Carolina Hurricanes started tonight’s game 10 points out of a playoff spot in 14th place of the Eastern Conference. They played for their jobs and pride tonight as they looked to sweep their three game series against the Ottawa Senators. The Senators played one of their best games against the Hurricane in recent memory. I usually find their games pretty lackluster but tonight they both came out swinging… literally and figuratively. Instead of checking each other into the neutral zone and waiting for the clock to run out this game had real intensity.
The first period was penalty free until Jared Cowen, back in the lineup after returning from an injury that many thought would wipe out his NHL season, belted Jeff Skinner with a legal check that teammate Chad LaRose thought required retaliation. The size mismatch was evident when Cowen got off his knees and was towering over the much smaller LaRose. LaRose answered the bell for his teammate in the same way that we’ve seen numerous Senators do for theirs; he suffered a cut for his bravery while Skinner went off the ice for repairs with 6.49 left on the clock. Skinner did not return and has an upper body injury. Watching the replay one could guess that it might be his head or shoulder that took the brunt of Cowen’s hit. The Senators’ first power play did not yield any good scoring chances. As the period went on Justin Peters was required to keep the game in sight by being equal to the Ottawa shooters. Many of the shots he faced were clear with very few blocked by his defensemen. The Senators were also able to come in on the wing without facing much defensive coverage. Tuomo Ruutu appeared to have scored Carolina’s first goal before it was determined to have been kicked in. After that Ottawa seemed to perk up and started penetrating the Carlolina zone. A short time later, Zack Smith and Nicolas Blanchard traded punches. Ottawa drew first blood when Mika Zibanejad netted his 7th goal of the season - he sent Cory Conacher in off the left wing and then got the puck back around the right-side hash marks where he used his one-timer to hammer it home. It was the 69th point contributed to the Senators’ offense by rookies this year. It’s the most by rookies in the NHL.
It took exactly 22 seconds before Marc Methot was called for a hooking penalty. Ottawa’s defensemen have been good at clogging the lanes on the PK. On this PK Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek created a couple of odd man rushes and at least three scoring opportunities during their shorthanded shift. It was great to have the PK back on track. At the 14 minute mark Michalek used a toe-drag move to walk into the slot and fire a rocket cleanly over Peters’ shoulder making it 2-0. Patrick Wiercioch and Sergei Gonchar assisted on the play. With 10 minutes left Carolina is re-energized and playing better – Justin Faulk gets his 4th goal of the season when he cuts in off the right boards after Kyle Turris loses a small battle that allows Faulk to fire a hard shot from the high/right slot near the top of the hash marks. Ottawa’s lead is cut to 2-1. Anderson got a piece of the puck but was unable to squeeze it off. Exactly 10 seconds later Kevin Westgarth, looking for revenge, decides to fight Cowen. Cowen manages to cut Westgarth while trading punches; Cowen now has two majors in his first game against Westgarth’s 7 majors for the season. Ottawa gets their 2nd PP of the game from the instigator penalty Westgarth was assessed. The best chance on the ensuing PP has Jakob Silfverberg in or near the blue paint against Peters; Peters shuts the door. Ottawa’s 3rd goal of the game comes off a beautiful saucer pass that Guillaume Latendresse slides onto Chris Neil’s stick. Neil chips it past Peters for his 4th goal of the season and 1st in 21 games. Carolina gets a couple of golden opportunities when they penetrate Ottawa’s zone – Anderson has to be razor sharp when his rebound lands on a Carolina stick and he robs them with an exceptional toe-kick save. Pageau and Alfredsson were on the ice a couple of times together and each time resulted in scoring opportunities that Peters had to face. Anderson double stacked his pads to stop a sure goal by Joe Corvo. Hurricanes don’t have any quit in their game as they come to life for the last 5 minutes of the period. With 4.44 on the clock Turris takes a holding penalty. There aren’t any close calls as the PK unit keeps the Hurricanes at bay. Neil roughs up Nash slightly (very slightly) and Tim Gleason, former 1st round pick of the Senators in 2001, decides to engage Neil. Neil tags him early and wins the fight. Carolina’s coach Kirk Muller puts out two fighters for the last 12 seconds of the period against the Sens’ top line. The 3rd period could get ugly.
Alfredsson continues to have a very strong game. He’s been on the puck all night and made things happen on every shift. When he got stripped of the puck by Alexander Semin, early in the third, he hunted him down like a rookie fighting for a place in the lineup and took the puck back. The first 10 minutes were uneventful, with each team trading a few chances that the goaltenders were equal to. With 11.30 left on the clock Carolina gets caught with 6 players on the ice for another PP opportunity. Ottawa is unable to take advantage and add to their lead. Wiercioch gets a hooking penalty with 5.30 left to play when he gets stripped of the puck on his own blueline and is forced to take down his opponent. On the ensuing faceoff Turris loses the faceoff and Anderson makes a huge save on another hard slap shot from the high slot by Faulk. Late in the period Michalek enters the Carolina zone and gets tangled up with Marc-Andre Bergeron. Bergeron ended up taking an elbow to the head before he broke his stick and started swinging at Michalek. They grappled with one another. Senators’ fans collectively held their breath anticipating more knee issues to Michalek’s problematic knee as they got twisted up along the boards. Michalek was tagged with elbowing and overlapped with the Wiercioch penalty to create a 12 second two-man advantage. Carolina’s best forward – Eric Staal added a PP marker with 3.30 left on the clock. The first penalty had expired just before he scored so the teams were back to even strength after the goal. The game is now 3-2 and suddenly within reach for the Hurricanes. The tension only lasts for a few seconds as Semin gets called for a tripping penalty. Carolina pulls their goalie with 4o plus seconds left to play. They weren’t able to convert and the game ended. The final shot count was 34 each. Ottawa wins its 3rd game in a row and now has 50 points on the season. They avenge their two earlier losses to the Hurricanes.
- Special Teams are halfway where they need to be as the PK unit did their job and created some real scoring opportunities. The PP unit should have done better against the Hurricanes’ defense corps who struggled with their defensive assignments throughout the game. BUT everyone’s glad to see both Gonchar and Wiercioch back on the scoresheet; it bodes well for the PP.
- Kyle Turris will have some competition for the 2nd line center position should Ottawa decide to keep Zibanejad as a center next season. Zibanejad is stronger and already appears to have a better defensive awareness than Turris and he’s getting good point production in his current role. Whether his minutes are sheltered or not, I think he’ll soon be a better choice for the role. While I like Turris, he turns over the puck more than he should.
- Milan Michalek is playing better than he has all year. Since returning from injury he’s been handling the puck better, has taken charge and is creating opportunities for himself and his line mates. When he’s at his best he’s finding ways to get the puck and he shooting more.
SENSHOT PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jared Cowen made his season debut after sustaining a hip injury that many thought would have him sidelined for the entire season. He injured himself three games into the AHL season. After having a very good rookie campaign and having to wait for his injury to heal (41 games missed) all eyes were upon him tonight. As a rookie last year, Cowen played in all 82 games for the Senators and posted 5 goals and 17 points. Cowen, now 22 years old was a first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Everyone knows he’s back now. He got into the game early with good solid hits and had two fighting majors before the game was over. His size and strength are a welcome addition to the blue line as well as his ability to fight when needed. He looked good during his 16.45 of ice time and managed 4 hits, 2 blocked shots as well as a being named third star of the game.
The Senators’ next 3 games are part of a 4 game homestand at Scotiabank Place. The next game is against the surging Washington Capitals on Thursday April 18th at 7.30 pm.