Senators Fall to Canadiens in O'Connor's NHL Debut
A recap of Sunday's game between the Sens and Habs.
Ah, thanksigiving weekend, a time to gather with family to eat food and (we hoped) to watch the Senators annihilate the Canadiens. It being a long weekend, I hope you can forgive a fairly short recap of the game. Matt O'Connor got his first career NHL start, against Mike Condon, also in his first career NHL start. Apparently the first time both starting goalies have been making their NHL debut since 1967. It seemed a little funny that O'Connor decided to come to Ottawa because they wouldn't rush him to the NHL, only to be rushed into NHL action due to an injury to Andrew Hammond. But anyway.
The game started with the Alex Chiasson-Zack Smith-Chris Neil hemmed in their own zone for more than a minute, but the tame came out unscathed. In actuality, they did a pretty good job of keeping the Habs to the perimeter and preventing shots, which is most of what you hope your fourth line does. The next notable moment came around the five-minute mark of the period, when O'Connor showed good mobility to get across a stop a tough shot in tight. After that faceoff, the Milan Michalek-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Curtis Lazar line went to work in the offensive zone. It looked like it was only a matter of time until one team scored given the high-event nature of the game so far.
The next line to go to work in the offensive zone was Clarke MacArthur-Mika Zibanejad-Bobby Ryan. A lot of pressure didn't even lead to any good shots, thanks to some scrambling defence by the Habs, especially Nathan Beaulieu. The crowd was clearly ready to bust out at the first goal, but they'd have to wait a little longer.
The first goal came off the stick of Tomas Plekanec, and it's one O'Connor would really love to have back. It was a very sharp angle, practically on the red line, and O'Connor got caught cheating. The puck had enough room to bounce off his skate and go in the net. The good news was that there was still a lot of game in which to play.
Unfortunately, after that it was time for Thanksgiving leftover meal for me, so I missed most of the details of the end of the first. However, I did manage to catch the second goal, a great play by Plekanec. He blocked an Erik Karlsson point-shot, and took off on a breakaway. Impressively, he managed to stay ahead of Karlsson, tucking home the puck. That would do it for scoring in the first, a period in which the Sens were doubled up in shots, 16-8. It wasn't a good period for the team, but they must have known that with some strong play, they could back and have a much better end to the game.
The second period didn't start much better for Ottawa. Montreal got the first fewshots on goal, and then the Turris line got hemmed in the zone until finally Mark Stone was forced to take a cross-checking penalty. It felt like Montreal managed to spend 92% of that powerplay in the Sens' zone, but the Sens did just enough to prevent a goal against. Still, the team went into the first commercial break of the period looking like Montreal had them on the ropes.
There was a notable scrum after a pretty harmless shot on Mike Condon. P.K. Subban seemed to take exception to Kyle Turris digging for the puck and went straight after him. Most players on the ice ended up involved in the scrum, but somehow Ottawa ended up on the PK from the play. It seemed odd that Subban's facewash didn't get a call, but Marc Methot got one for showing up late. When even the Sportsnet commentators wonder how Subban didn't get a penalty you knwo you have a case. Dave Cameron seemed just as confused as me, but you're not going to win a fight with the ref.
Thankfully, some hope got restored immediately in that penalty. Penalty-killing phenom Pageau raced up the ice with Lazar. Jeff Petry had to go down to block the pass, forcing Pageau to rip a shot. It was initally saved, but the puck trickled through Condon's legs and into the net.
Just to make matters worse, Jared Cowen took a penalty for... interference?... right afterward. For some reason, Zack Smith ended up in the box, putting the Sens in a 5-on-3 hole. Ottawa managed to clear the zone twice on that kill, until Stone finally made it out to make it a more reasonable 5-on-4 penalty kill. Quickly into that one, Alexander Semin got his stick up on both Stone and Cowen. In my opinion it was a make-up call, because I didn't see much that looked like it deserved to be a penalty.
