At the start of December, the Ottawa Senators were 7-13-2 and it was difficult to imagine a scenario by which there would be any games of consequence before the end of the season. Since then, Ottawa’s gone 9-4-1 and have at least given their fans a glimmer of hope. If on November 30th I’d told you that by the end of the calendar year we would be at this point, you’d have almost certainly signed on without much hesitation. But that’s the funny thing about expectations: because the Sens were 9-3-1 heading into tonight’s match-up with the Detroit Red Wings, their dispiriting 4-2 loss feels all the more crushing. You can only be disappointed if you have hope in the first place.
That’s not to excuse the Sens’ performance on this night; for the last two periods, there wasn’t much good from anyone to speak of. There haven’t been too many occasions this season when the Sens were flat for such a prolonged stretch, but it would be charitable to describe the effort as anything but uninspiring. Stinkers happen, it’s just too bad this one happened when it did against a team the Sens are ostensibly competing against for a play-off spot. The sunnier bigger picture can only console you so much in the immediate aftermath.
If you care to re-live the specifics, Ottawa actually looked quite good for the better part of the first period and were rewarded with a 2-0 lead when the first frame ended. Both goals were special in their own way, with Alex DeBrincat setting up Austin Watson for his third of the year:
Claude Giroux then summoned some of the magic I was writing about earlier today with a tremendous individual effort:
I hope Brady Tkachuk was taking notes on just how best to execute a between-the-legs move.
If I told you that nothing good happened for Ottawa after that point you might not believe me, but it’s pretty close to the truth.
Between the end of the first period and the midpoint of the third, the following things occurred:
- The Sens failed to generate even a shot on goal on two separate clean three-on-one rushes
- The smoking hot power play got all of one shot on net during a nearly four minute opportunity with the man advantage late in the second after Lucas Raymond hit DeBrincat in the face with a high stick
- The Red Wings scored three goals in less than two minutes to start the third, punctuated by a particularly terrible giveaway (and subsequent lackluster effort to get back in the net) from Cam Talbot
- Ottawa managed two shots on net over a nearly 25 minute span of gameplay
It was ugly, but by the time the Wings were up 4-2, it also felt somewhat inevitable. After an inspiring opening twenty minutes, Detroit were the better team and deserved the two points. That the Sens took another penalty for Too Many Men on the Ice with less than five minutes to play in the third was just the icing on the cake. When the story of this season is told, tonight’s affair won’t be one for the highlight reel.
- DJ Smith has spoken positively about the trio of Dylan Gambrell, Jacob Lucchini, and Parker Kelly and I thought they had another strong game tonight. You wouldn’t mistake any of the three for offensive dynamos, but they are each capable skaters with decent defensive awareness that won’t cheat you for effort. They’ve been a pleasant surprise in their time together.
- One of the keys to beating the Sens is containing their power play, and clearly the Red Wings had done their homework. Ottawa generated a handful of quality chances with the man advantage, but not nearly at the usual rate and Detroit’s strategy of hyper-aggressively pressuring the puck at all times kept the Sens on their heels. As the season progresses, expect to see more teams attempt this style of defense.
- DeBrincat didn’t find the back of the net but the play he made to set up Watson’s opening goal is a perfect encapsulation of what makes him such a special player — particularly on the rush. There are very few players in the world that can retain control in that he does on that sequence, and then have the patience and the vision to make the type of pass that gives Watson the chance. There will inevitably come a time when DeBrincat goes through a stretch without scoring, but I hope that his sustained excellent play will have bought him some goodwill.