Going into the 2021 NHL season, I didn’t have particularly high expectations for the Ottawa Senators. I set my sights low. I didn’t need a lot of wins, but I did need two of them. I needed one win against the Leafs, and one against the Habs. If I got those two things, I would be happy.
I’m not saying I manifested this win, but I am saying that this is my first recap since the season opener against the Leafs. I do pick my moments, don’t I?
The vibes were immaculate going into this game. The Sens were at rock bottom at the end of a disastrous road trip, and the Habs were on a tear after destroying a team that had just destroyed the Senators. Brannstrom was back in the lineup after a stint in Switzerland. A Montreal blowout win was looking like the most likely possibility, and a Sens win would have been the funniest possible outcome.
Naturally, the Sens went with the funniest possible outcome.
The game began, not with actual hockey, but with a classic Montreal pregame ceremony. Even with no fans in attendance, the Habs couldn’t resist the urge to delay the game to celebrate their own greatness. Welcome to Montreal, Jimmy Stü. Yes, it is like this every night.
The first ten minutes of the game were relatively uneventful on both sides - good news for the Ottawa Senators, who at this point were just happy not to be losing for once. Sens fans, used to it by now, resigned ourselves to enjoying the 0-0 score while it lasted. Surely, it was only a matter of time before the massacre would begin.
The play was good on both ends, with few whistles, no penalties, and each team trading chances but neither one managing to get on the board. Unfortunately, things started to look depressingly familiar for the Senators about halfway through the period, when Brendon Gallagher scored the first of the game to put the Habs ahead by one and the Sens back where they’re most comfortable (losing). 1-0 Montreal.
The one positive we can take from that goal? It wasn’t really Matt Murray’s fault. It was mostly Stepan’s.
The pace picked up after that first goal. You’d expect the Sens to deflate now that they were chasing the game - that is what’s been happening lately - but instead, the Habs goal lit a fire under them. Their play got messier, and it almost cost them, but the play got quicker too. When Murray made a series of good saves, that incredibly unusual sight inspired the team to improve their game. Is it good when the commentators are amazed that your goaltender made more than one save in a row?
Just as I was writing out a great joke about Murray actually making a save for once, Tim Stützle set up Thomas Chabot for an absolutely beautiful goal. Stützle earned a well deserved assist on the play - his first in the NHL. 1-1.
The fans had barely recovered from the tying goal when the Sens headed to their first powerplay of the game. In an unprecedented move that nobody could have possibly predicted would go well, DJ Smith put Stützle on the first powerplay unit in place of Stepan, and the rookie scored within seconds. This was officially Stützle’s first ever multi point game, and it made him only the third Sens rookie to score in 3 consecutive games, putting him on a list with Alexandre Daigle and Alexei Yashin. Don’t think too hard about the company he’s keeping. Shhhh. We’re enjoying the moment. 2-1 Ottawa.
The Sens were also leading for the first time in pretty much forever, which was a nice surprise. An unexpected one, but a nice one nonetheless. They went into the second period with a healthy and entirely unexpected 2-1 lead.
The second period was highly exciting right from the puck drop, as Shea Weber and Mike Reilly, the two most similar players, each hit the post before one minute had elapsed. Yes, it really was going to be like that.
Ottawa actually looked pretty good to start the period. They gave up a few good chances, because they wouldn’t be the Ottawa Senators if they didn’t, but for the most part they actually looked like the better team, which was objectively hilarious considering how both teams had been playing this season. Connor Brown got a good look at the net early on, and Tim Stützle looked extremely confident with the puck.
Funny that I mentioned those two as being especially good in the second period, because they soon teamed up to put the Sens ahead 3-1. The goal was Connor Brown’s long overdue first of the season, and of course Timmy’s third point of the game. 3-1 Ottawa.
Tim Stützle: too good?
The Senators just got better from there. Former Canadien Alex Galchenyuk got several good scoring chances, Ottawa maintained pressure in the offensive zone for more than a few seconds, and the Sens just looked good.
Look. I know Montreal has, like, a couple Stanley Cups or something, but you have to think that losing to the Ottawa Senators in 2021 is a massive asterisk on their existence as a franchise. Can you really call yourself a hockey team if you lose to this team? Can you really put up Stanley Cup banners, call yourself the greatest franchise of all time, put on pretentious pre-game ceremonies every other night, with this game on your record?
