It was a night where the actual game on the ice was far from most people’s minds. With much of the world focused on the US midterms, the Senators were spending the day addressing questions about the leaked video of some players hating on assistant coach Martin Raymond. But the players didn’t phone it in, and we ended up getting to see a very entertaining game of hockey.
The script of the game went exactly how you’d expect between a well-rested team (the Sens) and one coming off a game last night (the Devils). Before the game was four minutes old, the Devils found themselves with the lead off the stick of Taylor Hall. Then just after the 11-minute mark, Kyle Palmieri doubled the lead, putting up his 10th goal in 10 games to the delight of my fantasy team. But then just like they’d played last night, the Senators managed to take over dominance from a tired team. Just 45 seconds after the Palmieri goal, Thomas Chabot fired home a hard point shot through a perfect screen by Chris Tierney. Cory Schneider didn’t even react to the Chabot shot until it was already past him. And then less than a minute after that, Matt Duchene made a beautiful cross-crease, no-look backhand pass to Mark Stone who potted the tying goal. Stone’s fifth of the year was the 100th of his career. Shots in the first period were 16-14 for Ottawa. Considering that in my recaps thus far this season, the Senators have been outscored an average of 3 to 0.67 per period, this was a huge improvement.
The Sens didn’t take their foot off the gas to start the second, carrying the momentum they’d had in tying up the first period. First, Colin White was the beneficiary of some great work by Stone. White did what you should do when Stone has the puck in the offensive zone — get open — and Stone fed the puck through a maze of bodies to give White a wide-open goal. Then Stone fired a laser beam over Schneider’s blocker off a Duchene drop-pass, and that did it for Schneider’s night. He was hardly to blame for any of the goals, but sometimes a goalie pull can give a team a spark.
After bringing in Keith Kinkaid, the game calmed down quite a bit. Other than a highlight-reel Craig Anderson save, denying Palmieri by reaching behind himself and deflecting the puck with the blade of his stick, the game calmed down quite a bit. Late in the period, the Sens got another powerplay off Miles Wood’s second penalty of the game, and kept up their recent hotness on the PP by scoring yet again. They showcased their new strategy of keeping the puck moving by having all five players touch the puck in a span of about a second. The puck then bounced off a stick in front, off Sami Vatanen’s face, off White’s skate and in behind Kinkaid. That 5-2 lead was how the team’s would go into the second intermission.
We’ve seen several games this season where Ottawa carried a lead into the third period, and then switched into contain mode and allowed the opposing team to pepper Craig Anderson with far too many shots. This was not one of those games. The Sens continued to pour on the pressure. Anderson was forced into one big save, a positional save where the puck went off the shaft of his stick, but other than that it was all Sens. The shots were 11-4 Ottawa in the period when Ryan Dzingel beat Kinkaid on a lucky shot that went low because Vatanen slashed Dzingel’s stick right as he tried to snap it top-right corner.
At 6-2, you’d expect the game to be over, but New Jersey regained some life after a penalty kill. Blake Coleman lost his temper in front of the net and tackled Dylan DeMelo, but the Devils killed the penalty and that seemed to rejuvenate them. Not long after the penalty expired, Travis Zajac fired one home over Anderson, proving that somehow Travis Zajac is still playing hockey even though he’s been the Devils’ top-line centre since what feels like the 90s. To make matters worse, at the next TV timeout, Anderson went down the tunnel and didn’t return, thrusting Mike McKenna into the spotlight. He had to be sharp on his first save of the game, a point-blank one on Taylor Hall, and then had to prepare for a powerplay with Duchene sent off. For some reason, the Devils put Kinkaid back in the net for the first minute of the powerplay even though they maintained pressure in the Sens’ end, then finally pulled him just as the Sens decided to start icing the puck. The Devils never really got set up with the goalie pulled though, and Magnus Paajarvi iced it with an empty net goal (and mimed pulling the proverbial monkey off his back). That did it for the game, giving the Sens a comfortable 7-3 win, and McKenna nice confidence boost in not allowing a goal in relief after allowing six in his first action of the season.
- The Sens’ best players were their best players tonight. Stone had five points, Chabot had three (surpassing Morgan Rielly for the defensive scoring lead), and Duchene had two. All of them looked very, very good.
- Colin White scored two goals, but most importantly seemed to perform his role well, getting open, and creating space for his linemates.
- Christian Jaros still looks a little uncomfortable with the puck to my eyes, but his positioning looked good tonight. He was trusted with some big minutes, including sharing the second half of the final penalty kill of the night with Maxime Lajoie. The broadcast was pointing out how rare it is to have two 21-year-olds (Lajoie and Chabot) and a 22-year-old (Jaros) all playing in the same NHL defensive corps at the same time.
- Nick Paul also stood out to me, with his tenacious forecheck and his ability to shield the puck in the offensive zone. He’s probably never going to be the top-six player we were all dreaming of when the Spezza trade went down, but he seems like the ideal fourth liner, a player who can give you 10 minutes a night and push the puck in the right direction.