Thursday, January 29, 2004

Sens throw a win away and end a good run

The Senators gave up four unanswered goals tonight as they let the Dallas Stars back into the game and then handed over the 5-3 win to them. Ottawa who trailed early in the game fought back to tie and eventually take a 2 goal lead. By then you would think they were free and clear to another win and a shot at first overall in the East. But things have a way of unravelling at the wrong time.

For the Sens it was a substandard performance from Patrick Lalime, who let in a couple of questionable goals, was out of position too often and just plain had a lousy game. Pierre Turgeon and Mike Modano scored 1 minute and five seconds apart to bring the Stars to a tie, power play and shorthanded goals provided the bulk of the scoring in the hard hitting affair.

An "excessive" hit, was how Curtis Leschyshyn described the pasting he took at the hands of Dallas's Steve Ott. The hit which resulted in over 20 sticthes to the face of Leschyshy provided Ottawa with a five minute power play, as Ott received a major and game expulsion for his cheap shot. Ottawa took advantage of the power to play to add to their lead, and then added a short handed goal to seemingly pull away for good. Then for some reason they chose to hand the game back to the Stars without a complaint.

The loss will give a momentary pause for those Sens fans who feel that goaltending is still the fatal flaw in the Sens Stanley Cup hopes. The poor performance by Lalime tonight will not hush those critics who claim that Lalime is an untested goaltender who won't be able to get them deep into the playoff rounds.

Hopefully, this was just a brain cramp game. For Lalime and for the team, they let a win get away tonight and with it the chance to send a message; that they can dominate any team on any night. The team will regroup and work on the problem areas and get back to starting a new streak.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Heatley Returns

Dany Heatley will make his season debut Wednesday night against St. Louis. Heatley missed the first 51 games of the season recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident in the pre season, the crash took the life of team mate Dan Snyder.

His return is ahead of schedule, as he seems to have been able to heal quicker than everyone expected. Most had not expected him back into the Thrashers lineup til the end of February or even the start of March. A broken jaw and torn knee ligaments have been repaired and he's anxious to get back on the ice and just concentrate on hockey.

Still up in the air is his legal status. Georgia officials are still trying to determine whether he should be charged in the death of Snyder. Tests showed that he had a small amount of alcohol in his system, but not enough to be considered impaired. Snyder's family have forgiven Heatley and are hoping the District Attorney chooses not to prosecute. It's not known when the authorities will make their final decision, they are still investigating evidence and aren't giving any indications one way or another.

For Heatley right now the best thing is to get back on the ice, that's where he feels he'll be able to get on with his life. Not forgetting, but learning how to deal with a bad choice made on a September night.

The Peg back in the NHL?

Interesting conversation heard today on the Fan 590, as Bob McCown and his guests discussed the increasing rumours of Winnipeg returning to the NHL. When last heard, the Penguins were being courted to come take up residence in the soon to be completed MTS Centre, an invitation that was rebuffed by Pens management within a couple of days. But, apparently that invitation intrigued at least one other franchise, which as the story was told contacted folks in Winnipeg to gauge the sincerity of it all.

Now which franchise might be looking for a new home? Carolina, maybe Nashville, Atlanta, Anaheim or Miami, all are having troubles keeping their buildings even resembling half full, Atlanta and Anaheim are up for sale that much is known. But how many of the other owners are willing to take year after year of losses before they throw up their hands and admit that some places just don't like hockey. Better to move to a market that at least will support the game.

The rumours are starting to build up a buzz in Winnipeg, with folks there thinking that maybe just maybe they'll be invited back to the big dance. Petitions are being formed and websites developed as the folks at Portage and Main start to dream a bit. And who can blame them, it's January, it's 40 below and there's snow. If you can't afford that Hawaiian vacation to get away, may as well make the best of it all, at least sitting in the rink for three hours watching some hockey is a close second.

Record breaking Black Hawks in Vancouver tonight

Seventeen straight, that's the number of games the Hawks have put under their belt without a win. A modern day record for Chi town, it dates back to the 1954-55 season, that's the year they lost sixteen in a row before finding the win column.

