The Senators made a good call in picking St. John’s N.L. as the place to open their camp.
For one thing, it’s wise to get away to give the players a chance to bond. No wives, no girlfriends, no kids, no buddies, no real-life problems, no distractions. Where better to go than an Island for all that?
And Newfoundland, well, if you haven’t been there you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s true, “Newfies” are among the friendliest folks in the world. That alone puts everyone in a positive frame of mind.
The province is beautifully scenic. And being in St. John’s, it’s not like the young guys were completely isolated and were threatened by boredom in their down time.
The famous George St. is everything it’s billed to be. The line up of pubs and bars is reminiscent of the strip in Nashville – at least a smaller version of it. This is not to say the Senators were out drinking every night. But who doesn’t get a charge out of just walking up and down a street full of night time activity?
The players golfed, management and the support staff went on a day cruise and everybody enjoyed outstanding meals at the multitude of restaurants (nothing like fresh seafood).
And after attracting only a small gathering for Sunday’s intra-squad game, and a slightly larger one for Monday afternoon’s pre-season opener, Mile One Centre was packed and lively for the surprisingly fast-paced night game against the Islanders.
“Obviously the people love hockey,” noted new Senator Dave Legwand when asked his assessment of the trip. “It was fun.”
For the Senators to be competitive this season, for them to play the defence they need to play to have a shot at the playoffs, they need to adapt the one-for-all approach. There’s no doubt they became closer during four days in Newfoundland.
About "Don Brennan"
Don Brennan is a Day 1 employee of the Ottawa Sun. He has spent the majority of his 23 years as a sports reporter/columnist, covering the Senators since their return to the NHL in 1992, and prior to that writing about the Rough Riders, 67's and other sports. Brennan also wrote a Page 6 column in the Sun for nine months. A native of North Bay, Brennan moved to attend Centennial College in 1978. He remained in Toronto for a decade, working first as a freelancer, than an editor with the Toronto Sun. Brennan has lived in Ottawa full time ever since.
The Senators made a good call in picking St. John’s N.L. as the place to open their camp.
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.
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.
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.
Milan Michalek is on a tear and frankly, I’m not sure what the Senators should do with him anymore.
For most of the season it was an easy call – July 1 would be the handshake, the official parting of ways. But at that point, I also thought his days as a scoring winger were over.
Now Michalek has four in his last four games and seven in the 13 games since Ales Hemskey was acquired.
Now he’s looking like the Michalek of old.
Maybe Jason Spezza wasn’t the only one who suffered without an offensively gifted winger on that line. Maybe that was part of Michalek’s problem too.
Or maybe Michalek is just thriving with a Czech mate around. Maybe it’s also Hemsky’s off-ice presence, a guy to speak his language, a guy with whom he’s on the same page, a guy who is also staring at the uncertainties of free agency.
The Senators have not closed the book on Michalek. They see him as a great teammate and a quality person. They would probably jump at the chance if they could sign him at a salary of about $2 million, or $2.5 million.
Michalek’s agent will not go for that. He will tell Michalek he can get him $4-5 million a year somewhere else. And he probably can. He has 17 goals and he’s just a couple of years removed from scoring 35. Somebody will bite.
But what does Michalek want? He likes Ottawa. He lives close by (in Montreal) during the offseason.
It’s hard to get a read on him, though. He wasn’t available after the morning skate today, but even if he was he likely wouldn’t have said much about his future.
I do know this: any questions about his knee in the past have been answered. He’s one of only four Senators to play all 76 games this season. Earlier, at least, he was guilty of not driving to the net like he used to. But that could be that he was tentative, worried about re-injuring his knee. Driving to the net is probably how he damaged it in the first place.
People who say he has lost a step, well, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Didn’t Michalek win the fastest skater contest at the skills competition? Yup he did.
Do the Senators have someone to take his spot on the Top Two lines? It depends on a few things.
It depends on if they re-sign Hemsky. It depends on whether Mark Stone or Mike Hoffman will be ready for that role full time. It depends on what Bryan Murray gets in an off-season trade for a defenceman. It depends on whether they have their eye on another veteran winger they can land July 1.
I just know I’d be reluctant to pay Michalek $5 million a year, and I’d be reluctant to let him walk unless I was certain about a Plan B.
So like I said, I’m not sure what the Senators should do about Michalek anymore.
In the end, the agent will probably force the decision out of their hands. That is, unless Michalek puts his foot down and says he wants to stay.