Well that's the most exciting Sens game I've watched in quite some time, and I think it accurately reflects the roller coaster ride the fanbase has been on for the past two years. The highs are so high - like Erik Karlsson's 2011-12, Alfredsson's 400th goal, the Sens-Habs series in 2013. The lows are so low - like Karlsson's Achilles injury in 2013 where he looked like a shell of his former self, Alfredsson leaving and Spezza asking for a trade, another head coach fired, and veterans obviously past their prime playing key minutes. This game surely had its ups and downs, but it's the Senators who avenge their loss last week by emerging victorious and go into the weekend with a huge high.
Above all else, Andrew Hammond sets the tone for how the Senators are playing. So when he ran off the ice during the pre-game warmup and wasn't there when it was anthem time, there was a collective gasp among the sellout crowd - many donning Hambuglar masks - and those watching at home. His frantic return to the ice before game time was reflective of the entire first period that started with a bang for the home team. Just 19 seconds in, a quick flip pass by Marc Methot to Mark Stone ends up on the stick of Milan Michalek, who shoots the puck hard at Rask. In a true *Dean Brown voice* SCRAAAAAAAMBLE situation, Kyle Turris pots it behind a sprawling Rask for a 1-0 lead.
The jubilation didn't last long though, as on the next shift, Carl Soderberg takes some ice for himself through the middle and floats a wrister by Hammond. The shifts after that are probably what most coaches see in their nightmares. In-game decisions were being made quickly, which led to a fast pace, but those decisions weren't always the correct ones. Thus, there were a lot of turnovers from both teams trying to force pucks through spaces that weren't there. This was evident in the Bruins second goal just 4:04 into the first period. Eric Gryba is positioned well to support Borowiecki, but the Kanata native rushes the play along the boards. The puck is then scooped up by Bruins rookie David Pastrnak, who feeds it to fellow rookie AND Kanata native, Ryan Spooner, for a wrist shot from the top of the circles that beats Hammond.
The game finally begins to settle down a bit at this point, with Dave Cameron clearly wanting predictability and sending out his most consistent line - Curtis Lazar, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Erik Condra - to generate consistent offensive zone time in the Bruins net. The trio did what they do best all night long, with simple, effective and smart plays leading to a ton of shot attempts.
After the Sens survive a Bruins powerplay that looked like a shooting gallery thanks to their effective puck movement in the 1-3-1 set-up, the Turris line strikes again. Mark Stone enters the zone on the right side after receiving a pass from Erik Karlsson, and instead of funnelling it towards the net right away when there's no pressure there, he hangs onto it for the extra second. We talk about this a lot with Stone, relating it back to his hockey IQ, and we can see it in action here.
Stone is boxed off by two Bruins and doesn't think he can get the puck to hit off of Rask's right pad to generate a rebound for Michalek, where there's a defenseman in good position anyway. Instead, he decides to bank the puck quickly behind the net, where a streaking Kyle Turris - who isn't even in the frame above yet - corrales the puck to send it back to Stone, who's crashing the net. The pass never makes it back to the rookie capable of foresight, but instead bounces fortuitously to Milan Michalek, who pots his 200th NHL goal on a confused Tuukka Rask.
One other theme tonight was the physicality, which is what most people expect in any games vs. the Bruins. Before this streak, I think there was a good section of the fanbase (and hockey operations team) who thought that the Senators needed more grit, especially with Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba in and out of the lineup, and the injuries to Zack Smith and Chris Neil taking away two of the Senators more formidable bruisers. After tonight though, I hope that you all can see that the Senators in their current form are more than capable of handling physical play, and can do so in a smart way. Case in point, Bobby Ryan being harassed by Adam McQuaid near the end of the first period. Although Bobby takes a couple of crosschecks, he never lets McQuaid intimidate him and instead, crashes the net on the next play, drawing a penalty that leads to a fantastic shift after some strong board work by Erik Condra and Alex Chiasson. The exciting period almost ends on a high note for the Senators, with Mark Stone intercepting a misplayed puck by Rask and sending it to Hoffman, only to have him miss wide.
shot quality claims another victim. damn. pic.twitter.com/wOV8lxqjAs— Luke Peristy (@LukePeristy) March 20, 2015
Shots that period were tied at 14 a piece, though the Senators really carried the play at even-strength during the last half of the period. Andrew Hammond, frantic at the start of the game after letting in two goals on four shots, stopped 10/10 to end the frame.
