April 27, 2012
Losing should be no laughing matter for Sens
By Don Brennan, QMI AGENCY
On locker clean-out day at Scotiabank Place, there is sure to be plenty of talk about the reasons to believe in the Senators' future. And it’ll be valid stuff, too, thanks largely to the team’s Most Valuable Person.
That would be coach Paul MacLean, who proved this season that the Senators finally have the right man for the job.
The smallest managerial staff in the NHL — GM Bryan Murray, Assistant GM Tim Murray, Director of Scouting Pierre Dorion, Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development Randy Lee — put some pretty nice pieces in place, yes. But it was MacLean, in his first year at the helm, who brought them together quicker than even they expected.
On paper, the Senators were a more talented team in 2010-11, when they also had established veterans like Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly up front. Had MacLean been coach of that squad, it would have made the playoffs, too. Trading those two will benefit the team in the long run, of course, but if Fisher and Kelly were still Senators, I believe they’d be facing the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday.
MacLean’s communication skills, his demeanor, his resume as a player and experience as an assistant with a winner in Detroit all helped turn him into the guy who should be named the NHL’s coach of the year. While having less to work with than the other Jack Adams contenders, MacLean formed the Senators into a squad that showed a lot of character and never quit. With even just a little luck around the net Thursday, they would be one of the four finalists in a suddenly wide open Eastern Conference.
Their defence didn’t play well in Game 7, but I’m not even positive that with the way the Senators were, the better team won the series they had with the Rangers.
If MacLean is guilty of one mistake in the playoffs, it was in ignoring the old “dance with who brung ya” philosophy. Admittedly, I liked the idea of dressing Jakob Silfverberg, the Swedish Elite League star, but the fact is the Senators were 0-2 with him in the lineup. Now I know Silfverberg’s presence is not why they lost Game 7 or Game 6, but he didn’t produce (zero points, one shot on goal) the way MacLean hoped, either.
Mark Stone did set up the winner in his only game, and both Bobby Butler and Kaspars Daugavins had something the two aforementioned rookies did not — NHL and Game 7 experience.
It’s easy to second-guess, but Butler might have been the better option, if he could have been motivated the way he was in Game 3. And the absence of Daugavins, whose warmup jacket refers to him as the Team Pet, could have affected the team chemistry.
Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered who was in that roster spot had the top end guys produced. Milan Michalek showed flashes and contributed elsewhere, but he also had just one goal. And Jason Spezza just couldn’t get it going in Game 7. Even his passing was off, which should have given him another reason to given to his coach’s instruction to shooting the puck more. Instead, he put just two pucks on net Thursday.
On a different matter, I didn’t like what I saw from a couple of Senators after they were eliminated. While Spezza had a look of disappointment and hurt on his face while answering post-game questions in the packed visitor’s dressing quarters, Craig Anderson was seen sharing a laugh with someone on the other side of the room. Now, I have no doubt Anderson was extremely disappointed in the loss, and he was the team’s best player in the series, but for appearance sake, that was no time and place to be moving on with life. When thousands of fans are at home crying in their beer, the players should be at least save their smiles for a restricted area behind closed doors.
Same goes for Erik Karlsson, without whom the Senators would have never made it beyond Game 82. Karlsson, who was outplayed by the Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi over the course of the series, shared a big laugh with fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist in the handshake line. Doesn’t matter that they’re friends, or if one of them said something funny. That just doesn’t look good. Can’t imagine Nicklas Lidstrom guffawing with Lundqvist in the same situation. Fans want to see players on their team upset that they lost a playoff series, especially the stars who didn’t get done what they needed to get done.
I dare say it, but if Karlsson was able to laugh a couple of minutes after he and his teammates tripped on the way to the land of great opportunity, maybe he just didn’t want it enough.
Anyway, if it is a real flaw, there should now be the faith that it and others in the team’s game will be corrected. The Senators’ Most Valuable Person will surely see to it.