Here's the good news: The Ottawa Senators aren't as bad as the 3-0 score indicates.
Here's the bad news: It's going to take a lot of games for the young players on the team to adjust and put home their chances and turn them into wins.
Early in the game, the callups from Binghamton--Derek Grant, Dave Dziurzynski, and Eric Gryba, were all on the ice for their first shift when Maple Leafs fourth-liner Frazier McLaren put home a rebound past thinly-veiled Sens Hero Craig Anderson, but head coach Paul MacLean threw them right back on the ice. What else could he do? There's literally no one else to play.
Luckily, the Sens carried the play for much of the rest of the game from that point on, but were unable to solve Leafs backup Ben Scrivens. Scrivens faced 19 shots in the second period alone, but the problem was that the volume of shots did not correlate to quality scoring chances. What constitutes a scoring chance in the AHL doesn't cut it in the NHL, and that's what Ottawa's young players have to learn in the remainder of this season.
The Senators had opportunities to win this game--or at the very least, score goals. Captain Daniel Alfredsson hit another post, which makes about a billion in the last few games for the team, and the team had three consecutive power plays before the Leafs even got their first. The opportunities were there; they were just missed.
But, look, that's the way it goes with a young team. Players are suddenly bigger, stronger, and faster than you, and there's not as much time to make plays or react to them as you're used to. Goalies are larger and quicker than anything you've seen before. Perimeter shots don't work like they used to. Shooting lanes are always filled with sticks or bodies. Nothing comes easily at the professional level and it's the kind of thing that takes a few years of training--both physical and mental--to achieve consistent success in. Remember what Jacques Martin said about men and boys? He wasn't lying.
That means we're in for many more nights like this. It's part of the process, and when the path for development is simply hard work, there aren't any shortcuts available.
Sens Killer: Phil Kessel
As usual, he played a role in a goal scored tonight, even if he didn't score it himself. Toronto's second goal, scored about halfway through the third period, was deflected off of Tyler Bozak's skate, and set up by Kessel, even though he won't get credit for an official assist. Kessel finished the night plus-2 and led all skaters with five shots. I hate him.
Sens Zero: The Power Play
Now currently 0-for-infinity, if the Senators had a functioning special teams unit, their record would probably be a lot better. The team's struggles 5-on-5 are understandable, but it's with a man advantage where the team is truly failing. Zone entries are shit, puck possession is shit, and sustained pressure is shit. Far too often, there's simply a shot from the point, a save, no one there to get the rebound, and a regrouping in the neutral zone.
True, the team did have one power play opportunity tonight that looked very good--the opposite of the criticisms I listed above--and the power play units have hit posts in recent games, but a team struggling to generate offense in other situation simply can't perform at this level if they expect to win games.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Gave up a goal early and then was solid. Only got beat by dirty rebounds. Still managed a .926 save percentage. Just imagine Anderson in every game so far and you've got your hero justification, because that's how he looked tonight.
Sens Hero: Zack Smith
Tied for the team lead with four shots, second on the team with three hits, and 8 of 13 (61.5%) in the faceoff circle, which led all Senators who took more than one faceoff. (Grant was the only player to lose his only faceoff. Everyone else taking just one managed to win it.) Z. Smith played a good game tonight.
Sens Hero: Stephane Da Costa
Though he faded in the faceoff circle in the third period, for a while there, it seemed like he was going to win every draw he took. Not only that, but he also threw three hits, which is crazy because he's five feet nothing, and weighs a hundred and nothing. He's looking like a much different player than we saw in the NHL last year, but he still has a ways to go. I'm starting to believe he could make it, though.
Sens Hero: Eric Gryba
The score sheet will show a minus-2, and it would have been nice to see Gryba clear the front of the net on the first goal, but he also led the team with four hits and generally looked like he could be an NHL player. Perhaps he was just pumped to play in front of his mom in his first NHL game, but of all the Binghamton players making their debuts tonight, he was the only one who actually stood out.
The NHL is hard - Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg had five shots combined (four came from Ooh Ah) and nothing to show for it. Zibanejad only played 10:33, and took a pretty weak goalie interference call--a far cry from centering the top line.
Did Derek Grant score a short-handed goal? No, he did not.
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