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Robin Lehner stands tall, Buffalo Sabres beat Ottawa Senators 3-2

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Roses are red, violets are blue, Sens fall to the Sabres, 3-2

NHL:  Buffalo Sabres at Ottawa Senators
The Sens were 3-0-2 against Robin Lehner coming into tonight.
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

In an extremely high-offense game for the Ottawa Senators, they couldn’t get past the brick wall Robin Lehner, who finished the night with 39 saves and a .951 SV%.

The Sens managed to get 50 unblocked shot attempts and 37 shots on goal at 5v5, which are both team highs on the season. Every Senator also managed to get a shot on goal, minus Chris Neil. The rapid firing still wasn’t enough, as the Buffalo Sabres took this game 3-2, for their 8th consecutive non-regulation loss against the Senators.

Chris Wideman was a game time scratch with a lower-body injury, with Fredrik Claesson filling in. Chris Neil also came into the lineup in place of Curtis Lazar, who we’ll talk a bit about later.


Summary

Faceoff, turnover, shot, goal. It was that quick for Ryan O’Reilly to open up the scoring 24 seconds in, on the first rush of the game. Okposo fed the pass to O’Reilly on his right, who wired a writer through Ceci and Phaneuf that beat Craig Anderson.

Ottawa responded immediately with a ton of clean chances around the circles, but couldn’t get one past Lehner, who had a .961 SV% in seven career games against the Sens since being traded. Dmitry Kulikov took a hooking penalty eight minutes in, and the Sens proceeded to have one of their best power plays of the season. Passes were connecting, the puck was always moving, and it would always end up on Mike Hoffman’s stick with a point blank chance. Maybe it was the Sabres’ lacklustre 29th ranked penalty kill that helped, but amassing seven shot attempts in a matter of two minutes is still very impressive.

After a plethora of chances, the Sens finally got on the scoreboard. Bobby Ryan scored his 12th goal of the season, his first in eight games, off a nice tip from an Erik Karlsson shot. It was a perfectly placed tip by Ryan, who was avoiding being knocked down by the Sabres defender. Although our expectations of Ryan have completely dropped, it’s worth noting that he’s now on pace for 19 goals on the season, or 21 over a full 82 games. Not to mention his Rel.xGF% has been steadily improving as well.

The Sens’ penalty kill came up large once again during a Mark Stone minor, shutting down the Sabres’ league-leading power play to zero shots on goal. Forgetting the first 30 seconds, the Ottawa Senators were looking really good against their divisional opponent.

The second period was a lot slower for the Sens, only registering a single shot on goal in the first half. Ottawa’s PK unit stood tall for a second time, keeping scoring chances at a minimum.

20 minutes after Ryan’s goal, the game was still locked even 1-1. The tie had to be broken eventually, and it was Dion Phaneuf who scored off an excellent rush coming from the other end. Dion picked up the puck in the Sens’ defensive zone, proceeded to plough through multiple players in white, and dropped the puck for Bobby Ryan who fired the shot onto Lehner. Phaneuf kept driving to the net, and found the rebound which found the back of the net. Dion Phaneuf from Bobby Ryan, a $14 million goal, and it put the Sens up 2-1.

If the offense hadn’t already running strong for Ottawa at that point, they took the final minute and a half and turned it up to 11. The pressure came from Pageau, Hoffman and Brassard, who could’ve scored an extra 2-3 goals had some bounces gone their way. Shot attempts were 10-0 in that span, pushing the period’s SOG total to double that of the Sabres’ (14-7) heading into the locker room.

The momentum would stop there, however, as 59 seconds into the third, Sam Reinhart would try to jam a shot by Anderson, which would fly in the air and bounce past the goal line. Matt Moulson would get credit for the goal as his stick nudged the puck as it was traveling in, although it would still be Reinhart’s fifth point in his last five games.

After a bit of back-and-forth hockey, Sabres rookie Justin Bailey would give Buffalo the 3-2 lead, with a high tip in front. Phaneuf and Ceci guarding the front of the net were rendered useless, as Bailey was somehow able to keep him body free to make the tip.

More offensive push from Ottawa and Craig Anderson being pulled in the final minute would lead to nothing, as Lehner continued to stand on his head and prevent Ottawa from getting the tying goal. The clock ticked down to zero, with the Sabres taking the full two points. Fun fact: Buffalo has now alternated wins and losses for eight consecutive games, dating back to January 31st.

Sens Hero: Bobby Ryan

After being seemingly invisible in recent games, Bobby Ryan was all but that, registering six shots on goal as well as seven hits. The last time Ryan had that many shots was on January 4th 2016, when he scored two goals and added an assist against the St. Louis Blues. Hits seven hits also ties a career single-game high for Ryan, throwing seven hits once with Anaheim back in 2011. Another fun fact: Bobby Ryan leads the Sens in first goals of the game with six, tied with Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin.

Honourable Mention: Mike Hoffman

The Hoff was by far the Sens’ most lethal player for pure offense, registering seven shots on goal and getting looks left and right on the power play. Halfway through the game Hoffman’s CF% was still at 100%, with 10 shot attempts for before registering the first one against.

Honourable Mention: Fredrik Claesson

What more does he have to do to stay in the lineup? The Sens’ record holder for hardest shot didn’t hold back tonight, adding an assist in the process. He got a minute of power play time, which is a good sign.

Sens Zero: Phaneuf-Ceci

Guy Boucher’s love affair with the second pairing continued on Valentine’s Day, giving them almost as much ice time at 5v5 as Karlsson and Methot. Although Phaneuf had that nice rush play to put the Sens up 2-1, there were many times, especially in the second period, where a Sabres forward would freely dance towards the net past one of the two and get a scoring chance.

Honourable Mention: Curtis Lazar

Lazar was a healthy scratch tonight, and word is going around right now that he’s planning on requesting a trade. I always think back to how he was playing in 2014-15 with Pageau and Condra, the best third line in the league at the time. It’s been only downhill for Lazar since then, and has been given ample opportunity to prove himself. His recent healthy scratches show that management is finally moving on from him, and for good reason. Every day it seems the odds of him being traded just keep increasing.

Don’t get me wrong, I really hope Lazar can turn it around in Ottawa and be a steady contributor, but it appears as if the end of the line is near.

Sens Killer: Robin Lehner

Because of course he was outstanding.

Hey, at least Colin White scored two points last night!

(Edit) Third Sens Zero: Hockey is for Everyone night

After checking online this morning, all I'm hearing is that Hockey is for Everyone night was a complete failure. It was first off a poor organizational decision to place it on Valentine's Day, where they could easily divert marketing elsewhere. Then it was also a poor move to proceed to almost completely ignore it.

Inclusion in hockey is definitely an issue that needs to be thoroughly addressed, and last night's attempt at a You Can Play night exposed the core of the Sens' and most of the NHL's position: they just don't care.

What I'm hearing from those who attended the game was that there was a video at intermission focusing on inclusion of the disabled, which went unnoticed by many who were busy getting their intermission popcorn. There was no interview afterwards for Dion Phaneuf (the Sens' You Can Play ambassador), which is especially confusing since he also scored a goal. It was a huge fail for the organization, one that shouldn't go by without notice.

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