In their home opener, the Ottawa Senators provided a rather rude greeting to their Battle of Ontario brothers from Toronto.
So, it was to be expected that the Maple Leafs would return the favour in their rink Saturday night. In a game broadcast on Hockey Night In Canada, the Leafs came out hard to run up a two-goal lead and ride it to a 3-1 victory.
It was the same MO used by the Senators Thursday, staking an early lead and hanging on during a late surge by the Leafs.
The one common denominator? The Senators continue to give up too many “Grade A’s” as head coach D.J. Smith calls the opposition chances. Only the spectacular goaltending of backup Anton Forsberg, filling in for an ill Matt Murray, kept Ottawa from getting swept by the Leafs in this two-game set.
Six takeaways from the Senators' second game of the season:
Zone coverage ... what zone coverage?
Coaches like to have video evidence to share the good, bad and ugly from their team’s game, and Saturday provided plenty of all three categories.
In the first period, the Senators' defensive zone coverage was lax, to be kind. Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev was way out of position as Wayne Simmonds tipped in a Rasmus Sandin pass for a 1-0 Leafs lead on just the second shot of the game. And that was just one of the sins on that sequence.
The Sens are giving up too many easy chances from the slot. On Toronto’s second goal, the line of Shane Pinto, Nick Paul and Connor Brown seemed to think they had control and were ready to head north, but the Leafs had other ideas, Pinto losing the puck in the corner leading to the Alex Kerfoot goal, off a pass from William Nylander.
Zaitsev and Victor Mete were both minus-3 on the night as the Sens will consider changes on their blueline heading into Sunday’s game against Dallas. Michael Del Zotto sat out the first two games.
It has already become a popular drinking game in Ottawa. Winger Alex Formenton gets a breakaway, the viewer takes a gulp. Prepare to slake your thirst, people. Formenton seems to get at least one breakaway per game, often when it doesn’t appear to be there – until he takes off on an effortless burst. And Formenton isn’t the only deep threat.
In the first period, winger Tim Stützle burned Timothy Liljogren, who turned the wrong way. In what would have been an early candidate for goal of the month, Stützle lifted a one-handed backhand shot up past Jack Campbell but it hit the right goal post. In the second period, Stützle danced around TJ Brodie to break in alone to force Campbell to make a huge save.
Through the course of a season, these breakaway-makers are going to back off defenders and create chances and goals.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 17, 2021
Another life-giving performance by Forsberg
Teams ask goaltenders to give them a chance to win. That’s it. And Forsberg, nobody’s pick to start the season for the Senators, has now done that twice. Two starts. Two quality starts. Forsberg, who stopped 46 of 48 Leaf shots on Thursday, battled all night Saturday to keep his team in it.
Exhibit A: Outlasting Mitch Marner in alone in the third period. Exhibit B: In the second period, Forsberg robbed John Tavares with a glove stop off a backhand, which sparked a “Did you see that?!!” exclamation from play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert. Forsberg used his quickness and size to snuff out several other "Grade A’s." Only a mid-third period goal by Michael Bunting (who owned the Sens during the pre-season) ended the drama.
Forsberg is a nice story of perseverance. At 28, he has played for four NHL teams, six AHL clubs and has been sent to the minors a total of 20 times. He faced a combined 77 Toronto shots in these two games, stopping 72.
“He was phenomenal in Game 1 and good here again tonight,” said head coach D.J. Smith afterward. “We’ve got to get him more than one goal.”
The Norris touch
Goal scorers exhibit patience around the net that mere mortals can only dream of having. Second-year centre Josh Norris showed tremendous patience while delaying, then slipping the puck through Campbell for Ottawa’s lone goal, on a power play in the second period. It was the kind of goal that could spark that unit, as Tyler Ennis fought to control the puck and then Drake Batherson sailed a cross-ice pass to Norris for the finish.
As a centre, Norris can naturally make plays, but is just as much a shooter as a disher as his numbers would suggest. Norris, 22, had 17 goals and 18 assists in 56 games last season. Batherson, btw, thought he had tied the game 2-2 on a while dash-and-slide to the net late in the second, but video reviews ruled the play offside.
Special teams, plus; 5-on-5, minus
The Norris goal on the power play combined with a solid kill while down two men had the Senators feeling good about their special teams play. Toronto had a 5-on-3 for 1:06 in the second period. Nick Holden, Josh Brown, Connor Brown and Nick Paul did a lot of the heavy lifting on the PK. The Leafs were 0-for-3 with the extra man.
>“At the end of the day, we won the special teams – do that a lot of nights, you get a point or better,” Smith said. “They won the 5-on-5 game.”
Getting schooled on the dot
One of the characteristics of a young team, with learning centre ice men, they tend to get schooled in faceoffs. This was glaringly apparent on Saturday as the Leafs won 65 per cent of their draws. David Kampf (77 per cent) and Jason Spezza (69 per cent), in particular, owned the Senators on draws.
Even on home ice, the Senators were dominated by the Maple Leafs, who took 54 per cent of face-offs in Ottawa Thursday. Rookie Shane Pinto held his own that night, winning eight and losing eight while taking some big draws against John Tavares. But in Toronto, Pinto struggled, losing nine of 12.