Monday, November 30, 2009

An Improvement in Ottawa for the Senators?

When Executive Vice-President and General Manager Brian Murray traded the prolific winger Dany Heatley this past off-season to the San Jose Sharks, it was the inevitable that a deal had to get done, but it was a must that the return involved at least two high-end NHL players that can play a top six role in Ottawa. Senators fans learned of Heatley’s fate and welcomed forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo to the nation’s capital. How things would play out in the 1st quarter of the 2009-10 season was certainly in question, but I’d imagine Brian Murray and Head Coach Cory Clouston welcomed the opportunity to proceed with 23 players who wanted to play in Ottawa and not ones that wanted to jump ship.

Michalek and Cheechoo joined Alex Kovalev as the newcomers of the Ottawa Senators. Without hesitation, Head Coach Cory Clouston inserted all three of them into top-six-forward roles. As much of a no brainer as it seemed, the results are far from expectations prior to opening night. Through 24 games played, Kovalev and Cheechoo have a combined six goals to show for and are a minus 8. Michalek is a bright spot with 13 goals in 24 games played, but by no means is this guy playing his best hockey. Brian Murray mentioned all three of these high end players as candidates to shake things up on the top units, in an attempt to get forward Jason Spezza re-energized. Two goals for Spezza thus far however, dictate once again, it’s not working out quite as planned. The Senators might have a 13-7-4 record which is much improved from last season, but this is not what anyone upstairs had in mind.

The regular season began with Pascal Leclaire between the pipes for the Ottawa Senators. The significance behind this was not only did the Ottawa Senators have a potential threat in net, but the return investment from the trade that sent popular forward Antoine Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets at last years trade deadline was about to make his debut. The trade was another high impact move for Brian Murray, trying to solidify the goalkeeping, not only for this coming season, but the future. Coming off of season ending ankle surgery, Leclaire started by posting eight wins in 16 contests, before recently sitting out with an undisclosed lower body injury. To make matters much worse for the Senators, Leclaire was subject to a deflection of a puck off his cheek bone, sitting on the bench as he backed up his counterpart Brian Elliot. A broken cheek bone will now keep Leclaire out 4-6 weeks. Brian Elliot has taken on the #1 role with AHL journeymen Mike Brodeur as his backup. Again, Brian Murray has to be simply shaking his head.

Alexander Picard and Filip Kuba lead all Ottawa Senator Defensemen in points, though both players have a combined 3 goals to show for. Rookie D-man Matt Carkner has 2 goals in 24 games, after taking on the role as an AHL enforcer in previous seasons. Chris Phillips who is clearly Ottawa’s #1 defensemen has 7 points and is tied with Chris Campoli through 24 games. All of that being said, you can’t help but to think Brian Murray is kicking tires to try and improve this bleak blueline. You also can’t help but to wonder what it would be like to actually have an impact player on the blueline in Ottawa, such as the one they lost to the Boston Bruins via free agency years ago, AKA Zdeno Chara.

There are bright spots in Ottawa early on. Their record indicates a vast improvement from that of last season. Heatley is no longer there and a promising Milan Michalek seems to be just getting started. Pascal Leclaire will eventually be back, in the meantime, a pretty solid Brian Elliot will tend between the pipes. Alex Kovalev will eventually score some goals in crucial situations, while Jonathan Cheechoo might just flirt with the Rocket Richard trophy on a few occasions. Things aren’t all that bad in the Nation’s Capital. In fact, some might say they are much improved. If you’re a Senators fan, there is one thing you can be sure of however, Brian Murray is well aware of the list of tasks at hand.

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