The Ottawa Senators opened their 2013-2014 campaign in Buffalo, the city where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States. 18 years after leaving office, Roosevelt's characteristic moustache and wire-rimmed glasses were being carved into the side of Mount Rushmore. Is this the year that the Sens breakthrough and win the Stanley Cup? Will Erik Karlsson's locks, Chris Neil's teeth, or Paul MacLean's facial hair be carved in a granite cliff side to mark the team's first championship?
Through the fog of the opening festivities, the first period got underway. Just over a minute into the game, Sabres rookie Rasmus Ristolainen sent the Sens to their first power play of the season. An early chance to look at the much anticipated first power play unit did not disappoint. Patrick Wiercioch announced his presence with authority, ringing a slapper off the post. Bobby Ryan looked good down low and the interplay between Karlsson and Wiercioch was excellent. Unable to convert with the advantage, the Sens continued to press the Sabres in Buffalo's end. After John Scott slashed Chris Neil, the Sens were on the power play again. The first unit again pressured the Sabres; Ryan and Michalek worked well in front of the net, but an interference penalty by Ryan cut the PP short. Stephane Da Costa took an ill-advised tripping penalty behind the Sabres net and the Sens were forced to kill off a brief 5-on-3. Both Defensemen Jared Cowen and Marc Methot both looked strong on the kill. While the Sens dominated much of the period, the Sabres increased the pressure in the final minutes, forcing Anderson to make a highlight-reel toe save against Brian Flynn. The PK unit of Condra and Pageau broke out on a 2-on-1 and Sabres defender Tyler Myers dragged Condra down, eventually sending the Sens to the powerplay. Again, the Sens could not convert, but the first unit looked dangerous. While the Sens dominated the period (they had 23 shots to Buffalo's 16), the game remained scoreless after one.
The second period began with some nice pressure from the Turris line, featuring scoring chances for Kyle Turris and new Senator Clarke MacArthur. A second Bobby Ryan penalty sent the Sens to the PK for a fourth time. Despite the fact that both Chris Phillips and MacArthur were without their sticks at times during the PK, the Sens managed to kill the penalty. The second period was much sloppier than the first but was more even in between the two teams in terms of chances. The Senators top line applied some offensive zone pressure midway through the period and both Jason Spezza and Ryan had opportunities to notch their first goals of the season. On a Spezza-Karlsson 2-on-1, the captain elected to shoot instead of pass to an open Karlsson, but he couldn't convert on his initial shoot or the rebound. In the dying minutes of the period, Andy managed to bail the Sens out on a Buffalo 2-on-1, as he slid across the crease to deny Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek. Pressure from the Turris line resulted in a wonderful scoring chance for MacArthur in the second half of the period. Breaking in on the Buffalo goal, the speeding winger couldn't slide the puck past Miller. The Pageau line continued the pressure, as Greening slapped a pass to Pageau, only for the rookie to fan on the shot. The first line kept the pressure going. The captain kept the puck in the Sabres zone and fed Ryan the puck, who immediately passed back to the waiting centre. Unfortunately, Spezza's snip was denied by a sharp Miller. Despite a flurry of Sens chances in the final minutes, the game remained tied going into the third period. A much more even period, both Anderson and Miller played well during the frame.
The third period started with the teams exchanging chances and Miller and Anderson remaining strong. A fast break early in the period by Sabres captain Thomas Vanek was denied by a diving Karlsson, who poked the puck off Vanek's stick without taking the Sabre down. It was a play that illustrated both Karlsson's impressive speed and defensive awareness. Midway through the third period, the third line had a flurry of chances, the best of which were a Patrick Wiercioch slapper and an exceptional toe save by Miller on poor Erik Condra. A pretty passing play by the second line followed, ultimately stymied when MacArthur's stick snapped in half. In the dying minutes of the game, Andy denied Vanek with a massive glove save to keep the game tied. It's a good thing too because seconds later, MacArthur sped through the neutral zone, was afforded all sorts of space in the Sabres end by Tyler Myers and set up a wide open Karlsson, who smashed home a one-timer past Miller. With only 1:35 left in the game, the Sens were able to run down the clock and secure the 1-0 victory. The Sens looked rusty which is to be expected in the first game of the season, especially after a five day layoff between games, but will need to be sharper tomorrow night against the 2-0 Maple Leafs. Shots 46-35 in favour of the Senators.
Sens Heroes: The Turris Line
Turris and MacArthur continued to build on their preseason chemistry. Conacher is establishing himself as an annoying winger to play against and continues to fight for space in front of the net despite his small size. Turris looks physically stronger and MacArthur looks like the perfect complement for the centre. This line was particularly successful gaining entry into the Sabres zone and should excel at the possession game MacLean wants his team to play. Karlsson may have scored the game's lone goal, but it was the work of Turris and MacArthur driving out of their own end, through the neutral zone and gaining entry into the Sabres zone that create the opportunity for #65.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
While his shot accuracy left much to be desired for most of the game, Karlsson scored the game's only goal on a bullet shot from the slot. Still rusty, he made an excellent defensive play to deny Thomas Vanek on a breakaway.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Andy had a strong game. While the Sens were dominant for stretches of the game, particularly in the first period, Anderson made several huge saves to keep the game tied.
Dishonourable Mention: Eric Gryba
Gryba had a tough game. On several occasions he made poor decisions with the puck, including a rather glaring giveaway in front of his own net. In fairness to Gryba, he missed most of the preseason with injury, and spent the week practicing as the seventh defenseman. Still, his decision making ability under pressure leaves much to be desired and there's little indication it's going to improve with more experience.
Sens Killer: Ryan Miller
Miller faced a ton of rubber tonight and kept his team in the game, especially early when he faced 23 shots in the first period. While Andy faced the more difficult chances, Miller still managed a few impressive saves of his own.