Due to some scheduling oddities, the Senators played the Stars in Dallas and the Coyotes in Arizona in the lead-up to the All-Star Break, and then returned from the break by playing these two teams at home. Coming off a 6-3 loss, the Sens were looking for a win against a much weaker team than the Stars. There were so many stories to start the game: Robin Lehner starting two games in a row for the first time in a long time, Eric Gryba scratched for the first time all season, Patrick Wiercioch scratched again, Curtis Lazar bumped up to the top six, David Legwand back in the lineup at the expense of Alex Chiasson...
Anyway, this is supposed to be a recap, not a retroactive preview. The game started as terribly as it could've for a team looking for a win with a starting goalie lacking confidence. Zbynek Michalek took a nothing wrist-shot from the point that Marc Methot tried to glove and whiffed on. Instead, he tipped it top corner past a screened Lehner. It was an unfortunate goal that you can't fault Lehner for at all. Thankfully, just 39 seconds later, Mike Hoffman picked up an errant pass from Brandon McMillan and sniped it under an unsuspecting Mike Smith. It was Hoffman's 17th of the year, making the score 1-1 after only 1:09 elapsed in the first period.
Chris Neil drew a tripping penalty to send Ottawa to its first powerplay of the period. Thirty seconds in, some slick hands from Bobby Ryan forced Oliver Ekman-Larsson into a holding penalty to prevent a breakaway, sending Ottawa to a 90 second 5-on-3. There were some chances, including Mika Zibanejad and Milan Michalek both missing shots at the top of the crease, but the Sens were unable to score. Some effective shot-blocking and faceoff-winning by the 'Yotes kept Ottawa off the board. What struck me the most was that halfway through, there was a faceoff, and Dave Cameron elected to keep three guys out for the second half: Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, and Mika Zibanejad. That's a testament to how far Z-bad has come since a rough start to the year. As the penalty expired, Mark Stone found himself with a great opportunity with only his brother Michael Stone in the way. Michael went down for the block. Effectively, Stone stoned Stone, which is a phrase I've been waiting my whole life to write.
I felt kind of bad for Jean-Gabriel Pageau that he was stuck with Neil on his wing. Apparently Neil agreed, because he fought B.J. Crombeen to give five minutes where Pageau wasn't stuck with him. Shortly after, Mark Stone would make a great steal and throw it to man in front of the net, but unfortunately it was Legwand, so he threw the puck straight vertically instead of into the open top five-sixths of the net.
A nice play between Karlsson, Zibanejad, and Clarke MacArthur would draw Ottawa's third powerplay of the period. They failed to score, but shortly afterward would get another opportunity, when Smith went to play the puck but some strong pressure forced him to mishandle it, then play it outside the trapezoid. Cameron sent a message by starting the powerplay with Methot, Neil, Pageau, and Erik Condra playing with Karlsson. As expected, this didn't help, and Ottawa would again fail to score. With about a minute left, Martin Erat misread a line change which led to several seconds of the Coyotes having six skaters. Eventually the refs caught it, and Ottawa would get their fifth (!!) powerplay of the period. This one started with the same forward lineup as the last one, and with Jared Cowen and Cody Ceci on defence. This again didn't work, so the period would end tied.
Overall, the first period wasn't very exciting. The shots were 8-6 for Ottawa, but with five powerplays for the Sens, you would've expected more shots. Part of this was caused by Arizona's 13 blocked shots. This meant that the biggest highlights were non-play related. This fan was pretty cool:
FIRED UP! pic.twitter.com/RDWMx7QLdX— Senshot (@SenShot_FS) January 31, 2015
But the highlight had to be this excellent trolling of the Maple Leafs by the TSN staff:
So is this what the kids calling trolling? pic.twitter.com/e1lL2BKOa1— Ross Sheer Cynicism (@Sheer_Craziness) January 31, 2015
The second period started with the Sens on the powerplay, so of course they failed to score. Marc Methot then proceeded to throw one his patented hip-checks which absolutely destroyed Lucas Lessio.
Chris Neil has the worst penalty differential in the league since 2011, and made sure his first period drawn penalty didn't wreck that by taking a holding penalty in the second. Arizona would get eight shots on that powerplay, but Robin Lehner stood strong, and was especially sharp with Shane Doan being a pest in front. It was a great stretch of play for a goalie who desperately needed one. Sadly, he was about the only sharp Senator for that stretch, as Ottawa got outshot 10-1 to start the period.
Erik Karlsson tried to make things interesting by taking a slapshot from inside his own blueline. Referee Rob Martell had put up a pretty effective screen on Mike Smith, who had to make a last-minute pad save to not join the goal-allowed-from-behind-centre club. Just as it was looking like it would be an awful period for the team, Milan Michalek would rip home a beauty of a shot from the faceoff circle. It was a beautiful snipe, the likes of which we haven't seen this year from Milo, and it got him fired up. Just over two minutes later, Mark Stone tipped a Methot point shot home to give the Sens a two-goal lead. The TSN crew had a field day with the fact that the two guys facing their brothers got the back-to-back goals. The period ended with Methot taking a holding penalty in front of his own net, which meant Arizona would get a minute and a half of powerplay to start the third. Ottawa was outshot 16-10 in the frame, but thanks to some solid goaltending and some late-period pressure, they would take a lead into the third.
