Well, looks like I’m moving to 0-4 on my predictions for this season. Not that I’m complaining.
The Ottawa Senators continued their solid start to the 2014-15 season with a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche in a sold-out home opener. While it looked like the game could turn ugly for the home team early on, as they allowed 3 first period goals, the Sens battled back and scored 4 unanswered goals, including 3 in the third period alone.
Prior to this game, the Senators had only scored 5 goals in their previous 3 games. With that in mind, you know coach Paul MacLean and his staff must be somewhat relieved to see the team explode offensively tonight, even if the first period left much to be desired in their own end.
As I mentioned, things didn’t look good for the Senators in the early going. Teams can sometimes come out flat in their home openers. It’s usually attributed to a combination of jitters and standing still too long during introductions, and that certainly looked to be the case here. A turnover near the blueline less than 90 seconds in resulted in Nathan MacKinnon feeding Alex Tanguay for his first goal of the season on Colorado’s first shot of the game. While it was a bad turnover, it was also a goal Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson should have had.
Despite the quick start for the visitors, things looked up for the Senators when Avalanche goalie Reto Berra, playing in place of injured starter Semyon Varlamov, was knocked out of the game when John Mitchell checked Kyle Turris into him just over two and a half minutes in. This forced Calvin Pickard, who had started his morning in Chicago with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, into action for his first NHL start. The Sens would test him early with 8 shots in the first, but Pickard turned everything aside. Things got even worse for the home team when Mitchell caught Erik Karlsson flat-footed at the Avs’ blueline, allowing the former to break away for a shorthanded goal at 9:57.
The Senators would get one back quickly though, as Zack Smith crashed the net and tucked in a Curtis Lazar shot that bounced over Pickard at 11:01 to get his first goal of the season. Until the goal announcement, it looked like Lazar might get credit for his first NHL goal, which would have undoubtedly thrilled the fans as Lazar got one of the loudest ovations during the home-opener’s player introductions.
However, the positive buzz from even Lazar’s first NHL point was soon quieted as Avs’ captain Gabriel Landeskog capitalized on a powerplay at 17:38 to put the visitors up 3-1 heading into the second period. By the end of the opening frame, a few boos were already coming from the stands as these Seantors looked far more like the disappointing 2013-14 model than the “Pesky” Sens of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season the team has been trying to portray themselves as. This despite the Senators 24 shot attempts to the Avalanche’s 13, though the actual shot totals were 8-6 in favour of the Sens after one.
The second period was a mixed bag for the Sens. After failing to score on their first four tries with the man advantage, the Sens broke through as David Legwand, who has struggled a solid training camp, notched his first goal as a Senator on the powerplay off a soft Erik Karlsson point shot. Turris got the secondary assist on the goal, extending his season-opening point streak to four games. The period wasn’t all positive though, as Ottawa allowed 17 shots against compared to their 11 for. Still, down just a goal heading into the third, this was a prime opportunity for the Sens to show what they were made of.
And boy did they.
After committing highway robbery on Bobby Ryan early in the final frame, Pickard looked far more like an AHL goalie when Ryan’s off-speed pitch eluded the 22 year old netminder at 8:39 for the sniper’s first goal of the season. Cody Ceci, who started the play by smoothly carrying the puck out of the Sens’ end, did provide just enough of a screen for Pickard to not see Ryan get off the shot, but it still didn’t look good. It was just what Ryan needed though, as the winger was a force for the remainder of the period, both physically and in creating more chances for his team. With the game now tied at 3, and the home crowd buzzing, it was a whole new game.
Things went from bad to worse for the Avs when Mark Stone, coming off the bench, stripped veteran Jarome Iginla of the puck at the visitors’ blueline, thus stopping a potential breakaway for the Avs’ forward. Stone then played the puck deep in the opposing end before feeding Clarke MacArthur for his team-leading second goal, one that squeaked through Pickard.
Chris Neil, who had the least ice time of any player in the game with 8:34, put the game out of reach for Colorado with an empty net goal at 18:38 of the third, after reigning Jack Adams winner Patrick Roy played a familiar card by pulling his goalie with almost a full two minutes left in the game. Though even that is a little conservative compared to when Roy would occasionally pull the goalie last season.
Big Rig Remains Reliable: Chris Phillips continued his solid play, and making me eat crow, last night. While he did have some bad giveaways in the second period, he rebounded with a solid third. Phillips finished with a respectable Corsi of 3 and a Corsi For % of 54, both at even strength, to go with his 20:16 of ice time as he once again partnered up with Karlsson. In general, he was steady, which is exactly what the Sens need from their eldest statesman. While not as fine a game as his outing against the Panthers, and down in ice time from his 27:18 against Tampa Bay, Phillips continued to show that he may indeed have plenty left in the tank, and that he has some good chemistry with Ottawa’s young captain.
Offensive Explosion: As I mentioned earlier, the Senators had combined to score a paltry 5 goals in the previous three games. They doubled their goal output on the season last night, and finally won on the Corsi front with 58 shot attempts the the Avalanche’s 54, though they were outshot 31-27 on ones that were on net. It was also encouraging to see five different players score for the Sens, as they’ll need that kind of depth to push for a playoff spot. Actually, a total of 7 different players scored their first goal of the season in this game. Smith, Legwand, Ryan, and Neil for Ottawa, Tanguay, Mitchell, and Landeskog for Colorado.
Andy Gets His Groove Back: After allowing 3 goals on just 6 shots in the first period, the first two of which were a bit soft, Craig Anderson shut the door the rest of the way, turning aside all 25 shots he faced in the final two periods. After that first goal, I was groaning and expecting another stinker, as we saw often from Anderson in the early goings of last season. But Paul MacLean kept Anderson in, and the veteran netminder responded with a stellar showing the rest of the way to get his first win against the Avalanche, the club the Sens acquired him from back in the late stages of the 2010-11 season.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend. The Senators’ next game goes Saturday at the Canadian Tire Centre against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. EST.