It’s been nice having the Olympics on recently, because it gives me a chance to actually care about sports that I’m watching. Ottawa Senators hockey has been tough to watch recently, with very little left to play for (and me mostly hoping for more losses). I wouldn’t have blamed you if you chose to watch the ice dancing or the halfpipe instead of tonight’s tilt with the Predators. Mercifully, for those of us who watched the game, it was highly entertaining end-to-end action. It featured nearly everything my brain wants to see these days: Erik Karlsson point, Mark Stone point, and a Sens loss.
The game started off at a fiery pace. The Predators started off with a tonne of puck possession, but the Senators’ counter-attack was strong, and they were willing to throw pucks on net from anywhere hoping for a good bounce.
Special teams played a big role in the first. Thomas Chabot was off for slashing, when the Preds used their defencemen expertly. They first hit the crossbar, with Craig Anderson losing track of the puck, but rather than losing their cool, they moved the puck around again so Roman Josi could fire home a one-timer through a screen. Ottawa had a great chance to score afterward on a great rush by Cody Ceci, but Pekka Rinne sprawled across to deny him. Viktor Arvidsson double his team’s lead just afterward. Ceci was unlucky to lose a puck in his skates, springing a sort-of-2-on-1 the other way. The Sens seemed just behind the play, with Ryan Johansen getting it just in front of Ceci, then Arvidsson corralling his backhand pass just before Mike Hoffman could stop him. Those half-steps of being behind can make all the difference.
Ottawa did get one back on a powerplay of their own late in the period. Rinne bobbled Mark Stone’s one-timer, and before the goalie could recover, Jean-Gabriel Pageau pulled the puck out and fired it into the net. That did it for scoring in the first, with the Sens somehow holding a 14-9 lead in shots (and 18-14 in 5v5 shot attempts), though my eyes would’ve told me otherwise.
The second seemed to move even faster than the first. The first goal of the period happened thanks to a lazy Zack Smith penalty. On the powerplay, Ryan Ellis ripped home a beauty past a Colton Sissons screen. It was yet another goal on which Anderson had no chance. Ottawa managed to get that one back, with Fredrik Claesson racing up the ice, dropping to Max McCormick, and then heading to the net to create space. McCormick fired one in off the near post, a beauty of a shot from a guy who has seen almost no NHL action this year. The goal also gave Nick Shore his first point as a Senator. There have been rumours that Freddie was told to simplify his game coming into this season, possibly with an eye on being the Marc Methot replacement, but to me, I think he’s at his best when he’s free to do what he did on that goal. Without the offence, Claesson’s game just isn’t as good.
Thomas Chabot almost tied it up with a great dangle right in front of the net, deking backhand then bringing it back to his forehand, but Rinne’s pad kept the puck out. Ottawa would keep pouring on the pressure, but Nashville ended up with the next goal. Erik Karlsson tried to make a pass from behind his own net, but Filip Forsberg knocked it out of the air from point-blank range, and passed it to an open Arvidsson in front who buried the quick chance. Karlsson broke his stick in frustration on the play, but I’m not convinced he was at fault - 96% of the time that pass works, and sometimes you have to just tip your hat to a great play.
Ottawa got a late powerplay with a chance to tie it, but just 25 seconds in Mark Stone took his second penalty of the night. Both he and Guy Boucher were incredulous, but he did negate a clearing attempt by briefly grabbing Ellis’s stick. Nashville dominated the 4-on-4, but nobody scored, sending the teams to the second intermission with the score 4-2.
Ottawa got another powerplay to start the third, and got several good chances to score but couldn’t slip one past Rinne. Nashville followed those up with a couple good chances -- first an Arvidsson breakaway where Anderson gloved it down, and then a Johansen chance on the back door where Hoffman this time managed to keep pace and force the puck wide.
Yet again a mistake ended up in the back of the Sens net. This time Craig Smith was the beneficiary, putting the fifth goal past Anderson on the night. That did for the scoring, though Arvidsson had about four in-alone chances to complete the hat trick but Anderson had suddenly unlocked a resistance to him. The game ended 5-2.
- Chabot was the best Senator tonight to my eyes. He was all over the offensive zone, picking his pinches well, and deserving of at least a goal. Even in the defensive zone, he’s still not as strong as some prime NHLers, but his positioning is good at forcing players
- Marian Gaborik probably doesn’t belong on the top line. We saw the best of him a couple days ago, but he’s just slightly slow and slightly not as good with the puck as he used to be. In the interest of the tank though, I’m not too upset by it.
- Cody Ceci will never be a top-four shutdown guy, but he’s definitely looked better away from Dion Phaneuf. Progress!
- Pekka Rinne made about 22 pad saves tonight he had no business stopping. He suddenly looks like he’s not 35 years old anymore.
- I always think of Forsberg and Johansen as the driving force of the Preds’ top line, but Arvidsson is definitely no slouch. He was making things happen tonight. I don’t envy any team trying to win the Western Conference in the playoffs.