Battle of Ontario games are always their own special brand of weird, and we knew going into this one that just about anything could happen. The new year presented a fresh start for two teams that were coming off an extended break. To add to the intrigue, the Sens roster - already lacking in depth - was quite depleted, with a few players in covid protocol, while the Leafs were back to full strength. Although what I just described may sound like a guaranteed Leafs win, any NHL fan knows that most guaranteed Leafs wins are actually guaranteed Leafs losses. And guaranteed Sens losses? I mean, they’re not guaranteed wins, but the odd win has been known to happen. Truly, anything could have happened in this game.
Unfortunately, this ended up being one of the Battle of Ontario games of the Bad variety. Maybe it was the bad lineup or the two weeks off or the lack of fans in the stands, or maybe it was a combination of all three, but man, there was no energy in this game. Ottawa was flat the whole time.
You know what? Maybe this one was on us. We got too excited about this game. We got our hopes up for a big win over a rival. Tonight, as fans, it was finally our turn to get sens’d.
If you were hoping the Sens would jump out of the gate and take an early lead over the Leafs, well, what did you really think was going to happen?
The Sens took two bad penalties to start the game, giving the red-hot Leafs powerplay a chance to strike early. They didn’t, thankfully, in part because the Sens’ penalty kill remained very strong and in part because the Leafs just didn’t look very good. Murray made one good save at the end of the second penalty kill, but the Leafs didn’t look particularly dangerous throughout.
They didn’t look particularly dangerous at even strength, either, although by the ten minute mark we still had yet to see an Ottawa Senators shot on goal. Sens hockey is BACK, baby!
Eventually, the Senators did get a powerplay of their own - their first of 2022. Finally, a perfect chance to score first and get this game under control! After all, this Ottawa powerplay has been on fire lately, as nobody seems able to stop Josh No- oh.
Nothing brings you right back down to earth like watching Connor Brown jump over the boards to line up alongside the first powerplay unit. It’s not that Connor Brown is a bad player. I love the guy. Fantastic third liner. I’d even call him a good second powerplay unit option. But when he’s on your first unit, it really makes you wonder who’s taking his place on the second unit.
In that moment, recognizing Connor Brown’s hunched over skating style and #28 on the ice, I knew I did not want to see the second powerplay unit.
As it turns out, I didn’t even need to wait that long for bad things to happen. Just as I was thinking that the Sens absolutely had to score early here, Toronto struck shorthanded, on a two-on-one that gave a Leafs player his first goal in a very long time, because of course. 1-0 Toronto.
The dreaded second unit got a chance to get things back on track (I’m pretty sure Brännström was playing forward) and promptly got scored on as well. Cool. 2-0 Toronto.
This had the makings of a legendary Ottawa Senators collapse - followed by a weird comeback, of course - but thankfully the Sens pulled themselves together after those two goals. They didn’t score, but they tried. Sometimes, that’s all you can really ask for.
Unfortunately, the second period brought more of the same. Ottawa absolutely could not stay out of the box. Matt Murray kept them in it. There was also one penalty kill - don’t ask me which one, I can’t keep track - where the Sens got at least two good scoring chances. Short kings and... noted penalty killing duo(?) Mete and Brännström were leading the way in that regard, which was an interesting development, to say the least.
Nice sequence for Erik Brännström, but Formenton can’t capitalize. pic.twitter.com/WQmnrw2IZ9— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) January 2, 2022
The return to even strength brought nothing but misery. It didn’t take long for the Leafs to get another one past Murray. 3-0 Toronto.
Formenton did as Formenton does and created energy for the team, with the best scoring chance of the night. It honestly looked like he had scored and I still have no idea how he didn’t. After that, it was right back to the penalty kill, although thankfully that one was quickly neutralized as the Leafs took a penalty of their own.
The Sens showed some life in the last few minutes of the period, but not enough to really turn the tide. It would take nothing short of a miracle to salvage this one.
No miracle comeback happened in the third. I’m not even sure the Sens tried. You’d think the thought might have crossed their mind, only because a comeback would have been incredibly funny. Just a terrible effort all around, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was simply rooting for a goal at this point. Just one, please.
We did see one big roster shakeup in the third, and it was Tierney moving all the way up to the first line as Stützle returned to the second. The move did make some sense, as Stützle wasn’t amazing with Tkachuk and Batherson, and he’s been very good on that second line. Plus, DJ probably wanted to spread out the wealth a bit. At the same time, though, with Norris probably back for the next game and absolutely everything going wrong tonight, wouldn’t it make sense to try Timmy on the first line? Just give him a full game. I don’t know.
Anyways, everything got worse from there. I won’t even waste energy describing each Leafs goal, except to tell you that there were three of them, and they happened far enough apart that the misery was dragged out but not so far apart that the Sens could get anything going. 6-0 Toronto was the final score.
But hey, want to know the one silver lining? Before the game began, the broadcast said that Ottawa’s key to the game would be to contain noted sens killer Auston Matthews. And guess who didn’t get a single point tonight? That’s right: the Sens accomplished their one goal, and kept Matthews off the scoresheet. I think that’s called a moral victory, or something.
- Erik Brännström must be aware that this is his last chance to win himself a spot on this team, because he was amazing tonight. Really aggressive offensively and didn’t make any big defensive mistakes. He was also killing penalties, which is incredibly weird but, hey, he did well enough, and I guess it says something about how much the coach trusts him. Maybe? Probably? It has to mean something, right?
- Believe it or not, I don’t actually think this loss was Matt Murray’s fault. It is extremely funny that he was the guy in net, though.
- The only forward who really stood out tonight was Alex Formenton, who created energy and lots of good scoring chances all night long.