Saturday, December 10, 2005

Scrub the new schedule ideas

It wasn't a masterpiece, the flow seemed to get interrupted too much, but still it was still some of the best entertainment of the year so far. The Senators and Canucks met at GM Place on Friday night for the first and only time this year (barring a playoff match for Lord Stanley's Cup) and the hometown fans went home rather happy.

Daniel Sedin scored the winner in the shootout to pace the Canucks to a 3-2 victory over the Sens and bragging rights for this week of NHL play, only the fourth team to beat the Sens this year.

In a game that gave the two referee system its most stringent workout, both Vancouver and Ottawa found that the slightest dent on the NHL rule book usually resulted in a two minute penalty. Brad Watson and Chris Rooney spent far too much time at centre ice, sharing with the tv audience the latest infraction of the night. An exasperated Bryan Murray seemed to accept his fate on this night, as the thirteenth penalty call of the night on the Sens put his team on the wrong end of a 5 on 3 situation going into Overtime.

Power plays were the nature of this game with the Sens spending 26 of the 60 minutes sitting out the the play in the box. Yet the Canucks could only capitalize on one of their 13 extra man opportunities and that was early on in the first period. After that it was the Ottawa defence and some stellar work from Domenic Hasek that held them at bay.

Ottawa played an uncharacteristically sloppy game early on before they settled down to the job at hand, far too many giveaways and bad penalties should have buried them early in the game, yet they hung on to tie things up in the third and forced Overtime, a period which they survived a 5 on 3 situation. From there it was on to the night's grand finale of the shootout.

The 100th consecutive sell out at GM place roared with approval as Auld made his saves and Sedin scored the winner to cap off the highly anticipated night complete with the points.

The flow of the game could have been less interrupted by the referees, who seemed to call far more than the usual number of infractions on the night. Though in some cases the fouls were so blatant as to be inexcusable, dumb infractions by Mike Fisher, a lazy hook by Captain Daniel Alfredsson and a mishandled puck by Zdeno Chara were just some of the silly mental errors that put the Sens behind the eight ball for most of the game. Without Hasek's heroics in the net the Sens could have faced a much worse fate on the scoreboard at GM Place.

Vancouver outshot the Sens 37-21 by the end of regulation and if not for Hasek a fair number of those 37 shots would have counted for goals. The Sens can thank their goaltender for the one point souvenir of their trip to the Pacific.

The Canucks did something that very few teams have been able to do this year they held the Sens big line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley pointless on the night, only the second time this year that the Sens performers have been off the sheet.

The quality of the game left many hoping that it was a preview of the Stanley Cup final, two teams at the top of their game and with seven possible games to prove their points. If we can be guaranteed the same gritty effort this spring, then we can't wait until May!

The game had been hyped for a week in Vancouver, almost reaching that frenzy one sees at the start of the playoffs. Which leads one to wonder about the NHL's scheduling template for the next few years. As things stand now, with the unbalanced and inter conference rivalries in place, the Sens will not be back for a regular season visit in Vancouver for three years. Which seems like a complete waste of entertainment and box office potential.

Here's some math for the NHL to ponder for next year, earlier this week the Sens played Florida before an announced crowd of 10,000 people (widely reported as much less) and no television audience. Friday night the Sens and Canucks played before a sold out crowd of 18,360 at GM place and a Sportsnet audience that will surely report in as huge.

The question for Gary Bettman and the owners is this. Which would bring in more money and more interest to the new NHL, eight games of the Panthers and Sens or even four games of the Sens and Canucks? Unless the NHL calculators are broken they'll realize that it not only makes good hockey sense to feature the Canadian teams against each other more often, it makes good business sense.

Money talks, lets hope that this new scheduling idea takes a long walk.

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