With a little bit less than five minutes left in the frame, Nick Paul got into a fight. He was sent to the box, but his hair looked incredible. The Sens just could not stop winning tonight.
A few minutes into the Montreal powerplay, Connor Brown joined Paul in the box, after straight up just picking up the puck and throwing it across the ice. Some may say that this is “illegal” and “cheating” and “not how hockey works,” but I see it as a bold new strategy for a penalty kill that needs all the help it can get.
Here’s a gif of the moment, by the way. I can’t tell what’s better: Connor Brown yeeting the puck across the ice, or his reaction once he realizes what he’s done. Same, Connor. Same.
Brown with a brutal penalty and he knows it right away with that reaction pic.twitter.com/cpEn5yvB01— Alex Metzger (@nhlsensandstuff) February 5, 2021
Now, someone familiar with the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, or with the game of hockey in general, might think that a 5-on-3 at the end of a period while down by one goal would be a perfect opportunity for the Montreal Canadiens to tie things up. To that I say: RIP to you, but the Habs are different. Not only did the greatest NHL franchise of all time fail to score on a 5 on 3 against the 2021 Ottawa Senators, they failed to record even a single shot.
Are the Habs even an NHL-calibre hockey team? You have to ask the question.
The penalty was killed off, and the Sens ended the second frame on a high note, after a good scoring chance from Erik Brannstrom. A win wasn’t inevitable, but it was certainly in the cards.
I wouldn’t blame you if you were bracing yourself for a third period collapse after that, though. Things were just going too well, and we had been burned too many times.
Thankfully, though, the Sens kept the momentum going. Each team got a few good chances at the start of the third frame, but both goalies made some good saves to keep the score 3-1 Ottawa. After some pushing and shoving in front of the Ottawa net, Erik Gudbranson dropped the gloves with Corey Perry. Both players got five minute majors, but both teams were allowed to keep five players on the ice, presumably because punching Corey Perry in the face is a public service and it would be cruel to punish someone for succumbing to an urge that, let’s be honest, we’ve all felt at some point.
The Canadiens went to the man advantage with about ten minutes left in the game, and while this powerplay certainly looked better than their last one, the Sens managed to keep them from scoring. A lot of that can be attributed to Matt Murray, but you have to think that not having Gudbranson on the ice helped the Senators.
Unfortunately, Brady Tkachuk went to the box for tripping almost immediately after the penalty kill ended. Things looked pretty bleak for the Sens on this one. The crossbar saved them once, and Murray saved them more than once. The things you can do with competent goaltending! It’s truly incredible.
The Habs still failed to score with the man advantage - even icing the puck at one point, a totally normal thing to to while on the powerplay - and the Sens killed off yet another penalty.
You wouldn’t think that taking a bunch of penalties would be an effective strategy for defending a lead late in a game, but the Sens pulled it off. Weird strategy, but I guess they need creative solutions at this point.
The tables turned though, with just under four minutes left in the game, when the Sens got only their second powerplay of the night after a high sticking call against Montreal. Our favourite German son, Jimothy Stützle, returned to the first powerplay unit, but he didn’t score this time.
Instead, Montreal cut the lead in half with a shorthanded goal.
Montreal pulled their goalie in the last minute, and even though that only put them even with Ottawa in terms of players (they were still killing a penalty), it kind of looked like they were the ones on the powerplay. It was slightly concerning.
With less than 30 seconds left, Montreal took yet another penalty. Yes, this should have been a good sign, but this is the Sens we’re talking about. It seems that DJ Smith knew what he was dealing with, because he called a timeout just to help his team defend a lead while on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
YOUR Ottawa Senators.
Whatever DJ said, it worked. The Sens held on to the lead, and the great, historic, legendary franchise known as Les Canadiens de Montreal joined the Toronto Maple Leafs and nobody else in the elite club of teams that have lost to the 2021 Ottawa Senators. Congratulations, boys. You really did it.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau would be so proud.
- Matt Murray desperately needed a good game, and he got one. He was solid in net for this one, and it was enough to make the difference.
- Tim Stützle looked good in his first few games, but my goodness, he has reached another level recently. He was absolutely incredible in this game.
- I just want to give a shoutout to Colin White, who looked really good whenever he was on the ice and is certainly earning the roster spot he still has to fight for for some reason.