In comparison to the first, the second period was much more stable - despite the same amount of goals being scored by both teams. There wasn't a shot on goal in the first four minutes of the period, through there was a ton of action, with the Zibanejad line generating a bunch of shot attempts and a 3-on-2 break where Bobby Ryan missed the net. The first shot on net in the period is a goal, with veteran David Legwand scoring his first goal in 16 games. It all starts with a great rush into the offensive zone from Cody Ceci, who looks a lot more "confident" playing away from Jared Cowen. The Bruins gather the puck, but their attempt to exploit Ceci is thwarted by Alex Chiasson, who's strong on the puck and sends it to a double-shifted Erik Condra. Condra uses his speed to drive wide and sends the puck to the front of the net where David Legwand beats TWO Bruins to the puck (!!!!) and shoots with authority to give the Senators the lead.
The first 10 minutes of the period is all Ottawa, with the shot totals being 6-2 in the period at this point and Condra flying all over the ice with different linemates. Things start to go downhill after Loui Eriksson is tripped up (?) by Kyle Turris, and then Eric Gryba high-sticks the aforementioned Eriksson on the ensuing powerplay, leading to a 5-on-3 situation. All of this leads to the end of Andrew Hammond's miraculous streak of 12 starts with two goals allowed or less, as Ryan Spooner pots his second of the night after a cross-seam pass from Torey Krug. The Senators respond on the NEXT SHIFT, Jean-Gabriel Pageau's relentless forecheck forces to a Bruins turnover by Reilly Smith. Condra gathers the puck and sends it to Pageau, who out-waits a diving Rask to give the Sens their third lead of the night, 4-3, with a wonderful shorthanded goal.
Like the first period, the Sens lead doesn't last very long. Remember, Eric Gryba was still serving his penalty so the Bruins have enough time to set-up the puck and move it around for Torey Krug to tie it just as the penalty expires to score the period's fourth goal, and third in four minutes. Not much happens for the rest of the period as it ends with 11 shots a piece, bringing the two teams to the third period in a symmetrical way - a 4-4 tie, with shots 25-25, and the most important game of a tied (2-2) season series heading into its climax.
The third starts off extremely cautious, with both Dave Cameron and Claude Julien presumably telling their teams to settle it down to try and get two points. Cameron switches him his lines a little as Mike Hoffman starts to take consistent shifts alongside David Legwand and Alex Chiasson, with his spot beside Zibanejad and Ryan taken by Matt Puempel. Although I questioned the decision, it seems to pay off right away for the coach. First, Mike Hoffman generates a 2-on-1 with Alex Chiasson and gets his shot off before being buried by Zdeno Chara. The Senators appear to be a bit frustrated with the number of chances they're getting, and there's a play where Erik Karlsson tries to skate the puck out of the zone for a controlled zone exit - a common play for the Swede - but turns it over by whiffing on the puck. I want to highlight this because it's the type of play everyone gets on Karlsson for, even though it's clearly bad luck and has a really good success rate most of the time by generating a quick breakout for the Senators. Dave Cameron seems to think so too, as he pats his frustrated Captain on the back. Soon after, Bobby Ryan sends a floater towards Rask as there's commotion with Matt Puempel driving the net hard against the much bigger Zdeno Chara. The puck appears to hit Puempel and go in, but actually deflects off of Chara's skate and past Rask - giving Ryan the goal. Again, we have another example of a smaller player showing good strength and willpower to win a puck battle and generate a positive outcome for his team. Size != strength!
