So, after all the euphoria and speculation, we finally got to see what the Ottawa Senators might look like this year. And there's good news and bad news, but more good news than bad news.
The game itself was a sloppy affair for both sides, as you might expect for teams that have had all of six days to practice together. Thanks, Commissioner Bettman! The Winnipeg Jets, buoyed by their frenetic home crowd, jumped all over the Sens. Goaltender Craig Anderson looked like a guy who hadn't played in a year, as he was having trouble tracking the puck, the defensive pairings had no communication and couldn't clear or advance the puck, and no one could connect on a pass to save their lives. It was an opera of dysfunction, and the Jets took clear advantage.
Just over five minutes into the game, Chris Neil took a pretty careless boarding penalty, presumably to try and wake his teammates up. It didn't work, and he went to the box to feel shame. He would only stay there for thirty seconds, though, because the team's penalty kill looked just as disorganized as every other facet of its game. Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was able to one-time a bomb over Anderson's shoulder to give the team a 1-0 lead.
After that, the ice began to even out, and the Senators began to actually compete like there were two points on the line. Rookie defenseman Patrick Wiercioch, who had recently gone to the box on a ticky-tack tripping penalty, was able to poke the puck free and get it to Milan Michalek, and Michalek launched that thing the second it hit his stick. Ondrej Pavelec simply wasn't able to close the five hole fast enough and the game was tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, with the Senators leading in shots, 15-11.
They were unable to build any momentum for much of the second period, though, thanks to a steady parade to the penalty box. Guillaume Latendresse disappeared for tripping, followed by Michalek for what apparently is going to be considered holding this year. At one point, the team was being outshot 8-0 in the period. There were some positive signs, though, as the team began to look organized at the least, if still rusty. The penalty kill unit shut out the Jets the rest of the way, and the Sens slowly began to get themselves together. Things came to a head late in the second period, with Colin Greening and Neil in front of the Winnipeg net. Erik Karlsson, seeing the traffic, fired a softie into the crowd, looking for a rebound chance. Neil found the loose puck and put it in for the game-winner, and the Sens would not look back.
The team was able to control play for much of the third period, but was unable to get the insurance goal until they finally got a power play opportunity a little more than halfway through the period. Jason Spezza, who had a quiet game otherwise, was able to corral a puck so that it got to Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar ripped a pass to Karlsson, who unleashed a shot that would have gone through Pavelec if he had tried to get in its way. Kyle Turris iced it later with a laughable goal that had no business going in. Interestingly enough, Turris also took the final shot of the game, where he tried to do the exact same thing again. What a jerk.
All in all, it wasn't a pretty win, but it is two points in a very hostile building. The coaching staff should have a clear idea of what to work on as they move forward, and what they can build on for the season. Now, let's talk details.
First, the bad news
- The team discipline was putrid. As a whole, they took seven penalties to Winnipeg's three, with one set of offsetting calls to Daniel Alfredsson and Nik Antropov. That means the team gave up six power play opportunities and got only two of their own. Some of the penalties may not have been the strongest of calls by the officials, but all of them were avoidable. Call me a pessimist, but I don't see the Senators winning many games serving up that many opportunities.
- The faceoff numbers where abhorrent. Spezza and Turris, especially, did not have good performances on the dot, though they were able to salvage their numbers somewhat with a strong third period. Not coincidentally, this was also Ottawa's best period. Puck possession depends on faceoff wins, and the team has to get better at them in a friggin' hurry.
- Everyone looked rusty as all get-out, even the guys who had been playing overseas. Normally, you'd just shrug that off, but guess what? There's a game on Monday. Hard to know if the Sens will even practice tomorrow, and it's obvious that the players need to develop some chemistry. Latendresse-Turris-Alfredsson, in particular, just couldn't find a way to click, though they had sporadic moments of impressive play.
Now, the good news
- Erik Karlsson is still good.
- The team wasn't outshot.
- Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit look capable of holding down the fort. Head coach Paul MacLean's system favors skating and puck movement, which is the forte of both players. They're still pretty iffy in their own zone, but the experience of playing together in Binghamton is an obvious benefit. Wiercioch, in particular, looks good--he did not hesitate to get physical early, which is not something he showed much of in the AHL. Neither are going to wow any Norris Trophy voters, but they weren't the sieves we feared they might be... so far.
