This may make some of you cringe, but watching the Bruins top-line roll all over the Senators this afternoon reminded me of when — just two years ago — the Senators were able to shut them down in the playoffs. Mainly because of Erik Karlsson.
Cue tonight, where Patrice Bergeron’s hat-trick, Brad Marchand’s three helpers, and quartet of points from David Pastrnak made all the difference.
It started 30 seconds in, with Pastrnak carrying the puck past Cody Ceci — the top line’s primary match tonight — who was weakly defending his side of the ice. Pastrnak’s net-front dash caused trouble for Mike Condon, and Bergeron was there soon after to pot the loose puck for a 1-0 lead. There was a lengthy delay after the goal, as Condon’s right leg strap got undone — potentially from Pastrnak’s skate — and the league reviewing a potential goaltender interference, but it was called a good goal without a challenge from the Senators coaching staff.
The Sens were given an opportunity to get back into the game right away after Danton Heinen ran a pick on Mikkel Boedker during a defensive zone draw, but were unable to capitalize. The Senators went 0 for 3 tonight, including a 5-on-3 for 1:16 in the third. When they’re in the offensive zone, the team moves the puck with a purpose and have a consistent plan. But over the last two games, we’ve seen that more work needs to be done to generate consistent zone entries.
Meanwhile, the penalty kill was a mixed bag today. On the Bruins first powerplay of the period, obtained after Mark Borowiecki clipped the skate of Brandon Carlo after being too overzealous in the neutral zone, the Sens were the team with the best chances. Mark Stone nearly potted a backhand behind Tuukka Rask on a 2-on-1 rush, and Tom Pyatt nearly did the same after a great steal from Magnus Paajarvi.
Boston looked a lot better on their second powerplay, though, with Bergeron potting his second goal of the period. On an extended shift, with over a minute spent in the Senators zone, Marchand ended up with the puck below the goal line after an attempted shot, and delivered a sweet no-look pass to Bergeron in the slot. Tom Pyatt had made the decision to close Marchand off and no one ended up with Bergeron, who quickly snapped a wrist-shot past Condon blocker-side.
The Senators nearly respond the next shift, with some great work from Dzingel and Boedker on the forecheck leading to a Zdeno Chara turnover and a post from Matt Duchene. However, it was the Bruins who looked like the better team all period, with shots ending 15-9 (28-17 lead in attempts).
The second period was quite different, and again, you could tell from the opening couple of shifts. Brady Tkachuk, making his NHL debut, looked nervous in the first, but had an excellent shift to start the second. First, he came back to help out on D twice, both times leading to successful zone exits. Then, as the team entered the offensive zone, Tkachuk moved from right to left, nudging two puck battles in the Senators favour, and eventually rotated out for a shift change when Max Lajoie pinched down into the offensive zone. Some good support by Zack Smith gave Mark Stone the puck below the goal line, and he quickly found Dzingel — coming off the bench for Tkachuk — who fired it on Rask. The Bruins netminder can’t handle the initial slot, and Stone showed off his strength to eventually get the puck to Dzingel, back-door, to pot the Sens’ first goal of the game. Tkachuk doesn’t end up with a point on the play, but his hard work in all three zones eventually led to a positive contribution at the offensive end of the rink.
The back and forth continued all period, with the Bruins first restoring their two-goal lead. A lost puck battle by Borowiecki led to a point shot by Charlie McAvoy that was deftly tipped by a falling Chris Wagner, past Condon — who was sliding to the other side. Ryan Dzingel then responded for the Senators, with the speedy forward picking up Dylan DeMelo’s ring-around-the-boards and slapping it on net past Rask. As you would expect from a 6-3 contest, both goalies had a couple that they would like back tonight, and I think everyone would agree that these two second period tallies would count as part of that group.
All-in-all, the Senators had a bulk of the chances, shots (12-6) and attempts (19-10) in the second, and easily could’ve had one or two more goals off a DeMelo post, a Ceci cross-ice feed to Duchene almost connecting, and a Duchene re-direct nearly fooling Rask.
As is the case when you’re facing good teams, not capitalizing on your chances usually comes back to haunt you, and a three-goal third period ended up being the result.
