In his pre-game availability, Guy Boucher tampered expectations for tonight despite the Sens 3 - 1 - 0 start, calling his ex-team one of the favourites to win the Cup. The game sure played out that way, as outside of a stretch during the back half of the second period, the Lightning were strong tonight.
The game started poorly for the Sens, with the Lightning jumping out to a 10 - 2 lead in shots after the first 10 minutes of play. In a Fox Sports intermission interview, Anton Stralman was asked what the Lightning were doing different compared to their last game, a 4 - 0 blanking on home ice. His response? The team was attacking as a unit, using speed through the neutral zone, and having the defensemen jump up to create a second line of attack. I’m sure that’s the gameplan for most teams on a good night, but it also sounds strikingly familiar to how Boucher would like the Sens to play as well.
Instead, outside of the Pageau - Kelly - Pyatt line and the magnificent play of Craig Anderson, the Sens got a whole ‘lotta nothing in the first. They were 25% on faceoffs, gave the puck away 6 times (compared to 1 for Tampa Bay), and in particular, the Hoffman - Turris - Stone group were on the ice for 6 scoring chances against in ~4 minutes of ice-time, compared to 1 chance for.
The second started the same way, only with some goals against sprinkled in as the team started to take penalties - an early season plague for the group to cure. This time, Cody Ceci was caught chasing the puck and took a high-sticking penalty in the corner, but was back on the ice 11 seconds later as Vladislav Namestnikov tipped home an Anton Stralman wrist shot in the high slot to give the Bolts the lead.
Two and a half minutes later, Mike Hoffman gets caught hooking Stralman on the backcheck after the Bolts rearguard entered the offensive zone, and the Lightning score again. Now, the penalty kill did a better job at the beginning, forcing the Bolts to either dump the puck in or forechecking hard to prevent the zone entry. However, everything collapsed after the Bolts top unit, featuring the likes of Hedman, Stamkos, Drouin, and Namestnikov, went to work. It’s clear when players like Stamkos and Ovechkin set-up in the left circle that you know the powerplay is going to try to get the puck to them, but it’s still ridiculous how often they still manage to score. This time, Marc Methot ended up late reacting to a bobbled puck at the right half-wall and Vlad Namestnikov earned his second point in as many minutes by sliding a sweet cross-ice pass through the crease to Stamkos, who one-timed it past a sprawling Craig Anderson to make it 2 - 0.
The Sens fortunes finally started to change around the 10 minute mark of the period when Erik Karlsson and Tom Pyatt drew back-to-back hooking penalties. The Sens powerplay — still dormant after a 0/3 night tonight — didn’t score, but generated good zone time that carried over into a strong back half of the period at 5-on-5. All four Senators lines, not just the Pageau - Kelly - Pyatt trio, got some great shifts in and generated pressure, but it was the unlikely fourth line who potted the team’s only goal of the night. It started with Chris Kelly, on a double-shift, chipping the puck into the zone and on net. Chris Neil, crashing the net hard, then outmuscled a couple of Lightning players to pot the loose puck behind Vasilevskiy after the Russian netminder couldn’t track it properly to get the Sens on the board, 2 - 1.
The Sens pushed hard to tie the game before the end of the period, with Chris Kelly in the middle of all of it on his way to being on the ice for a game-high 9 scoring chances, but didn’t score. The push back was very evident, however, and was a positive on a generally poor night for the team as a whole.
The third period was pretty even, with the Point - Filppula - Killorn lines and the Pageau - Kelly - Pyatt lines trading chances early. Momentum swung back the Lightning’s way though after J.T. Brown drew a holding penalty against Mark Borowiecki. Although the Sens PK got their first kill of the night, they were rattled and were hemmed into their zone for the 2 - 3 shifts afterwards, culminating in a goal against. It started with a failed zone entry for the Hoffman - Turris - Stone line that sends the Lightning with numbers the other way. Dion Phaneuf ends up backing up too much, leaving too big of a gap and a ton of time for Alex Killorn to pick his spot on Craig Anderson to give the Bolts a 3 - 1 lead.
Karlsson, who played a majority of the last 10 minutes of the third on his way to a game-high 25:33, tried to get his team back in it after drawing a holding penalty against Namestnikov, but both units (Phaneuf - Wideman on Unit 2) were unable to score despite good movement. In particular, what I’ve noticed about the Sens PP is that there’s good movement, but a lot of it is along the perimeter and there’s very little cross-ice passes that lead to the isolated 2-on-1s that the team needs to generate in order to get high danger scoring chances. If what Boucher ran in the pre-season is any indication, the Sens are definitely trying to do what I’m talking about (they’re 5th in the league in 5-on-4 shot attempts per 60 minutes), but have been unable to execute so far this season.
The final goal against came off of a bobbled pass by Kyle Turris after Karlsson tried to spring him to start a neutral zone rush. The puck ends up on Brayden Point’s stick, who quickly sent up to Val Filppula for a breakaway that Craig Anderson had no chance on.
All in all, it just seemed like the Sens couldn’t find a way to generate a consistent attack, measured by pucks directed towards the net. 35 shots against and two powerplay goals against surely didn’t help their cause, although playing the Bolts around even in 5-on-5 scoring chances (17 to 20) is a positive to build off of. The loss ends the team’s three game home winning streak AND Karlsson’s four game point streak, as the Sens will look to rebound on the road as they begin a Western Canada road trip.
Sens Hero: Chris Kelly
Ol’ Stonehands had a fantastic night tonight. Not only did he lead the team in shot attempts for with 59%, but he had numerous individual scoring chances and was on the ice for 9 (compared to 4 against). I was skeptical that he’d have anything left in the tank after the team signed him to a one-way deal in the offseason, but he can keep taking a regular shift if he continues to play this way.
Honourable Mention: Craig Anderson
I’m pretty conflicted about this choice. On one hand, Anderson kept the team in it during a terrible first period and it’s pretty hard to fault him for any of the team’s goals. On the other?
Thru four games, Craig Anderson has yet to post a SV% above .895. Rough start for Ottawa's No. 1.— Callum Fraser (@CallumFraser18) October 23, 2016
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick