Mika Zibanejad, careful not to look Robin Lehner in the eye, celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs - Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo
Erik Karlsson is the most overrated player in the history of the Ottawa Senators.
The Ottawa Senators are now 4-1-0 since Erik Karlsson's season ended, proving that he is essentially replaceable and expendable. Trade him now.
But seriously, can anyone believe the way this team--well-documented to be mostly the Binghamton Senators by this point--has responded to the adversity of losing their best players? The Senators walking into the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs without their top forward, top defenseman, and top goalie, yet still in a logjam tie for fourth place in the standings. They walked out with a regulation win and a six-point lead on the ninth-place New York Rangers, who got absolutely crushed by the Montreal Canadiens.
The game started off pretty much like you'd expect, with the Sens giving up an early goal. Mikhail Grabovski took a shot through traffic and Ben Bishop was simply unable to close the five hole in time. Bishop appeared surprised by the shot, which was surprising to me considering Grabovski was in a good shooting position.
Honorable mention: Ben Bishop
Bishop was beaten five-hole for both goals tonight, and I felt that he didn't look very comfortable in the game. So how does he earn an honorable mention? Well, consider that he still stopped 26 of 28 shots, good for a .929 save percentage, and only let in two goals. Like injured starter Craig Anderson, Bishop gave his team a chance to win--and they did. He doesn't quite inspire the same confidence as Anderson, but if you complain that his numbers in this game aren't good enough, you've just been spoiled by Anderson. Bishop was good, and we only think good looks worse than it is because we're used to excellence. And despite 20 years of non-excellence, it only took us a third of a shortened season to take it for granted.
The Leafs were not able to hang on to their lead, however, as the Sens slowly began to take over play from there. The team was able to tie the game when Mika Zibanejad tipped home a Colin Greening shot from in close.
Sens Hero: Mika Zibanejad
Zibanejad's goal has him on a two-game scoring streak, and more importantly, both goals came from close to the net, rather than the perimeter, where he's been shooting from for much of the year. Zibanejad was only .500 on faceoffs, but also won the late-game draw that led to Greening's heroics. The fact that he was out there for a late offensive-zone draw in a tie game says a lot about how far he's come, considering that last year head coach Paul MacLean was using Zenon Konopka to take Zibanejad's faceoffs for him. Zibanejad also tied for the team lead in hits with five. This was the kind of night the team needs him to have if he's going to stay in the top six.
The Senators walked out of the first period with a lead in shots, 14-8, and a tie on the board. They carried much of the play for the second period, which crazily broke out into a back-and-forth, up-the-rink, odd-man rush shooting gallery. And out of all of that, it was an ugly goal that wound up going in. Eric Gryba took a shot that somehow bounced off of Erik Condra driving the net. Condra was also being checked by Leafs defenseman Korbinian Holzer, so he plowed over goalie Ben Scrievens in the process. But there's nothing that could have been done about the play. Pucks go in off of bodies sometimes. Nothing wrong with a little puck luck for once.
Sens Hero: Eric Condra
Condra, like his linemates Greening and Zibanejad, was also a plus-3 on the night, but much of what he did on the night won't show up on the scoresheet--and that's a funny thing to write for a guy that had a goal and an assist. I'd be very interested to see Condra's possession numbers for the night, because he was all over the place.
The third period was much the same as the second, with one difference: Toronto was able to get two power plays. They converted on the first chance, as Clarke MacArthur backhanded a puck through a fallen player and a crouched Bishop--again beating him five-hole--to even the game up. The game looked headed for overtime, and that's when the magic happened.
Sens Hero: Colin Greening
Zibanejad won the draw. Patrick Wiericoch took the shot. And it was Greening there in front of the net to bat a bobbled puck out of the air for the game winning goal. The goal meant Greening had a three-point night, factoring in all of the Senators' scoring for the game. To say he was strong would be an understatement. In a physical game--the Leafs officially had 41 hits--strength was key. The Senators needed a player like Greening to step up in this game, and fortunately, that's exactly what happened.
Honorable mention: Officiating
The Sens have been jobbed numerous times by officials this year, but in this game, the shoe was decidedly on the other foot. Just about every call that could have gone Ottawa's way did. There was a blown icing call--the puck had touched Bishop--as well as a missed puck over glass penalty. The home team got the calls tonight.
Dishonorable mention: Linesman
There wasn't even any reason to get set for a faceoff with the rate players were getting kicked out of the circle in this game. At one point Kyle Turris was kicked out, only to see Tyler Bozak kicked out immediately after, but before the puck was even dropped. The draw started off with two centers and ended with two wingers. What was the point? And it went that way all night. Both teams bitched at the linesman over the boot jobs they were seeing, and with good reason. It was absurd.
Sens Killer: Accuracy
If the Senators could hit the net, they'd be a better team. That's all I have to say about that.
Sens Zero: Chris Neil
Neil's play has generally been positive this season, as he has mostly stopped looking for the big hit and simply chosen to play hockey and fight when he feels it's necessary. And though he also had five hits in this game, I thought the physicality and intensity sucked him back towards that old persona. For much of the time he was on the ice, Neil looked like a guy looking to make a hit rather than a guy looking to make a play. That's not useful for this team.
Honorable mention: Kaspars Daugavins
Mostly he just runs out there and does his job, but I felt like there was an extra boost in his stride tonight. He was essentially invisible on the score sheet, but I noticed him on the ice more than I usually do.
Honorable mention: Patrick Wiercioch
Guy almost had two breakaway passes connect tonight and was the shooter on the winning goal--a set play. Nothing wrong with that for a rookie.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Though his line was held scoreless, and was on for the Grabovski goal, I thought Turris in particular looked fired up for the game. He was certainly trying to make something happen tonight, repeatedly weaving through defenders and picking pockets on the backcheck. He even took three shots, and 19 faceoffs, winning 9. The points didn't come, but the effort was there--which means the points will be, too.
Dr. Eric and Mr. Gryb: Though he recorded an assist, Eric Gryba also took the penalty that allowed the tying goal. Gryba was a really mixed bag in this game. The highs were high and the lows were low. Gryba played 22:01, second only to Marc Methot, so the staff obviously trusts him, or at least is willing to live with his mistakes: Gryba had at least one egregious turnover that comes immediately to mind. He's kind of a roller coaster out there, but whichever way it goes, he's certainly noticeable.
Sens Hero: Zack Smith
Here's his night in a nutshell, via Twitter user @professorgraves (click to animate, awesomely):
I could watch that all day.
These are best enjoyed with a cold, refreshing beverage of your choice.