Archive for February, 2013

February 27, 2013

Rydin’ Dirty: Canadiens Acquire Michael Ryder

by Jacob Saltiel

Yes, Joe, I’m listening… Go on…

Michael Ryder returns, and likely with him the bitter refrain from RDS analysts saying “O quelle mauvais jeu par Ryder!” While Erik Cole was an excellent player for the Habs, it’s almost certain the Canadiens win this trade. Joe Nieuwendyk might still be better at NHL hockey than NHL management.

Habs’ Plunder

Since leaving Montreal, Ryder’s scored two season of 27+ goals, and been a complementary offensive player in the other two seasons. Last year (35 goals) was his most productive since leaving Flambeau Field. He’s 32 and on an expiring $3.5m/yr contract, and he’s been as effective this year, scoring 14 points in 19 games. In addition, the Habs receive a 3rd round draft pick. Oh, and Cole, who was 2 years older, and signed for 2 additional seasons after this one at $4.5m/yr, immediately comes off the books.

When you add it up, the Canadiens got a younger player who produces about as much offence as the one they traded away, additional cap space this year ($1m), a 3rd round pick, and also cap flexibility this summer. While Cole’s veteran leadership (unquantifiable, but the media reports that it exists), and grit will be missed, does anyone believe that the Canadiens didn’t get the best year of that contract last year?

Seeing Stars

The assumption is that Nieuwendyk’s team-building strategy is to hire players who played in the league during his career. Cole will join Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr for an elderly group of forwards. He might even be effective. It’s not as if the Stars need the cap space, but it’s a curious move, since Cole may well decline over the course of the rest of this deal.

Darren Dreger commented on TSN that this move was driven by the Dallas ‘brain trust’ of Nieuwendyk, Mark Recchi, and Bob Gainey. Ol’ Dregs must have been performing satire by referring to that group as a brain trust, since they’re neither trustworthy, nor particularly cerebral when it’s come to recent trades and acquisitions. Leaving aside that Dr. Recchi once tried to diagnose a player on another team with faking his own death at the hands of Chara, here are some moves that occured with some combination of those 3 in charge:

– James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski.

– Goligoski immediately signed to $4.6m/year extension until 2016.

– Brad Richards leaves as a free agent for nothing;.

– Steve Ott and Adam Pardy (WHO LIKES TO PARDY?!) traded for 1 year of Derek Roy (UFA this summer).

– Signed a 40 year old Ray Whitney to a 2 year contract, when CBA rules means that his number stays on the salary cap even if Planet Earth explodes as David Attenborough narrates “Witness… the vast fury of the cosmos…”

–  Drawing out RFA negotiations with Jamie Benn, then signing him to a $5.25m/yr contract that doesn’t lock him up for many of his UFA years. So, it’s neither a savings, nor will it stop Benn from skipping town when he’s 28.

Despite this, Dallas is in 6th place in the West. They’ve played more games than anyone but Columbus and Nashville, and are only 2 points out of 10th. It’s unclear if anyone can remember the last time they made the playoffs.

Now, Cole may produce as much offence as Ryder did. Even if he doesn’t, he’s a grittier player. The real worry though is Nieuwendyk’s apparent determination to play older veterans. For example, of his core forwards, 4 of them (Cole, Whitney, Jagr, Morrow) are in their mid-30’s or early 40’s, and Derek Roy is turning 30 in May.

Leaving aside whether older players are more or less injury prone, the issue is that all of them are known commodities. Is it conceivable that any of them improve their production? Cole had a career year last year, but that might be the high water mark. For each of them, the odds are more likely that they begin to decline. So, Joe, your team is in 6th, can dive to 10th at any moment, and over the last 4 years has finished 10th, 9th, 12th, and 12th. No high draft picks and no playoffs. Fantastic work threading that needle.

In the meantime, Dallas reduced their flexibility with Cole’s contract, and gave away a draft pick.

The Verdict

Marc Bergevin made a shrewd move. Even though the Habs are 1st place, he’s still making moves that clear cap space for the upcoming summer. Remember that this summer, the following players may be UFAS: Clarkson, Clowe, Perry, and Getzlaf. While Cole is a good player, he was never going to gain more value as a trade chip or player. In selling high, Bergevin acquire a player who may replace Cole’s offence, and somehow extorted a 3rd round pick out of the process.

