Senators emerge with 4-3 OT win over Sabres
It was the team's 11th consecutive one-goal game, but there was no shootout this time.
Ottawa didn't need Ben Bishop's sterling shootout record as they were able to put away Buffalo in overtime thanks to a Christian Ehrhoff penalty in overtime.
It was an adventure getting there, though. The Senators were apparently using Craig Anderson's alarm clock for this game as they opened the game with absolutely no jump whatsoever. Even Bishop wasn't fully focused, and the Sabres took full advantage. Before the period was even 10 minutes old, Mike Weber had been able to float a puck by Bishop, and Drew Stafford pushed home a loose puck just sitting there in the crease. Neither Bishop, Sergei Gonchar, nor Marc Methot were able to find the puck--but I watched the replay and it was not camouflaged.
Thankfully, the second period was a much different story, and the Senators unleashed a three-goal barrage to take the lead in the game. Thinly-veiled Sens Hero Patrick Wiercioch got things started with a shot that beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller thanks to a great screen by thinly-veiled Sens Hero Daniel Alfredsson. Thinly-veiled Sens Hero Kyle Turris did most of the heavy lifting on the goal, twice keeping the puck in the zone before finally turning it over inside the offensive zone. But the turnover wasn't clean, and Gonchar scooped it up and put the puck right on the blade of the wide-open Wiercioch.
Then... weirdness happened.
Ottawa had all the momentum at that point. When the second goal came, the Sens were outshooting the Sabres 11-2 in the period. Some strong board work by Zack Smith led to an offensive zone faceoff, thanks to a wrestling match between Chris Neil and Weber. Peter Regin was kicked out of the circle on the ensuing faceoff for putting his stick on the ice first (Seriously. I just watched a replay of this.) and gave the linesman the old "WTF glove" but Jim O`Brien came in to win the only faceoff he would in four tries. It was a clean draw right back to Chris Phillips, whose shot not only changed direction, but altitude as well. Miller could only wave at it as it went by him into the net.
Turris finshed off the scoring in the period as the center simply decided to score. Upon entering the zone, he dropped a pass to Guillame Latendresse, and Latendresse returned it immediately. Turris used the momentum--he hadn't slowed down at all--to whip around the net and beat Miller to the far post. As a result, the puck deflected off of the goalie's skate into the net.
The period ended with Chris Neil pummeling Sabres winger Robyn Regehr as a result of Neil's repeated running around in the period. Neil led the Senators with five hits and was very, very effective in his role today. Regehr had had enough, but it was a game where Neil wasn't going to back down from anything. Does Robin Lehner approve of not taking shit from anyone?
The third period saw the Sabres take momentum back, with the home team outshooting the Senators 13-6. That's usually not a good formula for preserving a lead. The Sabres accumulated shots but were unable to beat Bishop, who had performed very solidly since the first period.
Then... weirdness happened. Drew Stafford fired in a wrist shot that deflected off of Z. Smith's blade, fluttering past Bishop on a new course. Bishop had turned over the puck to start the sequence and was wobbly on his skates to get set for the shot, but I'm not sure how he could have saved a deflection like that. Bishop's body language, however, did not agree:
He may want that one back. I'm not sure.
Anyway, it was all right, because everyone knew this game was going to a shootout anyway.
Then... weirdness happened.
In overtime, where penalties usually aren't called, Mika Zibanejad worked the puck out of the corner in his own zone, used the boards to pass it to himself once to get around one player, and then used the same move again to pass it to himself again as he went around Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff proceeded to hook Zibanejad in front of one of the referees so clearly that a call had to be made. What's stranger is that there was no reason for him to do it. His partner, the illiterate Tyler Myers, had position and an angle on Zibanejad to prevent a breakaway. But it happened, and the Senators went on to the power play, where they put together one of the most putrid displays of puck movement you will ever see. It was a 4-on-3 and the Sabres penalty killers were able to stay out there for the entire time because they did not have to skate. At all. The PK required them to stand still. No joke.
I will now recap this power play for you, play by play. Kyle Turris loses the draw, of course. (Turris was just 8 of 21 in the circle on the day.) Buffalo clears the puck. Gonchar picks it up just behind the blueline, and skates it up ice before passing to Alfie to enter the zone. Alfie draws two defenders towards him, and circles around to give himself space, because he's smart. He passes back to Gonchar, and sets up shop on the left point. Gonchar passes to him there. He passes down low to Turris. Turris has no angle and Latendresse has moved away from the front of the net. Turris passes to Alfredsson. Alfredsson passes to Turris. Turris' odds of creating a scoring chance have not improved in the one second since he last had the puck. Turris passes to Alfredsson. Alfredsson passes to Gonchar. Gonchar passes to Alfredsson. Alfredsson shoots from an angle he's decided not to shoot from three times now. Weber hasn't moved from his spot, so the shot is blocked. Weber limps for a change while Alfie retrieves the puck. Alfredsson passes to Turris, who holds up at the left point. Turris leaves the puck for Alfredsson and heads to the same spot he was in before, as does Latendresse. Alfredsson passes to Gonchar. ONE-TIMER! But this is a shot Gonchar has passed on twice before, and thus, it is blocked because the Sabres defender has not moved. Gonchar gets the puck back before it can clear the zone. Gonchar skates towards the middle where there's an actual shooting lane, and shoots, which is a good idea. The puck doesn't make it through the crowd but Latendresse is there. Latendresse hits the post. Damn it, Latendresse. Turris wins a battle for the puck and passes it to Alfredsson. Alfredsson passes to Gonchar, who wants to shoot from the same spot where it was just blocked, but the pass is in his skates. They criss-cross, impressing no one, because the Sabres defenders don't move. Gonchar passes to Turris. Turris passes to Gonchar. Gonchar passes to Alfredsson. Alfie creeps in and fires high. Gonchar traps it before it can exit the zone. Gonchar passes to Alfie. Why not? Nothing from the right point has even remotely worked yet. The Sabres defenders remain stationary. Alfie goes for a slapshot this time. He misses high. Turris picks the puck up off of the sidewall. Turris passes to Gonchar. There now appears to have been some telepathic agreement to change the formation to a diamond, as Alfie and Turris sit in the slot while Latendresse stays in front of the net and Gonchar has the blueline to himself. The Sabres defenders have not moved. I sense a pass coming. Alfredsson has grown tired of this tedious diamond and skates back to the left point. Gonchar passes to Alfredsson. Alfredsson passes to Gonchar. Gonchar passes to Alfredsson. ONE-TIMER! It's deflected, because the Sabres defenders haven't moved. Is Kyle Turris even part of this Gonchar-Alfie bonanza? Yes. He retrieves the puck from the sidewall again and passes to Alfie. Alfie opts not to pass to Gonchar or shoot from the point. He tries the other option: Pass to Turris.
Turris, as you know if you actually took the time to read all that, has done nothing on this power play except retrieve the puck and pass it to Alfredsson, so there's no reason for any Sabres defender to move into his lane. Miller moves over to take on the shot, but it's a laser-perfect one-timer over the right shoulder--about as perfect as you can ask a shooter to be. Sens win. Sens win. And either that was a 1:37 of the most masterful decoy setup I've ever seen or the Senators should try to be a little more active with that much space to work with.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Even if he hadn't scored the game winner, even if he hadn't had two goals and an assist on the night, Turris would have gotten a hero from me. Turris was completely dedicated to winning puck battles in this game, and the amount of times he came off the boards with the puck or simply accelerated around someone was really noticeable. Moreover, he was noticeable breaking up plays on the backcheck as well. I mention this because this is the same way Turris had been playing for most of his slump. The primary difference is that points are coming again, as they typically do when effort is there.
Sens Hero: Daniel Alfredsson
Maybe it was just the Sabres showing Alfie some respect considering his history against the team. Or maybe Alfie Blood really is a performance-enhancing drug. But the captain seemed free to do whatever he wanted out there in this one, and it was a joy to watch. He looked like he could play another 10 years, stealing pucks, curling wherever he felt like, pinpointing passes, and ripping shots--he was tied for the team lead with 4. Alfie also rang a shot off the crossbar early in the second, which seemed to give the team a lift. He just had one assist, but he was a leader out there.
Sens Hero: Patrick Wiercioch
P Dubs had a rough call late in the game to make it a nail-biter, but the kid now has four goals in his last six games. He also assisted on Turris' first goal, Wiercioch continues to play sheltered minutes, but not unlike Erik Karlsson last year, he's being put into positions where he can be most effective without being a liability to the team. Obviously those situations are far fewer for Karlsson, but on a team that needs offense from anywhere they can get it, he's contributing. Of all the defensemen that played in this game, Wiercioch had the biggest impact.
Honorable Mention: Ben Bishop
Bishop had an... interesting game, but the bottom line is he gave his team a chance to win. He blanked the Sabres in the second period to let the Senators get back into the game, and stood tall in overtime to let the team get a chance to win it. His .917 save percentage in the game was below Ottawa's typical astronomical standards this season, but he made the saves he needed to make. Bottom line: Bishop wasn't perfect, but he was good enough to win. This wasn't an "in spite of" game from him, it just wasn't his best.
Honorable Mention: Z. Smith
He played a very similar game to Turris, but wasn't in a position to get points, as he played alongside Neil and Colin Greening in a checking role for most of the game. That's totally okay. His work eventually led to the overtime goal, and before that he had a great chance to help end it himself, floating a pass to Erik Condra, but Condra was unable to tip it in. Z. Smith was also 12 of 18 on faceoffs.
Honorable Mention: Peter Regin
Regin was the team's best faceoff man in the game, winning 8 of 10--what shoulder weakness? He was also a part of a huge glut of scoring chances with Jakob Silfverberg in a four-shot sequence. Most importantly, he was strong on the penalty kill, which was hugely necessary with Kaspars Daugavins out of the lineup.
Kassassin's Creed: Matt Kassian had eight shifts for a total TOI of 3:21. We should withhold judgement after just one game, but it doesn't look like he's going to be an integral part of the team's plans going forward.