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SensWatch Blog Archives 2005

Dec 30, 2005 -- What was almost as scary as seeing Alfredsson, the Senator's MVP crawl off the ice clutching his ribs, was the reality that we were DOWN 3-1 to an inept Islanders squad.

The opening line up was incomprehensible. Murray has a serious log up his ass with regards to Vermette. I don't know, maybe Vermette boinked his daughter or something. With the exception of McGrattan, Vermette logged the least amount of minutes amongst forwards. That is ridiculous.

We scratched our way back to win 4-3 so most people will describe it as gutsy come from behind win. Sorry this game should not have even been close. The Islanders were horrible.

Right now, we are starting to look like the Washington Capitals of old, who put together impressive regular seasons, but always found a way to shoot themselves in the foot. We have superior talent but we refuse to use it to full advantage and that has been the recurring theme of the Senator's franchise over the past six years.

When I was about to start this weblog, I was a huge fan of Brian I find he is no better than Martin.

Our goaltending is better than last season but other than that we have not made the changes needed to win the Cup.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 30, 2005 -- Hi Mr. Garrioch,

After reading your article on the impact of Redden's injury I took a look at the game by game results. The first three games we won convincingly. This included total domination of the Bruins and a 4-0 shut-out of the Canadians. It is the next seven games that the Senator's encountered difficulties. This included a baffling 3-0 shut-out to a Thornton-less Bruins, and equally unexpected blowing of a 3-0 lead to the Canadians, the same teams we had blown out without Redden.

That means something "else" had changed. From previous letters you probably know that the real change that had impact was the demotion of Vermette to the fourth line. Am I saying that Vermette is better or more important than Redden? Of course not. But we have such depth at defence that the temporary loss of Redden could..and was, absorbed by the team

What happened when Vermette was demoted was that suddenly we no longer had three offensively talented lines (lines which could carry the puck, not just dump it in) that could be rolled over and maintain a constant level of pressure. Indeed in those parts of games where Vermette was moved up into third line action (due to other injuries), the Senators quickly regained their dominant form...even if Vermette scored or not - they were suddenly able to "sustain" constant offensive pressure on opposing team. So in a way, even though Vermette is not the star that Havlat, Spezza and Redden, he IS a critical piece in giving Ottawa a dominating offensive presence.

My fear is that when Spezza and Havlat come back, they will certainly bolster the two top lines, but we may still be lacking that critical third offensive line. That will give us two lines that can score and two checking lines Looking at past Stanley Cup winners, history show that you need at least three scoring lines, and in some cases four lines that can score.

For your consideration.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 29, 2005 -- Here are some line suggestions for Coach Murray
Note: There isn't really a "Fourth Line" here.

Current (With Spezza out for injury)

Dany Heatley - Bryan Smolinski - Daniel Alfredsson
Peter Schaefer - Mike Fisher - Chris Neil
Chris Kelly - Antoine Vermette - Patrick Eaves
Christoph Schubert - Vaclav Varada - Denis Hamel
Healthy Scratch (HS): Brian McGrattan unless playing Leafs, etc...

With Spezza back

Dany Heatley - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
Peter Schaefer - Bryan Smolinski - Mike Fisher
Chris Kelly - Antoine Vermette - Patrick Eaves
Christoph Schubert - Vaclav Varada - Chris Neil
HS: Brian McGrattan

When Havlat gets back:

Dany Heatley - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
Peter Schaefer - Martin Havlat - Mike Fisher
Chris Kelly - Antoine Vermette - Patrick Eaves
Vaclav Varada - Bryan Smolinski - Chris Neil
HS: Christoph Schubert, Brian McGrattan

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 29, 2005 -- Antoine Vermette has more goals than Smolinski and Schaeffer. He has one less than Neal. All this despite the fact that Vermette enjoys none of their advantages of regular ice time, power play time and quality of line mates. Can anyone really believe that Chris Neil can skate faster, handle the puck better or shoot harder than Vermette? Please.