February 22, 2013

Ruff In the Jungle Business: Sabres Suck, Ruff Dumped

by Jacob Saltiel
Buffalo Sabres v Carolina Hurricanes - Game 5

Frig off, Lindy

Everybody Dumps

With 13 points earned out of a possible 36 and looking up at every team in the Eastern conference standings except for the putrid Washington Capitals, the Buffalo Sabres dumped Lindy Ruff.

By all accounts Ruff, a Team Canada coach at the last Olympics, is an excellent coach. Despite this, the Sabres were, by most measures this season, an abominable team, even with the league’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek. This says more about Regier then it does about Ruff. Although on The Backhand Shelf podcast the Sabres were considered a good team, they have some terrible contracts, a bad group of defencemen, and not a lot of depth up front.

Hard Math

Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown fame made an especial point of the team’s awful construction in his “The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek page. And rightfully so. Ehrhoff and Myers, who make a combined $9.5m/year have contracts that extend further than the page. The cosmically overpaid Ville Leino makes $4.5m/year till 2017. For some reason, Andrej Sekera makes $2.75m/year, which can only be the result of a rounding error or a malfunctioning calculator during his contract negotiations. Tally it up and that’s $16.75m/year in players who are either dead weight or badly overpaid. Sure, Myers is young and can still improve, but would anyone trade for any of the other 3?

Forward, Always Forward

While it’s true that Vanek, Hodgson, Pominville, and Ennis have all been extremely productive, after that, the forward depth drops off. Stafford continues to produce less than he’s capable of*, while Foligno, a 2nd year player is playing well. Ott provides value in other ways, but after that things get messy.

Hecht is washed up. Gerbe is probably overmatched and is essentially a worse version of Ennis. Scott, Kaleta, McCormick, and Ellis all kind of do the same thing, which is hit and nothing else- and that’s fully a third (1/3, 33%) of the team’s forwards. McCormick and Ellis, when they do play, get about 6 minutes of icetime. Scott gets 3:51, and Kaleta 9 minutes.

Those players were given to Ruff to use however he sees fit. Should he play his 3rd and 4th liners more and, thus, expose their shortcomings further?

Who Will Defend This House?

Look at the defencemen playing in Buffalo and choose one of them, any one of them that you’d trade anything for.

True, Ehrhoff is offensively productive (a respectable 10 points in 17 games), but he’s not known to be a strong defensive player. Myers’ offensive output has declined every year since his great rookie season. The rest of the Buffalo D fall into either the category of “offensive defencemen who don’t produce offence” or “defensive defencemen who aren’t known to be good puck movers or skaters”. Sort Sulzer, Regehr, Weber, Leopold, and Sekeraj into those categories. You have 1 minute; go.

When Ryan Miller’s off his game, and as they comment on the Backhand Shelf podcast above, he’s let in some absolute howlers this season, do you really expect the above group of defencemen to lock down other teams? The team’s tied for 2nd most goals allowed in the conference, and it likely has more to do with their personnel than anything else.

Ruff Goodbye

What exactly was Ruff to do with this? Of the underachieving players are Myers, Miller, and Stafford. But what are the expectations for guys like Sulzer, Sekeraj, and Weber on D, and Gerbe, Scott, and Leino up front? Miller’s regression is unexpected, given his general standard of quality throughout his career, but is that really Ruff’s fault?

Now, maybe the Sabres benefit from the usual bounce that seems to come with firing a coach and bringing in a new voice. Even with that, it’s unclear what’s supposed to improve dramatically for this bunch. Of the poorly conceived longterm extensions on that CapGeek page, the most critical one doesn’t appear- Regier’s. Extended at the start of this season after his off-season signings from the year before proved to be poor, the real change will come for this group when they acquire a new general manager.

As an example of Ruff’s effect, watch this clip from a game last season between the Canadiens and Sabres. About 1:10 in, you’ll notice a faceoff with just a couple of seconds remaining in the period. The highlight doesn’t show Ruff drawing up the play beforehand, but you can see the result. The meticulously prepared Sabres score a goal after a couple of quick passes where some teams might be tempted to believe that there’s insufficient time left on the clock. This is an example of excellent coaching, and it’s unclear how Ruff suddenly became a deadbeat between last year and this year.

For Regier, one can clearly see him losing his way simply by tracing his managerial moves for the past several seasons.


*Stafford’s got an amusingly low shot% of 2.1 though, which’ll probably improve so long as he keeps shooting (5th on the team with 48 shots on net).

February 18, 2013

Do I Regurgitate Myself? I Regurgitate Myself: Revisiting Pre-Season Predictions

by Jacob Saltiel

How You Doin’?

