The Ottawa Senators paid a visit to Buffalo tonight to take on the Sabres, featuring the greatest goaltender to ever wear a Sens jersey, in the third of three meetings between the two teams. Needless to say, the headline of this article does not at all do the game justice.
At first, it was looking like a bit of a struggle. Both teams traded early power-plays and saw a limited amount of opportunity, but it was the Senators who proved to be the far-less disciplined of the two clubs, with Erik Brännström first heading to the box for high-sticking, followed by Dylan Gambrell for slashing, and Brännström once again for tripping, which led to the offensive defenseman being benched for the remaining 7 minutes of the period.
It was the third of these power-plays on which Kyle Okposo found himself behind Ottawa’s PK unit, and beat Anton Forsberg one-on-one to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Senators found success in their attempts at entering the Buffalo zone, but they weren’t able to convert those successful entries into quality scoring chances. In quite a few instances, they would generate an odd-man rush, and fail to get a decent look on Craig Anderson. Chris Tierney is a prime example here — after breaking up a play on the penalty-kill, he skated with Alex Formenton on a 2-on-1, only for his shot to come off his backhand from the middle of the slot.
The second period wasn’t looking to be much fun for Ottawa, either. Their poor discipline carried over from the first period, as they took two more minor penalties in the first ten minutes — Artem Zub for hooking, and Brännström (*facepalm*) for holding.
It was turning into quite the tedious affair for Ottawa, what with their penalty killers being worn down, and the lack of opportunity to create any offense of their own. However, something had gone unnoticed in all of that. Buffalo had been heavily relying on their power-play during the game, so much so that they didn’t generate much of anything at even strength.
As long as they could wake up and stay out of the box, the Sens were still very much in the game, but with injuries to star players Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris, they would most definitely need an offensive contribution from lower on their depth chart.
Fortunately, Zach Sanford was up to the task. He got through the Sabres’ defense and, after receiving a pretty pass from Tyler Ennis on the backhand, dragged the puck around Craig Anderson before firing the puck into a wide-open net, to tie the game at one at 16:04 in the second.
I especially love how Sanford kept the puck on his forehand here, and how the extra time he took before shooting made Rasmus Dahlin look especially bad in the process. He was standing right behind him, he could’ve at least made an effort to disrupt his stick there!
Although Ennis would take an interference penalty and Ottawa’s sixth of the night shortly after, they would kill it off, and that would be it for the Sabres’ power-play. And apparently, the Sabres in general were done playing as well. Through 40 minutes, Ottawa had 17 5-on-5 shots on goal compared to Buffalo’s 10, and the gap would only grow from there.
Ottawa took control of the game in the third period — while they weren’t forcing Anderson to make many stops, they were constantly gaining possession of loose pucks and shutting down any Sabres’ rush chances before they got to Forsberg.
This all contributed to a 22-minute stretch carried over from the second period, in which the Sabres didn’t get a single shot on goal. A floater into the glove of Forsberg was met with sarcastic cheering from the Buffalo crowd, which I’m sure the Senators proceeded to wear as a badge of honour.
During this stretch of perfect defensive play, Ottawa caught Buffalo in their own end and began pressing for the go-ahead goal. After several decent chances, Nick Holden, who’s been relatively hot lately, sent a point shot through traffic, which was tipped by Austin Watson past Anderson to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead at 10:49.
Despite there being ten minutes left, nothing much happened from that point on. Both teams got a few shots, Buffalo pulled Anderson for the extra attacker and Brady Tkachuk found the back of the empty net from his own zone to seal the deal. Ottawa takes it 3-1 and improves to 4-3-0 since the All-Star break.
- Anton Forsberg and the penalty-kill unit had to do tons of work to keep the score at 1-0, but once the Senators got past their discipline issues, the ice tilted heavily in their favour. Of the 24 shots Forsberg faced, a mere 13 of them were taken at 5-on-5. I have to give D.J. Smith and the boys massive credit here. Locking down a team like Buffalo may be a low bar to clear for a team like the Florida Panthers or Minnesota Wild, but for a Senators squad missing a ton of their talent, it’s another big step forward.
- Austin Watson had the game-winning goal, held his own on the PK, and fought John Hayden while drawing an instigator penalty in the process. A textbook fourth-line game for a fourth-line player.
- As I alluded to before, Nick Holden has been producing quite a bit as of late. Two assists tonight bring him up to 6 points in his last 8 games.
- I barely noticed Nikita Zaitsev and Josh Brown out there tonight, which means they certainly did their job. It just goes to show how different a team can look with competent depth players, as opposed to ones who drag the team down. Usually, those two fall into the latter category, but not tonight. Perhaps the absence of Thomas Chabot, and by extension, a top defense pairing allowed Smith to not lean on anyone more than he reasonably should. All that considered, reuniting the Chabot-Zub top pairing upon the former’s return is something that should be strongly considered.
- Brännström certainly had a rough night, with three minor penalties, but it’s encouraging that Smith played him over 17 minutes, even with the benching in the first period.
- The next team in danger of getting Sens’d is the...Boston Bruins. Ugh. I was told the Sens had one of the easier schedules from here on out, so what the heck is this? Anyway, it’s a 7:00 PM EST start time on Saturday, February 19th.