Ottawa 4 Buffalo 2
A spirited performance when it mattered most. Now, let me say this: the Sens are still not out of the woods. They’ve dug themselves a lofty hole with their play over the last month, and it’ll take more games like this before those parade plans get unraveled from the trash bin, however, this was a great start. There are a TON of positives to take out of this game. The team finally showed up, big time, in the third period. They finally scored a third period powerplay goal. They finally won a game after being scored on first. They didn’t blow it when a lead was established. Most of all, they came to play when it mattered most. Others called this a must win game, or a game seven type scenario, and while I was not nearly that dramatic, I did think this was one they needed as desperately as a game in November can be. But even more than the win, they need a strong outing. They needed to leave the game feeling good about themselves, and if that came because of a great effort in defeat, then it would be a worthwhile experience. Going into Buffalo and beating the best time in the league is more than even I expected. The question now is, can they build on this? Will we be looking back on tonight’s W as a turning point in the season or will they fall back into their rut? Let’s not forget we thought this club was out of the woods three weeks back when they beat up on the Devils and then the Leafs twice. It didn’t last.
Penalty killing in general, but in particular, the 5-on-3 kill in the first period. This was one of the key points in the game, I believe, as Ottawa established a lot of confidence from this kill. They didn’t turn it on immediately after shutting the Sabres powerplay down, and in fact it was just the opposite, but I think it told them that they could play with Buffalo. As well, Ottawa was a threat on the PK the way they were last season. They had two breakaways that, if this team had the bounces going their way, would have been goals. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but getting chances is a good step in the right direction.
The powerplay. For one, they didn’t get scored on with the man advantage. That’s a positive to take away. But in general, they were much better on the PP. Still not where I, and I’m sure every other Sens fan, would like them to be, but at this point, it’s baby steps. Murray made some subtle but ultimately smart adjustments. One of which saw Dany Heatley take Daniel Alfredsson’s spot on the point. I have to say, I didn’t think this was wise. While Heatley has a better shot than Alfie, making him a prime candidate to man the point, he’s also not a great skater, meaning, against a speedy Buffalo team, he might be caught should the puck bounce and a Sabres player get possession (ie, last year’s game 5 OT winner). But Heatley showed great poise when handling the puck back there and utilized the big shot. Also, Denis Hamel joined the first unit powerplay, getting the unglamorous but very necessary job of standing in front of the net and causing trouble. As someone who’s been clamoring for more Hamel ice time, it warmed my heart to see the coaching staff oblige.
Ray Emery. He looked shaky at various points, and gave me heart palpitations when he handled the puck behind the net, but in the end, Ray Emery provided this tea with something Martin Gerber has been unable to and that’s steady, reliable netminding. He made the big saves when they were needed and when Gerber has not been. Time to get on his back and ride him for a while because he looks to be up to the task.
Chris Phillips. A monster game from the veteran, and it was needed badly. He’s been struggling quite a bit this season and has been the subject of numerous trade rumors. And when a pillar of the franchise and a leader in the locker room is struggling it starts to effect the rest of the team. In his own zone, Phillips played like it was one of those must win, do-or-die game seven type situations, which is usually when he shines brightest. 28 minutes of game time and he was terrific in every bit of it.
Anton Volchenkov. He’s really hitting his stride. He too played like a desperate man, taking the body with much aggression (just ask Adam Mair) and blocking a shitload of shots. At the start of the season he was either 5th or 6th on their depth chart, but with Wade Redden out of the line-up, he’s their best defenceman right now to me. In the final seconds of a close game, there isn’t anyone else I’d want on the ice more than the A-Train because I know he’ll take a puck to the face if it means it’ll stay out of the net, and that’s the kind of commitment we need.
Throwing the puck at the net with traffic around the goalie. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here: don’t be fancy. Both the game winner as well as the goal that tied the contest came from a shot being fired from the point and someone redirecting it along the way. Full marks to the Senators for staying with it despite missing the net consistently in the second period while also getting shots blocked nonstop throughout the game.
Andrej Meszaros. He redeemed himself slightly but getting an assist on the goal that made it 2-2, however, I think we can officially say he’s in the midst of a severe sophmore slump. After coughing the puck up on the winner the other night, he also gaffed on Daniel Briere’s goal and was almost responsible for another later in the first period when he didn’t get in position for a Ray Emery pass. Daniel Alfredsson bailed him out because if that had led to a goal as well he really would’ve been in the doghouse. Unfortunately, with Wade Redden out, Ottawa has to play him quite a bit anyway even though I’m sure Murray wishes he could sit the youngster for a bit to let him work through his issues from the bench and not on the ice, where he can hurt the team.
Giveaways. Ottawa had 17 of them, which is about 16 too many against a team as good and sizzling as the Sabres. Throw in Ottawa’s only slumps and they simply couldn’t afford to be that sloppy. It didn’t burn them in the end here but if they do so Saturday night when these two teams match up at ScotiaBank Place they probably won’t get the same result.
Francois St. Laurent. Terrible calls on both ends. He blew early whistles that fucked each time. The Sens more often, but late in the game, with the Sabres pressing, he whistled the play dead even though Stevie Wonder could’ve seen the rubber loose.
Pierre Maguire. I actually usually like the guy, and defend him often, but boy, when he’s bashing your team, it stings hard. Why do I feel like he enjoys seeing the Sens struggle? Is my vagina sensitive because the team is struggling and I’m being defensive when I shouldn’t be? It might just be a case of us being allowed to bash them because they’re our kids, but when other (bald alien-like) parents call them brats, them’s fighting words. It might just be karma because the Sens were getting the media blowjobs last season.
Buffalo lost for two reasons, as I see it: their special teams didn’t deliver on either end and when Ottawa turned it on in the third period they couldn’t respond by elevating their own games. If their powerplay was effective we’d be talking about this game in a whole different light.
It’s also worth mentioning that Buffalo came in pretty undermanned. Without the pairing of Henrik Tallinder & Toni Lydman, Ryan Miller (bet you’re glad you held onto Martin Biron huh) and Maxim Afinogenov (who I desperately need back soon before I plummet even further in my office pool). When you’re without those kind of players, there will be a dropoff. And it's not as if their top guns underperformed. Brian Campbell was awesome, which really pleases me because I've liked the guy since he played under Brian Kilrea as a 67 and thought everyone was wrong when the accepted opinion was he wasn't an NHL caliber defenceman. Tomas Vanek looked like the guy who had all the hype coming into last season. Chris Drury brought the heart and leadership.
However, the bottom line is that Ottawa wanted it more than Buffalo. And so they should. Buffalo has the best record in the NHL. It'd be foolish to think they would be able to match Ottawa's desire when the Sens are fighting for their lives.
New Jersey Friday night. This one will be big as well because if they fall back into old habits, and the shit luck returns, they will feel even more dejected because the sentiment will be "damn, I thought we got this monkey off our back". I have to assume that Ray Emery will get the nod in nets, and that will make a difference. The skaters in front of him play with much more confidence than they have with Gerber between the pipes, and that matters.
The Devils are back their old ways, sorta. They're not scoring a lot, but now not giving up even more. They also have a middle of the road PK which might play into the Sens hands given how effective their powerplay is right now.