Surely the Senators didn't want to start the new year the same way they ended the last one, with matching 3-0 score lines, but that's what Dave Cameron and co. will have to work with as the team enters another tough month.
There was some good tonight: the team held their opponent to under 30 shots for the second straight game and tied the much-better Blackhawks in even-strength shot attempt numbers. However, with an experienced, talented team like the Hawks, a couple of miscues will cost you, and that ended up being the difference tonight.
It wasn't a promising start, as the Senators took the first penalty for what seems like the hundredth time - repeat offender Mark Borowiecki with an offensive zone trip. Although taking a penalty is something you never want to do, the broadcast noted that it was something you especially don't want to do against a Blackhawks team running a pretty sweet efficiency clip of 23.8% (third in the league) coming into the game, but I will note that the Hawks are 26th in the league in a metric that's more predictive of future goal scoring on the powerplay, 5-on-4 Corsi For/60. It was that unit we saw tonight in their one attempt as it was a rather routine kill for the Senators, despite being ranked 29th in the league in penalty kill efficiency. Freddie Claesson got to show off his PK skills - a unit he routinely plays on in Binghamton - and disrupted a couple of powerplay entries that resulted in quick clears.
(Note: Unfortunately for our heroes, the Senators penalty kill numbers aren't disguising anything like the Hawks' PP unit -- they're bad, and give up the second most attempts per 60 in the league.)
There was a lot of open play this period, with a span of around 7 minutes without a whistle and not many scoring chances by either team to note. Near the end of the period, Alex Chiasson uses his much-improved speed to drive down the right-wing wall and send a hard shot Crawford's way. It's stopped, but not corralled, leading to a Michal Roszival hooking penalty on a feisty Max McCormick, who was all over the rebound. Despite Karlsson trying his best to generate something on the powerplay -- the Swedish superstar had 10 touches of the puck in the first 1:30 of the PP -- the best chance actually came via unit two, with Mika Zibanejad writing a hard slapshot from the left point that's tipped by Chiasson but stopped by Crawford.
There was a lot of complaining about missed shots on Sens scoring chances this period, but as we learned recently, it doesn't appear that NHL coaches have the ability to affect how skilled their teams are at putting shots on net. Regardless, it was a decent first period for the Sens in a tough road building, as they contained the Hawks and only trailed by one in the shot clock, 7-6.
The second started off with a bit more excitement with a couple of early Sens chances. First, Mark Stone gained the zone with speed on the right side and dropped the puck back to Turris, who takes the middle of the ice but finds the crossbar with a heavy wrist shot. Turris, frustrated after not scoring in 7 games, slammed his stick against the boards at the end of the play. Although he's still producing, an offensive slump - especially when it's affecting the whole team - is certainly going to affect the star players, and the Senators are no exception to that. A little later, Pageau intentionally targets a labouring Roszival on the left side and is able to get around him to fire a puck at Crawford, but neither he or Chiasson can slot it underneath the Hawks 'tender.
The Hawks are able to counter 8 minutes into the period. The Senators line of McCormick, Pageau, and Neil end up stuck against the dangerous Panarin line, generating some precious offensive zone time for the Hawks. As the second period features long changes for both teams, the fourth line scurries off the ice at their first chance and Hoffman - Zibanejad - Ryan come on, but are immediately trapped in their own zone by Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. Zibanejad misses his check on Toews, who gets a great shot on Anderson and starts the disorganized play in the Senators end.
Anderson deflects the Toews shot into the right boards, where we see it here. Bobby Ryan has a chance to get it out, but is turned awkwardly by Desjardins and can only kick at the puck. The second mistake comes courtesy of Zibanejad (again), who should attack the puck strong here to help Ryan out, but instead, is soft on it.
This allows Toews to rotate in from the bottom to scoop the puck out, and circle low, leaving Zibanejad in no-mans land for the time being. Hoffman sees this and abandons the right point to come and watch Marian Hossa, as his two linemates are currently fighting with the puck and are unable to play man coverage. Borowiecki, knowing that he's in fine position in front of the net with Wiercioch, sees the lost puck battle and decides to engage Toews quickly on the boards to neutralize the threat.
Threat neutralized.. but wait! Ryan stands still at the right-boards (which is fine), leaving Zibanejad to circle low to retrieve the now loose puck, but Desjardins charges hard and wins the battle. Wiercioch can't engage, as a missed puck could lead to Desjardins shovelling it to Hossa, who's also lurking close to the front of the net.
Although Zibanejad is able to take the body and pin Desjardins, the latter is able to zip the puck by Borowiecki and to Toews, who's super low in a support position. That space separating Toews and Ryan is all Toews needs to circle it back to the point for Duncan Keith to take a slapshot with a ton of traffic in front. Anderson has no chance and it's 1-0 Hawks. Notice the speed at which everything happens in gif form, especially Ryan deciding to block the cross-ice pass to the right-point (stick on right-side) instead of positioning it to take away the pass to Keith (stick on left-side). I don't think that's a bad decision by Ryan per se -- Toews is capable of threading a pass to the right-point for the defender to take a ton of ice and walk into a shot since Hoffman is in tight watching Hossa, but it makes a difference here.
To recap: Zibanejad makes two mistakes (the initial missed check on Toews allowing him to get his shot through in the first place, and not engaging the puck strongly when Ryan has it on the boards) and is unable to win a 50/50 battle with Desjardins, Ryan is unable to clear the puck and has his side of the ice exposed due to spacing, and the Senators are down 1-0.
