Sunday, April 25, 2004

Moving on... 

With the Senators out for the season, the on-field focus of the Ottawa sport scene turns to the Renegades and Lynx. While I'll continue to occasionally write about the off-ice soap opera of As The Senators Turn, and maybe even CBA-90210, I'm a bit of an ostridge in that I prefer to mostly bury my head in the sand when it comes to off ice/field dramas. I try to just watch and enjoy the games for what they are. So, depending on mood, you probably won't see many of the inevitably numerous rumours discussed here. Then again, depending on what they are, you may. Posting may be light, or at best off topic (off topic being mostly sports anyway), in the interval between now and Renegades season. As much as I love the Lynx, they don't provide all that much fodder for writing....

....except for last night, of course. I wish I could have been there, as the Lynx pulled out a victory by a TD - 18-11. It was typical of the Lynx's season as the bats were scorching, pounding out 22 hits for their team record 18 runs, but the pitching continued to be suspect. It was 10-5 after only 2 innings.

The performance followed another wild night on Friday when knuckleballer Joe Gannon set a more dubious record, walking 12 batters. Unfortunately the Lynx could not bail him out offensively. I've never seen a knuckleballer live and I'm excited about it. However, Gannon's line in his 3 starts (14 IP, 17 H, 19 R, 18 BB, 12.20 ERA) is making me think I should see one sooner rather than later. However, given that the knuckler works better in hot, humid weather, hopefully he'll pitch well enough to stick around until the summer rolls around. If the Lynx can get some pitching to go with their offence, they'll be a treat to watch again this year.

The Lynx followed up yesterday's victory with a 9-6 slugfest win today. The win moves them to 8-9 on the year, and back to the middle of the division after their slow start.

Also, it's not available online, but Matt Sekeres had a fine piece about the Lynx's future in the Citizen on Saturday. Check it out if you have a copy.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Martin gone? 

Hmmm....maybe. Please let the replacement be Larry Robinson.

I'm off to find a TV.

UPDATE: It's confirmed. The whole staff except Perry Pearn is gone.

Post game 7 

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart." - Bart Giamatti

Giamatti, of course, was referring to baseball. However, the same could be said for any sport. Every year holds promise but in the end there is only one winner.

The parallel to baseball is apt in more than one way as the Senators had their very own Bill Buckner in nets with Patrick Lalime letting in a pair of goals so soft that the Downy bear is in awe. The backbreaking second soft goal, scored with 20 seconds left in the first, even sneaked through the wickets a la Buckner.

However, like the Red Sox in '86, the Senators did not bail their potential goat out. Contrary to popular memory, the Mets had only tied the game on the Buckner gaffe, not won it. (UPDATE: Damn that memory of mine. The Mets Tied the SERIES, not won the series, by winning game 6 in extra innings on that play) The series went to a seventh game where the Sox had a chance to pull it out before the Mets finally did. Likewise, despite the hole they were in, the Senators had 2 periods to climb out. A goal 22 seconds into the second, followed by a couple of powerplays gave them a chance to to that, but they didn't. It's not that it's impossible - Calgary had stormed back from a 4-0 deficit a few nights earlier - although it is very difficult. Belfour and the collapsing (around the net in support, that is) Leafs closed the door on the Senators season.

So now begins the near (last year being the exception) annua debate. Blow up the team? Tweak? Fire Jacques? Dump Lalime? Dump Bonk? And so it goes.

Andrew at Senators Fan Blog votes for a rehaul. BlackRedGold urges caution. Tom Benjamin of Cancucks Corner applies his always thoughtful analysis to the situation.

I stand somewhere in the middle. I've long supported Patrick Lalime, expecting a turnaround even throughout his bad season. For the first 6 games he filled all expectations. Without his performance late in game 6, there is no game 7. That said, I can't see him being back. Who will replace him is another question. I don't know that Prusek or Emery is any better *at this point*. Outside of Belfour, there are no significant free agents this summer.

The same goes for Jacques Martin. I've never been among the chorus calling for a new coach. However, I think the time has now come. It's time for a change. My ideal situation would see Larry Robinson coming to town.

Everybody's favourite whipping boy, Radek Bonk, is always a prime target for dumping on. I'm not so down on him. While he's not a dominant #1 centreman, he is a very useful 2-way player. He's underrated by many fans because he's overpaid.

After his playoff performance, I don't see the Senators picking up Peter Bondra's option anymore.

What seems to be forgotten in the early emotion of having been bounced, is that the Senators played a good series on balance. One bad period from Lalime does not change that and become cause to blow up the team.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Missing persons report... 

Anyone seen Patrick Lalime? I don't think made the trip to Toronto tonight.

Should have seen it coming... 

