This was a game of momentum. Not inches. It was all about who could tilt the ice just a little bit more than their opponent. While Philly has suffered some long term defensive injuries, up front they are still a team not to be messed with. After the shorthanded goal against I was worried. After watching Mr. Universe punch out saves without even paying attention I worried some more. But like all good things, even bad things must come to an end, and tonight, the Ottawa Senators ended their 5 game losing streak, with a hardnosed, dirty, forechecking 3-1 win.
The Sens are a struggling team in the win column lately. If you watch the games you know that the team has been heating up over the last few games, and it’s a matter of time before it breaks. Those PeskySens burst out of the gate tonight in Philly. Marc Methot, seeing a bad change from the Flyers, sprung Zack Smith, who split the two D on the ice and turned Ilya Bryzgalov into a pylon before sliding in a slick backhand goal.
That little slip around the napping goalie completely shifted the early momentum of the game. A Kyle Turris deke between two defencemen drew a penalty, and the ineffective Sens powerplay took the ice. And while they didn’t score, they certainly put on a great show on the ice. Showing their chemistry, Mika Zibanejad sprung Jakob Silfverberg on a two steps to the net breakaway. Though he was stopped, it was tremendous pressure that didn’t let up for quite awhile. The boys kept the pressure on as Cory Conacher later drew another penalty, pulling Jay Rosehill into taking 12 minutes. And then the Sens powerplay came to play. Or rather, they came to make passes in the Neutral zone. 1:15 spent doing nothing on the powerplay results in a lost faceoff and a shorthanded scramble against the Senators. All the sudden, it’s 1-1 on a Claude Giroux shorthanded goal, and now our powerplay is hurting us in more way than one.
After a “nothing doing” Sens powerplay there is 1 observation to make. Erik Condra is playing like a man possessed out there. I know he’s not producing goals, but I’d take the intangible value he’s creating out there over Chris Neil lately. I generally love what Neil brings to the game, but he has been the beacon of ineffectiveness the last few game. The momentum slowly started pushing back in Ottawa’s favour as the period pulled to a close. In the closing minutes it was all Ottawa, and pure hounddogging. Never good to give up a shorty, but the Boys looked great out there.
Also, if you saw the game on SportsNet, they fed into the intermission with “Nick explains the even score”. I am not a fan and haven’t ever really been a fan of Nick Kypreos, he’s loud and boisterous without offering any substance. My immediate thought went to him explaining, John Madden, style, that when teams score the same amount of goals, the score is even. Anyways, thought I’d add that in.
Now, let’s get back to the game shall we?
Coach Mac starts the Grinders this period and their effect is immediate. It looks like I may be regretting my comments right up above. A goal mouth scramble produces the 1 Millionth (probably not a true statement) goal review for the Sens. Play continues on regardless for a minute plus before the whistle goes off. The refs got the call on the ice right and it’s no goal, but the grinders are making an immediate impact out on the ice. The game was visibly titled in Ottawa’s favor. This looked good for a little while. No goals, but great pressure, and then it all turned around for the Sens. Taking us into the back half of the period and Ottawa was once again plagued by their old nemesis THE DEFENSIVE ZONE EXIT. Hemmed in their own zone, bad breakout attempts, trying to be fancy behind the goal line, weak pressure on the puck, this collected few minutes had it all. As a team it’s not something you want happening to you, as a fan it’s almost stops your heart. Finally Robin Lehner, who has looked like he’s seeing the puck extremely well, sense the momentum and gets a faceoff to slow down the scramble.
Finally some pressure shifts the other way and the rookie like is BUZZING out there. Cory Conacher has brought some tremendous speed to this already very speeding line. A lot of offensive zone time and the Sens gets an icing call their way and a set of tired Flyer defenders. Again no goals out there, but Condra once again is just everywhere near that puck on the ice. For being a rookie, and for being a player everyone was asking “why him and why not ___? ” Pageau looks like he has played 100 games on that ice. The second period he just looked great on the ice. Great in the faceoff circle, communicating on the bench, getting great zone pressure. This game, he looks like a good call up from The Paulrus. Getting towards the end of the period, Turris took a weird tumble into the boards, he limped off under his own pressure, but he didn’t look too happy about it.
A late powerplay for the Sens on a delay of game penalty was a highlight reel powerplay. As in, the Flyers put on a show as to how you box out an opponent. 6000 passes later and Ottawa’s powerplay comes to a painful close. A bad pick/interference call on Andre Benoit with 11 seconds left in the period, means the Flyers are starting the third period on the powerplay. That sentence alone is exactly what has been the teams problem in the last games.
The Senators started the third on the kill, and made it look good. Great defense, great play, and Condra sprung Daniel Alfredsson and Guillaume Latendresse on an offensive chance, but Bryz came up strong again. As the game shift back up towards the Sens ice, a bad trip puts the Sens back on the penalty kill, the one thing they need to be avoiding in tie games in the third period. Luckily the penalty kill has found its legs, despite the fact that ever Sens fan just went 2 minutes without breathing.
Another less than average Senators powerplay comes to an end and all the sudden there is life in this game. At 5-on-5 the pace of this game is something special to watch. Back and forth with a lot of great opportunities at both ends of the ice. Though I’m sure Robin Lehner has suffered about 8 or 9 minor heart attacks from the terrible zone breakouts. But then. at 6:06 remaning a Claude Giroux highstick catches Mika Zibanejad and it’s a 4 minute powerplay. 1 Minute into powerplay and Colin Greening takes a page out of Latendresse’s play book and cherry picks the blueline. Patrick Wiercioch sends him in on a break and Greening pots it top shelf, and we have a 2-1 game for Ottawa. AND! It was a 4 minute high stick let’s remember and that means Ottawa is still on the powerplay.
Then it happens. It’s glorious. It’s magical. It’s something we’ve all been waiting for for the last 5 games. One minute left in the period. Ottawa leads 2-1. 50 Seconds. 40 Seconds. 30 Seconds. 20 Seconds. 10 Seconds. THE PUCK IS IN THE NET. Daniel Alfredsson scores the empty net goal and Ottawa breaks the slump with a 3-1 win over the Flyers.
THE. DEFENSIVE. ZONE. EXIT. How is this still a thing? When the puck is behind your goal line, you make quick, crisp passes up the wing. You do not hold on to it and try to swivel the other team’s forwards into the ground. We learn this in Atom and PeeWee. Maybe it’s frustrations boiling over, but this is something that has plagued the D corps of this team all year.
The Second Man. Ottawa is brilliant at putting pucks on the net. On or near the net. There’s not a person in the league that can refute that claim. That said, where is the pressure? Where is the man infront of the goalie disrupting play and his view? If Ottawa is going to be putting up more points, they need to get an extra man in there. If this was Cory Clouston era Ottawa, he would just play 7 men until someone noticed, but this isn’t, and the team needs a Garbage Man right about now.
Erik. Condra. At least the third mention so far in this post. But man, oh man, Condra is all legs out there, just blazing up the ice. He often gets a lot of undeserved rage because he doesn’t put that many pucks in the net, but Condra has been a real shining light on this road trip.
SENSHOT PLAYER OF THE GAME
You’d think I’m going to mention Erik Condra right here. But I’m not. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a great game on the ice. He looked comfortable, and right at home. More importantly, I think he might be teeny-tinier than Cory Conacher, but that size doesn’t look like it’s an issue at all. He literally had his best game in the NHL tonight.
Ottawa continues this extended road trip with a stop in New Jersey. After this game every game matters just that much more. Ottawa is going to need a solid outing here, and their going to need a win in regulation.