News and Line Combination Notes
Before unveiling some bizarre line combinations, the Ottawa Senators announced that Jean-Gabriel Pageau had been returned to the Binghamton Senators this morning.
The demotion should not come as a surprise. The financially strapped Sens were carrying a 23-man roster and thanks to an undisclosed injury, Pageau missed three games before stepping back into the lineup for Ottawa’s October 27th game versus the San Jose Sharks – in which he was largely ineffective, finishing the game with one shot on goal and a -2 plus/minus rating in 10:35 of ice-time.
As a player who thrived late last season and in the postseason versus Montreal, Pageau’s play (like most of his teammates, actually) left something to be desired. Of particular concern was his inability to win faceoffs – his 30.9% success rate is the worst rate in the NHL for players who took more than 20 draws – and it negatively affected his and his linemates’ ability gain possession of the puck.
Of late, Paul MacLean has talked about the Sens chasing the game too often and Pageau’s line emblematic of it.
Thanks to Mika Zibanejad’s promotion and efficiency of Derek Grant on the team’s fourth line, the Sens can afford to return Pageau to Binghamton where he’ll get more playing time and hopefully regain the confidence that he exhibited last season.
Speaking of confidence, when you’re the defending Jack Adams Trophy winner, it apparently comes in spades judging by this morning skate’s line combinations.
In an obvious attempt to shake up his struggling club, Paul MacLean unveiled the following line combinations and defensive pairings:
MacArthur – Turris - Ryan
Michalek – Smith – Zibanejad
Conacher – Spezza – Neil
Greening/Kassian – Grant – Condra
Phillips – Karlsson
Wiercioch – Methot
Cowen – Corvo/Gryba
Lehner will get the start in goal on Friday versus the Isles.
Looking at the defensive pairings, the decision to return Patrick Wiercioch to the left side is a welcomed one; especially since his pairing with Marc Methot ensures that Jared Cowen will be the one playing insulated minutes on the third pairing.
Cowen has noticeably struggled playing top four minutes this season and it was probably naïve to assume that he’d be able to handle that responsibility considering he was returning from major hip surgery and was being paired with another young defenceman in Wiercioch who was adjusting to playing his off-side.
As odd as it seems to see Chris Phillips on the top pairing in the year 2013, these defensive pairings may be the best temporary solution. I’m in favour of anything that affords players like Cowen and Karlsson the opportunity to heal and prove that they can’t handle their responsibilities before Bryan Murray has to look externally for another solution.
Up front, the biggest shock is the demotion of Jason Spezza to third line duties. As discussed in a piece yesterday, production notwithstanding Spezza’s lines have struggled while playing without the puck. Assuming MacLean gives the Zack Smith and Kyle Turris lines more difficult minutes, Spezza will be insulated playing against softer competition.
If this happens to be the case, it will be interesting to see how long this experiment persists. Although this could simply be a temporary strategy designed to shake up a struggling roster, from the player’s and the organization’s standpoint, this is hardly an enviable situation.
If I’m Spezza, the team’s best offensive player, I’m not thrilled to be playing with Conacher and Neil. My past production and ego would make me want to play with this organization’s best offensive players. And conversely, if I’m in management, and the coaching staff’s hand is forced into playing Spezza in soft minute situations because his health is adversely affecting his all-around game, the likelihood of me wanting to retain Spezza at the term and monetary value that he’d command on an extension, is small.
If anything, this should put Ottawa in a difficult position moving forward, so let’s just hope that Spezza regains his form relatively soon.