Some lessons for young teams are more painful than others.
Ottawa’s rude 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers will go down as one of the more hurtful losses of their early season. The Senators were cruising in this game, up 2-0 late, and in complete control with goaltender Matt Murray playing “lights out” as Nick Paul described it.
But over the final six minutes of the third period, the Rangers scored a power-play goal by Chris Kreider to get back in it and lost Murray to an apparent head injury as Kreider’s knee banged into Murray while the goalie was stretched out trying to make the save.
In came Anton Forsberg, cold off the bench, and the Rangers touched him for two goals on three shots to win the game. Adding to the insult and the injury, Kreider got the game-winner.
“We carry the play for 54 minutes and make some bad plays, and ultimately end up losing a game you shouldn’t lose,” coach D.J. Smith said.
The Senators and the 11,000-plus fans in the building left the Canadian Tire Centre stinging over three things:
- The injury to Murray. There was no update on his condition but he does have a history of concussions. Hopefully, he can bounce back as Murray was at his best, stopping 22 of 23 shots, including two or three spectacular saves.
- An embellishment call to winger Tim Stützle, on a trip by Jacob Trouba at 15:22 of the third, when Trouba’s stick was right between Stützle’s legs and was left lying on the ice as evidence. That negated a Senators man advantage and changed the tide of the period.
- A third period fight by Nick Paul that kept Ottawa’s key two-way centre (with Shane Pinto injured) off the ice for several key minutes, including at the time of New York’s first goal.
“That’s a game we should have had,” Paul said. “We didn’t have the greatest third, and let the momentum swing. But we have to have that, be mature as a team – including myself.
“I’m a third-period guy, pucks in deep, blocking shots, I can’t be dropping the gloves (with Sammy Blais) and letting my emotions get the best of me. That’s not a good play by me.”
For a player who has yet to score a goal this season, Stützle continues to make his presence felt. By nifty, shake-and-bake moves. And little delays to create space. And by driving forward in headlong rushes that are causing teams to take penalties on him.
Stützle had his fingerprints all over this game that the Senators let slip away.
The second-year NHLer was visibly upset at the outcome, and especially the embellishment call, which he approached with maturity in his post-game availability.
Both Smith and Stützle said there were no warnings from officials that the winger was going down too easily, or that they were watching him for dives.
“I mean, they’re probably going to see it again,” Stützle said. “Maybe they’ll think differently afterwards, and it would have been way better for us as we had a power play (on the tripping call to Trouba). But we can’t change it.
“I wasn’t happy about the call obviously but . . . people are going to make mistakes. I don’t know now what they’re thinking but it probably cost us the game.”
As Smith said, “Timmy is off on a two-on-one and we have a chance to score.”
In other words, why on earth would he go down on purpose?
“So, that’s a tough play for us,” Smith said.
In the first minute of play, after the Rangers had control in the Senators end, Stützle exploded down the left wing to create a chance that would not have been available to most players. After crossing the New York blueline, he sauced a pass over to Paul who beat Alex Georgiev high to the glove side for a goal that stood up for most of the game.
Stützle, who now has two assists but zero goals in five games, had the Rangers taking penalties as they stretched, grabbed and tripped No. 18 in attempts to slow him down.
The 19-year-old continues to dazzle fans and his teammates, and it is only a matter of time before he breaks out. Not that Stützle was in the mood for bright sides, following this tough defeat.
“All of us played pretty well today, on our line,” Stützle, said, after playing alongside Paul and Connor Brown. “We were playing against (Artemi) Panarin, Kreider and (Mika) Zibanejad the whole night. I think we played pretty well, we slowed them down the whole night. In the end, it’s just the way it is right now.”
Smith called Stützle the best player on the ice in the San Jose game Thursday, a 2-1 Ottawa loss.
“He’s dangerous, he’s just got to stay with it. The dam will break and he’ll get a bucketful. “
SENS SEEING NEW OPPONENTS
For a team that has played most of its early season games at home, the Senators have had a nice tour of the NHL so far.
When the Rangers checked into town for a Saturday matinee, it meant the Senators have already faced opponents from both conferences and four divisions over their first five games.
After playing their first two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Senators have played three American opponents, with a fourth up next, the Washington Capitals on Monday.
It’s a big change from a year ago when Ottawa played only North Division, Canadian-based opponents during the pandemic.
Smith likes the opportunity to play against a broad mix of styles and teams, including early games against western U.S. opponents such as Dallas and San Jose.
“The teams from the west are physical,” Smith said. “They play north-south, they bang, they work.
“We haven’t played a team yet where there’s a lot of room out there. We’re starting to get accustomed to how hard the NHL is.”
Saturday was yet another example of tight defensive play and little room to operate for either team. Ottawa outshot New York 28-26.
After those two quick games against the Leafs, the Sens don’t face another Atlantic Division rival until Nov. 6, with the Tampa Bay Lightning in town. Ottawa has just one other divisional game in November: the Boston Bruins on Nov. 9.
Veteran winger Connor Brown says the players are a lot like fans in wanting to see a variety of teams. He remarked about playing an “older, bigger” team like the Dallas Stars – last week and again next week:
“I enjoy playing a new team, something different,” Brown said. “I think they play a different style of game than we faced in the North last year, so it was good, the way that our game held up against them. It’s been a while since we’ve played a lot of teams in this league.”
PINTO NEEDS TIME TO HEAL
There was good and bad news regarding rookie centre Shane Pinto. While there are no signs of structural damage to the shoulder he hurt against San Jose, Pinto didn’t play Saturday, will sit out versus Washington Monday and likely won’t join his teammates on a road trip that starts in Dallas next Friday.