Senators Stage Late Comeback, Win 5-4 in Shootout
With Craig Anderson playing Monday night against Pittsburgh, back-up Robin Lehner got his third start of 2014. The word prior to the game from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was that St. Louis was unhappy with a Zack Smith hit on Alex Steen in December. Perhaps the comment influenced the game, as the period was a chippy affair. Late in the period, a bad turnover by Colin Greening at his own blue line led to a 3-on-2 rush for the Blues. Defenseman Eric Gryba got turned around trying to prevent a pass between Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. The Blues got a shot off and there wasn't much Lehner could do as Brendan Morrow tipped the puck into the open net. A few minutes later, Kevin Shattenkirk laid a high hit on Milan Michalek as he entered the St. Louis zone, kicking the nasty vibe up a level. Michalek had the two best Sens chances of the period: midway through the period he was stopped by Jaroslav Halak at the side of the net after a nice dangle and pass by Jason Spezza and in the final minute of the period he rang a shot off the post. The period ended with St. Louis up by one.
The second period began with significant St. Louis pressure in the Ottawa zone. Strong play from Robin Lehner, including a save on a partial St. Louis breakaway kept the Sens within one. Erik Karlsson almost tied the game at one when his shot popped over Halak and trickled through the blue paint before Jordan Leopold swept it off the goal line and to safety. St. Louis received a glorious opportunity to increase its lead when Alex Steen skated into Bobby Ryan from behind and Ryan was assessed a minor penalty. Five seconds later a bit of face washing from Milan Michalek on Berglund resulted in another two minute minor. It was a strange time for the officials to break with the trend of off-setting penalties after scrums considering that Ottawa was already down a man and that the refs had already allowed St. Louis to maul several Senators, especially Kyle Turris. With both Senators still in the box, Marc Methot took a cross checking penalty. Methot's penalty was deserved, but given the tone established early by both the officials and the Blues, probably felt like salt in the wounds of the tired Ottawa penalty killers. Impressively, Ottawa killed off the lengthy 5-on-3 St. Louis advantage, thanks to a dozen saves from Lehner. Lehner was truly awesome during the passage, making several highlight-reel saves.
Less than a minute after the Methot penalty was killed, Spezza and Karlsson combined to tie things up with The Goal. A streaking Spezza gained the St. Louis zone with speed, quickly spun around, and sent a backhand pass to a rushing Karlsson who slapped a one-timer top shelf. It was one of the more beautiful goals you'll see the Sens score. The tie was as fabulous as it was fleeting - 20 seconds later Oshie gave St. Louis the lead back on a goal no one noticed until the next stoppage in play. If that wasn't backbreaking enough, the Sens allowed a goal to Blues captain David Backes with five seconds left in the period after being stuck in their own zone for about a minute. While the officiating was incredibly frustrating and terrible, it's hard to say the Blues didn't deserve the two-goal lead heading into the second intermission. The Blues spent much of the period in Ottawa's zone with relentless pressure. Robin Lehner was peppered with 23 shots and was excellent.
Frustration appeared to be setting in. After the end of the second period, Clarke MacArthur received a 10 minute misconduct, presumably for something said to the officials. To start the third period, there was an initial St. Louis flurry and then the Senators struck back. A nice Mika Zibanejad zone entry led to a fantastic Spezza backhand pass to Michalek, who was waiting at the side of the net. After two misses in the first period, Michalek buried the puck into the open net. Just over a minute later, the Senators struck again. Karlsson's puck dump was retrieved in the corner by Turris. Turris flipped the puck toward the net, hoping to get it to Bobby Ryan, but it deflected off a Blues defender and past Halak. It was a lucky goal, but the Sens needed some luck. A minute and a half later, Spezza put the Senators ahead for the first time in the game when he split the defense and put a beautiful wrist shot top corner. After his two excellent assists, the Blues probably thought the Ottawa captain was going to dish. With three goals in 2:35 the Senators took the lead for the first time.
Unfortunately, that lead was short-lived. A Jordan Leopold shot managed to get past Lehner short side. It was a weak goal and the only blemish in an otherwise stellar performance. Both teams traded chances after that but a late stoppage in play to change a sheet of glass saw both teams play to secure a point during the final minutes. There were chances for both teams in overtime, but a giveaway by Karlsson at the St. Louis blue line led to a breakaway for Oshie. MacArthur rushed back and caught Oshie, but was called for a hook. Ottawa spent the final minute killing a 4-on-3 St. Louis powerplay. Once again, Robin Lehner made several excellent saves. The penalty killers were also up to the task, especially Smith who made a key shot block late. Ultimately, overtime solved nothing and it went to a shootout. Lehner could not stop the first two St. Louis shooters (Oshie, Steen) but didn't allow another goal. After goals by Zibanejad and Da Costa, Kyle Turris secured a massive victory for the Sens. Senators win 5-4 in the shootout. Shots 50-31 in favour of St. Louis.
Sens Hero: Robin Lehner
Usually when a goalie gives up four goals he's not a hero. But Lehner faced 50 shots, turned 46 shots away, and let in just one bad goal. In addition, he made numerous highlight-reel saves that kept the Sens in the game. The Blues were positively dominant in the second period and on the power play a lot. Lehner faced 23 shots and turned away 21. Simply put, he was fantastic.
Sens Hero: Jason Spezza
Spezza had his best game of the season tonight (possible exception: his hat trick against Phoenix). He powered Ottawa's comeback with two beautiful assists and an important goal. The Spezza-to-Karlsson goal will be in Sens highlight packages for years to come. A day after many questioned his leadership, Spezza answered in a big way.
Sens Killer: T.J. Oshie
Oshie seemed to be at the centre of everything for St. Louis. He had a goal, an assist, and scored in the shootout. He was also involved in St. Louis's physical game plan: he popped up in scrums and drew three penalties.
Killers and Zeroes: Mike Hasenfratz, Marc Joannette, Don Henderson, Kiel Murchison
The officiating in this game was horrendous. Ken Hitchcock's pre-game comments on Zack Smith telegraphed how this game would go and the officials let the Blues get away with it. Hitchcock's decision to have Ryan Reaves take the opening draw against Zack Smith also revealed the St. Louis game plan. I would read into MacLean's decision to start with the Smith line, except he always does this. Hasenfratz and Joannette sent both Reaves and Smith to the box in the first minute but then did nothing to curb St. Louis's crap after the whistle. The same standard was set in the second period when Chris Stewart and Ryan received matching roughing penalties early in the period. The officials didn't penalize just one player after a scrum until a weak call on a Michalek face wash 5 seconds after Ryan was penalized with a weak elbowing call.
Ottawa takes a lot of penalties. Ottawa deserves a lot of penalties. Ottawa deserved some of the penalties they took tonight. Ignoring the MacArthur misconduct, Ottawa spent 18 minutes in the penalty box to St. Louis's six. Only one of St. Louis's penalties wasn't off-setting. St. Louis set a physical, chippy tone and a few of the Blues infractions were missed. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect was the standard of officiating that was being applied to Ottawa was not applied to St. Louis. The refs' method of controlling the time-wasting scrums after the whistle did nothing to take the chippy play out of the game.