When a team is playing on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested opponent, the outcome tends to be ugly. The Senators set out to buck the trend in their match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and though things got a little tense at the end it was the Sens that walked away with a 4-3 win. They got there on the back of an absolutely dominant performance by their captain, some timely scoring early, and then just enough kick to get over the line when things got ugly at the end. If you're Dave Cameron, I imagine your message to the troops is something like: "More of what we saw in the first, less of what we saw in the third, but just enjoy the win!"
Speaking of the first period, besides a Kessel break-away that stemmed from brutal neutral zone coverage by the Ceci-Cowen pairing, Ottawa limited Toronto's chances and generated several A+ plus opportunities of their own. Mike Hoffman scored before the game was three minutes old with a laser beam of a wrister that James Reimer probably still should have had. Nonetheless, Ottawa would carry the play for most of the rest of the period. Their efforts through the neutral zone were of particular note, as they attacked the Leafs' blue line with speed again and again. Erik Karlsson would make it 2-0 by finishing off a beautiful passing play with just under nine minutes to go. You can watch the full game highlights below, but this one merits a video of its own. Witness the sublime:
There are so many great things that make this goal special, but Ryan's wonderful between-the-legs pass to spring Karlsson tops the list. Karlsson has the speed, and the anticipation, to leap into action the moment it becomes clear that Cody Franson is going to pinch down on Bobby Ryan. Ryan then has the skill to make the perfect play to get the captain going into open ice at top speed. Sublime.
Mika Zibanejad would add another before the period was out, and Ottawa led 3-0 after the first. The shots weren't completely lopsided, 11-8 in favour of the Sens, but Ottawa was the better team and had the better of the chances. All in all, things were looking pretty good. You might say I was kind of excited:
STOP. THE. FIGHT. THERE'S BLOOD EVERYWHERE!— Nate (@NKB121) January 22, 2015
Well, the second period didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. David Clarkson, of all people, scored on a broken play to bring the Leafs to within two goals. Plenty of blame to go around on the breakdown that led to Clarkson standing wide open in front of Anderson, but Eric Gryba and Patrick Wiercioch were most to blame. You simply cannot leave a man behind you in front of your net when your team isn't in clear possession of the puck. Toronto generated a couple of other chances on power play opportunities, but thanks in part to stellar penalty killing from Erik Condra and Jean-Gabriel Pageau the Senators maintained their two goal lead going into the third.
The third was a no good, bad, horrible, terrible period for the Senators. Call it a combination of fatigue, score effects, whatever you want, it was still no good. The Leafs would outshoot the Sens 17-6 in the third and twice reduce the margin to a single goal, but could never quite get the game tied up. Tactically, Ottawa struggled badly against the Leafs' aggressive forechecking. This has been something of a theme all year, and the root cause is a defense corps that has great difficulty under any kind of pressure. The return of Marc Methot to the line-up has been like manna from heaven for Erik Karlsson, but both the second and third pairings had something of a rough night by my eye. Luckily for Ottawa, the captain scored his second of the night to give Ottawa the breathing room it needed late in the third. Sens hang on, barely, for a 4-3 win.
A few miscellaneous notes:
- It was a bit of a weird decision by Cameron to go with Craig Anderson on the second night of a back-to-back when Andy played the first game. I'm pretty positive that Cameron is aware of the negative effect that playing back-to-back has on goalies, and if so it says a lot about his esteem of Robin Lehner at this point in time.
- With Curtis Lazar back in, and David Legwand scratched in his place, we got a glimpse of the team's future down the middle. They're still young, and in some cases very much unproven, but Kyle Turris - Mika Zibanejad - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Curtis Lazar is a depth chart I can very much get behind.