The game is tied 1-1. The Senators are hanging with the defending Stanley Cup champions. Brad Marchand comes down the left wing and takes a shot from far out. And Alex Auld watches the puck cruise over his glove. At the NHL level, it's a routine save: you move to the top of the crease so that there's only one place the shooter can aim at, and then you fill that place with your glove.
Alex Auld did not do that, and the Senators weren't the same afterwards.
The game started off very well for the Sens. The Bruins made a strong push off the opening faceoff, but Auld made a fantastic save and the breakout was started by--who else?--Erik Karlsson. Karlsson fed Jason Spezza, who fed the speeding Milan Michalek up the middle. Michalek dished backwards to Spezza, and instead of shooting at the net and letting the driving Michalek try to grab a rebound--a tall order against Tim Thomas--Spezza threw a no-look pass to the trailing man, none other than Karlsson, and Karlsson buried his shot.
The Bruins answered quickly, with Patrice Bergeron putting in a rebound of a Zdeno Chara slap shot, and this was a goal where Auld could not be heavily faulted. I felt that it was the kind of shot Craig Anderson would have saved by being square to the shooter, and swallowing the puck. But Auld was forced to make a toe save, and Karlsson wasn't able to prevent Bergeron from getting the loose puck and putting it in.
After that, the goal I described above happened, and the Sens visibly deflated. It was reminiscent of the kind of bad goal effect that we saw from Brian Elliott last year. With no jump in their game, the Senators were instead jumped upon, and one team looked like they were playing playoff hockey while the other looked like they were still playing early season hockey. Ottawa kept trying to make pretty passes, which resulted in what can only be described as an avalanche of turnovers. Meanwhile, the Bruins gave up absolutely no space, routinely harassing Ottawa's puck carriers with more than one man, and unleashing the heaviest forecheck I've seen Ottawa face all year. At times, it seemed like Boston was cycling the puck at will--and why not? They knew if they made a mistake, the puck would wind up right back on their sticks.
Chris Neil provided a late spark with a huge hit and a fight against Chara, and Ottawa responded with some heavy pressure of their own. Despite two late laserbeam goals from captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Sens couldn't find the equalizer and Bergeron iced the game with an empty net goal.
The positives: The Senators showed they're capable of playing against any opponent when they have the right mindset.
The negatives: The team demonstrated no confidence in front of Auld.
(read on for heroes and zeroes...)
Sens Killer: Tim Thomas
Ridiculous. The difference between Thomas and Auld was obvious: Everything that hit Thomas was swallowed up. Everything that hit Auld remained in play. Thomas had absolutely no chance on either of Alfredsson's goal, and there was no reason to believe Ottawa had any chance in this game once Thomas had a lead to protect, late-game rallies aside.
Sens Killer: Accuracy
Far too many fantastic scoring chances wound up not being scoring chances because Senators players simply could not hit the net. Tim Thomas is a great goalie; he doesn't need help being better.
Sens Zero: Alex Auld
I've harped on this enough, and Auld was not as bad as I made him sound. His play in the third period was just fine, and he made plenty of great saves. The problem is that his bad goals were deflating--tremendously so. That's not okay. And considering this game was a chance to have a shot at the division lead and help secure a playoff spot, it's really not okay. By the nature of his existing backup position, Auld deserved the first shot at securing the starting job during Anderson's absence. He didn't do anything with that shot. Bring on Robin Lehner.
Sens Zero: Kyle Turris
Watching the turnover circus in the second period was especially frustrating, but one player stood out for me, and it was Turris. He also generated a few scoring chances, but mostly what a I noticed Turris for was getting his pocket picked. It's hard to blame him--the Senators were down and he was trying to create something--but trying to do too much often leads to more breakdowns than scoring chances. Add in a disappointing boarding call that should get him some supplementary discipline and it was not a good night for the youngster.
Sens Zero: Matt Carkner
Dressing in place of Brian Lee, Carkner was supposed to bring some added toughness to the lineup, but he only delivered three hits and finished the night a minus-1. Considering how aggressive the Bruins' forechecking was, it seems like having Brian Lee's puck-moving skills might have been more beneficial. Bottom line: Carkner was dressed to make a difference in this game and he didn't.
Sens Zero: Power Play
They went 0-for-2 with zero shots. Way to bring it in a big game, boys.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Another three-point night with one goal and two assists, Karlsson was in on every goal the Senators scored tonight. There's not much else to say. The kid is integral to the offense and he showed it again tonight. The Senators need him to play well in order to win.
Sens Hero: Jason Spezza
Spezza had three assists on the night, so just read what I wrote about Karlsson above, but replace the word "Karlsson" with "Spezza".
Sens Hero: Daniel Alfredsson
If anything, watch the highlights for what I think are two of Alfie's best goals. No exaggeration. To be that accurate while firing a shot that hard, and to do it twice, is really something special. No surprise here--Alfie was the team's best forward yet again.
Honorable mention: Chris Neil
As previously mentioned, Neil threw a huge hit and fought Zdeno Chara to spark his team for a furious late rally. Too bad he wasn't able to do it after the Marchand goal.
Honorable mention: Nick Foligno
Really brought some intensity in the second period when most of his teammates seemed down. Strangely, for whatever reason, no one seemed interested in following his lead. He also deserves credit for trying to throw several big hits, though he whiffed on all of them.