You would’ve been forgiven if you’d expect this game to be a slaughter. The winless Ottawa Senators were facing the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning President’s Trophy winners, the best team in the league in decades (four games in April notwithstanding), and the team that had blown out the Maple Leafs 7-3 earlier this week. Instead, we were treated to a high-tempo game that Ottawa mostly controlled, and allowed Vladislav Namestnikov to play late-game hero with two goals against his old team.
The first period was scoreless, but really shouldn’t have been. The shots were 12-5 Ottawa, despite Tampa getting two powerplays to Ottawa’s one. Without Curtis McElhinney, this could’ve been a very different first period.
Every game this season, the Sens have started strong and faded in the second, so I expected that to continue here against the stacked Lightning, but no, Ottawa held their own. The Sens struck twice, from Colin White and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, while the Lightning only got one back from Ondrej Palat.
I think I must be jaded as a Sens fan, because after two strong periods, I expected the Sens to fade in the third. Again, they proved me wrong. Sure, the Bolts got the first goal of the period (Luke Witkowski’s first since February 2018), but the Sens had the bulk of possession. Ottawa looked to fall behind on a Nikita Kucherov goal, but the refs (correctly) ruled it was goalie interference before the Sens could even challenge. That set up the Sens to take the lead with three minutes to go off the stick of newcomer Vladislav Namestnikov. Namestnikov doubled up his goal tally with an empty-netter late, sealing the victory, and giving Jean-Gabriel Pageau the Gordie Howe hat-trick.
You’ve probably got used to new recap format, but just to remind you, we’re trying to focus less on recapping the events of the game, since you can find that on any sports website and also by watching the highlight reel. Instead, we’re looking for things that stood out from the game. I decided to copy someone whose name rhymes with Sand In Khaki, and couple my thoughts from the game with puns. Here’s what stood out to me:
- I’m Vlad you came: Hard to say much about Namestnikov’s game: two goals on three shots, nearly 22 minutes of ice time, he killed penalties, he defended the lead in the dying minutes. He’s probably too old to be a serious part of this rebuild, but it’s nice to see him playing better than any of us expected
- Tka-chucking his weight around: Brady Tkachuk crashes the net on nothing plays, well after the whistle, from the very beginning of the game. He knows his role, and it’s impressive how quickly he gets under the skin of everybody.
- Insti-negator: Not sure why the NHL still has an instigator penalty on the books if they’re never going to call it. Dylan DeMelo really should’ve got one for jumping Yanni Gourde for his hit on mark Borowiecki, and then Brayden Point should’ve got one when he decided to fight Jean-Gabriel Pageau rather than retrieving his helmet. At this point, the instigator penalty is a rarely-used joke and should just be removed from the books.
- At least he’s tRyan: Is it just me, or does Bobby Ryan always skate like he’s out of breath? He’s never been known for his quick feet, but he always looks like he’s just hanging on out there, and fell over maybe five times in this game. I’m sure most of it is just form, and as he showed on the Colin White goal, you don’t even need to be on your feet at all if you still have the hands.
- Zait-geist: It’s amazing what confidence will do for you, and on the flipside, what lack of confidence does to you. Nikita Zaitsev is not a world-beater, but he looks alright out there, and he’s looking to make plays. Jumping up into the play, taking shots, pinching in, he looks nothing like the player we were promised from Toronto. I don’t want him as Thomas Chabot’s partner for the next five years, but he’s at least not falling apart on defence like some former Senators I can think of.
- Chasing the game: I noticed players like Scott Sabourin and Ron Hainsey just dumping the puck out when they get the chance, even if there was a fairly obvious pass. I get that DJ Smith is probably telling these guys who aren’t necessarily known for their puck skills (though Sabourin challenged that tonight with a beauty toe-drag around Mikhail Sergachev) to just get the puck out, but the Sens should really be looking to play more of a transition, speed-based game with some of the talent they have. Sometimes you gotta dump the puck out to relieve pressure, but I hope this doesn’t stay as the continual strategy.
- Mood Lightning: Do you ever get the sense that a team just isn’t on their game? Tampa just didn’t look in the mood to play hockey today. Their skill was on display at times with crisp passing that undressed the Sens’ defence, but we know this team can be much, much better, and Ottawa took advantage of a rare off-day. /
(the line moves upward every time Ottawa got a shot attempt, and the reverse is true for Tampa)
(the colours around the Sens logo show where Ottawa took most of their shots from; the letter “G” indicates where goals were scored from)