Your Ottawa Senators are still unlikely to make the playoffs, as they are 7 points out of the second wild card spot (2 games in hand), but while everyone thought the California road trip would bury the Sens for sure, the team decided to go on a 5 game winning streak. If you were to tell me that the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks would only score two goals on rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond last week, I would've laughed, especially considering what we know about this team, its flaws, and Andrew Hammond's career thus far. However, sometimes stuff like this happens, and you just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. It's been extremely fun to watch the Ottawa Senators this week, primarily because the young, skilled talent like Mika Zibanejad (the youngest!), Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman have been given the opportunity to play more minutes, and useful depth players that many in the fanbase have advocated for - the Pageau's and Condra's - have been excellent. That's what I want Sens management to get from this winning streak - not to be overcome by recency bias by thinking that the team is close to contending as evidenced by their victories over tough Western teams, but to understand and value what these skilled players bring to the lineup and find a way to keep them in there when the team is completely healthy.
This game was pretty even overall, with the final shot attempt numbers ~ 53% - 46% in favour of the Sharks. A lot of San Jose's pressure came early in the game, as the Senators looked like they were skating through mud during the first 5 minutes - giving up 7 shots. One of them, an in-tight chance by Tommy Wingels, ended Andrew Hammond's shutout streak. Want to look at this in a positive way? It leaves something nice for Sens fans to look back on when they think of Patrick
That goal snaps Andrew Hammond's scoreless minutes streak at 174:11. Lalime holds the record at 184:06.— Sens communications (@Media_Sens) March 1, 2015
As you'll see below, it's a bit hard to assign blame on this goal (as is generally the case), with Chiasson, Legwand, and Wiercioch chasing the play, leading to Matt Irwin cutting through the zone uncontested and Wingels waiting by the net to cash in on a rebound.
The tough minutes generally went to Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Erik Condra for most of the night, and the duo - often paired with Patrick Wiercioch on the backend - were responsible for getting the Sens out of their funk in the first by generating quick, clean zone exits. Wiercioch in particular skated the puck out a couple of times, and looked more decisive and confident with the puck tonight. Matt Puempel, who finished the game with two shots, a scoring chance, and just over 10 minutes of ice-time, also stood out in the first by backchecking hard, forcing turnovers, and showcasing his quick release. On one shift near the end of the period that led to 6-7 shot attempts, Puempel, on the ice with Pageau and Condra, nearly put in his first NHL goal after the rookie crashed the net after a Marc Methot wrist shot was spit out by Niemi. I thought he looked better tonight compared to his last game.
The Senators kept this momentum heading into the second period, drawing two penalties against Tommy Wingels and Brent Burns that led to a really productive powerplay the first time - with a ton of effort shown by Mike Hoffman playing his preferred point position and Bobby Ryan being persistent in winning puck battles along the side boards. On the second powerplay, Mika Zibanejad generated a really clean zone entry by using his speed to barrel through two Sharks players to generate a scoring chance and an offensive zone draw. This would prove to be key, as Kyle Turris ends up with the puck at the point after the faceoff win and fires a puck through a lane that misses the net, but is potted by an intuitively pinching Erik Karlsson for his 15th of the year. I wanted to highlight Zibanejad's initial effort here because a) it's the play before the goal and b) one thing I've noticed a lot more with him is the use of his speed and long reach to better protect the puck and generate chances for himself.
However, things can change quickly. Colin Greening, clearly wanting to be physical to get himself a roster spot, takes a bad penalty after a late hit and the Sharks capitalize quickly. A quick entry into the zone by Patrick Marleau backs the Sens D off before he swings the puck back to Brent Burns, who changes the angle on the Senators penalty killers and finds a lane to get a shot through. Hammond, too busy dealing with traffic, spits out a rebound that Marleau taps in to give the Sharks their second lead of the day.
First, the bad news. There were two main stretches in the game where the Sharks completely dominated the Senators - the beginning of the first, and from the mid-second to the end of the period after the Sens ran into penalty trouble. During these times, the Sharks did a great job of a) preventing carry-ins by having their forwards coverge on the Senators players quickly, limiting Ottawa's offense, b) using their own speed through the neutral zone to enter the Sens zone quickly, and c) using their points effectively through a high cycle game that generated a bunch of rebounds on a shakier Andrew Hammond. Although the Senators did a great job of clearing the front of the net to limit any second and third chances, according to the scoring chance measures at War-On-Ice, the team gave up 31 (!) scoring chances against: 20 of them in these two 10-minute segments of the game.
