While mortals slept in the nation’s capital, the Senators went about business as usual on the west coast against the Vancouver Canucks and by business as usual I mean growing pains.
The Senators didn’t exactly spoil those of us who committed to the 10PM start time. Jet lag may have played a role in the horrendous start for Ottawa in this one as Vancouver capitalized on several Ottawa miscues to establish a daunting 4-0 lead early on and while Ottawa gave it the old college try, the last forty minutes seemed superfluous.
The game started with a fast pace and both teams got some looks early on. However the ’nucks struck first as Antoine Roussel found himself with Adam Gaudette on a 2 on 1 on Vlad Namestnikov after Erik Brannstrom gave up the puck at the blue line leaving his defensive zone (Erik saw ~12 minutes of ice time on the night after setting the tone early with this turnover). Nilsson had virtually no chance as Vancouver executed the 2 on 1 perfectly.
Mere minutes later, with the Sens hemmed in their own zone, Logan Brown made an ill-advised pass into open ice as he missed the stick of Mark Borowiecki and Vancouver scored their second goal on their first seven shots courtesy of Tanner Pearson (assisted by Chris Tanev). Suffice to say, Ottawa’s rookies did not have an ideal start to the game.
Pearson took a penalty midway through the first and Ottawa’s infamous power kill took the ice looking to get the back in this contest. Ottawa seemed somewhat guilty of waiting too long for the perfect look. However, when you have the worst power play in the league, confidence tends to wane and no one wants t be the trigger man. As is tradition, Ottawa got burned on a questionably quick whistle on what looked like a good goal for Anthony Duclair.
Roussel almost converted for his second of the game as Ottawa got their signals crossed and Nilsson had to make a point-blank save. On the subsequent shift, DeMelo took a less than ideal tripping penalty on Josh Leivo and Vancouver’s power play went to work. With the likes of Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson on the ice, the Canucks dissected Ottawa’s penalty kill efficiently and the Senators couldn’t get to the locker room quickly enough.
The bad times continued to roll for Dylan DeMelo as Zack MacEwen won a position battle in front of the net and deflected a point shot from Jordie Benn to take the worst lead in hockey a 4-0 lead. Perhaps DJ Smith meant it when he said the Send would sacrifice defence in order to score some much needed goals as Ottawa generated an uncommon 16 shots in the first frame although at a hefty cost for Anders Nilsson.
Marcus Hogberg took the helm from Nilsson to start the second. Perhaps DJ Smith intended for the Senators to play a safer and more sound game in front of their young backstop. Ottawa showed some urgency in the first shifts of period two to generate some looks in front of Thatcher Demko to no avail.
At the 13-minute mark of the second, a broken play in front of Hogberg and a nice stretch pass resulted in a clean breakaway for Connor Brown. Demko, however, denied the snakebitten Brown as the misery continued in Sens land. Less than two minutes later, Demko also robbed Jean-Gabriel Pageau point blank. At this point, it seemed all but certain that Ottawa would never score another goal.
On a positive note, Ottawa did a much better job in the second of limiting the Canucks to one-and-dones and of not allowing Vancouver to establish the cycle as dominantly as they did in the first. Playing in front of Hogberg may have contributed to Ottawa’s improved commitment to defence or score effects may have taken a toll on Vancouver’s forecheck.
At the 8-minute mark when it looked as though Demko had transformed into late-nineties Dominik Hasek, who else but Jean-Gabriel Pageau finally buried one as Ottawa’s forecheck refused to go gentle into that good night. Our hometown hero increased his season total to fifteen goals. After arguably the best single-month performance he has ever had during the regular season, JGP picked up where he left off to start December.
With two minutes left in the period, Duclair and Tkachuk continued to show their inspiring chemistry and while they couldn’t finish at five-on-five , they did sustain pressure in the offensive zone forcing Chris Tanev to take a penalty and Ottawa’s disjointed power play hopped over the boards once more. As we may have predicted, the Sens failed to close the gap heading in to the second intermission.
Play resumed in the third with a abbreviated power play for Ottawa and just as even strength play resumed, Tyler Ennis tipped a Hotsam Batcho boomer past Demko and for a moment the Sens showed signs of life.
Ottawa didn’t get a chance to parlay any gained momentum as Brannstrom took a pretty brutal delay of game penalty on a sloppy back check and the Canucks deadly power play got back to action.
With play opening up as the period progressed, Hogberg saw a few more shots against including a Bo Horvat breakaway that Hoggy handled admirably. The Canucks would beat the young swede with an Oscar Fantenberg knuckler that fluttered past Marcus to restore Vancouver’s three-goal lead.
Fourteen seconds later it looked like Vlad Namestnikov had finished off a beautiful give-and-go that officials deemed offside after a challenge from the Canucks bench. At this point it really felt like adding insult to injury as the Canucks all but had the game wrapped up and Ottawa’s skaters really just needed any small victories to regain some sort of dignity.
- Before puck drop the Canucks took a moment to add number 14 to their ring of honour and while he may have had a brief stint as a Senator, Alex Burrows meant so much to the fans in Vancouver and occupies a significant chapter in their history. If nothing else, Burrows took part in significant postseason runs for both teams over the course of his career.
- Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes provided one of the marquee matchups in this one as the former draft mates have developed into young stars over the past year. As much as I have come to love the Senators’ selection of Tkachuk at fourth overall, I certainly don’t lament playing in a conference without Quinn Hughes.
- Much like his start in Calgary last weekend, I really admired Hogberg’s performance in relief in this one. He didn’t face a steady barrage of shots and yet he kept his focus for the most part and came up with some timely saves to prevent another 7-2 or 8-2 fiasco for the Senators.
- Vancouver really impressed me with their defensive play in this one as they seemingly always had players back in numbers to counter every Ottawa rush. They looked much more composed and organized than I may have given them credit for based on the way this defensive corps looks on paper. To a player, this Vancouver team has surprised me a lot this season. Even with the likes of Hughes, Peterson, and Boeser, I figured the Canucks had no shot in their division.
- The Sens have their next match-up against another team I didn’t expect to see anywhere near a playoff spot heading into the season in the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday at 930./
Ottawa pushed back but the damage was already done
Most of the cooking tonight took place in Chucky’s kitchen