It was a game that happened in February. That is probably the most charitable description that I can give to the absolute snoozer of a first period of this game between the New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators. The Devils, long known for playing low event hockey, stayed true to form by suffocating the neutral zone. Ottawa is a team that thrives off the rush; even their extended cycles are often the result of a controlled zone entry with speed. Given the composition of their roster, the Sens will struggle to generate offense against teams that force them to dump and chase. The Devils did just that. Thankfully for Ottawa, New Jersey is no offensive juggernaut. Thus, the two teams combined for a sad 39 shots total, with only 10 (!) coming in the first period. After one, my notes for the game read: "not much happened."
In the second period, things actually happened. Some of them were good for Ottawa, like this Curtis Lazar goal:
(Note on the goal: the two Devils defensemen botch that worse than what you'd expect to see in beer league, but Lazar shows off some high end speed in eating up their mistake. The kid's had his struggles offensively, but from time to time you see flashes like this and it gives you hope).
Some things were not good for Ottawa, like this Adam Henrique goal less than two minutes later:
It's a weird goal from a sharp angle, so it's tempting to blame Lehner but Ottawa's zone coverage is just a mess throughout the clip. They're playing some sort of man-to-man scheme that blows up when Ceci and Cowen overload the left side and Mark Stone and Erik Condra both go after the point man up high, like so:
(Forgive the "play button" in the middle of the picture. You'll have to trust me that it's covering Condra and Stone).
In the above, the Devils player on the half boards is now wide open -- normally where you'd expect Ceci to be except he's over near the other circle because he followed his man out there. Someone blew their coverage here. I don't know enough about Ottawa's systems to say for sure, but it's one of Stone or Ceci. The defense never recovers to reset and the game is tied seconds later. Lehner made a few more big saves in this period, and though neither team had a great volume of shots there were some quality chances for each side. Bobby Ryan, alongside Zibanejad and MacArthur, in particular looked good.
The third period was, thankfully, more like the second than the first as both teams got their share of chances. Unfortunately for Ottawa, Mike Cammalleri would find the back of the net just over five minutes in on the heels of a bad giveaway by Mark Borowiecki. After Borowiecki tried to move the puck behind the net, it would come to Jaromir Jagr who proceeded to shrug off Patrick Wiercioch like he wasn't even there before setting up Cammalleri. For the last fifteen minutes, Ottawa pressed for the tying goal but came up empty. Bobby Ryan had the best chance of them all, a gaping net with mere seconds remaining, but he couldn't fully get his stick on it. All in all, it was a bit of a lacklustre game that felt like a coin-flip throughout. Coming in, if Ottawa was set on making a play-off run this was a game they needed to win. After tonight, and after every night like tonight, it gets a bit harder to hold out hope that run is coming.
Sens Hero: Curtis Lazar. Lazar's promotion to the nominal second line is a bit of a head-scratcher, but the kid didn't look out of place in tonight's game. He cycled the puck well with his line-mates and showed off some great speed in getting to the puck on his breakaway goal.
Honourable Mention: Bobby Ryan. Bobby Ryan was Ottawa's best forward on the night, creating tons of offense off the rush himself and continuing to work well with Mika Zibanejad and Clarke MacArthur. In an alternate reality Ryan scores to tie the game and he's our Sens Hero. For now, he'll have to settle for an Honourable Mention.
Sens Zero: The Bottom Two Pairings. New Jersey is a team that forces you to exit your zone cleanly, and move the puck crisply. When the top pairing was on the ice, Ottawa moved through all three zones and attacked with speed. When the bottom two pairings were on, the team struggled and was out-shot and out-chanced. It's a bit like beating a dead horse at this point, but saying the Sens need better play from their second and third pairings is an understatement.
Sens Killer: Jaromir Jagr. Jagr turns 43 in a couple of weeks. 43. He was New Jersey's best player all night; he is not human.