It was only fitting that on #HockeyFightsCancer night at the Canadian Tire Centre, Senators goaltender Craig Anderson returned from his leave of absence to start in goal against the Buffalo Sabres.
With his wife Nicholle battling cancer and Anderson leaving when he must to be with his family, the crowd - which was one of the bigger audiences Kanata has seen this year - absolutely went off when his name was finally announced before the anthems.
#HockeyFightsCancer cards were being handed out pre-game, there was a definite rivalry in the stands and Stuntman Stu and 13-year-old Justin LeBlanc (Stu battling leukemia and Justin battling Ewing’s sarcoma) came to centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop.
It was a special night.
When the real puck was dropped, the Senators looked like they had an extra jump in their step - something that was definitely missing the past several games.
Midway through the first period, Ottawa extended their streak to 13 consecutive successful trips to the PK when they killed off Chris Kelly’s high-sticking penalty.
The home team would get a chance of their own on the man advantage, though, when Mike Hoffman drew a tripping penalty. Though they haven’t been able to convert as much as was anticipated with Guy Boucher’s influence on the power play, the big positive is how little the team ever resorts to a dump-in. It’s controlled zone entry after controlled zone entry, and when the entry is perfected, the rest will begin to fall into place.
And later on it did.
After the Sabres were called for too many men on the ice, a quick passing play between Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan ended with a laser from Mike Hoffman that found the back of the net.
There isn’t a single goal scorer in the NHL that is overly consistent. Nearly every player that is famous for beating goaltenders is a streaky scorer. And after failing to score a single goal in his first seven games, Hoffman had three in his last four.
The Sabres came out far better in the third frame than they had the previous two. And it resulted in a completed comeback.
Don’t let the score fool you. Ottawa may have lost 2-1, but it was arguably their best game of the season. They played with speed, created a number of quality scoring chances and their breakout was flawless.
Maybe it’s just the fact that they were due for a loss after a few unimpressive wins against lower tier teams, but nonetheless, there are a great deal of positives to take from it.
Sens Hero: Mike Hoffman
When Hoffman has a great effort on both sides of the puck, it works out in the offensive zone. Tonight, he was responsible in his own end and electric in Buffalo’s. There are fewer snipers in the league that are able to get open for a one timer as easy as Mike Hoffman, and it showed tonight.
Honourable Mention: Erik Karlsson
The Senators captain was extremely effective in his own end tonight. He was hard to play against when the Sabres were cycling and whether he was passing the puck or taking it himself, he quarterbacked the breakout with precision.
Sens Killer: Robin Lehner
When asked if he thought Lehner enjoys beating his old team, Sabres head coach exclaimed “absolutely.” It was an unbelievable performance. In hind sight, Ottawa had a handful of opportunities that seemed to be sure goals. Lehner was outstanding when he needed to be, followed the point shots with ease and shut down the Senators in the second half of the third period when Buffalo got into some penalty trouble.