Back-to-back games have not been kind to the Ottawa Senators this season and tonight's match against the Buffalo Sabres was no exception. Coming off a big shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, the Sens didn't have the same jump in their legs against the Sabres, and that eventually became a problem.
Things started off well enough, as Milan Michalek and Cory Conacher converted a 2-on-1 rush early in the first period. Michalek stripped the puck from Tyler Ennis, fed Conacher, and then simply skated in a straight line towards the goal as fast as he could. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder was trapped in no-man's-land trying to defend and Conacher was able to lay a sweet pass in for Michalek to tip past thinly-veiled Sens Killer Ryan Miller.
The Senators continued to control play for most of the first period, and Robin Lehner was not pressed to make any major saves. It looked like the team would be able to ride out the lead to victory. and build some momentum for their season, but then the second period happened.
In the second period, the Senators found themselves outshot 18-9, and Lehner allowed two goals.The first was the kind that would get Craig Anderson pitchforked these days as Lehner simply wasn't ready for an easy Zemgus Girgensons shot. The puck went off of Lehner's pads and into the net. How unprepared was Lehner? Well, he wasn't square to Girgensons--although he was facing him--and he wasn't in any kind of stance. He was just kind of standing, legs apart, watching. Lehner didn't even react to the shot until it was in the net although he had a clear view of it. It looked like a complete brain fart, and a good reminder that the youngster still has his rough edges.
The second goal was similar: A shot from the side of the net that went underneath Lehner, and that he swiped into his own goal as he tried to cover it up. Whoops. Amazingly, this goal would not count, as the Sabres had a delayed penalty coming up and it was determined that Jason Spezza had gained possession of the puck prior to him tapping it into the net. Whatever, man. Ottawa got lucky there.
The Senators had the energy to take the play from there, as they outshot the Sabres 13-6 in the third period and 3-1 in the OT period, but were unable to solve Miller again. I hate Miller.
Then, the shootout began. I don't even know how to describe this, so here's the official chart from the NHL:
Wow. You knew things were over when Erik Condra had to score to keep things alive. Condra had had a quiet game, and Miller had had a strong game. Not a recipe for success. Worth noting is that Erik Karlsson, Spezza, and Bobby Ryan all lost control of the puck before they could get their shots off. Tough sailing for the team as I felt both Spezza on the backhand and Ryan on the forehand had room to shoot at had they been able to hang on to the puck.
All told, this is a tough result for a Sens team that needed to do better. The point will help them in the standings--it moves them ahead of Philadelphia--but they need to bring more energy on Thursday against this same Sabres team if they want to make a run.
Sens Killer: Ryan Miller
To steal a page from Potvin: He is good.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Unfairly only credited with two takeaways, I thought Turris played a really sneaky game tonight. Much like in the game against Tampa Bay, open ice was at a premium, and Turris adapted to this by trying to create it by stripping the puck--something I thought he did more frequently than the scorekeepers in Buffalo. He was also strong in the faceoff circle, and creative around the Buffalo net. And he scored in the shootout.
Honorable Mention: Jared Cowen
Is this real life? Yes, Cowen was, much like the U.S. Navy, a global force... for good. The thing is that when Cowen hits you, you should fall down, and he was putting butts on the ice all night. He was also mysteriously confident in the offensive zone yet again. Now, there are some caveats here, because the opponent wasn't great, and Cowen was getting third-pairing matchups, but baby steps, people. Baby steps. In Cowen's case, the cliches about simplifying one's game are true: He plays best when he can hit people hard and get the puck off of his stick quickly. He did both of those things tonight, and as a result, looked like one of the stronger defensemen for the team.
Sens Hero: Joe Corvo
I don't have a lot of effusive praise to write here. I'm not much of a Corvo fan. But I thought Corvo was the team's best defenseman on the night, making smart plays all over the ice. While Erik Karlsson was Erik Karlsson as usual, as I mentioned above, there wasn't a ton of open ice, so a lot of Karlsson's efforts to dangle and stickhandle were obvious (and successful, because Karlsson has sick talent) but ultimately led to nothing. Compare that with Corvo, who instead simply chose more efficient pass options and reads. I thought Corvo recognized the style of game better, and made better decisions as a result.
Sens Zero: Chris Phillips
I do have a lot of vulgar libel to write here, but I'll refrain. I didn't feel like Phillips was making good decisions tonight, and I think that made it harder for his teammates. We'll leave it at that.
Dishonorable Mention: Robin Lehner
This one's on Lehner. He should have had a shutout tonight, and instead allowed easily his weakest goal of the year--perhaps of his NHL career. It was a game the Senators needed to have, and instead of giving his team a chance to win, Lehner gift-wrapped things for their opponents. Truthfully, this game should not even have gone to a shootout, because the box score should have been 2-1 Buffalo in regulation, and both goals were on Lehner. He didn't demonstrate good confidence in the shootout, as you could see him physically tense with disgust after Steve Ott beat him with the same backhand deke that was successful for Brian Flynn the round before. Shootouts remain the weakest part of The Lehner's game, but that's an area that will improve with experience. He already looks better in them than he did last year.
That said, Lehner also made several big saves in the third period to even get the Senators to overtime, and he faced 10 shooters before finally losing. There were five opportunities for the Senators to win the shootout, so Lehner doesn't deserve much blame for that portion of the game. As shaky (for lack of a better term) as he looked, he still gave his teammates a chance to win once it came down to the skills competition. They didn't come through for him.
Sens Killer: Execution
Perhaps because it's hard to do well when you're tired, but I felt like many passes were off-target tonight. Perhaps that's also because the Sabres chose to aggressively challenge the Senators, but more than a few rushes and breakouts were stalled because the puck was either in someone's feet or nowhere near their stick. That meant a lot of dump-ins instead of skating with the puck. And if you're a possession team, skating with the puck is the name of the game. Karlsson was the only guy who could hit the tape tonight. And Karlsson can't do it alone.
Sens Killer: Power Play
Ottawa went 0-for-3 tonight, and I think might be generously credited with one total shot on goal. Even more egregious is that yet again, Ottawa got a ton of opportunities (all three, in fact) before Buffalo got their first. As the team's overall play continues to improve, the ineptness of the power play stands out more and more. This, right here, was once again a key to the game. The Senators could have delivered a knockout punch early in the game. They could have left the first period up 3-0. They could have been up 4-0 in the second period.
Of course, no team will go 100% on the power play every night, but the lament here is more about the opportunity. There was no reason for this game to go the way it did. The Senators had their chance to put it away in the first period. Maybe if they do, Lehner has a better game--because he sure wasn't bad in the first or third periods--and they get that second point.
The Senators are simply not in a place where many things are going right for them. That means they can't afford to leave opportunities on the table. And with the way the power play is running, that's exactly what they're doing. Take these duties away from Dave Cameron. The Senators came into this game third in shots and seventh in scoring. There's no excuse to have the kind of weak play we're seeing from the power play on a nightly basis. It's the anchor that's keeping the team from moving forward.
My favorite moment: Karlsson, off for hooking, comes out of the box while the Sabres are still in the zone. But... since the Sens are just finishing up a penalty kill, there are two defensemen on the ice already. Karlsson starts to head back towards the net for his normal assignment and then stops, realizing that's not his role at the moment. Instead, he stays up top to play the third forward role--and doesn't look out of place at all. Karlsson should be a forward.
Too bad they won't show all the shootout rounds.