The travelling horror show known as the Chicago Black Hawks, arrive in Vancouver after losing to Columbus 4-3 on Saturday night. The road record is an underwhelming 3-19-3-1, the absolute worst in the league.

This will be the first game for the Canucks without Ed Jovanovski on the blue line, filling in for him will be Jaroslav Obsut, called up from
Winnipeg yesterday. This is the third time Obsut has mad the trip, but in his previous visits he was merely a spectator and practice pylon. Tonight he gets to skate on the GM Place ice in real NHL action.

The game tonight is good timing for the Canucks, who are hoping to keep their current winning streak at home alive. They have won the last two and tonight is the last home game before an up coming road trip, so it would be nice to send the crowd home happy.

Season ticket renewals, the Ted Leonsis way

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals is taking a hands on approach around the rink these days. Days after the "trade" of Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers, Leonsis is getting some feedback from the fans, and it's not a glowing endorsement. The trade which actually has the Caps financing part of Jagr's stay in New York City, is not getting a warm reception from the folks that pay for the tickets.

After Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Leonsis reportedly grabbed a fan, Jason Hammer, 20 and threw him to the ground. Hammer, a season ticket holder had been taunting Leonsis with catcalls and waving a sign in front of his box for most of the game. After the game ended, Hammer and Leonsis ended up facing each other in a concourse, at this point the story changes a few times. Some say they yelled at each other, some say that Hammer waved the sign in Leonsis' face. Regardless, as they say push came to shove and the next thing anyone knew, Leonsis had to be restrained by the stadium security detail.

Leonsis has since phoned and apologized to Hammer, for his part Hammer says he has no plans to press charges and figures they'll just forget about the incident. Part of the problem could have been Hammers' name, it's awfully close to Jammer, which is close to Jaromir. One wonders how many times over the last couple years that Leonsis may have wanted to take his approach into the Caps dressing room! One thing is certain, the next meet the owner night could see a drop in attendance.

Baby Leafs mark 1000 games

Hockey on the rock has been a fixture for Newfoundlanders for many, many years. The Newfoundland Senior League has provided countless seasons of hockey excitement, pitting townie against baymen. But the pro game has become a true love as well. The St. John's Maple Leafs celebrated 1000 games on Saturday night, as a sell out crowd watched them mark the occasion with a win over the Toronto Roadrunners.

The Baby Leafs are the last of the Atlantic province teams left in the AHL. Halifax, Sydney, Moncton, St. John, Fredricton and Charlottetown all tried and eventually called it quits. Only Newfoundland has consistently supported their Leafs year in and year out. Saturday night saw a Wall of Fame introduced to the Mile One Arena, where the key architects of the team were honoured with plaques.

While Saturday night was a night to celebrate, there is a dark cloud on the horizon. Relations between the owners and operators in St. John's and their counterparts in the big smoke of Toronto, are not particularly cordial these days. The bean counters at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment don't like the cost of business in their present location, it is off the beaten path now of the AHL, the nearest rival for the Leafs is either in Maine or Syracuse. Travel to and from the Rock is by plane, in a league built on bus trips this is a pretty high expense. Perhaps Toronto wants their farm hands a little closer to the ranch, making call ups easier to move in and out.

Over the years they tried and failed in other locations close to Toronto, so where to move them could be a tough call. Hopefully, there can be some way to keep them in St. John's, it's a great hockey town, they support their Leafs and there is something truly Canadian about having a team at the farthest city in the East. It tells the world that Canada truly is a HockeyNation. Interest in the Leafs has always been high in Newfoundland, the two favourite teams, as was the case in most of pre expansion Canada were always Toronto and Montreal. With the arrival of the Baby Leafs, one would suspect that the ratio is weighted in favour of Toronto now. Be a shame to lose all that good will after all these years.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Canucks win game, lose Jovo

