After a rather painless October and an unchallenging November, the Senators began the first of many testing matchups in the month of December.
Deathcember, if you will, had begun.
And what better way to start the scariest stretch of hockey of the season, but with the reigning Stanley Cup Champions?
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang; the list of top tier players on the Pittsburgh Penguins is nearly endless. And while stars are plentiful in their lineup, the Penguins’ forward depth is arguably the best in the league and one of the biggest reasons they took home the NHL’s top prize last season.
But no Matt Murray on Monday night. That would prove to be a saving grace for the Senators, especially in the first period, as they faced Marc-Andre Fleury who was rocking an unattractive .904 save percentage.
And as they do most nights, the Senators would allow the first goal. Off a Mark Borowiecki giveaway, Letang and Malkin combined for a beautiful passing play that ended with Bryan Rust putting his fourth of the year five-hole past Craig Anderson.
But just like we’ve seen so many times this year already, the Senators’ newfound ability to never say die allowed them to come back from an early deficit. Twice.
First, Ryan Dzingel and Kyle Turris hooked up for a nice breakaway, that Turris promptly finished off with a quick snap shot through Fleury’s wickets. The play was dangerously close to being offside, but after further review, it would stand.
Then, after Crosby - of course it was him - made it 2-1 with a snipe other the right shoulder of Anderson, Mark Stone corralled a puck at the point, found Erik Karlsson moving in on the right side boards and the captain fired it, once again, through the wickets of Fleury.
The Senators would allow 21 shots in the first frame, a trend that continued throughout the game, as Anderson was in for a very busy 60 minutes.
The second period could not have started better for the away team. Ottawa took advantage of one power play.
Outstanding play by Stone. His hand-eye coordination is one of the best in the league. https://t.co/mslUwwAwwU— Callum Fraser (@CallumFraser18) December 6, 2016
And then they took advantage of another.
In the end, Mike Hoffman extended his point streak to five, Erik Karlsson took the league lead in points from defensemen and the Senators had a two-goal lead.
And wow, what an absolute stunner of a goal by Mark Stone.
That was it for Fleury, as well. As it happens, Murray would not get the night off.
The lead would not last long. Everyone knows the firepower the Penguins have, and it was on display for the final 12 minutes of the second frame.
With goals from Kessel, Matt Cullen and Justin Shultz, Pittsburgh quickly took a hold of the game. Anderson probably should’ve had one or two of the five scored, but poor defensive work from Borowiecki and Dion Phaneuf put the Senators netminder in a vulnerable position too many times.
So when it looked like the four-game road trip through hell was going to start with a bang, Ottawa headed to the dressing room with a mountain to climb. It might’ve only been one goal, but the Penguins don’t exactly fall back and turtle when they have a lead.
Just as the third period was opening up, Malkin made Borowiecki look silly, only to squeak one past Anderson.
Ottawa would get one back, and again on the power play, as Phaneuf whacked home a rebound in front of the net. The Senators have looked a hell of a lot better on the man advantage the past couple weeks. The team is 7/19 in their last five games, with a 36.8 percent success rate.
But after that, it was all Penguins. Bryan Rust would add another two goals - one on a penalty shot from a weak call on Mark Stone and the empty-netter - for his first career hat trick.
Anderson was pulled after the seventh goal, but it was far too late as the home team took it by a score of 8-5 in the end.
You can exhale now.
Sens Hero(es): Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone
While their bottom six has been anything but strong this season, the Senators continue to get a lot of help from their best players. Karlsson had a four-point night, Hoffman scored yet again and Mark Stone was creating chance after chance.
Sens Killer: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
As usual, Crosby scored. So nothing is new on that front. And along with his third period goal, Malkin was making plays left, right and centre throughout the night. The Senators’ best players were on, but the Pens’ best players were better.
Sens Killer: Bryan Rust
Kind of have to give a mention to the guy with a hat trick, y’know?
Sens Killer: Matt Murray
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan made the move of the game when he pulled Fleury with his team down 4-2. Murray would only let in one goal on his way to recording a win and 17 saves.