Thomas
DeChastelain
Memorial Archives

Arnason and the Back-Six
posted Apr 19, 2006 at 07:11PM

Well I guess a low level surprise was that Arnason was not in the line-up in the game against the Rangers. Again with only 4 assists in 19 games he is not an easy sell. But he did come to us with 40+ points and a plus rating playing on a bad team. Those are "Smolinski" type numbers. And everyone, can, from his play with Ottawa, say that there are some skills there.

Although some of the fault may lay with Arnason, I do think that "management" should shoulder some responsibility for not finding him some kind of niche where he could positively contribute. Knowing Arnason's background I have to wonder if he burned some bridges in his "talk" with the coaches after the Toronto game.

In the end, the failure of the Arnason experiment means we can no longer be a team with four lines, all which can generate offensive pressure, but a team with a "fourth line" ... which will be dubbed the "energy" line or "checking" line or whatever catch phrase is in vogue with the pundits. I call it purgatory. Not quite in hell, but close.

From the Rangers game it looks like the Senators will essentially be a three line team. Murray started the periods rotating through the first three lines twice before putting the fourth line in. In a long play-off run it could be a factor in later rounds, depending on how quickly we can go through opponents.

I must admit my rather optimistic feelings towards defeating Tampa is very much dependant on the assumption that Murray will put the Big Line together, and keep Fisher with Schaefer and Havlat. These two lines alone should be enough to overpower Tampa Bay.

I make this assumption because according to my reading, although Kelly was placed with Spezza and Heatley, Murray was quoted as saying this was only a game specific tactic. That basically this combination had shut down Jagr last time, and ergo he would try it again. Ironically, the Rangers had their best periods of sustained pressure in our end when this line was on.

So the Big Line and the Fisher line give us a formidable top six, and that should be enough to get us through the first round. But what about the back six, and more importantly what about that third line?

It has been a constant theme of mine that Ottawa is most successful when it can put together three line combinations in sequence that can generate, maintain, and pass on offensive momentum. It has also been a theme of mine that in order to do that you need to concentrate as much offensive speed and talent onto each line as you can, with a nod to making sure the players are at comparable skill levels.

As we will see, no matter how you do things, one 20 goal scorer is going to be effectively taken out of our line-up by being marooned on the fourth line.

So the remaining players are Smolinski, Vermette, Eaves, Kelly, Neil, and Varada. Arnason is on the outside looking in and Schubert is also a name we throw in for discussion's sake.

Now what options are there?

Now, I feel that the best line that can be made with these players would be the Kid Line, with Vermette between Kelly and Eaves. They are the fastest line possible and between the three have sufficient skill to do the job.

That would leave Smolinski, playing between Varada and Neil. These latter two have scored maybe three even strength goals combined in this calendar year. Smolinski does not have the tools to make things happen by himself. Varada has been showing that he wants to play, and he does play better with established players like Smolinski. But can he score? Last night he had three shooting opportunities from 20 feet out ... He missed the net by five feet each time.

If you just went by statistics, you would go with Smolinski, between Vermette and Eaves. That would give you three 20 goal scorers on the same line. On paper that sounds good, but I do remember at some point during the season, that I recorded the observation that "Smolinski does not play well with the kids". It is, in the end, an untested line. And it is not as fast as the Kid Line would be.

That would also leave a fourth line that is little better than what we started the year with.

Of course that is what I would do. There is no doubt in my mind that Murray does have "issues" when it comes to Vermette, and unless absolutely forced to, Vermette always gets the short end of the stick.

He will keep him on the fourth line. The question is with who?

The best potential fourth line would be Kelly, Vermette and Schubert. Indeed they are the only line combination that is proven to work. For whatever reason this line has the shown the ability to generate offense and score goals. But do you want your only depth defenceman playing forward in the playoffs?. Pretty risky

The worst option would be to go the dilution route. Smolinski with Eaves and Neil. Kelly with Vermette and Varada. The first three have been tried before and it did not work. Eaves goal production fell off the cliff. The main strength of Eaves is his ability to finish. But for that to be utilized, he has to be paired with two players who can generate offense, and Smolinski and Neil can't. Neil has been at his best when with Fisher and Schaefer or Smolinski and Schaefer ... there his hitting complements the other two.

I know in the last game at Philadelphia it started to look like the Kelly/Vermette pairing was reaching the point where they could generate offense by themselves without regards to who the third player was. Of course the next game they were split up, so they never had a chance to build on their momentum. So for right now, one would have to say Vermette, Kelly and Varada would work no better than Eaves, Kelly and Varada...which is to say, .as far as scoring goals goes, not at all.

The one other option is to have Smolinski between Kelly and Eaves, and leave the fourth line as it is. That certainly fits my admittedly biased pre-conception of what Murray would like to do. The irony of this is that it could work, but not for the reasons Murray anticipated.

As a rule Vermette does need to be with two other decent players to perform at his best. But of the three available centers, Vermette is the only one who has demonstrated the potential, the raw speed and innate talent, to take the game in his own hands and make things happen by himself.

Once was that game against Pittsburgh where he was effectively benched, and the other was last night against the Rangers when half the period would be gone before his first shift. The common denominator is that he hits the ice very pissed off. He gets into that "fuck it" mind set and he becomes a different player. The fourth line did not get a lot of ice, but they were pretty strong out there when they were.

If he could find someone to piss in his cornflakes every morning, or other wise play like that all the time, he would become an added secret weapon for the Senator's arsenal.

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