It was actually a good game from the Ottawa Senators, one in which they held the edge in every metric, whether even-strength or all situations, except for the one that counts. When you’re not trying to make the playoffs, moral victories are more impactful. Brady Tkachuk extended his team lead in goals with his 15th of the season, and the Sens pumped 37 shots on Thomas Greiss, but it wasn’t enough. Valterri Filppula on his end had two goals for the Isles, pushing them back into top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
The game started with a series of errors. First, the goal light behind Anders Nilsson was on as the game started. Then once they got that figured out, Brady Tkachuk hit Brock Nelson and dislodged a pane of glass. It gave a bit of a laissez-faire feel to early in the game. The scoring opened with Valtteri Filppula potting a sneaky backhand over Nilsson’s shoulder. Leo Komarov had managed to pull two Sens to him in coverage, which gave Filppula enough space to score. You should always take my systems analysis with a grain of salt since I haven’t played hockey other than two semesters of intramural hockey during my undergrad, but the Sens really look lost in the defensive zone to me. The Sens actually seem to have a plan in the offensive zone, with someone heading to the crease, passes back to the point, the occasional defensive pinch. But in the defensive zone, they often seem to get coverage mixed up. Some of that I’m sure comes with having a young team, but it should be on the coaching staff to get that tightened up.
Anyway, my grumpiness with the opening goal was short-lived, because Tkachuk tipped in a harmless Ben Harpur shot just 1:16 later. Anthony Duclair set up the chance by flying through the neutral zone with the puck, forcing the defence to back off, which gave Harpur a lane to shoot the puck five feet wide. Tkachuk somehow got the puck and redirected it to the near post, which fooled Thomas Greiss. But before the period ended, Cody Ceci got outmuscled for a puck behind the net by Anthony Beauvillier, who threw it in front of the net and Filppula potted his second of the night. I had Filppula in my mind as a veteran the Sens might sign for too much money in July to serve as a mentor and help the Sens hit the salary floor, and those two goals seemed to seal it.
The second period saw the teams exchange fruitless powerplays for much of the period. On the Sens first powerplay, Filppula actually got a glorious chance on a perfect shorthanded 2-on-1 where Komarov put the puck through the crease, but Nilsson came across with the glove up to absolutely rob him. However, after that first powerplay, the Sens drew level off the stick of Oscar Lindberg. After just four goals in 35 games for the Golden Knights, he now has three in six for the Sens. It’s nice to see him find some success for the Sens. After that, the Isles would get a couple powerplays, but didn’t score on the first, and actually negated the second with an early penalty of their own. There were no more goals in the period, but the Sens drastically outshot the Isles 17-10 in the frame. There were a couple more I think the should’ve scored on, ones where Greiss though he had the puck but actually just got enough of it to direct it away.
That trend continued into the third, where if I’d had to bet on who was going to score, I would’ve picked the Sens. Greiss just looked a bit uncomfortable, but the Sens couldn’t solve him. The luck continued to go Long Island’s way, when a weird play in front of the Sens’ net led to the game-winner. Nilsson reacted to a puck in front, but before he could cover it Beauvillier got a touch on it. It went between Nilsson’s legs, and trickled in on the side. Nobody knew where the puck was for a couple seconds, and it was the kind of play on which the refs sometimes blow the whistle before the puck goes in the net. The Sens actually didn’t have a great pushback until it was too late, not getting any real chance until the last couple minutes. With an offensive zone draw with just under two minutes left, the Sens called a timeout and new assistant coach Chris Kelly drew up the play. The Sens won the faceoff, but lost the puck and Anders Lee’s shot missed the net. After the icing faceoff, Casey Cizikas stole the puck from Thomas Chabot at the line and put it in the empty net. The Sens pulled their goalie again, but this time it was Christian Wolanin’s turn to lose the puck at the blue line. This time however the Sens collapsed, and played extra hard D on Valtteri Filppula who was looking for the hat-trick. The Isles kept looking for him, the Sens kept him covered, and the game ended 4-2 on a night on which the Sens probably deserved to win.
This game kind of confirmed what I was saying in yesterday’s preview: these Islanders are a paper tiger. They were decently outplayed by a league-worst Sens team. In pretty much any metric, they’re below average, but Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are fourth and fifth respectively in goals saved above average this season (via Hockey Reference). With a goalie who stopped the shots exactly like the average NHL goalie from every zone, the Isles would’ve allowed 37 more goals this season. If you accept that approximately six goals are the swing for a win or a loss, that would give the Isles six more losses on the year, and would have them one point up on the Flyers and six points out of the playoffs. (By comparison, the Sens are down about 13 goals from where they’d be with league-average goaltending, which would move them up to 29th in the standings.) You can’t fault a team for riding a hot goalie, but if I were on a playoff team, I’d be hoping to meet these guys in the playoffs. Guys like Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson are having career years, and I don’t know if I’d bet on that to continue.
- Brady Tkachuk was a “shift disturber” as our friends at TSN call it. I was surprised the Isles didn’t jump him after he knocked out Robin Lehner (possibly sinking my fantasy team in the process), but he did a good job of living on the edge but not over it. Also, it was nice to see him get his first Mark Stone-less goal.
- Dylan DeMelo seemed to have a good, steadying game. On a night where defensive miscues seemed magnified because they all ended up in the Sens’ net, DeMelo was reliable.
- Anthony Duclair is really fast and confident with the puck.
- Bobby Ryan took a slash off the hand, and left the game briefly, before disappearing from the bench completely by the end of the game. With his history of hand injuries, he might be out for a few games again.