posted Feb 27, 2006 at 04:49PM
Not quite like the end of the lockout but I am keenly anticipating the return of Senator's hockey after the Olympic break. We have a concentrated schedule of 26 games, as the team prepares for the playoffs. Hopefully the improved play just before the break, and on the basis of line combinations that made sense will carry through. There is still much to be concerned over though.
In an interview Murray mentioned that he had "pages and pages" of potential line combinations. That is fine as long as he realizes that the time remaining for experimentations is coming to an end. Juggling line combinations right into and then during the playoffs was one of the strategic errors made by Martin in his last season. The time has come when Murray has to finalize the lines that he will use in the playoffs and let them play together. The recent Olympics shows the importance of lines playing as complete units, and a team playing as a team.
This is the kind of "structure" that the team really needs. Unfortunately I get the feeling that for Murray, structure is some kind of rigid system that he forces players into. Rigid systems are fine when you don't have a lot of talent, and you have to compensate to try to get some kind of cohesive effort together to keep games close. But when you have the advantage in intuitive offensive skill, then a system can be an opponent's best friend as that advantage is negated. The game can then be decided by the whims of luck, a hot goalie, or an official's whistle.
But on the plus side the lines going into the break were sound and hopefully the thinking behind them will not change. They key here is McGrattan. If he is out of the line up, then things should be OK. If he is reinserted, then we return to the problems we experienced of not being able to sustain speed and offensive pressure. All of the attributes you need to play good pressure offense, are exactly what you need to play good pressure defence. With the concentration of games coming up we need four good lines that we can rotate. McGrattan takes that away.
Despite the Olympic team's performance I thought Heatley himself looked very strong on the ice and I expect that his game will show marked improvement when he gets back. Winning the gold should really reinforce Alfie's drive to complete a career season with the Cup. It looks like Havlat will definitely be back in time to get his game legs back under him in time for the playoffs. I wonder if Murray will have him "play for his position" and put him on the fourth line with McGrattan?
Of course then there is goaltending, and the trade-line and the two have become decidedly linked, what with Hasek's injury keeping him completely out of the line-up. But that is an issue all by itself and will save that for later.