The good news? The Senators jumped out to the lead in the third. Colin Greening generated an offensive zone faceoff after a great shift where the Newfie drove the net hard, and although the Senators lost the ensuing faceoff, Mark Stone picked off a pass in the neutral zone and got the puck to Kyle Turris, who got his second assist of the night through a shot that banked off of Niemi's pads right to Stone, tapping it in for his 15th of the year.
After the goal, I was expecting the Sharks to come back hard, but the Senators kept up their skilled play and exited the zone crisply. One such zone exit, a West-East play from an under-pressure Marc Methot to an open Erik Karlsson, led to the Swedish blueliner flipping a Hail Mary to Milan Michalek, who used his speed to gain a step on Brenden Dillon and draw a penalty. The other rookie I talked about at the beginning of the piece, Mike Hoffman, FINALLY scored his first powerplay goal of the season off a play identical to Ottawa's first PP goal, this time with #68 creeping down the wall after a Mika Zibanejad point shot. Watch the initial set-up in the video, as Mike Hoffman and Mika Zibanejad were positioned as the wings of a modified Umbrella powerplay formation, with Erik Karlsson quarterbacking in the middle. All three can really shoot the puck so it's something to look for to see if Cameron tries it again; giving players powerplay time in positions that they've historically succeeded in seems like a good bet to me.
If you discount the last five minutes of the third, the Senators held the Sharks to just 8 shot attempts while generating ~20 of their own to keep the pressure on the Sharks. Near the end of the game, Erik Karlsson's Speed Burst got the Senators out of trouble a number of times, with shifts where Karlsson cleared the puck from in front of his own net by skating the puck all the way out of the zone, and sometimes even beating the Sharks defender to generate a shot at the other end. Karlsson's speed was on full display tonight, especially in the defensive end where he beat the Sharks to pucks routinely, and he was rewarded two points for his efforts. Special K is now only one point off of the defenseman scoring lead after recording 12 points in his last 10 games. Not many players (if any?) can copy Karlsson's one-man breakout to the same level of success that he does, and it's been great to watch just a special, extraordinary talent on display.
It's not a "race for the puck" if the guy you're racing against is Erik Karlsson. It's called "EK decides to get the puck before you do".— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) March 1, 2015
I also want to note that despite the Sharks playing physical all night, with huge hits on Wiercioch, Ryan, and Stone leading to discomfort, the Senators were able to respond completely fine and not let themselves be intimidated. Thus, I hope that both the Senators management and fanbase remembers this when more physical players like Chris Neil, Zack Smith, Jared Cowen, and Chris Phillips are ready to return to the lineup, as they're going to be inserted in over a more skilled player to likely add an element that the current set of 18 skaters already exist, albeit in a less obvious form.
Overall, despite a shakier game from Andrew Hammond (who is now 5-0-0) and some defensive lapses, the Senators were able to end their road trip in California with a sweep, and it was only fitting that one of the rookies, Mike Hoffman, scored his second of the night with an empty net goal to seal the deal. Hoffman, now with the rookie goal scoring lead, is tied with Phil Kessel in goals scored this season, and provides a good juxtaposition to tie this recap together, given that he was on WAIVERS at the start of the year. Focus on skill and good things will happen should be the lesson of this road trip.
Sens Hero(es): Their top two centres
Turris (2 assists) and Zibanejad (1 assist) continued their consistent play by producing in their nearly equal minutes (17:46 for Turris to 17:14 for Mika). Playing the grinding, physical style that the Western teams often play is no easy task, but both were elusive with the puck in different ways and were able to hold their own against some of the best centres in the game. It's important to remember that they're both young, and although neither has the "gamebreaking" skill we associate with #1 centre's, the focus on two-way play is evident.
Sens Killer: Matt Irwin
The adopted Aussie had a great game tonight, leading all players with 64% CF% at even-strength and three individual scoring chances that doesn't include his sweet set-up to Tommy Wingels to score the game's first goal.
Thanks for reading!
California has been a treat— Andrew Hammond (@andrewhammond30) March 1, 2015