Bruins 4 Ottawa 2 Disasters in the Laboratory
posted Jan 6, 2006 at 12:49AM
After the previous game with the Bruins, which saw us shockingly get shut out 3-0, I sent the Senators a little note which included the following:
"The line-up last night against the Bruins seemed almost purposely designed to suck all offensive synergy outside of the first line. For the first time an opposing team could concentrate on only the top line and not worry about anything else"
This recent 4-2 loss to the struggling Bruins definitely rests in the "same song, different verse" category. I know we are missing three big guys, but surely the difference between the Senators and the 13th place Bruins, is more than one line? Of course it is. Our defence is much better, our goaltending is much better. And man for man our available forwards are still much better than whatever Boston has to offer. Still we "found a way to lose".
Disasters in the Laboratory
The top line was just horrible. The Smolinski, Heatley, Vermette experiment is a failure. Indeed this combination seems to bring the worst out of each player. Players, who on their own are all competent puck-handlers, seem to have a built in phobia about passing the puck to each other. I have never seen so many "open" players get ignored by the guy with the puck. Both Heatley and Smolinski were pretending to be Havlat, and failing miserably.
Vermette is not a fourth line utility player, but he is not top line material either. Putting him on the "No 1" line has been akin to killing him with kindness. He looked completely out of sorts out there, and is playing his worst hockey of the season. He was running around out of position all over the ice, desperately chasing the puck so he could "do something"..."make the most of this opportunity". Thank God the Bruins have no real counter-attack ability because Vermette would have been the cause of innumerable odd-man rushes. He was so uptight that when the puck did come to him, it might as well have been kryptonite. Only on the PK did he seem to settle down.
This is not all Vermette's fault. When Murray put Eaves in for Vermette, the results were no different. Even on the power play, the line could generate no offensive pressure; indeed they almost gave up a few short-handed goals.
And what kind of player-management is this? You tell a guy he is on the top-line, but then you take him off on the power-play. That will really get a guy to play with confidence. Over tinkering? Head games? I mean if you really wanted to beef up the power play then you would put in Schaeffer or Fisher, not Eaves. Eaves, like Vermette, is not a fourth line utility player. Nor is he a top-line guy either.
And since I am in nit-picking mode, I will point out that Vermette is one of our better face off guys, and the minute you put him on the wing that capability has been lost to our secondary lines.
When we are down three forwards why even try to roll four lines over? Because of that, Murray was double shifting Heatley, which did nothing for his game. His offensive talents are basically negated by playing with Martins and Mcgrattan. Because Heatley was double shifted the so called top line was in reality relegated to half shifts, which made it impossible for them to get any flow. By the end of the game Heatley was sucking wind - not exactly dragging his knuckles, but certainly in no shape to force the play in the last minute
Reality Not Illusion
The third line of Varada, Kelly and Eaves is also a failure. I know people will take issue with this because the broadcast media just waxes poetic about this line, and Murray is in love with Kelly. And it is not that they are playing poorly - but here is the rub: THEY ARE NOT SCORING GOALS!
This line has been together since the game with Florida. In those FIFTEEN games Eaves has scored THREE goals while on this line. (Note 1: A fourth goal during this period was scored while shorthanded and, set up spectacularly, by Vermette).
Kelly has scored ONE goal (assisted by Redden and Chara). That is it. Just one goal while in this line.
The real kicker is the fact that Varada has scored ZERO goals while on this line. Zero, nada, zilch. A million and a half doesn't get what it used to does it?.. (Note the one goal Varada scored during this period was assisted by Smolinski and Bochenski).
Four total goals in fifteen games. This is hardly tearing up the league so I don't see why everyone is getting excited.
Those Were the Days Back Then
Remember the end of last season? Our fourth line consisted of Spezza, Vermette and Neil. Today we don't have a real fourth line. We won't have a fourth line until we get rid of Mcgrattan. We only got Mcgrattan because of this myth created by Toronto media that we had "no grit", not enough "toughness".
Bullshit. We beat Philadelphia twice in the playoffs. Did we do that wearing tutus? Hitchcock himself said they were the physically toughest series he had ever experienced. We did not lose to Toronto because we weren't tough. We lost because we didn't play our best players, let in soft goals, and stoically accepted one sided officiating.
We don't need McGrattan. If we want to turn Tie Domi into sticky paste, then Chara can do that at his convenience. We can play without Chara for five minutes
With guys like Hamel, Martins and Bochenski on the sideline, McGrattan is just taking up space.
The Remedy - Better Lines
I mentioned moving Fisher up to the top line. Let us go one better. The top line should be Heatley, Fisher and Schaeffer. The latter two were the only pairing to be able to generate sustained pressure. With Heatley they have a player who can finish attacks. Together they make a real top line and can be expected to dominate play every time they are on the ice. I figure they are good for at least two if not three even strength goals a game. You also have your first power play unit and they should be able to produce at least one power play goal per game. Even if everyone else just plays it even this line could win games by themselves. But they don't have to.
Take Vermette off the first line. Put him at his natural position as center between Kelly and Eaves. The combination of these players have provided more short-handed points than the current third line at even strength.
And this is not a one game "do-or-die" thing. Murray should tell them that they ARE the third line for the next fifteen games come hell or high water. I guarantee you that Kelly will score more than one goal and I would bet dollars to donuts that Vermette and Eaves would double their current point totals.
The second line would be Smolinski, Neil and Hamel/Varada. I know Hamel got sent back for supposedly bitching about ice time. Management needs to get over it. He is a good player.
McGrattan, Martins, Varada/Hamel are the fourth line. Smolinski should be the guy double shifted to replace McGrattan and give the others some ice. This is to make sure that the top line hits the ice together fresh, and in sync.