Coming into tonight’s game, the Sens and Devils were both reeling with losing streaks of three and four games respectively, and thus, I was expecting a close, tight-checking game like the two teams always play. However, this game was far from typical, despite the 3 - 1 score. In fact, the Devils team speed was evident and the game was played at a fast pace all night — ending with 97 shot attempts. The Sens were lucky to be up against backup ‘tender Keith Kinkaid as the Devils were also in a back-to-back situation. Surprisingly, the Devils had enough skill (?) so that players like Beau Bennett, Pavel Zacha, and P.A. Parenteau were all healthy scratches.
The night started with a bang, with call-up Casey Bailey’s witnessing a fight during his first NHL shift of the season as linemate Chris Neil and Devils enforcer Luke Gazdic dropped the gloves right off the bat. The commentators remarked that Neil and Gazdic were chirping each other all through warm-ups, so this was likely something brewing.
With the Devils in town, worth mentioning Ken Daneyko is the only other player with 1000 games and 2500 PIMs all with one team. https://t.co/0cYg7GVLch— Steve Lloyd (@TSNSteveLloyd) December 18, 2016
The Sens also got off on the right foot where it counts, too, with a mismatched line of Bobby Ryan, Chris Kelly, and Ryan Dzingel going to work in the Devils zone. After Ryan entered the Devils zone and skated to the middle of the ice, the puck took a couple of bounces and found its way to Chris Kelly. With no other play, Kelly made the correct decision to fire it on net, and low and behold, something good happened! The puck ends up bouncing off Ryan’s skate and past Kinkaid, giving Ryan his first three-game point streak of the season.
The Devils responded a couple of minutes later, with a strong forecheck causing Jean-Gabriel Pageau to make a poor defensive play — reversing the puck to no one low in the offensive zone. The puck ends up on the stick of Mike Cammalleri, who was dangerous all night on route to a 75% CF%, and he wastes no time taking the puck to the front of the net. It eventually bounces to Devils D John Moore at the high slot, who sneaks a shot through a bunch of bodies and five-hole past Condon. The Sens actually challenged the call for goaltender interference, perhaps remembering a similar play where a Chris Neil goal got overturned in Buffalo, but ended up on the losing side again. Taylor Hall does appear to hit Condon’s glove on the fly-by, but it’s determined that it didn’t impede Condon from making the save on Moore’s shot.
The second period started much like the first for the Sens — with a goal. After some great puck protection up high by Smith on the entry and Mark Stone later on, Smith ends up building speed down the left side and firing a quick shot Kinkaid’s way. Derrick Brassard, elusive in front of the net, manages to get his stick on it and redirect it past Kinkaid for a 2 - 1 Sens lead.
The Devils major excitement of the period came off of their lone powerplay, generated by the net front presence of rookie Miles Wood. The Sens managed to get the kill, but I don’t think it was due to skill. New Jersey fired six pucks towards goal, including one by Taylor Hall that beats Mike Condon, but is cleared off the goal line by Dion Phaneuf.
After 77 shot attempts after 2 periods, the game really settled down in the third, with the Sens having a run without a shot on goal against in the first 7:27 of the period. In total, there were only 20 shot attempts in the entire period — a stat that’s bound to make Guy Boucher happy after the Senators have struggled recently with the checking game that got them a lot of points to start the season.
That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any action, as the physical play definitely picked up. Miles Wood, being a rookie, does not yet know the “don’t touch Karlsson” rule, and although the Sens weren’t able to get him back like Turris on Vlasic on Wednesday night, Methot paid the Devils back by standing up Taylor Hall at centre ice. The best part of all of this? Methot’s clean hit generated a powerplay for the Senators, as Lappin tried to instigate a fight and instead, takes a double-minor on the play compared to Methot’s two minutes for roughing.
The funniest moment of the game (in hindsight, of course) came near the end when Mark Borowiecki lost his skate blade. Instead of sliding to the bench, Boro tried to play through his shift for ~40 seconds and fell about 7 times until referee Chris Lee stopped the play due to risk of injury — the first time I’ve seen that called. On the bench, Erik Karlsson was shown laughing.
Mike Condon was strong all night, turning away 29 of 30 shots including a beautiful cross-crease stop on Travis Zajac with the Devils net empty. His heroics set up Chris Kelly’s determination, as the veteran forward muscled the puck out of the defensive zone and eventually, onto the puck of Zack Smith, who potted the empty netter for his second point of the night. Playing in the top-six in lieu of the suspended Mike Hoffman, Smith played one of the best games of the season tonight with Derrick Brassard and Mark Stone on route to a 67% CF%.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
The Sens captain skated the team out of trouble multiple times tonight. He didn’t get a point, but was on the ice for almost 30% of the Sens shot attempts and made multiple stellar defensive plays like the one below.
I call this one the I'll Do It Myself Breakout - courtesy of Erik Karlsson. pic.twitter.com/qEYkmE6ZjA— Callum Fraser (@CallumFraser18) December 18, 2016
Sens Killers: The Devils Top-Six
Mike Condon and Guy Boucher highlighted the Devils team speed pre-game, and it’s safe to say that they were right. In particular, 21yo Miles Wood, a player with Colin White’s Boston College last season, was extremely impressive tonight. He was extremely fast on the forecheck, using his speed right off the bat to generate a scoring chance 10 seconds in and got in the face of Erik Karlsson 2-3 times. Via Corsica, the Devils #1 trio of Cammalleri, Zajac, and Hall were +13 in shot attempts tonight, generally preying on the Phaneuf - Ceci pairing..
Sens Killer: Cody Ceci
#Sens got hemmed in their zone multiple times tonight, often with Ceci caught up the ice. Now, I’m fine with Ceci leading the rush because his legs are his best trait, but unlike Miles Wood, he doesn’t appear to know how to use his speed effectively. This leads to ineffective decisions in protecting and managing the puck, and team-low shot attempt numbers.
With tonight’s 3 - 1 win, the Sens now hold the second spot in the Atlantic division and are two points ahead of the third-place Bruins with a game in hand. They play Sunday night against John Tavares, Shane Prince, and the New York Islanders.