Of course it's hidden behind the subscriber curtain, but I got a chuckle from Hugh Adami's column in the Citizen this A.M. After drawing parallels to Die Hard throughout, he concludes with a line I should have seen coming, but didn't:

"Yippie yi ki yay, Darcy Tucker."


Nice Neilson article 

The Sun has a nice piece on the continuing influence of Roger Neilson this morning.

Good omen? 

Both visiting teams won their game sevens last night.

Congrats to Montreal and Calgary. Even though I was cheering for Vancouver, I'm a big Iginla fan so I'm happy to see him move on.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Stayin' alive 

It was a Wide World of Sports kind of weekend for the Senators. The agony of their game 5 loss was followed by the thrill of their game 6 double-overtime victory.

Mike Fisher potted the winner 1:47 into the second overtime and it couldn't have happened for a more deserving player. Throughout the series, as always, Fisher is a constant driving force. He's the one guy who (with Alfredsson for the most part) never takes a game off.

However, it never would have made it to a first overtime, let alone a second, if not for the goaltending in this game. Ed Belfour was his usual self, stopping 35 shots in regulation. Patrick Lalime, while not as busy, was no less spectacular. He made a number outstanding stops, including a couple on the early 5-on-3 disadvantage (but alas could not react in time to a deflection off Pothier's skate on that same SH) and a pair of stops in the dying seconds to prevent a mass heartbreak.

Lalime said before the playoffs that his best was yet to come. He wasn't kidding.

For quite a while, the game looked to be following an all-too-familiar script. Sens pepper Belfour, Belfour stops everything, Leafs score fluke goal, Leafs score insurance goal on odd man rush while Sens press. It took some improv from the big man to get a rewrite. Moments after flattening Joe Nieuwendyk, Chara came from behind the net, spun and snuck a shot in the short side.

Pandemonium. We finally had something to go crazy about, and crazy we went for most of the rest of the third period as the Sens pressed. Defibrillators at our sides, we weathered a late Leaf flurry of chances and set ourselves for OT.

A third intermission was a new experience for me. I hadn't been to a playoff OT game before and it was strange to be waiting through another intermission. With al the anticipation, it felt much longer than a normal intermission even though it was 2 minutes shorter.

The first OT flew by - 3 cheers for no TV timeouts - with some good chances for both sides.

During the fourth intermission, we went for a walk around the upper concourse to stretch our legs. I was struck by how people were sitting against the walls, like they were settling in to weather a long night. In one spot, a dozen or so fans in full regalia formed a gauntlet of high fives and flag waving. Spirits were high.

With the way the Sens had played, especially since Charas goal, I was confident of a win, yet wary of a potentially lethal mistake. I was especially wary when the Adventure Pairing of Pothier and Volchenkov stepped on the ice. While it's unfair to say they were bad, they made me reach for the defibrillator more than once.

In the end the puck came across the crease and we all jumped in the air, whipping our towels in a frenzy.

Game 7, tomorrow night. I don't know if I can take it, can you?

Friday, April 16, 2004

As a respite in an otherwise insane week, I had the pleasure of seeing the Senators seize back the momentum in the series with a 4-1 victory. After Monday's tease , in which the Sens carried the play but couldn't capitalize, the Sens finally solved the Eagle. There were some tense moments, including Belfour stoning Hossa on a shorthanded break, leaving some of us wondering if it was "here we go again..."

However, sitting here 15 minutes before game time, there's a totally different atmosphere around Ottawa. There's an air of confidence (bordering on overconfidence in places) that I can't remember seeing in previous editions of the Battle of Ontario. And perhaps for the first time it may be fully earned. The Senators have shown up with their "A" game in each game. That's more than can be said for most previous years. They've outshot and generally outplayed the Leafs. You could even make the case that they've outhit the Leafs.

While some are wondering if the Sens will underestimate a possibly Sundin-less Leafs team, I'm not worried. This is a team that is playing its game rather than reacting to its opponent's. The effort will still be there.

Of course none of that means anything tonight. The Sens are only as good as the game they bring tonight. However, instead of holding their collective breath in dread, Senators' fans are holing their breath in anticipation of a series lead.

5 minutes 'til puck drop. Go Sens!

Monday, April 12, 2004

2-0...again... and other Game 3 notes 

I wrote earlier today that I thought it would be Patrick Lalime's night. Although he was mostly (I'll get back to that in a minute) very good , it was his counterpart down the ice, Eddie Belfour, who stole the show. Belfour turned aside 37 shots for his second consecutive 2-0 win. While the Eagle made a number of tricky stops, mostly he spent the night humming "I Can See Clearly Now" ala Johnny Nash. Many of the Sens shots were from outside and clearly visible. The Sens need to create a lot more traffic if they're going to be successful against Belfour.