There was a play in the Islander's game where Vermette broke in on the goalie from center ice....even on his knees he was going faster than a lot of players in the league. (Of course he drew a penalty - nobody notices how many penalties he draws) This kind of skating dexterity is something you see from a Sydney Crosby..not a Chris Neil.

Everyone is yakking about Chris Kelly, but the fact is he has only 2 goals despite playing the same number of games as Vermette. Varada has one goal and gets more ice time.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 28, 2005 -- Vermette gets a regular shift on the third line and the Sens return to pre Nov 30 form and thoroughly dismantle a very good Carolina Hurricane team.

This is not coincidence. As my wife pointed out to me, momentum is carried over shift to shift. When you have offensive talent on the third line the first and second have an immediate leg up and don't have to work to regain that momentum.

Momentum of course only increases in value in a playoff environment.

It should be obvious to all that Vermette, centering Kelly and Eaves would make for a very nice combination. Vermette's puck-handling and play making skills is what is required to get the most from Kelly's and Eaves' speed.

Vermette is a Havlat in waiting -- give him his minutes.


Kelly did absolutely right in sticking up for his teammates. Kelly AND Vermette is what we want here, not one or the other. That is the same nonsense as last season when Vermette and Spezza were rotated, when it was obvious that you wanted both on the ice.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 28, 2005 -- It's interesting to hear this evening's HockeyCentral go on and on about the Leafs, though they didn't play tonight. But you failed to even mention the Senators (or Canadians & Edmonton for that matter) who did have games.

Is HockeyCentral a national sports channel or just a local Toronto fan show?

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 28, 2005 -- Just caught Murray's comments on the radio prior to the game. Complacency is the theme. We exploit two brutal goaltenders, and he thinks all is fine and well.

He spoke highly of Kelly, "He keeps his mouth shut and does what he is told." Could it be that Vermette told Murray to stick it?

Yes, Kelly is a good player. But no one noticed him until he got to play with Vermette. The two are very complementary because they are both very fast skaters.

Kelly has done nothing of note on the third line. Without Vermette, he has no one to pass to or take passes from. As I said, something has to be happening behind the scenes.

Vermette IS this year's Spezza, and it will hurt us when it counts the most.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 26, 2005 -- Well were my fears mistaken? Vermette did not get a regular shift and the Senators won easily 6-2. I am not being stubborn here. This game proved little. Indeed it was similar to our victory over the Islanders. Again the Senators exploited brutal goal-tending and brutal give-aways to score four quick goals. With Hasek in net the game was all but iced away in the first period.

Look, the Senators are not going to fall apart just because Vermette isn't getting his ice. We have too many good players for that. But, we are not the team we could be, and certainly not the team we will have to be in the playoffs, when people starting bring their 'A' game.

I must admit, I am just angry seeing such a potential star and potential new weapon in our arsenal get wasted, while lesser players get to use up ice time. If I was Vermette's agent I would be asking him what teams he would like to play on and maybe make some inquiries. If I was an opposing GM, I certainly would be trying to steal him away. I do not think there is a team in the league that could not use a forward of Vermette's obvious ability. It is sucking all the joy out of watching Ottawa play.

It is interesting to read some of the apologists. Their refrain has been, "you can't expect Ottawa to always dominate play." Actually yes you can. With the talent on this team, it's goalies, it's defensive corps and all their speedy forwards, it should be the norm. And if we went back to lines used before Nov 30 we would.

Like I said, if you are expecting Ottawa to win the Stanley Cup, then you should be expecting, nay demanding, that they dominate every game. That is what impending Stanley Cup champions do. They may lose the odd game because of a hot goalie, or sight impaired referee, but they dominate every game. Think Red Wings, think the Oilers of old, the Canadians, and the Bruins when they won the cup. As far as I can remember only Pittsburgh, flopped around in the regular season and then turned it on to win their "second" Cup. But they were a consistently powerful force the first year they won it.

