Well, if you would've told me that the Senators would play the best home team in the NHL, on a back-to-back situation, and starting the same goaltender for a second night in a row, I would've expected the Sens to perhaps play even to start the game but fall apart in the third due to fatigue, especially against the high-flying Isles.
However, Andrew Hammond made 34 saves and the Senators won a tight-checking game by a score of 2-1. Going into two of the toughest buildings in the league, against two top teams (standings-wise) is no joke, and I'm sure Dave Cameron and co. are ecstatic with their team's response to Tuesday night's crushing loss against the Bruins. 5 points back.
It was a pretty even game overall, but the Isles had two big stretches where they dominated play. One such time was at the beginning of the game, where the Isles top line, buoyed by the league's leading scorer, John Tavares, generated a number of scoring chances. Some timely shot blocks, saves, and clearances prevented any damage, despite the 6-2 edge in shots in the first 10 minutes. The Sens responded though in the second-half of the period, with the Hoffman - Zibanejad - Ryan line generating scoring chances off of strong forecheck pressure, followed up by a wonderful shift by Erik Karlsson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, leading to a penalty on Ryan Strome. The Sens only had one powerplay opportunity all game, but made great use of it by attempting a lot of shots on the Isles net, and both units moving the puck around nicely to generate a number of scoring chances. Notably, the entries were a lot better tonight, with Mika Zibanejad using his speed to enter the zone before dishing the puck to his wingers.
Overall, the Isles only generated 3 shot attempts in the last 10 minutes of the period, with the Senators storming back to take a 9-6 lead in shots. One thing I noticed was the active Senators forechecking causing turnovers from the Isles blueline. When the Isles did manage to get the puck near the Senators zone, the forwards were backchecking hard to force dump-ins by taking away the Isles time and space.
Things were a lot different in the second pressure-wise, but the Senators came out laughing by the time the period was over. The Isles had an early powerplay that generated 6 shots on goal but Andrew Hammond was up to the task. He did have some help though from a number of Senators players who played a responsible two-way game tonight. On the second Isles powerplay thanks to a Patrick Wiercioch hooking penalty, Erik Condra did some great work by exiting the zone with control and driving the net hard to generate a shot on Jaroslav Halak - who looked shaky all night. David Legwand also made a couple of good plays by being patient with the puck and sending it back to the Sens defense to kill some more time on the clock. I know that sounds like an obvious play, but for whatever reason (situation, unable to handle pressure) a lot of penalty killers like to chuck the puck down the ice whenever they get the opportunity. Lastly, on the Sens third penalty of the period - a David Legwand trip - Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris, and Mark Stone all made strong plays on the boards to prevent the Isles from getting a shot on goal, a marked difference after they generated 10 on their first two opportunities.
Not all of the Isles pressure was because of the powerplay though, as the second big stretch where the Isles dominated play was for the last 10 minutes of the second period where they out-attempted the Sens by a margin of 15 to 4 at 5-on-5. However, despite their 22-9 edge in shots in the period, the Senators made theirs count.
After the Isles first powerplay, the Senators responded impressively with a number of great shifts. On one such shift, Patrick Wiercioch astutely took advantage of Lubomir Visnovsky's broken stick and sent the puck to Zibanejad quickly, who, off of some strong cycle play by Bobby Ryan and the aforementioned Wiercioch, rolled the puck to a flying Matt Puempel for the off-the-bench one-timer for his second goal of the year.
Then, after the Isles third powerplay, the Senators respond with another goal. Erik Karlsson displays his terrific offensive awareness by going for the "homerun"... and succeeds. The Captain picks off the breakout pass and sends the puck to Stone, who protects the puck well before sending it back to Karlsson for a quick wrist shot towards the net that's tipped past Halak by Turris, despite being covered by two Isles players.
The most impressive part of the game for me was the Sens third period. This is where a team, on a second half of a back-to-back against one of the league's best, is supposed to collapse. How do the Sens start the third though? With a 6-3 lead in shots in the first 10 minutes. What's even more impressive is how Dave Cameron and the Sens responded to the Isles goal. Tyler Kennedy, who had a great night and always manages to be a pest against the Sens, effectively screens Andrew Hammond while Lubomir Visnovsky amends for his earlier mistake and walks the line before flicking a wrist shot towards the net which is tipped by the aforementioned Kennedy. On video, you can see that the goal is really similar to the Turris goal, this time with Nikolai Kulemin playing the role of Zibanejad on the cycle, Visnovsky as Karlsson, and Kennedy as Turris.
