It was a game that started with promise — the lead entering the third period! not extremely behind in shots! — and ended in such sorrow — a loss by three goals! Thomas Chabot out with injury! Christian Jaros risking his health in his first career fight in garbage time! Senators fans hoping for a win for Christmas were disappointed by the Islanders. And as has become far too familiar of a tradition, we were all treated to what turned into an awful affair for the Sens.
The first period opened looking like two teams who hadn’t played since before Christmas. Play was pretty wide-open, with no strong scoring chances. By the time the first commercial break occurred, only three whistles had been blown in the period. Mike McKenna, for his part, had the better saves of the period. The Senators’ best scoring chances came via Islanders mistakes. First Leo Komarov tried to clear the front of the net by banking the puck off Mark Borowiecki’s shinpad, which caused the puck to ricochet slightly wide. Then Chris Tierney nearly scored when Thomas Greiss was kept parallel to the goal line by his own defenceman, but Tierney couldn’t get a good shot over his pad. Finally, Mark Stone opened the scoring on an egregious giveaway by Adam Pelech, who decided to just pass it to Stone who was all alone in the slot. He made no mistake, and Greiss had no chance. It ended up being the only goal of the period. McKenna’s had some great efforts for this team, and it was nice to see him rewarded with some goal support.
While the first may have been timid, the second more than made up for it in terms of goals. Matt Duchene got the Sens ahead by two with a beautiful, solo powerplay effort. He picked up the puck in the netural zone and raced in himself, fought through a forechecker and a defenceman, shoved Johnny Boychuk out of the way, and the ripped a wrist shot through Greiss. The Isles got one back on the Sens’ Achilles heel — turnovers. McKenna made a pass right onto the stick of Mathew Barzal, who passed it to Josh Bailey for a tap-in into a wide-open net. Cody Ceci would restore the two-goal lead in his 400th game with a shot from in tight. It was a nice read by the Sens’ whipping boy, jumping into a play where he could contribute. That goal ended Greiss’s night, which seemed a little premature, but he had been fighting the puck all night. That brought in former Senator Robin Lehner, who I think we can all cheer for after his revelations about being a recovering addict came out this summer. The goalie change momentum was a shrewd move by Barry Trotz in hindsight. Before the period ended, the Isles would get one back off another turnover. It’s hard to know who to fault on the goal. McKenna should’ve backhanded it to an open Christian Jaros, but he instead passed to Ben Harpur who was under pressure. Harpur put it pretty hard to Nick Paul on Paul’s backhand, but you still expect an NHL player to handle that pass. Instead, Paul bobbled it, and Anders Lee — who is the Isles’ captain; how long has that been a thing? — potted an easy goal to restore hope.
Also in the second, Thomas Chabot was bumped by Matt Martin and didn’t return with an “upper-body injury”. You can take a look at it here, with admittedly crap quality:
Take 2. Still. Crap quality. pic.twitter.com/gubMBEog2w— Steve Lloyd (@TSNSteveLloyd) December 29, 2018
Not only has Chabot been the Sens’ no. 1 d-man this year, but Dylan DeMelo is the only other Senator you could argue has played consistently like a top-four defenceman. Losing Chabot for any period of time will lead to either a lot more of not-good defencemen (Boro, Harpur, Ceci) or inexperienced defencemen who show it regularly (Jaros, Lajoie). Already missing their no. 1 goalie in Craig Anderson, this could be a big blow for the Sens.
While the first two periods were relatively good as a Sens fan, the third was forgettable. The Sens basically crumbled, being outshot 14-6, even though they fell behind just five minutes into the frame. Boychuk opened the scoring in the frame with a seeing-eye shot from the point that McKenna couldn’t see through traffic. It also had the distinction of being the only Islanders goal not directly caused by a Senators turnover. Then a poor Sens turnover led to a two-on-two down low, except Harpur still decided to cover the pass as if it was a two-on-one, which meant once the pass got through him to Barzal, Barzal had no defenceman in his way so he could wire one past McKenna.
The next goal was a circus act. The Sens were hemmed in their own zone for a while. Jaros lost his stick, and it took about 40 seconds for a Sens forward to hand him one. When they finally got the puck out of the zone, Mark Borowiecki decided to look for the Hail Mary pass. Instead, Stone’s pass was intercepted by Bailey, who sent Barzal in on a partial break with Sens players racing from the bench to get into position. Again, Barzal potted an easy goal past a hung-out-to-dry McKenna. Being down 5-3 should’ve lit a fire under the Sens, but it didn’t. They pulled the goalie with two minutes left, but failed to get a shot on goal. Watching the Sens defencemen try get the play going without Chabot was painful. DeMelo mercifully ended the comeback attempt by making far too hard of a pass in the neutral zone, missing all intended targets, and putting it right on Tom Kuhnhackl’s stick. He passed to Casey Cizikas, and that sealed the scoring. There were multiple fights to end the game, starting with Borowiecki against Martin. Then Ross Johnston fought Christian Jaros, which was a smart move by Johnston, taking an instigator penalty with nine seconds left to hurt the Sens’ powerplay numbers. Except an instigator in the final five minutes gets you an automatic suspension, so the refs gave him a roughing penalty, because no player in the history of that rule has actually been suspended for instigating a fight in the final five minutes. Then Smith and Cizikas and Harpur and Scott Mayfield got into it at the final horn, ensuring to send messages for the next time these teams meet (in March). Guy Boucher’s face after the Jaros fight summed up the third period:
Islanders win, 6-3.
- Colin White seemed off tonight. He’d enter the zone with speed, but rather than shoot or make the pass to the guy who’d kept pace, he’d turn back to the blue line, or drop it to nobody. It wasn’t the kind of play that we’ve seen from him most of the year.
- Poor McKenna. He was directly at fault for a couple of those goals, but he also made a number of great saves. But you know that holding this team in it isn’t a viable strategy, because they almost never take over portions of games. They need goalies who outright steal games for them, and McKenna and his seven career NHL wins at age 35 aren’t going to cut it.
- Robin Lehner was TSN’s third star of the game, but he only made 10 saves, and none of them seemed difficult. I thought he had a very boring night in net against his former team.
- Tomorrow night against the Capitals could be hideous. Cody Ceci as the minute-muncher, with Marcus Hogberg potentially getting his first NHL start. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for success to me.