The working title for this recap was "same old Senators lose to the New York Islanders", which was written after watching a dismal second period by the team. Thankfully, the Senators played a lot better in the third and thanks to Clarke MacArthur's mid-period goal, were able to salvage a point on a brutal five-game road trip.
The Senators started the game with a couple of great shifts. New linemates Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, and Alex Chiasson generated some good, consistent pressure on the cycle, and were rewarded later on when Zibanejad teed up Mike Hoffman in the high slot for a slapshot that beat Halak. Hoffman's skilled play has definitely been a positive for the Sens season thus far, and it's scary to think what would've happened if he hadn't scored in his final two preseason games.
Later in the period, Craig Anderson made two diving saves on Ryan Strome, sparking this tweet from ol' @BonksMullet:
Who wore it better? pic.twitter.com/vsaytseoTt— Bonk's Mullet (@BonksMullet) December 3, 2014
All in all, despite the Isles leading in shots 9-5, the period was pretty even in shot attempts 17-17 and the Sens entered intermission with a 1-0 lead.
I really don't know what happened in the intermission, but it's like all of the Senators issues were brought to light in the next twenty minutes of play. Dreadful puck management led to an inability for the Sens to exit their zone with control. The bolded part is really important here. The Senators limited shots this period, but were constantly hemmed in their own zone because the strategy appeared to be "off the glass and out", and although that's fine in certain situations, it's no way to win a hockey game. Tied in with the long change, the Senators were a tired group that ended up chasing the puck a lot. Again, all of this comes back to poor puck management and the inability to make clean passes in order to leave the defensive zone to enter the offensive zone. Here are some examples that I picked out, all in the second period.
I - Here's a really simple one that starts with 17:42 left in the third. The puck is deep in the Senators zone, and Condra has the puck. Everyone is in good position here, as Cowen is guarding the front of the net, Neil is starting up the right-wing boards with Cizikas, and Legwand is wide-open for an outlet pass. Condra makes the right decision here and passes the puck to the player who's starting to skate - Legwand.
Cizikas, who was with Neil on the right-wing boards before, decides to engage Legwand at the line, as the Isles usually play an aggressive neutral zone game and this is an example of it. Due to this, Neil is technically open, and Legwand just has to find him.
Legwand gets the puck past Cizikas, but misses Neil. Hickey (top left) can gather the puck at centre ice and the Isles are free to move back into the zone.
The Senators players, who started this shift in the offensive zone, are now unable to change and have an extended shift in their own zone thanks to the inability to make a clean breakout. Now, this may be a little unfair to Legwand, but throughout the season so far, it's these types of plays that are killing the Sens. The "off the boards and out" play ends up in the same result - the opposing players gathering the puck and entering into the offensive zone while the Sens generate no pressure.
II - This is the other type of play that happens quite often. Teams are keying in on the fact that Ottawa's defensive group as a whole is poor at passing the puck up the middle for clean zone exits, and are often guarding the half-wall to prevent the easy pass to the wingers that the Sens usually look for. This results in a turnover, a flatfooted defenseman, and often a good scoring chance if players aren't in position. Here's a quick example that leads to a scoring chance against (made using this):
Here's a modified example that has been the frequent result of a poor line change.
The Turris line has just come on the ice, and the Isles player dumps the puck in deep. Phillips has a step on Bailey, but the Senators forwards aren't exactly rushing to get into position yet..
Now there's a lot to analyze here, and I can maybe make some guesses on what needs to change systems wise to prevent this type of play from happening. Anderson goes out to settle the puck for Phillips. Gryba notices Josh Bailey in front of the net, and goes to engage him instead of positioning himself by the shop.nhl.com sign to provide an option for Phillips. I'm okay with this decision at the moment, because he may know what Phillips is trying to do next. The problem arises because of the long change. The Islanders have had a couple of solid shifts in the Senators end at this point, so MacArthur is late to get on the ice and isn't quick enough to get into position on the left wing boards, where Phillips sends the puck.
See what happens? The puck goes to the left wing boards where.... there is no Ottawa Senator present. Bailey decided to engage Phillips and now has inside position if the puck were to come low, and everyone is puck watching, leaving an Islander sitting to the right of Craig Anderson. The Senators are told to collapse in front of Craig Anderson, and Kyle Turris is in good position. Clarke MacArthur is now kinda stuck in the middle of no where.
These kinds of plays happen all the time if you're "chasing the game", as Paul MacLean would say. The Islanders have established their forecheck due to the Senators poor puck management in the earlier example, which leads to poor line changes, which leads to more turnovers. A never ending cycle!
III - Here's another example of really poor puck management... off of a defensive zone faceoff win (!!). Condra - Legwand - Neil, Cowen - Ceci are on the ice for the Senators.
