Following a disappointing 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators arrived in New Jersey looking to rebound against the Devils. Ultimately, the Senators have to be pleased with their 2-0 triumph over the Devil for their first regulation win since November 20th against Nashville, and with collecting 5 of a possible 6 points on this 3 game road trip, coach Dave Cameron can’t be thrilled with his team’s overall performance in this game. An old trend this season returned in full force last night as the Sens were outshot 34-16. Despite this, a first period powerplay goal from Kyle Turris, his first goal in 10 games, was all Ottawa would need as Craig Anderson was at times spectacular in goal en route to his third shutout of the season.
Games featuring the New Jersey Devils have a tendency to be, well, um, somewhat lacking in entertainment value when compared to the rest of the NHL. In all honesty, this game was no exception, and Sens fans can’t be too pleased despite the win. The Devils plays a strong system and play wellpositionally, and while it’s not conducive to exciting play it has worked to the team’s benefit more often than not throughout their history. Things did start off well for Ottawa as they scored a mere 23 seconds into their first powerplay of the game when Devils defenceman John Merrill was charged with a delay of game penalty at 2:24. Erik Karlsson took a quick pass from Mark Stone and got a quick wrist shot off from the point, which was redirected in by Turris. New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider didn’t have a chance on it as the puck dropped significantly from Turris’ tipping it while battling the Devils’ Peter Harrold in front of the net. However, after that goal, New Jersey took the play consistently to the Senators. Back-to-back penalties by Bobby Ryan in the latter half of the period gave the Devils a few good chances, including one off the post by Patrik Elias, who returned from injury for this game. Overall, Ottawa was outshot 10-4 in the period, thanks largely to their two powerplays.
Ryan’s second penalty carried over for the first 43 seconds of the the middle period, and when Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba got called for hooking Devils forward Scott Gomez 19 seconds in, things looked dire for the Sens as New Jersey would get 24 seconds of 5-on-3 play and a faceoff in their opponents’ end. But give credit to Ottawa’s penalty killing unit as they managed to hold off the Devils and got the puck out of their end to kill off the rest of Ryan’s penalty. The second period didn’t see either team score, but Ottawa continued to be outplayed by the Devils and ended up being outshot 16-4 by New Jersey. Craig Anderson kept his cool throughout the period and consistently challenged opposing shooters at the top of his crease. If not for him, this period would have been ugly for Ottawa as they took a total of three penalties in the period while the Devils took none.
The third period saw the Senators again start slow as they didn’t get their first shot on net until two minutes in while the Devils had three and hit a goal post in a little over minute to start the period. Things eventually went Ottawa’s way when the seemingly ageless Jaromir Jagr took an interference penalty against Curtis Lazar, resulting in Ottawa’s first powerplay since early in the opening period. The Sens couldn’t convert on the opportunity but it did give them a chance to actually stay in the Devils’ end for longer stretches than they had in the second, and helped even things out as the teams equaled each other in shots with 8. Hey, given how Ottawa had been under siege the first two periods, any improvement is welcome. The Sens held off a late Devils push with their goalie on the bench, and Clarke MacArthur beat an icing call to feed Turris for his second goal of the night into the empty net with less than a second remaining. Only moments earlier, Craig Anderson nearly scoreed a goal as he shot the puck down to the open net only for it to go wide. It looked initially like it would be an icing call, but upon further review it was clear a Devils player touched the puck before it crossed the red line as Alex Chiasson was bearing down on his. It was fortunate for the Senators as the faceoff came outside their zone, but for a moment it looked like Anderson’s attempt would give the Devils a prime opportunity to even the score.
Hello Shots Against, My Old Friend: Dave Cameron opted for an optional skate in the morning as he felt the team needed rest since, in his opinion, the team hadn’t looked like they had their legs under them against the Sabres. Very few Senators opted for the skate as most took the opportunity to relax. They responded by being thoroughly outshot for the first time since Cameron took over behind the bench from Paul MacLean. Did the lack of a mandatory skate impact this? We’ll never know, and I can fully understand Cameron’s thought process with the optional skate. However, I imagine he’ll run a tougher practice than usual after seeing the trend of the Sens being heavily outshot return.
Healthy Scratches Get Their Chance: After being healthy scratches last game, both centreman Jean-Gabriel Pageau and defenceman Chris Phillips returned to the lineup for this game. Pageau had been called up last game, but took a seat in the press box while Phillips had been a healthy scratch the last two games. Pageau only played 10:30, so it’s hard to really evaluate him. He did look fast on a line with David Legwand and Milan Michalek, the latter of which returned for this game from injury, and overall didn’t hurt the team in any way.
If anything, having more speed in the lineup is a good thing. Speaking of speed, or generally a lack there of, Phillips looked solid in his return, although his -8 Corsi at even strength leaves something to be desired. Still, he was making passes more consistently, which is an improvement over how he’d been doing for most of the season. He was slotted to play on the third pairing with Gryba, but saw consistent time with Karlsson, who finished the game with a -10 Corsi at even strength. While Phillips didn’t severely hurt the team, the fact that he came back to play over 20 minutes, third on the Sens behind only Karlsson and Mark Borowiecki, leaves me scratching my head.
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All the underlying numbers show Phillips limits Karlsson’s effectiveness. I understand that with Marc Methot out the options are limited, but Karlsson’s shot attempts for versus against don’t take anywhere near the nosedive with Borowiecki that they do with Phillips. Still, he looked better this game, so hopefully Cameron continues to better manage Phillips’ minutes and occasionally scratch him to ensure he’s properly rested more often.
Will He Stay Or Will He Go: After scoring the first goal of his NHL career two nights prior, Curtis Lazar saw only 8:30 of ice time against the Devils. That was the lowest TOI for any Senator last night. A lot of people have wondered, given his lack of scoring and the perception that his pay has dropped off a bit from the start of the season, whether or not Senators management and coaching will send Lazar to the World Junior Championships to play for Canada.
There he would likely get top line minutes and plenty of powerplay time, which would hopefully boost his confidence with the puck and help him develop into more of a scorer in the long term. On the one hand, he just recently scored his first goal of the year, which hopefully takes some weight off his shoulders, and he’s been a solid player overall for an Ottawa team in a fight to stay in the playoff race.
On the other, he played very few minutes the game after scoring, and less than fellow centreman Pageau. Personally, I’m in favour of sending Lazar, as playing on the bottom two lines in Ottawa doesn’t afford much chance for offensive creativity, and I would love to see Canada’s roster bolstered for a run at gold after several years of coming up short. However, the Senators need to do what they feel is best for Lazar’s career in both the short and long terms, and we should know what that decision is in the next few days.
Ottawa’s next game is back at home against the Anaheim Ducks, who should have Dany Heatley back after a conditioning stint in the AHL. Oh joy. Game time is 7:30. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the day.