Although the Washington Capitals came out fast and furiously against the Ottawa Senators and took an early lead on Tuesday night, the Sens managed to stay in the game--in large part thanks to Craig Anderson--and ended up on the right side of a 3-2 score.
Aside from an early Sens power play, the first 30 minutes were straight-up ugly for the Senators. Washington's forecheck was punishing and effective, and had the Sens in fits trying to clear the puck out of their defensive zone. Anderson made some strong saves, but the Caps' net drive still resulted in goals from Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks before the first frame was up. Three Senators penalties in the first didn't help Ottawa gain momentum, but it had a lot more to do with the Capitals' impressive offensive zone pressure.
Around the mid-way point of the second period, though, momentum started to tilt in Ottawa's favour. Mika Zibanejad stepped up his game in a big way, and he ended up playing a pivotal role in the Sens' first goal, scored by Jim O'Brien late in the second and giving the team some much-needed gusto heading into the final 20 minutes.
The third period heavily favoured Ottawa, as the Capitals strayed from their high-pressure forecheck and allowed the Sens to get the puck out of their zone more cleanly. Maintaining offensive zone pressure and generating good scoring chances remained an issue, but a flukey goal early in the third by Milan Michalek tied things really set Washington back on their heels. It seemed like only a matter of time before Ottawa would take the lead, and that ended up happening late in the game when Sergei Gonchar scored a powerplay goal off an absolutely gorgeous Erik Karlsson-led zone entry. Anderson still had to make some very big saves in the game to safeguard Ottawa's lead, but he was once again there for the team and they skated away with an impressive win.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Without Jason Spezza in the lineup, Karlsson was left to carry the team from an offensive perspective--while still staying responsible from a defensive perspective. And he somehow managed to do so, and didn't even look perturbed by the pressure. He played a game-high 26:58 on the night, regularly disarmed Alex Ovechkin with incredible ease (or at least the appearance thereof), drew three penalties, made the game-winning goal happen almost single-handedly, and looked very much like the NHL's best defenceman. It was awesome.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
If not for Anderson, this game would have been over almost before it started. Early in the game he kept Ottawa in it, and late in the game he kept it tied and then preserved the lead. This guy is playing out-of-his-mind hockey, and it's incredible to watch.
Sens Hero: Mika Zibanejad
To quote Mr. Mark Q. Parisi, esq: "He looked like an NHL player for the first time. He belonged out there."
That's the start and end of it, really. Zibanejad played very well all game, made the Sens' first goal happen, and looked very good with Erik Condra and O'Brien. I can't help but wonder, though, how much more Zibanejad could do with more potent linemates. He's almost certainly going to get that chance; expect him to stay with Ottawa (much to the dismay of the Binghamton Senators).
Sens Zero: Guillaume Latendresse
Flubbed on two chances in front of the net on that early powerplay, and his brutal and unforced giveaway minutes later led directly to Washington's first goal. As a result, he played only 11:36 in the game, including just 2:25 in the third period. Perhaps against a slower team he would be more effective, but the Capitals were far too fast for him to be a useful piece of the puzzle. Any extra games Zibanejad ends up playing as a result of his great effort tonight--which will likely be at least a few--will likely come at the expense of Latendresse, unless injuries continue to keep others out of the lineup.
Urgent Need: Defencemen (apply within)
Those fits I was talking about earlier? They resulted, in large part, from the inability of five-sixths of Ottawa's defenders being incapable of moving the puck out of the defensive zone in the face of Washington's high-pressure forecheck. Not to put too much blame on Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Marc Methot, Patrick Wiercioch, or Mark Borowiecki individually, the sum of those parts equals a very unreliable group of players who are one or more of the following: old; slow; defensively-oriented; rookie; offensively challenged. Before tonight, Ottawa's questionable D-corps hadn't really been an issue. Tonight, it was a big issue, and if the Capitals weren't in such a tailspin the defence would have led to a Senators' loss.