This game was the Ottawa Senators season in a nutshell: outplayed, sometimes badly outplayed, yet somehow still in it until the very end. With only one participant in this past weekend's NHL All-Star Game, you'd have have been forgiven for believing that the Senators would come roaring out of the gates on fresh legs against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, as they have all too frequently this season, the Sens came out flat. The Pens dominated the game completely for the first ten minutes, potting goals from Matt Cullen and Kris Letang while outshooting the Sens 11-0. It wasn't until Patrick Wiercioch put a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury from the tops of the circles with just under nine minutes to go that the Senators even registered a shot. It was not looking good, folks.
Yet, if you've been following the Senators at all for the last two years you know this is exactly the type of game in which they somehow find a way to win (or at the very least hang around). Indeed, with just over five minutes left Mark Stone found the back of the net off a great forecheck from Zack Smith:
Smith's presence in the team's top six has been hotly debated over the course of the year, but his effort here is exactly what Dave Cameron expects of the big grinder: get in after the puck, get it to the skilled guys.
However, the Sens wouldn't be the Sens if they made it easy to support them. Less than two minutes later Chris Kunitz would make the lead 3-1 off a bit of a broken play in Ottawa's defensive end. Kris Letang fired a slapshot that was blocked in front but the puck bounced around without anyone really corralling it before it landed on Kunitz's stick who made no mistake from the slot. Though on balance the Sens deserved to be trailing at that point in the game, both Kunitz's goal and Letang's earlier marker were products of sloppy, avoidable mistakes.
But wait! In case you had been fighting the urge to change the channel away from the game, the Senators put together a run of solid play to close the first and begin the second. To kick it off, Chris Wideman's floater from the point found its way through with just under a minute to go in the first after some yeoman's work to keep the puck in at the blue line by Mark Stone. At the end of one, the Sens were outshot 16-5 but the game felt within reach at 3-2.
As aforementioned, the Sens picked up where they left off in the second with not one but two markers at four on four after coincidental minors to Jared Cowen and Tom Kuhnhackl. First Jean-Gabriel Pageau:
And then Cody Ceci gave the Sens the lead at 4-3. At this point of the game, seven goals had been scored already and there were more than 15 minutes left to play in the second.
The defensive effort from the Senators unfortunately didn't improve, however, and the Penguins had re-taken the lead via two Sidney Crosby goals before the period was out. After the brief spurt to begin the second, the Senators spent most of the period chasing the play yet again. Shots were 32-16 Penguins after two.
The third brought more of the same with Crosby striking again for the hat-trick and the Penguins forcing the Sens back time and again at 5v5. It didn't help matters that Chris Neil and Mark Borowiecki took a couple of unwarranted penalties midway through the frame, but a David Dziurzynski wrister got past Fleury to bring the game to 6-5 and gave the Senators one final glimmer of hope. The Sens pressed hard for the equalizer in the dying minutes but two(!!) Mike Hoffman cross-bars were as close as they'd come.
Ultimately it will be tempting to look back at this game as yet another one-goal loss where the bounces just happened to go against the Senators. There's some truth to that, I suppose, as it's not often that Mike Hoffman will miss two grade A chances within thirty seconds of each other. On the other hand, the Senators were out-shot 44-22 overall and out-attempted 53-26 at 5v5. That is plainly not good enough to win on very many nights, and the Sens did not deserve to win tonight. Far too often they were unable to exit their own zone cleanly, and had to resort to chipping the puck off the glass merely to relieve the pressure. There were stretches where it felt like the Penguins were just coming on in waves. Yes the team was playing without some key players, but it's difficult to imagine Turris and Methot closing the gap on a 2-to-1 shot differential by themselves. It just wasn't a good enough effort when the Sens desperately needed to be better. It feel like I've been writing that a lot this season.
Honourable Mention: Mark Stone
Stone finally broke out of his prolonged scoring drought with two points and the Sens even managed to break even on the shot clock when he was on the ice. He was one of the few players on the team to have a good game.
Sens Zero: Mark Borowiecki
Borowiecki had his struggles while he was on the ice, but two more undisciplined penalties are what earned him this distinction tonight when there were so many other potential candidates.
Sens Killer: Sidney Crosby
If Crosby's been struggling this season, he sure didn't look like it tonight. Sidney potted four points but that somehow almost understates his performance -- he was simply dominant