Five Thoughts for Friday

Thoughts on Tkachuk, White and whether fights inspire comebacks

There are certain traditions that we must abide by around these parts, and perhaps our most sacred is that on Fridays there are Thoughts. So please, join me as I share Five of them with you:

11 forwards and 7 defensemen

Unless injuries force them to do otherwise, the majority of NHL teams will dress twelve forwards and six defensemen on any given night. Guy Boucher, however, is not the coach of most NHL teams. Boucher has used the 11/7 alignment before this season, but he’s been going back to the well more than ever lately. Boucher clearly believes playing seven defensemen gives his team a tactical advantage, an idea he’s elaborated upon in several interviews and media sessions. The gist of Boucher’s thinking is that with seven on the blue line, he can better manage his match-ups. Truthfully, it’s hard for me to evaluate whether this is a good strategy or not but I will say that one of the main byproducts is that Chris Wideman just plays less. Boucher’s long been reticent to use Wideman when defending a lead, but with six defensemen he was occasionally forced to. With seven, Boucher effectively gives any defensive zone assignments that might have gone to Wideman to a combination of Dylan DeMelo and Christian Jaros. Boucher’s never really trusted Wideman, and his usage of the 11/7 is a way for him to keep Wideman’s offensive upside in the line-up without risking too much defensively. It’ll be interesting to see what the coach does when Zack Smith and/or Jean-Gabriel Pageau return to the line-up. Will he go back to 12/6? Will that make Wideman a healthy scratch? Something to watch.

Brady Tkachuk’s offensive instincts

There’s been a lot of ink spilled on the subject of Tkachuk’s tenure with the Senators, so I will try not to re-hash the usual talking points but I will say that I’ve probably been most impressed with his ability to hang with the Sens’ top offensive creators. Tkachuk’s defensive game could still use a bit of work, and he struggles a bit to get the puck moving through the neutral zone sometimes, but once he crosses into the attacking zone he’s a lot more creative and incisive than I’d expected. In his first game back last night after a prolonged injury absence, he eventually made his way up to a line with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene as Boucher tried to jump-start the offense. The results were immediately obvious: Tkachuk fit seamlessly alongside the two stars and the Sens generally controlled play when the line was on the ice. Anyone will look better playing next to Stone and Duchene, but I’ve often observed Tkachuk actively helping the cause on the top line. That’s a very encouraging sign.

Colin White’s leap

Speaking of young prospects with impressive offensive instincts, Colin White’s off-season transformation has been remarkable (and a much-needed positive development). I will gladly admit that at times last year, I was worried about White’s long term prospects; was he destined to be nothing more than a serviceable bottom six forward? I certainly hadn’t seen enough in the way of offensive inspiration to have me believing otherwise. This year has been a completely different story. The improvements probably merit an article of their own, but the two most noticeable changes to me are White’s improved skating and his confidence with the puck. Someone clearly got in his head this summer and told him that he didn’t need to just chip the puck to the corner every time he gained the blueline, because he’s been making much more aggressive, attacking plays this season. Though he didn’t score a goal on the play last night, the sequence in the second period where he evaded a Golden Knights’ check behind the net before cutting out in front and trying to sweep it past Fleury is just not something we would have seen from him last year. There’s just a lot of positives to take from White’s offensive game in the early part of the season and that’s great news.

The inspiration of fighting

I understand this is a divisive topic but this piece’s format lends itself to opinionated stances, so I’m going to take one here: fighting doesn’t inspire comebacks, scoring goals inspires comebacks. Last night, Mark Borowiecki fought Ryan Reaves after the Sens went down 3-0 and shortly thereafter Duchene scored. During the TSN broadcast, Gord Miller pointed out that, to paraphrase, “if the Senators come back here, some people might point to the fight as a turning point.”

Look, there’s a deeply entrenched view in the hockey world that fights, or big hits, push teammates to greater heights. Maybe some of the Sens players did feel an extra bit of pride watching Boro taking on Reaves. I can’t speak for them. I’m sure if you asked them about it, they’d say they loved it. The media certainly does love pushing that particular angle. It’s also their job as a teammate, though: no player will ever, ever, speak ill of a fight. But you know what really started the ultimately ill-fated comeback last night? Thomas Chabot flying up the ice and Matt Duchene burying a rebound off the rush. That’s what started the comeback. These players weren’t made more skillful by Borowiecki’s fight. The Sens had some real grade A chances in the first period that they couldn’t bury, including one for Boro himself. Would they have gotten the puck up that extra inch if the fight had just occurred in the first minute of the game? I really don’t think so.

The truth is that hockey is an extremely random game, and sometimes the puck goes in the other team’s net right after a fight. More often, it doesn’t. Sometimes your team scores a lot just before a fight, and sometimes it scores a lot after. The fight doesn’t affect the goal scoring, it’s just a thing that happens in-between the goal scoring. And if you want an inspiration for a comeback what you need is some goal scoring; the fighting just kinda happens.

The back-up goalie situation

I have to imagine that the Sens are really desperately hoping Mike Condon manages to regain his form because they are awfully thin on back-up options for Craig Anderson otherwise. Andy’s faced an unbelievable amount of shots already this year, he’s on pace to face the most of any goalie EVER, and he’s not getting any younger. The TSN broadcast crew for last night’s game mentioned that the team is monitoring his workload in practice, and he’s already been granted a couple of days off to rest. Marcus Hogberg remains out long-term with a lower body injury and the Sens are in no mood to rush along Gustavsson. That leaves Mike Mckenna and Condon. If the Sens are going to pay Condon as much as they are, they need him to be a capable back-up because I can’t conceive of a world where they can trade him without paying a team to take him on. There’s a lesson in here about signing depth players to long term contracts, but what’s done is done: the Sens are stuck with Condon and they better hope he gets it together.

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