The Watch of Shame: Game 16

How quickly doth the seas of the NHL season change. Seems like only yesterday that the Buffalo Sabres were the apple of the NHL’s eye, a young juggernaut, a youngernaut if you will, boldly steaming ahead into a bright future, full of hope and exuberance. Now the only thing steaming is the dumps they’ve taken in their last 6 games, even managing to lose 4-1 to the Coyotes at home last week. Blessed be the struggling team that’s coming into Ottawa on the second half of a back-to-back just when the Senators need two points the most (just kidding, they always need two points). The Sens have a great opportunity here to prove that just because they’re missing a top centre and their entire 1st D pairing, doesn’t mean that they’re the team in the most trouble in the Atlantic Division.

1st Period

  • “Both teams are trying to get off the schneid, here.” intones Garry Galley as the puck is dropped. If there’s one thing I hate being on, it’s the schneid. Whenever I’m on one, I try to get off as soon as possible.
  • Jacob Larsson takes a 4 minute high-sticking penalty less than three minutes into the game, but the best early chance comes from Mathieu Joseph shorthanded, who gets a step on Dahlin and Olafsson and draws a holding penalty. I’m no Kerry Fraser, and if I was I’d be even more biased against the Leafs than the real Kerry Fraser, but I think if you’re not going to call a penalty shot here, just get rid of the rule entirely. What are we even doing here, otherwise? How is this not a “clear path to the net” or whatever?
  • Joseph gets a second, clean chance after Gambrell finds him with a pass as the penalty expires to Larsson expires. A couple of seconds later, Brady Tkachuk draws a high stick from Girgensens, sending Ottawa to the powerplay.
  • Ottawa crowd gives Craig Anderson a standing ovation at the first TV timeout, which is eventually cut short by the linesman giving a short, “Ok we’re dropping the puck now” whistle. Nice to see the Ottawa crowd correctly showing their love for the best goalie in team history.
  • In symmetry with the Buffalo powerplay, the best chances on Ottawa’s powerplay come from the penalty killing team, at least until Claude Giroux fires a puck just wide from a dangerous area as the PP expires. So far it’s pretty easy to see why both teams are struggling lately, as Ottawa in particular appears to be fighting both the puck and themselves.
  • Austin Watson and the 4th line chip in with a greasy little opening goal forcing a turnover, and winning a loose puck following a poor shot block by Jeff Skinner. It’s 1-0 Sens and that’s the sort of delightful “found money” goal from an unexpected source that can really help teams find wins in games they might not deserve to win.
  • Brassard sends Buffalo back to the powerplay. Game is feeling very disjointed so far since more than half of it has been played at 5v4, 4v5, or 4v4. Best chance comes from Tage Thompson who skates through Sanderson and gets a good shot away which Forsberg turns away from in tight. Good save from Forsberg, and the exact sort of save that they’ve been lacking during this latest cold stretch. In a different world, that’s a goal and then everyone starts tweeting about “lack of structure”. Instead, the puck stays out and everything is good and normal.
  • The freshly minted line of DeBrincat-Brassard-Joseph gets a nifty 3-on-2 chance, which DeBrincat narrowly manages to not score on. 4 seconds later, Joseph takes a high sticking penalty. Considering how much time Buffalo has spent at 5v4 in this period, it’s pretty impressive that Ottawa’s leading on the shot clock 13-9 right now. PK and zone entry defense really getting the job done for the Sens so far, although I think a better way going forward would be to simply not take so many penalties.
  • Tim Stützle does some classic penalty killing by getting the puck deep and then taking an interference penalty on Peyton Krebs, who is reaching for the puck.
  • Timmy can’t be blamed here. It’s Hockey Fights Cancer night and Krebs is cancer in German so what else was he supposed to do?
  • Buffalo will still start the 2nd period on a 5-on-3.

