Heading into the holiday season, the Ottawa Senators have to be thankful for Anthony Duclair. The Laval-born winger recorded the second hat-trick of his career, including the game-winner in overtime, to help the Sens vanquish his old squad in Columbus by a score of 4-3.
His efforts also protect his teammates from the attention they would’ve gotten if they had gone on to lose the contest after being up two goals heading into the third period. D.J. Smith’s group was outshot 20-5 in the final frame, and looked helpless at times in their own zone.
Let’s dissect the themes:
Anthony Duclair’s hat-trick
Duclair’s 16th of the season was the most questionable goal of the three, and the one that Jackets’ prospect Elvis Merzlikins — who came into the game looking for his first NHL win — would like back. It came off of a quick-up by Nikita Zaitsev that skipped off of Logan Brown, and ended up on Duclair’s stick as he was entering the neutral zone.
Duclair’s 17th of the season came off of another quick zone exit and strange bounce. This time, Ron Hainsey sent the puck off the glass and got a favourable bounce just outside of the Sens bench. As the Jackets’ were scrambled in the neutral zone, Artem Anisimov ended up with the puck, broke past a defender, and sent the puck to Duclair — with his stick already loaded for the one-timer — for his second of the night:
After a disastrous third period (seriously: go look at the game flow at the end of this recap), Duclair was out in overtime. First, he nearly set Thomas Chabot up for the game winner as he walked down the left-side and hit the post. Then, he was almost a recipient of a Jean-Gabriel Pageau pass on a two-on-one, but the French Connection was stymied by Alex Wennberg slashing Pageau’s stick.
That play, however, put the Sens on the powerplay, and after Pageau and Chabot rotated the puck around the umbrella, Duclair received his patented off-wing one-timer to finish off the hat-trick. With three goals tonight, Duclair not only leads the Sens in goals, but is just two off his career-high of 20 with Arizona. He’s also on pace for 44 tallies — close to his career-high in points.
A game-breaking talent, Duclair is someone who fits into the Sens’ long-term picture because of his relative age and skill set — something some of the other players aged 24 to 27 on the team don’t have. It’ll be interesting to see how long the team waits before engaging in a contract discussion. On one hand, Duclair’s not going to continue shooting at the rate that he’s at, and cooling down at the end of the year may keep the dollars lower relative to what the ask would be right now. On the other, there’s clearly a fit between player and team. As a restricted free agent, Duclair’s likely in a Sens uniform for the next couple of seasons regardless; unless, of course, the team chooses to sell high.
Anthony Duclair is the third player in @Senators history to score a hat trick which included an overtime goal.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 14, 2019
He joined Bob Kudelski on Nov. 5, 1993 (3-0—3 at WIN) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau in Game 2 of the 2017 Second Round (4-0—4 vs. NYR). #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/LoD27r0rhD
Fun fact: Duclair’s hat-trick is the team’s 10th regular season hat-trick of this decade. Another fun fact? Duclair’s only other hat-trick came against... the Ottawa Senators.
The play of Anders Nilsson
38 saves on 41 shots, including 21 of 23 over a 23 minute stretch earns Anders Nilsson a well-deserved highlight. He made a number of key stops throughout the game, and if there’s two to remember, it’s in overtime before the Duclair game-winner. Under pressure, Nilsson made two key stops in succession — one on Cam Atkinson, who had him beat earlier in the night (more on that later!), and the other on Oliver Bjorkstrand, stretching out his left pad while his defenders were asleep after a faceoff.
Ottawa clearly lost the expected goals battle (2.42 - 2.17 via Natural Stat Trick), and gave up a number of odd-player rushes — especially to Columbus’ top-line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Eric Robinson, and Alexandre Texier. Dubois was the team’s best player all night, putting up a 65% CF%, making great defensive plays in his own end, and consistently generating scoring chances on Nilsson all night. His two passes that led to Alexandre Texier goals helped give Nilsson no chance on either, as he utilized the back of the net well to disrupt Nilsson’s sight-lines. In the third period, when Columbus came out had extended in-zone pressure, Nilsson was calm — stopping the play when needed, and tracking the puck with his large frame.
