With the trade deadline approaching, GM Pierre Dorion took the rather blunt approach of scratching his three biggest trade pieces: Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel, all pending UFAs, were all healthy scratches. With it looking more and more likely that none of the three will re-sign in Ottawa, the priority is ensuring they remain healthy so the Senators get a full return on each.
Tonight’s game against the Devils gave us a preview of the post-deadline Sens, and it wasn’t pretty for the most part. We did get to see some of the less-prominent players try to dazzle us — in particular I remember Bobby Ryan and Jean Gabriel-Pageau trying some fancy stickhandling to create scoring chances — but the game was mostly as expected. The Sens took a while to get going, and even once they did, they lacked finish. The passes weren’t as crisp, the hustle wasn’t as hard, and the puck just didn’t go in. The Sens played like a team with just not quite enough inspiration or skill.
The first period was awful. The Sens were outshot 14-4, outattempted 13-8 at 5v5 (via Natural Stat Trick), and outscored 2-0. Anders Nilsson played the whole game like a guy who wasn’t quite ready to play hockey. The first goal was a trickler that Travis Zajac tipped, that just barely got through him. It wasn’t the worst goal to let in, but it’s one that he got about half of, and probably feels like he should’ve got all of. The next goal was scored by Steven Santini, who I’d never heard of before this game. He got a slapshot from the point with traffic beside Nilsson but not blocking his view, and for some reason Nilsson’s glove didn’t react to the shot. It was a goal on a nothing play, and gave Santini his first goal of the season in his 20th game of the season. The Ottawa SlumpBusters struck again.
If you’d turned off the game after the first period, you would’ve been distraught about the Sens after February 25th. Thankfully, the team played some reasonable hockey in the second. The final shot count was 16-10 for Ottawa, though part of that was inflated by Ottawa getting two powerplays to New Jersey’s 0. But when your top unit contains Mikkel Boedker and Bobby Ryan, your powerplay probably isn’t that lethal. Still, on the first powerplay at least, the Sens managed some sustained offensive zone pressure, and Thomas Chabot continued to look great quarterbacking the play. They just couldn’t turn that sustained pressure into a goal, the recurring theme of the night.
New Jersey still managed two goals in the second. The first was Kurtis Gabriel’s first career NHL goal, as if giving a guy his first goal of the season wasn’t already enough. It was a high wrister off a faceoff that Nilsson sort of gloved, but then threw into his own net with his glove motion rather than catching it. Jamie McLennan pointed out on the broadcast that Nilsson’s eyes never look behind him — he believed he had the puck. It was the sloppiest goal on a night which only had one great one: the fourth one. The fourth goal was actually pretty nice. After Andy Greene went on a tour of the Sens’ zone, some quick passing gave Miles Wood a chance to tip the puck into the net, a shot that Nilsson had no chance on.
A 4-0 deficit could have been deflating, but to the Sens’ credit, they didn’t roll over. In the third period, they came out flying to start the period, and ended up earning the in shots again, 10-7. Filip Chlapik, in his first game of the season, looked like he really wanted to make a good impression. After hitting the crossbar in the second, he earned more ice time in the third. Boucher seemed to keep rolling the Balcers-Smith-Chlapik line, and they did have some good chances, but once again couldn’t beat Cory Schneider. Schneider for his part mostly played well on the night, was helped out by a few key blocks, and when he was sprawling, the puck would harmlessly slide wide of the net. Some of it was luck, lots of it was skill, and the Sens just couldn’t beat him. The game ended 4-0, and Schneider must’ve been happy with the shutout considering that his win a week ago was his first since December 2017.
So all things considered, this went better than it could have. The Sens bounced back after an early disappointment, and continued to press ever after falling behind by four goals. Still, it’s looking like it could be a long six weeks from the trade deadline to the end of the season.
- Guys like Chlapik and Rudolfs Balcers looked skilled to me. It was fun watching them play, knowing they were the guys the team was depending on for some scoring.
- Brady Tkachuk had an up-and-down game. At his best, he was making plays and causing chaos the way he always does. At his worst, he took a dumb penalty he was goaded into. I imagine he was emotional though, since this was probably the first confirmation from the team that they’re planning to trade his landlord.
- Not sure why Zack Smith played so much. He didn’t have a bad game by any stretch, but he got four minutes more than Colin White. With the Sens chasing for most of the game, I’d expect the player with more offensive upside to get more time.
- Anders Nilsson was off, like I said above. But he’s put up a .917 with Ottawa so far this year, so that was bound to come down at some point. Maybe this will scare the Sens off from offering him a three-year extension.
- I really didn’t notice any Senators on defence. Considering how bad the team’s defensive performances have been this year, I consider that a plus.