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Depleted Sens play hard, but fall 3-2 to the Capitals

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Featuring two first NHL goals, just not the good kind.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

With the amount of injuries that have befallen the team, on a second-half of a back-to-back, against the Stanley Cup champions, with a rookie goaltender in net, there were plenty of factors going against the Senators tonight. And although excuses are never good, tonight would have been an easy game to make some up for.

Instead, the team battled hard, outshooting the Capitals and spending most of the evening in the opposing end. They were able to score two tonight against Pheonix Copley — better than last week — but it still wasn’t enough, with three goals in the first thirty minutes dooming Hogberg and the Sens in the end.

Speaking of Hogberg: it’s hard to fault him on any of the goals. The first, seven minutes into the opening frame, came off of a beautiful cross-seam pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov. The silky forward received the puck in the neutral zone from Tom Wilson, and smartly bought time with lateral movements while the hulking forward drove the net before putting it on a tee.

The second goal of the period came with four minutes left, and was a defensive breakdown created by Nicklas Backstrom. Tyler Lewington, playing in his third NHL game, was the beneficiary, walking down main street and snapping the puck high past Hogberg with no defender applying any pressure. With an assist on Wilson’s marker and a fight later in the game against Zack Smith, Lewington picked up his first NHL goal, assist, and fight in tonight’s contest.

The final Capitals goal, a minute into the second period, was another Senators special — a defensive breakdown, and a second first NHL goal in the same game. This time, it was Madison Bowey who was allowed to gallop down the middle.

Despite being a defenceman, Bowey had a 21-goal season with Kelowna in the WHL and possesses a hard shot, so although Hogberg wasn’t screened, I’d never fault a goalie for not making that save on his blocker side. Hilariously, like Lewington before him, Bowey also ended up with a fighting major later in the period. His opponent? Brady Tkachuk, who didn’t like receiving a high arm in the offensive zone, especially after last night’s shenanigans, and received 17 penalty minutes (instigator) for his troubles.

The positives? For one, I thought the team’s fourth line — Tom Pyatt, Nick Paul, and Jack Rodewald — were excellent despite having two fill-ins who didn’t play the night before. They won battles in the offensive zone, controlled the puck down low, and drove the net consistently. Hence, it’s no surprise that all three finished the night as positive CF% players in their nine minutes of ice-time. Paul was especially excellent in his second straight game against the Capitals, with 3 shots on goal and 6 shot attempts, many from dangerous scoring areas (including a near-goal in the second off a pass from Boedker). He’s been great at continuously moving his feet and utilizing his superior size to win battles on the boards for himself or his linemates, and I hope he gets an extended opportunity to stick with the team.

Christian Wolanin, who suited up for his first NHL game this season, played 17:07 — least among defenceman, but all three units split the ice-time pretty evenly — and looked great doing it. On his shifts with the White line, Wolanin was quick to identify areas where he could jump into the slot and create an extra lane, and added an extra step when the team needed a goal late in the third period. There was only one powerplay on the night, an interference call on Madison Bowey in the second period, but Wolanin’s second unit created the Sens’ only chance — a near-miss from Dzingel after getting the puck in front of the net from Tkachuk. Max Lajoie occupied Thomas Chabot’s spot on the first unit, but looked disjointed. After he started the season in the AHL to work on his defensive play, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his great hustle back to break-up a cross-ice pass, and I didn’t spot any glaring defensive mistakes; the team was even in shot attempts and scoring chances when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.

Finally, the team managed to break Pheonix Copley’s strangle on them after four periods of shutout hockey — another plus. The first goal, off the stick of Colin White, came after some greasy net crashing by the former and Tkachuk (of course), courtesy of a Mark Stone shot on goal. The Capitals actually challenged the goal for goaltender interference, but the referees ruled that Copley had the ability to make the save:

The Senators controlled play in the second period, generating 60% of the shot attempts and 13 shots on net, but started the third off slow, with no shots on net in their first six minutes. A great shift from the Paul line, a calm stop by Hogberg on Jakub Vrana in the slot, and a high-danger chance for Chris Tierney off a Mark Borowiecki point shot started to pull some momentum the Sens way, and finally, with under four minutes left to play, the team pulled within a goal.

Again, a won puck battle by White down low helped Tkachuk receive the puck below the goal line and find Mark Stone parked quietly in the right slot. The Sens winger quickly blew one by Copley for his 18th of the season. It was another dynamite night for Stone, who had two points, six shots on net, three scoring chances, and a 75.7% CF% while leading all forwards in ice-time.

The Sens pulled Hogberg for an extra skater soon after, but some smart defending by the Capitals led to no real pressure or great scoring chance for the game-tying marker.

Overall, although the team receives no points for their effort, a 60% CF%, 33 shots for, 24 shots against (!!!!!) on a back-to-back against the Capitals without their best defenceman is well worth kudos from me. We’ll see if they can keep it up as they suit up on New Year’s Eve against the Columbus Blue Jackets.