When following a rebuilding team over a span of several glacial seasons, you may often have to remind yourself that not every night will have highlight-reel goals or assists from your favourite rookies, and that by and large you just have to learn to enjoy watching your team slowly learn to embarrass themselves less. Tonight’s game against the Oilers didn’t have lots of flash or flair and probably lacked in the entertainment department. That being said, losing 3-1 feels a lot more dignified than losing 8-5.
For many, including the Senators themselves, a regression towards league average shooting and save percentages felt like an inevitability. And we witnessed the double-edge of that regression tonight and last weekend against Montreal. Incrementally, Matt Murray has started making more of the routine saves you would expect while getting some lucky bounces along the way. And while the Senators’ puck luck at the offensive end has eluded them of late, their improvements in the defensive zone have still kept games close.
If this rematch against Edmonton did maintain one recurring theme from their last series, it came in the form of powerplay opportunities for the Oilers, including a couple of Ottawa penalties in the first frame. Unlike the last mini-series however, the Senators’ penalty kill allowed zero goals against tonight despite ample opportunities for the Oilers’ big guns. Although I won’t unfairly blame the Senators’ earlier penalty kill woes on the likes of Braydon Coburn or Josh Brown alone, I have to point out that so far Artem Zub has looked like a real boon on the back end and has entered the lineup not a minute too soon. For all the time Ottawa spent killing penalties, they looked more aggressive and less passive, challenging the Oilers at the line and creating some rushes short-handed.
While the Senators played a solid and conservative style in the first period, things did open up in the second as both teams started taking chances to generate offensive looks. You could feel that something had to give, and to Ottawa’s good fortune, Evgenii Dadonov (speaking of needing to regress to the norm) got the night’s first goal courtesy of a beautiful setup from Brady Tkachuk and some questionable back-checking from Adam Larsson:
Last touch doesn't matter, they all count the same #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/wCYjqR2D8W— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) February 9, 2021
Alas, the good times could not last forever, as the Senators found themselves back on the penalty kill for much of the second period, and while Ottawa did negate the Oilers’ powerplay twice more, Edmonton had fully tilted the ice by the time Leon Draisaitl tied things up. The Senators had simply spent too much time in their own end, and despite Murray’s improved play and some decent defense from the young Senators, the Oilers top players only miss so often. The Senators did finally get a break at the end of the period for their first proper powerplay of the game although it straddled the intermission and never really got going as a result.
The Senators made a push to start the third coming off their powerplay and started to show some of that cohesion we had seen in the first until some busted coverage led to the inevitable goal against by an ex-Senator (this time Tyler Ennis). Nothing really broke in the Senators’ favour for the rest of the night and the Oilers iced it with an empty-netter. To watch the game you could really get a sense of how the team sacrificed offence to improve their overall five-on-five play, and to reiterate my initial thoughts from this summary, part of watching a team grow includes these tradeoffs and simply enjoying The Process.
Also, not to be that guy, but what game were the refs watching tonight? Something like this seemed to happen every time Ottawa started to cook in the offensive zone:
This was not called interference or cross-checking, but instead halted Ottawa’s momentum and forced a face-off outside of Edmonton’s zone. Oilers score on the empty net and win 3-1. pic.twitter.com/8oMNN7Fpd1— Everyday.Sens (@EverydaySens) February 9, 2021
- To reiterate my point, and with all due consideration to Connor Brown who does so many things the right way, it still kinda stinks watching Tim Stützle feed the puck to a line-mate not known for his finishing ability. I can appreciate the logic for lining Tim up with Brown for now even if I anxiously await the day when Ottawa’s brightest future stars can have partners who defend soundly and have scoring prowess. Line-matching against the likes of Connor McDavid and Draisaitl only further complicates the matter and does create offensive limitations.
- To that effect, I enjoyed watching Erik Brännström out there showing some of his offensive flair even if it didn’t translate on the scoresheet in this game. Did anyone else catch Thomas Chabot on the right side with Brännström on the left point for that offensive zone faceoff with Ottawa’s net empty? Maybe DJ Smith does know which players are good.
- Goaltending and defence always kind of present a chicken-and-egg discussion in terms of what begets what, especially on the penalty kill. Either way, full credit to Matt Murray for stringing together some good games and getting some timely saves to keep the game going, and a very warm welcome to Zub who has absolutely surpassed my expectations so far.
- Presented without comment: Alex Galchenyuk played less than six minutes tonight.
- Ottawa’s young stars, Stützle, Brännström, and Josh Norris had another rough night in the fancy stats department although I would take that as an indication of opposing coaches matching their lines deliberately to such an end. Their time will come. At the other end of the spectrum, players like Colin White and Zub, who took some time to crack the lineup, continue to earn their keep judging by nerd stats, and the Nick Paul and Nikita Zaitsev renaissance continues.
Up next? Same thing tomorrow, baby!