You probably would’ve been happier as a fan of the Ottawa Senators if you’d forgotten it was 2 p.m. start and missed the game. The Sens never looked threatening, and they made the Sabres look like an all-star team with the way they got to set up camp in the Sens’ zone. I think everyone watching the game wished they were that Sens fan who left when the Sabres scored two quick goals in the second to go up 5-0.
Before the game, we got to live through a celebration of Jason Pominville having hit 1000 NHL games on Thursday, which really meant 1000 chances to re-live his Senators-eliminating OT goal from the 2005 playoffs.
The game got underway, and the Sabres were the more amped-up team. They dominated possession, and forced Craig Anderson into two big early saves. First, Jack Eichel outraced Maxime Lajoie to a loose pick for a breakaway chance that Andy stopped, and then Casey Mittelstadt hit Kyle Okposo with a quick pass right in front that he had to stop point-blank. That wouldn’t wake the Sens up at all though, because on Okposo’s next shift he fired a rolling puck far side past Anderson. The goal at least reminded me that Let Me Clear My Throat is that Sabres’ goal song, which is awesome. And a minute and a half later, Eichel fired in a high shot that Anderson stopped, but the rebound went off his mask, hit Jeff Skinner’s knee, and bounced in behind him. Pominville picked up the secondary assist on that goal, giving him a seven-game point streak.
At the 10-minute mark of the game, the shots were 8-1 for the Sabres. I’m usually a fan of loading up the top line with skill à la Pizza Line, but the problem with these Sens is that then it only gives them on viable line. The goal of every non Dzingel-Duchene-Stone line seemed to be to flip the puck out of the defensive zone, race up and win a 50/50 puck battle, and hopefully get a scoring chance. I counted seven times in the first period that the Sens’ defence tried to flip the puck out of the zone and failed because the Sabres’ defenceman kept it in, and twice that they flipped it out too hard and caused an icing. And sure enough, the next goal of the game was also Buffalo’s. After the Skinner-Eichel-Pominville line sustained pressure in the zone, a rebound off a difficult Anderson save fell to a wide-open Pominville with a wide-open net who scored easily. And that did it for Anderson’s night, giving Mike McKenna his first NHL action of the year. That also led to a decent amount of line switching, which was already happening somewhat with the Sens using 11 forwards. The Sens got some offensive zone pressure, culminating in a late powerplay, but the score remained 3-0 Buffalo.
Things opened up in the second, but not with the result most Sens fans would’ve wanted. With Christian Jaros in the box, Pominville fooled everyone with a great chance in front, but McKenna came up with the huge glove save. Even the goal horn went off, but it was a great save. As lucky would have it though, it wouldn’t matter. Skinner spoiled McKenna’s shoutout bid with another rebound goal. Thomas Chabot got caught a little bit, not covering the puck or the player and Skinner had a tap-in with the puck in behind the goalie. 13 seconds later, Zemgus Girgensons put the Sabres up by five. Mikkel Boedker and Max McCormick teamed up to make sure Linus Ullmark didn’t have a perfect night, with some tenacious forechecking leading to a quick goal. But 30 seconds later, Jason Pominville scored his second of the game, and 30 seconds after that, Conor Sheary got in alone and made no mistake. Down 7-1, Guy Boucher used his timeout, though I really wasn’t sure what he was going to say. I also was shocked there were still 32 minutes left in the game, so I wasn’t happy about anything that kept it from ending.
What he seemed to do was settle down the game, with scoring chances at both ends becoming rarer. The only major chance was when Mark Stone went in on a breakaway, but the crossbar kept him at 99 career goals. The second period finished with the score “only” 7-1 for Buffalo.
The third period felt like the Sens were a little bit disheartened, but really, who could blame them? Seven-goal comebacks are pretty rare. Patrik Berglund extended the lead to 8-1, and Erik Burgdoerfer got into a shoving match in front which was the first time I noticed him in the game, and then pre-season Calder winner Casey Mittelstadt scored a goal of his own. Going down 9-1 seemed to fire up the Sens a bit, and Cody Ceci got a tip-in goal by being the net-front presence for a Thomas Chabot shot. Maybe Guy Boucher has unlocked this team’s secret weapon: Ceci as the net-front presence. That would do it for the scoring, with the final score 9-2, and the shots 41-29 for the Sabres.
Really, nobody stood out. Mark Stone was probably the game’s best player because he had about four times I can think of that he did something positive.
Normally when you go down 2-0 early, you start to take over possession. The Sens really didn’t push back until it was 7-1 and the Sabres resigned themselves to trying to get Jason Pominville the hattrick. You shouldn’t be outshot 41-29 when you’re losing from five minutes into the game.
Ottawa’s defensive strategies need work. It seems that 90% of the team’s plan is to flip the puck out if they get it in their own zone. It essentially gifts possession to their opponents, and half the time either leads to icing or to the opposing team keeping the puck in.
Ottawa’s offensive zone plans also need some work. Guys like Stone and Duchene and Dzingel are creative and create plays, but everyone else seems to push wide on the wing then throw it blindly at the net and hope they have a teammate there. The Sens weren’t going to win this game regardless, but if this team depends on getting lucky on blind passes and 50/50 pucks as a rule, they’re not going to win many games at all./