Five Thoughts for Friday
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
- How big are this weekend's games? Ottawa is currently outside of the playoff race and at 4 points back in the wild card race, separation is starting to occur between Ottawa and the wild card teams. The Sens play Saturday against division rival Detroit and Sunday against Carolina. Detroit is 3-2-5 in their last 10 games. Detroit's play has dropped off recently and Carolina is tied with Ottawa in points. These are two winnable games and the Sens desperately need the points.
- The back-to-back also presents an interesting opportunity for Ottawa's goaltenders. Will both Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson get a start? Will Paul MacLean run with the hot hand or will he continue to allow Andy to find his form? This situation is not going to go away and how well Lehner and Anderson deal with it will impact the team's fortunes.
- Mika Zibanejad's usage has been the subject of much discussion so far this season. And with good reason - the decisions to send him to Bingo to start the season and to play him sparingly once back in the NHL are confusing. Yet, Zibanejad is quietly becoming one of the team's better forwards. He's looked especially good on the power play the last few games and is physically strong; it's easy to forget he's only 20 years old. At 22, Jared Cowen is still a very young defenseman and a variety of factors have conspired to slow his development. However, while Mark Borowiecki, Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, and Joe Corvo have all been scratched this season and Erik Karlsson has been benched, Cowen continues to be in the lineup despite his poor play. Before the season started, some Sens fans wondered if this was the final year of a the 3-year rebuild that started with Zibanejad's selection, 6th overall at the 2011 NHL Draft, or the first year of contending. Demoting Zibanejad and limiting his minutes and sticking with Cowen suggest that development is more important this year. It's frustrating in the short term but it needs to pay off long term as well.
- One of the reasons I don't like watching the Sens on national broadcasts such as TSN is because the commentators and analysts aren't familiar enough with the team to provide accurate information or analysis. Ottawa's game against the Wild was broadcast on TSN and viewers were treated to the conventional "Erik Karlsson is a defensive liability" argument. This should have ended part way through his Norris-winning season. No, Erik Karlsson isn't at the level he was defensively before his injury; no he isn't perfect. Yes, he made a weak play defensively on Dany Heatley's goal on Wednesday night. He will make mistakes in the future and has already made some this season. But he is hardly the problem on the Sens blueline. What's more, the TSN panel showed a few clips to illustrate his liabilities but repeated one of the clips. If it's such a problem, surely TSN could have found multiple clips without repeating one. Yes, Karlsson needs to be better in his own end but it was the reliance on convention narratives that irked me. It was even suggested that Karlsson should block more shots. Sure...because Karlsson breaking his leg is what this team needs right now. During the game, play-by-play man Gord Miller and analyst Ray Ferraro talked about Zibanejad's demotion at the start of the season and Paul MacLean's comments about the move. The problem is, MacLean questioned Mika's effort in training camp, Miller and Ferraro suggested the coach blasted Zibanejad's strong play last season. It's not reasonable to expect national broadcasts to have the same familiarity as local coverage, it is reasonable to expect they put a bit more effort into it.
- Daniel Alfredsson is currently out with a groin injury. While he's slated to be back in time for American Thanksgiving (which coincides nicely with Detroit's trip to Ottawa), he's 40 and on the shelf for the second time this season with a groin injury. The Senators marketed the upcoming game between Ottawa and Detroit as Alfie's return and raised the prices accordingly. If Alfie can't make the trip, it won't be received well. It's not the organization's fault that a key opposition player may not be healthy for his trip to the Canadian Tire Centre. The game would have sold out without the marketing effort. But in the summer the Sens organization sent out surveys marketing Alfie's return, if he can't go it illustrates the folly of marketing players and not teams (and marketing the opposition in general).