The celebration of the solid team performance by the Canucks on Sunday night was short lived, tempered by the news that Ed Jovanovski will be out of the line up for two to three weeks. With a 4-1 victory over Nashville, the Canucks won back to back home games something they hadn't been able to do for a while. It also marked a welcome trend for the Canucks, winning a game in regulation time, normally a home game features an extra five minutes of action. Brent Sopel and Marcus Naslund had big nights for the Nucks with three points each, the game also featured some improved play from the entire roster. Jovanovski was injured in the first period while driving to the net, crashing into the boards he injured his right shoulder. Coach Marc Crawford was not releasing too many details, but it has since been learned that Jovo suffered a right shoulder sprain and will be out of the line up for two to three weeks. The call has been made to Manitoba for a farmhand to help out during Jovo's recovery time.

For Sopel the game presented a chance to step up and answer some of the more vocal GM Place critics, he turned the catcalls into curtain calls with a fine performance on the power play and solid work in his own end. With Jovo gone for the next three weeks, Sopel will have to keep that pace up for every game.

Where's my broker fee?

Glad I could be of assistance, less than twelve hours after HockeyNation called for a contract extension for Jacques Martin he has signed on the dotted line. The Senators and Martin agreed to a multi year extension today, clearing the way for the Stanley Cup run this Spring. The contract discussions had been ongoing since the start of the season, with frequent announcements that it was just a matter of dotting the i's. crossing the t's and getting the lawyers all on board. And with this another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place, the Sens have the core squad to go the distance and the coach is happy and well compensated behind the bench. All that is left is one or two pick ups to provide some depth or a bit of extra scoring punch, something I'm sure GM John Muckler is busy working on at this very moment. HockeyNation looks forward to the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Sens playing the role of Eastern Conference representative.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Sensational Sens

9 to 1, nine goals to one, now this is the offense Sens Fans have been waiting for. Finally the Sens have broken out of their rut, indeed they've been on a run for the last 12 games. While trouncing the Rangers probably is nothing to be excited about (who couldn't whack that team these days), it sure was nice to see them fill the net.

Gone are the worry warts who were whispering about the team's performance, saying that Martin had to go. Hell it's time to re-sign him now, get his contract out of the way and show the players it's time to win it all.

It's amazing what a little winning streak can do to a teams personality. Everyone is contributing, Spezza seems to be showing what was expected of him when he was drafted, he's involved in the play, is picking his moments and starting to score on a regular basis.

The Defense is starting to punish teams that dare to cross the blue line (just try to get around Chara), Lalime seems to dare the opposition to score. Alfredsson, Hossa, Bonk, Smolinski, Redden, Spezza they just keep flying down the ice and putting the puck in the net. As a team they are playing as a full unit, each player contributing to the good of the whole, something that the Rangers and others could do to study.

Only one point back from Toronto now, and it shouldn't be long before the Unvierse returns to it's proper orbit, with the Sens on the top of the Conference. They're playing with a lot of confidence now, which should carry them through the rest of the season into the playoffs.

Broadway Burnout! Time to close this show?

If this were a review of the theatre the cry would be Close the Show, it's a flop. The cast can't act, the plot line stinks and the Director has lost his way. But nope, it's not a Broadway play. It's the Broadway Blueshirts and they took their touring company on the road last night for a performance in Ottawa that was just plain terrible. Jaromir Jagrs' debut as a Blueshirt was underwhelming, as his new cast mates did their best to make him look good, by looking so bad. They couldn't score, they couldn't skate, they didn't check and they couldn't stop goals, in short they just didn't try. Ottawa just kept skating, shooting and scoring, a concept seemingly lost on the Rangers. They were more than full value for the 9-1 thrashing administered last night, the only question being how did the Rangers manage to get one goal?

Where does this leave ole Glen Sather now? The New York crowd last left him with the quaint slogan "Sather Sucks" ringing in his ears before the trip to Ottawa. Lord knows what the always creative New York fan will compose for the next Rangers home game. At any rate he has bigger problems than what the fans think of him, he needs to worry about what the players think about him. Because this is a team that seems to want to be rid of their coach and GM, such is the lack of effort put forward from night to night.