At the other end Lalime was solid, even spectacular by times, for most of the night. He had no chance on the Leafs' first goal, a bullet one timer from the top of the slot by a wide open Joe Nieuwendyk. The second goal however, was another story. At 14:16, with the crowd on its feet screaming for the tying goal, Lalime had a Mats Sundin shot trickle through the wickets. That is a stop he has to make. At 1-0, anything can happen. All it takes is one shot, one funny bounce, and it's a new game. A 2 goal lead is all but insurmountable at that point. Lalime has to make that stop.


The crowd: As I had hoped, the Leafs contingent was relatively small, and for most of the night, easily drowned out. Attempts to boo Alfie were soon turned to cheers. Go Leafs Go chants were quickly drowned out by Go Sens Go chants. An so on. Unfortunately the crowd faded as the game wore on and the seemingly inevitable Sens goal never came. After the Sundin goal, the Parking Lot Bolters (don't get me started) made their move. The goal also seemed to knock the final wind out of the Sens fans. Leaf Nation began celebrating, making for an annoying walk to the car.


The Catalyst gets the call: After all the hype about the Spezza scratch, he was a non-factor in his debut. The only times he was noticeable was on a couple of occasions when he coughed up the puck (unsuccessfully trying the patented inside-out move for the 1,247,512th time) or failed to clear the puck in the defensive zone. Ahhh, so *that's* why he hadn't been playing.


Didn't we trade for Peter Bondra? Was he playing tonight?


Although he didn't finish, Hossa was a monster tonight with 10 shots. He was ohh, so close on a couple of chances.


Game 3 preamble 

So much for the sweater-switching-karma theory of game 1. Despite making the switch after Roberts' second goal, the Leafs did not succumb to the switch's magical powers. Perhaps we were lacking something - an Eddie Belfour voodoo doll, for instance. I've also theorized that having a Keiths instead of a Guinness may have also snakebitten the Senators.

Given the scarcity of good beer at the Corel Centre, the Senators will have to soldier though on talent and grit tonight rather than superstition induced karma. Luckily they've shown every sign of being able to do so. Despite my gloom after Game 2, I've come to see the the many positives from the game.

Tonight I see as Patrick Lalime's night. He played very well on Saturday, particularly when the Leafs were storming in the first 10 minutes. I see him continuing that tonight in a tight, low-scoring game.

Much is being made of the Leafs' success at the Corel Centre, and rightfully so - they were 3-0 at the Corel Centre this year, and have won 5 of the last 6 playoff matchups there. However, not nearly as much is being made of the Sens home record of 23-8-5-5 this year. As in many other areas, the Leafs road record vs. the Sens home record are a matter of irresistible force meets immovable object.

Another question a lot of people are asking is will the home crowd even be a home crowd. During the regular season and in previous playoff meetings Leafs Nation were well represented in Ottawa. However, a major difference this time out is that the lion's share of tickets were sold prior to the matchup being set on the final day of the season. Although there have since been a few ticket drops, and undoubtedly some ticket resold on the secondry market, I forsee a smaller (but ever as vocal) contingent of Leafs fans. They should be easily drowned out by a vocal Sens playoff crowd. One of the things I love about the playoffs is that the normally tame regular season Ottawa crowd comes to life. It will be especially so for the Battle of Ontario IV.

Friday, April 09, 2004

The day after opening day... 

Sadly mostly missed in the excitement of game 1 of the Battle of Ontario IV was the Ottawa Lynx's season opener. April signifies that wonderfully contradictory time of year where I find myself occasionally wearing a tuque and fleece to a baseball game, and then shorts to a hockey game a day or two later. While I didn't make it to last night's game, I did make it to this afternoon's second game of the season, which indeed required thermal layer to fend off the chilly breeze that cut through the beautifully sunny afternoon.

The field has yet to reach its mid-season green lushness and it's always a strange experience to be worried about staying warm rather than staying un-sunburned, but the ball is as enjoyable as ever. From the moment I walked into the stadium, until the moment we left the stadium, I had a smile on my face. While my sports concentration will be mostly on the Senators during their run, being at the ballpark today reminded me how much I had missed it over the winter. Though I've been watching much of the early MLB action, nothing matches the experience of seeing the game in person.

Now to the game. Former Tiger, Padre, Astro and Brave Sean Bergman got the start for the Lynx. He faced former Cardinal Bud Smith who is trying to work his way back from a pair of shoulder surgeries. Bergman was solid over 5 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. Smith lasted only three innings, giving way to Shane Bowers with 2 on, with none out in the 4th. Bowers promptly allowed Jose Leon's second homer in as many games, a 3-run shot to dead centre to go with his 2-run homer from the previous evening. That broke open a 2-1 game and the Lynx cruised to a 6-2 win.

