2023...it's been a fascinating year to be a fan of the Ottawa Senators. A lot has happened, and while I can't exactly say that the on-ice product has improved as much as we'd all like it's been a wild ride. The Sens were hoping to finish off the year on a good note as they faced off against the Buffalo Sabres. The match-up also marked Thomas Chabot's second return from injury this season, which made the lineup look much differently--most notably featuring Erik Brännström as the fourth-line left winger.
The Sens began the game looking quite dangerous, with lots of speed, and plenty of great passes and chances. 5:53 into the period, Kyle Okposo took a tripping penalty, and the Senators were finally able to take advantage on the powerplay. Following some nice passing, Jakob Chychrun blasted home his seventh goal of the season and his 200th career point:
Then after minutes of more chances, it was none other than Zack MacEwan who would score a real beauty. It was his first as a Senator and an absolute snipe on Devon Levi:
It was almost a perfect period with a relentless offense, but a nasty Jacob Bernard-Docker turnover led to a Tage Thompson goal with just 14 seconds left in the period. It was deflating only having the one-goal lead after 20 minutes after looking excellent before that.
Thankfully, Ottawa was able to stave off the typical 2nd period collapse that has been so common this season. Ridly Greig made a fantastic play by dancing around Rasmus Dahlin and then got it across to Dominik Kubalik. Kubalik didn't get the best touch on it, but it was enough to fool Levi:
The game continued to be fast-paced and did not feature many whistles, which may not have been the best for the Senators as they tried to keep their lead. Both of these teams feature plenty of skilled players, and, perhaps, a less than refine defensive game. Trading chances was the name of thame.
The Sabres had two powerplays in the period– normally Ottawa's kryptonite. However, they killed them off, and they even added to their lead to make it 4-1 with just 16 seconds left in the period. I didn't realize that Mark Kastelic had 0 goals coming into tonight, but he finally got on the board with a strange goal that gave Brännström his first assist as a forward:
Several minutes into the 3rd period, it seemed like Parker Kelly put this game out of reach at 5-1. However, it was clearly offside, which is too bad because Kelly's shot was excellent:
The Sabres weren't exactly pouring it on while they attempted to come back, but they were quietly increasing their shot totals, putting the pressure on Anton Forsberg. However, he was up to the task, and Artem Zub was able to put the game out of reach with 4:44 left on an empty-net goal.
The final 15 minutes included three scrums with Brady Tkachuk in the middle of each them, with some not really being necessary, although if he got under the Sabres' skin, then maybe it's worth it in the long run. The Senators finish 2023 with a 5-1 win over Buffalo, before heading out West to begin a 5-game road trip in Vancouver on Tuesday. Ottawa's now won three of four, and are creeping closer to a fully healthy line-up.
- Brännström looked very solid as a forward, which isn't surprising based on his overall skillset. He seemingly made his linemates better as well, as Kastelic and MacEwan both scored their firsts of the season. The Short King also played 15:13, which was a decent utilization of someone on the fourth line. I don't think he should be a forward long-term because he's more valuable as a defensman, and the Sens have at least two much weaker options when he's up front, but if the takeaway for the coaching staff is that a skilled winger on the fourth line can help then all the better.
- Forsberg had an excellent night, stopping 45 of 46 shots. He hadn't allowed 2 or fewer goals since December 5th against the New York Rangers, four games ago for him. We've, not unfairly, ragged on the goalies at times this year – it's only fair to recognize the strong performances as well.
- Sometimes we forget how skilled even fourth-line grinders in the NHL are. MacEwan's snipe is a prime example of that, as he was a stud QMJHL player. For all the beer league heroes out there: even an NHL "plug" would smash your Tuesday night skate.
- Chabot played 21:01 in his return and looked pretty solid with two assists as well. Having him back makes a huge difference in jump-starting the offense.
- Tim Stützle was quiet most of the night except for one play that could've been a goal of the year if he was able to score with one hand with a few minutes left in the game. That's the great thing about Tim: he could be quiet all night and then pull out that move.
- As always, the vibes are always excellent at the CTC when the team is doing well...Ottawa is starving for a successful team.
- Their five-game road trip will be fascinating as they head to Vancouver, Seattle, Edmonton, Calgary, and Buffalo. They need to be exponentially better than last road trip when they went 0-5.