Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tribulations of the Senators

The hot topic tonight once again, and deservingly so is the play of McJesus himself, Connor McDavid who led the Edmonton Oilers to a triumph over the Ottawa Senators by tallying two assists. He's a prodigy, an unquestionable assertion for a player that barring injuries will be the cornerstone of the Oilers franchise for the next fifteen years. The combination he possesses featuring hands of Pavel Datsyuk with the speed of a Mike Gartner, he's virtually an unstoppable force that will require # 1 defenceman to shadow his whereabouts. All that being said, and I could literally go on and on in my admiration towards Connor, what I want to talk about tonight is the (mis)fortunes of the team on the losing end, that being the Ottawa Senators.

As a Toronto Maple Leaf fan growing up in the mid to late nineties, I grew up with some classic Senators-Maple Leafs action, and the more thinking I do the most memorable matchups I bore witness to were the Patrick Lalime,Daniel Alfreddson, Wade Redden narrated Senators against the Mats Sundin, Alyn McCauley(had to give a plug to the thoroughbred checking center) and Tomas Kaberle led Leafs in consecutive playoff matchups. The Senators were always blessed with more talented rosters through and through but the kryptonite was the goaltending, usually Patrick Lalime particularly letting out the untimely goal, one goal sticks in my mind when in the opening period in a game seven, Joe Niewendyk let off a weak slap shot from the high hash that trickled through. This became a common occurrence and arguably hampered the Sens from tangible playoff successes around that time frame.

Goaltending was an issue then, but now as we sit through this 2015-2016 campaign, it's the least of their worries.  The tandem of Craig Anderson and the "Hamburgler" himself Andrew Hammond are definitely a capable duo but the lack of defensive depth the Sens display doesn't do the numbers of the aforementioned two any justice. A 2.95 GAA for Anderson, the preferred starter of late on behalf of Dave Cameron is nothing to cry home about, but if it wasn't for the defensive woes, could be soooooo much better. So this defensive crisis the Rideau Canal faces, the essence of my entry tonight, what needs to change? It's possible that we first must look at the Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson, the supposed anchor of this group. Karlsson gets a lot of praise from the Canadian media but from my vantage point not much of it is deserved.

So how many of you reading this conclude that Karlsson is a top five defenceman in the NHL? I respect you feel this way but hopefully after reading this tonight you'll be swayed in the correct direction, that he is not and in all reality is the precipus when delving into the shortcomings of the Senators. Let's first talk about his positional play, I play Ball Hockey and in Ball Hockey a rover can be quite useful as offence is the name of the game and backwards skating is not required. What position does Karlsson play? Defence? Could've fooled me. His defensive awareness is virtually non-existent and that was in full display in this evenings tilt against Edmonton. I appreciate he has a high skill level and has the coveted puck skills to be able to jump into the rush but this by all accounts doesn't dismiss the lapses in judgement that usually result a multitude of  odd man rushes the other way. I literally lost track tonight on how many odd man rushes the Oilers had. Grant you players such as Hall, Eberle, and McDavid will create scoring chances based off of pure skill, the honus is on Dave Cameron to knock some sense into the captain, remind him that although the offence is welcome, he's a defenceman first and foremost and taking care of his own end is paramount.  The "brainfarts" of Karlsson isn't the only thing causing mass panic for General Manager Bryan Murray and fans abound.  The dilemma on how to handle the Jared Cowen drama bas been much debated in and around Ottawa. Here's the issue regarding Cowen, yes he was a first round pick back in 2009(9th overall to be exact) but that doesn't make up for a severe fault in his game, a lack of footspeed. I've had this opinion about some other defenceman entering the ranks, such as Luke Schenn or Roman Polak, the game that once was is no longer and the  way all three of these gentlemen perform on the ice is no longer condusive to with the way game operates. Cowen has voiced displeasure for not playing often enough in Ottawa, does he have reason to be frustrated? 100% he does but we live in a winning business and the facts are Jared Cowen is an AHL calibre defenceman. Bryan Murray I can guarantee would love to honor his request but because he was such a high draft pick, can't afford to give him away.  If I was Jared Cowen's agent, I would advise my client that he should count his blessings, appreciate the fact that he is still up with the big club because it could be worse. There aren't many teams that would employ Jared Cowen in the show, simply put. Jared Cowen was once part of the more memorable Memorial Cup celebrations in which his Spokane Chiefs captain infamously dropped the cup after being awarded it. If they don't straighten out the mindset of Cowen and fix Karlssson's positional alignment I can assure you that their won't be any cups to drop for a long, long time Ottawa.

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