Thursday, February 08, 2007

Battle of the 417 Rages On

Or, bataille de l'Autoroute Maurice Richard if the Quebec government ever gets round to twinning the 50.

Sens pulled off a big win tonight, taking the Canadiens down a notch and mercifully sparing Scotiabank patrons the spectacle of 'ab fans running riot in our barn. Montreal were 0-fer on their much vaunted powerplay, but killed off 7 of 8 Sens opportunities. If this team is going to live or die on its special teams, they're likely going to wear Sheldon Souray right into the ice. He was out for almost half an hour and was -2 on the evening.

Keys to another victory, and more importantly, post season success are much the same items that needed improvement at the end of last season / early this season. It is often pointed out that the Sens have been a .500 team since Hasek's injury and they can't afford to ease off the throttle with about 7 or 8 teams in hot pursuit:
-Continued shut down performances from the defensive pair of Phillips and Volchenkov. A-Train is throwing his body in front of every shot that comes his way and while the Big Rig doesn't score much they do tend to be clutch goals.

-Backchecking from the Big Three. Jury is out on whether Spezza will mature into even half the responsible player Yzerman turned out to be, while Heatley has rounded out his game and Alfie is at his most valuable when doing all the little things and paying attention to detail.

-Emery shouldering a workload. No signs of strain whatsoever from the number one. Still needs to improve rebound control and puckhandling to inspire playoff confidence (particularly if you plan on facing the likes of Brodeur at some point).

-Floaters shortening their shifts. Chris Stevenson pointed out the 144 and 131 second shifts taken by Comrie and Vermette that lead to the Sundin goal on Saturday night. Vermette has had a rep as an ice hog in the past, and Comrie's a guy I fear will disappear come playoff time.

-Chris Neil contributing offensively. You know that gritty winger people are always saying the Sens need? Well they have him, he just needs to consistently bring the game he showed early in the season. The Schaef / Fish / Neil line strikes me as the one that should be reunited and ready to roll in the playoffs.

-Variety is the spice of life, but it would be nice to see Murray settle on some line combos.

POSTSCRIPT: Ex Sen watch - Former Heatley and Spezza linemate Brandon Bochenski scores 3 goals in 2 games for the 'Ruins and belated props to Patrick Lalime for shutting out the Canucks. Is he being shopped at the deadline?

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