During the midst of an abundance of trade talk and movement throughout the entire league, the Ottawa Senators had an opportunity to move into first place in the Atlantic Division with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Montreal Canadiens had held the top spot in the division since the first game of the 2016-17 campaign. While Carey Price is struggling to find his game and the rest of the team attempts to find their way with a brand new head coach in Claude Julien, the Senators were in a prime position to take advantage of their rival’s misfortune.
With a two-day rest and playing a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, it was promising that Ottawa could turn in a better performance in Raleigh.
The first 20 minutes disagreed, though.
Early on, Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf showed why the pair is a combined minus-16 on the year with a horrifying shift in the defensive zone. Ceci got bodied by Jordan Staal, who then easily made his way past Phaneuf for a brutal wraparound goal on Craig Anderson.
The good news? Anderson was phenomenal for the rest of the period. The bad news? He absolutely had to be or else this game would’ve been more out of reach than a playoff spot for the Colorado Avalanche.
It was painfully obvious the team had lost their identity with the loss of Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman or Bobby Ryan (understandably so). After getting slapped around by the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night only to come away with a miraculous regulation win, the Senators looked to be in for another game they’d have to hope for a couple of lucky breaks to garner a point from.
At the end of the first frame, the Hurricanes led in shot attempts 34-13 and shots 19-7.
The Senators set out on a mission in the second period: to get more than three scoring chances.
After Zack Smith took a tripping penalty, ending what felt like the silent treatment from the referees through 28 minutes of play and numerous missed calls, Tom Pyatt made his was past two Hurricanes defenders and was in all alone on Eddie Lack. Pyatt deked to the left and attempted to slide it past the goaltender’s toe, but Lack proved to be just a tad too flexible.
The Senators would push the play a lot more after the intermission, but that didn’t stop Carolina from extending their lead. Twice.
Canes forward Elias Lindholm took advantage of a dazed and confused Curtis Lazar when he found himself completely unmarked at the bottom of the right circle. Di Giuseppe (fantastic hockey name) quickly threw a pass across the crease and Anderson had no chance at the following one-timer.
In the final minute, the home team would strike again. After a failed clearing attempt that hit off Marc Methot’s shin pad, the Hurricanes put together a swift counter attack. A trailing Viktor Stalberg pounced on a ricochet off Erik Karlsson and fired home the rebound into a wide open cage.
Ottawa went back to the dressing room down 3-0 and searching for a way to create some consistent offensive pressure.
The Senators would get their opportunities in the final frame. Twice they were awarded a power play, but twice it was the Hurricane’s league leading penalty kill that came out on top.
Ottawa failed to take advantage of a team that is an outright seller as the trade deadline approaches and were extremely unsuccessful against a goaltender with a save percentage of 85.6. Lack walked away with only his second win of the season, his last one coming on October 20, 2016.
If you’re a Senators fan, that wasn’t fun to watch.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
41 saves on a night where there weren’t many moments of sustained offensive zone pressure for the visiting team made for quite the busy night for Anderson. The 35-year-old may not have had the chance to be a game changer in this one, but it very likely could’ve been 6-0 or 7-0 without the Senators’ No. 1 in net.
Sens Zero: Curtis Lazar
Oh, Curtis. Here’s a guy the entirety of the fanbase sincerely hopes gets his game back on track. Sitting at a single point on the season, he hasn’t done much to make the coaching staff believe he can handle anything higher than 9 minutes a night. It’s hard to believe Senators general manager Pierre Dorion wouldn’t take a second or a third-round pick in exchange for the 22-year-old once the pressure of March 1 begins creeping in on deadline day. Lazar’s value is sinking with every game he fails to make his way on the scoresheet.
Sens Killer: Hurricanes Forward Corps
Carolina completely toyed with Ottawa during the first period. The Canes’ forward group showed an outstanding combination of skill and chemistry. They refused to allow the Senators to break out and when they rarely were pushed back to the neutral zone or defensive end, it was an all around effort to retrieve the puck and begin another attack. Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal and Elias Lidholm, among others, represent a darn decent forward corps in Carolina. Definitely one of the reasons analysts and odds makers continue to label them as a legitimate playoff contender. It might be a little too late for the Canes, but they’ve shown a lot of good things the past month-or-so.