When the game started, the Senators seemed to have just a little more jump than the Canadiens. It was the most energy I’ve seen the team have in a while. What was even more impressive though was that they kept it up for the whole game, with the Canadiens looking like they’d rather have been anywhere else. After all the frustration with the Sens recently, it was nice to see them perform so well on the NHL’s biggest stage. Carey Price nearly stole the victory, but the Sens came away with a hard-earned 3-0 victory in an outdoor game.
The first period was most of what I’d hoped for as a Senators fan. It was a little sloppy, considering the outdoor rink, but not awful. The players still seemed able to get some acceleration. The Sens clearly had a game plan of getting in tight on Carey Price, and they repeatedly succeeded, edging that line of contact without there being a penalty. The Sens outshot the Habs to the tune of 15-8, and earned the only penalty of the first period.
Three defencemen in particular stood out to me. Erik Karlsson looked very comfortable, breaking up rushes, intercepting pucks, and leading the rush. Thomas Chabot made a couple great plays in his limited (3:19!!) time on ice. Cody Ceci looked scared to make a forward pass from his own zone, which is something I’ve been noticing recently. His defensive zone moves seem limited to a) D-to-D pass, b) D-to-D pass but off the boards behind his net, or c) out off the glass. It could just be confirmation bias though. Thankfully, the first was the only period in which I had to dig deep to find something to talk about due to lack of goals.
The second period started off kind of how the first ended off. Ottawa got an early powerplay again (Philip Danault hit Zack Smith in the head with his stick), and got several loose-puck chances in front of Price. Unfortunately for Ottawa, Price was having one of his great games where he tracks the puck wherever it goes. He made several in-close, scrambly saves.
Thankfully, we were spared the thought of the Price earning a shutout in a game in which Ottawa actually played well. Off a lost faceoff with just over four minutes left in the second, the Sens recovered the puck. Karlsson threw a great slap-pass into the middle of the ice, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped it over Price’s shoulder, after which he proceeded to do his best Mark Stone impression:
The follow-up shift was the first time all game that the Habs got any kind of sustained offensive zone pressure, but the Sens were able to hold them off, thanks in part to a couple great blocks by Karlsson. Not long after that, Bobby Ryan and Matt Duchene got in on a 2-on-1. Ryan made the great pass to Duchene who took the perfect shot, but Price made an unbelievable save to keep things 1-0 as the period expired.
It was nice to see the Sens come out firing to start the third. They once again took four shots before the Habs even got one. They once again drew the first penalty of the period. The Habs got a powerplay finally as a make-up call against Thomas Chabot for “holding” in the midst of a four-player scrum along the boards, but the Sens PKers were great. Something I haven’t been able to say much recently. The Habs got a couple more good chances on bouncing pucks in front, with one hopping over Max Pacioretty’s stick, and one having Craig Anderson bat it out of the air. Those were the first Canadiens chances within 15 feet of Andy, so it would’ve been super disappointing if one had gone in.
After that, the Sens’ plan seemed to be to keep possession, get the puck in deep, force Montreal to dump it in, and then recover the puck. It worked incredibly well. Then with just under three minutes left, Bobby Ryan did something I haven’t seen him do in a couple years:
For the video impaired, he got in on the forecheck, took the puck from Jonathan Drouin, put himself in alone on a breakaway, deked Price completely, and then roofed it. It was a beautiful solo effort goal, and possible proof that at least Bobby’s finger isn’t bothering him anymore.
This forced the Habs to pull their goalie, but the closest they came was a Pacioretty shot deflecting off Andy’s glove and then the outside of the post. The Sens forced them out time and time again, and then finally Mark Stone (who else?) intercepted the puck at his own blue line, hit Nate Thompson with a pass, and Thompson scored into the empty net. That ended a 17-game goalless drought for Thompson, and moved him up to four on the season, making it even more likely he’ll outscore Jaromir Jagr this season. The Sens won the NHL Centennial Classic 3-0 and it wasn’t even particularly close.
- I have the frequency with which the “Erik Karlsson is back” takes happen, but folks, I think Erik Karlsson is back. He played 32:55, was a force with the puck, took seven shots on goal, blocked eight shots in his own end, set up the game-winning goal, and seemed to be having a blast on the bench. The Sens are at their best when Karlsson is doing everything, playing half the game, and having fun, and he did all those things tonight.
- Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan looked really dangerous tonight, especially together. I was thinking about how good Bobby looked even before his goal, and that sealed it for me. Maybe this whole chemistry thing can actually work.
- The Smith-Pageau-Pyatt line was actually a great checking line. All three seem defensively sound, they seem on the same page, and Smith/Pageau actually provide a good counter-attack scoring punch. I’d like to see Boucher roll with this group more so that the top six have offence, but the bottom six aren’t hung out to dry.
- Craig Anderson earned the Sens’ first shutout since October 13th against the Flames. He looked calm and collected, especially considering it was freezing and he didn’t face any high-danger chances until the third period. He’s at his best when he’s playing more on his feet and making saves even when they don’t look pretty, and that’s what he was doing tonight. He’s a throwback in a league in which most goalies default to the butterfly, so I know he’s confident when he’s making saves on his feet.
- Carey Price nearly stole one for his team. He was nearly perfect, with only two perfect chances beating him. He looked like the only Canadien with any intention of winning tonight.
- This whole Sens team. They were just great. The Sens outshot them 38-28, got nearly all of the pressure and in-tight chances, drew three penalties and only took one, had the much better PP and PK... Everything was great. Even faceoffs were 71% in Ottawa’s favour. It was nice to see a game in which I thought, “The Sens might actually win this” for the first time in what feels like forever.
- For some reason NHL GameCentre only had two ads tonight. For some reason, the ad for Amazon Grand Tour played at least twice per commercial break. I saw it more than 30 times tonight. I don’t think I’ve heard the wild breakdown of Live and Let Die so many times in my life before tonight.