Unlike these two shifts, the rest of the period features some really nice defensive plays by Ottawa, with Hoffman, Pageau, and Wiercioch all using their smart positioning and active sticks to read and disrupt the Hawks in the neutral zone. Cameron isn't scared to go back with the Ryan line against Toews, and it pays off later in the period as Bobby draws an offensive zone penalty on Marian Hossa (!). The Senators generate more chances than their last powerplay, mainly off the 1-3-1 with Karlsson and Zibanejad point shots -- the latter of which hitting the post -- but are unable to cash in. Chicago again comes away with a teeny edge in shots, 11-9, in a period that had almost double the number of attempts at even-strength (19 in the first to 45 in the second).
The third starts off quietly, as the Hawks are content to clog the middle and slow the game down. Again, the first miscue from the Senators come courtesy of a line matchup that happens when you're a road team with not as much depth as a Stanley Cup contender. This time, though, the McCormick - Pageau - Neil line stay on for the goal against.
This goal is hard to break down, mainly because half of it is how the Senators play defence. They're generally man-to-man, which is 'simpler' for players to understand. Karlsson and Anisimov are front of the net, with Pageau (!) the low man watching Panarin. This play (but not this highlight) started off the cycle, so Claesson followed Kane up to the top half-wall. Roszival is the defender who's leg you see at the point -- he's receiving the puck from Kane and Chris Neil is the middle Sens forward about to give chase.
Roszival walks the line and makes space for Kane, who rotates into the right-point. Neil had a fair bit of space to cover from his previous position where he was collapsing low, and is unable to close the gap on Roszival. Claesson is puck watching, perhaps afraid to circle up so high on Kane, but his slowness to react may be the nail in the coffin here.
The play develops some more. Kane takes the puck from Roszival, walks the line himself to make Neil bite, and recognizes that there's a gap on the left side of the ice, so he sends the puck back to Roszival, who has a ton of space. Since the Senators are okay down low with Karlsson and Pageau, McCormick, who was watching Trevor van Riemsdyk (now at the top of the screen), could've charged Roszival to help Claesson, who has a gap as wide as the Pacific to cross now after he realizes his initial error. McCormick stands put though, and the Sens are in trouble.
McCormick lets Panarin circle around him, leaving Panarin to the player who was initially marking him, Pageau. In doing this, the one player who has the speed to close the gap against Roszival is left defending Panarin down low. Claesson is out of energy now and McCormick is still a glacier.
By the time we get here, all Claesson can do is reach his stick out in vain. Pageau has Panarin tied up, but Anisimov has smartly rotated to the side of Anderson instead of staying in front of him. This is key. Roszival can now get his shot through for sure -- before it had a chance of nicking off Anisimov in a funny angle that wouldn't go by Anderson -- and Karlsson chooses to block a potential seam pass through the crease instead of tying up Anisimov (a decision much like Ryan trying to prevent a cross-ice pass instead of the point pass on the first goal). Roszival's shot gets through, Anderson is unable to corral it right away, and Anisimov pots the rebound.
To recap: the Senators man coverage goes awry. Claesson is a little slow (and also inexperienced) in making a decision on Patrick Kane, and Max McCormick decides to remain still, causing further problems. Anderson is unable to corral a puck and Karlsson isn't there to tie his man up, 2-0 Hawks.
The rest of the period is textbook shutdown hockey by Chicago. The Senators are able to generate some chances, mainly off the sticks of Erik Karlsson, Chris Wideman, and Kyle Turris, but only Turris' chance is anything close to a partial break. There were a lot of times where Karlsson used his fantastic skating ability to gain the zone, but the Senators lacked creativity to force gaps and generate scoring chances against a Hawks team that clogged the middle of the ice. In the end, all we're left with is grasping at the few positives like playing the Hawks evenly in terms of shot numbers at even-strength instead of lamenting wasting another 30+ minute night for Erik Karlsson on the first half of a back-to-back.
Remember, all-in-all, it was a solid effort against a very skilled team. Other than the two goals against, which I decided to give a lot of words too given that little happened in this game otherwise, the Senators were structured in their own zone - a rarity among these parts. What's worrisome is the over-dependence on Erik Karlsson and the top line for all the offense, and without an injection of talent, I don't know what else we can realistically ask of this group.
Sens Zero: Dave Cameron
We don't really have a hero tonight, nor do we *really* have a zero, but Cameron's job as a head coach is to make mid-game adjustments. His major adjustment was to not play Zibanejad much in the third, which is granted tonight seeing as the forward made errors on the first goal against and had a team-low CF% tonight of 33%. However, playing Shane Prince, an OFFENSIVE forward barely 6 minutes tonight when they were down a goal for half the game isn't something that's justifiable at this point, especially given the lack of skill on the roster to begin with. I don't think Max McCormick's grit and energy is worth 9 more minutes of ice-time than a forward who was Binghamton's leading forward last year.
Sens Zero: Mika Zibanejad
For reasons already stated. When Zibanejad is good, he's goooooood. However, when there are games like this, there's far too much pressure on one line (hi Kyle Turris!) to generate offense, which isn't a winning formula against most teams in the league.
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick
Thanks for reading!
P.S. The last goal was an empty netter.