If the second started as badly as possible for Ottawa, the third started as well as possible. A poor zone exit by the 'Yotes was picked off by Zibanejad. He dropped it to MacArthur, who skated hard around, and threw it in front to Ryan, who managed to slide the puck under Smith's pad. 20 seconds later, Ottawa would score again on a really sloppy play by the Coyotes. Crombeen would lose the puck on a zone exit, and Karlsson dumped it in. I don't know what Connor Murphy was doing, because somehow Pageau was able to tag up, then race back into the zone and be first to the puck rebounding off the end boards. He put a soft backhand under Smith's glove, then was run into the boards by Andrew Campbell who didn't realize a goal had been scored. Condra and Neil took exception to this, which led to a hilarious celebration by Pageau:
That would end Smith's night, and give Louis Domingue his first NHL minutes. Arizona would get one back, when a Lauri Korpikoski shot deflected off Sam Gagner's skate and into the net. It was another goal on which Lehner had no chance. Mark Borowiecki would take a penalty on a bit of a scramble, but Arizona generated nothing on the powerplay. Mark Stone actually came the closest to scoring, when Domingue copied Smith's puckhandling for the night and passed it straight to Stone six feet in front of the net. Stone intercepted it on his backhand, so he had to bring it back to the forehand, and by that point, Domingue was in place to make a save.
Just past the halfway mark of the period (though it felt like it the game had been going on forever already), Erik Karlsson found himself with some space on the right side and unleashed a slapshot. As Jamie McLennan said on the broadcast, "Welcome to the NHL." Friend of the blog Nightbreak seemed very respectful on his horn blasts, keeping them relatively short, which made sense to me. It was Domingue's first NHL goal allowed, and it was on a shot that almost no goalie would stop.
The game wouldn't have a boring end, as Bobby Ryan would stickhandle nearly the entire perimeter of the Arizona zone before passing to Zibanejad for a tap-in. This was Zibanejad's 13th goal of the year, and looks to be setting up a centre controversy in the capital.
Zibanejad is now within 4 points of Turris.— Adnan (@sens_adnan) January 31, 2015
In all seriousness, having two guys who you could argue as the number-one centre on the team is a great thing. Final shots were 37-31 for Arizona, but Ottawa put up its highest goal total of the season in a 7-2 destruction of the Coyotes.
Sens Hero: Mark Stone
His line dominated possession all night, and he put up two points, though he could've had five if he was playing with someone who wasn't Legwand. His ability to generate turnovers is a thing of beauty.
Sens Hero: Robin Lehner
The Lehner put up a .946 save percentage on the night. Without him in the second period, this could've been a very different game.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
He was the team's best possession player on the night, and finished with two points, five shots, and two hits. His defensive positioning was impeccable, to the point that the TSN broadcast complimented him on it many times. It was another great game for the captain who's had a great January.
Sens Hero: Marc Methot
He also had a great night defensively, and put up a career high of three assists. He received some rotten luck in both of the goals scored against, but he had a great night overall.
Honourable Mention: Milan Michalek
He looked good once again, and scored a beauty of a goal. That goal was needed after a lacklustre period to spark Ottawa's offence. He basically opened the floodgates for Ottawa's scorers. Milo now has 7 points in his last 8 games.
Honourable Mention: MacArthur-Zibanejad-Ryan line
These guys played well together for the second game. Each had some highlight reel moves. Cameron is looking like a genius for putting these guys together. Now if only some of his other line shuffles would start to look this good.
Passenger award: David Legwand
Legwand cruised to a cool 63% of even-strength shot attempts and two assists. I can't help but think that had very little to do with his play tonight. He seemed to be the beneficiary of his linemates tonight.
Sens Zero: The powerplay
If the team hadn't walked away with this victory, we'd be talking about this a whole lot more. 0-for-5 against one of the worst penalty kills in the league is pretty awful.
Sens Killer (or at least Sens powerplay killer): Antoine Vermette
The ex-Senator was very good on the penalty kill, winning draws, blocking shots, and getting in the lane. I can see why he's a coveted player at the trade deadline. Is he worth $7-million a year? No. But he'll make a playoff-bound team very happy in five weeks.
Coyote Ugly: Mike Smith
He didn't handle the puck well, which is normally his strength. He allowed a couple of goals underneath his pads because he wasn't set for the shot. He finished with a .750 save percentage. A terrible night for a goalie who's having a terrible year.
That start of the second period is ugly. Yikes...