(Editor’s note: We actually added two writers over the last week, and I’m excited to say this is Beata Elliott’s first post for us!)
Tonight’s match-up between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs was touted as the most important Battle of Ontario game in 13 years, a revival of a rivalry that hadn’t produced much in the way of entertainment of late. Forty-one games into the season, a Hockey Night In Canada showdown against provincial rivals had legitimate playoff stakes; the two Ontario teams found themselves separated by only 2 points in the standings.
For the sake of the playoff spot they were barely hanging on to, the momentum swing created by the Pittsburgh win, and the brave souls who ventured all the way to Kanata only to have beer poured on them by rowdy Toronto Maple Leafs fans, the Sens needed this win.
As most Sens fans already know, that’s not exactly a recipe for success: the Senators have seldom brought their A game against their provincial rivals. Or their B game. Or even their C game, really. It’s been quite humiliating.
The disappointing thing about this game wasn’t that the Sens rolled over and died like they tend to do against their provincial rivals, but rather that they played so well and yet fell so short. It was a good game, honestly. If Ottawa continues to play the way they have recently, they should be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot. But man, tonight’s affair was frustrating.
Ottawa got off to a respectable start, out shooting their opponents 15-10 in the first frame and generally looking like the better team despite occasional flashes of brilliance from the Leafs’ youngsters. Their defensive play looked solid, and they kept possession in the offensive zone even if they didn’t manage to score.
However, after a Zack Smith penalty Nazem Kadri tapped the puck past Mike Condon in a scramble around the Ottawa net. It wasn’t a pretty goal by any means, but Toronto’s impressive record when scoring first had many Sens fans justifiably nervous.
It seemed our worst fears would be realized when Tyler Bozak scored a beauty of a goal only 1:07 into the second period. The goal came off a bad turnover from Bobby Ryan, and lazy defensive coverage from the struggling Phaneuf - Ceci pairing.
During the early parts of the second frame Ottawa looked particularly slow compared to the Leafs, and their continuous failure to generate any significant chances in the offensive zone had this game feeling all too familiar to Sens fans.
The turning point came a little over 9 minutes into the period, in the form of a rocket from the point by Dion Phaneuf against his former team. How’s Jared Cowen looking, Leafs fans? The goal bounced off of Jake Gardiner, and was originally credited to Jean-Gabriel Pageau before being given to Phaneuf.
That seemed to put a little wind in the Senators’ sails, as they generated a number of good chances in the second half of the period and eventually evened the score on a gorgeous short side wrister from the always consistent Kyle Turris.
Unfortunately, the third frame started off about as badly as the second. It didn’t take long for Kadri to reclaim the Leafs’ lead with his second of the night, something of a flukey goal that Mike Condon probably should have had.
Ottawa got a chance to tie it again with a power play that generated a number of exciting chances but ultimately failed to convert, due in large part to the brilliance of former Senators goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Mike Hoffman had the best scoring chance of the man advantage, but was robbed by the Leafs’ netminder.
Even strength brought more pain and disappointment when Leafs forward Connor Brown scored off a pass from some nobody from Toronto. I think his name is Auston something? I haven’t really heard much about him lately. I doubt he’s any good.
As it turns out, cute kids celebrating goals is actually pretty annoying when they’re scoring against your team.
Ottawa fought hard, but ultimately wasn’t able to get anything past McElhinney for the remainder of the game. It was a disappointing loss, one in which the Sens deserved much better, but at least they’ll get a chance to
further embarrass redeem themselves a week from today in Toronto.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
This man is so consistently amazing. I’d love to see what he can do with better wingers, but even with Dzingel and Ryan, he’s been solid all season. His goal tonight wasn’t enough to win the game, but it certainly made things a lot more exciting.
Honourable Mention: Dion Phaneuf
The other goal scorer also turned in a solid performance against his former team. It’s worth noting that he also got significant amount of ice time with Erik Karlsson, which probably contributed to his play.
Sens Killer: Curtis McElhinney
Is anyone surprised, really? Of course a former Sens goalie had the game of his life against us. This would have been a very different game if not for McElhinney, as the Sens were robbed multiple times on quality shots.