A common trope in media coverage of matinee games in the NHL is that the players don’t like them because it disrupts their routine. At the outset of this afternoon’s game, Jamie McLennan explained to Chris Cuthbert on the TSN broadcast how he always hated afternoon games when he was in the NHL. If a team starts slowly on a Saturday afternoon, you won’t have to look too hard to find folks willing to blame the start time.
If this particular edition of the Ottawa Senators hates early starts, they sure didn’t show it early on today. The Sens played one of their best periods of the whole season in the first frame, absolutely flying out of the gates. The Sens registered five shots on goal in the first three minutes and several of them required more than garden variety saves from Devan Dubnyk to keep things tied at zero. It’s been a rare sight to see the team sustain pressure over several shifts, but for the first ten minutes today one positive thing just kept leading to another. The Mark Stone - Colin White - Brady Tkachuk line in particular generated a couple of good chances, and Anders Nilsson was not very busy in his first start as an Ottawa Senator. Nonetheless, it took something of a broken play at the end of the period for the Sens to break a scoreless tie:
I try not to think too much about what’s going to happen with Matt Duchene in the long term, but man has it been fun to watch him ply his trade. There are few players in the league that are as fast, and strong on their feet. Once he got that pass and was even with the Wild defenders, there was no way he wasn’t getting to the net.
When it was all said and done, the Sens out-attempted the Wild 28-14 at 5v5 and got 15 shots on net overall compared to just 8 for Minnesota in the first period. It was a shame they didn’t have a bigger lead, but really it was all you could ask for in terms of carrying the play.
For those of us that have been following this team closely, it will come as no surprise that the Sens struggled in the second period. Things went off the rails in a hurry when Jared Spurgeon equalized only 41 seconds into the middle frame. A run of three straight penalties shortly thereafter, first to Maxime Lajoie for tripping, then to the Wild for too many men on the ice, and then finally Bobby Ryan for holding, produced no goals and only a couple of good chances for each side. I will note here that Christian Wolanin looked great quarterbacking the Sens’ power play and that is something I’d like to see more of, even if only on the second unit when Chabot returns.
Ryan Dzingel gave Sens fans hope that all the hard work in the first period wasn’t for naught when he buried a feed from Bobby Ryan just before the halfway mark:
I regret to inform you that play was decidedly in Minnesota’s favour thereafter. Jordan Greenway, and Spurgeon (again) scored less than three minutes apart late in the frame to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. You can quibble with Nilsson’s play on Spurgeon’s second goal, but I can’t put much blame on him for either of the other tallies in the period. He did also make a great glove save on a Jason Zucker backhand from right in front. Regardless, the Sens were badly outplayed to the tune of a 13-4 shot advantage for the Wild and all of the good feelings left over from the first intermission were lost to memory.
Zach Parise gave Minnesota a comfortable 4-2 lead a bit more than six minutes into the final period and it seemed like we were headed towards a sleepy finish. Guy Boucher then made a line-up shuffle that I’d like to see him go back to more often: he put Dzingel, Duchene, and Stone together to try to jump-start a comeback and was immediately rewarded when Stone tipped a Cody Ceci point shot past Dubnyk:
The downside of stacking the top line is that when they aren’t on the ice, the Sens weren’t much of a threat; it still seems to me like a gamble worth taking. Ottawa pushed fairly hard in the last five minutes, including an abbreviated 6-on-4 to end the game after Mikko Koivu tripped Stone, but could never quite find the equalizer.
Were the Wild markedly better than the Sens on this day? No, I wouldn’t say so. Ottawa was terrific in the first, terrible in the second, and pretty good if unspectacular in the third. Shots were 27-26 in the Sens’ favour when the final horn sounded and that seems about right given the totality of play. Minnesota buried one more of their chances, Nilsson let in one goal that was preventable and Dubnyk was a bit better. Them’s the breaks sometimes.
- Dubnyk’s final numbers won’t blow you away, but he made several key saves early in the game when Ottawa could easily have gone up by more than just the one goal
- Spurgeon was a force all over the ice, leading smooth breakouts and potting two goals
- Stone’s team leading 20th of the year was well-earned, as he was the Sens’ best forward again this afternoon
- Poor Rudolfs Balcers only played 7:45 in his Sens debut