Even just looking at the score, anyone can see for themselves that the Ottawa Senators 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday was ugly. Tampa has not looked like a good team this year, and this game was no different--except they came out with the win because the Senators looked even worse on the night.
The brightest spot for the Senators was the fourth line of Jarkko Ruutu with Chris Kelly and Shean Donovan. Obviously, Ruutu scored Ottawa's first goal with a sick one-timer, but they were a strong line even when the game looked its worst. Kelly far and away led the team with five shots on net, including some good short-handed chances, and Ruutu had two shots, giving those two seven of Ottawa's 23 shots on the night (Donovan didn't have a SOG). They were the only line to work the puck in the offensive end at any point of the game. Although there were moments of strength from Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, it was the fourth line that led the way for the Senators.
It's one thing to use the play of your fourth line to begin your offence. If that's where it ends, too--which was the case on Thursday--you haven't got a very good chance to win.
The Lightning, as a team, didn't have a great game either. The difference was that they complemented the solid play of fourth-liners Steve Downie (shudder), Todd Fedoruk, and Zenon Kenopka with some strong offensive support from Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone. Hell, even Alex Tanguay had a goal for the Bolts.
If Ottawa has an excuse, though, it's the injuries that sprung themselves up on the team. Ottawa had less than 24 hours to respond to the losses of both Anton Volchenkov and Pascal Leclaire, and it wasn't known Jason Spezza would miss the game until mere hours before puck drop. Those are not names you replace in a pinch, and that was obvious in the Senators' team play.
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Penalties were an issue again tonight, although not to the extent they were against the Panthers on Wednesday. Ottawa actually managed to get three powerplays, but they were short-handed six times. The Sens' PK was best in the league heading into the game, but you could tell the defence was missing Volchenkov while short-handed--Tampa scored two powerplay goals as a result. Ottawa might not be in the good books of the league's refs, but they're going to have to find some way to stay out of the penalty box, particularly over the next three weeks with Android out of the lineup.
In nets, Brian Elliott... well, he was in nets. He wasn't awful, but he wasn't particularly strong. He stopped the easy shots, even stopped some of the less easy ones, but had a hard time controlling his rebounds, and wasn't strong moving laterally from post to post. He didn't have much help, granted; I can't think of a single Senators defenceman who had a strong game tonight. Still, he was far from the reason Ottawa lost the game.
Ottawa lost because they didn't look like a team, they just looked like a collection of individuals--it harkened back to a lot of points in the first half of last season, when the individuals weren't necessarily playing poorly, but the team as a whole was just terrible. Players were all over the place, and didn't seem to have any co-ordination. Take, for instance, Alex Kovalev. Kovalev did not look good, and did not take advantage of the fact that he (usually) had four skaters in the same jersey as him on the ice. He took a lot of physical punishment through the game--none more punishing than the hit Kurtis Foster threw on him in the second--but, in all honesty, Kovalev put himself in those positions. Contract his play with that of Alfredsson, who has very strong offensive skills, but isn't afraid to use his teammates in order to make room for himself. Kovalev appears to think every inch of space he might get has to be a result of some out-of-this-world dangle, but he's just going to get himself injured that way.
Did anyone see Jonathan Cheechoo tonight? Because other than the penalty he took in the first (his third unnecessary minor in two games), he didn't look like he was there. I'm sure he's trying, but he's not keeping his game simple. It's easy: Do what you do best, and do it regularly. For Cheechoo, that means supporting his linemates by following up on a rush--should be easy with guys like Spezza and Michalek--and, when you're in the zone, get yourself open in the slot.
One thing that a coach looks for when his team's not scoring is whether or not they're hitting. Often times, if you're not scoring, you can improve your chances by bringing it to the opposition physically. Ottawa didn't do that on Thursday. Ottawa was out-hit 21-10 by the Lightning, and three of Ottawa's 10 hits were from Chris Neil.
I don't have much more to say about the game, really. It wasn't pretty, but at least there are 71 games left in the season. Anyone who thinks they can predict the result of next Saturday's game against the Lightning must be crazy.
Sens forgot they had a game tonight. I wish I did too, because then I wouldn't have sat through that embarrassing display.
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