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Stone, Senators stifle Bruins; win 3 - 1

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Your game recap from Thursday night’s victory over the Boston Bruins

NHL: Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the week, if you would’ve told me that the Ottawa Senators would score 3+ goals on both Carey Price and Tuukka Rask, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you (well.. maybe on Price). It’s almost like the Sens were too good to continue scoring 2 goals a game! However, I don’t think that was the major story of the night. Instead, it was the fact that the team that struggled so much during close games last year kept a decent Bruins squad to just 1 goal on 20 shots.

Coming into tonight, the Bruins were surprising some folks. For a team that missed the playoffs on the last game of the regular season courtesy of a 6-1 loss to your Ottawa Senators and had spent a good portion of the next few months deciding whether to fire the winningest coach in their history, the Bruins weren’t supposed to be good. Zdeno Chara — who didn’t play tonight after being injured against St. Louis — was getting older, and their recent free agent signings, Matt Beleskey and David Backes, were struggling offensively. However, the team boasted some of the top shot and goal metrics in the league.

What did the Sens do? They played a tight checking game, especially through the neutral zone, and held Boston to just 34 shot attempts, 1 high-danger scoring chance, and 0.5 expected goals. It was a remarkable defensive performance.

The game didn’t start that way, as the Senators surrendered the first goal again in the last minute of the first period thanks to David Pastrnak’s team leading 11th goal in 15 games. After Chris Neil took a silly interference penalty, the Bruins circled the puck around until Brad Marchand was able to get a shot through that gave Craig Anderson some trouble, largely due to the traffic in front. Beleskey then shovelled the puck to Pastrnak, who had a open cage to pot the Senators’ third powerplay goal against in their last two games.

The game slowed down a lot in the second, a period with only 21 shot attempts total. Neither team was generating much of anything until Chris Wideman and Brad Marchand took coinciding minor penalties, which led to an extended stretch of 4-on-4 and post-penalty action where there were no whistles. Soon after, the Hoffman - Brassard - Stone line took advantage by creating an odd-man situation via a poor Bruins (long) change.

As Dion Phaneuf notices the Bruins changing at the top of the screen, he quickly passes the puck up the left wall and past the check of the Bruins RWer.

The left winger who receives the puck is Mike Hoffman, who immediately looks across the ice to spot Mark Stone through the middle. Now, Stone isn’t the fleetest of foot, but the play’s already “over” at this point given that a) the Bruins RWer was beat by Phaneuf’s pass, b) the Bruins left winger just got onto the ice, c) the centre is “in position” but not relevant in this scenario, and most importantly, d) the Bruins D were way too aggressive at their blueline. Essentially the D are stuck in no-mans land: too far away from Mike Hoffman to close the gap in time on the entry, and caught flat footed against Mark Stone, who has a gap in the middle.

Looking at the time, this all happens in two seconds. But you can see the end result in sight. What’s not to be understated is the beautiful move Stone makes around Tuukka Rask, who can see this play developing from a mile away but is left powerless to stop it. Watch it in its fully glory below.

After two periods of play, the shots were 14 - 13 Ottawa, 5-on-5 attempts were tied at 25 a piece, and scoring chances were 6 - 5 in favour of the Bruins, but 2 - 1 in favour of Ottawa in terms of high-danger. All in all, an even game that deserved to be tied heading into the third period.

What was most impressive was how Ottawa played in the third period. After Curtis Lazar drew a penalty against Ryan Spooner two minutes in, the Sens generated a number of quality chances, with Brassard and Karlsson narrowly missing opportunities. It continued afterwards, too, and on some strong offensive zone play by Hoffman - Brassard - Stone, Chris Wideman was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce by scoring the first of the year just trying to get an attempt on net.

It’s a lucky deflection off the knee of Dominic Moore, but for Wideman, it must feel good. The third-year NHLer is coming off of a recent injury and is expected to contribute more offensively, so hopefully this goal serves as a pick-me-up to give him confidence to generate more offensively.

Shortly after, the Sens take advantage of a poor Krejci pass in the high slot that Kyle Turris picks off. He races into the offensive zone on the left wing, drops a pass to Bobby Ryan, and heads to the net. It’s Ryan who makes this play special, despite his hand injury, as he looks shot (or pass to an onrushing Cody Ceci) the whole way but slips the puck straight to Turris, who elevates it beautifully past Tuukka Rask for the team’s third goal.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due and point out that Turris ended up with so much room partly due to Cody Ceci taking up Torey Krug’s attention on the right side. Overall, Ceci had one of his stronger games of the season and was the team’s leading shot attempt driver on defence while being on the ice for two goals in his 19:45 of ice-time.

Sens Hero: Guy Boucher

An unconventional choice, but Boucher’s defensive systems were on full display tonight. The Sens consistently blocked lanes, stifled the Bruins at 5-on-5, and ‘won’ the matchup game tonight. Over at HockeyViz, which you can support here, Micah’s created a cool graphic that displays matchups by ice-time, possession, and pace. The bigger the square, the more ice-time player X played against player Y. Here, the more ‘red’ the box, the more the Bruins dominated that matchup while X was on the ice; vice-versa for blue.

The visual helps us see that Smith - Pageau - Pyatt; Methot - Karlsson were basically sacrificed to keep the Bruins top line of Pastrnak - Bergeron - Marchand off the board tonight and did a good job of keeping the chances minimal despite losing the shot attempt battle. This freed the other lines up, especially Dzingel - Turris - Ryan, to dictate play against the rest of the Bruins forwards, and with 55% of the attempts at 5-on-5 tonight, Boucher’s bet paid off against what was a strong team coming in. Taken together with the mid-game injury to Ryan Dzingel, who took a misdirected puck to the ear early on but returned late in the second, and Hoffman/Ryan/Phaneuf’s general soreness, Boucher had to manage his bench and did so successfully tonight.

Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick:

A game like that can only have me in a weird state of awe by marvelling at the defensive structure in place with a personnel that couldn’t defend squat last year. It’s not necessarily exciting hockey, but so far, it’s been paying dividends. After playing the Canes on Saturday night, the team has a date with another top goalie in Henrik Lundqvist in a back-to-back situation. If they manage to show themselves well and score a few more goals, I’ll start to get excited.

Thanks for reading!