14 games in, the Canadiens are in 5th place in the East. They’ve  mixed in some brilliant games, such as Saturday’s victory of Philadelphia, with some troubling losses to Toronto, (the infamous 6-0 beatdown) and a poor Buffalo team (5-4 collapse). Despite this, the Canadiens have proven themselves capable of taking care of business more often than not, and with some internal improvement can start moving up the Eastern conference ladder, especially with the injuries to key players in Ottawa and Toronto.

With over a quarter of the season gone, let’s examine some idiotic things a certain hockey blogger forecasted in the preseason:

1. Penalty MURDAH

January 18th, from “More Grit, But Will There Be More Wins?”:

“On the penalty kill, the greatest improvement Therrien might cause is scaring the holy hell out of his players to cut down on their penalty minutes, giving penalty killers Plekanec and Gorges more time at 5-on-5. Last year the Canadiens spent 521 minutes and 26 seconds killing penalties. That was the most time spent on the PK in the entire league and, were the penalties strung together consecutively, represents 8.6 entire games in the box. That’s more than 10% of the season down a player, and that needs to change.”

As of this morning, the Canadiens remain 28th in the league for time shorthanded with 108:24 minutes. Despite that, they’ve actually spent 7 minutes and 38 seconds more on the powerplay. While it is nice that they still have more time outnumbering the opposition, the Canadiens still need to learn to take fewer penalties to keep their players fresh at the end of games.

When the Canadiens lost 5-4 to Buffalo, coughing up 3 goals in 6 minutes at the end of the game, a lot of haterade was passed around to Ryan White for his double-minor for roughing. In total, the Canadiens racked up 16 minutes of penalties for the game, meaning that for more than a quarter of the game, someone was in the box for something. Might the crumble have been the result of chasing extra players for much of the evening?

Keep in mind also, Lars Eller has the highest faceoff win % of all Canadiens centres with an even 50%. He’s also taken the fewest faceoffs amongst centres, with even Alex Galchenyuk (43.8%) having taken a few more. Penalty killing can’t possibly be helped by mediocre faceoff skills, so the Canadiens would do better to avoid such situations.

As for penalty killing statistics, the Canadiens are a middle of the pack 14th in PK%, though they rank 18th in the league with 12 powerplay goals allowed.

Even if the Habs have a good record to this point of the season, the penalty kill and penalty minutes remain areas of desired improvement.

2. Galchenyuk in MTL

On January 16th, the following was written about the decision of whether or not to keep Galchenyuk with the NHL team:

“The only justification for keeping Galchenyuk in the lineup this year is if Bergevin seriously believes that he will make the difference between lifting the Cup and not.”

To date, Galchenyuk’s played well, scoring 8 points, usually on a line with the now-concussed Brendan Gallagher and the crusty veteran Prust. That column was never about whether or not Galchenyuk could play in the NHL, but if it were desirable to fast track him there.

While he’s been a good 3rd-line centre for the Habs, his faceoff mediocrity (cited above), combined with the necessity to play him all season has rendered Eller an awkward piece in the lineup.

The Canadiens now have Eller playing in a non-scoring role, or out of position as a winger. In both cases, his potential is being wasted and he might have used that 3rd line role occupied by Galchenyuk to greater effect this season. Sure, with the glut of offensive centres the Canadiens have on the team, Eller might have had to be traded eventually to make room for Galchenyuk, but with more ice time and offensive role, he’d have been given a better opportunity to increase his value as a trade piece.

As for Galchenyuk, he played well to start the season, but has tailed off slightly and cannot necessarily be trusted in pressure situations, limiting Therrien’s tactical options. On the powerplay, he’s been so-so while adjusting to NHL special teams strategies.

All in all, was it worth it? Is it credible that the Canadiens maintain their rank in the standings all season and enter the playoffs as serious contenders?

3. Traded Last Season, Bourque Finally Arrives in Montreal

January 15th:

“Rene Bourque is signed until 2016. 

Think about that. Think about 4 more seasons of watching him make children cry and grown men curse with his lackadaisical play, and even if- even if!- Kaberle’s cap hit is nearly a million more than his, Bourque’s 3.33m/year salary lasts far longer than Kaberle’s.  The only players signed for longer than Bourque on the Habs today are Pacioretty, Gorges, and Price. Bourque, 31, doesn’t play with the grit or have the defensive awareness to play on the 3rd or 4th lines, and will essentially be a handicap on the team’s spending until 2016.

