To hear long-time beat writers tell it, one of the hardest parts of the job is writing the recap for a game that turns on its head in the waning moments. I'm no professional journalist, but on this night I have a lot of sympathy for those that have to turn in their column on a deadline. Until midway through the third period, when Mark Stone narrowed the New York Islanders' lead to 2-1, it seemed like we were headed towards a dispiriting defeat for the local heroes. Instead, the Sens stormed back in the second half of the third and extra time to snatch a 3-2 overtime victory from the Islanders. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now; with this team, you just can't ever give up, you just can't pre-write your storyline. There's so much skill in the top half of the line-up that virtually anything is possible.
As for the specifics of this game, the Isles came into the contest on the second of a back-to-back after they had posted a 2-1 win against the St. Louis Blues the night before; so giving up a goal less than two minutes in wasn't exactly how the Sens had hoped things would start. It was definitely an unlucky beginning as a puck thrown at the net by Isles fourth-liner Matt Martin kicked off Mark Borowiecki's stick and then his leg before ending up behind a bewildered Craig Anderson. So much for jumping on a tired team.
The rest of the first period was fairly even, though Ottawa did get the better of the chances. After Cal Clutterbuck took a tripping penalty just over five minutes into the game, the Sens looked sharp on the power play but were unable to beat Jaroslav Halak. In part because of injuries, Ottawa has moved to a five man unit featuring Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone, to great success. The key ingredient here is the play of Karlsson, Hoffman, and Ryan in a triangle at the top of the offensive end. Together the three effectively play a game of 3 on 2 against the top of the penalty killing box, and more often than not the sequence ends in a shot for either Ryan or Hoffman from the top of the circles. Craig Anderson was called upon to make a couple of saves at 5v5 and he was more than up to the task.
The second period went much as the second went against Chicago on Thursday, that is to say badly. You may recall that in that game the Sens were outshot 16-6, out-attempted 30-12 and at times had a hard time just clearing their own end. Tonight's second frame wasn't quite as bad but the shots were 14-9 in favour of the Isles and the attempts were 32-17. After an early missed break-away for Mike Hoffman, and some sustained pressure from the Zibanejad line, the Isles dominated the back half of the period. The Cowen-Ceci pairing, in particular, struggled badly again. It's practically verboten at this point so it's not worth going into too much detail but the defense struggled in much the same way it always struggles: the defensive zone coverage wasn't great and when presented with an opportunity to get the puck out, the breakout broke down as the first pass rarely was sharp enough. Thus we headed into the third with Isles seemingly in full control despite leading just 1-0.
In the third, things would get worse before they got better. The Isles were unlucky to not extend their lead after a tipped shot found its way off the crossbar but not across the goal line. After some Isles sustained pressure, Zibanejad took a slashing penalty and New York went to the power play just over five minutes into the third. Though the penalty kill looked great for the first 90 seconds, it only takes one breakdown when short-handed to give up a goal and a wide open Josh Bailey took advantage of just such a breakdown to make the score 2-0. It was at this point that I began writing my original recap that read something like "Sens can't muster enough scoring chances against tired Islanders squad. I paused for a moment when Mike Hoffman got another break-away but couldn't convert, and then stopped myself completely when Mark Stone scored on a one-timer off of a pass from Karlsson just under two minutes after Bailey had given the Isles their two-goal advantage. The top of this Senators line-up, Karlsson, Hoffman, Stone, Turris, Ryan is jaw-droppingly good when they're all going.
The second half of the third period was spent mostly in the Isles end as the Sens chased the tying goal. To my eyes the Zibanejad line in particular looked very good as Mika and Mark Stone seemed to have developed some good chemistry. And though he hasn't potted himself a goal yet, Shane Prince has looked the perfect compliment with his excellent speed. Ottawa would get a late powerplay when Matt Martin took Erik Karlsson down in the corner and Dave Cameron pulled the goalie almost immediately. The Sens pushed hard and would find the equalizer via a Mike Hoffman wrister but the comeback was somewhat marred by an apparent injury to Kyle Turris. Turris needed to be helped off the ice and did not return to the game, though apparently X-Rays were negative:
Early diagnosis on Turris is no broken bones. Further testing to determine the extent of the injury.— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) December 6, 2015
Elliotte Friedman was even more positive, though I suspect we won't know the full extent of the injury until an MRI is conducted.
No full update, but looks like Kyle Turris will travel on OTT's road trip. Begins tomorrow at NYR. Some good news, at least.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) December 6, 2015
At any rate, the game was tied and off to overtime we went. Though the Sens started the season by seemingly perfecting the art of not scoring at 3v3, the script's flipped recently and the ending to this one should be familiar to Sens fans: Erik Karlsson jumping into the rush to create a 2 on 1 and this time finding the back of the net himself to send everyone home happy. Karlsson was famously quoted as saying he "hated" the three-on-three format at the start of the year, but I'd be willing to bet that if asked again he might well have changed his mind. Thus, a game that seemed to have slipped disappointingly out of the Sens' grasp was salvaged and the team leaves for their road trip on a high note.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Anderson wasn't named one of the three stars of the game, but that's not on account of being undeserving: when the Isles carried the play for the 20 minutes at the end of the second and the beginning of the third it was Anderson, and a bit of luck, that kept the game within reach.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
There's not much left to say about the Captain. He and Anderson are reasons 1 and 1A that the Sens are 14-7-5 and comfortably in play-off position. Tonight he was, again, fantastic.
Sens Honourable Mention: Zibanejad Line
Mika Zibanejad and his line-mates were the only trio to finish on the positive side of the shot attempt ledger and the trio looked dangerous all night long. Their productivity will be key to the team's long term success.
Sens Zero: Ceci-Cowen pairing
It's repetitive to keep bringing up the struggles of these two, but it would be mis-leading to not mention their difficulties because it's a big part of why the game went the way it did. When Cody Ceci was on the ice tonight at 5v5, the Isles out-attempted the Sens 26-9. When Jared Cowen was on the ice, the count was 21-11. It's bad, we all know it's bad, but until it changes it's going to be a big part of each game's outcome.