This game had been circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced. It marked the return of Senators' superstar Alex Chiasson to the place his career started. Additionally, oft-injured, aging, no-look-drop-pass aficionado Jason Spezza for whom he was traded was also facing his former team for the first time. (Side note: I actually really like Spezza and think he was criticized far too much in Ottawa.) Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were both playing for the Stars despite illnesses that had kept them out of practice the day before.
The first goal of the game came on a heads-up play by Bobby Ryan. Not having an open pass in his zone, he threw it up the boards where a speeding Mike Hoffman could pick it up. Breaking out two-on-one with Mika Zibanejad, he elected to shoot and scored. It was his fifteenth of the season, surpassing Filip Forsberg to give him the outright rookie goal-scoring lead. (Forsberg also scored tonight to catch back up to Hoffman.) Ottawa continued its red-hot powerplay by scoring near the end of their first powerplay of the game. Alex Goligoski went for a slow change which put John Klingberg out of position coming off the bench. Mark Stone stripped Erik Cole of the puck and gave it to David Legwand, who found Clarke MacArthur. MacArthur would rip it off the far-side post, scoring his thirteenth of the season while simultaneously ending Kari Lehtonen's night.
The next notable play was when Ales Hemsky danced his way up the slot, only to pass it back to Spezza rather than shooting. The Sens were then able to clear it. I was all set to make a joke about how he'd been learning from Spezza, but before I could write it, Hemsky broke in again and blasted a slapshot past Robin Lehner. If you'd bet on Hemsky to score on Ottawa before Spezza, congrats. Before they could get too excited, some solid play in the Sens' defensive zone led to another goal. Jared Cowen would stand up Travis Moen in his own zone. The puck would go back to the point, where Mark Stone blocked a shot, then took off with the puck. Jordie Benn did his best to avoid a hooking penalty, which allowed Stone to get a shot off. For some reason, Cowen was on the doorstep for the rebound. He made one deke to get Anders Lindback completely out of position, and buried it into an open net. The TSN commentators made sure to let us know that Dallas has been playing the highest-scoring games on average this season, and the first period of this game was definitely in the same vein.
The Sens also had a scare late when Cole caught Marc Methot with a high hit a couple feet out from the boards. Methot would head to the dressing room, but return for the start of the second.
If the first period was cautiously positive for the Sens, the second was an unmitigated disaster. The Sens had a good first shift courtesy of the Kyle Turris line, but it was followed up by a great play between Hemsky and Spezza that only failed because Cole isn't as good as the other two. Dallas would claw back within one on a point blast by Trevor Daley. John Klingberg would continue his impressive rookie campaign with a goal to tie it. Chiasson made a bad pinch, and the Stars turned it into a 3-on-2 where Klingberg scored. Erik Karlsson would get a questionable interference call on Jamie Benn, and on the powerplay, Erik Cole made amends for earlier play by making an amazing tip on a point shot by Alex Goligoski, breaking an 0-for-14 stretch on the powerplay for the Stars. Suddenly the Sens were losing. The Sens would get some pressure late in the period, but it ended in crap-tacular fashion. Spezza tipped a Sens pass in his own zone and was off to the races. He actually didn't even get an assist on the play, because three crisp passes led to Klingberg having a virtually open net in which to score his second of the night. A two-goal lead had turned into a two-goal deficit for the Sens in the second period. The most depressing thought of the period had to be summed up in this Tweet:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>The thing I hate most about this losing is that management's going to probably correlate it to Neil/Smith/Borowiecki not being in the lineup</p>— Kevin Lee (@BringBackLee) <a href="https://twitter.com/BringBackLee/status/555203985519292416">January 14, 2015</a></blockquote>
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The third period was a surprising end to a back-and-forth affair, with only one goal being scored in total. (Spoiler alert: the Sens lost.) Ottawa got a powerplay on an admittedly weak tripping call on Jamie Benn drawn by Stone, leading to their second powerplay goal of the night. On the goal, it seemed like everyone was inside the Stars' crease. Chiasson made a nifty play to put the puck back on goal between his legs, and Milan Michalek finally managed to put home the loose puck. Immediately following the goal, the Stars piled on the pressure, but Robin Lehner made some great saves on his stomach to keep the game close. Ottawa would then pour on the offence, ultimately outshooting Dallas 16-5 in the third period, but nothing beat Lindback. Lehner was pulled for the last 1:43, and a bunch of icing calls made the pace of the game feel like the end of a basketball game. Final score: Stars 5, Sens 4.
Sens Hero: Mark Stone
Stone had two assists on the night, both the direct results of him taking the puck away from the Stars. He should've had a third, but Eric Gryba hit the crossbar. He spent some time reunited with the top line because of his great play. Surprisingly to me, he had the second-worst even-strength possession numbers on the team tonight (ahead of Chris Phillips), but based on his other numbers, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and a hero nod.
Honourable Mention: Jared Cowen
I beat up on Cowen when his pairing is bad, so I'll point out that he and Cody Ceci came second and third respectively in even-strength Corsi % for the team tonight. Cowen used his size well to the tune of four hits, and even pinched perfectly to score a timely goal.
Mention: Robin Lehner
I don't know what to say about Lehner. His game was OK, but not good. Maybe on the first goal he should've held his blocker higher? But it was a well-placed shot by Hemsky. Maybe on the powerplay goal he should've got his body behind it rather than just his glove? But it was a great tip by Cole. Pretty much every goal came on an odd-man rush, and he held the team in it early in the third. If he'd played better, it would've been great for the team, but he was hardly to blame for the loss.
Sens Zero: Chris Phillips
I hate to keep bagging on the guy, but he looked terrible tonight. Far and away the team's worst player tonight. I wish he didn't have seniority, so Cameron could justify scratching him every night. I appreciate all he's done for the team and the franchise, but he doesn't deserve to be playing regularly anymore.
Sens Killer: Anders Lindback
Is this the goalie that let the Lightning get swept last spring? He finished with a .944 save percentage, and had many, many key saves to keep his team in it. He hadn't posted a save percentage north of .900 since a .906 showing on October 11th against the Predators. #SlumpBusters
Sens Killer: Ales Hemsky
On a night where ex-Senator Spezza got all the press coming in, the other guy who played for the Sens last year played extremely well. Sometimes he tries to be too cute, but tonight he had a goal, an assist, and could easily have had more. On a night where five Stars had multi-point games, he earns my pick as their top skater.
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Sardonic Send-off: I'm sure Ottawa was only a top-six forward away from winning this game. (You thought this was gonna be about Spezza, didn't you?)