25 November 2013

Let's worry about team spirit, or the lack thereof.

Spirit has a rather juvenile connotation when one wishes to speak of it as an intangible factor affecting a hockey team's recent play. We're at the 30% mark of the season, though, and I'd say it's a pretty apt term for what I'd like to talk about. We've seen the Senators win big, only to drop the next few games. We haven't had a win streak longer than three games. As for the sometimes-downright-putrid possession numbers, well, we can conclude that either the Sens are simply not a good team, or they don't "care enough" or "want it enough".

Easy to dismiss those as clichés. But at times, it's undeniable that some players are just plain coasting: EK's been suspect a few times on bad defensive coverage, and every time a fan labels a player's game performance as "invisible", they're basically saying that the player didn't drive hard enough out on the ice to make a discernible impact. Not all fan analyses are the same, of course, but it seems rather indisputable that passion and effort plays something of a role in a team's overall showing and the fanbase's reception of it.

This isn't to say that spirit or passion is necessarily intricately woven with winning. Nobody's going to say that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year because they played with a fire burning in their heart of hearts. But when people wonder where the Pesky Sens of last year went, they're wondering about this year's lack of tenacity, determination, passion, insert-your-descriptor-here. Because we don'n't have the skill of the Blackhawks nor the depth of the Bruins, it seems logical that intangibles would play a bigger role in winning. We're still not out of the rebuilding woods yet, no matter how many people try to take away our underdog label. We need those underdog qualities.

Here's where I'll tentatively raise the idea of veteran presence and leadership. Though it feels backward to rely on older players for vive and spirit, there's no question that Alfie and Gonchar played at an excellent level considering their age - one might even say they played younger than their years. A veteran player might not be able to directly raise a rookie's numbers, but by leading with words and by example, it might be possible that the Ottawa locker room was a different - better, more motivating - place last season compared to this year.

I wouldn't say the lack of spirit actually permeates the entire team. Borowiecki's been all over the ice every night, to borrow another cliché, hence his staying in the line-up. Conacher hasn't been racking up the points, but just watching his shifts renders one in awe of the way he wraps himself around opposing players on both the forecheck and the backcheck. To be honest, I wouldn't say that any one player has been consistently coasting. But when a few lines aren't rolling all at once, when the drive and chemistry is patchy game after game, something will give. I wouldn't be posting this after a win, but as our many losses show, something already has given.


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