In the preview for tonight’s game, I warned that the Florida Panthers had an awful lot of offensive firepower on their side. If the Ottawa Senators wanted to come out on top of a match-up with one of the league’s top teams, they would need a stellar performance from their goalie. Thankfully, Anton Forsberg was up to task. Maybe I should have clarified that the Sens would good goalie play in addition to a good game from the skaters because unfortunately not too many other members of the team seemed ready for the task at hand.
The first period got off to something of a cautious start, and the Sens were skating well and maintaining good defensive structure early on — particularly through the neutral zone. There was also a physical edge to the game. Brady Tkachuk, in particular, was a menace on the forecheck and ran over Aaron Ekblad twice to start the game.
Unfortunately, after yet another aggressive Tkachuk forecheck, Brady was baited into a roughing penalty by noted shit-disturber Ryan Lomberg. Thus began a long, frustrating night of Ottawa penalties.
Things really started to unwind for the Sens thanks to a four minute high sticking penalty against Erik Brännström right as the Tkachuk and Lomberg penalties were expiring. There can be no doubt that Brännström has taken some bad penalties of late, and if you want to take a hard line you could say that he was being a bit careless with his stick, but that particular infraction struck me as a total fluke. Nonetheless, he drew blood and a high stick is a high stick; the referees had no choice but to call the infraction.
The good news for the Sens’ PK was that they earned the team’s first two shots of the game when Connor Brown broke in alone, immediately followed by Alex Formenton taking a whack at the rebound. The bad news is that Sergei Bobrovsky turned both attempts away and, after some extreme pressure, Florida finally broke through thanks to a Mason Marchment goal off a rebound.
DJ Smith seemed to think that there was enough contact with the goalie t to merit a challenge. Personally, I find it difficult to know how goalie interference is adjudicated these days so I’ll let the reader be the judge on this one:
Ultimately the challenge failed because, according to the official, Marchment was pushed in by Nick Holden. Sure, why not?
With the goal coming mere seconds before the first of Brännström’s two minors expired, and the Sens having lost the challenge, Ottawa had to deal with a two minute long 5-on-3.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the good news is that Connor Brown got another shorthanded breakaway. The bad news is that he yet again failed to score and the Panthers responded with a truly incredible amount of pressure. Ottawa survived, thanks almost entirely to Forsberg, and eventually emerged from the opening frame down just 1-0. Shots at this point were 25-7, including 11-1 at 5v5.
Sens fans were probably hoping that the intermission would be enough to jolt some life into the Sens, but sadly the second frame began much as the first ended: with Florida carrying the play. Ottawa would go eight minutes in the middle frame without a shot on net, and at one point were being outshot 36-9. Alex Formenton, for cross-checking, and Colin White, for tripping, took penalties but the Sens’ PK held strong. While most of the credit for the penalty kill’s efficiency should go to Forsberg, I will note that several Sens’ penalty killers did make some necessary defensive plays and big shot blocks.
Besides Forsberg, the only real positive for the Sens after forty minutes was the fact that the game remained very much within reach at 1-0. There were even some audible boos from the home crowd after a late period power play fizzled. Yes, the Panthers were clearly the better team but the frustration was palpable. Was there an all-time great Sens-ing in store for us?
Thomas Chabot would take a needless cross-checking penalty on Anthony Duclair in the early part of the third period, and after yet another failed shorthanded odd man rush for Connor Brown, Patric Hornqvist knocked in a rebound for the Panthers to extend the lead to 2-0. That goal felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back because Lomberg would make it 3-0 Florida just twelve seconds later. Yes, even the pests were pitching in now and it was beginning to feel like it just wasn’t Ottawa’s night.
Perhaps the refs were feeling badly about the large penalty differential, because the Sens were awarded two power plays in rapid succession. For Ottawa to have any chance of getting back into the game, they’d need to make good with the man advantage since absolutely nothing was doing at 5v5. Unfortunately, this truly was a night to forget as Ottawa could muster nothing of substance and midway through the third period still trailed 3-0. Panthers fans were feeling good enough about themselves that they started doing the wave. Yep.
With the Sens seemingly unable to get close on the scoreboard, the chippy nature of the encounter bubbled over after Tkachuk took a run at Hornqvist after the whistle. Tkachuk, Austin Watson, and Radko Gudas were all removed from the game for their troubles, and the Sens were forced to kill another penalty. Watson had some, ahem, choice words for the referees:
Just after the penalties expired, Josh Brown steamrolled Lomberg in the neutral zone, which led to a scrap between the two of them and it looked for a minute like things could really get out of hand. Nothing more came of it, however, and besides Dylan Gambrell hitting the post not much else of note took place.
It was a frustrating game almost right from the start, and hopefully one the Sens can learn something from. The shots were 48-18 in favour of the Panthers, and the total xG count was 6.66-2.81; a lot of those 48 shots were of the most dangerous variety. These last two games in Florida have been an example of what real contenders look like. There’s work to do.