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Five Thoughts for Friday

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On Cheering for the Tank, Line Juggling, Colin White and more!

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Ottawa Senators
“Just going for a casual skate”
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Friday so we’ve got our thinking caps on. Let’s get right to it:

On Cheering for the Tank

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a very hard time cheering for my favourite team to lose. In the realistic part of my brain, I know the Sens aren’t making the playoffs and that bottoming out to get the best possible draft pick is the logical course of action. At the same time, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get up and fist pump when Karlsson ripped that one-timer to win it in overtime last night. Tanking is hard, and that’s just as a fan. Tanking is hard for organizations because you can’t just ask professional athletes to lay down; everyone besides the stars are playing for their careers. The difference between a 5 and a 10 goal campaign might mean another season in the big leagues. How do you tell someone to just give that up? The coaching staff sure as heck don’t want to be tossed to the curb at the end of the year, either. And that’s before we get to any of the financial considerations — which I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of as Sens fans. All this to say that there’s very real barriers to bottoming out; it’ll be interesting to see how actively the Sens chase the league’s dregs for a chance at Dahlin.

On Bobby Ryan’s Brittle Fingers

This one isn’t so much a thought as the written equivalent of a long, exasperated sigh. Ryan left last night’s game midway through the third period after re-injuring the same index finger that’s been the source of so much strife. We can debate whether he’s a useful player to the Senators or not until we’re blue in the face (and some of you do in the comments!), but I think we’d all agree it helps no one to have Ryan consistently missing time or playing at a reduced capacity. I’m not one to blame players for their injuries, so I won’t do so here, but with the season in the tank like this I can’t see any reason Ryan shouldn’t be held out until he’s totally healed. And in the interim, someone get working on titanium coating for his gloves or something, my word.

On The End of the Line Juggling

Guy Boucher’s extreme line juggling is one of the defining tactics of his NHL coaching tenure, but something’s happened to the Sens’ bench boss since the calendar flipped to 2018: he’s stopped tinkering. I wouldn’t say he’s exactly set his lines in stone, there are the occasional in-game tweak of course, but Boucher is behaving a lot more like your typical NHL coach in the last few weeks. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I’d have to wonder if there was a directive from above to ease up on the blender. Hard to say whether it’s helped or hurt, the Sens haven’t exactly been good at any point this year, but it’s an interesting evolution from the notoriously stubborn Boucher nonetheless.

On The Scratching of Colin White

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed about Boucher, however, is his penchant for relying on his veterans. After last night’s triumph, he had this to say about what he saw that he liked:

Look, it’s a long lost year and if we get hung up on every little (mostly meaningless) decision things are really going to drag. But, and this is a big but, the whole point of a lost season should be to see what they have in the kids. We need to get a real idea of what White and Filip Chlapik, maybe even Francis Perron or Christian Jaros can do in the pros. Making Colin White a healthy scratch in favour of Nate Thompson (or say Alexandre Burrows) is awfully tough to justify — except when you think back to the first thought about how hard it is to tank. We don’t have much choice but to believe that Boucher really, truly thinks Oduya and Thompson are big parts of winning games. So what needs to happen then is that the front office needs to sit down with Boucher and his staff and lay out the priority for the rest of the year: get a handle on what next year’s team is going to look like because this year’s is sunk. And that’s gonna mean scratching some veterans to play the kids.

On Going Backwards to go Forwards

Most NHL teams preach the virtues of playing a “North-South” game, and the Sens have been no different from their peers in that respect under Guy Boucher. Besides the classic D-to-D pass, players will rarely make a play with the puck that involves going backwards. The puck has to move fast, and it has to move forwards has long been the motto. That is starting to change, however: watch some of the better, most skilled teams in the league and you’ll notice that they’re more willing to cycle back in the neutral zone in order to regroup and attack with control rather than simply chipping the puck off the glass for position. Tampa Bay and Vegas, particularly their top trio with Marchessault and Smith, are stellar examples of this.

In last week’s edition of Five Thoughts, I lamented the Sens’ lack of sustained passing through the neutral zone. If there was one change that I think might help that it would be to tell the players they can, and even should, go backwards with it if they can’t find an open lane. Don’t be content to just move it forwards. You’re winning the battle but losing the war when you do.