The game's result is representative of the expectations put on the team this year. The Lynx have back 12 players from last year's playoff team. They've added Chad Mottola, the 2000 International League MVP. They have Darnell McDonald back for a full season after missing most of last year. They have Mike Fontenot making the jump from AA Bowie after hitting .325. They've also added former Yankee utilityman Clay Bellinger. Add those guys on top of the solid core returning from last year and this should be a fun team to watch.

Game 1 thoughts 

It all happened after the switch.

Most people will point to the 5-on-3 PP as the turning point in Ottawa's 4-2 victory tonight. After all, the two goals scored on the power plays turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. However, what you won't read in the papers tomorrow, and what you won't see in TSN or The Score's post game coverage, is what led to the shift in momentum. Mere moments before the 5-on-3, my wife an I switched Sens jerseys, thereby changing the team's luck. Although we're still working on assigning causation (was it the particular jerseys that brought the luck, or was it simply the switching of said jerseys that was the rally's catalyst) we're excited about this exciting breakthrough in playoff-luck technology.

Either way, you're welcome Sens fans.

As for the game, it was obvious from the opening faceoff that the Senators had come to play. They generated a few chances off the bat and rebounded from an early defensive breakdown, getting a fluke goal thanks to some puck luck. Although they could not convert on their early power plays, they looked strong, moving the puck well and getting some nice chances.

They finally broke through on the 5-on-3, and seemed to be in control from then on in, despite a few flurries from the Leafs. Hossa's highlight-reel goal early in the third put the final nail in the coffin.

One of the big questions coming into tonight's game was the readiness of Patrick Lalime in returning from a knee injury. He was solid in general, making some key saves when necessary. Lalime's most entertaining save of the night came in the third period when, obviously having watched some baseball during his recuperation, he did his best Graig Nettles/Brooks Robinson impression, grabbing a shot (undoubtedly headed down the line) with a diving catch.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I'm stupid... 

...or so says Al Strachan at least. Strachan's latest column starts with this opening volley:

"When it comes to the Senators, even Ottawans aren't stupid enough to think that this time will be different."

In that case, he must still consider me a Maritimer, or perhaps even a Barrhavenite, since obviously I'd be the only Ottawan who still believes that the Senators have a prayer.

The TV pundits at TSN and Sportsnet, John Garrett, James Duthie and a fence-sitting, coin-flipping Bob MacKenzie aside, have unanimously picked the Leafs to take the series. Their predictions place the Leafs anywhere from slight to overwhelming favourites.

That's not to say that the Leafs shouldn't be picked as favourites at all. It's the overwhelming unanimity of the picks that surprises me. These are two very evenly matched teams. A single point seperated them after an entire 82-game season.

However, as the media loves to remind us, the Leafs are in the Senators' heads. Their Gritty-Proven-Veteran-with-Heart Jedi Mind tricks are far too powerful for the psychologically fragile Senators.

But are they really?

The 2004 Senators are a vastly different team than the 2000-2002 editions that were bounced by the Leafs. Over half the roster has changed. The core that remains has improved, and has learned from earlier playoff runs, including the long one last year.

The team now knows what it takes to win. It's a matter of executing.

Even if the Sens execute, this will be a tough series. Toronto could still win. However, it won't be the cakewalk that the Strachans of the world are predicting.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Battle of Ontario, take IV? 

As I start this writing, Sergei Samsonov has just scored to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead over the Devils in the first period. Barring a huge comeback, it looks like the Sens are heading for another playoff clash with the Leafs.

I won't say much about last night's debacle. I was lucky enough to miss it due to a prior engagement, and although I taped it, I'm not enough of a masochist to go and review it in detail at this point.

BlackRedGold quantifies what I've always noticed in general. The Sens get hosed anytime Bill McCreary is the referee. Thanks for putting together the numbers BRG.

However, while it's easy to blame shoddy refereeing, this loss obviously goes well beyond that. By all accounts the Senators simply didn't show up. The question now is whether it's a random no-show, post road trip exhaustion, or symptom of a continuing problem with the Leafs in big games.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Barnaby interview 

Hockeybird has an interview with Ottawa native and world famous shit-disturber Matthew Barnaby. It's an interesting read.

For a good laugh, make sure to also check out this entry imploring Mark Messier to retire.


I know that a lot of people find TSN hockey host James Duthie annoying, but I find him mostly funny. It's a fine line between Robin Williams and Carrot Top and I think he stays well on the funny side of it. From a quasi-mock FAQ column Monday, comes the following:

Do you ever show any personal bias towards teams?

Absolutely not.

Do you ever get bored and play that game where the first letter of every word forms a secret message?

Something entirely nonsensical? Seldom. Rarely useful little exercise.