2nd Period

  • Ottawa kills off the penalties to start the 2nd, then following 4 minutes of fairly innocuous 5v5 play, Erik Brannstrom takes, if you can believe this, a high-sticking penalty and heads to the box. Why does DJ Smith keep making his players take high sticking penalties? #FireDJSmith
  • At long last, Buffalo scores on one of their seemingly infinite powerplays, with Tage Thompson ripping an Ovechkin-like one-timer into the top corner.
  • Is this an actual joke? Another high-sticking penalty is taken by Ottawa, this time with Tyler Motte going to the box. I was just thinking “Man, feels like I’ve barely seen Batherson tonight.”, but honestly I’m not sure how much of Batherson I should be seeing considering there’s only been like 10 minutes of 5v5 play so far.
  • On the penalty kill, Jake Sanderson sacrifices his body to put himself between the puck and the net on the powerplay and is rewarded by getting bombarded by sticks and Austin Watson’s knee. Somehow in all this confusion, Buffalo takes a penalty sending us to 4-on-4 play.
  • Brannstrom, Giroux, and DeBrincat combine during the 4v4 play, only for DeBrincat to ring the puck off the post. The spotlight comes on and follows DeBrincat for a bit, as if to highlight whose fault it was that there wasn’t a goal.
  • Brady Tkachuk restores Ottawa’s 1-goal lead, technically on the powerplay as Motte’s penalty had just expired. Sanderson fires a puck from the point wide of the net, and as it comes off the boards, Tkachuk bats it in on his backhand. Honestly, it kind of looked like Sanderson meant to do that. That’s hockey, baby! DeBrincat can’t finish a beautiful tic-tac-toe chance, so instead we end up with Sanderson and Tkachuk playing pinball wizard. The beautiful game.
  • Craig Anderson comes into the game, after the Buffalo starter, Eric Comrie, leaves following an injury caused by Rasmus Dahlin checking Mathieu Joseph into his head. I’m a pretty big “protect goalies” guy, and I don’t like it when forwards just skate directly into goalies and act like they had no choice, but this was legitimately mostly Dahlin’s fault, I think. Joseph was going to miss Comrie if Dahlin wasn’t there.
  • Ottawa finally gets a real powerplay of their own, this time against a cold Craig Anderson. Ottawa gets two good chances, one with DeBrincat failing to control a cross-ice pass looking at a completely empty net, and one where Giroux finds Pinto with a cross-ice pass, who then tries one more pass rather than trying to improve on his team-leading 30% shooting percentage.
  • Forsberg bails out the Sens with a huge stop on Mittelstadt after the Buffalo penalty expires. In our last podcast, I said that Ottawa’s goaltending “hadn’t stolen a game” yet. Well this might be the game they finally steal. Lotta stuff is going to start looking better for Ottawa if they keep getting timely saves on the 3-5 defensive breakdowns they seem to have every game.
  • With a minute left in the period, Ottawa heads to the powerplay. Unfortunately they can’t manage any sort of pressure or possession before the period ends.

3rd Period

  • Turns out putting a huge 18 minute break in the middle of your powerplay isn’t a good way to create momentum.
  • Batherson and Pinto finally show that they are, in fact, in this game with Batherson springing Pinto in on Anderson alone, and then drawing a tripping penalty after Pinto misses the short side.
  • Ottawa puts together their best powerplay of the game so far, forcing Anderson into several improbable saves on Brassard.
  • With 10 minutes left in this one, Ottawa’s doing a good job of committing to defense while still looking for an insurance goal. Buffalo’s most dangerous looking shifts have come against Ottawa’s 4th line, and that’s pretty normal and expected at this point. The 4th line has already scored a goal this game though, so you can’t get mad.
  • Alex DeBrincat finally scores on one of his million scoring chances per game, as Joseph makes the extra pass on a scramble play in front of the Buffalo net, finding DeBrincat who has a wide open net. It’s 3-1 Sens, the Sens can practically taste the 2 points.
  • I saw a lot of complaining about the line combinations on Twitter yesterday, and that’s kind of par for the course. Twitter was basically invented for complaining about line combinations. However, I can’t say I’ve actually hated DeBrincat-Brassard-Joseph. Joseph proved last season that he can play up the lineup, as he looked electric with Stützle and Tkachuk late last year before he was injured, and he hasn’t looked out of place with DeBrincat at all so far. That said, I would like the line of Motte-Pinto-Batherson to come see me after class…
  • Claude Giroux takes a penalty late in the game, just to make so you can’t quite relax even though the Sens have a 2 goal lead.
  • The Sens kill off the late penalty, and then Tim Stützle ices the game with an empty netter, after Holden air mails a shot into Buffalo zone, and then Stützle beats everyone to the puck and puts it home after the bounce off the end-boards.
  • Let the soothing balm of an actual win ease your troubled minds, Sens fans.

The Wisdom

Given the number of penalties Ottawa took in this one, this could have been an ugly game. Instead, it was an ugly game that Ottawa won through good penalty killing, timely goaltending, and a couple of goals so greasy, they should be served as sides at Waffle House. This is what it looks like when the team gets a few breaks for a change. Operation Get To A .500 Record is officially back on.

Here It Is, Your Moment of Salieri


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