On a night like tonight, it can be difficult to find much worth writing about. The Ottawa Senators came into Madison Square Garden on Saturday as heavy underdogs against the New York Rangers. The Rangers are one of the top teams in the East, and even at full strength the Sens would have been hard-pressed to take home a victory. Without Thomas Chabot, Tim Stützle, and Drake Batherson the task appeared Herculean. On many occasions over the last couple of seasons, this type of set up has led to some of the team’s most strangely satisfying victories. The seemingly unexpected triumph has occurred so many times that has a name: Sens’ing ‘em. Did your favourite team outshoot Ottawa 50-19 but lose because of some supernatural phenomenon? Congratulations, you got Sens’d. Tonight’s game felt like it had real Sens’ing potential. Alas, what we got instead was a comprehensive trouncing. I won’t lie to you, dear reader: it just wasn’t very exciting.
The best part of the game, as an Ottawa fan, was Austin Waton’s goal less than two and a half minutes in:
Watson, who now has four goals in his last five games (!), buried a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence after some strong forechecking kept the puck in the Rangers’ end. Mark Kastelic, maybe the only Senator that you could say had a legitimately good game, found Watson with the incisive pass. Kastelic’s shown some defensive chops, and ability to win draws, that could have value on the fourth line. If he can flash the occasional bit of skill, it’ll help his case tremendously. The goal was precisely the type Ottawa would need to hang with New York. Alas, it was the last of its kind.
The Rangers equalized ten minutes later through Artemi Panarin, who was sensational all night, off a scrambled draw. The goal itself wasn’t especially noteworthy, it was a bouncing puck that found its way to Panarin in the slot and he didn’t miss, but the sequence of events leading up to the goal was typical of the Sens’ night: Erik Brännström, under zero pressure, held onto the puck for a full ten seconds while the Sens completed a line change and the Rangers waited in the neutral zone before misfiring on a pass that went for icing. Thus setting up the goal that came after. It felt like Ottawa rarely had the puck with control at any point during the evening, and when they did settle it down they whiffed on passes like Brännström did there.
The first frame ended 1-1, mostly due to the efforts of Anton Forsberg, but the second period held no such continued luck for the Sens. The Rangers struck for three goals in just over ten minutes: Andrew Copp off a feed from Panarin, Chris Kreider on a re-directed wrister, and Ryan Strome again off a feed from Panarin. On the last goal, Panarin danced by Artem Zub with such ease before making a cross-crease pass to Strome that I had to rewind twice to be sure that it really was the Sens’ normally stout rearguard. When even Zub is getting absolutely roasted, it is not likely to be Ottawa’s night. After two periods the score was 4-1 and the shots were 25-9. Frankly, the score line flattered the Sens.
The team pushed a bit harder in the third but the only goal went to Kreider yet again. On the Sportsnet broadcast, Gary Galley remarked that the Sens were playing a better period. I suppose that’s true, but the first two were the lowest of bars to clear. If nothing else, I’d have said the Rangers stopped pushing. It was a bit depressing all told.
Sometimes there are great lessons to learn in defeat, or things to work on. In this instance, I keep coming back to the same thing: the Rangers were simply the better team, and given the Sens’ lineup tonight that should be no surprise. There’s no bigger lesson to be learned tonight, folks. Sometimes the other guys are just better. It sucks, but you move on and hope the roster looks a bit more normal next time out.
If you want to subject yourself to the highlights (why?), here’s the Watson goal and a bunch of New York goals for your viewing displeasure: