There were Hamburglar vibes tonight.
Facing the New York Islanders on the second half of a back-to-back and one of the best goaltenders on the planet in Ilya Sorokin, the Ottawa Senators needed somebody to step up in a massive way if they wanted to win their fifth game in their last six.
In the Senators' crease, and making his NHL debut was Kevin Mandolese, a sixth-round selection from the 2018 NHL Draft. This 6’5 goaltender led the QMJHL in save percentage during the 2019-20 season, but he hasn’t enjoyed a great deal of success in his three-year AHL career.
Perhaps the strong effort in goal yesterday against the Calgary Flames by fellow Sens prospect Mads Søgaard was something of a motivator for Mandolese, as with injuries to both Anton Forsberg and Cam Talbot, a unique opportunity emerged for two young goalies to push each other to new heights.
The legendary performance in goal started out relatively mundane, as the Senators were able to put together a strong first period overall. While both teams turned over multiple pucks in their own end, Ottawa created the better opportunities (including a couple of shots off the post courtesy of Dylan Gambrell and Erik Brännström), while a couple of timely blocks from Tyler Motte and recent callup Jacob Larsson kept things fairly easy for Mandolese.
As we know, the strong defensive performance didn’t last, and Mandolese would be called upon for a Senators debut rivaling that of the man himself, Craig Anderson.
The ice quickly tilted the way of the Islanders as early on, after barely killing off a Gambrell tripping minor, the defence conceded a healthy amount of open ice to Ryan Pulock who ripped the game’s opening goal past Mandolese.
Ryan Pulock opens the scoring. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/ce5JwspID2— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 15, 2023
The Senators were back on their heels, with shades of yesterday’s performance (the bad part, not the good part), but they were by no means out of it. Despite allowing some high-danger chances, they were generating just as many. With Alexander Romanov interfering with Motte, Brady Tkachuk had two or three good chances by himself on the second Ottawa power-play.
And after a heroic four-save performance by Mandolese on the Isles’ third power-play of the night, an opportunity emerged for the Sens to tie the game. And luckily for them, it was the süperstar pulling the trigger once again.
That’s Tim Stützle’s 24th of the season, who’s quickly developing a reputation as a sniper on top of everything else at which he’s known to be absolutely fantastic. And he might just have the Kyle Turris clutch gene as well. Let’s hope it translates to the playoffs if and when Ottawa gets there.
The third period saw a continuation of the Islanders’ strong play, but it would be Ottawa scoring the go-ahead goal. With the power-play finally clicking, Brady Tkachuk expertly deflected a pass from the faceoff dot past Sorokin to make it 2-1 Ottawa.
Too easy for Brady Tkachuk. 😏 pic.twitter.com/vpQ12li0U0— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 15, 2023
Now, don’t get me wrong. Ottawa had tons of chances, including 34 shots on goal in the game, and this was absolutely a goaltending duel between Sorokin and Mandolese. But that quickly changed after the go-ahead goal, as desperation began to set in for the Islanders. This was a massive game for both teams looking to get back into the playoff race, and every point counted. From this point on, the Sens were dominated, given no chance to do anything other than defend.
Three-and-a-half minutes after Brady’s marker, and with Brännström in the box for a questionable interference call, Brock Nelson finally broke through on the power-play to tie things up at two.
That was a cannon from Brock Nelson pic.twitter.com/6xjOz6jS7a— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 15, 2023
The question quickly changed from whether or not the Senators could win in regulation, to whether or not they could make it to overtime. It was up to Mandolese to keep the score tied, and he did just that, with several key saves, and by keeping the puck under check as he does here. Also, Zub throws a hit on Zach Parise that’s even heavier than his buyout penalty.
To their credit, they survived the onslaught. Granted, allowing over 40 shots on a goalie making his NHL debut isn’t a sustainable way to get points in the standings, but what are you gonna do? The way they’ve lost games hasn’t been all that sustainable, either. It’s about time teams other than the Ottawa Senators struggle to finish on their chances.
Those of you who were hoping for a fresh start in overtime can think again. It was another round of dominance by the Islanders, who even forced Ottawa into a too-many-men call. It was looking like the Sens wouldn’t be able to get Mandolese a deserved first NHL win, but the entire group found one last gear to force the game into a shootout.
And not only did Tim Stützle and Drake Batherson find the back of the net, but Kevin Mandolese went a perfect 2/2, stopping Bo Horvat and Kyle Palmieri to secure a 3-2 shootout win for the Ottawa Senators.
An amazing NHL debut, and another memorable victory. This could be The Run, folks.
- Aside from the unreal 46 saves made by Kevin Mandolese, I was thoroughly impressed by his ability to handle the puck. No noticeable errors in that regard, despite being in a couple of high-pressure situations. And despite Ottawa giving up all those shots, they did support him by preventing those second and third chances from getting on goal.
- Offensively, the Senators were dangerous for most of the game. Because of the volume of shots from in-tight, they actually had more expected goals than the Isles did at 5v5 and on the power-play, according to NaturalStatTrick. Leading the way in this regard were Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, and Drake Batherson.
- Stützle’s play away from the puck has been very solid this year. Defensive metrics have improved, and he’s making those small, noticeable plays that allow the team to keep the puck in the offensive zone for longer periods of time. Both he and Erik Brännström were able to create very good chances by holding the blue line against tough clearing attempts.
- Travis Hamonic has assists in back-to-back games. Redemption arc???/
Stats (from NaturalStatTrick)
- What better way to celebrate the retirement of Chris Neil’s #25 than by beating the hell out of the Chicago Blackhawks? You won’t want to miss the action this Friday, February 17th at 7:00 PM EST./