Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Nov. 29-Dec.5)

Guy Boucher: The James Bond Villain Ottawa needed

The Ottawa Senators made the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Since then, however, they have not made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During this time they have had seven head coaches, which has led to instability, disappointment, and a lack of results. This summer after Dave Cameron was fired the Senators found themselves looking for a new bench boss. The first man they targeted heavily was Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has 8 division titles to his name in 9 seasons between the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. He also had a personal connection to Ottawa, with his daughter living in the city. Ultimately Boudreau got a better offer in Minnesota, a 4-year contract with a reported $2.76 million a year. When this happened the Senators responded by signing Guy Boucher.

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What does Boucher’s resume look like? Boucher has coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, American Hockey League, Switzerland, and the NHL. While Boucher’s tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning was short, it was successful, making the Eastern Conference Final in his first season (2010-11). After that season, the Lightning struggled, missing the playoffs the next year. Boucher was fired mid-season in March of 2013 after another unsuccessful campaign to that point. That was the last time Boucher was in the NHL. Ottawa brought Boucher back into the NHL this spring. Why would Ottawa be so interested in a man who had been fired by Tampa Bay? It is simple: Guy Boucher implements a defensive structured system and commands his players to buy into the system.

On November 9th, 2011, the Philadelphia Flyers visited Boucher’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning had been playing a 1-3-1 system, which was considered very defensive. This system had been considered controversial, as Boucher wanted his players to play safely by waiting for their opponents to come to them. That evening the Flyers tested the system, and numerous times a stand-off occurred with players from each team staring each other down and arguing with one another. Boucher took a lot of criticism from the media, colleagues and other players after the game, but responded by saying he was paid to win games. In Ottawa, Boucher has done just that. The Senators are currently 15-9-2, and are 2nd in the Atlantic division despite being in the bottom five in goals per game. The Senators have gotten their wins through excellent goaltending, an improved penalty kill, and defensive structure.

The Senators penalty kill is operating at 85.4%, far better than their 75.8% from last season. Ottawa also allowed 2.94 goals per game last year, while this year allowing only 2.58 goals per game. Their improved defensive structure has come at a cost to the offense, something Boucher expected. Boucher has said his goal was to establish a defensive identity, then improve the offense. While the Sens are ranked 25th in goals per game (2.35 GPG), since November 14th they have scored 28 goals in 11 games (2.55 GPG). In that same stretch of time their powerplay, which early in the season ranked near the bottom of the league, has gone 9 for 37, the 4th highest percentage in the league. It may be a process, but the Senators are improving.

The Senators themselves have shown great comradery for each other this year, the two greatest examples coming from Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson. In a team scrimmage, Patrick Sieloff, a training camp hopeful, laid a hit on Clarke MacArthur along the boards. While the hit was not malicious, it was on MacArthur, who was just returning from missing an entire season due to concussion issues. As MacArthur lay on the ice, teammate Bobby Ryan rushed in and went after Sieloff. Chris Neil also shared his thoughts with Sieloff, as both teammates took it as an unnecessary and unjustified play. The Sens have somewhat rallied around this sense of protecting one another, as in just about every scrum this year there is always an extra man into defend another. From Marc Methot coming into protect Erik Karlsson, to Karlsson even protecting himself against Bo Horvat, this Senators team does not let itself get pushed around. They certainly do not let their goalie get pushed around. Craig Anderson has had a tougher season than anyone, with his wife Nicholle battling cancer. Anderson has left the team multiple times this year to visit his wife and be with her through her treatments. However, his wife has also gave him her blessing to go play hockey. This reached its climax when the Senators lost Andrew Hammond on a road trip out West, and in Anderson’s first game back he posted a shutout against Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Anderson led his team to victory, got a standing ovation and was named first star of the game. As a Senators’ fan it was one of the most emotional games I have ever watched. The team has rallied around him as Andy has posted a 12-6-1 record, a .924 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.46.

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Those two events have helped Boucher connect with his players and develop a true team mentality. The Senators play for the man beside them each and every night. Everyone is chipping in every way they can. You get that message by looking at the team’s captain. Erik Karlsson has 24 points in 26 games to lead defensemen in the NHL, while logging 27+ minutes a night and leading the league in blocked shots with 76. The last stat is baffling to some as Karlsson’s highest blocked shots in a full season was 175, yet this year he is on pace to block 240 shots. When Boucher was hired as Senators head coach he instantly, targeted Karlsson to lead by example. On-ice, through his play, and off-ice, through his dedication to the team. While Karlsson was at the World Cup of Hockey he refused to miss a team meeting and was skyped in to every single meeting. Boucher says his captain wants to win, describing Karlsson as the first player at the rink and last to leave. Boucher is getting the best out of his captain, and it is reflecting well on his team.

All this early season success comes – despite home attendance. Through 16 home games the Senators have averaged 15,237 a night; last season, with a losing team, the Sens average attendance was 18,084 (stats from ESPN). The Senators have got to bring success back to their organization, and the consistency that saw their team make the playoffs 11 seasons in a row from 1996-97 to 2007-08. With Guy Boucher behind the bench implementing a terrific team culture, the fans will come. “If you build it, he will come.” That is a famous quote from Field of Dreams, which has been applied to sports. In the Senators case if you build a great team, he (the fan-base) will come.