Right now, the Senators have two lines that cannot score at all. Our even strength play is down the tubes. Yes we will win games. With Alfredsson, and Heatley and Schaeffer and Fisher, all our great defenseman, of course we will win games. We will make the playoffs. But nobody who has watched Ottawa play since Nov 30 can say that we resemble anything like the dominant force we once were. We are not the team we could be, and it will come back to bite us in the ass -- like it has every year.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 26, 2005 -- Obviously looking forward to the Rangers game tonight. Should be a good test. I did send the "Tale of Two Teams" post to various reporters and TV media channels, as well as to the Senators themselves. I will probably leave it at that as "nagging" has a way of making people dig in their heels; and I genuinely want them to change their minds.

So I will be looking to see if Vermette actually gets a regular shift on the third or second line. If yes, then I think, even minus Havlat and Spezza, we should carry the night. If we start with the line up as chosen since Nov 30, then the going will remain tough and we are going to need some of the unpredictable variables to fall our way.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 24, 2005 -- Nov 30, 2005 is looming ever larger in the history of the Senator's 2005-06 Campaign. On that day the Senators went from being the dominant team in the NHL, to a mediocre team whose life expectancy in playoff hockey has suddenly shortened considerably.

On Nov 30 the Senators shut out the Canadians 4-0 - just another display of overwhelming speed and talent. Up to that point Ottawa had lost only 2 of its first 22 games. They were pulverizing opposition teams, leading the league in every offensive and defensive category. Media pundits kept reveling in "how easy" the Senators made it look. It is not just that they dominated games, the did it with style. "Do the Senators ever score an ugly goal?" asked one commentator during a recap of game highlights. The enthusiasm was infectious. Interviews with Senators players inevitably came with the comment on "how much fun we're having playing hockey". In short all of the intangible forces which seemed to always stand in the way of the Senator's quest for the Cup seemed to have been dealt with.

It was too good to be true.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 23, 2005 -- The Senators exploited brutal goal-tending by scoring 3 goals on five shots in under 3 minutes. From that point on, the game was quite even. Emery put in another solid performance and in the end was the difference in the game. It was good to see to see Heatley get one of his patent laser beams to hit the mark. He has been snake-bitten of late and the Senators desperately need him to get his mojo back

It was a disturbing game in some respects. Do not be fooled by the win...this was not the dominant Ottawa Senators that pulverized the opposition in the first part of the season. Dean Roberts talked about how the Senators "managed" the third period, dumping the puck in and taking no chances...playing within a "game plan".

In other words they were laying back and sitting on their lead allowing the opposition to press the attack. One understands now how we blew a three goal lead with the Canadians.

This a dramatic shift in philosophy when compared to the Senators at the beginning of the year. Remember then how Murray specifically spoke about not sitting on leads, but continuing to lay the pressure on. Remember in those days how so many Senators talked about "having fun" playing hockey.

Not now. There were no smiles as they left the ice in New York..but a haunted look in the eyes that said they won the game but something was not right and hasn't been right for awhile. There is definitely something going behind the scenes here. The last time I saw these kind of expressions on Ottawa faces, was when Martin was benching Spezza during the playoffs with Toronto.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 23, 2005 -- I am beginning to sound like a broken record. Hopefully the 4-0 humiliation that the Flyers put on the Senators in the first thirty minutes finally made an impression. One can't help but notice that 30 seconds after Vermette was joined with Kelly on the third line, they get a goal. Suddenly the Senators were rolling three lines that could carry the play and the whole complexion of the game turned into Ottawa's flavour.

If not for some blatant non-calls on the Flyers, the Senators could very well have come back. Mind you, seeing Neil on the ice in the last minute when we need a goal and we are short-handed, makes me wonder who is driving the boat.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 22, 2005 -- At the beginning of the year Murray concentrated as much offensive talent as he could on each line. The results spoke for themselves. It was not just that we won games - we won them easily -- with style.

