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Sens lose special teams battle to the Avalanche, 4-3

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Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Only around 20% of a given hockey game is not played at 5-on-5, but it sure felt like the entire game was a special teams battle tonight. In fact, all 7 goals scored tonight were potted either on the powerplay or with an extra player on the ice. Unfortunately for the Senators, they ended up on the losing end of the battle, despite getting 71% of the shot attempts at even-strength tonight. That's just the way the snow blows sometimes.

I thought I'd try something different tonight, so let's start with the Game Flow from Natural Stat Trick (with markings by me; follow the numbers in the text below that correspond to the numbers on the picture) and go from there as I think it covers all of the meaningful items from tonight's game.

Sens Avs game flow

(1) It was a slow start to the game, with the Sens creating a couple of scoring chances due to some defensive miscues that Mark Stone lives off of and the Dzingel - Lazar - Neil line (who were excellent all game) crashing the net on their first shift. It quickly turned into chaos though after Patrick Wiercioch took a double-minor thanks to an inadvertent high stick. It was a weird call, as Wiercioch's stick went up and hit Andreas Martensen due to a hit by an Avalanche forechecker. Nonetheless, the Sens suffered mightily for it, hence the steep flight of stairs on the game flow chart. The Avalanche quickly set up the 1-3-1 and didn't lose control, with Jarome Iginla shooting 5 pucks to the net from the left side of the ice before the 6th puck went in. The Avalanche finished the powerplay with 8 shots on goal and 3:15 of straight zone time.

(2) It took a little while for the Sens to recover, but they were able to generate a number of good chances thanks to some strong forechecking. Captain Karlsson put together many plays like the one below, and was 14-1 in terms of shot attempt differential that period, spearheading the Senators attack as per usual.

(3) The second period featured five powerplays: two for the Avs and three for the Sens. The main difference? The Avalanche scored on 100% of their opportunities whereas the Sens scored on 66%. Patrick Wiercioch may find himself scratched for the weekend game as he took another penalty, this one a hold on Matt Duchene. The Senators penalty kill took an aggressive approach this time, and managed to get a 2-on-1 opportunity, but Zibanejad missed wide and Alex Chiasson couldn't recover the puck. Near the end of his shift, Chiasson decided to change instead of backchecking, and the Avs quickly countered on a 3-on-2. Soderberg took the puck in deep enough along the left wing wall to free up space for Nathan Mackinnon, who wired his 19th of the year past Hammond's outstretched glove for the 2-0 lead.

(4) After the Senators are unable to capitalize on a Chris Bigras penalty (Chris Neil drew two penalties and took none tonight!), Karlsson takes a dinky offensive zone interference penalty trying to get in the way of a streaking Martensen. The Avs quickly capitalize on a play very similar to their first powerplay, executing a quick 1-3-1 with crisp movement from Landeskog, to Barrie, to Iginla who wristed it past Hammond for his second of the night. Iginla's age has clearly caught up to his ability to influence play at 5-on-5, but as his 15 goals demonstrates, he can still shoot the puck given the extra time and space that he got from the Senators penalty killers tonight. Sloppy, sloppy work.

(5) Rest assured, bad players take bad penalties, and Cody McLeod's hold on Jean-Gabriel Pageau fits that bill, giving the Senators a chance to score a powerplay goal of their own. I initially was confused on this powerplay set-up, as I'm so used to seeing Karlsson on the right-side of the ice, but the Senators lined Phaneuf up there for the second straight game. Unlike last night's dismal 0/7 performance, it paid off tonight. Karlsson and Phaneuf (that's still so weird to type) play pitch and catch with the puck on their off-sides before Phaneuf finds a lane to fire a quick slapshot towards the net. Mark Stone then uses his excellent hand-eye coordination to tip one past a screened Varlamov to get the Sens on the board.

