Game Summary - Game 4: Ottawa vs. San Jose - Assault on Precinct Robin Lehner

by Chet Sellers

Game Preview

If we’re almost two weeks into the season, it must be time for the Senators’ fourth game, and oh boy, does this one look like a doozy. The San Jose Sharks are the hottest team in hockey with a 4-0-0 record and 21 goals scored so far, thanks in part to rookie Tomas Hertl's four-goal effort against the Rangers earlier this week. The Senators, meanwhile, are 1-0-2 and still looking for their offensive rhythm. On paper, they’re in tough against the Sharks, but you never know, they might still make some . . . *puts on shades* . . . HERTL SOUP.

Ottawa and San Jose are spiritual cousins in a lot of ways – both are early-90s kids; both have traded for, and then traded away, Daniel James Heatley; both have historically built high-offense teams that dominate the regular season only to fall apart in the playoffs, so much so that Sharks have often been referred to as the “Senators of the west” (sorry, Sharks, but you’ll always be the Stanford to our Harvard when it comes to failure).

So how do you cool off the hottest team in hockey? The Senators figure the best way is to give Robin Lehner his first start of the year. This is exactly the kind of challenge Lehner lives for, and you can bet he's motivated to add the Sharks to the list of things he owns, which at present consists only of Daniel Alfredsson's old house, a futon, and about 35 hunting knives you need a permit to carry.

That said, the Senators are also coming to San Jose unsure of what they'll get from captain Jason Spezza and his wonky groin. The Sharks have no such concerns about their captain, Joe Thornton, who made news this week with a groin-related quote I shan’t be repeating here. I keep my game recaps PG, and if you need to know what he said, I suggest you switch to private-browsing mode before looking it up at or whatever outlet runs that kind of nonsense. Now let’s recap a good, clean hockey game.

First Period

The Sharks come out firing a load of shots in the first, and we're not even a minute in when the puck is sent into the corner and Thornton jerks it out to set up a Dan Boyle point shot that is buried on the rebound by Hertl. The Sens just look flat trying to keep up with San Jose's cycling and are outshot 7-2 after eight minutes when Chris Neil takes matters into his own fists and wrestles the larger Matt Pelech to the ground. "Oh yeah, we should play well!" says the Sens bench, still unclear what Paul MacLean's job actually is.

For what it's worth, the Sens do seem to get their legs under them after the Neil fight and begin moving the puck into San Jose's end, temporarily evening up the shot differential with the Sharks. With five to go, Chris Phillips fires a slapshot two feet wide of the net and off the boards, only to have it bounce all the way back into the slot and allow Zack Smith to poke it into the net. Just like Chris Neil drew it up.

But the newly fired-up Senators aren't done! By the end of the first, Ottawa is looking stronger than San Jose, and on the power play with two minutes to go, Erik Karlsson fires across the blue line to Patrick Wiercioch, who feeds it into Spezza, who sends it cross-ice to Ryan, who fires a laser beam past Antti Niemi to make it 2-1. The goal is a perfect blueprint for the kind of offense Sens fans expected from the team this year, and even more impressively, no one on Twitter mentions Jakob Silfverberg for over two minutes after it happens.

After one the Senators appear to be in control, and although Hertl scored early, relatively little has been heard from Thornton, the other Shark on everyone's minds coming into this game. Sure, he's taken a few whacks at the puck and rubbed out a few Senators along the boards, but he's also been beaten off the faceoff a few times and generally seems to be trying to do it solo out there. At this point it doesn't look like it's going to be a four-goal night for Jumbo Joe.

Second Period

The Senators, executing the new game plan Chris Neil drew up during intermission, keep the momentum early and go on the power play three minutes in when Jean-Gabriel Pageau masterfully baits James Sheppard into a high-sticking call; unfortunately, the team is unable to convert despite some nifty moves from Spezza and Karlsson. The thing about momentum, though, is that even though it's clearly causally-related to discrete, obvious events like fighting, it doesn't seem to last forever, and before long the Sharks are right back driving into the Senators end and peppering Lehner with shots.

Sure enough, with under eight minutes to go, sustained offensive pressure by the Sharks results in Brent Burns crashing the net and flopping into Robin Lehner, who drives him out of the crease with an elbow and reminds him that in Sweden, murder generally only results in a penal sentence between 10 and 18 years. Within three minutes Milan Michalek has gone off for tripping Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau scores on the ensuing power play, making it 2-2 and eliminating the last of the Senators' momentum. Where have you gone, Chris Neil? Sens nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Late in the second, a tumbling Tomas Hertl falls into Clarke MacArthur and goes down hard, leaving for the dressing room with a seriously rung bell. With Hertl looking done for the night, all eyes are on the Sharks' other potential four-goal man, Thornton, who's looked soft after another quiet period, mostly hanging down low looking for a pass to send into the middle and generally fiddling with the puck when he gets it. Given that the Sharks have come into this game as the favorite, Thornton's going to need to go whole hog in the third or the perception will be that San Jose has choked this game away.

Third Period

Momentum long expired, the third starts with fairly even and progressively more chippy hockey, culminating with a questionable penalty to Jason Spezza five minutes in when he gently shoves Tommy Wingels in the back of the head. Late in the penalty kill, Thornton yanks the puck off the faceoff and Brent Burns scores to make it 3-2 Sharks. Mercifully, Burns scores a second after the Sharks power play expires, sparing the Senators penalty kill from greater statistical indignity. This is why you watch the games, eggheads.

Five minutes later, Lehner gets it back against Burns by ever-so-subtly smashing him in the face with his stick as he crosses in front of the net while the Senators try to clear the puck. The CBC commentators are unsure as to whether the white detritus spraying from Burns' mouth is snow or teeth, proving once again that NHL hockey is the greatest sport in the world.

To his credit, Lehner atones for his transgression during the ensuing four-minute minor by stopping more rubber than you'd expect to see during a trip to Amsterdam. The Sharks end up outshooting the Senators 24-5 in the third, thanks in large part to this extended power play, but finish this power play with nothing to show for it. Even so, whatever early game magic the Senators had is gone; they can't capitalize during a late power play or a 6-on-5 at the end of the game, and Chris Neil's effort to goad Scott Hannan into one final, ultra-motivational fight fails when Hannan is like, "nah dude, we'd rather just win the game." Horn sounds, game ends.

Post-Game Review

On the surface, the Senators hung in tonight against the hottest team in hockey and even gave them a scare, losing by only one goal. That said, they were still spanked by the Sharks, outshot 50-23 on a night when Robin Lehner could let in three goals and still end up with a .940 save percentage. He's my first star of the evening. Second star is there are no other stars.

The Senators play the Anaheim Ducks in 18 hours. Goodnight.
Powered by Blogger.