After that goal 11:28 into the period, the Sens do a really good job of closing things out by holding the Bruins to just six shot attempts for the rest of the game. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan have a couple of fantastic defensive plays on the backcheck by using their body position wisely to poke the puck off of their opposition's stick. Lazar - Pageau - Condra continue to do their thing. Dave Cameron continues to learn as a head coach and plays Wiercioch - Ceci over the stereotypical defensive pairing of Borowiecki - Gryba in the last 10 minutes of the third. (Shiftchart from War-On-Ice)
And of course, Mark Stone continues to be Mark Stone. After Curtis Lazar misses an empty netter (he was trusted by the coach to play the final minute of the most important game of the year, a telling sign of Cameron's faith in his defensive ability), Milan Michalek's fantastic effort gets the puck to Stone, who manages to skate the puck up the ice and instead of shooting it into the empty net, he passes it off to Kyle Turris who scores with 19 seconds left in the game, after scoring 19 seconds INTO the game in the first, to cap the Sens win. The team is now only TWO points behind Boston with a game in hand, although Boston owns the first tiebreaker - regulation wins - if it ends up like that. According to the wonderful model developed by @IneffectiveMath over at HockeyStats.ca, the Senators playoff chances now stand at 45% - they would've been at 18% had the Senators lost tonight.
Sens Hero: Erik Condra
Fascinating TOI allocation by Dave Cameron in a must win. pic.twitter.com/xMCuWN2Tmc— Travis Yost (@travisyost) March 20, 2015
Condra played the most minutes of any Senators forward tonight in all situations AND at even-strength, and for good reason. He was absolutely fantastic with two points and the second best possession rating among forwards at +15% Corsi Rel (after Alex Chiasson !!!!). He's the definition of gritty to me, as he fearlessly crashes the net against much bigger players, is consistent in his play and effort, and is incredibly strong on the forecheck and backcheck. I really don't know what else you'd want in a bottom-six forward, and I hope he's in Ottawa for a very long time. The perfect veteran forward for this team.
Sens Hero(es): Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris, and Mark Stone
Each member of the trio had three points on the night, and when the Senators needed them the most, they all delivered. Stone's foresight seems to click so well with Kyle Turris, and because the opposing team is paying so much attention to those two, Michalek has enough time to squeeze into spaces and get shots off quickly, which suits his type of game. Michalek isn't what I'd call a puck possession or neutral-zone winger. His strength is NOT carrying the puck into the zone and creating opportunities for himself. By playing him with Turris, an excellent neutral zone puck carrier, and Stone, Michalek is able to play in the offensive zone more and use his strengths - his speed and forechecking ability - to his advantage. Even when Clarke MacArthur returns, I think you keep this trio together and put Clarkie down in the lineup for depth - moving him up if need be.
Sens Killer: Eric Gryba
I'm so happy that Dave Cameron has realized that there's no point in rotating Patrick Wiercioch out for either Cowen or Gryba, and is instead letting those two rotate in and out. Honestly, I was happy with the decision to take Cowen out, but Gryba had a woeful game - taking two ill-advised penalties and ending with a team low -18% Corsi. Rel (43% CF%). You know how we've talked about Condra and Pageau use their size and strength effectively against much bigger opponents? Gryba hasn't been able to do that much this year, and instead is left watching most of the time while opponents screen his goaltenders while he's on the ice.
Honourable Mention: Alex Chiasson
After writing the Nuggets on Tuesday discussing his declining play, Chiasson responded with one of his best games of the year. He only played ~8 minutes, but was impactful on every shift and when he was on the ice, the Sens shot attempt differential was 16-4. His interception and subsequent pass on the Legwand goal was fantastic, and I hope this is the start of a big turnaround for the young winger.
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick:
Joke of the Night:
Finally tonight Cowen is looking a lot like Chara.— Don in Hammond-Haven (@Don_inFarrhaven) March 20, 2015
Andrew Hammond was 46th in the AHL in save percentage, and he's carrying Ottawa around like the Senators are a backpack. Ridiculous.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 20, 2015
7-0 in the Hammond/Driedger era. #Sens— AJ Jakubec (@AJonSports) March 20, 2015
"I do love a tasty burger..." pic.twitter.com/wPShq1VQv6— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) March 20, 2015
Really important note: Rest in Peace to Matthew Wuest, the founder of CapGeek, who passed away today after a long fight with cancer. I can't think of a more influential site that changed my thinking about the game of hockey, and in all of my interactions with him on Twitter, Wuest was a fantastic, humble human being. My heart + well-wishes goes out to his loved ones.
Thanks for reading.