As you may have heard, several of the Ottawa Senators’ key players missed tonight’s tilt against the New Jersey Devils due to injury. Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, and Mike Hoffman were all unable to suit up for the visitors. Chris Neil returned to the line-up, and Casey Bailey and Max McCormick were recalled to bolster the fourth line. On the TSN broadcast they flashed a graphic showing that of the six forwards projected to be on Ottawa’s top two lines at the start of the year, only two were available tonight. In short: for the Sens to win, someone would need to step up. Someone like say, oh, maybe Craig Anderson? Or perhaps Erik Karlsson? What about Kyle Turris?
The first period mostly consisted of the type of uneventful, neutral zone-heavy game we’ve come to expect from a match-up between these two squads. Truthfully, low-event hockey was probably exactly what Ottawa was aiming for considering their lack of offensive firepower on the evening. It was just over eight minutes into the game before the Devils even had their first shot, but by the end of the frame the shots were 10 a piece and Craig Anderson had made a couple of five star saves. This would be a recurring theme throughout the evening.
Less than a minute into the second, Kyle Turris broke the scoreless tie off a beauty of a feed from Ryan Dzingel. The goal wouldn’t have been possible, however, had it not been for Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s strong work to retrieve a loose puck and find Dzingel in the first place. Pageau hasn’t been as productive offensively this season as last, but he’s quietly on pace for 30 points despite a heavy defensive deployment.
The rest of the second frame was a lot of Craig Anderson and the occasional chance from the Turris line. The Sens were never going to generate much offensively without their best wingers, but whenever Turris was on the ice they were at least a threat. After two, the shots were 20-19 in favour of the Devils and the score was still 1-0.
Ottawa was 19-2-1 when leading after two periods before tonight’s game, but you got the feeling that protecting this lead might be particularly white-knuckled. Thankfully, Karlsson found the back of the net on a beauty of a shot shortly after New Jersey took a Too Many Men penalty. My mere words won’t do the shot justice:
Besides the goal, Karlsson was a force to be reckoned with on this evening. He made several sharp defensive plays, and the Sens won the 5v5 shot attempt battle 21-17 when he was on the ice tonight. To put that in context, attempts were 47-13 for the Devils when was not.
After Karlsson’s goal, the Sens went into a shell the likes of which we hadn’t seen in weeks. It’s been a trademark of Guy Boucher’s teams to sit back on leads in the third, mostly successfully, but tonight it felt like they didn’t have any choice. Without any of their top wingers to drive sustained offensive pressure, the third period was one long chip it out and change. A Travis Zajac power-play goal, made things even more uncomfortable down the stretch but Anderson was up to the task and the Devils couldn’t find the equalizer despite nearly ten minutes of almost uninterrupted pressure.
The importance of how a team wins a game has been the source of heated debate in the hockey world for the last 15 years or so. The introduction of shot metrics such as Corsi and Expected Goals (xG) have driven these discussions. Mostly I side with the numbers: a “good” win is better than a “bad” win. Tonight, though, given the Senators’ situation, you’ll take the win and run. Tonight, two points is two points.
Sens Honourable Mention: Kyle Turris
Turris scored the opening goal and generated a substantial amount of the team’s offense. Turris was without his usual complement of scoring wingers, but he made it work nonetheless.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
For Ottawa to win tonight, we all knew Anderson would have to be excellent. He was just that.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
Sometimes there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the captain’s play, but tonight really was one of his performances of the season considering the circumstances.