That was one of the most exciting games we're going to see this season.
The Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets faced off against one another on Tuesday night, and the game fit the bill of a matchup between two young, skilled teams with a lot of offence and a lot less defence. There were four alternating lead changes through the game, and the only time a team led by more than one goal was after Nick Foligno salted the game away with his empty-netter late in the third.
Things started great for the Sens when Milan Michalek split the defence once again (how often can he do that this season?) and snapped a quick shot past Ondrej Pavelec. Blake Wheeler tied the game in the second, and Alexander Burmistrov snuck a short-side shot past Craig Anderson to give the 'Peg the lead--at least for a few seconds, until Zack Smith scored a grimy goal to tie it up, and Michalek scored his second of the night to restore Ottawa's lead. The Jets came out strong in the third, and after Erik Karlsson took an odd hit in the corner (he appeared to get the wind knocked out of him), Evander Kane scored two straight to put Winnipeg up by one again.
It looked like the Jets might hold their lead, but then Chris Phillips threw a sick pass (yeah, really) to Karlsson, and Karlsson sent a sweet cross-ice pass to Jason Spezza, who rifled the puck top corner to tie the game. Then Paul MacLean rewarded his third line with some powerplay time, and they rewarded him for his faith when Zmith scored his second of the night. Foligno rounded out the scoring with his aforementioned ENG.
Sens Hero: Zack Smith
The Sens' third line was once again instrumental in Ottawa's win, and tonight it was Zmith who led the was for them. His first goal was controversial (the play probably should have been blown dead because it appeared Pavelec had the puck covered), but Zmith kept digging, loosened the puck, and put it in. The second was as nice as the first was gritty; a give-and-go with Sergei Gonchar set Zmith up to cut into the slot and fire a sweet snapper home. He also played a season-high 18:19 TOI, over four minutes of which was short-handed, and won 60% of his draws (9/15). It's been an incredible season for Smith so far; can we expect the production to continue?
Sens Hero: Milan Michalek
Milo potted another two goals tonight, bringing him to 14 on the season but--perhaps more importantly--proving he can score without Jason Spezza setting him up. Michalek showed that with a little support, his speed and deadly-accurate shot are more than enough to let him generate scoring chances all on his own.
Sens Hero: Chris Phillips
Big Game Chris was +4 tonight. He was not on the ice for a single one of Winnipeg's goals, but was on for four of Ottawa's six (including the empty-netter). That's pretty remarkable for a guy who played over 24 minutes in the game. More than that, he put up two assists, including his beauty on the Spezza goal.
Sens Killer: Dustin Byfuglien
The Buff was a beast all night. He's a smooth skater, especially considering his size, but the offensive side of the game is where he makes his money and his lone assist belies how dangerous he was. He played almost 26 minutes in the game, and fired an incredible 12 shots at Craig Anderson.
Mixed Bag: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson was incredible on the offensive side of the puck. At defence, though, it was a different story. It wasn't questionable decisions or poor passes he made, though; Karlsson seemed to be overskating passes and mis-judging checks on his forwards. He looked groggy after being checked by Byfuglien, but seemed to shake it off after a few minutes. There was good and bad in his game, but it wasn't his best effort.
Sens Killer: Injury bug
Kaspars Daugavins painfully blocked a shot, Jared Cowen took a puck to the ear, Nikita Filatov took a skate to the face, Filip Kuba went down after a big hit, Erik Karlsson fell awkwardly into the boards, and Colin Greening got plowed through the Jets' net. Two of them left the game (Filatov broke his nose in a few places, and Kuba has an upper-body injury), but hopefully they're not out long.
Honourable Mention: Erik Condra
Condra put up a couple assists tonight, and was clutch on the penalty kill. He's a very smart player, and his presence allows guys like Zack Smith and Kaspars Daugavins to really push on the forecheck when that third line on the ice. It's a recipe for success.