The Ottawa Senators travelled to New Jersey to take on the Devils Wednesday night. The pre-game talk once again focused on curious coaching decisions by Ottawa's Paul MacLean. That hometown rookie Cody Ceci, fresh off his overtime winner on Monday night, remained in the lineup was not surprising. That the now-healthy Marc Methot remained on the bench was. Just over a minute into the game, Erik Karlsson drew a penalty and the Sens went to the power play. A Joe Corvo pinch at the blue line didn't work and somehow led to a 2-on-1 for the Devils. Karlsson wasn't able to block the Adam Henrique pass to Stephen Gionta and the Jersey winger put a snap shot past Robin Lehner, despite the fact that the Sens netminder got a piece of the shot.
With the all-too-familiar early deficit in place, the Sens settled into a rhythm. Some dominant shifts from Erik Karlsson at both ends of the rink led to increased pressure from Ottawa and a nice chance for Jason Spezza in the slot. Unfortunately the captain put the puck wide. Shortly after, the Devils stretched their lead to 2. Joe Corvo was knocked over in the neutral zone but the refs missed the tripping call on Michael Ryder, giving New Jersey a lane into Ottawa's zone. Eric Gelinas slapped the puck at the Sens net, but missed wide. A Jersey bounce off the boards resulted in the puck going right to rookie Reid Boucher, who was left uncovered by Patrick Wiercioch. Boucher wristed the puck into the open net and there wasn't much Lehner could do about it. The Smith line provided a late push, but other than the play of Karlsson, it was a poor period for the Senators.
The second period started as poorly as the first, when Bobby Ryan took a holding penalty 20 seconds in. The Sens managed to kill the bulk of the penalty, but with Ryan poised to come back on the ice the Devils capitalized on one final chance. With three Senators overcommitting to the opposition along the boards, Jaromir Jagr was left all alone in front of the net. Travis Zajac fed him the puck, and Jagr put a backhand five-hole on Lehner, his 693rd in the NHL, moving Jagr past Steve Yzerman into 8th on the all-time list. Lehner needs to save this one but it's still on the defense, who left him uncovered in front of the net.
Zajac gave the Sens a chance to get back in the game a few minutes later when he interfered with Michalek along the boards. Michalek kept his feet moving to draw the penalty. Thankfully, the PP came through. Some nice passing between Michalek and Karlsson led to #9's shot on net. Greening, stationed in front of Brodeur (unlike earlier in the game when Chris Neil was used in this capacity), put the puck past the New Jersey netminder with an excellent tip. Midway through the period with the teams playing 4-on-4 Jason Spezza had a miserable shift in his own end. He didn't have much in the way of jump and his turnover led to an excellent New Jersey scoring chance. The Sens seemed energized by the goal and pressed the Devils in their own end for much of the rest of the period. However, the goal to get Ottawa within 1 remained elusive. Instead, the Devils netted their fourth in the final minute of the period. Jared Cowen had the puck just inside his own blue line when Devils winger Damien Brunner slashed the stick out of Cowen's hands. With Cowen dragged out of position, Brunner walked in on Lehner and with a lovely deke, put the puck past Lehner. While Cowen recovered poorly, the Brunner slash is always, always called these days, except I guess, on Brunner. Brunner himself looked to the ref after scoring, unsure if he would be called for the blatant transgression. Tensions boiled over at the end of the period as MacArthur lay a hit on former Senator Anton Volchenkov. It led to a slight tussle between Volchenkov and MacArthur, but MacArthur came out of the altercation with a boarding and roughing penalty. Unfortunately, the Sens went into the second intermission down by 3.
The Sens managed to kill the 4 minute New Jersey PP to start the third. Midway through the period Marek Zidlicky took a hooking penalty and Ottawa capitalized. After several dump-ins were easily turned away, Patrick Wiercioch fed Michalek with a pass in the neutral zone. Michalek split the defensemen and skated in alone on Brodeur, putting a sweet backhand top-shelf past the future Hall-of-Famer. Hope was short-lived, as less than a minute later, Ottawa surrendered another goal. Gelinas scored while stationed in front of the net, surrounded by Senators who were covering no one. It was a poor defensive zone breakdown by the Smith line as well as the defensive pairing of Phillips and Ceci. The game ended in a 5-2 Devils win. Shots 33-25 in favour of New Jersey.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson had a really good game. More and more he is looking like the Norris trophy-winning Karlsson. He even spent 4:26 on the PK. His advanced stats weren't great tonight, but he still stood out.
Sens Hero: the power play
Ottawa only scored 2 goals, but they were both power play markers. In addition, the goals came from guys who see time on the second unit (Greening, Michalek.). Hopefully the PP can build on this performance against the Panthers tomorrow night.
Honourable Mention: Milan Michalek
Jeff O'Neill claimed Michalek was one of Ottawa's best players before the game. Tonight, Michalek played like it. His goal was beautiful, more of that, please.
Sens Zero: the Senators
This was a collective stinker. From the curious decision to not dress an apparently healthy Marc Methot to a sluggish first period to the many defensive zone breakdowns, this was a disheartening loss and the blame should be spread around. MacLean deserves some for leaving Methot in the press box and for rolling four lines. Colin Greening had the second-most ice time of any Sens forward with 16:14. Turris had 15:21 and Ryan 14:16. The line juggling did work on the power play, but not at even strength. The Sens have the potential for a strong top-six; those forwards need to play more. However, the team's poor execution is on the players. Defensive zone breakdowns like we saw tonight should be shocking this far into the season, but instead they're not surprising.
Yes, the refs had a bad game. They blew two calls that directly led to two New Jersey goals instead of two Ottawa power plays. The Brunner blown call was especially devastating as it essentially ended the game. But the thing is, Ottawa didn't play well enough to win this game. Play in Ottawa's own end was poor, but save Karlsson, the team didn't look especially threatening going forward either. This didn't look like the same team that played so well against St. Louis two nights ago.
Shot chart: via ESPN
Highlights: Fortunately, not available yet