It won't stand up as the most memorable or exciting of games on the season, but Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks was a hard-fought match that the Senators deserved at least the point they earned.
Ottawa's strategy for most of this season has been puck movement and converting turnovers into scoring chances, and that's exactly what they executed in Vancouver. When the Canucks would carry the play into the Senators' end, it was almost expected that the Senators would find a way to take the puck and generate a semi-breakway out of seemingly nowhere. Watching with Canucks fans, it was evident that this tactic was extraordinarily frustrating to play against, but unfortunately there was one small, tiny issue with it:
The Senators couldn't score off the rush.
And really, that's what killed them in the end. That and Chris Higgins deflecting a Dan Hamhuis shot in overtime. It was a game the Senators could have won, and they didn't. Full marks to Vancouver for hanging in and occasionally dominating the play, but they were clearly frustrated, and Ottawa didn't capitalize on it. Now if only Erik Karlsson had scored on that last-second play in the third period...
He didn't face a whole lot of shots (27), but Alex Auld stood tall (specifically, 6'4" tall). He was quick and made more than a handful of saves with his goal stick, but it was a low diving glove save in the second period that earned him hero nomination. Tough break on the overtime winner by Higgins, but make no mistake, Alex Auld was a hero tonight. Oh, and did we mention that he was called into duty only a couple hours before gametime?
Sens Heroes: Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Colin Greening
Spezza was 16-8 in faceoffs, Greening scored a goal, and Michalek seemed to be dangerous every single second of the 20:59 he played tonight. At one point it seemed like Michalek had four scoring chances on one shift. The trio were responsible for the only goal of the game, and as a unit they combined for 13 of Ottawa's 29 shots. Greening has been a perfect fit with Michalek and Spezza, being the power forward the Senators have needed for, oh, 20 seasons, give or take? Five hits by a top line player is not too shabby.
Sens Benchwarmer: Stephane Da Costa
Only Zenon Konopka had less ice time than Da Costa, who found himself benched in the second period. He was decent defensively (two blocked shots), but he was also 0-3 in the faceoff circle. Da Costa went into the game 305th in the NHL at faceoffs (36.6%) and actually managed to get worse.
Minus of the Night: Tim Peel
Is there a worse referee in the NHL than Timothy Peel? I understand that refereeing is a tough gig, but Peel has routinely been the most inconsistent ref I've had the privilege of watching in the last few seasons. He was brutal for both teams, from the non-call on Michalek's breakaway attempt to the peculiar refusal to blow the whistle when the Canucks took momentary possession (twice) of the puck on a delayed penalty.
Noteworthy Sens: Erik Karlsson, Erik Condra, Sergei Gonchar
Karlsson was Karlsson tonight: dangerous offensively, a master at puck movement and retention, and on the ice for the game-winning goal. He finished with 2 shots, 5 attempted/blocked shots, a missed shot, and 3 hits(!). His 30:24 of ice time was a hair under 3:00 more than any other player on both teams. Condra quietly had a good night as well, with three shots on goal and 26 shifts, albeit shorter ones than most players. Gonchar drew an assist for to extend his point streak to five games. He's quietly been one of the best surprises of the season.
Sens Killer: Cory Schneider
Ginger Bricks, as he is known to Canucks fans, was nothing short of excellent tonight. The number of quality chances he had to defend against Michalek alone made him noteworthy, but for every quality chance the Senators had, Schneider was there to stop it. Except for that Greening goal.
Paulrus of the Game: Zack Smith
Pugnacious little guy, isn't he? Z. Smith was his usual self: solid at faceoffs (until the 3rd period), quick to create turnovers on the penalty kill, and not giving a crap the whole way. He had 2 shots, 2 attempted/blocked shots, 2 missed shots, and topped it off with 4 hits. His numerous breakouts and near-breakaways all ended in failure, but Z. Smith still earns himself the honour of Paulrus of the Game.
Closing Thought: The loss stings, but the Senators come out of their western Canada swing with 5 of a possible 6 points. Ottawa now finds themselves in sole possession of 8th place in the Eastern Conference, albeit with a few games played more than most other teams. That's a point above the Washington Capitals, two points behind the division-leading Buffalo Sabres, and three points behind the conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers. And two points behind Toronto with the same number of games played. Again, most teams have a few games in hand over Ottawa, but it's still fun to look at.