The Senators last game of 2014 was an eventful one. Coach Dave Cameron noted before the game that having a lot of time off isn't good for the Senators, as they won't play again until Saturday after having a league-wide holiday break and could use the practice time. However, I'm sure he'll feel a little better after tonight. The Senators entered the game having outshot their last two opponents but having only three goals to show for it, leading to the "gripping the sticks" narrative that cites a lack of finish. However, if you keep piling shots on the opposition, goals will come and they did tonight.
The game started off brightly for the Senators with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, and Kyle Turris all with great chances and a quick ascent to double-digit shot totals in the opening 10 minutes. The Senators took five minor penalties tonight, with Colin Greening and David Legwand getting two each, but despite a decent powerplay by the Sabres, the Senators utilized their forecheck to focus the opposition down low, which opens up the points and an opportunity for second chances, especially when Erik Karlsson and Patrick Wiercioch are shooting the puck. Things start to get a little nasty in the middle of the frame with Jared Cowen and Patrick Kaleta, who were battling all night, dropping the gloves for a good tilt that resulted in this funny moment where Kaleta punches himself in the head.
Although the Sabres start to generate a little pressure in the back half of the period, the Senators finally capitalize with beautiful cross-seam passes, firstly by Karlsson to Turris and a second by Turris to Bobby Ryan, who was perched at the right post and gets two whacks at the puck to put it past Enroth for a well-deserved 1-0 lead.
Overall, the Senators controlled the neutral zone that period and even when they made an error, there was strong work-ethic to get back into the play. They end the period up 16-8 in shots and 32-10 in even-strength shot attempts and could've easily had two or three goals if not for Enroth.
Whatever Ted Nolan told his players in the intermission worked, as the Sabres come out flying to start the period. On what looks like a clean zone exit, Karlsson whiffs on a stretch pass, which is intercepted by Chris Stewart, who sends it to the net for Mark Pysyk to capitalize on after Cody Ceci isn't strong enough to get body position in front of the net and flubs a clearing attempt.
Minutes later, Karlsson's stretch pass sends Hoffman on a breakaway, but the speedy winger is stopped by Enroth after trying to go glove. The Sabres counter soon after as Matt Moulson gets an opportunity to trickle the puck towards the net, where LATVIAN ALL-STAR Zemgus Girgensons establishes good body position on Ceci and grabs his own rebound after initially tipping the puck on Craig Anderson. McLennan breaks it down nicely if you were watching the TSN broadcast, but here's a gif of the overhead camera. Basically, the Senators overplay to the right side of the ice in the neutral zone and Ceci overskates a little too much, which is all the space that Girgensons needs to establish body position.
The opening 10 minutes of the second are almost a polar opposite of the first period and the Sabres rack up a 9-3 advantage in shots. I mentioned earlier that minor penalties were a bit of an issue for the Senators overall, and it certainly isn't coincidental that Phillips and Legwand, two of the slower Senators, take poor penalties that let the Sabres continue their pressure on the Senators. Milan Michalek actually had a nice shorthanded chance with a burst of speed on the right wing boards but is flattened by big blueliner Nikita Zadorov, who could've been in the lineup for Russia in the World Juniors today.
After the penalty kill, the Senators seem to move their feet a little more starting with two good shifts from the Hoffman - Zibanejad - Ryan line, followed by the Michalek - Pageau - Chiasson line; the latter generating a scoring chance for Pageau that started with a nice two-line pass by Jared Cowen. The speed by Pageau through the middle appears to inspire Dave Cameron, who puts the young centre between Hoffman and Ryan for a couple shifts and it pays off with a pretty goal. After an offensive zone faceoff, Pageau forechecks hard and takes a hit to get the puck to Hoffman by the left circle, who then completes a behind the back spin-o-rama pass to Bobby Ryan, who taps it in for his second of the night.
The goal ties the game up late in the second, and leaves the Senators with something positive after being outshot 11-10 in a much more even period overall.
Bobby Ryan's 8th shot of the game gives him a hat-trick after a really skilled play by the Senators. It starts with Hoffman's speed to back off the Sabres D and gain the zone. The puck then makes its way to Erik Karlsson, who dipsy-doodles around one Sabre forward and no-look passes it to Ryan for a partial one-timer that beats Enroth.
