As we enter the final throes of this godforsaken Ottawa Senators season, the outcome of any given game takes a backseat to planning for the years to come. This can mean developing the young players, figuring out what to do with veterans like Brian Gibbons or Magnus Paajarvi, or even evaluating whether to keep Marc Crawford and the rest of the coaching staff on for the next stage of the “rebuild”. Going about some of these things might mean not maximizing the team’s chance to win in the short term; only the future truly matters at this stage. It’s nice, then, when the team checks off every box in a single game and tonight’s game had it all: flashes of promise from the youngsters? Check. Workmanlike contributions from the veterans on the bubble? Check. Signs that the team might be playing with better structure than under Guy Boucher? Checkmate.
The Sens rolled the Sabres 4-0 on Tuesday night in the nation’s capital and it would be hard to complain about too much of anything that took place. After the teams traded ineffective power play opportunities early in the first period, Craig Anderson was forced to make a great save on Jeff Skinner to keep the score tied midway through the frame. Skinner, benefiting greatly from playing on the same line as Jack Eichel, was one of the few Sabres to get much by the way of chances on the evening.
Anthony Duclair opened the scoring for the Sens late in the frame when he finished off a pretty passing play moments after Ottawa’s second power play opportunity of the game had expired:
Thomas Chabot’s vision and skill were in full effect to set up the chance. It’s not an understatement to say that Ottawa is a totally different team with him in the line-up.
It would have been easy enough to cruise into the intermission up a goal, but the Sens kept their foot on the gas and their tenacious forecheck was rewarded with a second tally before the frame was up. Christian Jaros completed a wonderful slap pass to the side of the net to a wide open Gibbons who simply had to put the biscuit in the basket.
Back to the earlier idea of sacrificing short-term winning in order to best prepare the organization for the future. There’s a lot of work to do to build up the necessary depth of skill required to be an NHL contender, but the types of plays that Chabot, Jaros, and Christian Wolanin made with the puck tonight were very encouraging. My personal feelings on Jaros are mixed; I’m not sure if he’ll make it in the NHL as anything more than a third pairing guy. But, if there is room for improvement it will be on the back of his skating and making the kind of play that resulted in Gibbons’ goal. Honing those talents might mean some short term pain, but the long term gain could well be worthwhile.
Speaking of pain, the Sabres looked like they were suffering all night. After falling behind by two goals, one might have expected Buffalo to really push at the outset of the second. And while it’s fair to say that the Senators sat back a bit more than in the first, I can really only recall one grade A scoring chance for Buffalo in the frame:
Anderson was excellent on the evening; not all of the 35 shots he turned away were of a garden variety. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder who exactly was going to score for the Sabres besides Eichel and Skinner. Dahlin certainly looked good at times, but he’s a teenaged rookie playing defense. None of the rest of their forwards struck even the slightest fear in my heart. The Sens were perhaps more attentive defensively than they have been in the past, but if I were a Sabres fan I’d have some real hard questions for management about where exactly this rebuild is going.
Alexander Nylander took a high sticking penalty just over five minutes into the final stanza and Rudolfs Balcers capitalized thanks to a smooth finish in front:
Two minutes later, Magnus Paajarvi finished off a slick passing play on an odd man rush and the rout was on:
From then on, there was only the matter of whether Anderson would complete the white wash. 35 saves later, Andy had his 28th shutout as a member of the Senators and the 42nd of his career. For all of the (at times deserved) grief he’s taken this year, it’s been nice to see him kind of get back in a bit of a groove these last few games.
Sens win, the kids looked good, the vets chipped in, the defensive system was sound. What was there not to like?!
- Chabot was the Sens’ best skater on the evening, collecting two points and kickstarting the breakout all night long with his exceptional vision and skating
- Wolanin did a pretty darn good Chabot impression, picking up an assist and also contributing to a lot of clean zone exits and subsequent offensive chances
- Lastly, Andy didn’t have to work quite as hard for this shutout as some others but his play in the second period kept the margin at two goals and was key in preventing Buffalo from mounting a comeback/