Random reflections, and thoughts about the future, a day after the sudden end of a Senators season that you knew was never going to include their raising of the Stanley Cup:
Cory Clouston did a decent job his first full year behind the bench, generally speaking. Already he’s the third-best coach in team history, behind Bryan Murray, who took Ottawa to the final, and Jacques Martin, who led an aimless crew toward respectability. (In defence of Rick Bowness, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken ... well, you know).
Clouston will improve by learning from mistakes. Like the way he handled his goalies. Specifically, giving up on Pascal Leclaire the first week of March. Had he played more after recovering from his injuries, Leclaire might have earned enough of his coach’s faith to get in the series before it was a lost cause.
Clouston also deserves some blame for the team’s inability to contain Sidney Crosby, who won the series for the Penguins. Of his 14 points, nine came at even strength. Of those nine, only two were scored with Mike Fisher on the ice. Two. One goal, one assist. Only one, the goal, came at Scotiabank Place, where Clouston had last change. Fisher hopped over the boards almost every time No. 87 did Saturday. He did a great job on Crosby, hitting him early, staying close to him and keeping him off the scoreboard. He should have been Crosby’s shadow all series.
We’re also left wondering why Clouston had his fourth line on the ice when Pascal Dupuis scored the winner before the overtime period was half over. He didn’t use Shean Donovan or Zack Smith in any of the 2½ OT periods Thursday, and in fact Smith was the only one of the pair who saw a shift after the second period. And Thursday turned out okay, right? Not pinning it on them, but in a do-or-die situation, you want your best on the ice as often as possible.
No sense beating up Clouston over that decision. Surely, he’s doing enough of that himself.
Daniel Alfredsson played with a torn abdominal muscle? Are you kidding me? Ask anyone who has had such an injury how painful it can be. Hockey players rely on their core strength, especially those who manoeuvre like Alfredsson. That he wound up tied with Matt Cullen for the team scoring lead, with eight points, is remarkable. Or just another chapter to the story of the greatest athlete Ottawa has ever had.
Peter Regin is the next Alfredsson. Remember where you read it.
It was over two rums that I listened to John Rodenburg’s annual all-night show on the Team 1200 that follows the final buzzer (or overtime killer) marking the Senators’ last playoff game. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that it only lasted until 3 a.m. (J.R. is great). It can only mean the faithful were not as angry over this dismissal, that they understood the undermanned Senators would not make it past the champs. And while I only had two drinks, those who called to say Murray should trade Spezza surely had more. The Senators deal Spezza, a good team guy, and they’re going to be in desperate need of a centre who will produce more than a point per game. Those do not grow on trees.
Long live Kelly’s Heroes. The Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil line was Ottawa’s most consistent all season, then again in the playoffs. It should never be split up.
The biggest concern next season is the same as it was heading into this season: Goaltending. Can Leclaire stay healthy? Can he build off two strong playoff games? Can he finally fulfill his promise? Can Brian Elliott find consistency? Will he accept a backup role, if the Leclaire questions are answered positively, after owning the No. 1 job for most of the past two seasons? Can Elliott become good enough to keep a $4.8-million goalie on the bench? In any case, it appears the Senators are stuck with this tandem for at least one more year. Right now, it looks good enough to get them to a second round, but no further.
If looming unrestricted free agents Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton split, the Senators can afford to keep Matt Cullen. The question is, does Cullen, an American, want to stay? Volchenkov could decide he wants to remain in his home-away-from-Russia bad enough to accept less money over more years, and Sutton might not get the deal he seeks, but the guess here is both will be gone and Murray will sign a veteran or two to compete for job on a blue line that would otherwise feature Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba, Erik Karlsson, Matt Carkner, Chris Campoli and Brian Lee.
Not horrible, but the Senators need to get better everywhere if they’re going to raise that Cup.