- The team once again found a way to win, a theme we saw frequently last year. It looked like they were going to get crushed early in the first, but they hung around, found their legs, and scored four unanswered goals. It's good to see some tenacity so early in the season--chances are they're going to need it at some point this season.
- Jakob Silfverberg did not look out of place in the NHL. It was pretty obvious he's still learning things, as he had some stretches of invisibility. But for the most part, when he had his opportunities, he took them, and was noticeable in the play. We saw this pattern early in the year with him in the AHL, so look for production to come as he gets more comfortable.
- The power play wasn't awful. It's tough to tell with just two measly opportunities, but there was no hesitation by anyone on the Karlsson goal. It's a little troubling that the main power play option appears to remain "get it to Karlsson," as I'd like to see at least one other look to at least keep defenders honest, but as options go, "Reigning Norris Winner" is a pretty reasonable one.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Speaking of Karlsson, he wasn't great in this game, and he still walked away with a three-point night. So, the kid is already the team leader in points, and no one else has more than one. When you think about that, it's really impressive to consider that he's only 22 and has his whole career in front of him. Is he going to rack up points like a badass Super Mario Bros. player? Possibly. I wouldn't doubt it. But more importantly, he's going to continue to grow in other aspects of his game. Like, for example, being able to kill penalties. Karlsson played 3:03 shorthanded tonight, so Norris voters and jackass naysayers, take note. It's not that he can't do it, it's that his minutes are better spent elsewhere. But, hey, just think about Karlsson accumulating enough experience to read plays better than he can right now. That should make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
On the fast track to a zero with his shaky start in the first period, Anderson really turned his game around for the final 40 minutes. Andy was beaten three times in the first period, but only one found the back of the net. The other two kissed the crossbar and a post. So, that wasn't good. After that, it was the same old guy we saw last year: Mr. "I slam the door and then my teammates go out and get some goals and then my job gets easy," or Mr. ISTDATMTGOAGSGATMJGE for short. Anderson's .964 save percentage is just slightly better than his .914 of last year, and more reminiscent of the .933 save percentage he's posted in the playoffs for both the Colorado Avalanche and the Senators last year. Anderson keeps the Sens in games, and as we've mentioned above, if the Sens stick around long enough, they usually find a way to win.
Sens Hero: Marc Methot
The difference between Methot and Kuba is astounding. Heisenberg tied for the team lead with five hits, racked up an assist, and put out an effort level that left me giddy. He was not perfect--not by a long shot--and there's some obvious rust to knock off and chemistry with Karlsson to develop. But I'll take his willingness to work all day long. Effort solves just about every problem, and if tonight is any indication, Methot is going to give out effort in spades. It's probably not a coincidence that Karlsson was able to pick up the pace he left off with last season, nor that he and Methot were both plus-2 on the night--the only Senators with a plus/minus rating greater than plus-1. I was not expecting this much from his debut, but to call me encouraged is an understatement.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Wiercioch
He made a really good play to set up Michalek for the Sens' first goal, but he was careless on the tripping penalty before that. He was willing to be physical in his own end, but also out of position more than few times. You could see why the team is willing to give him a shot to start the season, and also see where he still has room to improve. I think he'll be sticking around even when Mike Lundin returns.
Sens Zero: Guillaume Latendresse
Taking the opposite path from Anderson, Latendresse started out as a hero, throwing around some hits (he tied Methot with 5) and some great chances in front of the net early, which we know to be his M.O. Unfortunately, he also racked up 4 PIMs, which is the kind of stuff that drove us crazy with Zenon Konopka, and Latendresse is a top-six player, so it's even more crucial that he stay out of the box. He looked a lot like a guy who hadn't played much in two years, probably because he hasn't played much in two years. Hopefully he'll get a chance to find his way with his linemates, but unfortunately with the shortened season, he's not going to have that long a leash to turn it around.
Dishonorable Mention: Jason Spezza
Calling Jason Spezza. Calling Jason Spezza. The season has started. Please get your gear and your illegally curved stick and report to the Ottawa Senators at once.
Do you even remember these?!?