Despite some moments of strong play, the Ottawa Senators didn't deserve two points out of their Thursday night game against the Montreal Canadiens. They were thoroughly outplayed for much of the night, especially early in the first, and in the end were outshot 34-24. Thankfully, though, they had a crazy man tending the net, and Robin Lehner's stellar effort gave Ottawa's forwards the time they needed to get a few shots past Carey Price en route to much-needed a 4-1 win.
The first period was... ugly. It was especially ugly for the Senators, but both teams committed quite a few turnovers all over the ice. Robin Lehner had to make more and more difficult saves, but both goaltenders were great aside from the off-setting goals by Andrei Markov and Bobby Ryan less than thirty seconds apart--neither of which were the fault of the goaltenders.
Ottawa ran into some penalty troubles in the second period, but Lehner stood tall and the Senators managed to score a couple of quick ones when Marc Methot cashed in on a Jason Spezza rebound and then, just 37 seconds later, Mark Borowiecki fired a beautiful shot into the top corner for the first goal of his career. Ottawa, absurdly, found themselves with a two-goal lead after forty minutes.
Both teams traded shots in the third period, although once again Montreal generated the better scoring chances. Lehner kept his net on lockdown and held the Canadiens' attack. Kyle Turris iced the game with an empty-netter and Ottawa walked out with an important two points from a game they didn't really deserve to win.
Sens Hero: Robin Lehner
Lehner played and looked like a beast tonight. He kept Ottawa in the game for the first five minutes, and preserved the win with some outstanding reaction-saves through the second and third period. His teammates can't possibly expect him to continue playing so well indefinitely, but it's definitely reassuring that we all know how well he can play.
As if it's any surprise, Bryan Murray expressed his confidence that Lehner is ready for full-time starting duty in the NHL during an intermission interview with Elliotte Friedman. He also expressed a bit of nervousness about the impending contract negotiations, which may or may not have been in jest.
h/t Bonk's Mullet
Sens Hero: Mark Borowiecki
Scoring his first NHL goal is likely enough on its own to get Borowiecki Hero status, but he had a solid outing even without that despite playing just 12:22--time enough to register four hits on top of his goal. Someone (I forget who) mentioned that Borowiecki might be the Senators third-best (or at least third-most-reliable) defenceman after Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot; I don't disagree.
Sens Heroes: Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Bobby Ryan
Ottawa's top line combined for six points tonight (Ryan: 1G, 2A; MacArthur: 2A; Turris: 1G) and once again were dominant at times. What impresses me about MacArthur is his ability to find open ice for himself--it looks like he does so by keeping an eye out for openings and heading to them to buy time, even if that means turning back or slowing down through the neutral zone. I'm not sure I've ever seen a player quite like MacArthur... he's got a unique ability to control the pace of the play, and it's a treat to watch.
Bobby Ryan's more of a treat, though. He's surprised me with his willingness to do the small things (especially eager forechecking and backchecking, even in the corners), but his shooting is out of this world.
Could you imagine if we could get Jason Spezza clicking with Milan Michalek and Colin Greening again, similar to how they played two years back? That, combined with the Turris line, would offer the kind of potent and unstoppable offence many were envisioning when predicting great things for this year's squad.
Honourable Mention: Jason Spezza
Although Spezza was generally pretty quiet tonight, I want to give him an Honourable Mention for his strong play on the penalty kill, generating quite a few shots, and the little dangle that Mark graciously GIF'd (below). It led to the Methot's goal (thanks to Andrei Markov for the assist), and I want to point out the very subtle drag Spezza does with the puck before snapping it on net; that small move brought the puck into traffic, catching Price off-guard and pulling him out of position to the point where he couldn't recover to stop Methot.
Next game, watch whenever Spezza comes in on a break like this one. He very often does the drag-and-snap, and it's an incredibly pretty and very sneaky move. Might be part of the reason why he's been scoring more frequently this season.
Honourable Mention: Chris Neil
In my mind, this might have been Neil's strongest game of the season to date. That's not really a great thing since he wasn't hugely impactful on the outcome of it, but he was solid. He set a strong tone with a great first shift, fired a couple shots on net, and ridiculously barely missed a shift after taking a chip-shot to the eye that opened him up.
Towards the end of the game, Neil was put on a line with Zack Smith and Colin Greening. I'm curious to see if Paul MacLean goes with that checking line next game, because it might be a good way to zap Greening out of his funk (more on that below).
Honourable Mention: Chris Phillips
Although I'm guessing his #FancyStats won't look pretty, I think Phillips had a strong game in the defensive zone. He was solid on his feet, tying guys up along the boards and in front of the net in order to prevent them from hacking away at rebounds. It was good protection for Lehner and a refreshingly imposing game from Phillips.
Dishonourable Mention: Colin Greening
Although Greening played over 13 minutes in the game, he was a passenger. He didn't seem actively engaged in it, wasn't pushing plays, driving the net, generating shots, or making life difficult on Montreal defenders. There's something missing from Greening's game, and I think he might be thinking too much and executing too little--similar, in many ways, to the way he started last season until he was a healthy scratch.
Sens Killer: Andrei Markov
Aside from his brainf-fart pass to Marc Methot on the eventual game-winning goal, Markov was very good for the Canadiens. It's clearly evident that he has a positive effect on Subban, so the Habs have quite the challenge ahead of them this off-season when both hit free agency.
Sens Killer: PK Subban
Subban had an absurd nine shots on goal, and another six of his shots were blocked. It was a very good effort that was only stymied by Lehner's strong play.
As a side note, Subban demonstrated a good deal of maturity and sportsmanship in the second period, when an incidental collision between him and Chris Neil knocked Neil on his can and into an unsuspecting Carey Price. While someone (Lars Eller, maybe) was coming in to hack Neil for the accident, Subban calmed the issue down by emphasizing that no harm was intended nor was any done. I've long wanted to like Subban, but found him too much of a loose cannon--sort of like Sidney Crosby, with the penchant he has for whining and pushing referees. There was always a lot of talk from Subban, which is fun off the ice but not necessary on it. Subban's play speaks for itself.