Coyotes would do as well as they have this season. Their record post-Olympics is 13-4-2 and they have a lot of momentum right now. Unfortunately for them, as hot as they’ve been lately, the Red Wings have been even hotter (16-3-2 since the Olympics, 8-1-1 in their last 10 games). There’s also the fact that the Red Wings are, like, the Red Wings? It’s one of those annoying, inescapable facts, like death and taxes.

My Prediction: Red Wings in 6. Much like the Sens, the Coyotes can count even making the playoffs as a big success.

iPod Prediction: “Sweet Dreams,” a song which begins by asking the question: who’s your daddy? It’s an anti-George W. Bush  tune from back when Bush was relevant (”Land of Liberty, we’re run by a constipated man”). Since we’re talking about the Coyotes, however — a team “owned by Gary Bettman,” as Puck Daddy says — I think a different interpretation is appropriate. “Go on, go on, go on and dream” of playoff success in the sunbelt, Mr. Bettman, but whether you want to admit it or not, “your house is on fire.” And your tenant has to play the Red Wings.

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Season Post Mortem … Wait, what?

Once again, I’ve gone a long, long time without posting, but now that game 82 has been played and it’s all over, I thought I should … hang on. The season isn’t over yet? The Sens are in the playoffs? The Senators? The Ottawa Senators? Well. That was unexpected.

In my season preview post way back in October, I said this:

It seems too much to hope that everything will work out, so I’m not expecting much from this team. That said, I don’t know that the Sens are as bad as many people would have us believe. Certainly, the team’s depth at forward is much improved over last year. I also think Clouston was doing something right, and I see no reason to think he’ll suddenly become an awful coach. A full season playing under his system should benefit the team. The bottom line for me is that the Sens are no more or less of an unknown quantity than either of their fellow eastern Canadian teams, yet it seems more prognosticators are forecasting positive things for Toronto and/or Montreal than for Ottawa. In Puck Daddy’s staff prediction post this morning, for example, no one had the Sens placing higher than the Habs and only two of five posters guessed they’d finish ahead of the Leafs. Personally, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Ottawa did better than both Montreal and Toronto. I also wouldn’t die of shock if this team happened to squeak into the playoffs.

So as you can see by the fact that I’m still alive, I was right about the whole not dying of shock thing. I was also right about Montreal and Toronto. (Suckas!) I was wrong when I suggested that if the Sens made the playoffs, it would be by squeaking in: they made it in fairly comfortably, with enough room to spare that they clinched their playoff spot a full 10 days before the end of the season. Winning the Northeast Division was also within the realm of possibility until the last couple of weeks. All of  this happened thanks in large part to an incredible — in the true sense of the word: it was hard to believe — 11-game winning streak in January and early February that was without doubt the biggest highlight of the season. The celebration of Daniel Alfredsson’s 1,000th career game with the team will of course be another great moment Sens fans remember when they look back on 2009-2010. They might also remember the awful 1-7-1 post-Olympics stretch, but they’ll try not to think about it. And finally, they’ll remember that the team unexpectedly made it to the playoffs, and caused me to turn my post mortem into a –

Senators Playoff Preview Post! Yay!

Over the coming weeks, we’ll find out how Senators fans will remember the 2010 NHL playoffs. All we know so far — and it’s more than just about every other playoff-bound NHL fanbase knows — is the identity of our team’s first round opponent: the Sens will be taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again. Three times in the last four years the Sens have made it to the playoffs, and three times they’ve played the Penguins. Other cities might get excited when the postseason version of The Crosby Show comes to town. In Ottawa, it’s old hat.

(Although: I have tickets to playoff homegame #1 and I admit, I’m excited to be seeing Crosby and Malkin play in person for the first time. Since the Olympics, I’ve had to revise my stance on Crosby. He’s now a beloved and revered figure to me. I took a vow right after the golden goal that I would never speak ill of Sid the Kid again and I intend to stick to that.)

During last night’s Buffalo-Ottawa game on CBC, Dean Brown commented that this playoff familiarity means the Sens will know exactly what to expect from the Pens this time around, which would probably be true if not for the fact that the Penguins have played seven playoff series, including two Cup Finals, one of which — the one they won — went to seven games, since the last time they met Ottawa in the playoffs. No, Dean, I’m pretty sure these Pens are not the same ones from two years ago. They’re a lot more experienced, and their playoff beards are (metaphorically) a bit fuller. This massive amount of recent playoff experience gives the Penguins a clear mental advantage in the series, but might it hurt them physically? Is it possible they’re just plain tired from all that hockey? I hope so, but even if they are, it’s hard to say at what point fatigue might kick in.

Statistically, this series actually looks extremely even. At the moment — keeping in mind that the Penguins still have one last game to play –  the two teams are exactly tied in goals against average (2.84) and penalty killing (84.3%). Pittsburgh’s power play (17.2%, 19th in the NHL) is slightly better than Ottawa’s (16.9%, 21st in the NHL). The season series was a 2-2-0 tie, with the Penguins outscoring the Sens by two goals overall. The Penguins have a better record post-Olympics than the Sens, but Ottawa has been better (7-2-1) in its last 10 games than Pittsburgh (4-4-2) has in its last 10. Ottawa went 2-2-1 in its last five games; Pittsburgh is 2-2-0 in its last four. Barring a massive Penguins win against the New York Islanders today, neither team appears to have much momentum on its side. The one number that does favour the Pens is, perhaps unsurprisingly, goalscoring: they have averaged 3 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL, while the Sens managed only 2.68 (16th). Goaltending stats … favour the Sens?

  • Marc-André Fleury: .905 SV%, 2.65 GAA
  • Brian Elliott: .909 SV%, 2.57 GAA

Ah, but Fleury’s career playoff stats are superior. That would be because Elliott, um, doesn’t have any. So that’s good.

All these things are good to know, but the bottom line for me is that the Sens this season are like the little girl with the curl on her forehead from that poem which, wow, turns out to be by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who knew?): when they’re good, they’re very good indeed, but when they’re bad, they pretty much totally suck. I mean, they are stab-out-your-eyes atrocious. The thing that makes the Bad Sens so nefarious is that you just never know when they’re going to show up, so it’s hard to say which team we’ll get for the playoffs. There have been good signs — Mike Fisher scoring a few goals, for example, could mean he’s about to start a streak; Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, and Erik Karlsson have all been productive lately and that could continue — but the team’s play has certainly not been consistently good since their last winning streak ended. Aside from all that, the true state of Anton Volchenkov’s health is also an important unanswered question, as he will be needed to help shut down Crosby and Malkin.

My prediction for the series: who knows? I’m inclined to think Pittsburgh will win just because they’re the Penguins and they won the Cup last year. If the Bad Sens show up, Pittsburgh will probably sweep. If we get the Good Sens, well, I think they could give the Pens a run. If we get the Good Sens, and the Pens are tired, and the Cup Finalist Curse makes a comeback after taking last season off, then sure, the Sens could win. Why not? It’s definitely possible. I just don’t think it’s likely. I started this season with very few expectations and I’m keeping that same attitude heading into the postseason.

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