2016.  Four more years. That’s a long time.”

Since then, Bourque has gone on to tie Markov and Diaz for second in points scored by a Canadien, with 10.

More importantly, he’s done so by playing a linear game that maximizes his size and strength. It seems an awful lot as if Therrien took a map of a hockey rink, drew a big arrow to the front of the oppontent’s net, and told Bourque to drive there every single time Plekanec, Gionta, or anything else wearing blue, red, and white have the puck facing the right direction.

It’s not a complicated directive, but one that complements Plekanec’s skills as a puckcarrier and passer and leaves opposing defences with little choice but to give more space to Bourque’s linemates. He can’t be left alone in front of the net, leaving a simple but nerve-wracking dilemma for the competition.

Kaberle, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen outside of the pressbox in some time.

4. Hold the Line

The Canadiens defence hasn’t changed much from last year, but the return of Markov has been crucial. On January 14th, BGS predicted as much:

“Looking ahead to this year, the Canadiens defence could improve, with the addition by subtraction of Campoli,who had 32 turnovers in 43 games, or a similar amount as guys who played at least 30 more games like CorvoWhite, andBoychuk. The return to health of Markov (as long as it lasts), and the depth addition of Bouillon should also help.”

Markov’s Matrix-like ability to anticipate the play, pass surgically, and appear in strange places to score is a welcome addition to the lineup. Playing even-strength with Emelin and on the man-advantage with Diaz has maximized the hitting and passing talents, respectively, of both players.

After Subban’s return, the top-6 has been solid and capable chipping in a decent bit of offence (Diaz and Markov are tied for second on team scoring with 10 points each). Subban playing in a shutdown role with Gorges has been excellent, and as a whole the group’s toughness has been improved over season’s past.

February 18, 2013

Plumbing the Depths, Item #31257620: Desjardins to Lightning, Tokarski to Montreal

by Jacob Saltiel

Nice colours.

Late last week, the Canadiens made a minor move, trading Cedrick Desjardins to Tampa Bay for Dustin Tokarski.

So what?

Desjardins has been a very good goalie at the AHL level, he’s 27, only 6″0, and judging by the transactions tug-of-war between Tampa Bay and Montreal over his rights, Guy Boucher has a huge crush on him. He’s got sensational numbers at the AHL level, but has very little NHL experience. Might he be good? Well, Boucher seems to get the most out of the players he has on hand, so if he’s going to show anything, Tampa Bay is the place to do it.

Dustin Tokarski is the second Lightning goaltender traded to Montreal for Desjardins in 3 years, and he can hardly be less valuable than Karri Ramo. Speaking of which, has anyone seen Karri Ramo? Does anyone know where he is?

Tokarski’s most distinguishing accomplishment is the gold medal he won at the WJC’s with Canada in 2009. Since then, he’s quietly worked in the minors, improving his game. While it’s hard to extrapolate much from his minor-league numbers, it is curious that Yzerman was keen to give up on a still youngish goalie (23 years old) in exchange for Desjardins. He’s actually played 5 more NHL games in his career than Desjardins, but those games shouldn’t make up too many lines on his CV. This might be because he’s been called up to play on defensively-neglectful Lightning teams over the past couple of years.

Tokarski, like Desjardins, is also not very big at 5″11. Given a couple of years maybe he turns into a backup for Price once Budaj leaves, but to expect more than that might be silly.

February 14, 2013

Attrition, Episode #835179: Karlsson is Broken

by Jacob Saltiel
Pittsburgh Penguins v Vancouver Canucks

Kiss the Ring

Though Ottawa fans will be sure that Matt Cooke spent years in a basement collecting magazine clippings and meticulously planning an assassination, Karlsson was hurt on a routine check gone horribly wrong last night. Considering that Cooke will escape punishment, two issues arise in connection with this play :

1) What this means for the Ottawa Senators


2) What this means for the perception of Matt Cooke

Depth Charge!

The most recent post on BGS described the depth of the Senators as impressive. In the wake of Spezza’s back injury, it appeared that with callups and the improvement of some young players on the roster that they would be in good shape. Can the Senators repeat this trick without Karlsson?

The number they have to replace isn’t only the 65 on the back of Karlsson’s jersey, but the 27:03 of icetime he averaged a night. One might have expected Old Man Gonchar to take over some of Karlsson’s powerplay time and even strength minutes, but he’s already averaging 24:14 a night, and he’s 38.

