Things started off great for the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon, as not more than 1:45 into the game, Bobby Ryan had pounced on a turnover by former Senator Matt Gilroy. Ryan mysteriously took a shot and then retrieved the puck in the corner, winning a battle. He fed Kyle Turris, who whipped a shot through thinly-veiled Sens Killer Tim Thomas for the first goal. Even with thinly-veiled Sens Hero Clarke MacArthur screening Thomas, it was a goal that you'd expect an NHL goalie to save: Short side from nearly behind the goal.
19 second later, the Senators would strike again, victimizing defenseman Erik Gudbranson multiple times in short order. Derek Grant came in hard on the forecheck, causing Gudbranson to lose the puck. Dimitry Kulikov picked up the loose puck, but Grant immediately peeled off to check him instead. That forced Kulikov to play the puck too soon, and he appeared to intend to pass it to Thomas. The lesson? Forechecking is good. It instead went off the post directly to Mika Zibanejad, who deked Gudbranson and Thomas to take a shot. Thomas was able to make the save, but had to get way out of position to do it. Thus, when Zibanejad got the puck behind the net, Thomas was helpless. The second part of that deke, though was that Gudbranson had wound up crashing into his own net, and Zibanejad banked it off his skate for an easy goal. It wasn't two minutes into the game and the score was 2-0 Ottawa. The rout was on, right?
Play got lazy after that, as both teams chose to skip that "puck protection thing" in lieu of fancy plays in their own zone, and those plays led to turnovers, and one of those turnovers led to a goal.
With no pressure in his own zone, Erik Karlsson bobbled the puck. He wasn't trying to do anything fancy with it. He was just stickhandling it, and made a mistake. The puck was suddenly behind him, and Tomas Kopecky used that instant to attack, forcing the puck to the boards. Karlsson gave chase as Nick Bjugstad picked up the puck and skated through a weak stick check straight to the front of the net, jamming the puck in under goaltender/demigod Robin Lehner. There's really not much to say about this one. The goal was almost totally on Karlsson. Could Lehner have gotten his paddle down more quickly? Yeah, maybe. But the play starts with a Karlsson bobble and then a Karlsson lost puck battle before it even gets to that point.
And you know what? It's okay to say that Karlsson made a mistake. It's not the end of the world. Though he'd be benched for the rest of the first period for the gaffe, Karlsson came on strong to have a good finish to the game, and would play a crucial part in the game-winning goal during the second period.
So, imagine nothing much exciting happens for the next 20 minutes, because that's pretty much the truth. Then, out of nowhere, Mark Boroweicki lands a hard, clean check on Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov, knocking him to the ice. Scottie Upshall takes exception to the hit--a stupid part of hockey culture--and jumps Boroweicki. BoroCop immediately turns around to defend himself and drops Upshall, too. Upshall gets two minutes for instigating, and the Senators go to the power play. Jason Spezza comes charging in and also uses the deke stick to get a great tip chance on Thomas. Out of that pile, Gudbranson, who really did not have a good game for the Panthers, fires the puck over the glass, and it happens.
The mythical 5-on-3 has arrived for the Ottawa Senators.
After seeing that Ottawa clearly has not worked on being on the right side of a 5-on-3--the plan appears to be "stand still and pass the puck around the perimeter--the CTC crowd begins to grow restless. Fed up with the bullcrap, Erik Karlsson decides to take things into his own hands. First, he rips a shot that knocks the stick from Thomas' hands. Spezza conveniently moves the stick away while retrieving the puck and feeding Turris, who, in turn, feeds Karlsson. This time, though, Karlsson has some room to skate, and he begins to drive towards the net. Thomas has to respect Karlsson as a shooter, so he really has no chance when Karlsson changes his stance and fires a perfect one-timer feed to Clarke MacArthur, who does not miss.
After that, the Senators played pretty strong defensive hockey, and it looked like they'd coast to the finish by kicking a team when they're down. But no, these are your 2013-14 Ottawa Senators, whose actual marketing tagline this year should be "THE HARD WAY."