Sather the GM, should sit down with Sather the coach and ask him to explain a few things like line combinations, plans of attack and a certain lack of ability at keeping the puck out of their own end. Sather the coach in the meantime should counter by asking exactly what the GM is doing. He loads up with yet one more large payroll in the name of Jaromir Jagr, a guy that hasn't really had a good season in a couple of years now. Instead where they need the help, ie: defense, goaltending, positive thinking gurus, he seems to draw a blank. Instead of picking up Jagr from the Caps he should have purchased Gonchar, Bondra and Kolzig from Bargain Seller Ted. At least then he would have patched up his woefully overworked and injured defesne, added a goaltender that might have been able to stop a few shots and even included a scorer to the front lines who can uh, score. But nope instead it's another "star" player who will fit in nice with the collection of other non performers assembled in New York.

If this was a Broadway play they'd close down the show, burn the script and send the director back to community theatre in Goose Bay. But alas, the old adage is true, the Show must go on. And for New York fans this is one show that is more Stephen King or Mel Brooks, alternately a horror or a comedy, depending on the night and the mood of the team.

The media reviews are in from the Big Apple and the critics aren't kind.

The Post, The News both agree this Ranger show needs to close. And soon!

Friday, January 23, 2004

Four officials and still a blown call, life on the ice

What was that tonight in the Blues/Stars game. There are four zebras on the ice, yet all of them managed to miss a two line pass. Instead, a penalty shot was awarded on what actually was an offside. The Blues who were trailing in the game at the time were flabbergasted on the bench, hardly believing their eyes as Mike Modano took the shot against Chris Osgood. Fortunately for the refs, Modano rang the shot off the goal post, No goal. The Stars went on to win the game 2-0, the refs went on to review the tape. This is not the first time that NHL officials have managed to miss a play, many of the recent stick incidents seem to have gone unpunished as well. Many times it seems that the officials are out of the play or trying to find a spot where they aren't in the way. Perhaps it's true, too many cooks spoil the soup.

Firesale Hockey

And so it begins, the great salary dump of 2004. Washington apparently set to lead the way by unloading Jaromir Jagr and his hefty paycheque, for Anson Carter who found himself in Glen Sather's doghouse rather quickly. This marks the second time that Jaromir has been moved in order to cut costs, having helped Pittsburgh's bottom line not too long ago. Not sure of the logic of this deal, the Caps will still be on the hook for a hunk of his salary for the next four years, some 20 million, in effect paying him to go away, we should all be so lucky!

Washington may not be done yet, they may next deal Peter Bondra possibly to Ottawa. Cutting and pruning will continue until the Capitals can run purely on popcan return revenues. I Wonder if the long suffering Capital's fan will be so lucky and be given a rebate on their season tickets, since the Caps seem to have abandoned all hope for this season.

This is just the tip of the salary dumping iceberg, Carolina too is about to pare the payroll and rumours continue that the Chi Hawks will also take a knife to their paycheque recipients, though to be fair that won't amount to much there. Now that it's open season, how many other teams will decide to chuck this year and try and save some money?

This trend is just another indication of the trouble Hockey has found itself in over the last few years. Between struggling franchises in the Sunbelt, disinterested fan bases in many cities, underperforming talent, and an ugly labour dispute looming, things are just not so rosy beyond the Zamboni machines.

This firesale concept could turn the playoff race upside down, teams that built their line-ups from the draft, by developing players on the farm clubs and taking the slow and steady approach may find their best efforts go unrewarded. Instead the victors this season, may be those with the money to chase a flood of highly talented players that become available to the highest bidder.

Finishing first overall, building momentum for the season it could all be a waste of time. Instead the smart GM will be the one with the fistfull of cash ready to scoop up the available talent from the teams looking to cut their losses and cut their costs. Play like bums for half a season and then load up on stars for the homestretch, it could be a whole new management style coming our way.

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