Beyond Gonchar, it’s unclear who’ll take over the puck-moving responsibilities. Methot and Phillips are both stay-at-home defencemen. Andre Benoit has played well in the minors in an offensive role, but only gets 15 minutes of ice time a night in the big leagues. His D-partner, the unpronounceable Wiercioch has shown that he can play the powerplay in the minors, is gigantic at 6″5, and can stand to play more minutes. He’s also a rookie and it’s unclear if he can play upwards of 20 minutes a night at this stage of his career.

On the farm, it’s not obvious who, if anyone, can fill those minutes. So if you’re a Senators fan, please enjoy the Mike Lundin experience.

Matt Cooke is Popping Bottles on a Cruise Ship in the Caribbean and Shanahan Can’t Do a Thing

In recent times, Canadiens fans have watched a player on their team have his neck broken on what looked awfully like an illegal hit from behind. In general, the media characterized Chara’s hit on Pacioretty as accidental, and just one of those things that happen in a hockey game, and mostly the fault of the architect of the Bell Centre for having the stanchions constructed in that way. On the part of those media members who explained away Chara’s recklessness, that was an incredible* display of rhetorical gymnastics.

Many Senators fans will feel the same way about anyone who suggests that Cooke did not intend to injure Karlsson. The difference, however, is that Chara is a player with a nice reputation who happened to do an abominable thing. Cooke lived in a darkly grey moral area until very recently when he cleaned up his act. While I’m not sure that everyone should go overboard congratulating Cooke for finally agreeing not to establish a hockey career by intentionally injuring the opposition, that doesn’t mean that this hit is a return to the bad old days.

Paul Maclean disagrees, as he was quoted as saying the following: “We all know who’s involved in it”. The logic to Maclean, and probably Sens fans by extension, is that because it was Cooke, it must have been intentional. In Chara’s case, the logic worked in the other direction: it could not have been intentional, it was Chara! And he’s our friend (mumbled media members everywhere).

This example of prejudice against Cooke might make more sense had Karlsson been blindsided with an elbow or shoulder to the head, as in the cases of Marc Savard and Ryan McDonagh. That type of hit was all too common earlier in Cooke’s career.

Have a look here, and here, and here.

The play that injured Karlsson last night bears no resemblance to the types of predatory hits that Cooke made himself an NHL career with. In fact, Aaron Ward, on TSN’s hockey panel last night, did an excellent job of explaining how this kind of hit, the ‘hit and pin’, actually does happen throughout every NHL game, and even pointed to a few examples from the Calgary-Minnesota game he was supposed to have been commenting on.

People will recall that when Jordan Staal’s foot got lacerated in the playoffs in 2010, there were some in Pittsburgh who were mad enough to blame Subban for doing this intentionally.

As with the Staal-Subban example, this injury was caused by the fact that two players were skating hard near one another, and in the sport of hockey they happen to have sharpened metal skids attached to their feet. These kinds of things happen, and while that might not lessen the blow to Senators fans, it does not mean that Cooke meant to do it. The decision not to suspend him is the right one.


*As in not, not at all credible.

February 11, 2013

ARMS RACE: Northeast Division Roundup January 27-February 10

by Jacob Saltiel

Hungry for Battle

Northeast Division Roundup is a recurring column covering the Canadiens and the teams they play the most, their divisional rivals.

Boston Bruins – Bear on Bear Crime

For those of you who don’t know, a bruin is a form of bear. This is symbolically fascinating because Shawn Thornton was recently mauled by a bear in the middle of a hockey game. The bear’s name was John Scott, and it’s unclear how Lindy Ruff taught him to skate, but however that happened it’s bad news for every other goon in the league.

Thornton can blame his concussion not so much on John Scott repeatedly feeding him, rights, lefts, and more rights and lefts, but on the antics of Milan Lucic last season. Lucic started the fire by running over Ryan Miller. If the NHL doesn’t suspend Lucic sufficiently, very few players in the league can actually fight him without getting mauled, so he can pretty much get away with dirty plays that other players can’t. This fact screws with the primitive form of retributive justice that makes up the NHL’s code.

Accordingly, the Sabres went out and acquired a player who could fight Lucic, but has no other hockey skills. Because the Bruins are smart, they aren’t going to allow a useful player like Chara or Lucic to fight an otherwise useless player like Scott. This is how Thornton found himself staring up at an extra from Grizzly Man before his brain got tenderized.

Cynical as always, Julien tried to put his other goon, Lane MacDermid out against actual hockey players on the Sabres at the end of the game, and then the Bruins complained bitterly when Ruff called a timeout and his bluff so that he could put Scott back out there.

