For a while, it didn't look good. With a little less than two and a half minutes left in the first, the Ottawa Senators found themselves trailing 3-1 to a Colorado Avalanche team that was down to its third-string goalie. As the final seconds ticked away to mark the end of the frame, audible boos rained down from the restless Canadian Tire Centre crowd. The goodwill of the last two wins had been washed away by a period eerily familiar to anyone that paid much attention to the 2013-2014 season: a bevy of defensive breakdowns leading to high quality scoring chances that Craig Anderson couldn't keep out of the net. This time, unlike so many last year, the Senators flipped the script thanks to a dominating third period.
Before they could get there, the Sens needed to survive a second period in which they got shelled at even-strength but were the beneficiaries of good goalie play from Craig Anderson. My notes from this period include gems like: "WTF Phillips", "PK sagging awfully deep and chasing all over the place", "PHILLIPS. WHY." and "Dumb penalties x2 (Boro + Gryba)". As the period wore on, the Senators looked better but I doubt that part of the film review will be too much fun. All that said, a power play goal from David Legwand left the Senators trailing only 3-2 heading into the third period.
And what a glorious third period it was, or more correctly what a glorious last ten minutes it was. Ottawa succeeded in limiting the Avalanche's speed through the neutral zone and successfully created counter-attacks of their own. A great example of this came on the tying goal, which has its roots with Colorado attacking the Senators' blueline like so:
The Sens are in very good position to defend this attack thanks to good gap control from Chris Phillips and strong backside pressure from Mika Zibanejad. In the next frame, Phillips has engaged the attacker at the blue line, separating him from the puck as the Colorado player tries to chip off the boards and go wide. This is perfect technique:
With the attack defused, Cody Ceci makes a great read and jumps on the loose puck to turbo-boost the counter-attack. Et voila, a 3-on-2 the other way:
You can see the whole thing in motion in the below video:
When playing a team like Colorado that has trouble defending in its own end, it's mission critical to keep them bottled up in the neutral zone. MacArthur's game-winner, the result of some superb play by thinly-veiled Sens Hero Mark Stone, was also the by-product of a neutral zone turnover and a quick counter attack. Following the MacArthur goal, one would have expected the Avalanche to generate a big push, and Patrick Roy did pull his goalie with over two minutes left, but Ottawa nonetheless controlled the play until Chris Neil iced the game away with an empty net goal. It was scary for a while, but by the end it felt like a well-earned win. The Sens won't play Colorado every night, but if they play like they did in the last 10 minutes or so of the third, it won't matter.
Other Miscellaneous Notes:
-Some interesting deployment strategy from Paul MacLean in this one. He had the Turris line starting the majority of their shifts in the offensive end, and gave a grand total of zero offensive zone starts to the Zibanejad line. I'm curious to see if this persists over time, but given the option of last change MacLean made it interesting.
-Patrick Wiercioch's not quite a zero, because he made a number of nice plays and provided some much needed puck moving, but boy did he have some nasty gaffes. A couple of bad whiffs on the puck and a lost edge behind the net made this a night to remember. It would be a shame if MacLean pulled Wiercioch based on this game alone, but he didn't do himself too many favours with such visible errors.
-I don't want to bag on the guy too much but, man alive, Chris Neil is a disaster in the defensive end. I was trying to pay special attention to the play of the team's wingers after reading this great piece from Travis Yost in case there might be an obvious systemic reason why the team seems to have so much trouble exiting the zone, and nothing obvious stood out to me besides Neil's inability to ever get the puck out when it comes to his side. Most of the time he lets the puck go past him to the pinching defenseman that he then mashes against the boards. The problem is that the majority of the time, this means the puck stays in the zone and the cycle starts anew. When he's on the forecheck, a good Chris Neil hit can create havoc but he's got to lay off the same tactic in the defensive end.
Mark Stone: I know the temptation is to crown Lazar, and he'll get his due below, but Stone was by far and away the best Senator on the ice tonight. He demonstrated great patience on more than one occasion in the offensive end, great awareness defensively to break up a few plays, and then topped it all off with a one-man show to set up Clarke MacArthur for the winner. I wasn't always convinced Stone would pan out to be a top 6 player, but he's absolutely blown me away. He's the real deal.
Curtis Lazar: It's a great story, so I'm sure as heck not going to rain on his parade. Lazar played a solid two-way game, and he was a key part of what was maybe the Senators' best line on the night. Getting his first career NHL point in his first home game was just a cherry on top.
Bobby Ryan: Bobby was at least partly at fault on the first goal, but he otherwise played a fine game by my eye. He deserved a better fate on a couple of chances and it was good to see him pot his first of the year.
Chris Phillips: Sorry, Big Rig. I almost didn't give it to him because like much of the team he was better in the third, but he made more than a couple egregiously bad decisions coupled with at least two head-slapping giveaways. The "Phillips takes on bigger role" storyline was fun for the first few games, but the veteran seemed in over his head tonight.
Thing that was incredible and is neither a Hero nor a Zero:
B_T's Shot Doughnut:
Thanks for reading!