Saturday, May 13, 2006

Disappearing Act, Disappointing Act!

So once again, the Ottawa Senators find themselves mere observers to the NHL Playoffs after two rounds of play. This years version of the best team that can’t win the big games, found itself outworked most nights for the right to move on. The Sabres led by the unbelievable Ryan Miller took the best of seven series four games to one, winning the clinching game 3-2 right in the Senators home.

Far too many of the Sens stars went missing in this series, the offensive output of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson a mere shadow of the series against Tampa Bay. They and many others on this team on any given night could have qualified for status in the witness protection program, for they were witnesses to a Sabre team with a strong team work ethic that in the end just seemed to want the wins more than Ottawa did.

On defence, far too many of the normally reliable Senator blue liners went missing at key times in this series, whether it was the poorly thought out blind passes that went to Sabre sticks, to poor clearing attempts that were turned over to Sabre forwards, the defence simply were out of the play far too much in the series. The most glaring example and perhaps the one play most indicative of the Senators collective brain cramps, was Chris Drury’s goal in the second period, while on the power play he was allowed to walk in from the right dasher board, three Senators making no attempt to impede his path, nor offering support to a bewildered Ray Emery who surely couldn’t believe that not one of his defenders realized that Drury was on the move and has a habit of scoring key goals.

Three goals Saturday killed the Sens, three goals that really never should have happened. From the first Sabre marker by Henrik Tallinder at the .30 second mark the Sens continually put themselves into a hole, which they eventually could not pull themselves out of. From that first goal through to Dumont’s goal described above, it was mental miscues and poor positional play that ended their chase for Stanley. The final goal by Pominville at 2:36 of the OT was in a similar vein, short handed the Sabres turned the play out of their end with Pominville finding himself alone one on one with Daniel Alfredsson deep in the Ottawa end, taking advantage of a forward playing defence he went to the net and tucked the puck in past Emery to end the game and the series.

The fact none of the remaining Sens were in the final frame of the game tells you more about their play than you need to know. Not one of the “power play” specialists bothered to make the pilgrimage back to the Sens end of the rink to break up the Sabres counter punch, as what became usual in this series they seemed to think somebody else would take charge and move the play. No back checking, no turning back to help, once again leaving their goaltender at the mercy of a Sabre team that knew when to slam a door shut and move on.

To be fair to the Sens, they had more than enough chances to win this and most of the other four games lost in this series, missed opportunities come back to haunt you, ask the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Calgary Flames and now the Ottawa Senators.

It was a series that with a few bounces the right way would have been tied by now or even had the Senators in the lead, but Miller held the fort and the Sabres knew when to finish off the game. When the opportunity to win came to a Buffalo stick, the puck was in the net.

The key to the Sabres survival in each series is a simple commitment to team work; on any given night somebody is going to be a hero. They don’t rely on one line, they don’t rely on one guy (with the exception of maybe Miller), and it’s a total commitment to the team. And in two series now against what was supposed to be tough competition the Sabres have excelled.

For the Senator faithful it’s another year of what could have beens and if only’s. The fans will have a long summer to exhume the season, offering up suggestions as to what to do with a team that refuses to move past a certain point. Blow it up, or refine the pieces; that will be task of management.

What remains to be seen is if John Muckler and Roy Mlakar remain on the reconstruction committee. They were the architects of this edition of the Sens, they kept the unit as a whole even at the trading deadline, as in years past their regular season stats meant nothing in the post season. The one stat that tells all about the Senators, 5 years of 100 plus seasons, but only four playoff series victories in seven years!

Last time around they fired the coach and canned the goaltender; perhaps a more thorough revival is now necessary. From top executives, to the guys that open the gates at Scotiabank Place, nobody should probably feel that a job is safe anymore.

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