Ottawa's powerplay looked atrocious, never getting set up. Semin coming out of the box gave the Habs a two-on-one, but a great backcheck by Chiasson broke it up briefly, but Patrick Wiercioch was already being called for a slash. It was the seventh called of the period, and we hadn't even reached the second commercial break.
Lazar blocked a shot on the penalty kill, leading to a Plekanec-esque breakaway chance. It looked to me like Petry gave him a slash before taking him out of the play, but the refs decided it wasn't in their interest to award a penalty shot so they let it go. That would essentially do it for the powerplay, as Ottawa easily killed the last few seconds.
That would pretty much do it for the second period, in which the Sens were outshot 9-6, though most of this had to do with the 5-1 powerplay differential. The Habs still had the lead, but it looked like anything could happen in the third.
Plekanec nearly got the hat-trick to start the third. He was left wide open on the far side, but O'Connor pushed across effectively to take away any chance at an easy goal. I'd heard scouts praise O'Connor's lateral movement from college, and he really showed it off to make that play.
Kyle Turris had a great takeaway down low around the five-minute mark of the period to give Mark Stone a great chance, but he couldn't actually get a shot off. The return to the Sens' zone led to Torrey Mitchell getting a flukey goal. Subban threw it on net, Mitchell flipped it up, and O'Connor never saw the puck. Just to make matters worse, the "Ole ole ole" chants started. Just in case you didn't know how many Habs fans there were in the arena.
A quick bit of passing gave Marc Methot a glorious shot to tie it, but he rang it off the post, and the rebound was flung over an open net.
A scary moment just after, as Methot headed down the tunnel. Needless to say, all Sens fans hoped he would be OK.
Wiercioch's bad game then got worse, as he got called for holding Dale Weise. It was definitely a penalty, and was probably as much out of frustration as anything else from Patty W. But to help things out, the Sens killed that one off too.
Ottawa got a brief powerplay thanks to a Devante Smith-Pelly slash, but a high-sticking penalty to Stone that should actually have been to Turris sent the teams to a minute and a half of 4-on-4.
With just under two minutes left, Mitchell got his stick in on MacArthur's hands, and that was enough for the refs to give a penalty. The Sens would call a timeout and pull O'Connor to ensure they got their best personnel on the ice. The team put on a lot of pressure, but Condon was more than up to the task. That would do it for the game, and Condon may have earned himself a place in the media's stars.
I asked my family for insightful comments, but nobody had anything to add. So nobody gets any shout-outs in this article.
Sens Hero: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Pageau continues his legend of showing up against the Habs, scoring a nice goal and leading the charge on an effective penalty kill all night.
Honourable Mention: Curtis Lazar
Lazar was Pageau's PK partner on the night, and looked good. He blocked a couple shots (on the penalty kill to appease the stats nerds), took down P.K. Subban, and almost had his own shortie. I don't think we'll be debating if he should be in the NHL much longer
Honourable Mention: Matt O'Connor
I can't imagine making your pro debut in the NHL. It happens for very few NHL goaltenders. He left in a soft one early, but after that he made up for a porous defence. In the end, the Senators were outshot 34-21. He kept the game from getting even more out of hand. I think this guy is undoubtedly an NHL goaltender someday.
Honourable Mention: The penalty kill
It may partly be that Montreal's PP isn't great, but Ottawa's unit managed to keep them down all night.
Dishonourable Mention: Patrick Wiercioch
Would you believe me if I said Patty W got more even-strength ice time than Karlsson? Yes, he did. And he managed to take two penalties and no shots in that time. Borowiecki and Cowen may have looked awful, but Wiercioch is supposed to be one of the team's top defencemen. Tonight he looked like he didn't belong in an NHL top four.
Sens Zero: The powerplay
I thought André Tourigny was supposed to fix this part of Ottawa's game. It still just looks like the plan is to get the puck the Erik Karlsson and hope he can weave his magic. That's not good enough at this level.
ESPN shot chart: