Senators almost don't beat Panthers, but still win 4-3

The Ottawa Senators barely squeaked by the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, coming away with a 4-3 victory, a disturbingly close game against a team Ottawa was expected to defeat handily. The win was, by and large, thanks to big games from big players, such as Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, and Milan Michalek, plus great games from defencemen Filip Kuba and Chris Campoli. Goaltender Pascal Leclaire left the game after one period with the flu, after allowing one goal on ten shots, and Brian Elliott stepped in for the rest of the game, stopping 26 of 28.

Ottawa went down early in the game when Steven Reinprecht deflected a shot past Leclaire, but the Sens were back in the game when Fisher tipped in a shot from Kuba on the powerplay. Ottawa's only powerplay of the game. (On the plus side, Ottawa's operating at a 100 per cent powerplay efficiency in the last one games.) Stephen Weiss put Florida back in the lead in the second, but Ottawa scored three consecutive from Alfredsson, Nick Foligno, and Jarkko Ruutu for all the offence they needed.

As seems to be a trend this season, penalties were the biggest obstacle for the Senators. It might be a good thing, because that's something a team can correct, but the longer the Senators go taking numerous penalties per game, the more it will become a serious issue. Ottawa gave Florida seven powerplays tonight, and only had one of their own; whether or not refereeing was questionable, it wasn't that questionable. Florida may have only capitalized on one of their chances--and Ottawa is still leading the league with an 89.1 PK percentage--but they'll get burned if they keep playing with fire. Before Wednesday's late games finished, Ottawa had the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league.

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In the post-season EDIT: -game presser, head coach Cory Clouston did not sound impresed with the refereeing--once again (you may have heard how pissed he was when the linesmen failed to drop the puck against Boston last weekend). He didn't necessarily question the seven penalties Ottawa was handed, but wondered how the Panthers were only assessed one minor penalty in the game.

Ottawa's only excuse might be the fact that Leclaire left the game after one period with the flu, and Elliott was thrown into a game he didn't expect to play in. Still, Elliott was solid for the Sens (although he had some rebound issues), and goaltending can't explain why the Senators were outshot 38 to 29 and very handily out-scoring-chanced (although I don't know the official count of the scoring chances, they were 17-11 in favour of Florida late in the third). If you include attempts blocked and missed shots, Florida directed 69 shots at the Ottawa net, while Ottawa only had 47 to their credit.

On the plus side, Kuba had two assists and was +2 in his heroic return to the lineup after an eight-game absence. He's now got three assists in his first two games of the year (remember how hot he was to start last season?). His d partner benefited from his return, too, as Campoli added two assists of his own and was +3 on the night--game-leader in that category.

Winger Jonathan Cheechoo had what was likely his best scoring chance of the season early in the third period. He showed some decent speed to break past a Panthers defender, but was stymied by Tomas Vokoun once he got in close. Cheech was actually tied for third on the Sens with three shots on the night (behind Alfredsson and Fisher), but that was offset by two stupid penalties in the first period. He's working hard, but he's got to start being smarter when he plays; it doesn't make sense to continually saddle Michalek and Jason Spezza with him on their line, because those two lose some effectiveness without a third contributor.

Not sure why Shean Donovan only played 4:16 on the night. He fought at what seemed like an inopportune moment in the second period (against Kenndal McArdle), sure, but he brought what he brings when he was on the ice. I know it's something I hard EDIT: harp on quite often, but I've not seen or heard a good reason for using Donovan so sparingly in games--or scratching him outright. I'd be interested in hearing readers' thoughts on why he might be consistently at the bottom of Ottawa's TOI charts, and whether or not that's a fitting place for him.

In other injury news, Anton Volchenkov left the game late in the third after, in Clouston's words, "he banged his elbow" and the Team 1200 said looked like it could have been as bad as a dislocated shoulder. With the season Volchenkov's had so far (he added Cory Stillman to the casualty list tonight), missing him for even one game would be hard enough. If Volchenkov is out tomorrow, my money's on Brian Lee making his season debut--if he can get to Florida in time.

Hard to know if it'll be good for the Senators to move on right away and forget about a forgettable game by playing tomorrow in Tampa, or if it will be tough to play a second game in two nights while fighting through flu-induced weakness (which doesn't likely end with Leclaire), but I guess we'll see on Wednesday.

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