NHL News

The Penalty Box

Colorado Avalanche vs Philadephia Flyers

  • The Colorado Avalanche have one point in their last five games, and play the Predators, Bruins, Canadiens and Leafs this week. It likely will not get better soon. With Colorado’s playoff hopes slipping away, veterans Jarome Iginla & Francois Beauchemin could be shopped around the league.
  • In the last four weeks the Detroit Red Wings have seen seven players end up on their IR. The winged wheel is falling off the bus, as the Red Wings are in a highly competitive Atlantic division. Could this be the season that the Red Wings finally miss the playoffs?

Stars of the Week

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  • The Philadelphia Flyers started off the season slowly with troubles in nets, but have rallied of late relying on lots of goal scoring. Philly impressively handled the Blackhawks and Predators in a back-back on the road this weekend. Their production has come from top to bottom as 15 players have recorded a point during Philly’s 5-game win streak.
  • How good has Sidney Crosby been since November? In 17 games Sid the Kid has 22 points, 13 of those being goals and is shooting at a high clip of 22.4%. His Penguins are 2nd in a hotly contested Metropolitan division.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Raptors beat the Grizzlies, Lakers and Hawks by a combined margin of victory of +92. Unfortunately they could not beat the Cavaliers on Monday, which would have been the cherry on top.
  • With games having large margins of victory, young Raptors got a chance to show off including Jakob Poeltl posterizing Tim Hardaway Jr. to put the exclaimation point on a Raptors win. Here’s the link from the NBA’s Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=einnChcgPi0)

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking:

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  1. Warriors (18-3)
  • The Warriors finally had a hiccup as they lost to the Rockets behind a ridiculous performance from James Harden. Yet they also decimated the Pacers and Suns, so they redeemed themselves fairly quickly. Did I mention Klay Thompson put up 60 points against the Pacers last night?! 60! He only played 29 minutes by the way.
  1. Spurs (17-4)
  • The Spurs lost to the Magic, so they benched veterans Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the next game and managed to win. The Spurs will always compete and, I say it every week, but these guys are still perfect on the road (12-0).
  1. Cavaliers (14-5)
  • The Cavaliers had a rough week. They went 1-3, but in what was probably the most important match-up they got the win over the Raptors behind 34 points from LeBron James. You can be sure Cleveland will not continue to drop games, as James was quoted as saying that the “Honeymoon is over…. We got to man up.”
  1. Raptors (14-7)
  • An excellent weekend for the Raptors was denied from perfection following a four-point loss to the Cavs. However, an impressive feat is the Raptors’ competitiveness. The Raptors are yet to suffer a loss by double-digits this season, giving themselves a chance to win every night.
  1. Rockets (14-7)
  • Look if you can beat the Warriors you are worth talking about. The Rockets have been showing up to play lately led by a fearless James Harden. Harden has been averaging 28.7 Points per Game (PPG), 11.6 Assists per Game (APG) and 7.6 Rebounds per Game (RPG) this season. He definitely deserves a mention in the conversation for Most Valuable Player (MVP).

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NFL First Down & Three and Out

First Down: Keep on Buccing: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tied atop the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons thanks to their four-game win streak. The Bucs truly can control their own destiny with three of their remaining four games coming against NFC South rivals who are struggling (Saints twice and Panthers).

Three & Out: Wardrobe Malfunction: If the Carolina Panthers’ playoff hopes were not gone, they are dead now. As the Panthers started a must-win game against the Seattle Seahawks, Cam Newton was reportedly benched for a dress code violation (not wearing a tie), though this has been disputed. Regardless of what happened when Cam got on the field, after Derek Anderson threw an interception on the Panthers’ first play he was ineffective, as the Panthers got humiliated losing 40-7.

BONUS FOOTBALL: The College Football playoffs were decided, as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington all made the Top 4. While Alabama and even Clemson were viewed as locks by almost everyone, critics have made arguments about Ohio State’s and Washington’s inclusion. Ohio State did not win their conference, and were beat Penn State (who were Big Ten champions), while Washington played a fairly underwhelming schedule. None of that can be changed though, and Alabama will play Washington in the Peach Bowl and Ohio State will play Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Both games will go on New Year’s Eve.

What to watch this week?

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  • Tuesday: Oilers at Sabres 7:00pm ET, Canadiens at Blues 8:00pm ET
  • Wednesday: Bruins at Capitals 8:00pm ET, Cavaliers at Knicks 8:00pm ET, Warriors at Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Raiders at Chiefs 8:25pm ET, Bulls at Spurs 9:30PM ET
  • Friday: Raptors at Celtics 7:30pm ET, Rockets at Thunder 8:00pm ET, Rangers at Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Sharks at Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Senators at Kings 4:00pm ET, Penguins at Lighting 7:00pm ET, Warriors at Grizzlies 8:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Stars at Blackhawks 7:00pm ET, Celtics at Thunder 7:00pm ET, Cowboys at Giants 8:30pm ET
  • Monday: Bruins at Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Ravens at Patriots 8:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

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