It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, in the end it was a tease as the Toronto Maple Leafs built up a 4-0 lead and held on to defeat the Senators 6-5.
Very early on it was the Senators who had the jump, as they used an early power play to generate a couple of scoring chances. Most notably, Stephane Da Costa whose backhand was just stopped by James Reimer as the Frenchman drove hard to the net. On just his second shift as a Senator, Zenon Konopka did what he is best known for when he squared off with Mike Brown. Brown got a solid shot in at the end and would have to be given the decision. The Senators got another chance on the power play when Joffrey Lupul tripped up Jared Cowen. Interesting to note that the line sent out by Paul MacLean for the start of this power play was Mika Zibanejad with Colin Greening and Chris Neil. Da Costa again had the best chance on the PP but was foiled by Reimer. Lupul was sent on a breakaway out of the box, but Craig Anderson got the left leg out to stop the deke. (CBC did their weekly spotlight on Cowen, and flashed to his parents at the draft….Cowen’s dad sports a moustache that would rival Paul MacLean. Not important to the game but an interesting note nonetheless.) Shortly thereafter, Cowen was whistled for a high sticking double minor. The problem from my perspective was that Colby Armstrong was bent over such that his head was below Cowen’s waist level. Doesn’t that negate a high stick? So the Senators set out to kill the 4 minute penalty, and Anderson made a nice stop on a Mikhail Grabovski deflection. Moments later the Belarussian got his revenge when he one-timed a nice feed from Nikolai Kulemin to put the Leafs on the board, just under 13 minutes into the game. The much hated late period goal stung the Senators as Phil Kessel wristed a shot from 40 feet away, using a teammate as a decoy. Anderson made two last second saves, first on Grabovski and then on Philippe Dupuis to keep the score at 2-0 going into the intermission, with Toronto outshooting Ottawa 11-10.
Anderson was called on again early in the second as Ottawa’s #41 robbed Toronto’s #41 15 seconds in. Dion Phaneuf then did what he is best known for as Da Costa was caught in the “trolley tracks” and was met by the Leafs captain with a very hard, very clean hit. Nick Foligno took exception to the hit and ended up with a roughing penalty. The best chance on that advantage was actually a shorthanded 3-on-1, but Chris Phillips‘ shot hit Reimer in the chest. Neil went after Luke Schenn and throttled him, but Schenn was an unwilling combatant and Neil ended up with 2 extra minors, giving the Leafs their second extended man advantage. Lupul made the PP count as he tipped in a point shot past Anderson, giving the Leafs a 3-0 advantage not yet half way through the game. The Senators couldn’t muster up much of a response, and Kessel struck again as the final minute approached as he wristed another one past Anderson. The goat on this play was Sergei Gonchar, whose (lazy or lackadasical, take your pick) play on the puck gave the Leafs the opportunity. After 40 minutes, the Leafs seemed home and cooled with a 4-0 lead and not seeing much fight back from Ottawa.
Alex Auld replaced Anderson to start the third, and Ottawa responded to the verbal thrashing that was likely issued by MacLean. First up, Jason Spezza sent Gonchar and Colin Greening in on a rush and the sophomore forward made no mistake as he beat Reimer far side from in close. However, since he didn’t have Matt Carkner in the Sens lineup to fight, Colton Orr decided to remember that there is a little black disc on the ice, and he capitalized on a Spezza turnover and snuck one past Auld to restore the 4 goal cushion just over a minute after Greening’s marker. As the midway point of the period approached, and with Nikita Filatov already off for hooking, Daniel Alfredsson showed his frustration and took a tripping penalty as he kicked Grabovski’s feet out. Seconds later Konopka was whistled for delay of game, giving the Leafs a lengthy 2 man advantage. Ottawa killed off the Alfredsson penalty, and as he left the box, Phillips launched a 100 foot pass to send the captain in all alone, and he put a wrister past Reimer. That goal set the stage for a wild 10 minutes of action that if you quit watching early, you missed a good one. Ottawa used their power play to their advantage as Spezza and Alfredsson scored 8 seconds apart to cut the lead to 1. Kessel stemmed the tide as he put the Leafs back up by 2 with his 3rd goal of the game. It was a 2-on-1 that was played perfectly by Cowen, but Auld left too much room on the far side and the sniper Kessel found it. Twenty-five seconds later, in what could be the longest give-and-go in hockey history, Da Costa and Karlsson played monkey in the middle and Da Costa put a wrister in the open net for his first career goal, and bring the never-say-die Senators back within one. However with the goalie out, Kessel battled hard behind the Ottawa net, and wasted about 20-25 seconds of time in a scramble, running the Senators out of time to complete the comeback.
FINAL SCORE: TORONTO 6, OTTAWA 5
Here are the Game Highlights from NHL.com
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SENSHOT’S THREE STARS
3. Daniel Alfredsson, OTT – His pair of 3rd period goals were instrumental in the comback that just fell short.
2.Joffrey Lupul, TOR – A goal and two assists, has found a home playing with Phil Kessel.
1. Phil Kessel, TOR – His hat trick shows expected talent, his play in the last minute while protecting a lead surprised many.
POST GAME THOUGHTS
It goes down as a loss, but there are some positives to take from this game. For the second night in a row, the Senators didn’t roll over when trailing late in a game. However, the problem is how they get to that point. Anderson was hung out to dry on many occasions, and 3 of the 4 goals he had no chance on. And it wasn’t the young, inexperienced players that left him in despair, it was the likes of Gonchar and Filip Kuba whose lethargic play put the Sens behind the 8-ball.
It was nice to see Da Costa come back and score a goal after the hit taken from Phaneuf. It was a clean, but devastating hit and he didn’t seem much worse for the wear. He showed multiple times glimpses of the player that was expected from the highly sought after free agent last season.
With 8 goals in their first 2 games, offense wasn’t the problem, it was defensive zone coverage and play with the puck in their own end that cost the Senators.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
Maybe I will sound like a “homer” but the double minor on Cowen, when the game was still scoreless was a turning point that should never have happened. Armstrong was in a postion that made it impossible for Cowen’s stick to be “high” even though it struck him on the head. I don’t know what would have happened if the call hadn’t been made, and we will never know, but that call shifted the tide in a game that Ottawa started out playing a fairly decent “road game”