The problem with spending up to the salary cap? Not enough money left for Ottawa to buy a goal.
Sorry, that was a horrible joke, but it was the story of the game. Despite outplaying the Atlanta Thrashers by a wide margin during the game, Ottawa could only get one puck behind Ondrej Pavelec, and that was from Mike Fisher on a 5-on-3 late in the game. Ottawa outshot Atlanta 51-21 during the game, and only allowed 8 shots in the final two periods. Pavelec was more than up to the task though, putting forth one of the best regular season goaltending performances I have ever seen. He made huge, timely saves to keep the Thrashers in it. The Senators played a great game at both ends of the ice, but simply could not find the finish they needed.
In Ottawa's net, Pascal Leclaire had a mostly solid night, making some enormous glove saves in the first period. The first two goals were not his fault, as they were unlucky bounces that he had no chance on. However, it would have been huge if he stopped Maxim Afinogenov's breakaway goal with less than two minutes remaining, a five-hole goal that Leclaire could have (and should have) had.
Despite the result, there are a lot of things to be pleased with here. Ottawa dominated a game, even without Jason Spezza and Anton Volchenkov. Furthermore, on Ottawa's end, there were some big games from people who needed to have them. Ryan Shannon was all over the ice, using his speed and great stickhandling ability to create an unbelievable amount of chances, including seven shots of his own. It was the Shannon that fans grew to love last year, and one that hasn't been present in the early season. Brian Lee also had a much better game than his first one back, being stronger on the puck and creating some nice outlet passes. Chris Neil threw his body wisely, and generated a lot of chances, as did Matt Carkner.
Outside of a shaky first period, Ottawa deserved to win this game, and it's kind of astounding that they didn't. Full credit to Pavelec, though, who was absolutely phenomenal in net for the Thrashers.
(Read Peter's take after the jump... )
Peter's take: Darren hit the nail on the head, chalk the loss up to a goalie the Senators just couldn't beat, despite all sorts of chances in the second and third periods. Ottawa did look a little caught off guard in the first period, thought, and were outshot 13-8 in that first frame.
Ottawa's fourth line of Jarkko Ruutu, Shean Donovan, and Chris Kelly had a solid game, and were among the brightest spots in the first period. It seems a little weird, then, that the three had so little ice time in the third period, with Ruutu and Kelly each getting two shifts and Donovan only one in the final frame. That's not to say it doesn't make sense; there aren't many coaches who would think, "I need offence, where's the fourth line?", but Ottawa's a different style of team. I'm sure special teams played into it, too, with Ottawa getting two powerplays and one penalty in the third. Plus there was no way I would have cut back the ice time from any of Fisher, Shannon, or Foligno in the third period.
I'm going to go ahead and say it, Jonathan Cheechoo was impressive tonight. Or at least more impressive than he had been at any point in the season before Saturday afternoon. The main thing was that he was notable, and not because of his apparent absence or because of debilitating, untimely penalties. He made some plays happened, looked good on his line with Neil and Peter Regin--especially in the second period--and finished with two shots on the night. We're still waiting on him to get that first goal, though.
And I'm going to say this with the utmost tenderness, but I don't think Daniel Alfredsson was quite himself tonight. He didn't look bad--Alfredsson never looks bad on the ice--but he didn't make the plays we're used to seeing him make when Alfie's on top of his game. I wouldn't be surprised if he's got a mild case of the flu or something similar, but is playing through it because this team would be in an even worse position if he and Spezza were missing in the forward corps.
On top of outshooting the Thrashers by a disgusting margin of 51-21, the Senators also out-hit them 31-19. Not quite as impressive a margin, but still indicative of the physical intensity Ottawa brought to the table--a welcome change from Thursday night's snoozefest. Leading the way was Neil with seven hits, Fisher and Donovan each had four, while Lee and Foligno had three apiece.
Speaking of Lee, he rebounded nicely from last game, as Darren mentioned. I think being paired with Chris Phillips for most of the game allowed him to be a little more comfortable, and he was stronger defensively, looked better in the offensive end (had two shots on the night), and made much smarter decisions with the puck. His passes, in particular, were crisp, and he never looked flustered when hemmed in his own end. Promising signs after a disappointing season debut.
Every season, there's going to be a game when a team plays well enough to win, but doesn't get the W. It happened last Saturday against Boston, and it happened this afternoon against Atlanta. They're always important games, but maybe if we get them out of the way in the first month of the season, we won't have to see (m)any more in the latter half.