The Ottawa Senators definitely looked like a team with a lot of significant changes from the off-season playing their first regular-season game together in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Miscommunication on the blue-line and a disorderly powerplay left the team without much in the way of offensive opportunities, and the few scoring chances the Senators had were stymied by Henrik Lundqvist. But it's only the first game.
Perhaps surprising after surrendering four goals, Pascal Leclaire looked pretty alright on the night, too. Ottawa was short-handed three times in the first period and it could have been over early if not for Leclaire, who stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first frame. On three of the four goals, it looked like the Rangers had found an apparent weakness in Leclaire's game: Perfect shots to the top corners. I guess that's a weakness to most goaltenders, though.
(Read more, and check out a couple of fight videos... )
Goals from Vaclav Prospal and Brandon Dubinsky were both sick top-corner shots. The latter scored because of a rookie mistake from Erik Karlsson, who cut too far on a two-on-two and learned the hard way just how fast NHL wingers are; still, it's the kid's first NHL game, so you've got to give him a mulligan on some of those plays. Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto scored his first NHL goal, which turned out to be the game-winner, off a shot from the point that Leclaire couldn't see due to the screen in front of the net--courtesy of some Chris Neil missed coverage. But it's only the first game.
A bit of controversy, at least in my mind, about New York's fourth goal. Dubinsky broke in all alone, and rang a shot off the crossbar. The referee, thinking Dubinsky's shot went in, signaled a goal, and appeared to blow the play dead; however, Marian Gaborik put the puck in the net, anyway, and the goal counted. Realistically, the play was dead before the puck went in the net, and a consultation to video review should have demonstrated that fact. It may not have been the decisive goal in the game, but it put it out of reach. Not sure if Cory Clouston noticed, or if he just didn't want to raise a stink, but it's not unreasonable to bitch and moan when you're in the right--especially when there are two points on the line. But it's only the first game.
The Rangers' fifth goal was an empty netter, Dubinsky's second of the game.
Ottawa's first goal was a slick Daniel Alfredsson tap-in courtesy of a no-look pass from Jason Spezza. Spezza dished the puck right to Alfie in front of the net from the corner after outracing the Rangers' defenceman to the puck, and Alfie flipped it over Lundqvist's pads. The second goal was meaningful, even if it came with only six seconds left when the game was far out of reach. Peter Regin took a sweet quick wrister through the legs of the Rangers' defender, after a great pass from Mike Fisher. Karlsson also notched a point, which always looks good in your first NHL game. But it's only the first game.
As I said at the beginning, a lot of the Senators' problems tonight started with their powerplay. They didn't get any powerplays in the first period, which didn't help. When they got a few in the second and third, they were unable to generate much in the way of chances off of them; on four powerplays on the night, Ottawa only had six shots on net (three of which were from Filip Kuba). No powerplay shots from any of Spezza, Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, or Chris Campoli--each of whom had more than two minutes of powerplay time. There is that old adage that says every shot you don't take won't go in, and it makes sense here. But it's only the first game.
The Senators threw 34 shots at the Rangers' net, and Karlsson and Kuba impressively combined for nine shots on net. Even Matt Carkner, who had a decent game all-around, had three shots on goal. Oddly, and unexpectedly, Kovalev had no shots on goal; tough to score any goals when that happens, but he did do some good things on the night. No great things, but some good things. But it's only the first game.
In the good news category, Ottawa out-hit the Rangers 41-28. Leading in that category were Neil and Fisher, each with six hits (although New York's Ryan Callahan had seven). Michalek had four hits (at least he'll hit if he's not going to score), and each of Alfredsson, Regin, Carkner, Jonathan Cheechoo, Jarkko Ruutu, Anton Volchenkov, and Chris Phillips had three hits.
There were some unfortunate names in the minus category for the Sens tonight: Michalek, who's apparently got a good two-way sense, was -2 on the night, as were Kuba, Spezza, and Ryan Shannon. But it's only the first game.
Two fights in the game, neither of them terrific. Carkner went at Donald Brashear after a clean hit, and Fisher jumped Aaron Voros after the game wound down. Brashear scored more points but Carkner got the takedown, and Fisher kind of manhandled Voros with his beastly strength. But it's only the first game. (Check out both fights at the end of the post.)
There are good things to take out of tonight's game, but most of them are rather contingent on a healthy dose of optimism. I'm looking forward to seeing a few more games out of these guys, I still like the way this team is made up--just give them a few games to get to know one another.