Chris Neil, jam and some Penguins

- April 13th, 2014

PITTSBURGH – Pointed out to me by a friend this morning was a very interesting statistic regarding Chris Neil.
The Senators all-time penalty minutes leader has never be a single season leader in PIMs. He’s never won the NHL bad boy title. He’s been in the Top 10 nine times, and the Top 3 five times. But he has never been No. 1.
That could change today.
With one game to go, tonight at 7:30 versus the Penguins, Neil leads the league with 206 PIMs. Next in line is Vancouver’s Tom Sestito, with 203, who plays a rivalry game against the Flames at 9 p.m., and then Dallas’ Antoine Roussel, with 197, who plays against the Phoenix Coyotes also at 9 p.m.
Nobody else is close.
This is Neil’s first year as an alternate captain. He has averaged 11:47 of ice time per game, while scoring eight goals and six assists, and a minus-10 mark that is not so bad on this Senators team.
He is also seventh in the league in hits, with 249.
Neil, as always, plays the game with … what’s the word? Anyway, it’ll come to me.
Meanwhile, a few of us Ottawa media types went over to the Consol Energy Center this morning to watch the Penguins “optional” skate. Twelve players were on the ice, plus goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff. The start against the Senators tonight will go to Zatkoff, which means Fleury ends the season with 39 wins, second only to Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov.
Fleury wanted to get to 40, but he missed out on that chance yesterday when he gave up a very bad overtime goal to Philly’s Mark Streit.
Actually, Fleury deflected the relatively slow backhand by Streit between his own legs.
That’s what you get with The Flower. He can be very good, as the 39 wins will attest, but he can also be brutal.
I asked him if he feels as much pressure heading into the playoffs as everybody thinks. I said people believe the Penguins will go only as far into the playoffs as their goaltending will take them.
“Maybe that’s people that don’t know the game too much you know,” he said with a defensive look on his face. “I think goalies help a lot in a game, but it’s a team game and we need everybody to play well.”
Okay, but the Penguins would have more Cups now if Fleury had played better in past playoffs. Last year against the Senators, his struggles were such that he wound up on the bench as back up to Tomas Vokoun.
The Penguins are better defensively these days, and part of the credit goes to Jacques Martin, the most successful regular season coach in Senators history who is now an assistant with Pittsburgh.
Jacques hasn’t been an assistant in the NHL since he was on Colorado’s staff in 1995-96. The next year he took over the Ottawa job, and the Avalanche won the Cup.
Jacques would like to earn his first Cup ring this season with the Penguins, and he would like to become a head coach in the NHL again.
“Definitely, I’d love to get back as a head coach,” he said. “Hopefully I get an opportunity.
“This year has been a learning experience .. I think you always learn when you’re put in a different scenario, with a different organization, so I think I’d even be better prepared (to be a head coach).”
Also chatted with defenceman Brooks Orpik about playing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. Columbus is Pittsburgh’s closest rival, just a 3 1/2 drive away.
As I sat on the dressing room bench beside Orpik, I noticed other reporters were looking at me, chuckling. I thought they were laughing because Orpik was uncomfortable answering my questions about Jacques, like he was unsure of what to say about the impact Martin has had.
He was like, “Jacques, Jacques …” almost as if he didn’t know who I was talking about, at first.
Then I looked down at my shirt and realized that’s not what they were laughing at. Something was on me … I thought it was a bug initially. Then I realized it was …. jam!
That’s the word I was looking for to describe Neil’s game!
Funny, the same friend who pointed out Neil’s penalty minute numbers also says I’m the Chris Neil of Ottawa sports writers. He says I go hard, I’m emotional, and I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Apparently, I also wear my breakfast on my chest. I’m impressed Orpik could keep a straight face while we chatted.
…….
Senators didn’t have a morning skate today and there will be no availability with Paul MacLean until 5:30 or so, which means I can not tell you who will be starting in goal for them or any lineup changes they may make.
I can tell you that owner Eugene Melnyk sent out a message today inviting fans to ask him any questions they may have on Twitter, and he will answer them between 3-4 p.m. on Tuesday.
There’s already some pretty good ones for him. Check out @MelnykEugene.

