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Max Lajoie Scores First NHL Goal, Ottawa Senators Lose to Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Overtime

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The rookies were the highlights as the Sens tumbled near the end.

Chicago Blackhawks v Ottawa Senators
Scenes from the bench after Lajoie scored his first NHL goal.
Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Home opener! Season opener! It’s been a long wait for hockey to begin again, and given the way the past few months have descended, those months ended up feeling like an eternity. I won’t go over any more season projections, because we all know where the Sens are expected to finish. But despite the loss, tonight’s game gave Sens fans a few moments of joy in which to revel. That’s what hockey’s really about, right?

*A tear falls at the thought of Karlsson in a Sharks jersey*

RIGHT?

The Sens’ game against the Blackhawks was a showdown of two teams who are desperately trying to turn things around after a disappointing 2017-18 season. Ultimately, a high-scoring game was the result, with the Blackhawks winning it 4-3 in overtime.

Both teams came out fiery in the beginning, with high danger chances exchanged at both ends. Craig Anderson and Cam Ward were the starting goalies at either end, and considering neither had a save percentage than .906 last season, the first period quickly turned into a frenzy.

The opening goal was scored by the Blackhawks’ leading scorer of last season, Alex DeBrincat. An NHL sophomore, it still often baffles me how he fell to the 39th pick in 2016. His lethally accurate wrist shot went bar-down over Anderson’s shoulder, putting the Sens down 1-0 five minutes in.

Ottawa got it back quickly, however, with probably the most hilarious season-opening goal scorer possible: Zack Smith. Despite the team basically saying “we don’t want you” (or rather his salary) just a week earlier by placing him on waivers, Smith steps right back into the lineup and puts a point shot past Cam Ward. Mark Stone provided the effective screen, while the puck found a seam to even the score.

Just as quickly as Ottawa tied things up, the Blackhawks regained the lead with a goal by Jonathan Toews. Cody Ceci was caught pinching, and a puck bounce behind him sent the Hawks’ captain off to the races. A clean shot put the game at 2-1 Chicago.

A major proponent of the off-season was the rebuild, which although questionable in principle and in practice, was stuffed into our minds by Dorion and Melnyk. The rookies are the team’s main selling point of the season, and if tonight’s game was any indication of what’s to come, this might — emphasis on might — be able to re-instill some hope for the future.

I mention this because of the next goal, which started behind the opposition’s net with Matt Duchene handling the puck. A clean feed in front gave a prime one-timer chance for defenceman Max Lajoie, who playing in his first ever NHL game, in front of the home crowd, and in front of his family, scored his first NHL goal. It was a moment to behold, with teammates enthusiastically rushing to congratulate him.

Talk about another draft steal in 2016. As a 5th round pick, only four players drafted later in that year have even played a game in the NHL. The fact that he made the team out of camp was on its own an impressive feat, but to see the steps he’s taken in his development over the last couple seasons, the Sens might have really hit on something.

There’s also this interesting tidbit provided by the Sens:

The rookie showcase kept on rolling, with Colin White giving the Sens their first lead of the game on the power play. The goal wasn’t spectacular, as he side-swiped the puck past a completely unprepared Cam Ward. Ottawa had three goals on nine shots, as they cruised into the first intermission on a high note.

While the second period didn’t boast nearly as much scoring — zero goals, in fact — there was still plenty of action. Alex Formenton, most notably, had a couple chances where he showcased why the McDavid-like speed comparison may not be so far-fetched.

A couple penalties were handed out, first to DeBrincat for a delay-of-game faceoff violation, then to Luke Johnson for slashing. The five straight minutes on the man advantage showed us what the Sens’ top powerplay unit could do, with some quick movement but a couple lazy turnovers. It’s still very early in the season, but the system seems roughly the same as last year.

Going into the final frame still up by a goal, Ottawa nearly doubled their lead following a point shot by Cody Ceci. Smith deflected the puck past Ward, although it was immediately called back as his stick was above the crossbar.

Entering the home stretch, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the Sens might react to being up by a single goal. They’ve become infamous under Boucher to turn the noise down by a more-than-substantial amount, leading to some late collapses.

Well... they sat back, and it started early. Save for a small handful of opportunistic rushes, the Blackhawks had total control over the puck in the Sens’ end, leading to a tie game by the stick of Brent Seabrook with seven minutes remaining.

The coast continued into the final minutes, and overtime was needed. And thirty-eight seconds after it started, it was finished. Patrick Kane was left alone, and made no mistake in burying it past Anderson. The Sens left with a single point, fuelled by strong performances from the rookies.

Biggest Standouts

  • The rookies — all three were the stars of the show — Lajoie, White and Formenton. Just wait until they also add Brady Tkachuk. And Filip Chlapik. And Logan Brown, Drake Batherson and Christian Wolanin. Maybe the future is worth getting a bit excited about. Maybe.
  • Dylan DeMelo also left a decent impression on me. He was making crisp passes through the neutral zone, and breaking up plays in the defensive end.
  • Cam Ward had himself a night, although not in the way he hoped. Craig Anderson looked a bit shaky at first, but seemed to find his footing as the game progressed.
  • It was good to see Chris Wideman getting some power play time. Obviously the Sens were kind of forced into using him as an option, but seeing him on the top pairing and top unit provided a spark of offence, as opposed to the other option (Ceci). Of course the other other option would’ve been much better...

Game Flow

Represents the flow of the game in terms of shots. In this instance, the Sens had some early momentum, while the Blackhawks took control afterwards, especially in the third period.

Heat Map

Represents the density of shots in each team’s zone. Both teams generated shots from in close, with the Blackhawks also shooting lots from the left point.

Next Up

The Sens travel to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs on Saturday.