The big train that couldn’t

At least one Ottawa resident is enjoying the Ottawa Senators’ plunge into the abyss:

Ottawa Senators swept

(If you’re not a hockey fan, you may not understand the symbolism of the broom. It means that the Senators were “swept” in their NHL playoff series:  four wins for Pittsburgh, zero wins for Ottawa, and the Senators are out.)

The hockey gods are capricious. Sometimes a team that looks mediocre on paper performs beyond anyone’s expectations. (The 1986 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, for example.) Other times, a team that looks formidable on paper bombs.

Football analysts used to utilize four categories:  (1) offense; (2) defense; (3) special teams; and (4) intangibles. Intangibles means, We don’t know why this team keeps winning (or losing) — they just do.

If you transport that thought to the hockey arena, intangibles becomes a euphemism for the hockey gods.

This year, the Ottawa Senators had the best start of any NHL team in history:  15 wins, 2 losses. It was a little surprising, but only a little. Outstanding defense, outstanding offense, goaltending that got the job done. That plus intangibles will get you fifteen wins against only two losses.

And then the hockey gods turned their capricious thumbs down.

From January through April, the Sens were the big train that couldn’t. If the season had continued for one more week, they would have fallen out of the playoffs. Instead, they were subjected to the ignominy of a first-round sweep:  four games, four losses. Line up at centre ice to shake the other team’s hands. And get out your golf shoes.

One footnote:  I’d say that Ray Emery has played his last game for the Senators.

When a hockey team loses the first three games of a series, it’s almost automatic to switch to the backup goalie. Even if the goaltender wasn’t responsible for the losses (in this case, Gerber was arguably the best Senator on the ice) switching goalies is the time-honoured way to send a message to the whole team:  Shape up!

Game four came and went with Emery on the bench. That decision speaks volumes about Emery’s status with the team.


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