I distinctly remember two breakout performances last season. In one game early in the season, oft-scratched Mike Hoffman put up a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets. From that point on, he was permanently in the lineup. About a month later, Erik Condra, another frequent scratch, put up a goal and had two goals disallowed against the Blues. That cemented his place in the lineup.
I can't help but wonder if tonight's game will do the same for Shane Prince. Two goals and an assist while on the fourth line is no small feat. Dave Cameron can't afford to take him out of the lineup at this point.
The game started the way the previous one did, with Bobby Ryan intercepting a pass and breaking in alone. Unfortunately, Ryan couldn't score on his attempt tonight. Still, it's a sign of his confidence that he's making individual plays like that. Speaking of confidence, it wasn't long afterward that a player who badly needed some picked up some in a huge way. Prince would pick up a carom off the boards sent in by Erik Karlsson, and put it five-hole on Semyon Varlamov. Varly's body language betrayed that he didn't know where the puck was, and sure enough, it squeaked through his pads and across the line.
The picture above shows where the puck came to rest, just barely over the line. I couldn't help but think of Teemu Selanne's talk of ketchup bottles; Prince had seen opportunities through previous games, but was still searching for his first NHL goal. Now that one had come, we could only hope it was the start of something magical.
The Avalanche would get their chances to tie it up with a couple odd-man rushes, but one was negated by the puck bouncing over Nathan MacKinnon's stick, and another was stopped by Chris Neil catching Blake Comeau on the back-check. Neil had lost weight to help his speed over the summer, and it was noticeable on that play. Not long afterward, Zack Smith would find Prince in the slot who ripped a one-timer home. Suddenly, the ketchup was a-flowin'.
Some sloppy play in front would allow Chris Wagner to put home his first NHL goal and pull the Avs within one. A penalty to Mark Borowiecki gave them some chances to draw level. There are two disadvantages to having Borocop in the box: first, it means that Karlsson has to play D on the PK more. And secondly, Boro's normal spot is in front of the net clearing away bodies. Carl Soderberg got a couple chances in low, mostly because nobody picked up that spot in front of the net.
With the penalty nearly expired, Matt Duchene put on a great ad for Bryan Murray, busting into the zone, dangling through Cody Ceci, and then nearly bouncing it in off Craig Anderson. But in what would be a theme of the night, Andy tracked the puck well, managing to not direct into his net, then land snow angel-style and pull the puck to his side. Marc Methot would give the Avs a second PP, but this one was far less dangerous, with the best chance going to Alex Chiasson and Mika Zibanejad shorthanded. Chiasson's rebound hit Z-bad in the slot, but Varlamov came across and made a great save. The period would end 2-1 for Ottawa, with them also outshooting Colorado 14-11. Colorado isn't supposed to be very good, so it was nice to see the Sens with a deserving lead.
The second started out about as well as it could've for the Senators. Only a couple minutes in, Mike Hoffman made a beautiful pass to Kyle Turris who sniped it home to restore the two-goal lead. That would do it for Varlamov's night, with Reto Berra taking his place. It was the second time in two nights that the Sens chased the opposition's starting goalie. The teams would trade chances, but nobody could score for a long time. In particular, I noticed Shane Prince was playing with a lot more confidence. The Avs had a series of chances, but Anderson played a key role in keeping them out, with good old-fashioned luck helping out the Sens in a big way too. Late in the period, Zack Smith won a faceoff to Prince, who passed it back to Methot. Methot just dumped it in wide of the net, but Smith picked up the bounce and put it home over Berra's shoulder. The Sens would have a seemingly comfortable three-goal lead entering the third period.
Early in the third, Prince got hit awkwardly into the boards by Andreas Martinsen. Chris Neil stepped into defend his linemate in a fight. Prince was shaken up, and would leave the rink, though thankfully he returned to the bench later in the period. Neil would get the extra 2+10 for instigating the fight, sending the Avs to the powerplay. Though they had a lot of pressure, there were no goals to show. Just as the penalty was expiring, Erik Johnson decided that hitting Borowieck in the throat was a good way to forecheck, which sent the Sens to their first (and only) powerplay of the night.
The powerplay was shortlived, as a minute in, Milan Michalek got caught trying to play goalie at his own blueline against a chip pass to MacKinnon. MacKinnon won that, which forced Milo into a trip/body-slam that sent the teams to what should've been four-on-four, only Patrick Roy being himself pulled his goalie to give his team a man advantage. It worked for Roy, as Colorado would keep the puck in the Sens' zone the whole time, and eventually get a goal just as Johnson's penalty expired on a gorgeous high tip by Gabriel Landeskog.
Only 90 seconds later, Karlsson would whiff on a pass attempt behind his own net. Landeskog was the beneficiary, sending a pass out front to MacKinnon who rifled it home. Suddenly, the Sens were only up by one. Dave Cameron called his timeout, which was probably a smart move. I'd been watching the Colorado feed, which led to a great moment in confusion for me. Apparently they countdown the 30-second timeout on the broadcast where the time left in the period normally shows, so I absent-mindedly looked up and was shocked to see there were only a few second left in the game when I thought there were still several minutes.
Then I was doubly surprised when the time was changing during the timeout, as if it was football. Then I clued into what was happening and had a good laugh at myself.
As expected, the Avs put on most of the pressure for the rest of the game. Marc Methot would get hit with his second minor of the game for standing up Matt Duchene at the blue line. Methot was incredulous that it was called a penalty, and Karlsson whipped the puck at the glass in his own zone to show his opinion of the call. But as they had for most of the night, the Sens' PK succeeded there.
The end of the PP didn't change much in terms of pressure, with Colorado still pouring it on. Somehow, late in the game Anderson covered the puck and Landeskog two-hand shoved Methot to the ice, but there was no call. I'm not saying it should've been a penalty, but if Methot's earlier play was a penalty, so was that. I don't think the refs were out to get Ottawa, I just think they were pretty inconsistent.
Colorado would get more opportunities with their goalie pulled, but to no avail. Ottawa would twice chip the puck for the empty net, but not have enough power to score, which also meant there was no icing risk. With only 11 seconds left, Michalek took a tripping penalty at Colorado's blue-line, which was a terrible play with no excuse in my mind. That would give the Avs one last offensive-zone draw, rather than forcing them to gain the zone one last time. Roy would use his timeout, which again led to my confusion as to why there was so little time left in the period, only to realize it was the timeout countdown. Turris won the ensuing faceoff, and Zibanejad shot it into the empty net from his own circle. In a couple of seconds, all the nervousness of Ottawa turned to relief after having clung to the victory. The final score was 5-3 for Ottawa, with shot ending 43-29 for Colorado.
Sens Hero: Shane Prince
Could there be any other? He finished with two goals and an assist in just 8:42 of ice time (likely cut short due to that injury scare), not to mention five shots. I hope he ends up with more scoring-focused linemates in the future, but for now, that should cement his place in the lineup for games to come.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
People weren't sure if Chris Driedger should get the start against a poor Avalanche team after Andy was busy the night before. Anderson responded with a .930 save percentage, bailing out his team when they needed him to. To my eyes, Anderson tracked the puck better than normal, and managed to make several desperation saves he couldn't have without his awareness.
Honourable Mention: Zack Smith and Chris Neil
How does the fourth line keep doing it? Once again, they were Ottawa's best line in terms of even-strength possession tonight. Not to mention that Smith had a sweet assist on Prince's goal, and then a sweet goal of his own. As long as Smith and Neil don't take dumb penalties (I don't think Neil's instigator was dumb), I could be very happy with this year's fourth line.
Dishonourable Mention: Milan Michalek
I don't know what he was trying to do on the first penalty he took, because he's got to realize that he can't afford to give MacKinnon a breakaway. I really don't know what he was doing on the second penalty, because there was no need and he gave the Avs a great last chance to tie the game.
Sens Killer: Nathan MacKinnon
Both Duchene and Landeskog also had great nights, but to my eyes MacKinnon was the most terrifying. However you spin it, the Avs' top line feasted for much of the night but just couldn't solve Craig Anderson enough times.
Normally we only do the even-strength game flow, but I've included the all-strengths one below because the third period is hilarious. (As long as you don't think too hard about what it represents, in which case it's really sad.)