Well, if nothing else, the Senators are consistent. The Stanley Cup dream died again Saturday night, the way it always does. The dominant regular season team with explosive offence magically and tragically turns into an average playoff team with brain cramps and scoring problems.
I’ve now seen this movie more times than Slapshot and Caddyshack put together. Sure, the front office makes a few edits every year but it’s still the same story.
How can this be? Last year the Sens fired coach Jacques Martin and brought in Shawville’s Bryan Murray. They shipped out Marion Hossa, their second most skilled player for the dynamic Dany Heatley. They gave away Radek Bonk and Patrick Lalime, also once thought of as untouchables. They brought in a hall of fame goalie.
Even the NHL rules changed this year, apparently to allow the Sens’ skill players to finally shine. Hallelujah! Yet, here we are. Dissecting another letdown.
Some of the problems included:
No shows on defence. Zdeno Chara, Andrej Meszaros, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Brian Pothier and Anton Volchenkov. I used to think this might be the best blue line corps in hockey. It’s hard to imagine five defencemen playing worse - or more nervously- than these guys did against Buffalo. They all took turns , each making at least one colossal blunder in this series. The Sabres defence isn’t nearly as skilled but they were almost always where they had to be, taking the guy they were supposed to take.
No scoring! Best scoring team in hockey, huh? Where did that go? As usual, attempting to be too pretty. All outside stuff. Not enough grunt work. Not enough screens or rebounds. Not to mention the lack of speed, at least compared to Buffalo. When did Dany Heatley turn into Tim Kerr?
Goaltending. The Sens finally had their playoff stud in Dominik Hasek. He’s 41 with a history of insanely slow recoveries from inner leg muscle problems. The Sens started him in 32 of 46 games before the Olympics. Maybe a better rested 41 year old adductor doesn’t explode all over Turin. In hindsight, the Sens should have found a better backup.
I don’t blame Ray Emery. He was awful sometimes (Game 1) and great sometimes (Game 4). But for a guy who had never even sat on the bench during an NHL playoff game, he did about as well in these playoffs as he could. Fellow rookies Ray Miller and Cam Ward might not be so confident if they were expected to fill the shoes of a hall of famer. I will say Emery’s lack of lateral movement and rebound control make him an uncertainty at this point. I also believe the Sens lost their early season swagger once Hasek went down.
Lacking respect for your opponent. Sens’ coach Bryan Murray admitted his team lacked respect for Buffalo. They parlayed that confidence into 6 goals in Game 1 before the Sabres ripped their hearts out. Overconfidence was why, with a one goal lead, a power play and two minutes left, they didn’t simply play keep away from the shorthanded Sabres. They went Van de Velde on us and tried to finish with an unnecessary flurry and got scorched. Since December, the Sens have only been a slightly better than average team. They’ve had virtually no playoff success in their history. Where overconfidence would come from I have no idea.
Adversity. Let’s keep in mind this was much different than the team we saw in October. The Sens ended the regular season juggling and adjusting instead of firing on all cylinders. If Dominik Hasek, Zdeno Chara, Martin Havlat, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips had stayed in the lineup and entered the post season, healthy and rolling, this might have played out differently.
I know. I know. If my aunt had a package she’d be my uncle. But it’s still a chapter in this “death by a thousand cuts” story. In the end, Game One killed this skittish bunch. This team wants to end the drought so badly, it’s become afraid of adversity. Fear of failure guarantees failure.
In any event, the series ended appropriately. With the Sens having no answer for the always unstoppable 1 on 3 shorthanded, bad angle, overtime rush. That play summed up the series in a nutshell. Uncertainty in goal, confusion, lack of execution and hustle.
I believe we’ll see dramatic changes, if for no other reason than to recharge the fan base. Hasek and Heatley did that in a big way after the lockout. But change doesn’t guarantee improvement. New Jersey had most of the elements that Sens fans think are required here: Great goalie, intensity and players with Stanley Cup experience. It didn't do much for them, did it?
Once my crankiness has fully subsided, I'll post again later this week with moves I'd like to see them make between now and opening night this October.