While some have made a big deal of the team’s losses against Buffalo, Toronto, and Minnesota, tonight’s one against Florida was the kind of game that would get any neutral observer asking questions about the Senators’ ability to compete with their Atlantic Division rivals this season.
Anton Forsberg gave up four goals but was still the team’s first star of the night, turning aside 52 of 56 shots against as the Senators tied a dubious franchise record for shots against with 57 — the other game being in December 2015 against the Canadiens.
The shot counter is a good barometer of how this game went from start to finish, and it was dicey from the first period. The Cats put 26 shots on Forsberg, scoring two, and out-attempted the Senators 29 to 8.
Matthew Tkachuk had two of his three points in the period, none better than his spin-o-rama pass to a wide-open Carter Verhaeghe after drawing in Tim Stützle on the game’s opening tally.
Former Senators player Colin White drew two penalties tonight, the first on ex-teammate Derick Brassard after an ill-advised pinch by Nick Holden on his off-side resulted in a partial breakaway. The Senators were scrambling on the penalty kill all night long, with even usual rockstar Jake Sanderson getting caught being puck-focused one too many times. Verhaeghe made his presence known again after bearing down on Zaitsev after a Sens faceoff win, leading to the defender coughing up the puck to the wrong Tkachuk and eventually, a wrist shot from Aleksander Barkov in the right faceoff circle for his first of the season.
The Senators nearly ran into injury trouble later in the period when Tyler Motte was crunched in the defensive zone by Sam Bennett and Radko Gudas stepped up on Mathieu Joseph with a devastating hit at the Ottawa blueline. Parker Kelly did his best to stand up for his teammates by jumping Gudas, but his overzealousness resulted in another Panthers powerplay.
Thankfully for Motte, he didn’t miss a shift — sliding into his usual spot on the penalty kill and drawing his own penalty on Gudas with strong lower body puck protection behind the Florida net. Outside of some physical play and one strong chance via Brassard and DeBrincat, the Senators were severely outclassed in period one.
The drawn penalty at the end of the period helped the Senators start the second period — their best of the game — strong. Jake Sanderson, Claude Giroux, and Shane Pinto worked their magic along the right-hand side of the offensive zone to lead to Pinto’s sixth of the season.
Ottawa tied the game less than three minutes later after a strong gap from Brännström and some nice help from Holden freed the puck for Batherson in the defensive zone, who slid a nice bank pass through a Panthers defender off the boards to hit Brady Tkachuk. Brady then settled the puck and beat Spencer Knight far side.
There was a brief moment of jubilation as the Senators nearly took the lead off of a primo pass from Tim Stützle to a streaking Jake Sanderson that bounced off of Verhaeghe’s stick and went past Knight. Unfortunately for the Senators, Sanderson’s left skate caught the right skate of Knight’s, which was spotted by the referees after Florida challenged the play and the goal was called off.
The rest of the period was full of some open-ice play, especially 4-on-4, that favoured the Panthers. Systematically, it looked like their gameplan to use the top of the offensive zone to rotate the puck had the Sens skater-on-skater coverage beat a few times, but Forsberg was able to keep his team in it. Ottawa’s best chances game off of Forsberg saves that turned into rush chances the other way, such as this two-on-one set-up by DeBrincat and Giroux that took Knight’s stick straight out of his hands.
The game’s physicality continued, with Parker Kelly taking some shots at Tkachuk in front of the net and Mark Kastelic fighting Ryan Lomberg, but it was the Panthers who got the last laugh. Paul Maurice was able to catch the Senators’ fourth line on the ice with less than a minute left in the period and a strong pass from Brandon Montour gave Verhaeghe his second of the game on a shot that Forsberg wanted back, but was also his 45th shot seen through two periods.
Ottawa was unable to ramp up their play in the third period, generating just six shot attempts across 13 minutes of five-on-five play. The team’s powerplay had a chance to tie it early in the period after DeBrincat drew a tripping call and Kastelic and Josh Mahura were already in the box with coincidental roughing calls — meaning a 4-on-3 for the Senators — but his quartet featuring Stützle, Chabot, and Tkachuk weren’t able to generate a high-danger opportunity.
The Senators third line, outclassed tonight, picked an opportune time to generate their first shot attempts of the night after some strong board work from Joseph and Motte led to a point shot from Nick Holden that tied the game at three.
With just over three minutes left in the period, the Panthers first line generated chaos against the Senators’ first line. Batherson and Brady get too focused on the puck and collapsing to the middle, leaving Montour wide open for a wicked slap shot that beat Forsberg.
Matthew Tkachuk ended his eventful period — a sell-job for a drawn penalty on Chabot and an offside goal called back — with an empty net marker to make it 5-3 after Stützle couldn’t handle the puck at the point with the extra skater. Brady had the only real moment of danger for the Senators, trying a slick but perhaps ill-timed behind-the-legs move to try and beat Knight.
- All but five Panthers skaters had a CF% north of 60%. In particular, the Cats second-pair of Josh Mahura and Radko Gudas ran roughshod on the Senators in every facet of the game, with the Panthers generating ~30 attempts at 5-on-5 with them on the ice alone
- The Panthers middle-six crushed their minutes, including Rudolfs Balcers (88% xGF%) alongside Bennett and Reinhart and Colin White (91% xGF%) alongside Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen.
- How’d they do it? A crappy, crappy combination of an amazing forecheck combined with rushed coverage and puck play by the Senators. In the first period alone, there were multiple times where the Panthers two-player forecheck caught the Sens flat-footed — leading to seven slot shots against and 1.74 xGA in just one period. To put that in perspective, there are three games this season where the Senators have given up less at 5-on-5. Puck-focused coverage with little defensive awareness was the norm, and even when the Senators did have the puck, they didn’t use their time and space effectively on zone exits.
- I am obviously not a coach, but if I was, I’d spend the next few practices working on passing — there are too many times this season already where the Senators cannot make clean passes in any area of the ice.
- Mark Kastelic was the only Senators player to come out above even in both shot attempts and expected goals, and generally had a pep to his step as always.
- Jake Sanderson was the team’s best skater tonight — when he was on the ice, the Senators out-attempted the Panthers 15-14 at 5-on-5. When he wasn’t on the ice? Shot attempts were 43-14 for Florida. That’s some Erik Karlsson shit. So was his play in transition, and in the offensive zone.
- Speaking of the team’s former captain, Karlsson had two goals tonight and leads all defenders in points again. The game is better when EK65 is healthy.
- P.S. Anton Forsberg had a 0.930 save-percentage. Artem Zub is going to get paaaaaaid.
- The Senators end their mini-Floridian escapade with a trip to Tampa Bay to face Nick Paul and the Lightning on Tuesday at 7:00pm ET.