David Legwand wins the draw directly behind him and Chris Neil has booked it to the right wing boards. This is probably a set play, as Cowen doesn't even look to consider his options, and backhands the puck around the boards to (presumably) where Neil is supposed to be.
Now here's where things are silly. Firstly, if Cowen was going to sent it to Neil, why not let Ceci, the right-handed defenseman, be the one to pass the puck so that way it's on his forehand and he can perhaps get a little more juice on it? Secondly, Neil is nowhere near where he's supposed to be, and is tied up nicely by the Islanders D. This leaves the Islanders left wing to skate to an uncontested puck and establish possession. Now absolutely no one is in position except for Cody Ceci, who can't really do anything anyways because a) Jared Cowen is still behind the net, b) Chris Neil is too high to engage, c) Erik Condra is in position but on the opposite wall, and d) David Legwand is still low.
This ends up leading to a pretty good chance against Anderson. That's it for the examples, but I thought I'd show all of you some concrete examples of the poor puck management that plagued the Senators this period. Ultimately, the turnovers ended up costing them late in the period, when Jared Cowen failed to get the puck in at the blueline and Cody Ceci bobbled a bouncing puck, leaving Brock Nelson on a partial breakaway against Anderson.
After each team took a penalty after the Nelson goal, Casey Cizikas almost put the Islanders up 2-1 with 0.1 seconds left as he came in over the blueline and fired a high slapshot on Anderson. Here's a look at how close it was, again from our friend Bonk:
Never had a chance....... pic.twitter.com/dDyhpfy9iO— Bonk's Mullet (@BonksMullet) December 3, 2014
Somehow, the shots were 6-6 that period, but the Islanders out-attempted the Senators by a margin of 20-8 and controlled play for most of the time.
The game returned back to how it was in the first period, where the Senators found their legs, started skating more, and had some consistent pressure in the Islanders zone. The period started off on a sour note, as Ryan Strome couldn't be stopped this time and potted a 4-on-4 goal to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.
However, the lead didn't last too long as Mark Stone did yeoman's work down low and eventually found Clarke MacArthur for a nice one-touch goal against Jaroslav Halak to tie the game at two.
The teams traded chances, but ultimately, the Senators ended the game on a strong note, with Curtis Lazar hitting the post off of a feed from Zack Smith, and Kyle Turris doing the same on an identical play, set up by MacArthur.
There was a lot of neutral zone jawing in the short overtime period, with Erik Karlsson working some magic and Calvin de Haan doing the same for the Islanders. The only consistent shift in either zone ended up being all that was needed, as Thomas Hickey did not give up on the play and skated behind Craig Anderson after beating a flailing Kyle Turris. The puck bounced off of Cody Ceci's skate and in while the young defenseman was trying to tie up Mikhail Grabovski.
Here's your overall possession chart from @NatStatTrick -
Sens Hero: Paul MacLean
Hey, the ice-time distribution wasn't bad tonight with the Turris line all around 17-18 minutes, and the Zibanejad line with around 15. The kids (Hoffman, Lazar, Stone) all had more ice-time than Michalek, Legwand, and Neil, which is a positive. Zack Smith still played 17 minutes, but we'll get there soon enough. The line combinations were pretty close to ideal with the current group as well, as Alex Chiasson was finally off of the top line and was your possession leader for the night with Mika Zibanejad and Mike Hoffman. The Turris line also looked rejuvenated with Stone on the wing, which leaves us to wonder why this wasn't always the case. The team, coach included, needs to be a lot better after only securing three of a possible ten points on the five game road trip, but distributing the ice-time like this could help a bit.
Sens Heroes: The Kids
Hoffman scored his 8th of the year and was one of the few dangerous Senators tonight. Mark Stone was another, and set up the Clarke MacArthur goal. Curtis Lazar also played really well tonight, as the young forward crashed the net on multiple occasions and was defensively responsible down low, as well as in the neutral zone. Mika Zibanejad also looked great with Hoffman as well, and had a slick assist to set up the Senators first goal.
Sens Zeroes: Chris Neil, Jared Cowen, Mark Borowiecki
They were the highlights of the examples I showcased above for a reason. All three were questionable in the Senators own end, and helped the Islanders establish a fantastic forecheck when they where on the ice. I'm lenient to harp on Borowiecki too much because he just returned from a lower-body injury and played 22 minutes mainly with Erik Karlsson against top competition, but the former two did not look good at all.
Dishonourable Mention: Craig Anderson
I feel weird for putting his name here because he's been fantastic this season and obviously couldn't keep his save percentage that high all season, but he was weak laterally on the Strome and Hickey goals, and almost gave up a real stinker against Cizikas. Overall, the Senators only gave up 28 shots tonight - which is very positive - but there were still too many scoring chances against.
Here's your game donut from B_T!
Thanks for reading!