Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Scotiabank Parliament Hill

It is almost a universal belief that politicians are skilled liars. It is said that when politicians aren't kissing babies, they are stealing their lollipops. This belief is fine for politicians as it seems to further their careers. Heck, Bill Clinton "did not have sexual relations with that woman" when it came to Monica Lewinsky, yet we all know he did. In this regard, has it occurred to anyone that the Ottawa Senators are doing their city proud by basically uttering as much rhetoric as the politicians who occupy their city?

In a story filed by The Canadian Press entitled "Sens baffled by late season collapse", the Ottawa Senators offer up more excuses than a classroom of kids who didn't do their homework. The Senators are in dire straits in terms of missing the playoffs after starting the season 13-1-0, establishing a new record for points earned through the first 15 games of the season.

However, since January 1, the Senators have posted a horrific 17-21-4, the fourth-worst record since the calendar flipped to 2008. They have fallen from first in the Eastern Conference to sixth. They have arguably looked lost in their own zone most nights. Their goaltending has been non-existent. Yet no one in the Senators' locker room has a reason why they are now on the verge of the biggest season collapse in recent memory.

"It's a big game and we need the two points. I don't think I have to say too much more than that," defenceman Chris Phillips said to The Canadian Press in regards to Thursday's tilt versus the Maple Leafs. "It's still in our hands and if you're looking for any positives, that's certainly one we can use."

With games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Boston Bruins on Sunday, the Senators have to put together a two-game winning streak in order to secure their spot in the playoffs. They haven't put together two wins since a three-game winning streak from March 8 to March 13. Before that, you have to go all the way back to February 7 and 9 when the Senators last had consecutive wins.

"Is anybody happy? No. Is everybody a little uptight and frustrated? Yes," said Ottawa GM and coach Bryan Murray. "I don't think anybody on our team, or maybe in the city, thought we'd be going down to the last game.

You can say that again. When they cruised through the first two months of the season compiling a 16-6-2 record, it's hard to imagine that the Senators would be two points out of ninth-place at this point in the season, but that's where they find themselves tonight.

"We're all kind of baffled a little bit as to why we're in this situation," centre Jason Spezza said.

Really, Jason? Are you really baffled? Let's take a quick peek at some glaring numbers. In the first 24 games of the season where they posted that 16-6-2 record, the Senators held their opponents to two goals or less 14 times, and only gave up four goals or more to an opponent seven times. Clearly, defence made a huge difference for the Senators early on.

However, in the months of February and March, the Senators went 10-13-4. During those 27 games, the Senators held their opponents to two goals or less eight times, and went 6-1-1 in those games. However, when the Senators gave up four goals or more to an opponent, they went 2-9-0.

Their defence has evaporated. They have none. The Senators are dressing six pylons and sending them out to patrol their defensive zone. If it isn't apparent from their record in the last two months of the season, this strategy isn't working.

Starting in net, it's clear that Martin Gerber isn't getting the job done. He will start his 15th straight game on Thursday against the Leafs, but it's not like it matters. In his 14 previous starts, the Senators are 5-7-2. No offence, but why are the Senators going with a goalie who has gone 1-4-1 in his last six games against divisional opponents? And while I realize that Bryan Murray has no confidence in Ray Emery, it's not like he can be any worse.

Defensively, I've already made a case for how poorly this team is playing over the last two months, but consider this: for a team that was dominating the league for the first three months of the season, only six players have a double-digit plus-minus rating. Of those players, three are Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson who account for 42% of all of the Ottawa goals. This is a team that is hurting for secondary scoring, and cannot stop the red light from flashing in their own end.
What's worse, checking centerman Mike Fisher is a -10 for the season. He's supposed to be out there preventing goals from being scored!

Adding to the problem of having no secondary scoring is the fact that the Senators have been shutout in consecutive games for the second time this season by teams in their division! The Maple Leafs and Bruins pitched consecutive shutouts against the Seantors on February 25 and 26, and the Bruins and Canadiens did it again to the Senators on March 29 and April 1.

"Overall, one guy is trying to do it and we haven't been supporting him," forward Antoine Vermette said. "We have to try to win together and as a group."

Perhaps the understatement of the year for the Senators. This team has been fractured for a long time. It bubbled to the surface when former head coach John Paddock and goaltender Ray Emery clashed, and it is surfacing again. If the Senators can't fix the problems in their dressing room and on the ice, there will be a lot of unhappy fans in Capitol City.

Former Senator Rob Ray told TSN's Off The Record that he feels its a leadership issue. "Even when I was there, there was no one person who would stand up and take charge and you know, bat a head when it needed to happen," he said.

The Senators have denied this claim, coming to the defence of their captain, Daniel Afredsson, but there clearly is a problem. This team has been in a tailspin since January, and they haven't snapped out of the funk. They brought in Cory Stillman, Mike Commodore, and Martin Lapointe as veteran leadership with playoff experience, but it appears all that experience may go for naught.

"It's an unfortunate situation that we've put ourselves in, now we have to find a way out," Spezza said.

The Senators have two chances to secure a playoff spot. Will the Seantors from October show up, or will we see the dreadful March Senators who spent more time mailing in their effort?

When you're winning, everyone lets the little annoyances and irritations go. But when you're losing, they become the elephant in the room. Someone in that locker room had better figure out how to kill that elephant. Otherwise, Sens fans, those playoff tickets better be refundable because your team appears to be on the brink of the biggest choke that I can remember.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: