13 October 2014

Game n°3 preview: Sens stop by Sunrise, FLA for fall hockeying

Don't look now, but the Ottawa Senators are straddling a .500 average two games into a season that's presented them with yet another road trip to start (albeit one theoretically easier than last year's Opening Line-Up of Death). There's one last game to play down south before settling in for a two-week homestand, and it'll be one chez les Panthers.

Their home base might be in Florida, but the Panthers are coming in so cold to the regular season that they might as well move into Saskatchewan already. After having lost all five of their preseason games (!!!), Florida lost its first game 3-2 in overtime versus Tampa Bay and then gave its fans just about nothing to see in a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With Roberto Luongo far from the world-beater he was a few years ago, Al Montoya as their back-up (remember when we beat him and the Isles 6-0?) and their third most-used player being 2014 first-overall-pick 18-year-old Aaron Ekblad, it seems likely that Florida is just as ripe for the blending as they've been over the past few seasons.

That isn't to say it'll be a cakewalk. The Sens actually managed one less shot in their 3-2 loss to Nashville on Thursday than Florida did in their 3-2 loss to Tampa. And more importantly, we've been failing at shot suppression—something that's evident both through the stats and the good ol' eye test. Having Lehner and Anderson bail us out for 35% of the game is a testament to the failings of our defence; it's painful to see the pure inability of half the defence corps unable to break out of our own zone. There remain eighty more games to clean up the ranks, and it's still early days, so here's hoping the coaches are seeing the problem too—and have some means of fixing it.

Those forward lines look good, though. Something that stood out last season was the sheer proportion of goals we scored that were neat, beautiful ones: it seemed that we either scored on perfect passing plays, or didn't score at all. (And whoever got stuck with linemates who couldn't create plays was hence doomed.) This might point to a need for a "scrummy" or "big body" presence, but I'll choose to perceive it as a signifier of how well our forward lines can click; watching Turris, Ryan and MacArthur trade the puck as though they're reading each other's minds in the offensive zone feels like the true glorious meaning of hockey. It's early yet, of course, but MacLean seems to be a little more even-keeled in his line-shuffling so far, too. They remained mostly the same except for late in the Tampa game, when Ryan was placed with Zibanejad and Chiasson while Stone was upgraded to Turris and MacArthur.

One last note on the rookies—Stone, Hoffman and Lazar all have looked excellent, even when placed in penalty killing roles. It'll be interesting to see how they match up against tougher teams, but so far they seem to be making Condra and Greening definitively superfluous. Gryba and Borowiecki are a different concern... and so is Phillips. But we'll cross that bridge when every other option is burning up in flames when we get there. No need to force fire tires now when we're perfectly able to make them along the way.

Should be a fun season, eh?


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