Before we start this recap in earnest, I want to set the table with some highlights. Senators fans should be aware that their team put together a 6-0 drubbing of the New York Islanders on Monday, but their opponent, the Washington Captials, also played on Monday. How they fared in that game is crucial to how this game played out, so here are some highlights of a game the Senators did not play in that you should still really watch:
Now, coming into this game, the Capitals did not have Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Ovechkin, out with a concussion and "lower body injury," respectively. Backstrom has been out since early January; Ovechkin was injured against Carolina on Monday. Though Andy Sutton might question my interpretation, the video shows a reeling team as Ottawa's opponent. Yet, despite all the turmoil, the Capitals entered the game just two points behind Florida for the Southeast Division lead--those two points were the difference between 10th place and 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standings. Wounded team, wounded pride, a chance to move into a playoff spot on the line... a prime opportunity for a team to blast out of the gates, right?
The first period began with a staccato of play broken up by whistles, with eight stoppages of play by my count before the period was even two minutes old. And while the Capitals were by no means disheartened by the start, they were able to generate absolutely no momentum. With no chance to pounce on the Senators, the pendulum began to swing the other way, and Ottawa did not miss out on their chance to pounce on an undermanned team lacking in confidence.
The Sens' onslaught began with a goal from their best defenseman, thinly-veiled Sens Hero Erik Karlsson. Before the period was ten minutes old, Jason Spezza found Karlsson all alone at the top of the circle. Karlsson had plenty of time to pick his shot, and with no one challenging him, there was no reason he wouldn't make a perfect shot. He did, and it was 1-0.
Not long after, Karlsson set up his fellow thinly-veiled Sens Hero Milan Michalek with a pass that was simply superb: he fired a slapper that bounced off the boards and saucered right onto the tape of Michalek's stick. Oh, and Michalek was in full stride at the Capitals' blue line when he received the pass. Karlsson may have a future in billiards if this whole hockey thing doesn't work out. Anyway, Michalek then put the puck through a defenseman's legs, did a little backhand-forehand-backhand action, and flipped the puck into the net to increase the team's lead to two.
So, the Senators skated into the second with a quality lead despite getting outshot 11-7. The next goal would be crucial to the outcome of the game: if the Capitals scored, it would inflate their bench; if Ottawa scored, it would deflate their bench. With the period barely three minutes old, Erik Condra drew a tripping penalty on Mike Green while driving to the net, and the Senators' power play went to work. Karlsson, working the point, faked a shot, while forced the defender clogging his shooting lane to move out of the way. He then ripped a bouncer that hit just about everybody's stick on its way to the net. The last stick it hit? Michalek's--and that set a new career high in goals for Ottawa's winger.
To their credit, the Capitals did not give up after what should have been a back-breaking goal, but couldn't generate much in quality scoring chances. When the Senators got another power play opportunity due to a Troy Brouwer unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (presumably not for meowing), Big Game Chris Phillps scored his fourth goal in six games to give the Senators a 4-0 lead. Game over, right?
This is where things got a little wonky for the Senators, and it's a little disturbing to see. The Ottawa Senators of earlier this season would have taken the third period by storm, not content to win by playing 40 good minutes. This night, they looked perfectly content to play their 40 and coast on their lead to the final whistle. This plan was crappy, as the Capitals seized the chance given to them, bagging a John Carlson power play goal early in the period, and a badass goal from Mathieu Perreault at about the halfway point. Why was it badass? He scored it with his face. Seriously. Check the highlights.
Of course, with a game on their hands again, the Senators had trouble turning the offense back on, as is so often the case with sports. The Capitals continued to pressure, and several great saves from Craig Anderson kept the Senators in the game until an empty net goal from Nick Foligno sealed the win.
The positives: Ottawa could have won this game handily had they executed for 60 minutes.
The negatives: Ottawa did not execute for 60 minutes.
Still, how you win a game doesn't affect how many points you get. Ottawa now sits at 72, just two behind Boston for the division lead. No one expected that. Ottawa's next game is against those Bruins, and its playoff implications are bigger than Karlsson's arms.
(read on for heroes and zeroes...)
Sens Zero: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson did not get 10 assists in this game, which is extremely disappointing given his offensive potential. In fact, he only had two, which left him fulfilling a mere 20% of my expectations as set in our Game Discussion Thread. That is not good enough. Still, it is not all doom and gloom for the Senators' young blueliner: his 47th assist, recorded tonight, now stands as the record for most assists in a season by a Senators defenseman--so there is still reason to believe he can turn his season around. Look for him to break that record on Saturday. I already described all of his points, so I'll just remind everyone that he had three on the night, which is a pretty good night for a forward, and then I'll remind everyone that Karlsson is, in fact, not a forward.
Sens Hero: Milan Michalek
As mentioned before, set a career high for goals with his 27th tonight. I love the way Michalek plays. He drives the net like a madman, and it's that kind of work ethic that gets him most of his goals. He was probably the hardest working Senator tonight. Like Karlsson, he also had three points (2G, 1A). But he is definitely a forward.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
I waffled here between honorable mention and hero, but in the end, there are two things that swayed me:
1) Anderson did not really have a chance to make a save on either goal scored against him.
2) Anderson was the only Senators player who actually made a real effort in the third period. It's good that he did, because I think the game could have turned sour for the Sens if he hadn't made a few huge saves. And his teammates owe him some beers for hanging him out to dry like that.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Turris
Yeah, he's snake-bitten right now, but it's not like he's not getting his chances. I felt that Turris generated more chances than Spezza tonight, including one breakaway, and almost a second, but Spezza got a point and Turris did not. And, really, that's the difference between a veteran and a kid still learning the game. You'd like to see Turris put up some points, but really, as long as he's generating scoring chances, you can't be too worried about him not scoring--it's not like his line is unproductive or a liability on the ice.
Honorable Mention: Chris Neil
Neil had two assists tonight, helping set up Phillips' power play goal back when the team was still trying, and springing the puck loose to Foligno for the empty net goal when the team needed at least someone to still try. Love him or hate him, Neil plays every shift with the same effort level.
Honorable Mention: Special Teams
The power play went 2-for-3 on the night and the penalty kill went 4-for-5. So, if you're looking for reasons why Ottawa won, I suggest starting there.
Honorable Mention: Jared Cowen
I thought Cowen played particularly well in his ice time tonight, making more than a few good reads on when to join the play. The stat sheet also credited him with five hits, which led the team.
Obscure stat of the night: Brian Lee led Erik Karlsson in spin-o-ramas behind his own net, 1-0.
Dear Z. Smith: Why fight when you're up 4-0? Love, Mark.