The aforementioned Cowen - Kaleta battle continued in a scary way, as both crash into the boards and Kaleta leaves with the trainer after Cowen made a nice defensive play to poke the puck past the pesky winger. Jean-Gabriel Pageau also continues his time with Hoffman and Ryan, but Zibanejad - now with Greening and Condra - continues to drive possession as the trio generates some chances after some great forecheck work and forced turnovers by Condra. The Senators get another goal after a Mark Stone entry eventually leads to Chris Phillips making a crisp back-door pass to Clarke MacArthur, who makes it 4-2 with his second goal in two games.
The game ends with a hilarious sequence after Buffalo pulls the goalie a bit early. First, Chris Phillips tries for an empty net but misses and laughs it off with Anderson, who the crowd hollers at to try and score. Instead, Colin Greening gets his first of the year in a play that is best summarized by the tweet below.
GOAL! WITHOUT SCORING?— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) December 30, 2014
Basically, Greening had a clear shot at the empty net but was hauled down before he could get the shot off. The referees make the decision that if able to get the shot off, Greening would've scored and give him an automatic goal for his first of the year. Not exactly how he imagined it but I'm sure he's glad anyways.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Looks like he dove to poke it at empty net too. RT <a href="https://twitter.com/SensNation">@SensNation</a>: Vintage Greening snipe!! <a href="https://t.co/y7G2vZD1T7">https://t.co/y7G2vZD1T7</a></p>— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) <a href="https://twitter.com/6thSens/status/549765254880579586">December 30, 2014</a></blockquote>
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The Senators outshoot the Sabres 10-2 in the period (21-7 shot attempts) and 36-21 overall to end 2014 on a positive note.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Despite playing with three separate partners, and even spending some time at left defense with Eric Gryba, Karlsson was fantastic tonight. Karlsson had two gorgeous assists and could've had a few more if his teammates capitalized on the plethora of scoring chances that were generated with 65 on the ice. He played mostly with Patrick Wiercioch (11:24 at EV) and when the two were on the ice, shot attempts were 24-6 in favour of Ottawa (80%). In comparison, when playing with Chris Phillips (8:21 at EV), shot attempts were 14 to 6 Ottawa (70%) - both fantastic, but clearly Wiercioch - Karlsson deserves an extended look.
I mentioned in my last recap that I'll be fighting the notion that Karlsson is poor defensively every single recap I write with an example. Karlsson was fantastic tonight in all aspects but I thought I'd gif something that many of us take for granted, myself included, which is his incredible speed. Karlsson is in the offensive zone and makes an attempt at the net, which is blocked and quickly turned the other way by a cheating Chris Stewart, who is at the red line. Karlsson catches up, blocks him off, and the Sabres get nothing in transition.
Sens Hero: Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman
Bobby had 7 shots on goal after 2 periods, which made some feel like he was going to pass Jason York's Sens record of 12 in a game. Although he ended with 8, three of them found the back of the net and gave the Sens star winger his first hat-trick in a Senators jersey and 4th of his career. Ryan looked like he was in the right place at the right time constantly throughout the night and has looked great the past two weeks. Obviously this fares well for the Senators, especially considering that Ryan's goals + points per 60 are career lows so far. Some of it may be due to injury, and Ryan had a mini-scare in the third after taking a slapshot to the foot from Ceci, but appeared fine at the end of the game.
Hoffman continues his fantastic season and I don't even want to guess how many points the rookie would have if he had more time on PP1 instead of someone like Legwand. The narrative will surely be on Bobby Ryan finishing his chances or Pageau's work-ethic but Hoffman is a player that does so many little things right to generate possession and create offense for himself and his linemates. He was buzzing all night and I hope he's still given the opportunity when the team stops shotting at a sky high percentage when he's on the ice.
Sens Hero: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Got his first point in six games since his recall from Binghamton in ~ 13 minutes of work at even-strength tonight. I found that he was using his speed a lot more and as always, was defensively responsible. His play in the neutral zone helped the Senators outattempt their opponents 17-5 when Pageau was on the ice at even-strength and I'm sure is part of the reason why Cameron played his hunch and put Pageau with Hoffman and Ryan for the latter half of the game.
Sens Zero: Cody Ceci
I don't expect much from any U-21 defenseman, as most aren't in the NHL at this point in their careers, but Ceci appears to be struggling lately. He does a few things right and has an active stick, but he seems to be overwhelmed with handling forecheck pressure and doesn't yet have the strength to properly establish body position on players. Ideally, he'd be sheltered at the NHL level while he continues to learn these things but given the state of the Senators blue line, he's thrust into more minutes. I am definitely optimistic about the local defenseman, and hope things turn around for him soon.
Game Flow at Even Strength
All stats from Natural Stat Trick tonight.
Thanks for reading!