Thanks in large part to some terrific goaltending from Alex Auld, the Sens managed to hold on in their Saturday night matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers to win 4-3 in a shootout. It was, for all intents and purposes, a meaningless game for the Senators, but you wouldn't have known from their play on the night. And it was far from a meaningless game for the Flyers, who are fighting for home-ice advantage and for the Atlantic Division lead going into the playoffs.
Ottawa started extremely well, with a nice 5-on-3 powerplay goal where Nick Foligno cashed in a great cross-crease pass from Jason Spezza. Ottawa also had a nice breakaway goal from Chris Kelly in the first period, but gave up their two-goal lead in the second when Darroll Powe scored on a penalty shot, and Mike Richards tied the game on the powerplay. Simon Gagne gave the Flyers the lead just 28 seconds into the third, but a few minutes later Spezza converted a nice set-up from Dany Heatley to blast a wrister past Antero Nittymaki and send the game to overtime. Daniel Briere and Daniel Alfredsson had both scored in the shootout, sending it to extra shooters, and Mike Fisher scored his second shootout-winner of the year in the fifth round to give Ottawa the extra point.
Although the Sens outshot the Flyers 38-34, I still say the difference was Auld. He made more meaningful saves than Nittymaki, often taking advantage of his 6'5" frame. And anyone who was watching CBC was made blatantly aware of that fact, because Dean Brown wouldn't freakin' shut up about his long legs or his 6'5" frame. I swear, Brown must be a leg man, and must have a thing for Auld.
I've been ragging on Kelly a fair bit lately. Mostly because he's a kind of boring player to watch, and he's probably overpaid at $2.125M per season for three more years, but he's still a good defensive player. Against the Flyers, he showed flashes of the offensive abilities he demonstrated back in 2006-07, when Spezza and Fisher were both injured and Kelly was the de facto number one centre. If he could round out his game with more scoring--and more consistent scoring--his salary could become a downright bargain. Until then, he's an overpaid role player.
Speaking of overpaid, I think I'll rag on Filip Kuba for his game against the Flyers. Not only because he was out of position and had to hook Powe and draw a penalty shot, but because he was less than impressive on the whole. It's not nice to say, but I've got to: Kuba looked like Wade Redden did in his final days as an Ottawa Senator. He was beaten off the puck, often out of position, and looked lost on the whole. He may still be battling injuries, but when you're an offensive defenceman who leads the team in ice time (23:51), you should get at least one shot on net.
On the other hand, the Senators bottom-three defencemen--Chris Campoli, Brian Lee, and Brendan Bell--were distributing the puck very well on the night. It's a lot more fun to watch this Cory Clouston-coached team actually move the puck up the ice while skating, instead of so much standing still and trying to break out that way. Both Lee and Campoli had assists. Oddly enough, though, I thought that Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov were the most offensively dynamic D-pairing on the night; Volchenkov led the rush a couple of times, and the two were often making shrewd pinches at the offensive blue line to keep the play alive. Those combined for six shots, three hits, and five blocked shots.
I'm going to give Jarkko Ruutu credit for standing up for Kuba after he was hit by Daniel Carcillo in the first period. Sure, Ruutu got an extra penalty, but after watching Alfredsson get decked by Mark Bell at the end of last season and no teammate step up for him--something that's not been uncommon for the Sens--it was good to see what appeared to be a willingness to fight for one another. And in the end, the event got Carcillo so pissed off that he was assesed a two-minute penalty and a game misconduct, and the Sens scored on the resultant 5-on-3.
Chris Neil led the team in hits with seven. No big surprise there. Surprising was his one-on-two early in the game, where he split the Flyers defence and would have had a great scoring chance if the puck hadn't wandered off his stick. Something you don't see every day from Neil.
Fisher's game winner wasn't fancy, but it was a nice hell of a shot. He went wide to the left side, and just wristed a shot in the top glove-side corner to beat Nittymaki. The Flyers goaltender was pretty pissed off afterwards... probably because he'd heard the Senators' shootout record and figured he'd had it locked.