5 questions….The Review

Well, the season is over.

And rather than repeat all the excuses from a tremendously disappointing season, I thought I’d venture back to a little article I wrote in August 2010 entitled “5 questions.”  You see, almost 9 and a half months ago, I thought it would be neat to answer some of the questions most Senator fans were asking themselves before the beginning of the season.  It would be a relatively harmless exercise, one that would show my vast insight and unmatched knowledge of this Senator organization.  No problem. 

Of course, once I started reading it again this past week, my head couldn’t stop shaking.  Boy, could I have been more wrong!  While I wasn’t WAY-OFF on everything, there were some topics I just plain missed the boat on.

I’ve left the 5 original questions and answers, and followed each with an after-season review.

Without further adieu…. 

1. Will Jason Spezza play hard for the Ottawa Senators?  Well, having listened to all the comments from both Murray and Spezza over the summer, I would say yes.  It sounds to me that this was merely someone letting off some steam after having just been eliminated from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion.  While I realise that fan & media reaction, both good and bad, is part of a professional athlete’s job, I don’t blame Spezza for being a bit upset about becoming the “fall guy.”  Spezza is one of those offensively talented players that is not on the ice for his defensive abilities, nor should he be expected to go error-free when trying to be creative.  Drop passes will be lost, defensive assignments will be missed and shots will go wide.  It’s all part of being that type of player.  After the Olympic break, Spezza was one of the hottest players in the league, scoring 24 points in 19 games. He also accumulated 7 points in the 6 playoff games versus the Penguins.  Those are quality numbers from a quality player.  So can you blame him from being a bit pissed off about being booed in his own building?  I can’t.  Would you liked to be booed in your own home or workplace?  I didn’t think so.

I think Senators fans need to forget those images from last season that are clouding their judgement.  Forget the drop pass that led to a Penguins goal.  Forget the Crosby undressing that led to a game-winner. Forget the lousy start that was due to a bad back and hyped Olympic aspirations.  And remember that ever since being drafted 2nd overall in the 2001 draft, all he has done is score 475 points in 464 games and helped lead the Senators to the 2007 Cup Final.  This guy is good, and there aren’t many like him in the league anymore.  Sens fans should be happy to have him.  

Question Review – I don’t think there is any doubt that Spezza played hard for this organization.  Yes, he got off to a slow start (just like everybody else), but upon returning from the shoulder injury he sustained on Boxing Day, he was one of the best players in the league.  Spezza recorded 37 points in 30 games from February 5th on and became the leader of this team when Daniel Alfredsson shut it down.  Spezza matured as a player this season and was a role model for all the youngsters that joined the team after the mass exodus.  He is onboard with this rebuild and will most likely be the dictating factor of its length.  As I mentioned above,  “This guy is good, and there aren’t many like him in the league anymore.  Sens fans should be happy to have him.”  

2. Who will be in net?  As I mentioned before, my guess is that Pascal Leclaire goes into this season as the Number 1 netminder.  There is no way that management can justify sitting his salary on the bench on a nightly basis unless it is utterly obvious he is not up for the task.  And the last we seen of him, he showed that he was.  Leclaire will have had a full summer to heal the jaw injury he suffered last year and the hiring of former Blue Jackets goaltending coach Rick Wamsley brings a familiar face to the coaching staff.  Everything seems to point in his favour. Brian Elliott’s performance last season will at least keep him in the running, but this was always meant to be Leclaire’s job and unless Elliott comes to camp and performs the way Jaroslav Halak did during the playoffs, I’m pretty sure he’ll be the backup.   

If neither perform particularly well this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Mike Brodeur or Robin Lehner make an appearance.  Brodeur had quite the run last season before an illness relegated him to backup duty.  His 3-0-0 record with 1 shutout earned him another 1 year contract and his stand-up, no rebound style certainly got the job done when the team called on him.  Robin Lehner, meanwhile, is the Senators’ “goaltender of the future.”  The Swedish goaltender has done nothing but impress the Sens’ brass and his 6’4″ frame is deemed as nothing but an asset.  During media interviews, Director of Player Personnel Pierre Dorion has not gone more than 10 seconds without mentioning his “character.” 

Question review –  I was pretty close on this one.  The only thing I didn’t factor in was yet another injury-filled season for Pascal Leclaire and the utter collapse (and subsequent trade) of Brian Elliott.  Leclaire indeed won the starting role at the beginning of the year, but his health was once again his enemy and he only played in 14 games.  You’ve seen the last of him in a Senators jersey. 

Brian Elliott ended up playing in 43 games for the Ottawa Senators and recorded a .894 save percentage.  The number of back-breaking, rally-killing goals he allowed was overly depressing and he eventually was dealt to Colorado for the “goaltending saviour” Craig Anderson. 

Both Mike Brodeur and Robin Lehner made appearances.  Brodeur wasn’t even close to the same goaltender as he was last season.  It may have been the players or the system in front of him, but it was just plain ugly.  Lehner, on the other hand, was playing pinball between Binghamton and Ottawa due to all of the goaltending injuries.  He won his first start on January 13th vs the Islanders, finishing with a 1-4-0 record and 3.52 GAA.  He is still considered the “goaltender of the future” but will be spending the entire year in Binghamton next season if the Senators get their way.     

Curtis McElhinney was claimed off waivers on Trade Deadline day.  While he played well in his short stint with the Senators, particularly against the Tampa Bay Lightning,  there is no indication as to whether or not he is in the Senators’ plans.  We’ll have to wait and see about him.

