The Ottawa Senators returned home from their Florida road trip to play their third game in four nights--against the Pittsburgh Penguins, no less--and at times those games and travel had clearly taken their toll on the team. Surprisingly, though, the Penguins didn't look to much more energetic than the Senators, and the teams engaged in an evenly-matched affair that featured few goals, a lot of hits, and some all-around pretty exciting hockey.
For the fourth time this season, the Senators found themselves down early when Evgeni Malkin spotted James Neal across the ice and set him up with a perfect one-time pass than Craig Anderson had virtually no chance of stopping. Things stayed that way for just over 20 minutes of play until Jason Spezza craftily received a Milan Michalek pass and rushed into the Penguins zone before taking a shot that hand-cuffed Marc-Andre Fleury, who left the rebound right at the lip of the crease for Colin Greening--newly promoted back to his spot on the top line--to knock back. Things were back-and-forth for the rest of the game and through overtime without another goal, so the teams headed to a shootout.
As a friend said to me while watching it, it seems almost unfair that the Penguins get to march Neal, Sidney Crosby, and Malkin out one after another for their shootout chances, and it was easy to see why: All three of them scored on their opportunities against Anderson. Although Spezza and Kyle Turris scored in the shootout, the team still fell since Michalek had missed on the first shot of the skills competition.
Sens Hero: Jason Spezza
Spezza's best game of the season came against the best opponent to date, so I guess he brought it when it counts the most. He was tasked with covering Evgeni Malkin for much of the night, and did a pretty good job of it despite the fact that Malkin finished with an assist on the night--Spezza off-set that assist with one of his own, anyway. He also scored a beauty of a goal in the shootout, faking out Fleury before banking his shot off the post and up to the top shelf. The stuff dreams are made of. Dare to dream.
Sens Zero: Discipline
Once again, the Senators took far too many penalties. Five in a game isn't outrageous, but it's more than teams will want to take against the Penguins. But they were okay, because...
Sens Hero: Penalty killers
... the Senators penalty-killers were very strong again tonight. Marc Methot, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, and Mark Borowiecki were the stalwarts on defence, while Milan Michalek, Peter Regin, Kaspars Daugavins, Jim O`Brien, and Erik Condra were the main forwards to kill--kudos to all of them. But kudos to Craig Anderson especially, since he stopped all seven shots faced while Ottawa was a man down.
Sens Hero: Mark Borowiecki
Amazing to think: It was Borowiecki's fourth career NHL game, and he was matched up for most shifts against one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. More amazing is the fact that Borowiecki did really, really well in such a difficult situation. Neither Crosby or Malkin usually get hit, but Borowiecki managed to throw good hits on both of them within the first 20 minutes. Although his 18:27 TOI was fifth among defenders, he played a good deal of short-handed time and finished with a game-high seven hits without taking him out of position too badly. It was a very impressive game for Borowiecki, and he looked as NHL-ready as many were expecting him to be.
With a few last-minute lineup changes forcing Paul MacLean's hand, the head coach shuffled things up and put Colin Greening back on a line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. It was a good idea. Greening scored Ottawa's only goal and threw his body around (six hits on the night) to make room for Spezza and Michalek. The three combined for nine shots on net (plus ten blocked or wide) and were responsible for the team's lone goal. We're sure to see them together again next game, but that's not too bad for Jakob Silfverberg because...
Something for next game: Silfverberg-Turris-Alfredsson
Just a quick note: I'm anxious to see what Jakob Silfverberg might do on a line with Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson. It's a line with three shooters, but it's got a good mix of speed and willingness-to-grind, and Silfverberg would do well to take some pointers from Alfredsson--the two are similar in a lot of ways.
Good and Bad: Erik Karlsson
It wasn't a banner game for EK65, but personally I think he got a little over-confident in games against the weaker competition Ottawa had played previously. Although there are no complaints about the chances Karlsson generated on the night, he was regularly caught high and out of position on plays. The Penguins, far more so than the Jets, Panthers, or Lightning, will make defencemen pay when they over-commit. Karlsson needs to be more conscious of the fact that things he can do against certain teams won't fly against others.
Sens Killer: Fatigue
Man, did this set in towards the end or what? Both teams, but especially the Senators, were "sucking dirty pond water" by the time this game was done, and you could tell that three games in four nights for Ottawa had taken its toll. It doesn't get easier this week, though, with back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday, but after that there's a somewhat more comfortable rhythm to get into with games every other night until the second week of February.