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Senators’ Rally Falls Short in Pittsburgh

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Sloppy start sends Ottawa home with a 5-3 loss.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a layoff that seemed eternal, the Ottawa Senators were back in action Friday night. Though, for the first 40mins or so, it looked like they hadn’t left their various beach destinations.

A vastly superior Pittsburgh team took it to the Sens for the better part of the game, heading to the third period up 3-1 and deserving to be leading by more. A rally led by Mark Stone and Matt Duchene put Ottawa back within striking distance, but they came up just short against a talented and experienced group of Pittsburgh Penguins.

This one was preceded by tons of news off the ice. Colin White returned for the Sens, and Evgeni Malkin was out for the Pens, but the biggest story of the day was this morning’s trade, with the Pens’ new assets making their respective debuts.

The game began looking like the vacation did the Senators some good. The 7-36-61 line, hereafter referred to as the top line, came out flying, and started the contest with a really solid shift in the Pittsburgh zone. Unfortunately, they eventually had to get off the ice.

The better team (the Penguins, if you were wondering) took over, and Crosby and Co. established a continuous presence in the Ottawa end. 3:19 into the game, Matt Cullen fed the puck to rookie Teddy Bluegers, who fired home his first NHL goal because of course he did.

Nilsson didn’t really have much of a chance on the shot, and it looked a little similar to Chris Kunitz’s goal a couple years ago.

Okay, okay, you’re right. Sorry.

The Senators finally began to wake up as the period went on. Matt Duchene had a phenomenal breakaway chance, but was denied by Casey DeSmith. The top line had another good shift, moving the puck well in the offensive zone, but the Pens held them off the board.

Funnily enough, the Senators’ best chance came when Nick Paul surprised DeSmith, and hit the post from near the blueline.

It wasn’t long after that when Sidney Crosby made a great play, as he so often does, protecting the puck coming out of the corner. Crosby kept Matt Duchene at bay, and slid the puck to Jake Guentzel, who beat Nilsson for his team-leading 25th goal of the year.

2-0. This is fun so far.

The rest of the period didn’t yield much worth talking about. Penguins forward Garrett Wilson took a big run at Christian Jaros behind the Ottawa goal, and was called to explain his actions to Mark Borowiecki. It was a short scrap, but Boro clearly got the better of Wilson. Say what you will about him, and I have, but BoroCop always stands up for his teammates.

The second period saw Pittsburgh come out in control. Anders Nilsson made a big save on Marcus Pettersson 4mins in, and followed it up with a breakaway stop on Bryan Rust.

6:46 into the frame, Zack Smith took a stupid penalty when he gave Pettersson forearm shiver to the head. Pettersson wasn’t pleased, and beaked at Smith the whole way to the box. Despite a powerplay with numerous chances, Nilsson stood firm and the Penguins weren’t able to expand on their lead.

That came later.

After a series of good chances by Mark Stone, Brady Tkachuk, and Nick Paul didn’t find the twine, Mikkel Boedker bobbled a Christian Jaros breakout pass, and the puck went right back to the Penguins. Phil Kessel made a great feed to Rust, who buried his 13th of the season and put the Pens up 3-0.

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Can’t make those defensive zone errors against a team like Pittsburgh.

Smith would have a chance to redeem himself not long after, but he couldn’t make good on a glorious opportunity. The puck came to him all alone with only a sprawling DeSmith beat, and #15 just couldn’t find the handle on it, and the game stayed 3-0.

The newly acquired Jared McCann would take a slashing penalty at the 14:18 mark, and Ottawa would head to the powerplay. Matt Duchene made an absolutely insane play to hold the line while falling, and he sent the puck to Chris Tierney in the corner. Tierney slid it into the slot, and Bobby Ryan made no mistake for his third goal in four games.

Despite a generally underwhelming performance, the Senators would go to the third down 3-1, and trailing in shots 30-24.

The Sens returned with some life, they maintained their first real pressure in the Pittsburgh end, and actually had some high-quality chances. Bobby Ryan made a smart pass to Matt Duchene who had an open net, but the feed didn’t connect.

Zack Smith got lit up by a Kris Letang cross-check, that inexplicably wasn’t called. Smith was irate going up the ice, as referee Kelly Sutherland shook his head “no”.

The game finally had a consistently entertaining pace in the third, as the teams traded chances. Casey DeSmith made a huge glove save on Ryan, and back the other way, Anders Nilsson made a big-time doorstep save on Sidney Crosby.

However, it was Ottawa that would get burned for the failure to capitalize. Nick Bjugstad, in his first game as a Penguin, won the ensuing faceoff to Rust, whose bullet of a shot found the top corner for his second of the game.

Brady Tkachuk made a beeline for the point, leaving Rust wide open for the goal. Errors that are going to happen on a young team.

Bjugstad, however, would take a hooking penalty at 12:18, sending Ottawa back to the powerplay. On the man advantage, Mark Stone made an outstanding pass to Mikkel Boedker, and #89’s one-time shot found it’s way past DeSmith to get the Senators back into the game.

The assist was Stone’s 300th career point, and he’s the 11th player in Senators history to reach the mark. Hopefully we see many more.

The goal appeared to spark the Senators, as it was just under a minute and a half later that Matt Duchene took off on a breakaway. He pulled past the Pittsburgh defenders, seemingly with ease, and his quick shot cut the deficit to 4-3.

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This was a sick goal by Duchene, it was like he hit the speed burst button and knifed through the D-Men before DeSmith knew what had happened.

Unfortunately, you probably know how this goes.

Precisely two minutes after the Duchene marker, Sidney Crosby hit Jake Guentzel in the high slot, and he beat Anders Nilsson with a rocket for his second of the night.

Had to feel for Nilsson tonight, he didn’t much of a chance on most of the Pittsburgh goals.

A late flurry by Ottawa, and a mad dash to defend the empty net proved inconsequential, and the Sens kicked off their stretch run with a 5-3 loss.

The top six looked good, and Nilsson stopped what he could. Honestly, Ottawa didn’t deserve to be this close for most of the game, really only generating quality chances in the third. The defence core looked awful, they clearly missed Christian Wolanin.

The Sens are back in action tomorrow night, when they return home to face the Detroit Red Wings.

Notable Performances

  • The top line was phenomenal tonight. Ottawa’s best chances were created by them and Duchene.
  • Bobby Ryan is having as close to a return to form as we’ve seen in years. He looks much calmer and more confident, and his game is reaping the benefits.
  • Mikkel Boedker didn’t look terrible, his goal was really nice.
  • Anders Nilsson stopped 35 of 40, and the ones that got by him weren’t really his fault. I like him in an Ottawa uniform, and it’s not unrealistic to think he could be the starter by the end of the season.