Game Report: Sens get Capped 3-1

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Written by Jared Crozier

After an off night Saturday, the Senators travelled south of the border to the US Capital to face off in a matinee against the “strugglingWashington Capitals. By struggling, I mean they enter the game trailing the Lightning by two points for first place in the Southeast Division. The question of the afternoon for the Senators was whether or not they could build on the strong third period Friday night against the Flames and pull an upset against a formidable opponent. 

A line-up change for Cory Clouston saw Mike Fisher centring Nick Foligno and Ryan Shannon, and the shuffle paid dividends right away. On the second shift of the game, the newly formed trio turned a Washington turnover at the blue line into a nice three way passing play combined with a net drive that resulted in #12 scoring his 12th of the season, one minute and 12 seconds into the game. This had to give Brian Elliott  some confidence and the hope that he might get more than one or two goals in support as he chased his first win since Boxing Day against the Penguins. Elliott’s confidence was further buoyed after a strong penalty kill right after the Senators grabbed the lead. Both goalies were sharp for the remainder of the period as the shots were 9-5 in favour of the Senators, who led 1-0 after 20 minutes.

The second period belonged to the goaltenders and featured missed shots by both clubs. Filip Kuba had Ottawa’s best chance on Michal Neuvirth, but fired high on a yawning cage, while Magnus Johansson missed from point blank range at the other end.  The lone power play of the period saw Ottawa with an extended period of sustained pressure. Credit the Capitals, and Karl Alzner in particular, for blocking numerous shot attempts and keeping the Senators to the perimeter. The highlight of the period for the Senators was a glove save by Elliott on an Alex Ovechkinsnap shot that appeared labelled for the top corner. The Senators were outshot and out-chanced in the period, but escaped still clinging to the one goal lead.

The third period saw the first seven minutes played much the same way as the second period. Then came the point where the house of cards the Senators had built began to fall apart. A Chris Phillips pass to Daniel Alfredsson hopped over the captain’s stick and right onto the stick of former Sens prospect Brooks Laich in the low slot, who made no mistake burying the puck behind a startled Elliott. Less than a minute later, Milan Michalek took a cross-checking penalty in the offensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom won the resulting draw clean from Jesse Winchester  and rookie defenceman John Carlson blasted a shot through Elliott, who appeared to get a slight piece of it, but not enough. Washington led 2-1 at the eight minute mark of the third period and for the Senators, the result of 47 minutes of good hard work was gone just like that. Four minutes later a Jason Chimera shot from a terrible angle bounced in off Elliott, and that was all she wrote as the goal starved Senators could muster no more offense and fell 3-1 to the Capitals. 

Washington moved into a first place tie (points wise) with the Lightning in the Southeast Division. The Senators return home to face the club that beat them in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, the Anaheim Ducks, on Tuesday night. The Senators will take to the ice Tuesday, trailing the 8th and final playoff spot by at least 11 and as many as 13 points.

THE UPSIDE

Defenseman Brian Lee, who for most of the season sat in the press box as a healthy scratch, showed very well in his 16-plus minutes.  He made smart passes, moved the puck quickly and did not try to do too much. It was his third straight appearance in the lineup, and he is starting to look like he might belong. Or at least is showing other teams that he can play in the league should the Senators look to deal him before the deadline.

Nick Foligno continues to be the hardest worker among the forwards and after an extremely slow start to the season is rounding into form. Playing with Fisher today, the two showed some very good chemistry.

The Chimera goal aside, Brian Elliott looked composed and played very well. It must be tough to go through games realizing that if you don’t pitch a shutout, you probably won’t get the win. This team needs to start generating some offense for him. 

THE DOWN SIDE

Did Sergei Gonchar even play in this game? He was completely invisible, played 20 minutes and had as much impact on the game as I did, 1000 kilometers away sitting on my couch. 

Erik Karlsson had a substandard game. With a couple of turnovers early on, he never seemed to get into the flow of the game, despite leading all players once again with over 27 minutes of ice time.

Cory Clouston had Corey Locke pretty much bolted to the bench in the third period. So much for playing him with offensive players, as he had a grand total of 3 goals combined on his wings for this game in Peter Regin and Jarko Ruutu. Locke still generated a couple of scoring chances on his own in the second period.

Here are the Game Highlights courtesy of NHL.com.

THE THREE STARS

3rdStar – Nicklas Backstrom  – C – Washington:  Won 68% of his faceoffs including 80% in the offensive zone. Clean win of the draw led to Carlson’s game winner.  He also contributed defensively with 3 blocked shots.

2nd Star – Mike Fisher – C – Ottawa:  His opening goal looked for a while like it would stand up as the winner. He dominated physically and showed a great net drive. His presence on the power play in the second period would have been advantageous on this afternoon.

1stStar – Michael Neuvirth – G – Washington:  Kept his team in the game until his teammates found their legs. It could have been over really early with the barrage the Senators threw at him in the first. 

FINAL THOUGHT

Milan Michalek’s cross check on Karl Alzner was unwarranted and a poor decision. On the Rogers Sportsnet broadcast Denis Potvin called it a “hockey hit”. Now granted I have played 1060 fewer NHL games than the Hall of Famer, but I don’t agree with him on that one.  The cross check was right in the numbers and a distance from the boards that was unsafe, and had to be called. Potvin compared the Michalek hit on Alzner to the Kris Letang hit on Spezza, which caused Spezza’s current shoulder injury. I remember thinking Letang should be suspended for the Spezza hit, as did a lot of Senators fans.

The timing of Michalek’s decision to cross check the Washington defenseman not only was dangerous, but turned the momentum of the game completely in the Capitals’ direction. They had tied the game not a minute prior, and Michalek had barely sat down in the box before the Caps had the lead for good.  Milan has worked hard in the last few games, and I was considering him for a game star until the incident. However, this play could be looked at as the reason they lost, and is yet another example of a struggling club finding new and imaginative ways to lose a hockey game. ‘Til next time, GO SENS GO!!!!!

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