“Immaturity” was the word tossed around after Thursday’s 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Yes, the Ottawa Senators peppered their former goalie Robin Lehner with 39 shots. However, the failure to play a cohesive defensive game and not being strong on the forecheck as a whole cost the team, not only in this game, but in their previous two games this week.
Patrick Kane posted three goals, one assist in a Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 cakewalk Monday. Trailing 3-1 at the first intermission Tuesday versus the Minnesota Wild, Senators tallied three unanswered markers to take the lead prior to eventually dropping the game in overtime.
The team was obviously better in the second half at the Xcel Energy Center, but it was left to Filip Gustavsson to stop 19 third-period shots to salvage a point.
“A little of bit of immaturity with three bad line changes. Not our best game,” said Connor Brown postgame after the team’s loss to Vegas. “There needs to a bit of accountability with one another. We haven’t really scratched the surface of what we can do as a team. I think we can play a lot faster and play with better structure in the d-zone.”
“We just didn’t do the little things good enough tonight – the little details on the forecheck. They’re a fast physical team. We kind of slowed the game down and made things difficult for ourselves.” echoed Brady Tkachuk.
Senators head coach D.J. Smith acknowledged the play of Lehner was the difference in leading the Golden Knights to their victory, but it was a neglect of player’s duties that led to Senators defensive zone breakdowns.
“We had a great first period. I think we had three or four Grade A chances. The goalie stood on his head and made the saves. And then two line change goals and a faceoff goal and the game’s over. It’s things that can’t happen if you’re going to win,” explained Smith.
“It’s a mature team over there that just checked, checked and checked. Eventually, we made mistakes and then they buried them…We had an entire line change and leave two D out there, and it ends up in the back of the net. You’re not going to win in the National Hockey League if you can’t get on or off the ice.”
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The Senators game plan was to bring a heavy forecheck. This didn’t occur for the most part. The only line who performed this a modicum of success was the trio of Zach Sanford, Dylan Gambrell, Austin Watson. The club’s fourth line was responsible for 10 of the Senators’ 39 shots directed on Lehner.
“This was probably why the Gambrell, Watson, Sanford line was our best line. They just put it in and forechecked. The one goal we got was off our forecheck. We put it in, we used some hard work, get to the net, tip. And that’s how you are going to have to score in this league.”
This Senator team at first glance is better than the one that opened last season 2-12-1. But the same defensive foibles that plagued the squad in those 15 games to open the 2021 campaign are rearing their ugly head in this campaign.
“The chances against, they’re blatant mistakes. We’re standing next to a guy and we run to the corner. Once, we just stood there and watched the puck bounce back to them,” acknowledged a frustrated Smith.
Changes are definitely afoot for the Senators ahead of their contest Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’re going to look at it tonight and see what we come up with. We can’t keep going with the same group and expect a different result. It’s time to try some new pairs, some different lines – shake it up – bring some different life.”
Unfortunately, these changes likely come at the expense of breaking up the top Senators’ d-pairing of Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub. Night after night the duo are generally not only the team’s top pair but the best on other side, period.
We’ll learn more at Friday’s practice.