The third period got off to a rough start when Chris Neil was called for tripping Brian Campbell. Neil gets a pass on this, as it was pretty obvious his stick got caught in the lineman's skates, so... just bad luck. But on the ensuing penalty kill, Chris Phillips would be called for an illegal check to the head of Kopecky.
The dreaded 5-on-3 had returned to haunt the Ottawa Senators.
With Phillips in the box, the three-man unit sent out to kill the penalty was Marc Methot, Derek Grant, and Mr. Fumblerooski himself, Jared Cowen. But all three players were outstanding. Unwilling to give up any semblance of a shooting lane, they played 1:15 of the 1:17 2-man advantage. They were unable to clear the puck because they had no chance to get to the puck. The Panthers were completely kept to the perimeter, and managed no shots on goal. Anything fired was blocked or deflected. It was as good a penalty kill as you'll see this year.
Unfortunately, momentum continued to build for Florida, and at the 10:08 mark, a wide-open Marcel Goc was able to take a feed from Thrillroy and fire it high over Lehner's shoulder.
The hard way continued, as the Senators spent 4:00 of the 9:52 remaining on the penalty kill, taking consecutive tripping penalties. However, the Panthers' last hopes were snuffed when Gudbranson took a boarding penalty at 19:30.
Overall, this was not a terribly entertaining game. The Senators showed a real lack of killer instinct, as they really slowed down and played carelessly with the puck after sprinting out to a 2-0 lead. This wasn't a game where their opponents should have had any shot. It's clear that the team is still finding its identity. The good news is that's a lot easier to do when you're winning games, and the Sens came out of this with a W.
Sens Hero: Derek Grant
Grant is one of those guys who doesn't show up on the scoresheet too often. Reality is that he's just not paid for that part of his game. Zibanejad's goal goes down as unassited, but it doesn't happen if Grant doesn't take on two guys as the lone forechecker. The huge 5-on-3 penalty kill doesn't happen without Grant. Grant simply put his head down and did his job to an outstanding level. It's tough that he's got Matt Kassian on one side, which limits his line, but when Erik Condra returns, there could be some positive possession numbers for the line. In the meantime, it's worth recognizing when Grant does his job in the trenches.
Sens Hero: Penalty Killers
As usual, the team took more penalties than it drew, but the Panthers went 0-for-5 on the power play. In a one-goal game, you look to your power play to make up the difference, and Florida couldn't solve Ottawa today. Some of the guys getting penalty kill time today might be maligned for their play elsewhere--guys like Spezza, Cowen, and Milan Michalek--but this part of their game is just fine. Even Karlsson turned in several strong shifts on the PK. Just a solid group effort.
Sens Hero: Clarke MacArthur
Not too much to say here. Four hits from a top-six player, game winning goal, constantly skating and looking for open ice. He took an eye-rolling penalty after getting irritated by Gudbranson late in the game, and Gudbranson clearly embellished things, but if MacArthur plays like this every game, he's going to be worth every penny.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
One goal, one assist. I'm not even going to say more than that, because just hearing both of those you should be able to use your imagination to fill in how the rest of Turris' game was. Fine. You want a hint? It was good.
Honorable Mention: Robin Lehner
Didn't even face 30 shots and must have been bored to tears with himself. Lehner didn't have a particularly notable performance--he didn't need to keep his team in this game--but he still made some good saves. The fact that he didn't have a highlight-reel game probably opens the door for Craig Anderson again, but Lehner has again proven that he gives his team a chance to win every night.
Dishonorable Mention: Bobby Ryan
Yeah. On a day when he had an assist that drastically understates his impact on the play, Ryan gets a dishonorable mention. Why? A strange refusal to shoot. He officially recorded three shots on goal, but he passed up several more chances to shoot, and those plays did not result in shots from other players. That's a problem for me. It's one thing to say a player made a mistake and those things happen--that happened to Karlsson--but Ryan wasn't brought to this team to kill offensive plays. He started great, so I'm not sure why he decided to stop shooting and start passing, but unless his passing recipient is a wide-open Karlsson or Erik Condra, Ryan's first choice should always be to shoot.