I don't know where to begin, so I'll just say what we're thinking: Disappointing. That pretty much sums up the general feeling after the Ottawa Senators blew their 2-0 lead and ended up losing to the New Jersey Devils 3-2 after letting Jersey back in with a series of stupid penalties.
Penalties. It just keeps coming back to penalties. All three Devils goals were powerplay markers, and the Senators gave them six powerplay opportunities. Including Saturday night's loss, Ottawa's given up seven powerplay goals in five games (four of those five games, not coincidentally, without Anton Volchenkov) and have given their opponents 28 powerplays, averaging 5.6 times short-handed per game. Ottawa's 2-3 in that span, and can't hope to win too many if those numbers keep up.
It's hard to blame Chris Campoli for his delay-of-game penalty, because it was a flukey one where the puck got flipped out of the defensive zone. You've also got to wonder how much of Jarkko Ruutu's 12 minutes in penalties were warranted, and how much were just reputational. You can kill off the odd untimely penalty, but when they just keep coming, you're pushing your luck. Ottawa just kept pushing their luck on Saturday night.
The loss was too bad, too, because the Senators came out like gangbusters to start the game. Milan Michalek had two strong scoring chances before the game was five minutes old, and his line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson wrought havoc in the first period. Late in the first, Michalek scored off a setup from Alfredsson with Spezza, of all people, providing the screen in front of Martin Brodeur.
Although the play of many Senators fell off significantly as the game went on, Spezza was the most notable exception.
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Although he had no points, Spezza was Ottawa's best player by a mile. Or probably more. He was on for both Sens goals, and none of New Jersey's, and his speed was something else. He had two shots on net and a couple other good opportunities where he didn't get the shot away, but was stymied each time by Brodeur. Of note was a sick little toe-drag around the Devils defender right before Michalek scored to give Ottawa the 1-0 lead. Spezza's speed was on another level tonight, and he set up plenty of teammates--they just couldn't capitalize, either.
Ottawa's second goal came off a hilarious end-to-end rush from Brian Lee. After collecting the puck in his own end, Lee circled behind Pascal Leclaire, skated virtually unchecked along the right-side boards until he was inside the offensive zone. He took a wrist shot from the top of the circle that tricked Brodeur, and trickled in behind him. It was flukey, to say the least, but I'm sure Lee will take it. Aside from that play, Brodeur was strong, although he only faced 21 shots on the night. (Check out the goal below.)
In the Sens' net, Leclaire started out well, but faded as time went by. He made a couple of very strong pad saves, one sliding cross-ice to stop a Jamie Langenbrunner one-timer with his right pad, the other one kicking away a Matt Halischuk shot right from the slot. The first goal was a scramble where Leclaire lost his stick before the puck ended up on Zach Parise's stick, so--although he could have stopped it--it wasn't a bad goal. The second was a bad goal, with David Clarkson banking the puck in off Leclaire's pad (before getting what looked to be some congratulatory junk-slaps from linemate Nicklas Bergfors). The third was a flutter shot from the point that made it's way through a screen provided mainly by Michalek, so, again, he gets some repreive. In his last two games, though, Leclaire has an ugly 0.889 save percentage, and he's got to be looking to improve on that. A few less penalties from his teammates would help.
As bad as the penalty kill was, the powerplay might have been worse. (Although it only had two opportunities.) Ottawa had no shots on the first powerplay, only one (from Campoli) on the second, and had little to no sustained pressure in the offensive zone on either of them. It was unpleasant to watch.
Spezza and Alfredsson aside, there aren't many Senators players who should be pleased with their 60-minute effort tonight. Michalek was very strong in the first, and finished with a game-high four shots (tied with Parise), but faded quickly and looked lost on the third Devils goal. Chris Neil had a good start, but took an absolutely moronic ten-minute penalty early in the third period. Filip Kuba was alright, but didn't have a single shot in 26:59--more than any other skater in the game--including over three minutes on the powerplay. Mike Fisher wasn't as strong in the offensive zone tonight, with no shots, but still managed to get seven hits and did well in the faceoff circle (10-for-17, 59 percent).
One good game, and surprisingly so, was from Jonathan Cheechoo. It's a positive sign that at least he's stopped taking stupid minor penalties for no good reason, but he also had five hits on the night, and actually looked like he was skating well enough to stay in the play and cause turnovers. One of the most important things for a player who's struggling offensively is to increase their physical intensity and make sure they're not a defensive liability, and Cheechoo succeeded with that tonight.
Campoli was also pretty solid, with an assist on Michalek's goal, and two shots on goal. It's like he and Alex Picard go back and forth with strong games; maybe we could fuse them into one steady defenceman who's got decent physicality and some good moves to complement his good skating.
Also notable was Matt Carkner, although that might only be because he had a very strong showing in a fight against Andrew Peters. He was on the ice for the first two Devils' goals, one of which was because he was unable to clear the traffic (or the puck) from the front of the net. I wouldn't say he was at fault (he had to check two guys, after all), but he might be running around a bit too much on the PK. He could use a little simplicity, and the angles can be his friend. However, depending on what else happened Saturday night, Carkner may now be leading the league in fighting majors with seven.
Tough loss. The Devils played a patient game, and the Senators played into their hands by really slowing down and taking it easy as the game went on. It was, as I said, disappointing, and the Senators would be well-served to string together a few strong games--and soon.