Memorial Archives

A Big Clutch Win - Senators 4, Sabres 2
posted Mar 18, 2006 at 11:00PM

This game unfolded in a manner diametrically opposite to what we have been used to. Tonight Ottawa leaped out to a 3-0 lead, but in the end required an empty net goal to seal the victory.

In the end I perceive this game as a big positive for Ottawa, and a bit of a discomforting reality check for Buffalo. The score might have been close, but there is no doubt who is the better team.

This was a big clutch win for the Senators. Despite missing key guys tonight and through out the year, and despite playing well beneath the potential that this team has - the Senators find themselves in first place in the league.

The Senators definitely came out to play tonight, completely dominating play for the majority of this game. For the record the line combinations were as follows:

Heatley - Spezza - Eaves
Vermette - Arnason - Alfredson
Schaefer - Smolinski - Neil
Varada - Kelly - Schubert

Ok so no debut for the "Insanity Line", but there is nothing here that jars the sensibilities. On paper we had the three lines required to maintain constant offensive pressure. In reality, all four lines came out flying. Nothing short of "stand on your head" goaltending by Miller kept this game from being a rout early on.

Again the whole team came out to play inspired hockey, but two players require special mention. Smolinski, who stepped into big shoes, and filled them admirably. On the radio it sounded like he, Schaefer and Neil was the strongest trio out there. The other is Kelly, whom I have talked about in both positive and negative terms. Not withstanding his goal to seal the game, there can be no doubt that since the Atlanta tilt, that Kelly is yet another player who has taken his game to a higher level. All that is needed now is him being joined with the right line mates to fully maximize his potential.

One item I really liked. In the last minute, with thier goalie pulled and the game on the line, Murray had his three best PK guys out there. No "experiments"

I think despite the close sounding score, this game was a bit of a rude awakening for the Sabres, as layers of an illusory veil were pulled back. The short story is that the Sabres are not going to win the Cup. The short story is that they do not have enough talent to win the Cup. It is too simple to say that they are simply a "charmed" team playing over their heads.

No, what they are is an extremely well coached, well "organized" team. Yes they have the great goaltending. More importantly, they are a team with perfectly "optimized" line combinations that allows every bit of existing talent to actually have an impact in every game they play. Because of this they can beat teams that are even more talented than themselves. It is what let's them "magically" win close games. Indeed Buffalo has the highest number of winning one goal games. But Montreal is a great example of showing how the difference between consistently winning or consistently losing one goal games, can be awfully small.

It is a lesson that Ottawa needs to learn and embrace. Unlike Buffalo, we do have that critical mass of talent, grit, goaltending to be a Stanley Cup Champion. All we need is to find the right combinations that allows us to make sure that all of that talent is brought to bear. If we can do that, then there is no hockey team on earth that we can't beat.

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