You are probably as shocked as I am that the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres played a one-goal game. But it's true. It happened. And it was ugly. Both teams had played games the night before (Ottawa winning 4-3 over Calgary and Buffalo losing 3-1 to Washington) and it showed as the game wore on. By the third period, it was clear from the sluggish and chippy play that the players from both teams were tired. Even speedsters like Erik Karlsson and Nathan Gerbe were doing more gliding than hard striding.
Though Ottawa only had four power plays and Buffalo had five, there were 18 penalties called in this game. As the quality of play dropped, the animosity grew. I didn't feel the officials did a good job of maintaining order -- early in the third period, a simple scrum turned into Z. Smith trying to fight everyone. That should have been the end of things, yet talk and punches escalated, and the final result was Smith, Chris Neil, T.J. Brennan, and Jason Pominville all serving two minutes for roughing. Nice.
The Senators' offense tonight was carried by Matt "Silent Scope" Carkner and Chris "King Breakaway" Neil. Early in the second, Kyle Turris found Matt Carkner on the far side of the ice. Since Turris had drawn four Sabres players to him (this was a common, and effective tactic for Buffalo tonight) he made the decision to pass to the open man, even if it was a lumbering defenseman. But it was the right decision, because Carkner had nothing but Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth between him and the net, and he beat Enroth on the glove side with a great shot.
Neil, meanwhile, was also the recipient of a smart pass, as he hopped on the ice to start his shift and noticed that Z. Smith had gotten possession of the puck and passed it to Erik Condra. Rather than moving to support the two, Neil skated behind the Sabres defensemen. Condra saw him and hit him with the pass, and after a little forehand-backhand move, the game was tied at two all.
After that, things bogged down and the third period and the teams looked like they were playing to split the point and decide it in overtime: Buffalo managed just six shots, and of Ottawa's 14, just three were not from the perimeter:
Putrid, right? With a shot chart like that, the game unsurprisingly went to overtime, which was also ugly, so we're not going to recap that, and then on to the shootout.
I was not worried initially because despite Enroth's impressive save percentage, the Senators had beaten him frequently in the game, and Craig Anderson had been pretty solid. But after Brad Boyes froze Anderson completely and Pominville had beaten him cleanly five-hole, the doubt crept in. Ottawa had used up its best shooters in Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson already. Spezza and Alfie had scored to keep Ottawa in it, but Buffalo still had Derek Roy and Drew Stafford in their pockets. Whatever had been plaguing Anderson was gone, because he stoned both guys. Meanwhile, Ottawa's fourth shooter was none other than Condra, who had performed well in the Sens Skills competition earlier this week. Unfortunately, his attempt at a quick glove snipe was stopped, and it was all up to Bobby Butler to win the game. With great patience and a nice backhand-forehand roofed shot, he did.
We're not going to discuss the Buffalo goals, because I hate Buffalo.
(read on for heroes and zeros...)
Sens Killer: The posts
By my count, Ottawa hit six posts tonight. That's a lot. And they weren't "Oh, he shot it at the side of the net and it hit the post" shots, they were "Enroth got beaten cleanly and the shot hit the post instead of the back of the net" shots. Those shots won't even count as shots on goal, but the fact remains that Ottawa beat Enroth eight times tonight, not counting the shootout. This could have very easily been a different game.
Sens Killer: Power Play
I don't even know what to say here. The team's power play has looked terrible the past two games. The Sens went 0-for-4 with the man advantage tonight and couldn't even generate a decent scoring chance. The last opportunity came with just under four minutes remaining--a great opening to bury a division rival. Instead, I don't even remember a shot on goal. If the Senators expect to make the playoffs, they need their special teams to be performing better. Goals from Carkner and Neil aren't going to carry the day in a 1 vs. 8 matchup against Boston, for instance. If the Senators can't get consistent scoring from their power play units, they're going to get smoked big time, and that's if they make the playoffs. That's no guarantee if a performance like tonight's is going to be considered acceptable by anyone in the organization.
Sens Killer: Faceoffs
Ottawa was smoked on the dot all night long. Only Zenon Konopka managed to win more of his draws than he lost, going 7 of 13. The rest of the faceoffs, with commentary:
Colin Greening: 0 of 1 - Ha!
Kyle Turris: 3 of 16 - This is a pitiful performance at any level.
Jason Spezza: 8 of 29 - Spezza talked about working his shot after winning the hardest shot competition. Clearly he used the time where was working on his faceoff skills.
Z. Smith: 5 of 11 - Barely acceptable. Like being proud of passing a test with a 65.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson had ten shots tonight, and those were just the ones that made it to the net. That output was equal to the combined efforts of Alfredsson, Butler, Carkner, Konopka, Kuba, and Z. Smith. That's six other guys!
Karlsson had no points to show for his efforts.
But he also got it done defensively in this game, finishing plus-1 and putting on a great show of speed to thwart a Pominville breakaway in the first period, when players still had energy. The kid simply put his head down, charged down the ice as fast as he could, and with the sweep of a stick, knocked the puck of Pominville's stick. The only way to defend a breakaway better is not to give one up.
Sens Hero: Erik Condra
Condra had a two point night and earned both his assists with good vision. I wish I had the kind of effusive praise for him that I did for Karlsson, but the fact is that Condra was the Sens' best forward tonight, and it showed on the scoreboard. I didn't think he'd mesh well with Turris after seeing the chemistry he had with Z. Smith since the two centers are so different, but Condra's intelligence seems to go well with Turris' skills. It's a promising sign.
Sens Zero: Zenon Konopka
Konopka played a great game against Calgary, so it was disappointing to see him leave tonight with not one, but two game misconducts. He only served the first, which came for saying naughty words to an official, as the second was assessed at the end of OT. As mentioned above, he was the lone bright spot on faceoffs, but he cannot take those kinds of penalties and expect to be a contributor to the team's win--he had just 7:29 TOI tonight.
Sens Zero: Jason Spezza
Looked as bad tonight as he looked good last night. His struggles in the faceoff circle were already mentioned, but he also took two avoidable penalties and finished the night minus-1--one of only three Sens to do so. His shootout goal was nice, and critical to the team's victory, but that does not outweigh 24:38 of ineffectual play.
Shot chart! (For all the periods this time)
Happy New Year, everybody!