As the Ottawa Senators rolled into Florida for a tilt with the Panthers, one couldn't help but feel they were looking at two teams that started the season with similar aspirations but had since gone down dramatically different paths. The Panthers, buoyed by the play of Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr, look destined to make their first play-off appearance since 2011-12. Meanwhile, short of a minor miracle, the Sens will miss out on post-season play for the second time in three seasons.
The Senators did come out of the gate as if they had something to play for, however, taking the play to the Panthers. Just a couple of minutes in, a semi-breakaway for the absolutely en fuego Zack Smith off of a pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau was thwarted by Luongo. Not long thereafter, Curtis Lazar also found himself on a breakaway from the blueline in but he was unable to fully control the puck while making his move and was thwarted.
Now, stop me if you've heard this before but the Sens gave up the first goal of the game. Erik Karlsson had an unfortunate give-away attacking the Florida blueline and none of his teammates were able to sufficiently cover for him before Jonathan Huberdeau found Jagr for the opening tally:
After the Jagr goal the Panthers definitely had the better of the play for the rest of the period, but the Senators had a trick up their sleeve: Zack Smith's magical goal-scoring run. Smith potted the equalizer just before the period was out and the Sens headed into the second period on even footing.
All debates about what to do with Smith long term aside, it's been pretty remarkable to watch the big guy work with Pageau and Mark Stone. Besides the continued excellence of Erik Karlsson, who had two more points on this night, the Pageau-Smith-Stone line has been one of the lone bright spots this year.
The second started ominously when Mike Hoffman missed a wide open net off of a beautiful cross-ice feed from Mika Zibanejad. As hot as Zack Smith has run of late, Hoffman's been just as cold. There's not much else to say except that the pucks aren't going in for him right now.
When I wrote that the second period began ominously, it's because by the time all was said and done the Panthers led 4-2. Along the way, the Sens conceded three goals off of three completely different kinds of defensive zone breakdowns. Given how poorly this team has defended this year, it's remarkable that they're still able to surprise us with their defensive ineptitude but here we are.
First, a run of the mill 3-on-3 gets botched badly by Marc Methot, Mike Hoffman and Dion Phaneuf:
Then, after Erik Karlsson equalized with a bullet slapshot from the point, Curtis Lazar, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci combine to turn a 2-on-3 into a wide open shot from the slot that Aaron Ekblad blew by Craig Anderson:
Finally, less than 30 seconds after the Ekblad goal, Methot coughed the puck up behind the net and then he and Karlsson were unable to clear it before Huberdeau slotted it past a helpless Craig Anderson:
Each of the above markers has its own unpleasant after-taste. This is not to diminish Florida's play on this night, as they were the better team throughout, but each and every one of those goals could have been avoided with better play on the part of our local heroes.
Though the game was ostensibly still in reach at the outset of the third, Ottawa never really threatened to get back into it. Jagr scored his second of the game just over four minutes into the period to make it 5-2, and Vincent Trocheck completed his four point night with the final tally of the evening. The final score stood at 6-2 when it was all said and done.
Unfortunately for fans, and for those of us that write about sports, sometimes there's no great lesson to be learned from a game. The Sens were neither good, nor inspiring on this night; they just kinda got their asses handed to them. Let's try to forget this one happened.
Sens Zero: Defensive Zone Coverage
The Sens couldn't get out of their own way tonight. It was bad.
Sens Killer: Vincent Trocheck
The speedster picked up a goal and three assists and was generally a menace all over the ice. Florida's full of promising young talent and Trocheck is quietly a big part of that
Sens Killer: Jaromir Jagr
Jagr's legend grows by the day. He shrugged off defenders and made plays with the puck that would be impressive for someone literally half his age.