3. Who will be the next Senator to step up?  I’m pretty sure the consensus is that this is Peter Regin’s year.  After scoring 29 points in 75 games during the regular season, Regin put on a playoff performance that was noticed by many.  While he only scored 4 points in the 6 playoff games, Regin was the best player on the ice everytime he stepped on it.  This season, it looks as though he will occupy one of the spots on the top 2 lines, with hopes of scoring in the 60 point range.  Whether he does or not is anyone’s guess, but if there was one person that everyone expects to improve, its Regin.

If you’ve forgotten some of the skill he has shown, take another look at this beauty versus the Blackhawks.  BTW, Regin is switching his jersey number to 13, so hopefully you haven’t already went out and bought a No. 43 one already.

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY3xTOaVc28&feature=search

Question Review – Ummmmmmmmmm……

Yeah, this is one of the questions I was way off on.  Like most, I thought Regin really proved himself in the series vs the Penguins and like most, thought he would take that momentum into this year’s regular season.  I was wrong. 

Regin didn’t score his first goal until November 11th and finished with a grand total of 17 points in 55 games.  Yes, the constant line-juggling of former head coach Cory Clouston could have been a bit to blame, but Regin had his chances playing with skilled players and at times, looked completely lost.  Mercifully, his season came to end on February 19th when he barreled into the boards at the ACC and injured his left shoulder.  Here’s hoping his rehab goes well and he comes back with a much stronger 2011-12.  I do believe the Senators still feel he is a top 6 forward. 

4. Will Sergei Gonchar really make a difference?  Heck yes.  This guy is a proven winner and point producer.  He has been one of the elite offensive defencemen in the league since his rookie season in 1994-95 with the Capitals.  Yes, he’s 36 and has only played a full 82 game schedule twice, but he’s scored 50+ points 8 times in his career and won a Stanley Cup ring with a torn MCL.  He is a power-play quarterback and skilled blue-line shooter, something the struggling Senators power-play desperately needed.  I commend Bryan Murray for pinpointing his team’s weakness and going out and getting the best available player for the job. 

 The Senators power-play was operating at a mere 16.9 percent and in the bottom third of the league last season.  Not only will Sergei Gonchar improve that statistic with his personal contributions, he will help Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli improve their abilities so that they can also fill that important role when needed.  While he won’t block shots like Volchenkov, or take the body like Sutton, Gonchar will control play through possession and puck movement, something this team sorely lacked and something Senators fans will soon grow to love.

Question Review –  Swing and a miss.

I REALLY thought Sergei Gonchar would bring something to this hockey club.  Well actually, he did, but it was ire towards his contract and ire towards his signing.  Gonchar finished with 27 points in 67 games, his lowest point total since 1997-98 when playing over 60 games.  He was also a -15 and seemed to be getting beaten and outmuscled on a nightly basis. 

There was much talk of Clouston forcing Gonchar to play on his wrong side, but whether that really made a difference to the long-time veteran, we’ll never know.  What probably did matter was that the chemistry between Chris Phillips and Gonchar never really developed and No.55 had a different partner in almost every game.

Health was also a concern.  Gonchar suffered a few bumps and bruises throughout the year and took some time off mid-season in order to heal.  When he returned, he seemed to have found his game, but his season ended when he sustained a concussion against the Lightning on March 19th.

Gonchar has been quoted as saying that he is better in the second year of a new city.  Sens fans are hoping this holds true because with all the young talent the organization has on the blue line, the last thing they’ll want is an over-the-hill offensive defenceman blocking its way.

5. Will this team be healthy to start the season?  Well….ummmm….sounds like it?  Daniel Alfredsson told the media this morning (Aug 25) that he has recovered from his off-season hernia surgery.  He would then tell them that he has yet to push it 100 percent.  Sounds good, but not money in the bank.  On Tuesday, August 6, Milan Michalek said that recovery “is going well so far” and that “I should be ready for the season.” Michalek has had issues with his knees throughout his career with the Sharks and now with the Senators.  One more injury to either knee could mean the end but nonetheless, sounds promising.  Finally, it has been said that Alexei Kovalev will put on skates within the next few weeks.  Out of everybody, he seems to be the farthest away but if you’ve seen any of his workout tapes, he knows how to stay in shape. 

Question Review –  Just ask Cory Clouston how healthy this team was.  By the sounds of it, there really wasn’t anybody that wasn’t fighting through some type of ailment or injury.  To start the season, Kovalev, Michalek, Leclaire & Alfredsson all had question marks.  All 4 either re-aggravated or re-injured themselves at some point.  To make matters worse,  Jason Spezza hurt his shoulder on Boxing Day and didn’t return until February. 

By the end, the list of players whose season ended prematurely was quite long:  Alfredsson, Regin, Leclaire, Carkner, Gonchar, Karlsson & Svatos all had their season’s cut short.  Only Nick Foligno and Chris Phillips played all 82 games.  Certainly, not the statistics of a successful season.

So there you have it.  While I wasn’t completely wrong about the goaltenders, my thoughts on Regin, Gonchar and the health of the team weren’t even close to what transpired.  In fact, had my predictions come true, I have no doubt that the Ottawa Senators 2010-11 season would have turned out much differently. 

Oh well, the great thing is that there’s always next year…..and another 5 questions.

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