Senators toast unless big guns step up

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:38 PM ET

The Senators are toast.

As nice as it would be to watch another five or seven weeks of this thrilling playoff season from a seat on press row, I can’t even imagine them advancing past the Pittsburgh Penguins now.

It’s apparent Sidney Crosby won’t stand for it.

They had their chance. Their opportunity knocked when Kelly’s Heroes — the line of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil — stole Game 1 for them.

But when they answered the door, they found an unhappy Crosby on the other side.

Single-handedly, he has taken control of the series. And by the looks of it, he has no intention of giving it back.

Now, that’s not to say it’s impossible for Crosby to relinquish the steering wheel of the team bus he has pointed at Round 2. It can still be ripped from his hands. But there are only a few Senators capable of doing that.

Goalie Brian Elliott is one of them, but nobody expects him to impersonate Ken Dryden in his first trip to the playoffs.

Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and Ottawa’s best checking forwards could do a better job on Crosby, I suppose, but coach Cory Clouston can’t always get them on the ice for the matchups he wants anyway.

That leaves the team’s top shooters — specifically, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson — to save the day. Whether Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen outplay the likes of Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin is irrelevant if Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continue to so glaringly outshine Alfredsson and Spezza.

Through three games, they have combined for 11 points, while Alfredsson and Spezza have six. They have a total of five goals, while Alfredsson and Spezza have zero.

It’s all part of a trend.

While Crosby and Malkin have been busy leading the Penguins to the past two Cup finals, Spezza and Alfredsson have had springs to forget.

Along with missing the post-season tournament all together in 2009, Spezza has now gone 12 playoff games without a goal.

Alfredsson has gone seven.

Clouston points out that this isn’t a pairs competition, that beating Crosby and Malkin will take a team effort.

He also says he doesn’t have a problem with the play of Spezza, who was booed by the hometown crowd after some of his giveaways in Game 3.

“I think the first 40 minutes, he was real good,” said Clouston. “Toward the end of the game, I thought he tried to do too much. Tried to force things that weren’t there, turned the puck over too many times. It wasn’t from a lack of effort. It was more from poor decision-making with the puck. I thought there were examples in the first two periods he played well, and especially the first two games.

“I haven’t been that upset with his game at all.”

30-goal seasons

But it’s goals the Senators need from him, especially with Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek out. And Spezza can score. He had more than 30 goals in three straight seasons before this one, and it probably would have been four in a row had he not missed 22 games with injuries.

A streaky producer, Spezza has had 10- and nine-game goalless droughts this season, as well as a run where he scored in eight straight.

So he’s used to hearing both cheers and the boos, and he noticed the latter “a little bit” Sunday.

“But it doesn’t affect you too much,” he said. “We’re working hard, we’re trying to win, we’re trying to create chances. We feel like this series wasn’t going to be a short series, it wasn’t going to be an easy series, and every game you need to make some bounces for yourself.

“We’re hoping to keep pushing and keep pushing and wear them down.”

Spezza relishes being The Guy for the Senators, especially in the playoffs.

“It’s the role you want,” he said. “You don’t want to be hiding in the background at this time of year. As a player in general, you want to be thrust into the forefront, and with that come good times and bad.”

He also doesn’t mind being pitted against Crosby, the game’s best, in a personal showdown.

“It is a challenge for me,” Spezza said. “Every night, whoever you’re matched up against, whoever the top centre on the other team is, you try to challenge yourself to compete with them.

Make their mark

“If we can find a way to win the series, then we win the battle. If they win the series, he wins the battle.”

Spezza believes his line, with Alfredsson and Peter Regin, will yet make their mark on this series.

“We feel if we’re persistent, the goals will come,” said Spezza. “We’ve been successful as a line, especially toward the end of the season. We still believe in ourselves.”

With reason. Spezza and Alfredsson are good players who will find success again. But are they able to take control of this series from Crosby in Game 4? The way he’s playing, could anybody? I don’t think so.

Hence, the Senators are toast.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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