The Slump Continues, Sabres 6, Senators 2
posted Apr 9, 2006 at 01:26AM
This was a totally deflating and disheartening game to watch. Despite line combinations that could have come right off my computer key board, we got thoroughly trounced. We do not look like a team that is doing a little final fine tuning before the play-offs. We looked tired, and looked very much like a team that just had their first scrimmage of training camp.
For the record the line combinations were as follows:
Heatley - Spezza -.Alfredson
Schaefer - Fisher - Smolinski
Vermette - Kelly - Eaves
Varada - Arnason - Neil
As you would expect, I liked these lines. The Big Line was back, and for the first time this season the Kid Line of Vermette, Kelly and Eaves were given a shot. I was of the expectation that this line-up would have been able to overwhelm Buffalo on sheer speed alone. Except for sporadic bursts, we played like we had lead plates in our skates. I don't think it was lack of "effort", for the most part, or even being mentally flat, for the most part .... it was like everybody's bodies just went on strike.
The Big Line though, was our best line, generating the most consistent offensive pressure. Alfredson, ironically coming off the flu, seemed to be the player with the most jump in his legs.
The Kid Line? Well not the magical debut I was hoping for but I thought they played OK as a line. It is hard for me to be objective. They were aggressive on the forecheck and when they got hold of the puck, they were able to pass it to each other quite well. They were able to break out of their end with speed. They were not scored upon.
But neither did they score. In my mind this is not your typical "energy" line. This line has the speed and skill to score goals. Between them they have 48 goals so the raw material is there. In my mind if this line had been together since the beginning of the season, both Vermette and Eaves would be pushing 30 goals each, and Kelly would have the appropriate number of assists. Of course I would like to have seen Vermette and Kelly switched to their natural positions, but I was just so happy to see them together, I won't bitch too much.
But in the end, this line has to demonstrate the ability to close the deal and put the puck in the other guys nets. That is the standard they should be setting for themselves. And that did not happen tonight.
Ironically the Fisher line was our Achilles Heel, being on the ice for the first three Buffalo goals. Indeed, for the two games that they have been together, they have been badly outscored. On paper, this should be a powerful line.
Are these games just an anomaly? Is Fisher truly recovered from his ankle injury? I can tell you Smolinski has not been the same player since being joined with these two. Tonight, especially, he was a total liability in our own zone. It was like a switch would shut his motor off every time he entered our zone, and it did not kick back on until the puck left the zone, or entered our net.
The fourth line was notable in that Arnason was the centre, not where you expect someone who was slated to be our number two center not too long ago. Again he, and the line did not play badly. Again he showed that he has skill. Again though, he failed to produce points. I feel a little sorry for Arnason. He got to play mostly with Alfredson, with the hope that this would break him in easily. Unfortunately I feel he and Alfredson were, for the most part, incompatible players. Arnason played his best general hockey when paired with Smolinski. Indeed his best shifts were centering the Insanity Line between Smolinski and Vermette.
Looking forward to Montreal I would make that change. Put Neil back with Fisher and Schaefer. They have played a good chunk of the season together and have usually been a strong combination. Recombine Smolinski with Arnason. That would probably make them the third line. That is fine. Again we are a team with four lines, not a team with a "fourth" line.
When Havlat comes back? Well I don't know where Murray will put him. With Schaefer/ Fisher, or with Arnason/ Smolinski? Neil would go to one or the other.
Obviously I think the Big Line has to stay together from now on, and I would like the Kid Line to get at least two or three whole games to show their stuff. I think by the way they were playing tonight that they want to make this line work. If they become a good line this year, they can be a good line for Ottawa for the next decade. It would be a rare and great thing and I think all three of them sense the possibilities of this.
Goaltending? Well obviously not one for the books. A great goaltender can take a mediocre team on his back and carry it far into the playoffs. A great goaltender can make a coach look like a genius. A mediocre goal tender can make Scotty Bowman look like a fool. Have you ever heard of a "great" team with a mediocre goal tender? It just doesn't happen.
Emery did start tonight but did not finish the period. Whether it was his hip, general fatigue, or just an off night, he looked "stiff" right from the start. Personally I hope they keep him out, and put him on an enforced hot tub regimen, until he is whole again. I am of the mind that Hasek will not be starting in Round 1.
There were no overtly weak goals scored on us but the needed "great saves" were not made.
Our defence? Ok I give up. I have been under the delusion that if our forwards got thier act together they could win games by themselves. Today showed the fallacy of that notion. We dearly missed Phillips, Chara and Redden tonight. I will admit that now. I know their agents are probably smiling.
On the bright side, Carolina lost tonight as well. And of course Mach 9 will soon be bolstering our line-up. Hah...maybe one can spin this injury ridden slump as a way of letting opposing teams get complacent about facing us in the playoffs.
When we get all our horses back, it will be a different story.