Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sens look for a renewed approach for game two

In the old and even not so old days the top line of a high flying club would be given a fancy name, the production line, the GAG line, the KLM line or Legion of Doom, things of that nature.

They made for a moniker that summarized the skill and ability of that line to change the direction of a game and keep fans talking about their exploits for hours and hours.

You can almost hear your grandfather telling you, “oh I remember when Howe and Abel on that Production line, turned a series around…..”

Monday night the Ottawa Senators big line probably hoped nobody noticed their play (fat chance), since only the turnover line might come to mind. In what Sens fans hope will be a one game aberration, the Senators most productive line in the last three series had the most atrocious time of it as the Anaheim Ducks pounded them into the boards, rattled them off their game and gobbled up more errant passes and fumbles than had been seen in a couple of month’s worth of Senators appearances.

The Globe and Mail’s Roy McGregor appeared on the Bob McCown program Prime Time Sports late Tuesday afternoon (thoughts he expaned on in the Globe) and his description of the play of all the Senators, especially in that frightening third period, appeared to nail the night’s performance accurately. Macgregor who is perhaps one of the most astute observers of the game today, suggested that Ottawa played as if they were in fear for their lives, such was the nature of the physical play of the Ducks and the resulting effect it had not only on the Sens big line but the team as whole.

This is not a team that is unable to cope with the hardest of hits, they have after all taken on the Penguins, Devils and Sabres, three teams that have been known to throw a check or two, but Monday it was like a whole new world for them, as wave after wave of Ducks took the body, on the boards, at centre ice or in the Senators crease, it was ten pin bowling night in Anaheim and the Sens were the pins. Clearly the Sens were not prepared for a sample of hockey from the 1970's as delivered by Brian Burke's bruising Ducks.

The ability to shake off the effects of Monday’s disappointing loss is of key importance for Ottawa, they need to score goals and make hits, out skate the Ducks at every opportunity and make sure that they no longer have an open invitation to set up camp in Ray Emery’s crease.

The message needs to be sent from the opening face off and for Ottawa to find success they need a highlight type night from the Big line, after a terrible Monday, they are no doubt anxious to return to the ice and regain the touch that helped bring the Sens this far, a successful journey rests on their ability to bounce back.

The Globe’s David Naylor explored the impact that game one had on the Sens prime offensive grouping, and what may be the scenario for game two.

Ottawa's top line gets a wake-up call
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

ANAHEIM, Calif. — They make up the most productive line in the National Hockey League playoffs and they've led the way most nights during the Ottawa Senators' drive to the Stanley Cup final.

But during Ottawa's opening-game 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley barely registered at all.

Spezza and Alfredsson picked up assists on Wade Redden's power-play goal in the second period. But overall, the trio was a combined minus-3 on the night, thanks to being on the ice against Anaheim's checking line when winger Travis Moen scored the winning goal late in the third period.

Moen and his fellow checkers, Sami Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer, had 12 shots on goal, compared with just five for Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, including none in the third period.
All of which raises two questions: Has Ottawa's top line finally met its match and will head coach Bryan Murray break up the line that carried Ottawa through the first three rounds of the playoffs?

"It's a panic move if you do it right away," Murray said yesterday as the Senators prepared for tonight's second game of the best-of-seven series. "The guys play and play and play and then we have a game where it's 2-2 with three minutes to go in the third period and so we break them up? I just have to play it by ear and do what I have to do."

Murray's criticism of his top line was considerably more pointed immediately after Monday's game when he fingered it for failing to get the puck deep into Anaheim's zone and chasing it. Instead, the trio most times attempted to carry or pass the puck into the Ducks' zone, resulting in multiple turnovers.

"At the end of the day, it's [Murray's] decision," Ottawa's Dany Heatley said of whether the line stays intact. "We turned the puck over and tried to do too much. We've played too well in these playoffs and I'd hate to see us not together.

"What's made us successful is that ability to play a simpler game and for whatever reason we got into trouble trying to make plays down the middle. We've got to stick with getting the puck in and playing a simple game and then let your skill take over."

While Murray is holding firm, there is some reason to think a shakeup might not be too far away. For one, Murray is known as a coach with a quick trigger for line switches, having gone far longer during these playoffs without a shakeup than at any point during the regular season.

And factoring the final two games of Ottawa's Eastern Conference final series against the Buffalo Sabres, the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line has now been held without a goal in two of Ottawa's past three games, both of which were losses.

The Senators have talent throughout the roster, but it's hard not to notice that Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson have accounted for 23 of Ottawa's 50 goals during the playoffs. And among forwards, they have accounted for 56 per cent of the scoring.

So far during these playoffs, the pattern has been simple. The Senators don't win when their top line isn't clicking.

"We acknowledged it after the game, we talked about it, the three of us," Alfredsson said.
"And I'm sure we'll play smarter and better tomorrow. … We hurt ourselves more than what they did to us."

Complicating matters for Ottawa in the first game was Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle's decision to play his two top defencemen, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, as a pair against the Spezza line.

While that might seem like more impetus to break up Ottawa's top line, Spezza sees it another way.

"If they'll put their five best defensive players against us, it should give our other lines opportunities to score goals," he said.

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