Sens shutout in Sunrise by Reimer, Panthers

Team enters the holiday break with just three wins in their last 18 games

Asked before the game if he’s only going to roll three lines given the missing players from his lineup, Guy Boucher said this:

Well the problem here is that we’re on the road, so I’m going to have to shuffle lines for sure tonight. I can’t go like I’ve been going the last games. First of all, the guys aren’t there, so I can’t keep the same lines; two guys out on two different lines so I’ll have to shuffle things around for sure. Of course, the line of the guys from the American league, uh, I doubt I’ll be able to put them out there as a line very often because of course, the opponent’s going to wait for that and probably send their best line out there and that’s just the way it is. So I’ll probably have to manage that. So that’s why I’ll have to shuffle guys around for sure.

He stayed true to his word. Despite leading the team in terms of shot metrics and expected goals (xG, a scoring chance metric) tonight, Paul, Chlapik, and DiDomenico all played around 8 minutes — with Pyatt, Thompson, and Burrows putting up team worst marks in the same categories in their ~14 minutes of ice-time.

Now, this isn’t to say that the Senators would’ve won this game if the ice-time was reversed, but you could make a sound argument that they didn’t give themselves the best chance to win because of some good ol’ fashioned risk averse coaching from Boucher.

It took six minutes for the AHL group to get a shift as the first period featured extended play without a whistle. The Panthers, despite having played yesterday, carried the bulk of the play during the first two periods and were especially quick in the first, nearly capitalizing on a number of neutral zone turnovers by the Senators.

In an even goaltending matchup, both ‘tenders faced 38 shots. The Panthers had the edge in quality, with Condon making multiple saves on partial breakaways throughout the game:

  • A stop on Jonathan Huberdeau in the first after Johnny Oduya sent a hard zone-exit pass to Mike Hoffman that broke his stick
  • Two shorthanded stops on Alex Barkov (4 SHG entering tonight) on Ottawa’s lone full powerplay of the night; Hoffman hit the post on Ottawa’s one PP chance
  • A stop on the ever-dangerous Evgeni Dadonov in the second, made more important because Karlsson, Hoffman, and Dzingel had just generated the Sens first real dangerous offensive zone chances of the period a shift prior
  • Another stop on Dadonov, and then a better one on Radim Vrbata as the Panthers tried to put the game away in the third period on their third powerplay of the night/

Unfortunately for Condon, he was the one to give up the game’s lone goal — a shot that he never really had a chance on. After Aaron Ekblad deftly broke up a Jean-Gabriel Pageau chance and Mark Stone missed the net high (a trend, as you’ll read later), the Panthers broke out quickly. They used the width of the ice twice on this play: first by Yandle in the neutral zone to feed Bjugstad for the controlled zone entry, and then by the big centre in the offensive zone to feed Huberdeau — who was missed in coverage by Stone flat-footed in the neutral zone and therefore had a wide-open cage to pot the puck by Condon.

Ottawa, on the other hand, continued their stretch of play that sees them put up 1.8 goals per game since November 16th — the second-worst mark in the league. They ended up with 38 shots against, so not scoring is unlucky, but against a Panthers team who played last night and gives up a league-worst 35.1 shots per game, the quality of their offerings could’ve been better. You could say that the team didn’t deserve the point Thursday night versus Tampa, but deserved one here; neither lead to the two regulation wins the team needed.

Here are the best chances of the night:

  • In the second, Panthers captain (??) Derek McKenzie loses the puck trying to exit the zone and Filip Chlapik has way more time than he expects. The young Czech rushes the shot and misses the net.
  • With Chris DiDomenico in the box for slashing, Karlsson channels his inner Mark Stone and steals the puck on the Cats zone entry. He breaks in on Reimer, but is stopped going high by the ex-Leafs netminder.
  • During the aforementioned Sens push at the end of the second, Brassard and Oduya have two great rips at the puck, but are outside the faceoff dots and at the high left point respectively. Reimer stops both.
  • Cody Ceci, he of three goals in five games, had two great chances in the third thanks to great feeds from Derick Brassard after pinching into the offensive zone. Ceci played a team-high 22:58 at 5-on-5 tonight and despite much praise from the broadcast booth, he put up a 36% CF% and was on the ice for half of the Panthers shot attempts tonight. I can understand that Ceci looks good sometimes, and he’s clearly more active in terms of jumping into the rush over the last two weeks, but the team can’t keep getting filled in every time he’s on the ice. Sure, he plays tough minutes, but you actually have to perform well in them too. With the Sens too stubborn to give Ceci the third-pairing minutes he likely needs in the name of whatever potential he can (could?) achieve, they should really look to trade him to another GM who overvalues young-ish right-shot defencemen before submarining whatever trade value he has. It’s been 317 freakin’ games. Sorry.
  • Chabot - Karlsson, a pairing we sometimes see when Guy Boucher needs a goal, had a number of great shifts in the third period. On one occasion, Chabot sprung Mike Hoffman in alone in the offensive zone, but the speedy winger couldn’t bury the puck. Chabot’s ice-time looked dire, especially after putting up a team-low 3:36 in the first, but he ended the night with 15 minutes — a minute more than Ben Harpur and Fredrik Claesson, and a minute less than Johnny Oduya.
  • On a 4-on-4 — which the Sens were lucky to receive after Oduya dished out a bad hit on Dadonov — Stone and Duchene get a 2-on-1. Duchene misses Stone with the pass, but the right-winger stays with the puck and gets a prime chance on a rebound attempt.
  • In the last two minutes of the third, the Sens had decent offensive zone pressure but were unable to generate much in terms of quality scoring chances. They seemed to almost get a 6-on-4 situation after Ekblad cross-checked Pageau in front of the net, but the Gatineau native gave it right back after running a pick on Yandle a shift later. Pageau was visibly frustrated he was tossed out of the face-off just prior, and may have let his frustration show at a bad time there.
  • The team still managed to get a glorious scoring chance with a 5-on-4 situation (4-on-4 but extra skater with the net empty), but Stone missed the net high after hesitating to shoot the puck. /

All-in-all, the team clearly showed effort despite missing a number of players. Florida, a team just above Ottawa in the standings and on a back-to-back, clearly outplayed them in the first (12-7 shots, 26-13 attempts), but they had an even second before Ottawa poured it on in the third — leading to an even-matchup at the end when you look at the final boxscore.

What’s worrying is this:

That’s a post-holiday pace that has to rival the best teams in the league (Bolts, Preds, Golden Knights). If they’re not there already, Pierre Dorion and co. are going to have to come to a decision as to when the point of no return is and what the organizational philosophy will be if (when?) they cross that line.

I don't mind Boucher as a coach, but it's getting hard to defend him because a lot of the tactics/structure-related elements of the Sens game — generating dangerous scoring chances (xG), defensive zone coverage so as to prevent quality attempts against (a “hallmark” of #TheSystem), the powerplay, the penalty kill (which was excellent tonight) — has been poor over the last two months.

Combinations that worked last season, like Hoffman - Pageau - Pyatt, have been shellacked this season.

Although it was great tonight, goaltending hasn’t been up to par, and I’m willing to let a lot slide because of what Boucher did with this team last season, but if the team isn’t in win-now mode, can Guy Boucher change his coaching style to encourage creativity and young player development?

To bring this recap full-circle, it was clear that the Chlapik line was the team’s most dangerous all night. Despite that, with three minutes left and down a goal, Pyatt - Thompson - Burrows was on the ice instead and in the third period, Chlapik had four short shifts.

Boucher has had success at all levels, but I think the team will have to change a fair bit (personnel-wise *cough, Dorion, take away some of his safety blankets* and tactics-wise) to meet the challenge of the new NHL. There's been some bad luck over the last two months, but also inklings that whatever worked last season isn't working this year.

And ultimately, if the team’s out of it, I’d much rather watch young players like Chabot, Chlapik, White, or players with a spark of NHL future like DiDomenico or Paul, get opportunity to showcase their skills in a trusting environment that can handle mistakes in order to encourage skill, instead of watching the risk-averse play of veterans like Burrows, Thompson, Dumont, and Oduya.

Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick

Heat Map via Natural Stat Trick

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