While you want your team to be good citizens off the ice, in today’s NHL you need to have your fair share of jerks on the ice. The types of guys that can play, but also have a mean streak in them.
Both teams that played in the Stanley Cup Finals had more than their fair share. Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Shawn Thornton, and Gregory Campbell for the Bruins all added an element of nasty, while the Blackhawks countered with Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell.
Not necessarily dirty, but mean is the element that is missing from a lot of the Senators’ lineup. Chris Neil is the one guy who consistently finishes his checks whenever the opportunity presents, but that is where the line pretty much ends. Jared Cowen shows signs of developing into that type of player, and the Senators desperately need to see that development continue. Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki could find that edge but both need to focus more on their game on the ice as they try to develop into full time NHLers.
Other players who provide some physical element for the Senators don’t do it on a consistent enough basis and don’t get close enough to the line to be the effective pest. Playing on the edge without going over the line and taking dumb penalties in bad situations is an art, and one that the Senators really need more of.
They may be tough to play against and “pesky”, but on the ice this team is simply too nice. The Senators’ division is loaded with those types of players. In addition to the Bruins listed above you can add the likes of Steve Ott, Patrick Kaleta (Buffalo); Brandon Prust, Brendan Gallager, Ryan White (Montreal); Justin Abdelkader, Jordin Tootoo (Detroit); Colton Orr, David Clarkson, Dave Bolland (Toronto) ; B.J. Crombeen (Tampa).
Chris Phillips has always, for me, been the example of a guy who has the tools to be that type of player, but just isn’t mean enough. “Angry Phillips” makes an appearance every once in a while, but those appearances are few and far between. Colin Greening has the size, strength and speed to do it, but he doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body. Zack Smith can drop the gloves when called upon, but also doesn’t seem to have the beehive mentality.
This could be something that Paul MacLean has to address within his team if the Senators are going to take the next step. They may be tough to play against, but the Senators need to become a team that other clubs hate to play against.