First, Bergeron completed the hat-trick. After a simple pass and crash entry from Marchand, Bergeron’s attempt to centre the puck to him ended up bouncing off of Cody Ceci and into the Senators goal. It’s an unfortunate play, and Ceci didn’t really do anything wrong here, but it’s a karmic result for a player who was clearly overmatched in the role that Boucher and co. placed him in.
On the big line’s next shift, Mark Borowiecki was on the ice and didn’t fare much better. Bergeron, this time seeing a 2-on-2, successfully connected on a backhand saucer pass that landed straight on the stick of a streaking Pastrnak — who got by Borowiecki — to give the Bruins a 5-2 lead.
As a lot of the talk this season has focused on the Senators young defence corps who can play with some pace, it’s hard not to point out that the “veterans” of the unit — Ceci and Borowiecki — have been the most disappointing while being trusted to play harder minutes. Tonight, in his team-leading 18:45 of 5-on-5 ice-time, Ceci was on the ice for 23 of the Bruins 44 shot attempts, with a 36% CF% to rank worst among Sens D. After trying to match pairs in the first two periods, it appears that Boucher went with a “defence by committee” approach in the third, and it’ll be interesting to see how player usage continues to evolve.
To give credit where credit’s due, the team didn’t give up tonight, and managed to score on the shift after Pastrnak’s goal. Again, it was Dylan DeMelo — who led the team with a 68% CF% — showing some impressive ability to get the puck through a screen that included two Bruins and three Sens (Borowiecki, Formenton, and Ryan) and past Rask. Ryan was credited with the last tap to get his first point of the season. This led to a goalie pull with about two minutes to play, but Pastrnak sealed the deal quickly after Marchand smartly intercepted the puck on a play to the point and found the Czech winger dashing through the neutral zone.
- As mentioned earlier, Tkachuk had one shift that stood out to me, and overall played a simple, effective game. He started with Dzingel and Duchene, but quickly found more comfort with Zack Smith and Mark Stone — with the line ending the night leading the Sens forwards with ~60% CF%. Tkachuk almost potted his first of the year in the third as he tried jamming the puck past Rask, and it’s nice to see him able to get net-front position against older, more experienced players.
- The other two rookie forwards left something to be desired tonight. Alex Formenton had a team worst 29% CF%, and has gotten filled in on the shot count in three straight games. He showed one great dash of speed after being launched on a breakaway by Chabot, drawing a penalty on a diving Tuukka Rask who aggressively intercepted the puck, but looked tentative at times through the neutral zone and on the forecheck. Colin White wasn’t much better (31% CF%), as he took a minor penalty, and made some poor neutral zone decisions that led to turnovers. He had two Grade A scoring chances — one that ended up being blocked after he circled behind the net and passed the puck out to the slot, and the other was a missed slapshot from five-feet out. In contrast to last year, where a couple of plays like this would’ve led to an extended benching from Boucher, the coach allowed both players to continue playing — the “letting players make mistakes” philosophy in action. Both ended up with around 13 minutes of ice-time, ahead of Paajarvi, Pyatt, and Boedker.
- Max Lajoie made a great play on Ryan Dzingel’s first goal, and continued to utilize his hockey sense to make stops. This is the kind of game we should come to expect from Lajoie — no glaring mistakes, and some decent spells of possession. Sometimes, that’ll lead to points.
- Ryan Dzingel’s two goal performance came off the heels of nearly being a scratch today due to a minor injury. He appeared to also pick something else up near the end of the second, but battled through the third period; something to watch
- Chris Wideman was nearly injured after skating the puck into the neutral zone, stumbling, and getting levelled by Brad Marchand on a hit that falls into the grey area. Wideman missed a shift, but returned before the end of the first
- The Sens are expecting more out of Mike Condon, and an .800 save-percentage isn’t going to cut it. Some of the Bruins goals weren’t his fault, as the team’s top line is clearly elite, but there were one or two that he’d like back. Condon did make a couple of decent stops, including on one Krejci, another on DeBrusk, and a great stop on Backes.
Represents the flow of the game in terms of shots. In this instance, the Bruins got off to a fast start and had a decent first. The Senators clawed back some control in the second, while the third period was pretty even from a shots perspective.
Represents the density of shots in each team’s zone. Both teams generated shots from in close, with the Bruins more focused in the “home plate” area around the net. The Senators also shot a fair amount from the left point.
The Senators kick off a five-game home stand with the Flyers on Wednesday (7:30pm EST start).