Sometimes, when it’s not your night, it’s just not your night. The Ottawa Senators entered tonight’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres coming off a strong performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning and with their eyes set on the Montreal Canadiens at the top of the division. By the time the game was over, there were a lot more questions than answers to be found.
It’s not that Ottawa played a terrible game per se, the 4-0 score line certainly flattered the Sabres, but they weren’t as sharp as on Thursday night; you’d be hard pressed to name a single player who had a good game.
The first period started well enough for the Sens, with sustained pressure on the opening shit from the Derick Brassard, Zack Smith and Mark Stone lines. Guy Boucher has been starting periods with the trio for the past couple of weeks in lieu of the Pageau group, and though it’s a small thing it’s a good thing.
However, after that initial burst Buffalo had the better of the play for the most of the rest of the period. Jack Eichel’s line, and Eichel himself in the particular, were especially dangerous for the Sabres. Maybe it’s because he missed the start of this year owing to injury, but Eichel has been the forgotten man amidst the endless Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid hype. Tonight was a reminder that, yes, Jack Eichel is very, very good.
Midway through the first, Kyle Okposo would pot his 16th of the season on a sensational individual effort. Marc Methot was no match for Okposo coming off the sideboards and no other Senator could help before Okposo was able to walk in and bury a backhand over Mike Condon.
After that, besides a failed powerplay at the end of the frame there were few chances either way. The shots were 10-8 Sabres in all situations; shot attempts where 15-14 in favour of Buffalo at 5v5.
At the start of the second period, Greg Millen remarked that he expected Guy Boucher would have given his team a tongue lashing in the hopes of motivating them. Whether or not Boucher lit into his team isn’t known, but he did open the frame by jumbling his lines. Most notably, Tommy Wingels spent most of the first part of the frame alongside Brassard and Stone. Though it didn’t produce the goal they were looking for, Ottawa was clearly the better team; Buffalo rarely exited their own end for an almost five minute stretch. As it so often goes though, when the Sens were unable to capitalize on their pressure it was the Sabres who found the net and extended their lead. Ryan O’Reilly tipped a Ristolainen wrister past a helpless Mike Condon. There was a lot of game to play, but after Robin Lehner robbed Mike Hoffman late in the period on a 2-on-1 break the Sens never really pressed again.
The third period saw the Sabres put two more shots past Condon for a 4-0 lead they would hold on to until the final buzzer. The only intrigue then was Boucher’s choice to pull Condon after the fourth goal, meaning Andrew Hammond saw his first action in months. As Condon has flagged fairly dramatically in the last three weeks, the question of when Hammond might draw on has become ever pressing. Craig Anderson is supposedly still a couple of weeks away; if this game is remembered for anything, it might for ending Condon’s run of consecutive appearances.
Honourable Mention: No heroes tonight, but I thought Brassard deserves some praise for his play in tonight’s game.
Sens Killer: Jack Eichel had two assists and created several more dangerous chances throughout the night. He was the player on the ice for either team by a wide margin.
Sens Killer: Robin Lehner was the busier of the goalies tonight, and when called upon he was equal to the task. His glove save on Mike Hoffman to preserve a two goal lead late in the second was a crucial moment in deciding this game.