Playing their third game in four days, the Ottawa Senators began their mid-December road trip by facing the Nashville Predators, former winners of the 2017-18 regular season and current leader of the Western Conference. The match was set to be a clash of two major forces: Ottawa’s high-octane offence fuelled by the rookies vs. the Predators’ league-best defence.
With significant injuries on both rosters, the Preds ended up stalling the Sens’ goal scoring, taking the two points by a score of 3-1. It’s now been five games since the Sens have scored three or more goals, something that hasn’t happened to them since March of last season.
The game began on a good note for Ottawa, in what was overall a very even first period. Zack Smith made a rush towards the net, and his weak shot somehow got by to put the Sens up 1-0. It’s a goal Pekka Rinne surely would’ve liked to have back, but the Sens were on the board 36 seconds in as Smith scored his first since returning from injury.
A few more chances were exchanged at both ends, with the closest being a post hit by Colin White. The period went by quickly with very few whistles, although Nashville managed to even the score before first intermission. Austin Watson, who was a game-time decision earlier in the day, tipped Mattias Ekholm’s shot from the point. Craig Anderson couldn’t track the puck in time, and the score was 1-1.
The second period was when the Preds really pulled away. The game flow at the bottom of the post makes it really apparent, although it was all Nashville for the majority of the next 15 minutes. It culminated in them taking the lead, off a smooth give-and-go by defensive partners Roman Josi (assist) and Ryan Ellis (goal). I’m always astounded at how David Poile managed to assemble one of the best defence corps of all time. It was a nightmare matchup for Guy Boucher, as even with P.K. Subban injured, guys like Max Lajoie and Ben Harpur found themselves having to counter star players like Josi and Ekholm.
The last few minutes gave the Sens a fantastic chance to even the score, with Kevin Fiala sent to the box for high-sticking Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk’s face was cut on the play resulting in a four-minute double-minor penalty, although in true Tkachuk fashion he hopped right back on the ice for his next shift.
As for the power play itself, it felt like the Sens had taken a time machine back to last season, to the time of the Power Kill. Nashville had just as much control over the puck as Ottawa, as it took them nearly three quarters of the way through before they even got a shot attempt. The power play cut into the beginning of the third period, ending a disappointing effort. They were only still down by one, though, with plenty of time to go.
That was, until it was 3-1 Nashville. On an end-to-end play by Craig Smith, he squeezed through Max Lajoie along the boards, then faced little pressure from either Paajarvi or Ceci before he tucked a shot short side on Anderson. It was an excellent individual effort, and the type of defensive mistake you’d expect to see every now and then from a rookie like Lajoie. Hopefully he takes it as a good learning moment, as that’s not the type of effort you’d hope to see from an NHL defenceman.
There were still 18 minutes left on the clock... maybe the Sens’ offence could start to generate something? Ottawa had a couple okay looks at Rinne, but no more goals. Outshot once again by 36-26, the Predators contained them until the end for a final score of 3-1.
- Ryan Dzingel was potentially Ottawa’s best player of the night. He picked up the primary assist on Smith’s early goal, and had five shots on net.
- Zack Smith was also full of energy, agitating the opponents with a few physical plays. The goal also helps too.
- It was Stefan Elliott’s first game in a Sens uniform, and he looked... alright? He played over 12 minutes, and didn’t seem to be all that noticeable.
- Thomas Chabot took a puck to the hand while defending Ottawa’s late empty net, and visibly looked in pain. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, and that he takes the next couple days to heal up.
- Mattias Ekholm was doing everything for Nashville. He had an assist and five shots on goal, and was also their defensive leader.
- Every game it feels like the same players are getting buried in shot attempts: Boedker, Harpur, Batherson, Tierney, Lajoie, McCormick, Paajarvi, Pyatt... there’s a reason this team is on pace to put up historically bad defensive numbers. It was especially apparent with Nashville there as contrast./
The Sens take a couple days break, before continuing their road trip in Detroit this Friday.