The Ottawa Senators had one piece of business to take care of on the ice before heading off for a 6 day break for All Star weekend. A home date against the Buffalo Sabres was on tap as both teams hoped to enter the break on a winning note.
Filip Kuba was a healthy scratch for the Senators, so Matt Carkner got back into the lineup. Brian Elliott started between the pipes staring down the ice at reigning Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. The question for the night is what effect, if any, will the tumultuous week off the ice will have on the psyche of the players on the ice?
The first period started with a cautious tone as the Senators hoped to avoid the poor starts that have plagued the team over the past couple of games. They did manage to weather the storm and actually got on the board first. Nick Foligno created a turnover just inside the Buffalo line and got the puck to Chris Kelly, who went in 2-on-1 with Daniel Alfredsson. Tyler Myers followed Alfredsson to deny him the pass, but in doing so gave Kelly all the time in the world to deke Miller and put it into a yawning cage. The lead was short-lived though, as 4 minutes later, two Buffalo rookies combined to even the score. Tyler Ennis carried the puck down the right side and fed the puck across to Ottawa native and former Gatineau Olympique Paul Byron, who tapped the puck in from the edge of the crease for his first career goal. Five minutes after that, the proverbial “one that he would like to have back” plagued Brian Elliott again as he was beaten by a weak Jochen Hecht backhand, to give the Sabres the 2-1 lead after one.
The second period was dominated by the Senators, who outshot the Sabres 12-6, but Miller stood tall in the net and the Senators came up empty. A rather scary moment occurred when Alex Kovalev was struck with the puck near the eye while sitting on the bench, and he had to be helped to the dressing room for repairs. The period ended the same as the previous one, with the Sabres clinging to a one goal lead, 2-1.
For the good news, Alex Kovalev joined the club on the bench to begin the third period, albeit sporting quite a shiner. There wasn’t much happening for much of the period, until Miller stuck his stick into Ryan Shannon’s feet as the little Ottawa forward was passing in the area of the crease. Miller’s penalty came back to haunt the Sabres as the Ottawa power play, which has been anything but powerful lately, came through for once. Sergei Gonchar converted a feed from Erik Karlsson to beat Miller, who had to deal with an ornery Nick Foligno in the crease area. Miller and coach Lindy Ruff adamantly complained to the officials about the interference, but to no avail. The game was tied, with just over 6 minutes left. Mike Fisher almost ended it in the dying seconds but shot just wide, allowing regulation time to end with the score deadlocked at 2.
Overtime, which hasn’t been kind to the Senators of late, proved once again to be the undoing. Sustained pressure in the Senators’ end by Buffalo resulted in a very sloppy line change by the Senators and Shaone Morrissonn converted his first of the season for the winning goal, once again sending the Scotiabank Place faithful home disappointed. The final score: Buffalo 3, Ottawa 2.
Bring on the All-Star break.
Nick Foligno was once again the most consistent and productive Senator. He created the turnover that led to Kelly’s goal, and his disruptive play in front of the net led to Gonchar’s power play marker.
Sergei Gonchar has struggled mightily during this season, but tonight’s game was his best in some time. He skated well and was a factor in the game for a change, leading the club in ice time (25:31).
THE DOWN SIDE
It was a couple of minutes into the third period before I even noticed that Peter Regin was indeed in the lineup. He played a team low 6:23, and his stock continues to plummet. Nobody else played less than 10 minutes.
Brian Elliott did himself no favours on Hecht’s backhander. Until that point he had looked confident and comfortable. The bad goals continue to go in, and prove to be deflating to his teammates time and again.
THE THREE STARS
3rd Star – Nick Foligno –LW – Senators: Contributed plenty with his hard work and physical play. Instrumental in both Senators goals, earned an assist on the Kelly goal.
2nd Star – Ryan Miller – G-Sabres: Miller made 27 saves on the evening, but the timing of his saves were vital as he shut down the Senators in the second period, to preserve the Sabres’ lead.
1st Star – Thomas Vanek – LW – Sabres: Made the most of his 14-plus minutes. Despite a nagging injury, he notched 2 assists, including setting up the OT winner.
With all the turmoil surrounding the club in the past week, it is tough to remember that a win over the Penguins exactly one month ago (Dec 26th) had the Senators holding down a playoff spot. What a difference a month (and one significant injury) can make! How ironic that about the same time last year the roles were totally reversed and the Senators were sitting well out of a playoff spot when they went on a record 11 game winning streak put them in the post-season. I guess there is such thing as Karma, and the Senators used up all of their “godly goodwill” last year, and are dearly paying the price for it now. It is going to send one man (GM Bryan Murray) into early retirement and another (Coach Corey Clouston) to the unemployment line.