Associate Blogger Neil Acharya was in Ottawa last Saturday to take in the Flyers-Senators game, and came away with a few concerns about the state of the Sens Army.
Ottawa has got a great hockey team, which goes without saying. Regardless, there are some aspects to the Senators gameday presentation and the fans' reaction to it that left me scratching my head on Saturday night.
I am a Leafs fan, and like most, hold the Senators in high regard for the quality team they put out year after year, how they draft well and play an exciting brand of hockey. I also respect how into the game everyone at Scotiabank Place seems to be.
So on Saturday, as a Leafs fan, I was interested in the out of town scoreboard as the team was on the road in Phoenix, where as you know, they got hammered 5-1, prompting more calls for mass firings. When it showed that Phoenix was ahead 2-0, there was a smattering of "Leafs suck" from the upper bowl, which is fine. Many Toronto fans were thinking the exact same thing.
However, after Phoenix got its third goal, the board actually read 13-0 (not 3-0) for several minutes. Everyone makes mistakes, and as people around me began to notice, I laughed. More than five minutes later, it still read 13-0 and it got me wondering if the operator was seeing how long it took people to notice.
Later, the people in charge of the video scoreboard decided to display the Leafs score. After about 10 seconds I realized that they were not going to show another score. Twenty seconds later the score was still up on the board as 4-1, as the crowd roared as loud as it had all night for anything that had happened in the game they were actually watching between their Senators and the Flyers. A moment later, the score read 5-1, and Radim Vrbata's name as the goal scorer was slowly typed in letter by letter as the crowd went crazy.
It was mildly amusing, and the goal is to get the fans going, right? Regardless, the shot at the Leafs was somewhat understandable, but the Senators were playing the Flyers. I had seen nothing directed at that team.
During one of the intermissions, the video scoreboard showed a clip from the Molson Senators Overtime with Ian Mendes. The segment was a focus on the Sens’ rivalry with the Leafs. To sum it up, it was the Daniel Alfredsson hit on Darcy Tucker and subsequent goal in the 2002 playoffs; a shot of Tucker diving in a separate play; Brian McGrattan bloodying the now-retired Tie Domi early in ’05-06; and Zdeno Chara (who’s not even with Ottawa now) throwing around Bryan McCabe, who’s not a fighter, around like a rag doll. Meantime, there were a couple interviews with Senators players mixed in.
That stuff with the Leafs is all ancient history. After the game, I thought about what I had seen that evening: A battle between two high-flying hockey clubs contending for Eastern Conference supremacy, the difference being one goal and a last-second flurry of activity that had people on the edge of their seats.
Meantime, the impression left with me was that Ottawa fans were supposed to be more concerned about the Leafs going down in flames 3,000 miles away. That shouldn't be expected of them after 15 years in the NHL.
As a Toronto Raptors fan who was scorched by Vince Carter, I know about having a hate-on for another player and another team. The Air Canada Centre people does not go out of its way to whip people up into a Vince rage during Raptors games, and nor do they call attention to it when his New Jersey Nets team is playing elsewhere and losing. The fans are allowed to take care it themselves.
The bottom line is that on Saturday, I saw a gameday production that was out of touch with what was taking place on the ice. It reaffirmed that despite claims to the contrary, this is one of the NHL's newer franchises. The Sens Army is showing how strong it is and how much stronger it will get, but it still needs to mature.
Neil Acharya can be reached at email@example.com.