The great thing about the NHL schedule is that once the games start coming, they come fast and furious. If you were to, say, take an embarrassing faceplant in a key divisional match-up, you are likely to get the chance to redeem yourself in short order. For the Ottawa Senators, Sunday night’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres was just such an opportunity.
To say the Sens seemed like they were laser-focused on getting off to a positive start tonight would be an understatement, as Tim Stützle opened the scoring less than a minute into the game:
In rapid succession thereafter, Mark Kastelic got a semi-breakaway, though he never quite settled the puck to get a clean shot off, Thomas Chabot walked right in on Craig Anderson before being denied, and Brady Tkachuk hit the post twice in the same shift. If there were any concerns about a potential letdown after the Detroit game, those were quickly allayed.
That’s not to say that the Sabres didn’t have their chances in the opening frame, but Anton Forsberg was more than up to the challenge when called upon and some stellar work by the Penalty Kill, particularly Stützle, helped counteract a lengthy Sabres 5-on-3 to close out the stanza.
The start of the second period was eerily familiar, in the worst way, to the Red Wings match-up with the Sabres pushing heavily and eventually finding the equalizer courtesy of Zemgus Girgensons (great name):
In case you were wondering how the Sabres got a clean breakaway less than ten seconds after the Sens had the puck:
1) Alex DeBrincat gave the puck away feebly along the boards
2) Travis Hamonic made an indefensible change, totally hanging Thomas Chabot out to dry
3) Jake Sanderson misread the situation and didn’t attempt to close off the pass up the middle
Et voila, from total nothing play to the puck in the back of your net in under ten seconds!
The good news is that Ottawa regained their footing in the game shortly thereafter and generated a couple of quality chances, two for Drake Batherson in particular, though Anderson was up to the task in the Buffalo net.
Almost exactly halfway through the second period, the Sens earned a power play and Jacob Lucchini, who had another strong game, was rewarded with his first NHL goal.
One of the coolest things about being a fan of NHL hockey is seeing the excitement of guys when they score their first goal in the big show. Especially for someone like Lucchini, who until a couple weeks ago was not a sure thing to ever even play in the NHL, you can tell how big of a deal it is.
The rest of the second was spent with the two teams alternating extending pressure, the Sabres keeping the Sens pinned in their end for nearly two whole minutes at one point, but Ottawa returning the favour right near the end of the frame thanks in no small part to some stellar work at the offensive blueline by Sanderson. After two, the Sens found themselves with an opportunity to exorcise some demons: up 2-1, and trying to close out a critical win.
The third period brought with it a sustained Sabres push and there were moments when the Sens bent, but they did not break. Stützle iced the game away with an empty net goal and everyone got to leave the rink happy. Except for Sabres fans, but why are you a Sabres fan at a game in Ottawa anyways?
- After looking a bit rusty in his return to the line-up last night, Artem Zub appeared to be back to his usual self tonight — his defensive play in the neutral zone was particularly sharp. Zub: we missed you!
- What a difference goaltending makes, eh? The Sabres generated far more chances than the Red Wings did last night, but Forsberg was spectacular in limiting Buffalo to just the one goal against. This isn’t to say the Sens were undeserving of the win, Anderson was very good as well, but everyone, from the defense, to the forwards, to the coaches, all look a little bit better when the goalie is making the types of saves Forsberg did tonight.
- DJ Smith has called the line of Kastelic, Austin Watson, and Parker Kelly the team’s “identity” and is clearly a fan of their style of play but it says here that the trio of Lucchini, Kelly, and Dylan Gambrell has performed so well in their brief time together that if this continues they deserve a chance to be the permanent fourth line. Kelly, in particular, has looked like a totally new player beside Lucchini and Gambrell. When Josh Norris, Mathieu Joseph, and Tyler Motte return there will be some tough choices to make.