There are at least two ways to look at the outcome of tonight's game: on the one hand, the Senators put in a very solid performance and were full marks for their 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. For a team mired in a bout of very poor play, this kind of energizing performance was exactly what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, however, the game ended on something of a dour note as Bobby Ryan was forced to leave the game with an injury after he was hit from behind by David Savard with just under five minutes remaining in the third period. Earlier in the game, Patrick Wiercioch was hit high and hard by Nick Foligno and also did not return. As of this writing, the Sens had not yet provided an update on the status of either player:
No update provided on Ryan or Wiercioch. Will see tomorrow. #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) November 20, 2015
So was tonight's game a net positive? Well, there certainly were a lot of positives. In fact, after a first couple of minutes that were notable only for a series of brutal give-aways by Erik Karlsson and Mark Borowiecki, the Senators more than held their own in the first period. Craig Anderson made a couple of critical saves and Mike Hoffman was an absolute terror. He even managed to garner himself a penalty shot after being hauled down on a clean break-away, though he was unable to beat Curtis McElhinney. After one period of play, there was cautious optimism.
In the second period, the Senators came out flying and were fully deserving of the first goal from Erik Karlsson off a rebound from a Jean-Gabriel Pageau shot that had just hit the post. One of Ottawa's struggles this year has been defending through the neutral zone, but the genesis of this goal was the perfect example of how the Sens need to play going forward. Strong pressure by Alex Chiasson generated a loose puck that Pageau gathered at full steam, and he attacked the Columbus zone with speed. In turn, Karlsson exploited an odd-man situation and was wide open when the puck free to him off of Pageau's initial shot.
Much will also be made of the play of the fourth line tonight, and I'd be remiss if I didn't underline how well the Zack Smith - Chris Neil - Curtis Lazar trio played. Regardless of whether you believe in momentum or not, it was undeniable that their forecheck and puck retrieval was a critical component in keeping the Blue Jackets on their heels. Both Neil and Lazar threw several big hits to get the cycle going and generate offensive chances. When the fourth line is playing well, it makes life a lot easier for the rest of the team because they're ending shifts in the offensive end instead of the defensive end. Oh, and Curtis Lazar also had his first NHL fight if that's your sort of thing. Guess he's been spending a lot of time around Neil lately.
The other goal in the second period also belonged to the Sens, and though it was initially credited to Bobby Ryan by the time the third period began we were all on Erik Karlsson hat-trick watch. The goal itself was a bit of a weird one: it bounced off a Columbus defender and wobbled up in the air before finding its way past the befuddled McElhinney. By the end of the second, the Senators were in full control; shots were 11-6 in favour of the Senators, and the shot attempts at 5v5 similarly favoured the home team by a 23-10 count. It was easily one of their best periods of the year.
The third period got off to what appeared to be a roaring start before a Mika Zibanejad goal off of a beautiful pass from Mark Stone was disallowed because of goalie interference by Mark Borowiecki. This was a 50-50 call, and in a game where another goal would have mattered I suspect we'd be writing about this decision in a very different light. As it happens, the rest of the period was relatively uneventful until Savard's major that injured Bobby Ryan. For the last four minutes or so, the Sens seemed content to try to get Karlsson a hat trick but the captain was never quite able to pull the trigger. Forced into a desperate situation, the Jackets pulled their goalie despite being short-handed and Kyle Turris found the empty net to round out the scoring.
So we're left with this: the Sens played one of their best games of the year, but lost two critical pieces of their roster. For a twenty minute stretch, everything seemed to be clicking and this looked the team that many hoped they would be this season. Whether that's something they can maintain if both Ryan and Wiercioch miss time remains to be seen. Tonight we'll all enjoy this win, but we'll be hoping that tomorrow morning doesn't bring bad news.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Andy had a lot less work than he's perhaps grown accustomed to, but he was stellar and made the saves when they were needed. Any time the goalie posts a shut-out, he's deserving of a hero's mention.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
The captain had a couple of gaffes at the outset, but then was the difference-maker all by himself. The smooth skating defenseman was in on all three Senators goals and played a remarkable 30:44 following Wiercioch's injury. Sometimes as Sens fans we get spoiled being able to watch this generational talent on a nightly basis. After games like tonight, we should all take a moment to appreciate him.
Honourable Mention: The Fourth Line
They didn't get a goal so I can't quite bring myself to give them the Hero treatment, but they were good and instrumental in the win.