However, the Sens respond to the booming Nassau Coliseum crowd by making some fantastic defensive zone plays due to proper positioning and active sticks - as they were doing all night. The top line of Michalek, Turris, and Stone were fantastic in the defensive zone and often got the puck into the offensive zone, where Dave Cameron would send out the tenacious Lazar - Pageau - Condra line to forecheck the hell out of the Isles, sustaining offensive zone time with strong puck protection late in the game.
Overall, the Sens ended the game with a 50-49 edge in 5-on-5 Corsi and despite a 34-28 final shot deficit, outshot the Isles 10-6 in the third to walk away with the victory.
Sens Hero: Dave Cameron
Why did the Sens play so effectively in the third? A lot of it has to do with the player usage of their head coach, who seemingly learned his lesson from the game against Calgary. Here's a look at the shiftchart from the game against Calgary, followed by the shiftchart from tonight's game. The red blocks represent shifts for that player, and the vertical dotted lines represent the end of a period/start of a new one. Look at the last third of each picture.
What do we see? Barely any ice time for the Legwand line, and more ice-time to the forwards good at a two-way game like the Pageau line and the Zibanejad line for much of the third period. I still think that Wiercioch - Ceci should've been the players with the extended shifts instead of Cowen - Borowiecki, but baby steps in the right direction I guess.
Sens Hero: Cody Ceci
Speaking of defensemen, Cody Ceci had one of his best games of the season tonight. Leading the Senators D in CF% tonight with 57% at even-strength, Ceci also played the most against John Tavares tonight (7:16 via Natural Stat Trick) among all Sens defenders, and was instrumental in holding the league's leading scorer to a 30.77 CF% rating when he was on the ice. His gap control was exceptional, and there were many times in the second and third period where Ceci intercepted a pass or tied up Tavares with his active stick. Although the Isles only semi-breakaway came with Ceci on the ice, he was quick to rush back to prevent Josh Bailey from even generating a scoring chance on the play in the third period. I also noticed that Ceci was effective in using his speed to exit the zone with control instead of sending an errant pass to a Senators forward. Although he still has a lot to learn, maybe he IS picking up a few tricks from Erik Karlsson. His 19 points puts him second among Sens defenders this year.
Sens Hero: Andrew Hammond
Don't know what else I can say about the Hamburglar. I questioned Dave Cameron's decision to use him in a back-to-back situation, but Hammond was up to the task and made a number of key saves, especially on the Isles PPs in the second period. There was also a scary moment in the second where Hammond took a Johnny Rocket (Boychuk slapshot) to the mask that snapped the backplate, but he stayed in the game. Jamie McLennan had some great points in-game on Hammond. Being a former goaltender, McLennan explained how Hammond's minimal movement in net allows him to re-adjust to shots that chance direction, and that his calm movement in net also relays into good identification of when to be aggressive and when not to be. This was clearly evident a number of times tonight, none better than his fantastic reaction left-pad save on Anders Lee with 3.5 minutes to go.
Sens Killer: Jared Cowen
Now I'm going to put here that I really hate to keep on picking on the guy but... he was bad tonight. The Senators were out attempted by a margin of 12-20 when he was on the ice tonight, and he consistently lost puck battles to players that he should be using his one thing, size, effectively on. It's like the antithesis of the Lazar - Pageau - Condra line, who were excellent again tonight and win physical battles despite their size because of their strength down low and good hockey IQ.
Sens Killer: Faceoffs
The Isles were 44-26 on the draws tonight and won most of the draws against any Senator not named Kyle Turris. When the Isles were sustaining pressure in the zone, it was because their centremen were winning the draws back to their active D and generating pressure that way. It'll really help the Sens for Pageau or Lazar to develop as an ace faceoff player to help out as the team starts to grow, or perhaps a spot opens up for Derek Grant to showcase his strong ability on the draw next year.
Game Flow via War-On-Ice
Thanks for reading!
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Led by the Hamburglar, the Sens have picked up 3 wins on road back to backs on this improbable run. L.A., WPG and NYI. Unreal.</p>— Steve Lloyd (@TSNSteveLloyd) <a href="https://twitter.com/TSNSteveLloyd/status/576557495130419201">March 14, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SENS?src=hash">#SENS</a> WIN 2-1!!!!! <a href="http://t.co/ZrOqXPaNbv">pic.twitter.com/ZrOqXPaNbv</a></p>— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) <a href="https://twitter.com/Senators/status/576557281686511616">March 14, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
P.S. fun stat: 9 of the Senators remaining 15 games at home; 8 vs. playoff teams (same as Boston, but they have 10 on the road)