Blue Jackets down!
With Dylan DeMelo, Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, and Scott Sabourin all out of the lineup, the Sens haven’t been fully healthy for most of the year. What happened to the Blue Jackets tonight was like losing all of these players over the course of 60 minutes.
It started with an unfortunate incident with Sonny Milano, who slipped when retreiving the puck along the boards in the Sens zone, and was hit awkwardly by Mark Borowiecki. Boro immediately signalled to the referee that there was an issue, and Milano was down face first for about two minutes before he was helped off of the ice. He did not return.
Sonny Milano is down on the ice.— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) December 14, 2019
Borowiecki called for medical attention right away. pic.twitter.com/yjisA6MDmy
Off the ensuing faceoff, Borowiecki answered a request to fight from Josh Anderson — a big forward who’s struggled this year with just one goal and four points after a a 27G, 47P season last year — and Anderson ended up hurting his right hand in the bout. He also did not return.
Throw in Ryan Murray not finishing the game after tweaking something in the second period, and that’s three key Blue Jackets out for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of Ryan Murray, he showed off his vision in the first period with a beautiful two-line pass up to a streaking Cam Atkinson. A 40-goal scorer last season, Atkinson utilized his slick hands to deke out Nilsson. While the referees initially ruled that the puck did not cross the goal-line, they overturned it on a mandatory video review following intervention from the NHL command centre:
Later in the first period, a neutral zone giveaway by the Jackets to Cody Goloubef led to a quick zone entry for Nick Paul, who roofed a puck past Merzlikins. However, upon seeing the replay, John Tortorella quickly challenged for offside and was successful.
The tenacity of Connor Brown
If Dubois was the Jackets’ best forward, Connor Brown was Ottawa’s. Brown finally had some puck luck go his way in the second period when he made the game 3-1. When a puck jumped off the stick of Dean Kukan at the right point, Brown put his foot on the gas and potted a goal five-hole on Joonas Korpisalo, who came in relief of Merzlikins at the start of the period.
Brown was his usual self on the penalty kill, pressuring his opponents on a key kill late in the third period that actually slowed down Columbus’ shot generation. He also drew a penalty on Seth Jones by keeping his feet moving and having great stick detail to pry a puck loose in the offensive zone — forcing Jones to take a penalty to prevent a breakaway.
Brown was rewarded with 18+ minutes of hockey, including 15-minutes at even-strength alongside fellow pests Brady Tkachuk and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Logan Brown played 9:25, and was the team’s most notable threat on the powerplay until Duclair’s game-winner. There was a shift in the second where he won a 2-on-1 puck battle on the right boards, and faked out everyone on the ice as he passed the puck low to Colin White for a chance on Korpisalo.
Jonathan Davidsson played 4:34, and is expected to be returned to Belleville once Scott Sabourin is healthy.
With Dylan DeMelo out, Chabot, Zaitsev, and Hainsey were all above 26 minutes tonight, and Mark Borowiecki was close by (22:22). Borowiecki and Zaitsev struggled, and were on the ice for ~30 shot attempts against each — a worrying indicator. Meanwhile, Max Lajoie played 3:52... the entire game. While I don’t have much concern with the way the Sens have played under D.J. Smith, the ice-time by young players is puzzling given that the team is in a low-pressure year and the way many talk about the Sens as a “young” group. Max Lajoie, unlike Cody Goloubef, is a legitimate prospect that played much of last season with the Senators — under a coach in Guy Boucher that was presumably more stubborn than Smith — and could’ve helped shoulder the burden of the DeMelo injury, especially with Smith in control of shifts at home.
While the Sens carry a ‘vet’ heavy roster at the moment, if that doesn’t change after the trade deadline, and/or D.J. Smith’s lineup utilization stays stagnant, expect there to be questions from the fanbase in March and April.