Lads and Lasses, boys and girls, welcome once again, to must win territory. After a Saturday trouncing by the Toronto Maple Leafs the Senators were in dire need of a win tonight to help finalize their spot in the Playoffs. Unfortunately, fate had a different idea tonight. We all knew what we needed, a win tonight and a Winnipeg loss and we clinched. Instead, Winnipeg wins and the Senators lose. The race is down to 1 point, with 3 games remaining.
The puck of this game was largely uneventful for the first 2 minutes until Matt Cooke stepped on the ice, and any sense of composure the Senator had went out the window. We figured it would happen, though dreading the fact that it would. A stupid penalty by Eric Gryba gives the Penguins a powerplay right off the bat, not the way you want to start a game where you can clinch. While the penalty kill may be the domain of Erik Condra (and man is he good at it) Pageau looks solid on that PK, not shying away from anything. Despite some solid play and setups from the Senators, the Penguin struck first on a Tic-Tac-Toe play and Dustin Jeffrey pots one behind Craig Anderson. Not the best way to start things off, not a strong goal on Anderson. Luckily the momentum doesn’t kill them and they team comes out and pushes right off the faceoff, with a near miss by Erik “The AnaCondra” Condra. A penalty call puts the Senators on the power play (notice the no capitalization) and Ottawa proves that they are desperate for help on the pp. Shortly after the power play concluded a poor defensive zone presence leads to a dish out to the net and an easy tap in for Jarome Iginla, making this a quick 2-0 lead for Pittsburgh.
Although, the Senators have earned their PeskySens nickname for a reason. Down goals means nothing. Add in a hint of desperation and these guys came out flying after that second goal. Some fantastic offensive zone pressure by the Sens led to a near Kyle Turris goal, followed by a Milan Michalek shot that I’m still trying to figure out how it didn’t go into the net. It’s baffling. A bad change on a zone exit and the Senators head back to the power play (also, excellent use of “Land of Confusion” after the penalty music guy). On the power play the team had a few chances that had everyone celebrating but for some reason, some how, some way, Tomas Vokoun made the save, shutting the door on the power play that couldn’t buy a goal. Shortly after more pressure from the team, and Cory Conacher fans on a gaping open net.
The period came to an end with a few missed chances for the Senators and a lively scrum featuring Chris Neil, Zack “Z. Smith” Smith and a trio of Pittsburgh Penguins. After the dust clear the Senators end the first period with 6 seconds of power play.
The second period begins and it pains me to say this, the display of complete ineptitude continues. 0-14 in the last 4 is not good enough. Somewhere, Gordon Ramsay is yelling as loud as he can. Some scrambles and skipped heart beats later and the Senators are back doing what they do best, 5-5. At this point I think the Penguins have figured us out, because they are marching a steady trail to the penalty box. Not to diminish the big body play of Colin Greening, doing what we signed him to do. So approaching halfway through the period the boys head back to the power play once again. The Boys had some great pressure this time around yet still come up blank, and 0-15 simply DOES. NOT. CUT. IT. You don’t score goals on special team? You aren’t going up your chances of winning a game.
And then? Pageau storms down the ice, Simon Despres takes the puck and loops behind the net and gets absolutely rocked by Neil. Maybe, just maybe this sparks our boys to make some crisp passes, get some net support and put pucks in the net. With some good zone pressure and finally a power play that looks dangerous, Ottawa takes a careless high sticking penalty and yet another blanked power play for the Sens. 30 Seconds later, a little bit of frustration boils over and Michalek takes a stupid interference call, and we’re down to 4-3 and the hole gets a little deeper. Keeping with what they’ve done all year, the Penalty Kill (see how they get capitalization) bails the team out of a possible 3-0 deficit. Time is running out for the Senators to turn this ship around, because tonight, no matter how much the team will say otherwise, they are playing distracted.
The period comes to an end with Ottawa drawing a 2 minutes for holding penalty, and during the delayed called the Penguins draw a too many men on the ice bench minor and we finish off the period on 4 on 4.
