Fighting for roster spots
It feels kind of weird to say that I’ve been happy with DJ Smith’s lineup decisions during this Canucks series when the team played so badly, but I don’t exactly blame the team’s poor play on those lineup decisions (we’ll get to the things I do blame later).
One consistent theme during the Jets series was Smith’s over-reliance on veterans over young players - a baffling choice during a rebuild year. Colin White mostly stayed in the press box until Wednesday despite looking good in the few games he did play, Stützle was obviously out with an injury, and the Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson line wasn’t being trusted nearly enough. After the first Canucks loss on Monday, Smith committed to playing more of the young players, and it worked for exactly one period. I know the last three games have been abysmal, but I do think it would be a mistake to go back to playing the veterans who, quite frankly, have been the weaker links on this team.
NHL coaches love to talk about the benefits of forcing young players to beat out veterans for roster spots. It’s supposed to force the kids to play well, because if they don’t play well, they risk being sent down. While I have obviously never played NHL hockey, this narrative has always struck me as bizarre.
For one, veterans tend to be waaaay overrated on NHL teams, and the Sens have an especially bad group of them this year. Are you really trying to tell me that Cedric Paquette has outplayed Colin White this season?
But I’m also not completely sold on this idea that fighting for a roster spot is always good for the young players.
I’m sure there are some players who benefit from the pressure to perform, but everyone is different. I have to think that if I were a young NHL player and I knew that one mistake could get me sent back down the minors, I’d be really afraid to take risks. I don’t know if this is a reason for their hesitancy in the defensive zone, but it just feels like the young players on this team have been unfairly blamed for mistakes, and the players are being pitted against each other. In a season where the Sens are not expected to be very good and the goal seems to be to put the young guys on the ice and just see what they have in the prospect pipeline, it seems weird to get so hung up on small mistakes and keep players like Wolanin on such a short leash.
The kids are still alright
I know everything sucks right now and the Ottawa Senators barely look like a hockey team, but the good news is that the players who are expected to stick around longer than a few seasons are all looking very good.
Chabot’s positively Karlsson-esque goal last night was one of very few bright spots in the Canucks series, and he’s been noticeable in every game, in a good way. Nick Paul has been one of Ottawa’s best forwards. Brady Tkachuk leads the team in Corsi For, and it’s hard to believe that Batherson doesn’t have a goal yet, because he has looked phenomenal. As for Tim Stützle, I know his +/- hasn’t been great, but he looks like he belongs in the NHL, and I suspect that with better linemates he would be making even more of an impact.
I know this team has a long way to go, but it’s nice to know that at least something is working.
Is collapsing in front of the net how you defense?
I’ve already talked about Smith’s lineup decisions, which I certainly think are cause for concern, but what worries me a lot more about the coach is the way his team is playing in the defensive zone.
Obviously a team’s ability to defend their own net depends in large part on their personnel, but positioning is a big part of it too - more important, I think, than it is in the offensive zone, where you can often get by on individual talent and creativity. Guy Boucher taught us that you can teach a team without many good defensemen to keep the puck away from their own net. The Sens could be better than this.
Watching this team in their own zone is absolutely painful. There’s no aggression, no attempt to get the puck and start a breakout, and guys are constantly just failing to cover opposing players. Sometimes it does look like Sens players aren’t trying hard enough, but most of the time I think it’s just positioning.
The difference between the Sens and Canucks in their own zone has been really obvious, and I feel the need to point out that the Canucks are not a good team defensively. It’s just basic defense: you keep the opposition to the outside as much as possible, and you try to get the puck. The Canucks are managing to keep the Sens from getting any good offensive chances by keeping them to the outside, while the Sens are just standing in front of the net and hoping for the best.
The one thing that does give me some hope is that this team hasn’t had much time to play together yet, so maybe this is something that will get better as the season progresses. But the clock is ticking.
I’m starting to think the goaltending might also be bad
So here’s the thing. Yes, the Sens’ positioning in the defensive zone has been abysmal, but I do think it would be unfair to only rip into the defense when the goaltending has been so poor.
Would they still be losing with better goaltending? Yeah, probably. But they wouldn’t be giving up 4, 5, 7 goals a night.
The Canucks’ third goal from last night was especially egregious:
Murray has looked rough during this series, and Hogberg didn’t look great in Wednesday’s game either. I know it’s probably too early to panic, but really, how else do you respond to this last week? There must be some changes they can make.
But then again, maybe we just got used to Craig Anderson. Wanting your goaltender to steal the game and make up for your bad defense isn’t exactly a sustainable strategy, but it’s one the Sens have used for a long time.
I still think the defense is the biggest concern right now, but man, at some point we’re going to have to talk about the goaltending.
Barstool and the NWHL
I went back and forth about whether or not I should talk about this in Five Thoughts, because I don’t have nearly enough emotional distance from this situation and probably never will, but I feel like I have to talk about this because it’s the only thing I’ve been able to think about for the past week.
There’s a lot to unpack with this NWHL/Barstool drama, and I’m not going to go into the whole story. Right now, my main concern is for Saroya Tinker, who has had to see her teammates and the owner of her team publicly support someone who has called for her to be jailed. I’m disappointed with the lack of response from the NWHL, and especially with the players publicly siding with Barstool. There’s a lot happening here, and I’m certainly not the right person to do it, but what I do want to talk about is Barstool as an organization.
The way this company targeted reporters and fans this week was very upsetting, but also very unsurprising. This isn’t just a facet of Barstool’s identity: this is their identity. I don’t know how to explain to you just how scary it is to be on the receiving end of one of their harassment campaigns. This isn’t a joke. It isn’t chirping. It isn’t just people taking shots at each other online. Barstool and their culture of online harassment has done so much damage to online sports fan communities.
I was lucky enough to avoid the worst of this particular harassment campaign, but I’ve spent the last week seeing friends of mine and people I respect get bombarded with incredibly targeted, incredibly personal abuse. Ever since I saw my username in Erika Nardini’s video, and especially since I published my own piece on the topic, I have been incredibly on edge waiting for the wave of hate that could come at any moment. I know from personal experience that all it takes is one quote-tweet, and the Barstool people are all over you for weeks - and that’s if you’re lucky enough not to gain the attention of Portnoy. Right now, every time I try to step away from Twitter for long enough to eat a meal or go for a walk, I end up on the verge of tears because I convince myself within seconds that the “stoolies” have found me and that they’re tearing me apart while I’m gone. I’m a full week behind on schoolwork because I can’t look away from my notifications tab, If you’ve noticed that I haven’t logged off since Monday, this is why. I’m not saying this to garner sympathy or to play the victim; I’m saying this to illustrate the impact this company has had on female sports fans. They don’t even need to come for me directly to put me through this. It has been an absolutely awful week.
The grip that Barstool has on sports culture is mind-boggling. I know Spittin’ Chiclets is the only podcast that allows players to show a bit of personality, but I think that says a lot more about the quality of mainstream sports media than about Spittin’ Chiclets and Barstool as an organization. Look at how much fun the Broadscast is. There are other options out there. And frankly, it’s really upsetting to me to see athletes I really like continue to publicly align themselves with an organization that has led massive harassment campaigns against me and people close to me. I don’t exactly expect anything else from them, but it really, really sucks.
Don’t support Barstool.