If that game seemed painfully long for us spectators, imagine how painful it would have been for the Ottawa Senators players who were fighting the flu while trying to fight off the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a tight game--thanks entirely to Pascal Leclaire--and a blustery one too--thanks in large part to Colton Orr--and the Leafs outlasted the Sens to get the decision in a shootout. Still, considering Daniel Alfredsson and Brian Elliott were both out of the lineup, and another half dozen Sens probably should have been, the effort was there, and the Senators got one point in the game--so it wasn't a complete loss.
Sens heroes: Pascal Leclaire, Chris Neil
Leclaire played, in all likelihood, his best game in an Ottawa Senators jersey. He stopped 30 of 31 shots through 65 minutes, because he was well-positioned, controlled his rebounds, and followed the puck closely. Some of his saves were spectacular, but most were simply routine saves--exactly the kind of routine saves the team wants him to make every night. The one shot that beat him was a Phil Kessel snapshot, and he didn't have much of a chance to stop it, anyway.
On the other side of the puck, Neil was all over the ice today--certainly the Senators' most effective player. He scored the Senators' only goal, popping a rebound past Jonas Gustavsson while stationed in front of the net on the powerplay. He also threw a big (and clean) hit on John Mitchell, knocking Mitchell out for the night. At the end of the night, Neil had four hits in 12:41 TOI, but certainly had a big impact in the game.
Sens killers: Phil Kessel
Kessel's goal in the second was his fourth against the Senators this season, and he had the shootout-winner, too. He's had Ottawa's number all season.
Point-saver: The penalty kill
Ottawa's penalty kill was incredibly strong tonight. Toronto's powerplay hasn't been strong for a while, but killing off all six powerplays the Leafs got--including two five-on-threes--kept Ottawa in the game long enough to secure at least one point. Biggest penalty-killers for Ottawa were Leclaire, Anton Volchenkov (who played 7:04 while short-handed in the game), Andy Sutton, Matt Cullen, and Chris Phillips, but the whole gang was pretty strong.
Black aces: Zack Smith, Shean Donovan
It's pretty amazing, but Z. Smith didn't get to Scotiabank Place for the game until the second period, and when he started he didn't miss a beat. For his first shift, he went straight to the front of the net and right after Dion Phaneuf, mixing it up off the bat. He only ended up playing 6:00 TOI, but he got a couple hits and a shot in over that time, and made his presence felt.
Donovan played 6:07 TOI, but he was effective, too. He was quick, aggressive, and when his fourth line was on the ice, they had good possession in the offensive zone. He finished the night with three hits, a fight (really a wrestling match) against Luke Schenn, and a shot on net. He'll be a very useful player to call upon through the playoffs.
Fight of the Night: Colton Orr vs. Matt Carkner
Pretty weak rematch of the two heavyweights, but I'm pretty surprised Carkner dropped the gloves, anyway. Orr jumped Brian Lee elbows-first, a melee ensued, and these two came out of it with their gloves off; Orr won on points, and then skated off the ice as if he'd just changed the world, celebrating his three wins this season over Carkner.
Reinforcements: Andy Sutton, Matt Cullen
Sutton was a reinforcement in the traditional sense, bringing down the hammer on opponents tonight. He had a huge hit on Jamie Lundmark in the second period, one of four hits he had in 22:59 TOI to go along with four blocked shots. Anton Volchenkov's play has fallen off somewhat since the playoffs, but Sutton's stepped in to help mitigate that.
As for Cullen, he continues to look more comfortable in a Senators jersey, and was one of the Senators' best skaters tonight--especially on the penalty kill. He had four shots on net tonight, and was 9-for-14 in the faceoff circle. Once the Senators get a full team on the ice, I think Cullen's going to be a difference maker.