They call this must win territory. Late in the season, breathing room gets a little tighter, other games get a little more important, and superstitions run rampant. Speaking of, I’ll drive with my trunk popped until the Sens clinch and no one is going to stop me. Tonight the “Middle of the pack” locked horns, and gave us a potential preview of a first round matchup.
Coming in to the game the only thing I seemed to be able to read around our vast series of tubes, was that Ottawa didn’t stand a chance against a surging Washington Capitals. I’m so glad I read all that noise, because the Senators came out in this game with energy. Minus the power play. Man, that power play is just terrible. It’s reached the point where it’s baffling now, the team literally plays better at 5 on 5. Regardless, this period was Ottawa. Great offensive pressure and fantastic defensive positioning. The game was largely played on the outside when in the Ottawa zone, and mainly deep in the Washington zone when it wasn’t. The Capitals fan owe a thanks to Braydon Holtby this period as this game could very easily be different otherwise. Ottawa came out tonight like a team that wanted nothing else than to make an impact. Great body work and good play. This is the way home stand hockey needs to be played. A late chance by Mika Zibanejad almost led to the lead, but this one stayed blank after 1.
The second period got off to a BANG. Ottawa came out and it was all pressure. Some great offensive zone work led to quite a few early cough-ups in the neutral zone from the Capitals. One of which, Kyle “Muscles” Turris took advantage off. Streaming in off the wing, Turris snapped that quick duster of a shot in the net off of Holtby’s blocker. You know the shot, THE Shot, the one that clipped the Rangers last year in the playoffs? Yeah, man I’ve missed that shot.
With the Senators up 1-0, this game broke wide open. With the Capitals being held in the game by Holtby, this game took on a different appearance. The Neutral Zone became giveaway central for the Caps. A Chris Neil breakaway will net him a highlight of the night appearance regardless of the bad post bounce his sure beat took. Minutes later a Jakob Silfverberg wrap around chance looked like a sure thing, save for the lightning quick legs of Holtby. Poor Craig Anderson had very little do in this game for the first half of it, the Sens forecheck was just all over the Capitals. That being said, a lucky break for the Senators as Alexander Ovechkin was left all alone on a Capitals powerplay, but elected to pass. It still resulted in a near goal, but we all had a collective sigh of relief. However, to that note, the Capitals forecheck struck back with a stunning display of stickwork. Martin Erat whipped a puck out of the air across the crease, over to Mike Ribeiro and into the net. It was a quick play and all the sudden, Bang, Bang, it’s tied at 1.
For the second time on the night, the Capitals get caught on a bad change. The first ended in a save, the second ended in a pass from Holtby to Cory Conacher, who puts in a sharp angle shot, giving back the lead to the Ottawa Senators. It was a quick goal, and one that would never have happened save for the beautiful display of every zone pressure Mika Zibanejad has been showing off. While Zibby, the “Mikachu” has been steadily having stronger appearances, thus far into the game he has been a force on the ice.
The end of the period saw the Washington Capitals team that has won 8 in a row finally check into the game. Once they get flying, they really get flying. It’s like the entire team is made of wheels that just need to charge up. Watching Ovechkin move out there is a trance like thing. Milan Michalek had a late surge in the offensive zone as the period wound down, and out of nowhere, there was Ovechkin playing him off into the boards. With the second period ending, this third period is about to get ultra competitive.
And competitive was a bit of an understatement. Both teams came out flying. A bad tripping call early gave Washington a power play, but Ottawa was all over the place and kept the game at a 2-1 pace. Also, bad penalty as in not a good one to take, good call. Not bad reffing. Back at even strength this game got moving again. A great Guillaume Latendresse breakout almost led to a great chance, but a stop by Holtby. He had a great game, and looked solid on that Grinder line with Chris Neil. Almost mid way through the period, Ottawa heads back to the power play looking to increase it’s lead on the Caps. 20 Seconds in, Turris takes a penalty and we go to 4 on 4. A quick minute 40 of 4 on 4 dangling, the abbreviated Caps power play is nothing doing, until Eric Fehr is sprung on a break. In the 1 on 1 showdown, Craig Anderson outwaits Fehr, keeping the game at 2-1. The final few minutes of this period saw a tremendous amount of increased pressure from the Caps. Those wheels I was talking about starting really getting them up to speed here. With the Capitals pulling the goalie with 1:37 remaning, Turris wins a faceoff and drops a long shot into the empty net, making this a 3-1 game. And that was all she wrote.
- Remember the last recap I did? Or the last preview? Remember how I said Special Teams? Specifically the power play? Well THAT. In fact, until this power play clicks, I’m referring to it only in the lower case. No PP, just pp. As we get near to the playoffs the boys need to get this rolling.
- Offensive Zone Pressure. Or, How I Learned To Love The Forecheck. One thing I particularly love watching, on any team, is a defence core that knows when to pinch, and when to pull back. Paul “Trustache” MacLean and his coaching staff have sculpted a team built upon a smart defensive pinch and continuing a cycle game. It’s been effective for the team and they do it well. Tonight, that was on display. It’s a simple aspect of the game, that often gets overlooked, but when executed properly, it just seamlessly adds to the game.
- Those Rookies. In particular, that Calder Line. While I’m a big homer for Silfverberg, and I’d really like him to assert himself out there more on the ice, this line played great tonight. The first line leads with some leadership and it’s beyond important, but the energy that this Calder Line provides looks like it’s in the driver’s seat in the last few games of the season.
SENSHOT PLAYER OF THE GAME
- MIKA ZIBANEJAD - Zibby was bouncing on the ice tonight. His pressure led to the Holtby misplayed, ending in the Conacher goal. From throwing body, to pucks at the net, Zibanejad had that type of game that you can’t help but clap at. The birthday boy came to shine, and tonight was his night.
CLARKE’S PLAY OF THE GAME
- I’m overly critical of Chris Neil. I love what he brings to the team, but sometimes I get frustrated at the amount of icetime he gets versus the amount of concrete he dips his hands in. Then, moments like tonight happen. Sure it wasn’t a goal, but Neil put an absolutely beautiful dangle on the Caps defender and had Holtby dead to rights. The post got in his way, but give this man the highlight of the night. This is why Neil gets the ice time. I need to remind myself “Paul MacLean is not Cory Clouston, I trustache.”
Ottawa welcomes Toronto back into the building for the last time this regular season. With the Ottawa win and the Leafs getting thumped by the Islanders, Saturday nights game has a lot of implications. A win, and Ottawa can move into 5th position, in the conference.