Looking at the box score of this game, you might find it easy to believe one of these teams had just played the night before, suffering a frantic comeback loss. Unfortunately, if you believed that team was Ottawa, you'd be mistaken. Despite going up against Jhonas Enroth, the Senators could not take advantage of a golden opportunity for a win.
What did head coach Cory Clouston think?
"(This) wasn't a bad game. We didn't get outworked. We didn't get outchanced. We just weren't as good as we needed to be in front of our net. Four goals should get you the win."
Cory, I disagree. Almost to a man (save for our upcoming heroes) Ottawa was outworked by a hungrier opponent. That's why four goals didn't get the win.
Yes, in this game the Sabres looked like they're shaping up to be one of those dangerous low-seeded teams. You know the ones: They've been playing every game like it's a playoff game for the past month, and if you can't match their intensity, you're not going to win. Ottawa has been able to outhustle top tier teams like Philadelphia and Tampa Bay recently, but this was not going to be a game where that was an option. Talent and hustle will beat hustle alone, and Ottawa's fans may have affection for some of our AHL callups, but they need time to polish that talent -- which is what losses like this one help accomplish.
Tonight, there were just two players for the Senators who I thought matched the effort level the Sabres showed, and they're going to be the only heroes in this recap. One is obvious from this recap's title, and the other may surprise you.
Bro was on: Jason Spezza
So... Jason Spezza created all four goals for the Senators tonight. He scored two himself and assisted on two others. He led all Ottawa forwards with 19:48 TOI, took a team-high five shots, hit a post, won 18 of his 28 faceoffs, and managed a plus-1 rating on a night where the opposing team scored six goals.
This is the second game in a row where Spezza has looked not just strong, but like a leader on the ice. If there are any remaining doubts about who the next captain of this team should be, this game should go a long way towards erasing them.
(read on for the remaining hero, plus a killer and some zeroes...)
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Ottawa's only other multi-point player (1G, 1A) in tonight's action, Karlsson deserves mention not for his point scoring, but for his determination. Seemingly riding a confidence wave since his two-goal game against the Florida Panthers earlier in the week, Karlsson was a player who was not going to be denied a chance to create for his team in this game. He led several charges up the ice, made a few good defensive plays in his own end, and found the open man for the pass pretty consistently. His goal may have come late in the game, but there was no quit in his play at any point. This is the kind of effort the Senators need from him on a nightly basis.
Butler on Butler crime: Coined by poster Andrew J, this sad event happened at 18:52 of the second period. The Senators power play carried over to the third period, when the score was still 5-3 in favor of the Sabres, and represented the team's last, best chance to get back in the game. It didn't happen.
Sens Zero: Curtis McElhinney
Brought in to relieve Craig Anderson, who did not have a strong game tonight (.765 save percentage), McElhinney gets the zero for exactly one play: Nathan Gerbe's late second-period goal. With what can only be described as an awkwardly putrid effort, he let Gerbe rip a shot past him to put his team down two goals heading into the third period. I'm still having trouble understanding why it looks like he tried to make the save with his left armpit. It's harsh to criticize a guy for one goal, but this is exactly the kind of save (or lack thereof) that got Brian Elliott traded. Ottawa had a chance to win until this point -- it was a back-breaker, and it let the Sabres force the Sens to do all the hard work in the third, a period when Ottawa should have been working on their opponent's tired legs instead.
Zuh?: The only penalty of the third period was on Filip Kuba for hooking Sabres missing link Tyler Myers. How Kuba let one of the biggest and slowest (disclaimer: I have no idea how fast Myers actually is) players in the NHL get into a position where hooking was necessary is baffling.
Sens Killer: Tyler Ennis
Ennis scored two goals for the Sabres in this one, including a soft-touch changeup to beat Craig Anderson, who was diving to catch the rip towards the top corner. It was a mis-misdirection goal: Anderson was reaching across his own body to get his glove where the shot was most likely to go -- in this case, the most open part of the net. Ennis instead gently tapped the puck against the grain of the movement of both he and Anderson. The slow speed of the shot and different direction meant Anderson had no chance of stopping it. It was really nice shot selection. His second goal doesn't bear the need for as much detailed description, but was the first of two goals the Sabres scored in 33 seconds to break the game open in the second and chase Anderson. He also took a team-high five shots for Buffalo. It looks like the Sabres have a good player emerging, from what I saw tonight.
Sens Zero: Chris Phillips
Along with partner Brian Lee, Phillips was a team-worst minus-3 tonight. But Phillips was directly responsible for at least one of those goals, passing a puck right onto a Sabre stick just a few feet from his own goal. McElhinney stopped the ensuing shot, but the rebound was there for Paul Gaustad to fire into a wide open net. Perhaps he was trying to make up for that by taking four shots, but Phillips is supposed to be a shutdown defender -- the kind that doesn't make mistakes because he feels hurried. He was not that kind of defender tonight.
Worth Noting: Buffalo's Mike Weber had three assists in this game. He had just four goals and seven assists on the year coming into the night.
Next game is Tuesday against the Penguins. Consider this your engraved invitation to join us!