Senators Mid-season Musings
SENATORS: A Week in Review is a weekly column looking back at the week in Ottawa Senators hockey written by OLMSports Dave Gross.
Feature photo Courtesy NHLI via Getty Image
Some mid-season musings as we head to towards the all-star break (hosted by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 28th):
* There is innate talent, then there is innate hockey sense.
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson has a ton of both.
No surprise there, but who else has the foresight to score that seeing-eye goal that caught Toronto netminder Freddie Andersen out of position during Saturday's game at the CTC.
There was no shot available, then in a blink, there was.
Furthermore, if you slapped a solo camera and watched Karlsson through 60 minutes, sure you'd see slip-ups (plenty this season), but the one thing that sticks out is the Swede's ability to think the game faster and further ahead than 99 per cent of the rest of the league.
It's almost as if he knows where a teammate is going to be before the teammate does.
Yeah okay, trade him.
* As good as Karlsson can be, he, like the rest of his hockey team and under-fire management, is trying to endure an absolute s-show of a season.
Which brings us to Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason, who on Sunday had this quick synopsis of the Sabres: "If you're looking for sympathy for the Sabres, or their fans, and the suggestions of better days ahead, you came to the wrong place. The Sabres are a terrible hockey team in a terrible place, thanks to terrible ownership and a terrible rebuilding plan . . ."
* Habs' head coach Claude Julien is getting a considerable amount of criticism for where his 'underachieving' club sits (that'd be well out of the playoff hunt).
Don't buy it.
Julien didn't get stupid overnight. He also didn't go out and gut a defence that was pretty solid, into one that is a plodding mess.
He didn't 'get' stud defenceman Shea Weber injured.
Sure, Julien should take some heat for the continuous indecision about where to play Jonathan Drouin and/or Alex Galchenyuk, but really: This is mostly GM Marc Bergevin's eyesore.
* The Toronto Maple Leafs are quickly learning a cold and hard truth: hockey gets a lot more difficult when the calendar flips into a new year.
Scoring isn't as loosey-goosey as it was back in the fall as teams try and iron out system play.
Well-coached teams focus on a shut-down model – made more effective after several head-to-head meetings with divisional rivals. Experience pays dividends and that's been especially true with teams facing Toronto.
For a team that now is having trouble finding the back of the net, I find it baffling that coach Mike Babcock stubbornly sticks with line combinations that are producing zilch.
Not sure why Mitch Marner has become Babcock's poster-boy for the doghouse while others do less (hey there Nazem Kadri, and a dried-up William Nylander), but the coach shows great reluctance at giving Marner a shot on Auston Matthews' wing. That's wasted potential.
NEWS, NOTES AND NOTIONS: There are plenty of candidates, but for my money the NHL's most underrated skater is Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler who's on his way to his best season yet . . . Not only do Ottawa and Toronto goalies (Anderson and Andersen) share similar names, they share similar capabilities for playing the puck behind their nets like a bar of soap . . . Those trying to chase down playoff spots from below must be elated to see the defending Stanley Cup champions righting the ship (when does the sarcasm end? Oh boy). Prior to Christmas some were clanging the death knell on the Pittsburgh Penguins and suggesting Sidney Crosby's career was heading for a jarring collapse. Crosby in January has collected 16 points in nine games; the Pens are 6-3 and now knocking on the door for a playoff spot. Ho-hum . . . Interesting question posed by the Winnipeg Jets blog arcticicehockey.com: 'How much of the Winnipeg Jets success is due to Paul Maurice?' Always liked Maurice as a coach (going back to his OHL days), but unless his name has been changed to Connor Hellebuyck, the answer would be – not too much . . . I can see why Toronto coach Mike Babcock has a lot of trust in Travis Dermott on his blueline, the kid is poised. Can't understand the equal trust for Connor Carrick who just is not NHL-calibre. Mind you, there's not much else to choose from on that right side . . . Speaking on young defencemen, Ottawa's Thomas Chabot has a lot to learn in the d-zone without the puck, but there's no denying his poise and patience when he has it on his stick. He's going to be a beauty . . . Where was Bobby Ryan Saturday night? I'm pretty sure I spotted a No. 9 on the ice but it sure looked like an empty uniform.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Monday, Jan. 22: Ottawa at Minnesota (8 pm)
Tuesday, Jan. 23: Ottawa at St. Louis (8 pm)
Thursday, Jan. 25: Boston at Ottawa (7:30 pm)