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This Is Not Good - Florida 5, Ottawa 4 (OT)
posted Apr 13, 2006 at 11:46PM

I bet you Detroit and Dallas have real lines. Lines that get played game in and game out. Lines where the players are so familiar with each other's movements, that even in the pressure of playoff hockey, what to do and where to go will have been reduced to the level of muscle reflex. They don't even have to think about it. These are teams that have been properly prepared for the play-offs

Ottawa unfortunately does not have real lines. What Murray has are "pages and pages" of potential line combinations. You know when a movie has six scripts floating around, the odds are very good that despite whatever effort, no matter what the budget, no matter what the talent, the final result is going to be a bust.

At this stage of the game Murray should have his potential line combinations on half a page at most. Right now it looks like we are going to go into the playoffs with four lines, that at best, may get one practice together. It may very well be that this idiocy of changing line combinations, not only for every game, but even within games, will be a recurring theme.

In the first round of the playoffs, sheer force of available individual talent may get us through, but what happens when we play against a good team? I am not getting that warm and fuzzy right now. No sirree.

Right now we are not playing like a conference leading team. Detroit or Dallas would clean our clocks. Not because they have more talent, or have better players, or because they have a better work ethic or more grit.

No, they would clean our clocks because they are organized to get maximum impact from their talent and work ethic. And we are not. Indeed we look like a very ordinary team, that is still living off the fat of a great first quarter of the season.

Murray blessed us with two sets of line combinations to ponder this game. The first half of the game started with

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

Lots of good players ... but are there any good lines? Obviously not good enough, as we were dramatically outplayed on nearly all five on five situations with a non-playoff team. Even the way we scored our goals were illuminating. No tic-tac-toe passing plays. No goals at the end of periods of sustained pressure. We had a bravura, "go it alone" rush by Fisher. A powerplay goal on a bad angle shot from Spezza, and a beauty short-hander by Schaefer from Fisher.

No goals from line "chemistry". Only goals through the sheer force of individual talent. That won't work against good teams. Hell it barely worked against the hapless Bruins, and it didn't even work against the Panthers, who are another non-playoff team.

Poor Arnason. He has not played with the same two players two games in a row for nineteen games. Now he is not even playing his natural position. His play is deteriorating with each game. He never even saw the ice in the third period. He must wonder what kind of surreal nightmare he has gotten himself into. The guy who was slated to be our number two center now has to come into serious consideration for being a healthy scratch come playoff time. Let's face it, four assists in 19 games is not going to build a lot of support around the board room table.

After we fell behind, Murray went with the following line combinations.

Schaefer - Spezza - Alfredson
Heatley - Fisher - Eaves
Schubert - Smolinksi - Neil

The fourth line stayed the same but only saw limited ice.

These lines have not even had a practice together. What was going through Murray's head? Not only did he not put the Big Line together, only the most productive trio in the NHL, but he split up Spezza/ Heatley. I mean why would you do that? I can see if they had gone stale, and had done nothing over the past few games. But that is not the case...they have been producing points by the bushel. They have been the only guys consistently producing points

Why not use something that you know works? Just because it is obvious doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. And it is not like Murray has not had to shorten his bench before, when his original line combinations put us behind the eight ball. In those games, shortening the bench meant putting the Big Line together, and getting Vermette and Kelly up higher in the rotation.

I am sure this is affecting the players. No where is there that spark we saw at the beginning of the year. That sense of mission in winning the Cup. It is one thing to ask players to dig deep when you are down a few players. It is quite another to have them pissing in the wind when they don't have to.

Anyways. This inability of Murray to organize the talent on the team has been a recurring theme of this blog since Nov 30, which was when Havlat was injured and Vermette designated to the doghouse. When Havlat gets back on Saturday, Murray will have to give us a glimpse of the lines he plans to use come playoff time. For all intents and purposes this is a playoff game..

Toronto won their game against the Islanders. They are still in it. We may still meet them in the first round. To them this upcoming game is the equivalent of a play-off elimination game. It is with that thought that the Senators should approach this game with the Leafs. We have a chance to avenge some bitter playoff experiences. There is absolutely no excuse not to put the very best team we have out on the ice.

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