Julien knows better than anyone that violence begets violence. He and Chiarelli have no one to blame but themselves for the recent arms race for variously tough, gritty, and thuggish players in the Northeast division.

Buffalo Sabres – Stafford To Appear on Milk Cartons Soon

Overshadowed by Vanek’s recent trend of playing like the net is 4 times as large for him compared to any other player is Drew Stafford’s ineffective play. Stafford is a big winger (6″2, 214lbs)  who’s scored 20 goals or more 3 times in the last 4 seasons. He’s occasionally capable of doing things like this. Except this year, he’s produced nothing more than a few assists. The Sabres don’t appear to be able to play defence very well (as of Super Bowl Sunday, they’ve given up 10 more goals than the Leafs, who have allowed the next most goals in the division), so they’re going to need Ennis and Stafford to make something happen if they’re going to stay in games. To this point in Stafford’s career, he’s been prone to stretches of unproductive play. For his $4m/year salary he might want to pitch in a little more, or Furious Ruff and the Sabres will prevent Ric Jeanneret from blowing up microphones in the post-season for another year.

Montreal Canadiens – Pressure Drop

In some ways, the past couple of weeks have been very encouraging for the Canadiens. Superbowl Weekend saw the Canadiens add 4 points to the standings in a thoroughly convincing beatdown of the Sabres and an undeserved 2 points against the Senators. They followed this with a narrow loss to a Bruins team that could have been another solid beatdown without the performance of Tuukka Rask. A night later, what should have been another 2 points against Buffalo turned into a 1 point shootout loss because of the unlucky combination of the second Ryan White Meltdown in a week and a last second goal that should never have counted. Let’s not even mention that hammering by the Leafs and the various ignominies that occurred throughout. Over this period, Pernell returned to the lineup and has played better with each passing game, despite somehow being named the most hated player in the NHL by Sports Illustrated.

Last year, the Canadiens spent the most amount of time shorthanded in the entire NHL. Even with a strong penalty kill and Carey Price in nets, this team will need to cut down on penalties, and by extension shorthanded goals, if they’re going to improve their position in the standings. Since the Canadiens are unlikely to win by 5 every night as they did in Buffalo, they’ll need to increase their chances of winning 1-goal games by putting games in the referees’ whistles. This isn’t an attack on the referees, who, as mentioned in Kerry Fraser’s article linked to above, are occasionally “screened out” and hence unable to see crucial plays in a game.

The careless use of sticks- Subban’s returned along with his traditional slashing minors- and a lack of comprehension about opportune moments about dropping the gloves- step right up, Mr. White- can swing games, and this is a key area for Therrien to address not just to the main offenders, but to the whole team.

Especially since the Canadiens have yet to play against strong teams such as the Penguins, Rangers, or Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Ottawa Senators

Even without Jason Spezza, the Senators are a tough team. From the 27th of January to the 8th of February, all but one of their games was decided by a single goal. The other game was a 5-1 victory over the Canadiens. Their record, was 3-2-2. How is this possible?

The Senators are one of the few NHL teams with enough depth in young players that injuries at the NHL level can be mitigated by call-ups. Usually, a call-up will be filler, at best a player who can take a few shifts to give the established players a rest, but the young Senators have players that might contribute a little more. Spezza goes down? Here comes Zibanejad. Latendresse is injured (again)? Here comes Da Costa, a highly touted free agent signing from France a couple of seasons ago.

Consider also that the young and talented Jared Cowen never made it to opening day with a hip injury, and that he may never appear this season. That the Senators stay in games and continue to win shows how deep their team and farm team are.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs went 2-1 in a series of one goal games. They played the Bruins close, getting choked out 1-0, but won in OT against the Sabres and in regulation against the Capitals. The latter two teams might not be very good, but keeping it close with Boston is impressive. When Lupul went down shortly after signing a long-term extension, it might have been a problem for the scoring depth of the forwads, but Frattin stepped right up and has been quite productive since receiving the opportunity. Frattin, Kadri, and Van Riemsdyk have 16 goals between them, which is respectable for the young forwards.

The awakening of Kessel coincides with the Leafs winning a couple of games, including a 6-0 pasting of the Canadiens.

It’s still too early to tell whether Carlyle’s defensive emphasis will succeed with the personnel on that team, particularly with their putrid 4th line. They should, however, be able to score goals. Now, if anyone can figure out who Mike Kostka is and how he continues to get minutes. Does he have dirty photographs of Randy Carlyle at a Christmas party in his luggage? WHERE DID HE COME FROM?!