The third period got under way under the flag of “Nothing Doing”. Some back and forth up the ice, and two things become pretty clear. Ottawa is having troubles tonight making crisp, connecting passes and the refs are switching between fluffy and severe as they choose. A stolen puck by Kyle Turris means power play for the Pens. With 3 seconds left in the Penalty Kill, another light fall and the Senators take their turn on the power play. Lots of commentary about the “Clinical” Penguins Power Play,which is interesting, my homerism sees a Penalty Kill that kept everything outside and allowed 3 proximity shots.
But remember that penalty? Off the faceoff, on the 4 on 4, Daniel Alfredsson sets up a pass to Sergei Gonchar, who feeds to Patrick Wiercioch who pots it and gets this game within 1. And technically, technically this goal is a power play goal. I’m still not giving them the capitals because for all intents and purposes, Turris wasn’t even out of the doors yet. So they lose the ensuing power play, but have the game within 1. Lots of Ottawa pressure and some scrambley plays and a clipped high stick means Ottawa heads back to the Penalty Kill, which if you’re playing at home, is the exact opposite thing you want to see happen at this point.
This Penalty Kill started as a thing of beauty, Alfie is a leader for a reason and one the ice he shows is. Great positioning twice out there almost led to 2 shorthanded goals as Alfie got sprung once and just barely denied a second time.
A great setup from Wiercioch leads to Z. Smith drive to the net and a near goal as Vokoun denies him with a toe and Smith decides to try out his Bobby Orr impression. Things are getting tight at this point. Under 10, 2-1.
We hit the under 5 mark and “Nail Biter” start becoming a term you can imagine commentators trying to use as much as possible. We’re whistles away at this point which is surprising, considering the refs haven’t stopped using them so far. And then, well, then a dump in and good zone pressure and all the sudden the game is 3-1 on a Tyler Kennedy goal. That’s 2 goals tonight on simple shots that should be stopped from the doorstep. That sealed the game for the Sens. A Winnipeg win, an Ottawa loss and things are looking a little tighter than everyone expected.
OBSERVATIONS (The Goal Edition)
– Puck Goes In The Net. Seems simple right? The whole team looks like they’re gripping their sticks a little tight right now. And it doesn’t look pretty out there. Despite great play in other aspects of the game, they just can’t get pucks to go exactly where they want them to.
– The power play. At this point it is actually harming the teams chances of winning a game. You can’t take penalties when you’re on the power play. You have to shoot pucks. This league is one of shot blockers, shooting lanes disappear in an instant, so there’s no waiting for the “perfect shot” there are just the chances you have. Sticks are being gripped tight and pucks aren’t going where they should.
– First Line Production. Alfredsson has terrific dangle, then a quick hook drop pass. It’s beautiful. The problem is that everyone knows he does it. The incoming forward is almost always blocked and the play is stymied. Kyle Turris has been wilting of late, and it looks like that 1C role just isn’t ready for him.
SENSHOT PLAYER OF THE GAME
Colin Greening – A lot of physical play from Colin tonight. Some smart moves out there from Greening avoiding some penalties and stirring up some great chances.
CLARKE’S PLAY OF THE GAME
This is a tricky one. If you happened to watch the Pittsburgh feed, the second intermission had you seeing Brooks Orpik saying he had no idea what constituted a penalty the way the refs were calling it. Tonight was all over the place. Light and fluffy calls, missed calls, parades to the box. It was all over the place, and despite the fine he more than likely to get for the simple admission that the refs are inconsistent I applaud him for talking about it. There is no infallibility in the NHL and no one should be free from scrutiny. If you didn’t see the Pittsburgh feed, the Neil hit was a thumper! So there’s that too.
The Senators travel to Washington to finish off the Season Series and enter into territory that stops heart beats. With a Winnipeg win tonight, the gap from 8th to 9th is 1 point and things are getting extremely tight. The game is Thursday night, giving the team a few nights off the ice and hopefully some time to refocus and get loosened up. Washington will have played Winnipeg in the mean time, so we all need to cheer on the Caps Tuesday night, and hope they all feel sluggish Thursday night.