When word came out just before the game started that Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson would miss the game due to having his feelings hurt from a mean-spirited Kaspars Daugavins prank (parts of this recap may be made up), Sens fans spiraled into a panic. What would the team look like without Karlsson driving the offense? Who would lead rushes? Who would take all the shots? Fortunately, their opponents for the game were the injury-decimated Pittsburgh Penguins, and that gave the Sens the cushion they needed to succeed without their best player.
It didn't come easily at first, though.
Karlsson's absence was obvious from the get-go, as the Penguins pressured the Senators relentlessly early in the first period--the game was not even ten minutes in when the seemingly endless offensive zone possession led to a Brian Lee holding penalty. But the Senators' penalty killing units rose to the occasion and slowly, the team began to figure out its plan. Karlsson's absence was noticeable in that there were fewer shots from the blue line and all of the goals came from in close to the net, which makes for a fun shot chart.
Without Karlsson (and this is the last mention of him in the recap) out, the Sens had to be opportunistic--and they were, scoring on four consecutive shots across the first and second periods. It's very telling that in a game where five goals were scored, no player had more than two points. The scoring came from all over tonight. Some great individual efforts led to some great goals. Let's look at them:
Senators 1, Penguins 0
Kyle Turris, knowing that he can take the night off after getting his perfunctory assist, works the puck deep into the zone before finally losing it (or perhaps leaving it) in the corner. This is where Chris Neil picked it up and skated to the front of the net uncovered because he's Chris Neil. Neil's first shot was easily stopped by Penguins goalie Brent Johnson--again, because he's Chris Neil--but with a rebound sitting right there and no pressure, Neil flipped it right into the net for the goal.
Senators 2, Penguins 0
Nick Foligno decides to take the phrase "play 200 feet" literally as he carries the puck from his own red line down the ice, dekeing Penguins players like he's in a scene from The Matrix along the way. Whoa. He even let them get in a line change just so he could deke more guys. Finally approaching the other net, Foligno decides to pass just to see what it feels like. On the other end is a waiting Bobby Butler, who waits just to make Johnson flail, presumably because he is a jerk. Butler then buries his shot.
Senators 3, Penguins 0
The negatives of having a huge scoreboard become readily apparent, as Jason Spezza got to see clear replays of Foligno's deke clinic and decided to one-up him. Spezza charges toward Johnson, gets him to commit way out of the net, then reaches around the sprawled goaltender to tuck the puck in against the post. Just so there's no confusion, Spezza had possession of the puck the entire time. Just a ridiculous goal, and Johnson was mercifully benched.
Senators 4, Penguins 0
On the power play, Milan Michalek kicks the puck in, and a goal review goes the right way for Ottawa for a change. I didn't see this play due to actually having to work for five minutes, so I'm just going to use this space to point out that the power play was created by Z. Smith, who drew two penalties on the night while committing none of his own.
Senators 4, Penguins 1
A massive brain fart by the entire team, but especially Sergei Gonchar, leaves Evgeni Malkin alone in front of the net with the puck. Come on. Malkin isn't going to miss from there.
Senators 5, Penguins 1
Colin Greening is skating in towards the net. He uses his Ivy League brain to decide not to use his team-best speed or his super hard shot to create a scoring chance. The reason for this decision is that Michalek has crept in position for an even better scoring chance. Greening passes to Michalek, who rifles a shot. No chance for Marc-Andre Fleury.
(read on for a bunch of heroes and a very shocking zero...)
Honorable mention: Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar led the team in blocked shots, ice time, and impressions of you-know-who.
Honorable mention: All of the other defensemen, even Matt Carkner and Brian Lee
This is the first game the Senators have won by four goals this season, and Pittsburgh had only three scoring chances in the third period. As a group, they took a lead and locked it down.
Honorable mention: Bobby Butler
Only got about ten minutes of ice time on the fourth line, but scored his second goal in three games. Production has been the reason he's been on the fourth line; that can no longer be justified.
Honorable mention: Nick Foligno
His assist on Butler's goal was about as close to a real assist as you can get, and he was the only player not from the top line to be better than a plus-1.
Sens Hero: Colin Greening
Greening had three primary assists tonight. and in a pretty physical game got the chance to play the role of power forward. Clearly he did it well. Also won all one of his faceoffs taken, which makes him 100% better than you-know-who.
Sens Hero: Jason Spezza
See the description of his goal above. Spezza had stretches of dominant play tonight.
Sens Hero: Milan Michalek
Freaking sniper. And he had a goal from in front of the net. And he was in the faces of the Penguins all night--he was so amped up he got a roughing penalty. AND he drew a retaliatory slash from James Neal for it. AND he gave a great interview. Easily Ottawa's best forward on a night when there were many, many good forwards.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
I almost forgot, because this recap is really long. Ottawa needed Anderson to be strong early in this game while they found their way. Luckily, he was up to the task, and his play reminded me of the Anderson of last year: give his team a chance to win, and let them seize it. I don't believe Ottawa would have won with Alex Auld in net tonight.
Sens Zero: Daniel Alfredsson
It was good that the team did not need Alfie to carry them tonight, because he did not. Technically a minus-1 on the night due to unfortunately being on the ice for the Malkin debacle, he had no shots on goal and was invisible for most of the game.