Monday, May 3, 2010

Depth perception

Ottawa was once touted as a 'one-line team' not too long ago. Since the trade of Dany Heatley, winner of the Douchebag of the Year award, and Murray's signings of cheap college students and veteran grinders, this previously one-dimensional team can now boast its depth, one that is nearly unparalleled in the entire NHL--among the bottom six forwards, at any rate. Murray's drafting, free agent pickups and remnants of the Muckler era have left our bottom two lines looking fairly solid, if not spectacular.

The lines and pairings are always subjective, but the way I see it, our bottom two lines as they stand are:

Foligno-Fisher-Z. Smith
Ruutu - Kelly - Neil

The 3rd line above is a gritty one that can definitely provide a spark of energy in any system. All three guys on the line aren't afraid to go into corners or get aggressive. The major downfall of this line, though, is the lack of finishers. Most of the goals scored by this line will be garbage goals, rebounds and the like. In short, don't expect the finesse you'd get from the top line.

The RKN line, meanwhile, is the very definition of a 4th line: Ruutu agitates, Neil enforces and Kelly dumps the puck into the offensive zone. All three are decent defensively, and there's no real liability to speak of in putting these three on the ice, beyond a lack of firepower. Then again, the 4th line isn't typically a high-scoring unit.

Beyond the aforementioned lines, other players that aren't listed include Shean Donovan, Ryan Shannon, Jesse Winchester, Jonathan Cheechoo, Bobby Butler, Martin St. Pierre, Kaspar Daugavins, Ryan Keller, Cody Bass and Josh Hennessy. We've seen all these players, with the exception of Bass and Hennessy, log some minutes with the Sens this season. Some were good (Donovan), some were average and unnoticeable (Daugavins, Keller) and some were disastrous (Shannon, Cheechoo). The fact reamins, however, that we have enough depth players to form three more lines of bottom six pairings.

This depth was tested during the playoffs, with the loss of Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek. Both big guns went down due to injuries, making Coach Clouston put Cheechoo, Shannon and Donovan in the lineup at varying points in the series. Donovan played effectively in his few games, while Cheechoo was average and uninspired, and Shannon proved he is too small to be a factor in a playoff series. In an ideal world, none of these three would have drawn into the lineup, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Depth is key to any kind of success, and the Senators aren't lacking in that sense. A good aspect of having such a deep prospect pool is the advantage of being able to rotate roster spots to put in, say, a small forward against a fast team, or a grinder against a tougher team. The upshot of the situation, though: would you have confidence in a 4th line of Shannon-Winchester-Cheechoo? Didn't think so. Depth is nice, but only if you can be sure that it won't lose you games. There's a reason these guys aren't full-time NHLers.

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