Sometimes losing big is a useful thing. Sometimes big losses right the ship. After Friday night's blowout in Montreal, Ottawa came out skating against the Penguins, the NHL's hottest team and an early Cup favourite. Despite the score, the goalies aren't to blame for this result; both the Sens and Pens skated hard and played a freewheeling game, with lots of long passes that exploited abundant neutral zone space. The result was a fun game to watch.
Ottawa opened the scoring midway through the first, as Milan Michalek slipped a rebound into a wide open net. However, less than a minute later the Pens answered. Jared Cowen stepped up in the offensive zone and that led to a Pens rush the other way. Matt Cooke deposited his 18th of the year behind Ben Bishop, a goal the Ottawa netminder would probably like back. Just over three minutes later Cooke struck again, this time on a highlight reel feed from Crosby. Again Cowen made an ill-advised pinch and Crosby beat Karlsson to get the puck to Cooke. The Cowen-Karlsson experiment ended shortly after.
With the score 2-1 for the Pens, the Sens were still in the game going into the first intermission. The floodgates opened early in the second as Sergei Gonchar potted his 4th of the year from Daniel Alfredsson and Nick Foligno, on a snap shot that made it to the back of the net. Matt Carkner did not play much as Matt Gilroy's replacement, but the change meant that Chris Phillips saw time on the second power play unit. With the Pens a man down midway through the period, Phillips snapped home a slick feed from Turris to make it 3-2 Ottawa. Half a minute later, Turris scored on a Gonchar shot from the point that was twice deflected (first by Foligno, then by Turris) for his 9th of the season. Shortly after Turris scored (14 seconds to be exact), Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy responded with a wrist shot to bring his club within one.
The period was not all good news though, as Ben Bishop went down with an apparent leg injury. As the Pens applied pressure down low, Bishop's leg got stuck at an awkward angle underneath the rest of his body and had to be helped off the ice. Luckily, Craig Anderson was ready to come in and hold the fort for his team, stopping Sidney Crosby on the first shot of the night he faced. When Jason Spezza took a penalty deep in the offensive zone behind the Pittsburgh net late in the period, he gave the lethal Pens powerp lay a chance to tie it up. But that didn't happen, as the captain came up huge, potting a shorthanded breakaway goal--the eventual game winner. It was a nice play from both Cowen, who under pressure calmly got the puck to Michalek, and Milan, who fed Alfie with a fabulous stretch pass. The second period truly belonged to the second line, as they were in on all four of the Sens goals in the period.
The Sens did not try to sit back and protect their lead to start the third and the high-flying style continued. Midway through the period, the Pens came within one again, as Sidney Crosby was left all alone in the slot, notching his first goal of his second comeback. Not to be outdone, Jason Spezza slipped away from his coverage as Michalek fed him with another fantastic breakaway pass, and Spezza delivered. Alfredsson put the game away with a backhand flip and Greening scored the 8th and final goal of the game on a slick passing play from Spezza and Karlsson. The Ottawa power play, which had been anemic of late, woke up with two goals, one for each unit, and Andy was great in relief in a must win game. Shots were 40-28, in favor of Pittsburgh.
Continue reading for Heroes and Zeroes
Sens Hero: Daniel Alfredsson
What can you say about the captain? 2 goals, 2 assists, and he was named the first star of the game. Midway through the first period it looked like Crosby might take the game over; instead, it was Ottawa's ageless (tonight anyway) captain who was the difference-maker. The importance of his shorthanded goal near the end of the second period cannot be overstated. Ottawa had been dominant in the period, but the Kennedy goal coupled with the Bishop injury could have negated much of the positive play. Instead, the captain deposited a rolling puck behind Brad Thiessen and chants of "Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!" rained down from the Ottawa faithful.
Sens Heroes: the second line (Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson, and Nick Foligno)
This has been a long time coming. Alfie and Turris have been slumping for several weeks despite still generating shots and chances and playing ok. Moving Foligno to the second line was the catalyst for a needed offensive explosion. Nick Foligno went to the net and to the corners and was reward with three assists. Kyle Turris' assist was a sweet feed on the Gonchar goal and his lucky deflection might be just what he needs to get scoring again. Yeah, Alfie gets two "Sens Heroes".
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
It's hard to come in midway through the game and shut the door on the NHL's hottest team, but that's exactly what he did. He didn't have a chance on the only goal he surrendered and looked confident in Ottawa's net. Hopefully Bishop's injury is not severe, but the Sens were fortunate Andy is healthy again and was ready on the bench or else this outcome could have been much different.
Sens Hero: Chris Phillips
Chris quietly had a great game. With Matt Carkner, Gilroy's replacement, playing just over 8 minutes, Phillips ate up the extra time, playing 22:32. A plus three on the night, Phillips added a goal on the power play and looked like a sniper doing it. Sidney Crosby had two points against other pairings, but do you know who was held pointless? Hart and Art Ross favourite Evgeni Malkin. Good job, Big Rig.
Sens Hero: Milan Michalek
I know it's a lot of heroes, but I couldn't leave Milan off. A night after giving up four goals in the opening ten minutes, he opened the scoring by going to the net. He also had two important and beautiful assists on the 5th and 6th goals in the game, essential for averting the panic when the Pens tried to get back in the game with the goals by Kennedy and Crosby.
Sens Zero: Erik Karlsson
Rough game for Karlsson. So often the difference maker this season, Karlsson was not good tonight. He did not look comfortable in the first period when paired with Cowen. While Cowen looked steadier as the game progressed, Karlsson's play did not improve even when he was united with Kuba. On ice for the first three goals, Karlsson was a minus 1 on the night. However, his work on the last power play was good and his feed to Greening was beautiful.
Sens (Almost) Killer: Matt Cooke
Cooke's two first period goals quickly put the Pens in the lead and had many Sens fans wondering if we were going to witness another opposition hat-trick. Happily, Matt Cooke did not pull and an Erik Cole.