There’s no scientific backing to this, but it often feels like strange things happen to the Ottawa Senators in Saturday afternoon games. The puck bounces the wrong way a couple more times, the star players just aren’t quite themselves. I’m sad to report that this afternoon was, again, one of those strange Saturday afternoon games.
The first good chance for either side came early when Derick Brassard tipped a Mark Stone turn around slapper from right in front of Antti Raanta, who played the chance well by pushing to the very top of his crease. For most of the rest of the first, both teams seemed mostly content to sit back and wait out the other’s mistakes at 5v5; this one had every bit the feel of a sleepy Saturday afternoon game.
As has so often been the case recently, however, Stone gave the team the jolt it needed with a late goal. You have to love Stone’s patience with the puck, but Pyatt really makes the play with a beautiful stretch pass:
The lead wouldn’t last for long, however, as Anthony Duclair collected the puck behind the Sens defense after Jean-Gabriel Pageau had his stick explode on a one-timer, and Duclair buried the Coyotes’ only real good chance of the first period. To add insult to injury, Duclair was only able to get to the puck after Karlsson knocked it out of the air, but not enough to control it himself. Yes, the goal felt like one of those strange things that happen so often in Saturday afternoon games.
After one period, it was Sens 1, weird Saturday afternoon goals 1.
How weird did things get this afternoon? Mark Borowiecki set his career in high goals after some sustained pressure from the Sens, just 1:48 into the second frame.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled, digital and otherwise, debating the merits of Borowiecki and I won’t re-hash that debate here but it’s fair to say that he’s having a much better start to this year. It would still be a surprise if he added anything meaningful to the offense, but the Sens aren’t completely underwater when he’s been on the ice this year: that’s progress.
The rest of the second period continued much as the majority of the first: slow, tentative play from both sides at 5v5 with Ottawa being the better of the two teams but not by such a meaningful margin that you could ever get comfortable.
The Sens’ best chances at 5v5 were virtually all generated by the Matt Duchene - Ryan Dzingel - Bobby Ryan line that Boucher reunited after some initial success in the first period of Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh. Otherwise, the Sens were dependent on their power play to generate opportunities, and they did get several kicks at the can towards the end of the second period. First, Stone drew a tripping penalty on Jason Demers with his dogged pursuit of a loose puck on the forecheck and then the Coyotes were penalized for Too Many Men on the ice with just less than two minutes remaining. Alas, the Sens couldn’t break through to give themselves the breathing room they so desperately needed. Mike Hoffman had the best chances of the bunch, with two golden opportunities from the slot as time expired, but he couldn’t bulge the twine.
In the third, the Sens looked dangerous when the Duchene line was on the ice but otherwise kind of blah. The TSN commentators noted that as long as the Sens let the Coyotes hang around within one goal they were asking for trouble in the form of a lucky bounce. Midway through the frame, the weird Saturday afternoon vibe came back to haunt the Sens with this perfectly weird goal from Duclair, his second of the game:
There’s a lot of different things that Mike Condon could have done in that situation, but coming out and missing the puck completely is maybe the only one that guaranteed a goal against. Condon hasn’t been awful this year, but he’s allowed a couple real head scratchers. It’s way too early to panic about Ottawa’s porous goaltending, but Condon hasn’t exactly taken the opportunity to make Craig Anderson’s shaky play into a goaltending controversy.
For the last half of the third, Ottawa pressed harder than they had since the Borowiecki goal but Raanta stood tall when called upon. Boucher leaned heavily on the Duchene line, and re-united Hoffman with Stone and Brassard to lead the attack. In fact, with less than two minutes to go Hoffman created a glorious chance for Ceci that forced the Coyotes into a penalty and an opportunity for the Sens to win the game on the power play.
But, dear reader, as you know weird Saturday afternoon games don’t end in conventional fashion for the hometown heroes. The Sens couldn’t break the deadlock in regulation, or in the remaining thirty seconds of overtime, and not long after getting back to even strength Duclair completed the hat trick to win the game for the Coyotes and fulfill the weird game prophecy. Although not quite as bad as the second goal, this was another one that I’m sure Condon would like back.
Was Ottawa the better team on this afternoon? Yes, but not by so much that they could afford some weak goalie play and some bad bounces against. It’s less than a quarter of the way into the year, but a missed point is a missed point. This one stung a bit.
Matt Duchene didn’t break through for his first point as a Senator but he was probably the best Ottawa forward on the ice thisd afternoon. His combination of speed, puck skills in tight quarters, and general willingness to drive to the net have made him dangerous virtually every time he’s on the ice.
Ryan Dzingel has looked fantastic in his time with Duchene; the Sens out-attempted the opposition 19-8 with Dzingel on the ice this afternoon and that probably undersells how good Ottawa looked in that time.
Mike Condon wasn’t good today. Not much else to say about that.
Anthony Duclair was the beneficiary of a couple of gifts but he made them count. When you score a hat trick in the NHL, you get a shout-out in the recap.