As you may recall, the Ottawa Senators’ last game against the Washington Capitals, a 7-5 loss on October 25th, was something of a tale of two teams. Specifically, a dominant one when Thomas Chabot was on the ice, and the complete opposite when he wasn’t. In order to have a shot at winning tonight’s game, the entire team needed to show up and play.
It’s hard to picture a better start than what we saw. After Ottawa’s top line of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson got things started by playing their first shift almost entirely in Washington’s end, the team’s third line would follow suit. After a clean zone exit by Dylan Gambrell, Nick Paul won a routine puck battle and set up Chabot, whose point shot found its way past Vitek Vanecek to give the Sens a 1-0 lead.
It’s about time Chabot had some decent shooting luck, watching him score 1 goal on 91 shots — and not just low-percentage point shots, either — prior to tonight’s tilt has been very frustrating.
With 5:21 left in the period, Nicklas Bäckström would take a holding penalty on Tim Stützle. Getting the lead early and shutting down the Caps’ offense in a structured and disciplined manner was paying dividends up to this point.
Sadly, the top unit couldn’t set up Norris for the one-timer, and Tkachuk was unable to pounce on a loose puck in front of the net, which was poked away by Vanecek. An Austin Watson holding penalty would send Ottawa to the PK shortly after, and Matt Murray was relied on for the first time tonight to make some stops. Tons of stops, in fact. Washington’s power-play put Ottawa’s to shame with five shots on a single man-advantage, but the Sens were able to kill it off and enter the first intermission up 1-0, and without having given up a single shot at even-strength.
With Connor Brown out week-to-week with a broken jaw, former Capital Zach Sanford has been called upon to skate on the second line with Stützle and Alex Formenton, and the trio would find success early in the second period. First, Erik Brännström knocked the puck away from a speeding Brett Leason, allowing his teammates to chase the Caps back into their own end. With Stützle causing a commotion with some engaging physical play, Sanford forced a turnover and then received a pretty pass from Formenton from behind the net, to double Ottawa’s lead at the 6:07 mark. I suppose we can also give Brown credit for covering the point in the offensive zone, as opposed to in his own end.
(In all seriousness, Josh Brown had one of his best games as a Senator tonight, just one day after his birthday, too.)
For those of you keeping track, Formenton now has 13 points in his last 14 games. Consistent ice-time in the top-six has given him the opportunity to show off a decent offensive toolkit to go with his blazing speed, and it’s starting to look like a long-term role on that second line is in his future.
Despite all of this, the Capitals had come alive after that power-play in the first period, and they began to tax Ottawa’s defense to the point of the shots being 21-13 in favour of the former by the end of the second.
Unfortunately, Alex Ovechkin simply cannot be held back for 60 minutes. Back-to-back tallies in the first half of the third — the latter of which came off of his stick so quickly, it wasn’t called a goal until a few moments after — brought the score to a 2-2 tie.
The good news? Despite losing a two-goal lead, and the wind blowing against them, the Senators were able to settle things down, and neither team gave up too much for the rest of the game. Although they were outplayed for the most part, they were rewarded for their incredible effort in the first period with a point on the road against one of the league’s top teams.
Just one point though. Norris gave the puck away to Nicklas Bäckström in a pretty embarrassing fashion early in the extra frame, who proceeded to roof the puck over a sprawled-out Murray to secure the 3-2 win for Washington.
The finish— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) January 23, 2022
Backstrom wins it for the Caps in OT pic.twitter.com/de55vJQ9Ul
- Matt Murray had another strong outing tonight, stopping 30 of 33 shots. This is the kind of goaltending Ottawa will need going forward if they want to have a chance of beating the league’s best.
- Formenton - Stützle - Sanford was Ottawa’s best line — beyond creating chances off of strong transitional play, I was also impressed with their energy in forcing turnovers as well, such as on the team’s 2nd goal. Stützle continues to demonstrate a level of improvement from last season that’s almost scary. To have a player with top-notch agility, vision, and defensive awareness is already fantastic, but knowing it all comes second to his drive and desire to improve, is something else altogether.
- Aside from the second line, Erik Brännström and Adam Gaudette were the only Senators with a positive 5-on-5 expected goals share, according to NaturalStatTrick.
- Tonight wasn’t Josh Norris’ night at all. He committed the error leading to the game-winning goal, and couldn’t get off that lethal one-timer on the power-play. The silver lining here is that the score was still close, and you can count on Norris to be a much better player on most nights than his performance tonight.
Stats (Per NaturalStatTrick):
- Tomorrow, on January 23rd, at 6:00 PM EST, the Senators will look to avoid a fourth straight loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets.