Mike Fisher is going to be thinking about this one for a while. Ottawa's second line center took a boneheaded holding penalty with just over three minutes left in the game to give the Toronto Maple Leafs their ninth power play of the night, and the Leafs' Phil Kessel converted, costing Ottawa two points in a critical divisional... what? It was a preseason game?
In that case, since it's a meaningless contest and I don't feel like doing a traditional recap, we're going to do this FAQ-style, since the lineup on the ice was mostly what we'll be seeing during the regular season. Ready?
Is our power play going to be better than last year?
The team was 0-for-5 on the night with the big guns (Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, savior Sergei Gonchar, and Erik Karlsson) all on one unit. They generated some decent chances but for the most part looked disorganized. The team hasn't begun serious work on power play schemes yet, so it's not time to go all Chicken Little, but it's at least worth raising an eyebrow at tonight's performance. Logic says the talent on the PP will make it better than last year's, but a minimal amount of skepticism is due when Gonchar bobbles a saucer pass attempt that leads to a shorthanded breakaway opportunity for the other team. They need some time to get their chemistry together.
(more of your imaginary questions follow...)
Is our defense going to be friggin' awesome in the near future?
Holy crap, yes. Patrick Weircioch has shown flashes of an unteachable smoothness and an intelligent shot. Jared Cowen was weak on Toronto's first two goals -- I'm not clear why he and Matt Carkner were a PK tandem, but hey, preseason -- but improved as the game went on. You can see what made him coveted prior to his knee injury. Erik Karlsson is still fearless. There's nothing not to like about our prospects (and this list doesn't even include Mecha Karlsson, David Rundblad, who we'll be seeing next year) unless you expect them to be great right now. They still need development, but their development is obvious so far. Very encouraging.
Is our defense going to be friggin' awesome this year?
Uh, no. Non-followers of the team can start loading up their hackneyed cliches of "Ottawa's defense isn't physical enough." Because they're not. You can feel free to worry about strong forechecking teams now, and can continue to do so until the team shows otherwise.
Are our goalies good enough?
Pascal Leclaire gave up four goals, but none were the flailing, out of position goals we saw from him last year. His movement was more clean and precise than I remember, and he's still fast as all hell. He had a sequence where he was kicking out pad saves like a Russian dancer. I'm on record as not believing in our goaltending, but watching Leclaire play tonight I'm actually cautiously optimistic. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen, but there was no evidence of the mental unraveling we've seen before. How often do you take away a major positive like that from a four-goal night?
Will our penalty kill perform at last year's level?
Book it. The Leafs went 3-for-9 on the power play, and mainstays Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, and Chris Phillips weren't in this game. The numbers aren't great, but our PK situation looks really, really set. Trust me.
Does this team have a discipline problem?
Mike Fisher grabbed a guy's leg like he was a toddler. We've already seen two bench minors for too many men on the ice. Prospects Bobby Butler and Z. Smith combined for ten minutes in minors in this game.
Still, it's hard to say for certain that there's a discipline problem here. Considering the number of penalties called in the preseason, it's not something to worry about -- yet. It should be on every Sens fan's radar, though.
Does Z. Smith deserve a spot on the team?
Yes. Next question.
Is Milan Michalek healthy?
Sure looks like it, and that's good because he's had ton of knee surgeries.
Did he spend his offseason learning to speak English better?
No, he certainly did not.
Is Alfie still awesome?
Yes. Alfie has at least one season of awesome left in the tank.
Just two games of preseason remain and then real hockey starts. Next game is on Friday. Won't you join us?