The Senators slayed two of their collective demons in a big way tonight: afternoon games, and the Boston Bruins. Coming in with only one regulation win in their past 16 games (yes, it's been that bad), head coach Dave Cameron made a bold move in only his second game in charge and healthy scratched veteran defenseman and assistant captain, Chris Phillips. In his place was Patrick Wiercioch, and many were excited to see how the defense would do with a faster, better puck-moving group.
The game started out bright for the Senators, with their aggressive forecheck giving the Bruins trouble early. This led to an eventful powerplay opportunity where Karlsson, after bobbling the puck at the blueline, hurried back to make a fantastic pad save while Robin Lehner was... at the sideboards:
As many games between the Senators and the Bruins, the play turned physical, with Lazar being a recipient of a big hit, and Cowen dishing out on the other end. Rookie Craig Cunningham was trusted by the Bruins in a shorthanded situation, and made the Senators pay after he poked the puck past Turris and wired one past Lehner. It was a weak goal that Lehner definitely wants back, but as we'll see later on, the big Swede would end up rebounding nicely in his first game back from a knee injury.
Fourth SHG of the season allowed by Ottawa, only Pittsburgh and Edmonton have allowed more. (Note: 4 other teams have allowed 4.)— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) December 13, 2014
Overall, it was a pretty even first period, with the Bruins leading slightly in both shots and shot attempts.
Another strong start for the Senators would pay off in a big way, with Mike Hoffman making a fantastic defensive play, using his skating to open some space for himself, and then dishing a sweet saucer pass to Zibanejad to faked out Rask in a Spezza-esque goal to knot the game at one. It was a really great play so I'll break it down quickly.
It starts off with Marchand entering the zone with speed on the left side, forcing the Senators to back up but to their credit, retain good body position on all fronts.
Marchand brakes and drags the puck, hoping to get it to Bergeron in the middle, but Hoffman is in really good position and picks the puck off. Hamilton, Boston's RD, sees this and decides whether he wants to back up or engage.
Now check the time from the last photo to this one. Hoffman starts to take off down the left side and uses his speed to open space up from a chasing Marchand while forcing Hamilton to back up and to try to establish good position at his own blueline. Former Senators D Zdeno Chara in his second game back from injury is too slow to catch up to Zibanejad, who is looking at Hoffman all the way and trying to find a lane for Hoffman in case he wants to feather it through... which he does.
Zibanejad is gooooooone and Hamilton doesn't really stand a chance. It's an A+ finish from Mika, who continues his torrid production.
Just to recap, Hoffman is following the Senators defensive strategy of collapsing in the middle, and after receives the puck, uses his strengths (speed, puck skills) to free his linemate, who delivers.
The Bruins respond to the goal with a number of good shifts, culminating in good scoring chances for Krug, Paille and the Chris Kelly line, including a 2-on-1, but Robin Lehner is up to the challenge. The defensive breakdowns continue for the Senators though, and this culminates in a Loui Eriksson goal after some slick stickhandling from defenseman Kevin Miller, who waltzed down the right side to generate the scoring chance.
The pace of the play picks up after that goal, with big hits on Ryan and Smith causing the latter to miss the rest of the game with an upper body injury. Mark Borowiecki also engages Milan Lucic in a fight after Lucic wasn't happy with a hit in the corner, and admirably holds his own. The Turris line generates sustained pressure in the back half of the period for Ottawa, and Colin Greening gets a prime scoring chance but is robbed by Boston's Vezina winner after a nice set-up from Mark Stone.
Overall, it was a good period for the Senators despite going into the third down 2-1, as they outshot Boston 15-7 and had more zone time thanks to some aggressive forechecking in the offensive zone.
For the third period in a row, the Senators start off strong. Bobby Ryan, who had a great game, baits Chara into an interference penalty, and his teammates tie the game yet again, with David Legwand the recipient of some strong puck movement by the first powerplay unit. Legwand, who some were starting to turn on a couple of weeks ago, has rebounded nicely with some much-needed point production in his last 10 games.
However, the Bruins dictate the play for the rest of the period, and if not for Robin Lehner, I don't think this game goes to overtime and a little bit of luck. A number of good, strong positional stops for Lehner, who battled through a ton of traffic and activity around the crease. This led to a decisive edge in shot attempts for the Bruins and a 13-5 edge in shots.
Lots happened. There was end to end action and both teams could've easily won the game before the shootout. In light of some of the recent, unwarranted criticism, I'm going to have a segment in every one of my recaps that highlight a good defensive play by the Senators best defenseman (offensive, defensive, all ways you can be a defenseman), Erik Karlsson. Here's a gif of Karlsson being in good position, and using his active stick (you don't have to be physical and hit people to play good D!) to strip Marchand, stop a chance from the most dangerous Bruins line, and skate the puck out of trouble for an odd-man rush the other way.
In the shootout, Zibanejad put Ottawa up early while Lehner stopped Smith, before Marchand tied it after Turris was stopped. Lehner then stopped Bergeron with a gorgeous save before Ryan ended it on a beautiful move of his own.
Sens Hero(es): The Defense
With Chris Phillips healthy scratched, Dave Cameron was expecting the inexperienced, young defensive group of Ottawa's to respond and boy did they ever. Gryba, Borowiecki, Karlsson and Wiercioch were all 55%+ Corsi on the night, which means that when they were on the ice, Ottawa was consistently winning the shot attempt battle. Of note, Borowiecki was extremely physical (+ his fight with Lucic) and both him and Cowen (who pummelled Bergeron in overtime) were instrumental in cutting off Boston's brutal forecheck most of the night. I bet Coach Cameron liked what he saw from the group, and will have a tough decision on Monday to decide if he wants to go with the same group (I hope he does).
Sens Hero: Robin Lehner
Despite letting in a weak goal early, The Lehner had a fantastic first night back at work after an injury put him on the IR. He made a number of strong positional saves, and a couple of spectacular desperation saves on the Bruins when it looked like they were going to score a sure goal. He struggled in the shootout early in his career, but has won his last five decisions now.
Sens Killer(s): Patrice Bergeron and Faceoffs
The Senators struggled on the dot today, mainly to Chris Kelly (16-3) and Patrice Bergeron (13-5). The latter was buzzing all night and had a game-high Corsi% while generating multiple scoring chances for the Bruins.
As always, from Natural Stat Trick. The Senators held the shot attempt advantage for most of the game until Boston stormed back in the third, where Lehner was instrumental. A tight game overall, and it's evidenced with close possession numbers.
Thanks for reading!