Ever since he moved Varada off the fourth line, in appeasement of his agent, the Ottawa line up has gone in the other direction. Checking the Senator's website prior to the Flyer's game, one sees that all of our offensive talent has been diluted to the point where every line looks like a checking line.

And here I thought that getting rid of Martin was going to solve this.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 21, 2005 -- Amazing. Spezza and Staal on the taxi squad with journeyman like Draper, Doan and Smyth are on the main squad. It was amazing to hear the Gretzky apologists amongst the media go to work.

"Its a team You need a checking line. You need utility players. Draper will stabilize the situation"

Bullshit. You don't have to stabilize anything if you're putting the puck in the other guys net!

The only reason teams have "checking lines" in the NHL is because it is nearly impossible to get four talented scoring lines together at once. There is not enough talent and money to go around. So the guys that cannot score become your utility players and you hope they are good enough not to get scored on.

But this is Team CANADA. You don't want the Bob Gainey's. You want the Bobby Hull's and the Bobby Orr's. When the score is tied and Sweden puts Sundin, Alfredsson, and Forsberg on the ice, who do you want to reply with? Doan, Draper and Smyth? ... or Heatley, Spezza and Staal?

Even McCabe (spit, spit) has one thing in common with Spezza and Stahl, in that he has more points this season than all but one or two players on Team Canada. When you think power-play, you think Spezza and Staal up front, with McCabe and his cannon on point. Draper? With his one goal? Smyth who is -1?

"Playing safe equals death" as the saying go. Thank God the U.S. don't have a strong team this year.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 20, 2005 -- Same old, same old...Vermette and Kelly get put back on the fourth line and again Ottawa cannot dominate play, even against a struggling Canadians team with a third of their regular line-up out with injury.

It was interesting to hear the media spin Ottawa's resurgence against Toronto and link it to Redden's return. But the fact is that with Redden in the line up Ottawa and Toronto were tied 1-1. Only when Vermette and Kelly were put on the third line did things start clicking.

The blunt truth is that right now Ottawa is the most over-rated team in the league. They are a very ordinary team, and that is quite a trick to pull off considering the talent they have on the bench. But it should be obvious that Ottawa is not maximizing the speed and offensive talent available to it. And what kind of chemistry can be built when lines don't even stay together for more than one shift?

Varada and Neil are fourth line players, the type that hold the line while everyone else takes a breather. Eaves is a call-up for pete's sake, and yet they are all being used as if they were scoring stars. They are not fighting, they are not play-making and they are not scoring. Meanwhile Vermette and Kelly, two of the fastest skaters on the team, are rotting.

Look at it this way. Vermette who gets 50% of his ice time killing penalties, is a +10, Chris Neil, despite playing on the power-play and on the second line, is a +4. Varada is a +1.

Do the math.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 17, 2005 -- So the Sens blow out the Leafs 8-2, a very satisfying win on many levels. First putting the boots to the ever whining, clutch and grab, spear-meister cry-baby Leafs is always good for the soul.

It is obvious that Belfour is the not the goalie he once was, and without a goalie that can stand on his head, the Leafs are nothing, barely even play-off contenders.

Sundin was a non-factor. I expect him to be taking off his visor soon. (Like a lot of extremely talented finely tuned players, it takes only the littlest things to get knocked off one's game -- for Sundin it is wearing a visor. Maybe he doesn't see the "texture" of the ice, it is one of those intangible things.)

The real turning point, in what was a relatively even game, came when Bochenski was injured and knocked out of the game with the score tied at one apiece. A blessing in disguise as Vermette and Kelly were rotated up into the third line. Suddenly, the Sens of old were back ... constant pressure, constant puck possession. The first line, no longer having the whole game on their shoulders, came alive and started the tic-tac-toe play making that made them the best line in hockey.

Kelly and Vermette, who have been perhaps the outstanding penalty killing pair of the league, actually got two shifts on the power play. They responded with a goal and assist each.

