The Ottawa Senators traveled to meet divisional rival the Buffalo Sabres for a Friday night battle that saw one team desperate to stay in the playoff race and one team destined for a lottery pick. The Sabres trailed the Carolina Hurricanes by three points going into the game. Ottawa looked to win its third straight game for the first time since November 9th. Craig Anderson got the start again against Ryan Miller. Erik Karlsson returned to the lineup, with Corey Locke and Roman Wick being called up to join the shorthanded Senators. Marek Svatos also made his Senators debut playing on a line with Nick Foligno and Ryan Shannon.
The first period opened with a strong shift by the Spezza-Butler-Michalek line, but that was followed up by a Buffalo barrage for the remainder of the first 10 minutes. Four minutes and twenty five seconds in, Mike Grier was sent on a breakaway, and he made no mistake tucking the puck under Anderson for a 1-0 Buffalo lead. Shortly thereafter, Ottawa went on the power play after Bobby Butler was hit from behind by Mike Weber. The best chance came shorthanded however, as Thomas Vanek absolutely wired a slapshot off the iron. After successfully killing the penalty, Buffalo went on a power play of their own, but the Ottawa penalty kill held strong. Another Ottawa power play occurred, but once again Buffalo had the best chance as Patrick Kaleta mirrored Vanek’s chance but hit Anderson in the chest. The first period ended 1-0, and despite outshooting the Sabres, Ottawa seemed to be lucky with that result.
The second period was primarily end to end rushes by both clubs, with no real quality scoring chances. Just before the midway mark, Cody McCormick was the beneficiary of a ridiculous bounce off the back boards and he made no mistake in the open net, doubling the Sabres lead. It appeared that the Sabres were primed to go up 3-0 as they broke down on a 4 on 1 break, but Anderson made the save and the rush went the other way. Spezza broke in behind the Sabres defense and, while trying to corral a bouncing puck and avoid the pokecheck of Miller, was able to do both and roof the puck to cut the Buffalo lead to one. Kaleta carried the puck to the net and by a combination of kicking in and driving Anderson into the net, appeared to score, but it was appropriately waved off and saw Kaleta go to the box for goaltender interference. Ottawa could not capitalize on the man advantage and it carried over to the third, with 34 seconds remaining.
The Senators were unable to use the power play to even the score, and that proved costly as later on in the period Karlsson got caught on a questionable pinch and allowed Drew Stafford and Jochen Hecht to break in 2-on-1. Anderson made the save on Stafford’s original shot but Hecht knocked in the rebound to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead. With just under two minutes remaining Milan Michalek gave Sens fans hope as he was found open in the slot with a seeing-eye pass by Spezza from behind the goal line. Michalek fired a wrister top shelf to bring the Senators within 1. The comeback was not meant to be, however, as Vanek iced it with an empty netter, making the final 4-2 in favor of Buffalo.
THE UP SIDE
Craig Anderson continues to elevate the Senators’ game despite allowing 3 goals has a save percentage over .960 as a Senator. With Ottawa icing a roster more representative of an AHL team, he was a major reason they were even close.
Jason Spezza-Milan Michalek-Bobby Butler needed to be the best line on the ice and they were. They accounted for both goals, and played almost 20 minutes each (Butler was just under).
THE DOWN SIDE
There is a reason the AHL callups were in Binghamton to begin with. They worked hard, and some might eventually develop into everyday NHL players, but they simply are overmatched at this level en masse.
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THE THREE STARS
3rd Star – Cody McCormick, BUF: A goal and and an assist for the tough Sabre. Showed he can use his hands for more than fighting.
2nd Star – Jason Spezza, OTT: Another two point effort has moved Spezza into a tie with Karlsson for the team lead in scoring, despite missing more than a month. He is the offensive catalyst and will be for the foreseeable future.
1st Star – Patrick Kaleta, BUF: He had no points but was a thorn in the side of the Senators. He seemingly took the focus of the Sens away from the comeback attempt in the third as they looked for retribution for a number of borderline hits.
Patrick Kaleta might be an unusual choice for the first star, considering he had no points. He did his job better than anyone else on the night. He was his usual rambuntious self that I hate so much. He is an annoying pest, but is one of the best at getting under opponents skin. I only wish players like him would answer the call when challenged to back up his actions and be accountable for themselves.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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