Daniel Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators take on the Montreal Canadiens Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.
Read up on the latest tidbits and trends as Hockey Night in Canada's play-by-play voice Jim Hughson takes you behind the scenes and into the game.
This Week's Work: Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens | Oct. 16, 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT (CBC, CBCSports.ca)
The Ottawa Senators held a players-only meeting two games and five days into the season. The Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins did the same in the midst of their shaky start. Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk have been in fights, John McLean threw the Devils off the ice at the morning skate for Game 4, James Wisniewski lost his marbles. And do you think there might be a Sutter brother ready to punch out a Brahma bull over the Flames bungled beginning?
Why is this news? Because it's mid October for crying out Crosby!
Every year, but especially since teams started getting points win or lose, the urgency in the chase of early season points has become greater and the thought of teams working their way into a season retired with Mariusz Czerkawski.
There is good reason to have an early 'game on' attitude. Since the lockout the five teams posting the best October records have all made the playoffs and the 2007 Ducks (9-0-3) won the Stanley Cup.
In that time no team with a sub .500 October has gone to the final. In fact the last sub .500 October team to win the Cup was the 1990 Edmonton Oilers and only three teams since the expansion of 1967 have won while failing to get 10 points from their first ten games. It hasn't happened in 29 years and seems even less likely in the loser point era.
Teams that stumble early find it hard to catch a pack playing three point games. The Leafs and Panthers were teams buried by Halloween last year.
The Rangers, on the other hand, had a seven-game October winning streak, then scuffled but stayed in the race because of the cushion. Montreal went 7-7 with six wins in overtime or shoot-outs. The Habs made the playoffs on the last day of the season but would have been history in November without extra time magic. And the Senators earned points from eight of their first ten games last season and still only made the playoffs by six.
We used to say that "it's a marathon not a sprint" but could it be the NHL, with so many points available, has turned into an 82 game dash?
Ottawa held off Carolina and got its first win Thursday while the Habs got a good road game together in Buffalo last night and now need to bring that home and get Carey Price his first win at the Bell Centre since February.
Both teams need some traction so this is an early season game that should have some bite.
In the spotlight
The goaltending controversy is apparently over in Ottawa already. Pascal Leclaire was hurt against Carolina so Brian Elliott has the net for now.
Leclaire has now missed games with 12 different injuries, four in two years with Ottawa, and he's only 27 years old. Elliott is capable but streaky. He went 20-9-1 after the first of January last season and had winning streaks of nine and six games but couldn't hold it together in the playoffs nor could he win the job outright in training camp.
On the hot stove
Ottawa's power play finally scored on its eighteenth opportunity and provided the game winner against Carolina but it came close to giving up a short-handed goal that would have lost the game and the number one unit still hasn't scored. Sergei Gonchar has played almost every power-play minute so far and he'll figure out the personnel in time. With three players (Gonchar, Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev) amongst the top ten active power-play scorers, the man advantage should be deadly but so far Kovalev can't crack the first unit, Gonchar is playing the left side ( he was on the right in Pittsburgh) and there hasn't been anyone playing the front of the net.
Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta have only a goal between them in the first four games and while the sample size is small the Canadiens second line needs to be more of a scoring threat. Part of the problem is the Canadiens are short one forward for their top six. Already Benoit Pouliot has been moved off and Travis Moen onto the second line but that won't likely last long. Lars Eller is probably best suited to the position as soon as Jacques Martin decides to stop treating him like a rookie.
A few coaches have gone grey trying to figure out the best way to deal with Kovalev. One of the games most gifted players Kovalev can also be indolent for long periods of time. Cory Clouston looks like he's sending an early message by taking away power-play time and putting Kovalev on a fourth line in hopes he wakes up or just to get him out of the way. But he'll never break Kovalev and he's surely going to need him. Turning against him may turn him off. Young coaches seldom win a stare down with a star, especially this one.
Interesting to watch the development of two promising young defencemen, P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson. They're both prominent now, in the absence of veterans Andrei Markov and Filip Kuba, showing flashes of brilliance while making costly mistakes. Not often two young D-men play as much in so many situations as these two and they're bound to be in a lot of replays on Saturday night.
From the stat pack
The Canadiens will clearly rejoice at the return of the all-star Markov. His presence is easily measured by the success of the power play and wins and losses.
Montreal with Markov last two season: 66-40-17, .536%
Montreal without Markov last two seasons: 16-24-4, .364%
Power play with Markov: 43/185, 23.2%
Power play without Markov: 27/153, 17.6%
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