As I prepared to write another post about my favourite but befallen hockey team, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to say.
Yes – the Sens lost another fairly close game to the injury-invaded Tampa Bay Lightning last night. They even outplayed their opponent in most categories (shots were 34-22 for the Sens), but in the end, their victory on the stats sheet didn’t translate to goals. Tampa took the game by a score of 3-1 and a wide open Martin St. Louis (ahem-COWEN!-ahem) made the Sens pay on two different occasions to throw the towel on to Ottawa’s gasping, sweaty head. Ex-Senator Ben Bishop also continued his goalie domination of the NHL, and he is showing that he is a force between the pipes.
But let’s get serious for a moment, here.
Like you, I have watched this team play and followed them closely – night in and night out. I have checked the stats after the games. I have added up the TOI and the PIM’s. I have re-watched the highlights (usually only after they win). I have followed the surge of goal scoring. I have had faith in their shaky goalies (who, in all fairness, have been left out to dry some nights). And yeah – I still have faith in Michalek. I really do.
But after 20 years of fandom and four straight years of statistical analysis, interview-watching, team 1200 listening, and pre-game ritualizing, I feel like I’m at a blank drawing board.
Here’s the long and the short of it; I feel like don’t know this team.
PLAYERS NOT ‘PLAYER’:
While having lunch with a friend who is also a long time Sens fan, we discussed a few scenarios in our heads about the state of this struggling 11-14-4 club. Ugh. Just typing that record out makes me feel sick.
We hypothesized that perhaps a big change between this year and last year is that this year, the big guns are healthy and last year, they weren’t. With the healthy addition of all-star players (Spezza, Karlsson, Ryan and possibly MacArthur) comes an added expectation for those players to step up and produce.
Last year, this was not the case. Last year, Ottawa would have been lucky to bang out a 2-1 victory over another evenly matched team, with ugly goals from Alfredsson, Zibanejad, Greening or Gonchar, after Anderson was flooded with shots.
Last year, every single goal in a Sens game mattered and meant something.
This year, we’ve had a few offensive flashes but not enough consistency in production from that offense – and so maybe, the smaller role-type players are waiting around for the big guns to do their thing.
Maybe that’s the direction the coaches have given the team, and maybe they have formed a plan around key players, and maybe the functionality of the whole team is being limited in some way – whereas last year, the pressure was off and everyone picked Ottawa to be a total rebuild, and so the coaches may have just said ‘just get out there and play smart and give it your all’.
Last year, when the Sens needed a final boost to get to the playoffs, this kid named Jean-Gabriel Pageau came out of nowhere and started scoring clutch goals. He’s looked like a very different player this year, but he was a firestarter for this team.
Well, it’s nowhere near playoff time – but we need a Pageau and we need one now.
Yeah, yeah – Ryan is great and he’s getting some goals and MacArthur is good too and Spezza and Karlsson are doing their share, but they can’t be the only players producing. Four players are easy for another team of 18 to shadow.
And sure – they’re getting shots and they’re coming up against tough goalies and blah blah blah. We’ve heard all of the excuses.
This team needs a leader and someone to get them fired up. They need a spark. In the games where they win, they look like they are alive and juiced. But in other games, they look like a team full of zombies.
Where is the fight? Where is the spark?
This is not the ticker-tape-parade RABHA team that I know and adore. This is a new team.
In a quest to further identify themselves, the Sens will take on the Leafs in the battle of Ontario tomorrow in Ottawa at 7:00 PM EST.