-The Sens went 2-2 since I last wrote, narrowly beating the hapless Buffalo 2-1 (boxscore), losing to powerhouse Los Angeles 5-2 (boxscore), defeating St. Louis 3-2 in overtime (boxscore), and then dropping a disappointing effort 5-2 to the mediocre Devils (boxscore and Amelia L‘s excellent recap; the game featured Marc Methot as a healthy scratch). The latter loss sent Paul MacLean over the top and he blasted the team afterward:
We’re an inconsistent group. We can’t get the puck out of our zone. We play good against good teams. We play bad against teams below us. That’s just a lack of focus, a lack of leadership and that’s a lack of us wanting to play in the National Hockey League and be an elite team. We are a long, long way from being an elite team.
No one can argue with MacLean about the team’s inconsistency or them not being elite, but the shot at leadership is interesting. Jason Spezza has been a target of criticism throughout his career, but media darlings Chris Phillips and Chris Neil are sacrosanct in print/radio and I don’t doubt that the focus from local journalists will remain fixated on the captain (it does make you wonder if MacLean misses having Daniel Alfredsson in the room). Regardless, the comment smacks of desperation (as does the insertion of Matt Kassian into the lineup for tonight’s game). Is MacLean truly at the end of his rope? At some point I thought we might see his line combinations come in line with analytics, but whatever stock the coaching staff puts into Corsi et al it clearly does not sway the many gut feels we see game-in and game-out. The various closed-door meetings seem pretty useless to me–has any team turned it around in the regular season because of a meeting? Needless to say, the fanbase is collectively losing it’s shit.
-Travis Yost explores the data to see which forwards are weighing down their linemates and the long trend of Spezza‘s bad season is obvious (Jeremy Milks argues he could use consistent wingers, which is true), whose only real compatriot is Milan Michalek (the two really stand well below anyone else). Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur are outstanding (as expected), and Mika Zibanejad‘s numbers continue to demonstrate he’s underutilized.
-Varada warms the cockles of my heart by talking about the most annoying term of analysis in hockey: compete level.
I think that trying to quantify “effort” in pro sports is a game of diminishing returns—if you’re looking to consistently gain advantage over another group of pro athletes, “trying harder” or raising your “compete level” probably isn’t the way to do it. Some teams or players have lazy moments, but I would wager those are extremely insignificant outliers on an overall level of competition that, to us mere mortals, is unfathomable. Everybody tries hard. I suspect that when I hear “effort,” like when I hear “focus” or “leadership” or “grit,” what I’m actually hearing is an easy substitution for any number of more nuanced and complex reasons for why a team might stink. Effort is always unquantifiable, so, there can always be more of it. What’s worrisome is that you hear these platitudes the most from Paul MacLean. Now, MacLean isn’t exactly going to get up in front of the media and outline the Xs and Os of his playbook for all the world to see. What else is he going to say other than, “We need to get ready for the next game, prepare properly, and raise our compete level”? But I’m telling you—if this is what the players are getting in the dressing room, I don’t know how mad we can be about the Sens’ current record. After almost half a season of hearing about compete level, it’s starting to sound obnoxiously disconnected from the real world.
This is sweet, sweet music to my ears. I want to punch every hack who goes on about “compete level” or any other effort-related euphemism and those punches are going to go Paul MacLean’s way soon if he doesn’t shut up about it. Varada is absolutely correct that coach’s aren’t going to detail the specific flaws in their team or players, but they need to mix it up a little–many fans take to heart that a player isn’t trying hard, apparently unaware of the fact that you can’t be a regular NHL player without working your ass off. Players sometimes make bad decisions, but the effort is always there.
-Despite the disappointing season, Eugene Melnyk is negotiating to extend Bryan Murray. This comes as no surprise as the faults this year largely lay in the lap of the owner rather than the GM.
-Binghamton lost both its games since I last wrote, dropping a 5-2 decision to Utica (boxscore and Jeff Ulmer‘s recap) and then a 7-4 game to Hershey (boxscore and Jeff‘s recap). Andrew Hammond took both losses as Luke Richardson wasn’t willing to play his now-released PTO goalie. Despite the long losing streak, Richardson remains positive, in contrast to MacLean. Admittedly, Luke is under a lot less pressure, but I prefer his handling of the B-Sens. The return of Nathan Lawson will definitely help matters.
-I took at look at how Sens prospects and players on AHL contracts are performing in Elmira.
-Speaking of prospects, Peter Morrow writes about the Sens prospects (focussing on those in junior), but doesn’t offer much analysis.
-Mikael Wikstrand has joined Frolunda, having clearly outgrown the Allsvenskan.
-SkinnyFish takes a look at Steve Simmons inability to remain consistent (along with his struggle with analytics)–a problem many of his colleagues share.
-The Raaymaker departs from his usual poorly thought out opinion pieces to review Stan Fischler’s Behind the Net. Hockey books aren’t generally my thing, but for those interested he provides a reasonable summary of the contents.
-The NHL is talking expansion and the usual chestnuts of Las Vegas and Seattle are being floated. The former has been described as an option since the 1980s while the latter has come up since the 90s. I can’t say the chatter excites me at all.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)