For the first time in what feels like an eternity (but was actually just 51 days), the Ottawa Senators have won two consecutive games. Their 3-1 victory against the Washington Capitals didn't come easy, but it's a much-needed two points for a team that's still--against all odds--in the thick of the playoff race.
This game started just as most others have this season, with Ottawa's opposition scoring first, just 2:11 into the first frame. It was an ugly goal that didn't inspire much confidence, with Mika Zibanejad losing a battle in front of the net and Craig Anderson losing sight of the puck and then directing it into his own net with the butt of his stick. The teams traded shots for the rest of the period, but Anderson stepped up his game and made some strong saves to hold Washington off long enough for Zibanejad to redeem himself for that lost battle and cash in on a perfectly executed two-on-one with Cory Conacher.
For such a tightly-fought game, there sure were a lot of shots in this one, and the second period was the prime example of it. Both teams managed 14 shots in the middle frame, and Washington probably had more zone time, but it was Ottawa who scored thanks to a gorgeous move my Kyle Turris despite a hooking infraction from the Caps defenceman. Anderson continued his strong play and the second period ended with Ottawa up by one.
Washington brought the play to Ottawa in the third period, especially as the clock ticked down, but Anderson maintained his strong play and shut them down. Clarke MacArthur scored an empty-net goal to salt it away and just like that, Ottawa won two in a row and they're within spitting distance of a playoff spot once again.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Although the first goal that got past him was an ugly one, Andy played very well for Ottawa on Monday night. In particular, there was a span of 5-7 minutes in the second period when Washington controlled the play completely, but Anderson stood tall and looked like the guy we all expected to start this season. This marks the third straight strong game from Andy, which bodes well; maybe he's getting his confidence back.
Sens Hero: Cory Conacher
Conacher's put together a few good games in a row and looks like a good fit in Ottawa's top-six forward group. Tonight his speed really came to the fore, and his pressure on Washington's point-men caused a few turnovers and drew a penalty. He was among the team's leaders in ice time tonight (only Turris and, oddly, Erik Condra played more than he did) with 18:50, and pushed the play for most of that time.
Sens Hero: Mika Zibanejad
Zibanejad and Conacher's hero nods are hand-in-hand, really, because the two played off each other exceptionally well. Their combination of speed, physicality, and offence is something Ottawa fans haven't really seen in some time, but it's very exciting. With Spezza out of the lineup, Ottawa's game moves far more towards a speedy style of play, and it makes for fun hockey.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Games in which Karlsson is a hero are few and far between, but tonight he was effective when playing in a shutdown role against Alex Ovechkin--and he pushed the offence at the same time. More notably, though, was his team-first decision when on an empty-net breakaway to pass the puck backward to Clarke MacArthur rather than scoring the easy goal for himself. MacArthur had gone ten games since scoring his last goal, and Karlsson's unselfish choice was obviously appreciated by his teammate.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Turris scored his tenth goal of the season in this one, and just keeps chugging away as the de facto top centreman in Ottawa--something he's been doing all season. It's been very fun to witness Turris come out of his shell, to a degree, as a player dragged along by Daniel Alfredsson in his first year in Ottawa to an injury replacement top-liner last season to where he is now: A legitimate top-line defensively-responsible but offensively-potent centreman. He's certainly assisted by his supportive wingers, but Turris has the look of a very good piece of this team's core. The 'A' he wore on his jersey against Washington looked good on him, too.
Ice Time Leader: Erik Condra
No forward played more even-strength ice time than Erik Condra tonight. His ice time was partially a result of two things: He was, for a short period, double-shifted when Chris Neil went down to injury, and after that he was tasked with shutdown duties against Alex Ovechkin. That doesn't completely explain it, to me; there's no denying that Condra did fairly well in controlling Ovechkin (although the Great Eight still managed seven shots on net), he ended up playing more at even-strength than Ovechkin did. It was one of the odd hunches that Paul MacLean has never been shy about playing, and this time it paid off (at least to a degree).