Winless post All-Star Game - albeit only one game played - the Senators were looking to start a new streak. A mediocre 1-1-2 in their previous four games, the team hadn’t looked like the solid, structured, tight-knit group that made their way through Deathcember and a difficult January schedule with ease.
February brought with it a new string of opponents. 12 of the Senators’ next 13 matchups were against non-playoff teams. The only question was had the team prepared properly for the month.
For a while now, the Senators have had no problem getting up for the big games, the rivalries and the must-win situations. But it’s been an entirely different story with the lay-ups, so to speak.
For whatever reason, Ottawa has made it harder on themselves in matchups against bottom-half teams by failing to bring with them a high compete level and attention to detail. Plain and simple, sometimes they just look flat-out uninterested.
There were many burning questions going into Thursday night’s contest. Would Condon rebound after a beatdown in Sunrise? How would Curtis Lazar and Mark Borowiecki fare in their first game back from being healthy scratches?
But the biggest one was more of an overall look. Could the Senators play against the Lightning the way they’ve played against the Canadiens, Capitals and Blue Jackets (amongst others)?
The first period began with a good push from the away team. At one point, Ottawa led 5-0 in the shot category.
Ryan Dzingel rang one off the post, the Senators’ penalty kill, which had turned away 12 straight, was perfect again after Derick Brassard went off for holding, and Mike Condon made a solid save in tight.
No goals to report, but a rather decent 20 minutes from Ottawa, who led in shots 7-5 at the buzzer.
The second frame would prove to be much more entertaining.
Seconds in, it was nearly deja vu for Condon as he misplayed the puck behind the net and lost it to a Lightning forward. But this time, he would recover, kicking out the puck on the goal line after it had taken a deflection off Brassard’s skate.
He couldn’t keep the next scoring chance out, though. Lazar was pickpocketed in his own end, which resulted in Tyler Johnson scoring his 16th of the year past a sprawling Condon.
But as they did in Sunrise, when the Senators got down, they quickly got it right back.
Just as TSN play-by-play commentator Chris Cuthbert was bringing up Zack Smith’s four-game point streak, the 28-year-old made it five. Behind the net, Smith found Mark Stone, who was busting in from the blue line. Stone’s 17th (tied for the team lead with Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris) knotted this one at one.
Stone wouldn’t be tied with Turris long.
On a nothing play, Erik Karlsson was rather dangerously taken down by Braydon Coburn away from the puck, giving the Senators their second power play of the night.
Karlsson would feed Turris with some free ice in front of him and the 27-year-old would bury it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
A few minutes later, Ottawa would find themselves on the man advantage again, and after Vasilevskiy stopped Turris in tight, Karlsson rang one off the crossbar. It felt like the fifth one the captain had dented in the past few weeks.
At the other end, Condon was solid. Making his franchise record 26th consecutive start, he fought back after allowing the first goal with a couple impressive saves off a deflection from the point and one-timer on the penalty kill.
Ottawa would end the period leading 20-14 in shots.
Turris would soon have company once again at the top of the team lead in goals. (There’s another one of these coming, by the way)
On another power play, Stone stripped the puck - drink - from a Lightning forward and busted up the middle. He would drop it back to Turris, who found Hoffman waiting at the point ready to rip home his 18th of the year.
Hoffman had been trending up, as of late.
10 games ago, Mike Hoffman had 10 goals on the season. He's now got 18 and tied for the team lead. On. A. Tear.— Callum Fraser (@CallumFraser18) February 3, 2017
After the Lightning would get within one off a beautiful tip by Brayden Point, the Senators would extend their lead once more.
Stone must’ve felt left out of all the fun, so he decided to again join Turris and Hoffman at the top.
Erik Karlsson fired a shot wide of the net, but Stone perfectly redirected it past the glove of Vasilevskiy for his 18th of the year.
A nice way to end a solid team performance, Chris Kelly fired home his fourth of the year into the empty net in his 800th career game.
Now, don’t we all feel better after that?
Sens Hero: Special Teams
The Senators went 2-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. In all honesty, they’ve could’ve popped a couple more on the man advantage with the chances they generated, but all around a great display from their top-10 PK and up-and-down PP.
Sens Hero: Mark Stone
Has anyone heard a peep from the mainstream media about Stone for Selke? Anyone? Yeah, me neither. It’s a damn shame, too, because the 2016-17 campaign is turning into maybe Stone’s best yet. By far the most consistent on the team and maybe the best overall two-way player, Stone has the resume for the trophy, but it all depends on if he’s going to get the recognition.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Speaking of consistency. The Senators are worlds better with Turris in the lineup, that’s no secret, but it’s proving to be nearly black and white with the team’s No. 1 centre back after he missed a third of last season with a leg injury. With 18 goals on the year, Turris is on pace for a new career high.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
It was a fun night. Here’s a recap of Karlsson’s play.
Karlsson goes for a leisurely skate pic.twitter.com/evPJPRZ5wK— nope (@myregularface) February 3, 2017