The Senators have had the Devil's luck at various points this season, but maybe none more so than tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils, where they were outshot 34 to 16 and still managed to win the game. I'll start this off by saying that it's not sustainable to continue winning this way, but given where the Senators are in the standings, it's nice to have your goaltender steal you two points here and there, and management have set the Sens up such that both Anderson and Lehner are capable of doing so.
Interesting note: The Senators and the Devils come into this match with the vaunted title of being the two teams with the biggest year-to-year drop in possession.
Minnesota remains the NHL's most improved possession team. Devils? Not so much. pic.twitter.com/No7PBVYurZ— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 18, 2014
The game actually started off brightly for the Senators, with some quick early pressure by the Zibanejad line hemming the Devils in their own end a little. Jersey defenseman Jon Merrill, who was impressive tonight, flipped the puck over the glass and the Senators didn't take long to capitalize.
I really liked that Turris came all the way back to support Karlsson with the puck, and that the Senators advanced the puck up the ice as a five-man unit, which led to a controlled zone entry (check), a nice little back pass from Mark Stone to set up Erik Karlsson at the right point (check), and a quick wrist shot past the screen by Karlsson (check) which Turris tips nicely. Couldn't draw it up any better than that.
Unfortunately, that may have been the last bright spot for the Senators tonight as Jersey poured on the pressure from this point onwards and the Senators could never regain momentum. The game starts to go off the rails at around 7 minutes left in the first, as Bobby Ryan takes the first of two consecutive penalties this period after he slashed Eric Gelinas, who gets away with a little push on Bobby. The Devils generate numerous scoring opportunities on the powerplay, and the Senators do not get the puck back after that. In the last 30 seconds of the period, Ryan takes a tripping penalty which carries over to the second, leaving the Senators unable to recuperate after a tough second half of the period.
All in all, the Devils outshot the Sens 10-4 this period, with an 18-9 advantage in terms of attempted shots at the net.
In addition to having Ryan's penalty carry over, Eric Gryba takes a hooking call while chasing Gomez up high, resulting in a 5-on-3 for the Devils. The Senators PK do a great job, and the Devils are 0/3 on the PP at this point, but with 7 shots. Another result of being on the penalty kill so often is that it throws the line rotations off when the play goes back to even-strength - a likely contributor to the sloppy execution from the Senators this period in terms of transitioning from defense to offense. Unable to generate pressure, both teams are clearly frustrated, and Alex Chiasson ends up with an unsportsmanlike penalty near the end of the period for berating the ref, with yells heard as far as the broadcast booth.
Just so you get an indication of how poorly the Senators have played thus far, from Ryan's initial penalty in the middle of the first period to halfway through the second, the Senators only attempted four shots on net.
Overall, after two periods, the shots were 26 to 8 in favour of the Devils, and the shot attempts at 42 to 13.
Probably the most even period of the game considering that a) the Senators did not take a penalty all period and b) coincidentally had the puck more. The Senators actually get a powerplay opportunity after a great net drive (!) by Erik Condra leading to a Jaromir Jagr interference penalty on Curtis Lazar after the latter was crashing the net hard for a rebound. The Senators were also more structured in their own zone for most of the third and kept the chances to a minimum, but still required a number of saves from Craig Anderson, to keep the score at 1-0. Perhaps the most exciting part of the game came with 30 seconds left, as Anderson decided to go for the empty net and barely missed.
Right after, Clarke MacArthur beat out a tired Eric Gelinas to a loose puck, and centered it to Turris for a tap into the empty net for his second of the night with 0.6 seconds left.
The Senators generate almost as many attempts at the net in this period than their first two, which is an indication of how poor the first two were than a positive of the latter, and end the game smiling but knowing that they can't afford to get only 32% of the shots on a given night.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Duh. Anderson was spectacular tonight and ended a streak which saw him give up 3 or more goals in 9 of his last 10 starts. A timely rebound as well given that Dave Cameron elected to start Robin Lehner in consecutive games, which maybe set a fire under the veteran goaltender. He was all smiles after the attempt at an empty net as well, and I'm glad the icing didn't come back to bite him. I'm reluctant to give the penalty kill "Sens hero" honours here, as they did give up way too many shots to a very good Devils powerplay. Although Phillips, Michalek, and Gryba all made good defensive plays, Anderson was the best penalty killer and earns the nod here.
Sens Killer: Penalty trouble
A string of five minor penalties, most of which were easily preventable, can definitely take the wind out of a team's sails. I came across a really cool chart this morning from @CrzyCanucklehed on twitter, and although the Senators penalty percentage is about even (they draw as much as they take), the Senators still are one of the worst teams in the league in terms of the sheer number of minor penalties taken. As mentioned before, taking a lot of penalties can throw off things like ice-time as well, and could be a reason why Curtis Lazar got a season-low 8 minutes of ice-time tonight.
Sens Killers: Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas
The Devils first pair was fantastic tonight and surely helped their team generate 80% of the shot attempts while they were on the ice. Notably, both were sneaky good at getting their shots through and stood up in the neutral zone at the right times to prevent any hope of the Senators advancing into their end. Dave Cameron may want to show his defensive group the game tape from these two tonight.
Game flow (all situations) from Natural Stat Trick:
P.S. - a bonus picture from tonight's game
Thanks for reading!