Yes Belfour had a bad game, but that is not the point. Even when Carolina gave Ottawa its first defeat on the back of a bravura performance from Gerber, it was obvious that the Senators controlled the play.

There is no doubt in my mind now. Ottawa's "slump," their inability to dominate games started the minute they put Vermette on the fourth line. It ended the minute they put him back on regular five on five rotation.

Schaeffer, Kelly and Vermette are a much faster and potent combination. Fisher, Neil and Smolinksi is a line that works.

Varada is trade bait. Unless he is playing with a Hossa, his value is limited. The Senators got him to add toughness. With McGrattan, that is no longer needed.

Bochenski has got a great shot. He will score "clumps" of goals against weak teams with weak goaltenders. But he is not ready for the NHL and he is not ready for playoff hockey. Hamel or Eaves, proven NHL performers, would be better additions.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 15, 2005 -- Good for Smolinski to mouth off at the refs. Fine, it cost an extra two minutes in the box, but that is peanuts compared to the hooking and holding committed against Ottawa which is not called. But let a Senator sneeze on an opponent, it's off to the box.

It looks a lot like the Old NHL. Refs managing games.

The Sens front office had better start putting a highlight reel together of the blatant non-calls and compare it to what gets called against Ottawa.

Let Eugene Melnyk present it to the NHL. They can't suspend him.

If Ottawa doesn't start making noise about uneven officiating, then we'll be dead in the playoffs when the same thing happens then. It's killing the Sens now, sucking the life out of the team's play, while the other side can free wheel, and hook and hold all they want.

No joke. Complain now and take a few fines, because it will be too late and fatal come playoffs time.

PS: The Senators needs to get a sound effect of a submarine "whoop, whoop" siren with a voice commanding "Dive, Dive." Play that at home every time an opponent stumbles to the ice when a Sen touches him with a stick. You might want to start a fan jeer, "Two minutes for sneezing" too!

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 15, 2005 -- To the Coaches and Management of the Ottawa Senators,

At some point Ottawa stopped dominating teams and having the clear edge in play. Even when Havlat was serving his five game suspension, Ottawa, win or lose, was clearly the better team in each game they played. That all changed on the exact game that Varada was brought up from the fourth line. The chemistry of the second and third lines was reduced to that of journeymen. You should go back to the lines used during Havlat's suspension.

If Varada's and/or his agent whines...send him to down to the minors.

Barring that make Kelly, Eaves and Vermette the third line. They all have great speed and CANNOT be out skated by anyone.


Emery is playing great. Bad bounces and no offensive support is the only way he loses games. This experience will pay dividends down the road.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 6, 2005 -- To the Management and Coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators,

As ardent Senators fans, my wife and I always cheer when the team scores a goal, but we really leaped to our feet when Antoine Vermette scored that short handed goal against Los Angeles.

In our estimation, Vermette is the most underrated player on the Senators line-up, if not the whole conference. When one just focuses on him, you don't have to be a world class talent scout to see that he is a beautifully fast skater, has great hands, and "touch". It bothers us that everyone, media included, seem to be down on him because he isn't filling the net with pucks.

-- Thomas DeChastelain

Dec 1, 2005 -- When you have a team based on talent and skill, it is death to over coach and continuously tinker. It is what killed us in the playoffs how many times running.

The line-up last night against the Bruins seemed almost purposely designed to suck all offensive synergy outside of the first line. For the first time an opposing team could concentrate on only the top line and not worry about anything else.

Get Vermette back up with Schaeffer. I really don't like all this language about Vermette being in the doghouse and Havlat having to play for his position when he gets back. Havlat is one of the best forwards in the league and Vermette is a season or two away from being the next Guy Lafleur.

We had enough of these stupid head games with Martin and Spezza. If Murray doesn't change his tack we will lose these two the same way we were going to lose Spezza if Martin wasn't fired.

The coaches should understand who lost this was not the players..but the coaches themselves

-- Thomas DeChastelain