1) So, uh, this line of Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher, and Milan Michalek is pretty good, huh? Jason Spezza is supposedly ready to return on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, but if he needs to take an extra game to make sure his hip is really 100%, I don't have any problems with that. I think the real problem lies someplace else. Frankly, I don't think you can break those three up at the moment. And you definitely aren't breaking up Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, and Clarke MacArthur.
Sorry, Jason, you're a third-liner now. And let's face it--isn't this what we all wanted at the start of the year anyway? A group of centers consisting of Spezza, Turris, and Zibanejad? Is it really so bad if Spezza gets a third line matchup? He'll still get his power play minutes, because I think you'd rather have Spezza than Conacher out there, but if you had your choice of Spezza playing his minutes against Patrice Bergeron or Ryan Spooner, who would you pick? No, the real problem is finding some linemates for Spezza. Chris Neil's out for a little while, so I say give me Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Colin Greening on Spezza's wing and let Z. Smith roll with Erik Condra and Mark Stone. (This almost certainly won't happen, because the team clearly won't keep Stone up while they have Matt Kassian to dress.) Spezza is a 30-goal guy himself and Pageau has shown a knack for getting open for good feeds, and Greening's best success has also come alongside Spezza. That seems like the best option in terms of linemates given the talent available. Paul MacLean said a few weeks ago he needed to get more guys going than just Spezza, and two of those guys were Conacher and Michalek. It wouldn't make a lot of sense to me to get those guys going and then change things up.
You want to change things up? Give Spezza the cake minutes for a change. My own feeling is that he's tried to do too much this season now that he's the captain--the shadow of Daniel Alfredsson is long and all of that--and while he's still putting up points, there's no need for him to put that additional pressure on himself. I love that he wants that responsibility, but at the moment, there's an opportunity for him to just play hockey instead of trying to carry the team on his shoulders. Seems to me that's an opportunity worth taking.
2) So much has been made already of Bobby Ryan's Olympic snub. I've got it firmly filed away in my bullcrap drawer, but Scott Burnside gave excellent insight into why it happened, and I understand the why even if I don't agree with it. Whoever heard of too much scoring? Why does Team USA need its bottom six players to play checking roles? Screw that! Try to go out there and score! Run it up on the Finns 13-0 if you have to! I'm reminded of what Senators GM Bryan Murray said about wanting other teams to block shots when he swapped out Anton Volchenkov with Sergei Gonchar in free agency a couple of years ago.
Team Canada is going to roll out Jonathan Toews or Ryan Getzlaf or some other nonsense on its third line. You think Mike Babcock is going to look at a third line that has Getzlaf centering someone like Eric Staal and Corey Perry, and tell them, "Guys, don't try to score, just to try to contain Anze Kopitar, okay?" Corey Perry is a 50-goal scorer! You think he's a checker just because he's on a third line and might not see power play time? He's just going to stop scoring goals and start throwing hits? And, really, wouldn't puck possession be the best method of checking your opponents? Make them chase you, right? Then you don't have to worry about wearing them down with hits... you'll do it with skating. It seems to me that Team USA's goal of trying to contain the most talented players in the world on a larger ice surface with defense is destined to fail. It's the sports equivalent of the Maginot Line.
But, hey, whatever. I realize it's a personal slight for Blobby, especially after reading the comments on why he wasn't considered, but as a Senators fan and a US citizen, I care far more about a Stanley Cup than I do an Olympic gold. The US is too busy being the envy of the rest of the world (since 1776!) for me to get my sense of national pride from a game rife with corruption. I mean, Tim Peel is officiating at the Games. Don't worry if you don't get to go to the Olympics, Bobby. You still get to be part of a country that can run around like Longshanks from Braveheart because we've got the nukes.
3) Speaking of Ryan's slight, is it just me, or did the team seem a little more inspired in their win against the Winnipeg Jets last night? I don't know, maybe I'm seeing things, but I kind of got the impression that the whole group took it personally that Ryan wasn't named to the USA's Olympic team. If that's true, it's a pretty nice thing to see. It means that the team is still willing to play for each other. They've got no shot if that's not the case, but it sure looks--at least from the outside--like the locker room is as tight as ever. In what has to have been an excruciatingly frustrating season so far, that fact is probably the best indicator that the team can still turn things around.
4) Speaking of turning things around, don't look now, but the Senators are on a three-game winning streak! That's got them, once again, within closing distance of a playoff spot. It probably won't be enough to change the tune of the defeatist naysayers among Sens fans, though, because it's certainly not enough to make me believe that the team has miraculously solved all of the issues that plagued it in the first half of the season.
Still, the game against Winnipeg was the first time in a long time where I actually got the feeling that the team would find a way to win the game. This wasn't a 6-1 cruise control win. This was a tightly-played, hard-fought game. Craig Anderson let in another unacceptable goal to tie the score, and earlier in this season, the Senators would have found a way to lose from that point on. I didn't get that sense last night .That's not to say I was confident that the team would win the game--this season has made us all gunshy about that, I think--but I had the sense watching that they would. I don't know how to explain that. Luck? Confidence from last week's victories against strong teams?
Let's not pretend the win was some glorious beauty, because it sure was not that. But earlier this year, we saw mistakes snowball into full-on collapses, and that seems to have abated for the past few weeks. The mistakes are still happening, and the collapses are still happening, but not to the same scale as they were before. If the Senators were falling off of cliffs in the first half of the season, they're now grabbing that last branch before going over the edge. It's not enough to forget the past, but it's enough to think that the improvement we've seen might continue to build. The question is: Will that be enough considering how much hill there is left to climb?
5) I don't like Joe Corvo. I do like Jared Cowen. And it seems to me that Cowen has embraced the cliche of "simplifying his game" while playing alongside Erik Karlsson and we're all just ignoring it because it's cooler to hate Cowen because of his early struggles and contract. But part of that--a big part of it--is also that it's easy to play with Karlsson because he sucks up so much attention and is a great outlet when you get into trouble. Still, the things Cowen was crucified for earlier in the year, like puck bobbles, seem to have largely dissipated.
Or maybe they've just transferred to Corvo. I was really surprised it was Patrick Wiercioch, and not Corvo, who was scratched for the Jets game, considering P-Dubs had scored a goal as recently as the 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins while Corvo seemed to be a turnover machine. And watching that game, I felt like my Corvo dislike was vindicated, because I didn't like the way Corvo played yet again.
But how much of that is because I like Cowen and dislike Corvo? It wasn't that long ago that Corvo was playing so well he was playing with Karlsson, and not for the same reasons Cowen is there now. But that kind of play has gone bye-bye, and you can already hear the groans from the CTC crowd when Corvo makes a mistake. And as much as I think he's superfluous, I would be dismayed if we traded one whipping boy for another. Just goes to show how fleeting player performance is, I suppose, and serves as a cautionary tale towards snap judgments over the course of a long season. Really bad play, just like really great play, doesn't seem to last.