For the first 30 minutes of tonight’s contest, the Sens were playing a perfect road game. They were up by two, while out-shooting AND out-chancing the Toronto Maple Leafs. But after failing to generate a scoring chance on a 1:49-long 5-on-3 powerplay, the Leafs scored twice to tie the game heading into the third period before taking the lead on a powerplay. Instead of the usual “shutdown” hockey we expect to see from Boucher’s Sens, the offence stepped up and scored four in the final frame to give the Sens two crucial points.
Cheering guide for senators at Leafs. pic.twitter.com/olfr8sqECq— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 19, 2017
This was the scenario heading into tonight, and the pressure was only compounded by the recent winning streaks of the vaunted Buffalo Sabres and the resurgent Florida Panthers. Combined with the glimmer of opportunity by way of the fading Montreal Canadiens, and you can garner why tonight was an important game for many reasons. From puck drop, Mark Stone led the way.
The first period was as offensive as we’ve seen the Sens all season, with Erik Karlsson actively generating three scoring chances on his first couple of shifts but failing to solve Frederik Andersen. One of the (many) differences between the Sens and Leafs is their offensive zone forecheck, with the Sens preferring to trap teams in the neutral zone in order to generate NZ turnovers while the Leafs preferring to ‘press’ two forwards and generate offensive zone turnovers. The Sens, especially the trio of Erik Karlsson, Chris Wideman, and Dion Phaneuf, expertly handled the Leafs aggressive forecheck early on and were able to exploit its weakness: if you can move the puck quick enough in your defensive zone, there’s space to generate odd-player advantages in transition. In the first period, the Sens two fastest forwards — Hoffman and Dzingel — exploited this weakness with Hoffman generating a mid-period penalty on Jake Gardiner while Dzingel using the advantage to drive the net ferociously on the Sens first goal. Dzingel was stoned by Andersen on his initial chance, but Stone’s good work down low allowed him to get the puck up to Derick Brassard at the high point. Brassard then expertly facilitated the cross-ice transition to Chris Wideman, who blasted the puck off of Morgan Rielly and past Andersen for a 1-0 lead.
On the next shift, Brassard wins the puck back to Methot on the left point, where he plays pitch-and-catch with Stone on the left wall to open up some separation. As Methot hammers the puck on the net, Ryan Dzingel is screening Andersen and tips the puck past the Danish netminder for a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The first 10 minutes of the second followed the same script as the first, and when Matt Martin and Zach Hyman took penalties 11 seconds apart, the Sens had a golden opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 lead on an extended 5-on-3. Instead, what we saw was the most putrid powerplay imaginable, with the powerplay group failing to shrink the ice and moving the puck slowly without any shots on net. It’s no surprise the team hasn’t scored on it since April 2015 (vs. WSH), and that the Leafs were the team to build momentum off a big kill. After the Sens iced the puck, the Hyman - Matthews - Nylander line went to work in the offensive zone and ultimately got the puck back to Morgan Rielly, who flicked one through a screen and past a wailing Craig Anderson to get the Leafs on the board.
Two minutes later, Cody Ceci bobbles a puck off a won draw in the offensive zone and Josh Leivo is able to burst into the offensive zone. The Leafs set-up, and eventually, the puck works its way back to Nikita Zaitsev who wrists the puck through Anderson. Ryan Dzingel notices the trickling puck and dives into the crease to successfully block it, but in doing so, gets caught lying down and stopping Anderson from securing his right post. Nazem Kadri, down low on the puck retrieval, notices this and beats Ceci for the puck before banking the puck off of Dzingel’s head and into the net to knot the game at 2.
The Leafs carry their momentum into the third, and quickly go on the powerplay as Zack Smith gets called for “hooking” Zach Hyman. The Sens PK, 3/3 on the night, miss their best penalty killer and pay for it as Matthews finds Nylander on a sweet cross-ice pass before the Swede snaps it past Anderson for a 3-2 lead. At this point, the Sens have been in “weather the storm” mode for the last 10 minutes of game-time and Toronto almost takes a 4-2 lead off a Kadri shot before Mark Borowiecki, playing with Chris Kelly’s stick, sweeps it away. The tone changes, though, when Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Mike Hoffman use their skill to create something out of nothing. It starts with Karlsson, who intercepts an errant Rielly ring-around-the-boards by using his speed to dart to the right point.
Moments before Hoffman's tying goal, Rielly succumbed to OTT's forechecker and fired a lame puck along the boards.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) February 19, 2017
It was Karlsson's side. pic.twitter.com/or3T3sfPxK
He gets the puck to Turris down-low, who makes three defenders turn the wrong way before putting a slick backhand feed right onto the tape of Mike Hoffman, who’s speeding into the zone off the bench. The puck is on Hoffman’s stick for a split second and then behind Andersen, leaving the goal light person, Andersen, and the crowd stunned.
On the next shift, the referees make up for the soft call on Smith by calling Kadri for a slight hold on Chris Wideman in the defensive zone, sending the Sens to the powerplay. This time, the group is a lot more active as a won Turris draw quickly results in an Erik Karlsson point shot. Mark Stone, the smartest player on the ice, always knows where he is and is able to get to the rebound first. He isn’t able to cash it in himself, but Brassard, waiting on the left side of the net, pots the puck to give the Sens a 4-3 lead, less than a minute after tying it.
Up by one, the Sens stick to their system and attempt to bottle up the Leafs for the remaining 10 minutes. It works (they don’t score!) but isn’t nearly as effective as Boucher would like, as the Leafs control the puck for much of the rest of the game. Mike Babcock decides to pull Andersen with 2:25 remaining, despite constant Leafs pressure already, and his team nearly capitalizes on a couple of net front plays. After Tom Pyatt and Zack Smith couldn’t get the puck out despite Karlsson’s best efforts to get them the puck, Kyle Turris scrums a draw and Mark Stone fires the puck 150ft down the ice for his 21st of the year. With the net pulled again, Stone gets a lucky bounce on a defensive zone clear off a stanchion and Brassard pots his 11th of the year to give the Sens the 6-3 victory.
Sens Hero: Mark Stone
Nothing really for me to say, other than he’s now closed the gap on Karlsson for the team lead in points and definitely deserves a ton of votes for the Selke.
The Sens don't have a forward unit above 50% Corsi in 50 or more 5v5 minutes that doesn't include Mark Stone. pic.twitter.com/p1oTjWppYl— Emmanuel Perry (@MannyElk) February 19, 2017
Sens Heroes: Zack Smith + Erik Karlsson
Both were fantastic defensively tonight. Smith was a big part of the Sens first three penalty kills and was relentless on the forecheck, while Karlsson made a number of smooth zone exits en route to a 62% CF% rating.
Honourable Mention: Craig Anderson
He let in three goals, but it was a high event game (98 shot attempts, shots 42-37 OTT). I thought Anderson was sharp with his reflexes, especially in front of his net. The Leafs got a TON of pucks to the net but Anderson was there to make a couple of game-saving stops, especially in the third, to keep his team in it.
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick