Over the last few years, it’s felt like the Senators have been stuck in a state of perpetual mediocrity, as every stretch of good hockey has felt more like a flash in the pan than an actual indicator of long-term success. And while that’s been fun, it’s also gotten tiring, as our recent attendance woes would suggest.
I’m not going to say that this year’s team looks like the real deal just yet, but this is the first time in awhile that I’ve felt like I’ve been watching a legitimately good hockey team, not just one that’s banking off a stretch of good luck. They’ve been playing consistent, solid hockey. No crazy back-and-forth, no relying on a 40-save shutout from their goaltender. #TheSystem seems to be working. This game was the perfect example of that, as the Sens calmly contained the best team in the NHL on their way to a decisive win.
The Capitals are always a tough team to play against, but the Sens were up to the challenge, matching Washington’s energy and physicality right from the start. The first period featured a number of good offensive chances for both teams.
A Dion Phaneuf slash against Alexander Ovechkin led to a Caps power play, which looked particularly dangerous when Guy Boucher inexplicably decided to put Kelly and Pyatt on the ice shorthanded.
Did I say inexplicably? That was a typo. Boucher clearly knows something about Tom Pyatt that the rest of us don’t, because for the second time in three games, the fourth liner surprised everyone with a nifty play leading to a Sens goal. Chris Kelly was credited with his third goal of the season, on a night when many were wondering if he would end up being relegated to the press box to make room for recent acquisition Tommy Wingels.
It was particularly fitting that Kelly score tonight, seeing as the Sens were celebrating the legacy of his former coach, Bryan Murray.
The Capitals nearly evened the score on a Winnik breakaway, but it was deftly shut down by noted Defensive Defenseman Erik Karlsson, with a bit of help from Mike Condon.
Ottawa took a two-nothing lead when Bobby Ryan tipped in a Freddy Claesson shot for his eleventh of the season. There’s no denying that Ryan’s been having an off year, but he’s definitely stepped up his game recently.
That assist was also Claesson’s second of the night, tying him in points with Mark Borowiecki. It’s at the point now where there are very few arguments for keeping Boro in the lineup, and Guy Boucher should seriously consider having Claesson replace him for good. He probably won’t, because leadership, but he should.
Considering that the Sens had only given up one goal in two games against the Capitals this season, it seemed inevitable that this game would end up being a high-scoring one. A two goal lead is, after all, the worst lead in hockey, and Washington is simply too good to be held to fewer than two goals three times in a row.
However, Ottawa continued their strong play in the second period, creating a few offensive chances and even managing to outshoot their opponents. Despite occasional defensive lapses, they successfully prevented Washington from scoring for another 20 minutes.
An Ottawa powerplay led to a goal from Zack Smith, in his first game since signing a new 4 year contract. Ryan Dzingel did most of the work, showing off his stickhandling skills before sending it to the front of the net for a Smith deflection.
Things were looking up as the Sens went into the third period up 3-0 over the number one team in the league.
There isn’t much to say about the third, except that #TheSystem continued to do its job as the Sens held on for the shutout win.
Was it perfect? No. Did Condon bail the team out a few times? Sure. Did they get some help from Washington’s backup goalie? Absolutely. But against the top team in the league, I’ll take it.
Sens Hero: Ryan Dzingel
He’s had a serious case of Erik Condra syndrome lately, but his speed and hands were both on full display in this game, as he set up the third goal and got a number of top-notch chances that he didn’t quite manage to bury.
He also played through the flu which, according to my calculations, makes him tougher than Mark Borowiecki.
Honourable Mention: Mike Condon
I was a bit worried about him after his mediocre performance against Columbus, but Condon bounced back with an excellent game against the Capitals. It’s incredible that he’s been able to play so well in so many consecutive games. He should get some rest in the coming week, though, as the team will get a few days off and Anderson is due to return soon.
Honourable Mention: Fredrik Claesson
I’ve been a fan of Freddy’s since his first game in Ottawa, and his play these last few games has only made me like him more. Not only is he steady and reliable in the defensive zone, he’s also started to show a bit of offensive flair.
Honourable Mention: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
The Sens’ entire bottom six really stepped up in Mike Hoffman’s absence. Pageau was especially noticeable, playing with his usual tenacity and even getting a few chances in the offensive zone, including a shorthanded breakaway.
It’s worth noting that Pageau also did a good job of distracting and shutting down Alex Ovechkin.