Despite letting in four goals, Roberto Luongo was very good right off the bat - making a number of key saves in the first five minutes of the game as the Senators jumped out to a 6-1 lead in shots. The former Canuck made a number of key glove saves on Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Wiercioch - who played a lot tonight - during a Senators powerplay in the second period. Of the Senators twenty-one even strength scoring chances on the night, the four goals were pretty - meaning that Luongo didn't have a chance on any of them.
In the first, the line of Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris, and Mark Stone set the tone by responding to an early Florida goal with a slick passing play, starting with a Turris wrist shot nicely retrieved by Michalek finding its way to Stone, who no-look passed it through the seam to Turris for a tap-in.
In the second, the Senators generated a ton of scoring chances on the powerplay - like the aforementioned Zibanejad and Wiercioch chances - which eventually paid off with a pretty Bobby Ryan goal. Given the Senators struggles on the powerplay this season, it was really fun to watch. The first unit generated significant zone time and tired out the Panthers PK group with some great puck movement. Eventually, Alex Chiasson scooped the puck to Kyle Turris, who released a shot from the left-point that was tipped through the legs by Bobby Ryan.
Again, that's some fantastic skill by Bobby Ryan to get the angle just right - above Luongo's shoulder but under the crossbar - to break the tie and give the Senators the lead.
Now, although the Senators were up 32 - 20 in terms of shot attempts after two (25 - 15 in shots; 17 - 12 in scoring chances), the score was still close. Thankfully, the Senators kept pushing the play and eventually, Captain Karlsson broke the game open and solved Roberto Luongo's magical glove with a pretty wrist shot after he was free to skate down the left wing past the Florida
Georgia line blueline due to a slick Milan Michalek pass at the Senators blue line (gif below thanks to Jack.)
Four minutes later, the excellent Lazar - Pageau - Condra line was finally rewarded for their great play with Curtis Lazar crashing the net for his third goal of the year. It looks like Lazar loves to live dangerously, as all of his goals have come in the crease or end up with him lying down after being checked afterwards.
I'm just glad they took out the foot in the crease rule before Lazar broke in to the league (/was born)— Bonk's Mullet (@BonksMullet) February 22, 2015
That was pretty much the nail in the coffin for the Panthers, who managed only 7 shots and 8 shot attempts at even strength in the period and were sealed off nicely with some quick zone exit work from a Senators defensive group that started off the game shaky. The Senators played an excellent game, but it wasn't all rosy.
In the first, Tomas Kopecky and Alex Barkov had two really good scoring chances after they were alone in front of the net due to some puck watching and chasing by Mark Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch, and then by Marc Methot and Bobby Ryan. On one chance, Hammond ended up with the puck underneath him and Huberdeau ended up poking the puck into the net, but much to his chagrin, the referee had a blown a quick whistle. It didn't matter much, as off a won draw, Huberdeau ended up with the puck alone in the front of the net, but quickly sent it to Barkov for an easy tap in to score the game's first goal.
To put it another way, Florida had 7 shots in the first but 5 scoring chances. Jared Cowen's play continued to decline as well, and although he was a bright spot earlier in the year, it seems like he's back to his 2013-14 self, which is terrible news for the Senators. On one particular play, Cowen decided to finish his check late, but caught Jussi Jokinen with his head down - leading to an interference penalty (that was nicely killed off.. more on that later) and a fight with Shawn Thornton after he exited the box. Hammond had to make a number of key stops in the last 10 minutes of the second period as well, with Nick Bjugstad and Jimmy Hayes driving the net hard to generate 2 of the 7 Panthers scoring chances over a 10 minute span.
As mentioned previously though, the Senators really did a good job in the third period at limiting the Panthers with strong neutral zone play - backcheck from all five players - leading to only 4 scoring chances against and a win. The excellent Michalek - Turris - Stone and Lazar - Pageau - Condra lines were used a lot to end the game with strong cycle play in the offensive zone. Overall, the Senators outshot the Panthers 39 - 22, which is their lowest total shots against this season.
Sens Hero: Andrew Hammond
Here's a look at the Panthers 28 shot attempts and 16 scoring chances to illustrate a prevailing theme of tonight's game. Although the Senators did a fantastic job at limiting shots and shot attempts overall - only one Florida Panther had 50% Corsi on the night - but the ones they did give up were of high quality. Thankfully for them, the Hamburglar was up to the task with his second straight quality start. He made a number of key saves in close, with two early in the third off of shorthanded chances by Kopecky and Derek Mackenzie coming to mind, in order to keep the Senators in the game. I don't expect Hammond to keep up this level of play, but it's certainly a feel good story as the second-year pro has had a rough year in the AHL. Hope this gives him some confidence to rebound for Binghamton next season.
Sens Hero(es): Michalek - Turris - Stone
Maybe Mark Stone is the one driving the bus on this line, eh? Despite Clarke MacArthur's injury, the team's first line continues to chug along, with Turris getting three points on the night (+ his fifth goal in 5 games), Michalek and Stone with sweet assists, and top possession numbers (>60% Corsi) across the board. The trio also had 7 scoring chances - Michalek leading the way with four. Of note, Michalek seems to be skating a LOT better and with purpose this past month, but I'm still waiting to see how much of it has to do with him, a dramatic increase in his on-ice shooting %, or whether space is opening up for him thanks to Turris and Stone's intelligent two-way play. Should the Senators try to trade the former 35 goal scorer while his value increases with two left wingers (Prince and Puempel) practically NHL-ready?
Sens Hero(es): The Penalty Kill
Yes I know that Florida's powerplay is ranked 27th in the league for a reason, but both PK duos of Legwand - Stone and Pageau - Condra did a fantastic job of pressuring the opposing forwards right after they enter the zone, which leads to the puck either a) being taken away by the forward or b) the D closing the gap easier to shoot the puck down the ice. Really calm and composed on both of Florida's powerplay chances.
Rookie Update: Matt Puempel
Matt Puempel had a decent first game in the NHL, finishing with 8:41 ice-time, and a shot (which was a scoring chance). His most eventful moment was his first shift, as the 24th overall pick was strong on the backcheck to help out the defense before getting a wraparound chance at the other end for his first shot on goal. Shane Prince was more noticeable in his debut (with more ice-time), but I'm sure Matt has the nerves out of the way now.
P.S. Mandatory Erik Karlsson update: his snipe ties him with Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien with 14 goals on the season, one off of Brent Burns league-leading 15, and gives him 45 points - two points off of Mark Giordano for the lead among defensemen (he was also a +3 and is now +1 on the year for people who like these things).
P.P.S Convert Jared Cowen to forward.
Thanks for reading!