On Tuesday night, Chris Phillips became only the second player in Ottawa Senators’ history to have his number retired. The Sens honoured their all-time leader in games played with a nice ceremony before the game that featured appearances from many of Phillips’ former teammates and various other alumni. Daniel Alfredsson was in the house, Wade Redden gave a nice speech, and Chris Neil helped raise Big Rig’s number to the rafters. It was all enough to bring a tear to a nostalgic fan’s eye.
Here’s an excerpt of Phillips’ speech:
Once the game actually started, the two teams jointly decided to honour Phillips by not playing any defense at all. It was a throwback night alright, but I’d say more like 80s, not 90s or 2000s night.
The Sabres, who have (extremely fleeting) play-off chances to keep alive, came out with a lot more pep in their step. It wasn’t long before Brandon Montour opened the scoring when he buried a rebound in the scramble that ensued after Craig Anderson was forced into a couple of saves on Jeff Skinner. Less than 8 minutes later, and just 9:48 into the opening frame, Montour made it 2-0 for the Sabres with his fifth of the season.
Whereas the first goal was a bit of a scrambled play where it was hard to place the blame on one particular thing for the Sens, this goal was clearly the result of a failed passing exchange between Thomas Chabot and Nikita Zaitsev. Chabot, perhaps missing DeMelo, didn’t quite seem ready for an admittedly shoddy pass from Zaitsev and what should have been a controlled breakout resulted in a turnover that the Sens were never able to recover from. Poor passing from the defense has been a theme all year, and if the Sens are serious about improving in the years to come it’s an area that badly needs work.
As we headed into the first commercial break, the Sens were down 2-0, being outplayed, and it felt like they were maybe in danger of laying an egg on Phillips’ special night.
But, as so often has been the case with this year’s team, they fought back.
With the Sabres on the power play after Ron Hainsey took a hooking penalty, the Sens vaunted power kill went to work and Vladislav Namestnikov took advantage of Skinner being the last man back to break in alone and slide a shot just barely through Carter Hutton.
I’m not one to really believe in momentum, but something certainly broke the Sens’ way after that goal because they scored 3 (!) more times in just three minutes and twenty-nine seconds to give Ottawa a 4-2 lead that they would hold until intermission.
After Namestnikov made it 2-1 game, Anisimov struck for his first of two:
Then Drake Batherson gave the Sens the lead on a great individual effort:
Batherson’s tally was at 4:44 of the first period, a fun little tidbit that maybe should have let us all know this could be a special evening after all.
And, finally, Anisimov notched his second of the game, this time on the power play:
After a shaky first ten minutes, the Sens were clearly the better team in the opening frame and deserved to carry the lead into the second.
Just in case you were worried the Sens might cruise to an easy victory, Kyle Okposo brought the Sabres back to within one by cashing in a pass from Larsson on a partial 2-on-1; the play developed after Cody Goloubef fired a shot into a Sabres player’s shinpads. On the one hand, it was a bit of an unlucky bounce. On the other hand, it was the kind of play of play you simply cannot make as an NHL defenseman. If you jump into the rush, the puck cannot go back the other way against you or it’s going to end in an odd-man rush.
Fortunately, the Sens seemed undaunted by the goal and ripped off a dominant stretch of hockey for most of the rest of the period. They moved the puck well through the neutral zone, and were able to sustain a forecheck and cycle on several occasions; it was one of those (rare) instance where the good work of one shift flowed seamlessly into the next and Ottawa seemed like they were running down hill.
The Sens were rewarded for their dominance with something of a fluky goal as Anthony Duclair’s shot/pass bounced off the Sabres’ goalie and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau before heading for the back of the net. It won’t go up on JGP’s highlight reel, but every goal counts and that was his 23rd (!) of the year.
At this stage there was very little going Buffalo’s way but a silly Too Many Men penalty gave them the faintest of hope and Victor Olofsson ripped a one-timer home to bring the Sabres back to within one. The Sens closed the second up 5-4, but perhaps feeling a bit unlucky to only be leading by one after out-shooting Buffalo 31-19.
There was maybe a moment after the fourth goal when DJ Smith might have given some thought to replacing Craig Anderson, but with the Sens’ tender trying for his 200th win with the organization and potentially on his way out the door before next week’s trade deadline he remained in the game to try to close things out.
In the third, the Sens finally seemed to get a bit of a handle on that whole defense thing and Anderson wasn’t forced into too many difficult saves. After Drake Batherson drew a penalty driving to the net, the Sens potted their prettiest goal of the game thanks to a wonderful three way passing sequence that effectively iced the game:
With the Sens up 6-4 late and the Sabres goalie out of the net, Pageau found Duclair for an empty net goal to break the winger’s long scoring drought and give us a 7-4 final. With the assist, Pageau capped off a four point night and broke the 40 point mark for the second time in his career.
After a shaky start, Ottawa was clearly the better team and deserved the win. The defensive effort may not have reminded anyone of the early 2000s teams of Phillips’ prime, but the offensive display had echoes of the Pizza Line days when seeing seven goals up on the scoreboard wasn’t such a rare occurrence.
- It’s been written in other places, but it bears repeating: Batherson has been a huge breath of fresh air on the power play. Since his recall, the man advantage has looked infinitely better whenever he’s featured on the side wall. Pageau’s power play goal was the result of three highly skilled players making three consecutive good plays and there was virtually nothing the penalty kill could do about it.
- It didn’t quite have the same feeling as those play-off games of yore, but it was pretty cool to hear the crowd break out the old “Pageau” chants. I’ll miss that little guy if he’s gone in a week’s time.
- It feels like the Sens play the Sabres every other game, and the more I watch them the more clear it is to me that the team is Eichel, Dahlin, Reinhart....and that is about it. Even the normally reliable Jeff Skinner just looks lost out there. Competitiveness feels a long ways away in Buffalo.
- I really liked DJ Smith getting Duclair out there in the last minute with the Sens up two and the Sabres’ goalie pulled to help him break his seemingly interminable drought. Fans (and S7S staff!) probably got a bit carried away when he was on his tear, but it’s only extremely bad luck that kept him from scoring for that long. With a decent finish stretch, he could still crack the 30 goal mark
- What a career in Ottawa it’s been for Craig Anderson. The last few years have been a bit rough, but 200 wins is a milestone worth cherishing.
After a tumultuous first ten minutes, the Sens were clearly the better team and carried the play.
Lotttaaaa chances for everyone