Thirteen games into the season, we're still trying to come a conclusion about what we have in this year's edition of the Ottawa Senators. There have been stretches of good play, but there have equally been patches of uninspired slop. We're left perpetually searching for benchmarks, anything against which to measure the outfit's progress (or lack thereof). A Wednesday night game, in November, in Buffalo, on the second night of a back-to-back, against an improving Sabres squad, provided just such a test. The Sens, thanks in large part to the late game heroics of Mike Condon, passed tonight's exam...but just barely.
Teams, both coaches and players, like to downplay the importance of fatigue but it's very real, and it has very tangible effects on the tired team. Throughout most of tonight's first period, the Senators certainly looked the part of a tired team. They were pinned in their own end for long stretches and when they were able to exit the zone, they rarely threatened Robin Lehner's net (as evidenced by their measly two scoring chances compared to the Sabres' six). The Sabres opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game off what may have been a set play on an offensive zone draw. Cole Schneider, former Binghamton Senators hero, tipped a loose puck back to Nicholas Baptiste who rifled one off of Condon's glove and into the back of the net. The commentators observed that the goal was probably one the Sens' keeper would have liked back, but given how he played the rest of the game that one error was soon forgiven. As aforementioned the Senators did not fare much better for the rest of the period and might have been a bit lucky to escape down just one.
The second period, however, was the Senators' redemption and they carried the play throughout (save one 90 second stretch when it seemed like the Sens would never exit their own end again). If you haven't already seen it, the highlight was certainly Ryan Dzingel's solo effort to equalize just over seven minutes into the period. Dzingel has been easily the most pleasant surprise on the team and flashes of skill like this won't hurt his cause going forward.
Perhaps the key juncture of the game arrived with just over two and a half minutes left in the frame, when Ottawa was gifted a nearly 90 second 5-on-3 thanks to some careless stick work from Derek Grant while the Sabres were already down a player. The Sens' powerplay has been the punching bag for many fans and analysts alike, but it says here that they've moved the puck well and generated a tonne of shots on net; at some point, they're going to break through in a meaningful way. This powerplay was no different: the Sens moved the puck around well and created several high quality chances but were unable to find a way past Lehner.
The third period was a virtual deadlock, and besides some scary moments right at the end of regulation the Senators deserved the point they secured by making it to the extra frame. Overtime, on the other hand, was unkind to Ottawa. The Sabres outshot the Sens 7-0, out-attempted them 10-0, and just generally ran roughshod up and down the ice. Making it to the shootout was only, and I mean only, the work of Condon and his posts.
Once there, the Sens seemed to remember all the ways past Lehner. Both Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored on their attempts with ease. Meanwhile, Condon stopped two of the three shots he faced and Ottawa escaped with two points. We're still not sure exactly what this team is, but considering it was the second night of a back-to-back the regulation part of the game was more than fine.
Let's just forget the overtime ever happened.
NKB's 3 Quick Thoughts:
-I understand Guy Boucher's trying to go for three balanced groups by breaking up the Hoffman-Stone-Turris trio and putting one on each line, but I can't see how letting Hoffman languish on the nominal third line is helpful to the team as a whole. Pyatt and Pageau can certainly skate with Hoffman, but they lack the offensive skills and instincts to truly mesh with the talented left winger. Instead of Boucher's vision of a balanced, continuous attack we're left with three mediocre forward sets. The HST line has been fantastic in its limited time together and the offense badly needs juicing; re-uniting his three best forwards would be the first place I'd start if I was Boucher. And this time, stick with it for more than a game!
-The Fredrik Claesson - Mark Borowiecki pairing has struggled badly at times since Chris Wideman was hurt and Claesson was recalled; unfortunately, tonight was not one of their finer performances. The Sens got bludgeoned when they were on the ice despite cushy deployment and the two saw limited ice time. Here's to hoping Wideman is healthy and able to go sooner than later.
-Erik Karlsson is so good at catching players and stripping them of the puck that it sometimes startles even the referees. On the occasion of his hooking penalty tonight, I think the referee was so shocked that Karlsson had stripped Marcus Foligno of the puck that there *had* to have been a hook. Nope, just a clean lift of the stick.
Sens Hero: Ryan Dzingel
The goal was a thing of beauty, but he also made several great plays with the puck through the neutral zone to create attacking chances. The Sens generally struggled to generate offense on this evening, but Dzingel was a clear bright spot.
Sens Hero: Mike Condon
Condon's stopped all but one of the 65 shots he's faced in his first two games as a Senators. He's the real deal, folks.
Sens Killer: Robin Lehner
It seems like there's always a lot to say about Lehner any time he plays the Senators, but he was great tonight and let's just leave it at that.