To get a sense of how panicked Ottawa Senators fans are after their team got crushed in consecutive games in New York against the Rangers, you need look no further than last night’s Twitter trends.
Right up at the top for the nation’s capital: Chris Neil.
Yes, tough guy Chris Neil, who had struggled so badly this season he was considered unplayable towards the end of the year. Yes, plodding, 37-year-old Chris Neil, whom the Senators trusted so much they went out and acquired a bunch of depth players like Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg so they wouldn’t have to play him anymore.
Listen, I understand the urge to want to change something, anything, to turn around a series that’s gone a little askew, but flipping out generally makes things worse, not better.
So, with a day off between games, let’s slow down a moment and debunk a few of the narratives that could lead to some unintentionally dumb moves.
1. Tanner Glass has CHANGED THE SERIES!
Has Tanner Glass had a couple of nice games here for the New York Rangers? Sure. Is his contribution being overstated due to hockey’s love affair with “grit” and “sandpaper” and “energy guys?” Unquestionably. Tanner Glass played 11 games during the regular season, scoring one goal and one assist. Yet we are being led to believe that he’s the glue holding together a team that racked up 102 points this season, mostly without him. “But he has three assists already this series!” Great, they are all secondary assists. Where are all the “Oscar Lindberg (the guy who actually scored all three of those goals) has changed the series” headlines? Or how about the “Heavily favoured Rangers take advantage of home ice and all its related advantages to change series” headlines? Or the “Ottawa’s best player is so injured he appears near tears on the bench tonight” headlines?
2. The series needed to be changed.
We’re all acting here like the Senators were dominating the series before God-Man Tanner Glass came in and changed everything. Frankly, the Senators are lucky to be tied in this series, and could well have been eliminated already. They won Game 1 on kind of a fluky shot with less than five minutes remaining. They played well in that game, but it could have gone either way. Game 2 should have been a loss. The odds of Ottawa coming back to tie after being down two goals with less than four minutes remaining were astronomically low. What we started to see in Games 4 and 5 was outcomes starting to match what was actually happening on the ice.
3. The Senators need their own Tanner Glass!
We’ve already debunked the Tanner Glass thing, but let’s look at some of the rationales presented to me for putting a guy like Chris Neil in the lineup. A) He’ll bring some much-needed energy and “compete level” to the lineup. Who honestly believes anyone playing in a second-round NHL playoff series isn’t “competing?” I have no doubt that the players currently in the lineup are trying their absolute hardest to win. They might look like they aren’t competing because a better, faster New York team is skating them out of the rink. But this isn’t a “try” thing. Making the Senators slower to try to beat a faster squad is very George Costanza, but the “do the opposite” thing doesn’t really work in real life. B) If tough guy Chris Neil is in the lineup, the Rangers will stop taking liberties with Erik Karlsson. This is beyond absurd. *Rangers dressing room* “Gentlemen, it is my difficult responsibility to inform you that Chris Neil is in the lineup tonight. I cannot stress enough that we must not target our opponent’s best player. A Stanley Cup is just a trophy. Our safety is paramount.”
4. It’s time for a goaltending change. Mike Condon has been “clutch” this season.
Craig Anderson, who was pulled last night, isn’t having an ideal series, but goaltending doesn’t follow a straight line any more than goal-scoring does. The fact of the matter is that Craig Anderson was a .926 goaltender this season and might have challenged for a Vezina had he played the full season. Mike Condon, despite all the stories we’ve been told about him “saving” the Senators this season, was at .914. He’s a decent backup, nothing more.
Play worse players to get better. Start a worse goalie to prevent more goals. These are panic moves. What the Senators need to do is take a deep breath and get back to what got them this far: slow the game down as best they can, block a lot of shots, frustrate their opponent into making mistakes they can take advantage of, and get a lot of saves. And that’s not impossible! Of all the major North American sports, none turns on luck more than hockey. All the Senators can do now is trust the process and hope the bounces go their way.
James Gordon is publisher of HockeyMarkets.com. Follow him on Twitter here.