(6) The Senators continued to push after the Stone goal, with notable scoring chances from Ryan Dzingel and Alex Chiasson turned away after sweet set-ups from Curtis Lazar and Bobby Ryan respectively. A John Mitchell penalty against Mark Borowiecki gives the Senators a powerplay opportunity with 55 seconds left and they quickly convert. This time, Phaneuf and Karlsson were lined up at their usual sides (left + right respectively) in order to accommodate Mike Hoffman on his off-wing. Mika Zibanejad was on the ice instead of Bobby Ryan and showed some creativity with a nifty backhand pass to spread out the penalty killers seconds before Hoffman wired home a pass from Karlsson top-shelf past Varlamov. Although Hoffman now has 24 goals on the year, I'm left wondering how many more he could have if he wasn't inexplicably left off the first unit earlier in the year. I also wonder if the Senators salary savings for next year (~$4M) will be used to re-sign Hoffman, who continues to produce at elite levels for a depleted offensive team. Also, the primary assist is Karlsson's second point of the night, bringing him into a tie with Jamie Benn for third in league scoring.

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(7) The third period featured a ton of 50/50 play in the neutral zone, with the Senators attempting the carry the puck in and the Avalanche chipping the puck to centre ice in order to regroup and attempt to stymie the Senators breakout. Interestingly, Cameron quickly went to a Phaneuf - Karlsson pairing down a goal (putting Marc Methot with Cody Ceci), which likely makes Patrick Wiercioch sad as he previously got Karlsson privileges when the team was down a goal. The Captain drew a penalty with 4:01 remaining by getting tripped up while trying to execute the breakout, and didn't leave the ice for the rest of the game. (It's very strange how normal that statement has become seeing as no other player in the league has Karlsson's stamina).

(8) Unfortunately for the Senators, their coaching staff failed to deploy the right set-up and didn't pull for the extra attacker (which was Curtis Lazar) until the very end of the powerplay, instead of getting a full 2 minutes of 6-on-4 time. After the penalty expired, Blake Comeau and Jarome Iginla rush up the ice and Comeau pots the empty netter to make it 4-2. The duo contributed to 52% of Colorado's shot total tonight. It's even more unfortunate considering that the Senators rushed up the ice to make it 4-3 soon after, as a rare late game fourth line shift paid off thanks to some great work by Curtis Lazar on the entry and Ryan Dzingel in-tight. Not to be forgotten, Chris Neil beautifully finished the shovel-in from Dzingel for a well-deserved point on the night.

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Sens Heroes: Line Four

Playing these three late in the game was probably a reward from Dave Cameron for a strong evening, with Dzingel especially noticeable, using his speed to generate his second point in as many games. Lazar was singled out after the game for a strong performance, perhaps indicating why he was the extra attacker at the end of the powerplay. Interestingly, the ice-time was pretty balanced overall tonight with only Alex Chiasson below 10 minutes. Kyle Turris was actually 4th in centremen ice-time tonight and wasn't very noticeable with poor possession numbers tonight as it looks like he's still battling through some of the remedial effects of his ankle injury.

Sens Killers: The Penalty Kill

I know they were 9/9 coming into this game, but the coaching staff needs to take a long, hard look at the systems they're using for the penalty kill overall. Yes, it doesn't help that neither Anderson or Hammond can seem to come up with a giant save when the team needs it this season, but PKSV% is generally very volatile (instead of being talent-based) and the amount of shots the Senators give up relative to other teams in the league is extremely alarming. There was a sequence on Iginla's second goal where the two forwards were lined up in a straight line and were quickly exposed by strong east-to-west passes through the 1-3-1, leading to prime scoring chances against Hammond and eventually the goal against. I'm finding it hard to say that it was a *bad* night for a team as a whole, as any game where you can limit the opponent to only 24 even-strength shot attempts can't be a bad one, but because the league's talent level is so even, a bad night on special teams can really cost you two points. With Columbus, Buffalo, and Edmonton up in the team's next five games, something needs to change, and fast.

Dion Phaneuf Watch

Although he wasn't in the starting lineup, the fans cheered during his first shift on home ice, which Phaneuf called "classy" post-game. I think he played solidly tonight, and has met my expectations thus far. He has better offensive skills than defensive ones, as evidenced by some great passes, good shots through lanes, and two assists on the night coupled with losing some battles wide due to his 'meh' skating ability laterally. Cody Ceci hasn't looked markedly better besides Phaneuf, although it is still early, but I do think their skillsets can match up thanks to Ceci's strength being skating and not-so-much passing.

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Thanks for reading!