Maybe the New York Rangers brought back some of the 2016-17 magic, but the Ottawa Senators played an eerily similar style of play as they did when the defeated the Rangers in six games back in May. Once again, they were victorious.
In the team’s last 17 (!) games, spanning the months of November and December, they gave up less than three goals only thrice. A 3-1 win vs. the Red Wings on November 2nd, a 2-1 loss vs. the Isles in their last home game before heading on their road trip, and a 2-1 loss on November 29th in Montreal. Tonight, they kept the Rangers to 28 shots, 50 shot attempts, and Craig Anderson made 26 saves.
Of course, the offence showed up as well. In the 13 games post-Sweden, the Senators had only scored three goals twice — both times picking up their only points since they entered this decline (Dec. 1 win vs. the Isles; OTL vs. the Kings).
The signs that today might just be the day appeared early. For one, Craig Anderson made a great sequence of stops on a re-direct right in front of him from JT Miller after Miller threw the puck low-to-high and snuck out in front for the tip. On the same shift, Kevin Shattenkirk ended up with the puck in the defensive zone, and in an attempt to transition, threw the puck across the neutral zone onto the waiting stick of Mark Stone. Stone entered the zone on the right side, and found Bobby Ryan, who one-timed the puck past Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead four-and-a-half minutes in.
Let’s repeat that: Anderson made a stop on a high danger scoring chance, and the Senators (your Senators!) scored on the same shift, with Bobby Ryan shooting (!!!!!!).
Ottawa kept on applying pressure early, with Erik Karlsson showcasing his usual wizardry in the offensive zone by drawing players into his orbit and finding his defence partner (one on occasion, Johnny Oduya; on another, Thomas Chabot) for two point shots with traffic in front of Lundqvist.
And although Karlsson ended up on the ice for both Rangers goals, he made a number of wonderful defensive plays in the third period with his speed (coming back to pressure Kevin Hayes, who thought he had a breakaway; it ended up with no shot on goal) and active stick (on Rick Nash, who maneuvered his way around a scrambling Zack Smith on defence).
The first Rangers goal came around five minutes into the second, with Mats Zuccarello dishing a sweet backdoor pass on the rush to a streaking Michael Grabner. Grabner, one of the only players in the league who has straight-ahead speed that can worry Erik Karlsson, was faster than the Sens defender on this occasion, and due to Karlsson’s inability to tie the Austrian up, it was an easy tap in with no chance for Anderson.
The Rangers then started to carry the play a bit, and I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me on edge due to the tendency for the rattled Senators to give up two goals in succession. However, their luck — and the tide of play — started to turn with a wonderful shift from Mike Hoffman. On one particular shift, Hoffman attacked the puck with tenacity, won two puck battles, and carried both pucks to the net, forcing Lundqvist to make two awkward stops.
A couple shifts later, and the Sens re-take the lead. Bobby Ryan and Matt Duchene entered the neutral zone after turning the puck over from Kevin Hayes and Brendan Smith, who end up crossed up in coverage. Ryan storms the front of the net and Duchene draws three Rangers defenders to him before curling back and spotting Cody Ceci sneaking in from the point. Ceci receives the puck and pots it high on Lundqvist with a sharp wrist shot to score in his second straight game with five minutes to play in the second period.
Again, I’ve seen Duchene and Ceci get their (well-deserved) credit on the play, but without Bobby Ryan’s net drive, I don’t think three Rangers defenders are stuck committing — which eventually left Ceci open for the open shot.
As the team entered the third period with the lead for the first time in nearly a month, it didn’t take long for Ottawa to double it. Eight seconds, in fact. Off the starting faceoff, Tom Pyatt won a puck battle and quickly started in on the forecheck. He then popped the puck in front to Zack Smith, who hustled to the front of the net, and potted the rebound past Lundqvist to give the Sens a 3-1 lead.
Again, instead of sitting back like they did earlier in the season (remember those days?), the Senators continued to push. Mark Stone and Johnny Oduya almost made it 4-1 with wonderful chances that were turned away by Lundqvist. Later in the period, the line of Ryan - Duchene - Stone, which looked great all night despite having team low CF% numbers around 40%, had some great offensive zone pressure that ate at the clock.
The Rangers did end up responding shortly after, with Chris Kreider stepping around Oduya à la Pouliot on Phaneuf from last night and passing the puck cross-ice to a driving Pavel Buchnevich (akin to Grabner on the first goal), who made no mistake in scoring his 11th of the season.
But really, other than that chance and two other notable ones (again, Grabner and Buchnevich), the Rangers didn’t generate much in terms of high-danger scoring chances. Instead, the Senators looked effective in breaking up the Rangers zone exits, and defended their blueline with a 1-4 formation for much of the final 10 minutes of the period (which you can see on the heat map as the game basically came to a standstill). The Rangers didn’t even get to pull Lundqivst until there was little over a minute remaining, and then, were unable to set up in the zone thanks to some quick decision-making from Erik Karlsson on zone exits.
As the final horn sounded, Guy Boucher looked happier than he did when the Sens won two playoff series in the spring — owing to the increased pressure put on him and the team given their performance over the last month and the increased expectations that the group had coming into the season. With one monkey off their back, the team turns their attention to Montreal and the NHL100 Classic at Landsdowne Park on Saturday night.
Other notable happenings:
- The final surprise of the game — the icing on the cake, if you will — was that the Senators penalty kill was perfect tonight on the lone Rangers powerplay. Don’t get me wrong: the Rangers looked dangerous and by my count, had the puck in the Sens zone for 1:50 of the two-minute Zack Smith minor penalty in the first period, but it didn’t lead to a goal against. Again, a small difference in result that led to the desired outcome tonight.
- The Senators powerplay continued to struggle on their two attempts — which bookended the first and second period — but it didn’t look like their porous play carried over to their 5-on-5 offence. To me, it looked like the team had the right personnel on the ice (which isn’t always the case!), anchored by Karlsson on PP1 and Chabot on PP2, but were unable to set-up in the offensive zone thanks to a poor puck retrieval strategy. The Rangers broke out a couple of times (Grabner and Zuccarello especially) for shorthanded chances, but were denied.
- Bobby Ryan, who had two points on the night and drew one of the two Sens powerplays, looked great. He could’ve had another point in the third after he made a nice poke in the defensive zone to go on a 2-on-1 but missed Stone with the pass. In addition to the goal, he also had his hardest shot of the season on another 2-on-1, this time with Matt Duchene with two minutes left in the third, but was stopped by Lundqvist’s outstretched blocker.
- Derick Brassard and Ryan Dzingel, who often lined up together, led the Sens in shot attempts.
- Although he only played three shifts in the third period and played only 10 minutes, Thomas Chabot had top shot metrics among Sens defenders with a 62.70% on the night. In the first period, he had this great sequence (below) that nearly led to a Mark Stone goal. There’s Chabot’s full package: an active stick defensively, quick decisions that led to a transition from defence to offence, and the ability to jump into the rush and put a hard, accurate shot on net for a scoring chance.
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick
Heat Map via Natural Stat Trick