The breakfast

State secrets

- April 11th, 2014

I get that the NHL is not the NFL, that hockey teams adopted the policy a few years ago of keeping people completely in the dark with regards to player injuries.
I don’t get why, I just get that it has become the accepted (by most) way of life in hockey’s biggest league.
I can almost understand why a coach would treat an injury as a state secret if he was involved in a gruelling playoff series with another team. If his top defenceman has a bad right knee, he wouldn’t want the opponents to deliberately try and make that knee worse. That could also hurt his team’s chances of winning the series.
But over the course of the regular season? Not so much. And in the case of Mika Zibanejad, I am completely befuddled.
Zibanejad left Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils at one point in the third period and did not return.
Afterwards, reporters naturally asked coach Paul MacLean for an update.
MacLean, who chatted with his staff for at least 20 minutes before the media availability, is always extremely coy when it comes to injuries. But on this night, his answer was embarrassing.
He said Zibanejad was taken to the hospital for “precautionary reasons.” The hospital? What happened to him?
“They couldn’t do stuff here that they could do there,” said MacLean. “That’s all I know.”
So an important, 20-year old Swede went from a game to an ambulance to a hospital, and the coach has no idea why? He didn’t ask anybody while he was standing around dissecting the game sheet? He doesn’t care?
Of course MacLean has an idea what the issue is, but rather than update the media (and the fans) he chooses to play dumb. Or lie, however you want to see it.
Heaven forbid anyone knows that Zibanejad has a concussion, or a busted shoulder, or whatever else is ailing him.
Imagine if the Toronto Maple Leafs caught wind of even the smallest details? Surely, they would use the info to their advantage in Saturday’s mammoth Battle Of Ontario – or the Battle For The Glory Of Being The Second Worst Team In The Province.
As one reporter said: “I don’t know whether to tell people to relax or be worried.”
Neither do I.
But I do know that this veil of secrecy regarding injuries is well passed the ridiculous stage.

To go (to Belarus) or not to go, that is the question

- April 10th, 2014

If asked, Robin Lehner will need some time to think about whether or not to accept an invitation to play for Sweden at the world championship in May.
“I think the thing that’s tough, it’s (spending) about a month there,” Lehner said after the morning skate. “There are so many Swedish goalies, I don’t know if I’m in the mix or not. I haven’t heard anything, and when I hear something I’ve got to make a decision. I don’t know what the decision is. There’s many things that go into that equation.”
Coach Paul MacLean said he’d “encourage” any of his players to represent their country in Belarus.
I think it’s a personal thing,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to, first of all, not only see the world but also to continue to play and get a chance to play with different people and interact with different coaching staffs and coaches and interact with different players. It’s a great opportunity to learn that maybe you could do something a little bit better or maybe you can confirm how you do things is better compared to somebody else. I think it’s a great way to grow, not only as a player or coach. anyone who has a chance to do it I would encourage them to take that opportunity just from a growth standpoint.”
MacLean won’t hesitate if he is asked to be part of Canada’s coaching staff.
“When my 82 games are over if they call me, like I said, if I’m encouraging anyone to go, I would have to say yes,” he said.

A meaningless weekend

- April 10th, 2014

The Senators are for all intents and purposes finished.
Three games that meaning nothing left.
New Jersey Thursday. Toronto Saturday. At Pittsburgh Sunday.
Monday will likely be an off-day after back-to-back games to close the season. Garbage bag day will be Tuesday. Exit meetings will begin then. GM Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean will likely meet with the media Wednesday.
Then there will likely be silence until the Senators decide what steps they are going to take.
The Senators are missing the playoffs in a season they were expected to make the next step. It didn’t happen for them this year. They couldn’t get it right. They couldn’t get it steered in the right direction. Therefore they are done.
Invitations to the world championships will be sent in the next few days. It seems that Kyle Turris and Marc Methot will jump at the chance to go to Belarus. Clarke MacArthur is hot and cold.
MacLean could be on the list to coach Canada.
Nobody thought the season would end this quickly. Missing the playoffs in September didn’t seem possible. By December it started to look worse. Around the Olympic break there was a sense of optimism. After that, it all fell apart.
So three games left. That’s it. That’s all.

On the brink

- April 7th, 2014

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NEW YORK _ The end is near.
Have looked at the math:
- If the Senators lose in regulation or OT Tuesday against the New York Islanders they are officiallly eliminated.
- If the Columbus Blue Jackets gain a point at home against Phoenix, the Senators are officially eliminated no matter whether they win or not.
- Ottawa could technically still tie Detroit in ROW but the third tiebreaker is goal differential and the Wings would have to get blown out the rest of the way.
So, there it is, the season hangs in the balance and the Senators are about to pay for some of those terrible nights they’ve had this season.
Many in the organization believe this season has been a colossal failure no matter what happens in these final four games this season. This club didn’t live up to expecations.
Changes are ahead. I can guarantee that. This team won’t look the same next season.