OTTAWA — Matthew Tkachuk has been known to drive opponents a little crazy.
But when Ottawa Senators winger Zack MacEwen elbowed Tkachuk in the head before tackling him and whaling punches at him, it was a whole new level of losing your mind, turning what was a 3-0 deficit at the time into a world of embarrassment at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Tkachuk had hit Ottawa defenceman Travis Hamonic, although he eased up as he backed into him along the boards. MacEwen, who has contributed all of one assist in six games, was given a five-minute major for elbowing to the head and a game misconduct.
From there the meeting of the Tkachuk brothers turned into an ugly sideshow of scrums and fights, leading to 167 penalty minutes, a league high this season.
At 12:38 of the third period, officials took the unusual step of handing every player on the ice a 10-minute misconduct. Referees would have used running time, like in a minor hockey blowout, if they could have. The Senators finished the game with five players left on the bench. Florida had six.
With all that extra space, Florida’s backup goalie Anthony Stolarz took a comfortable spot in the middle of the Panthers bench, looking ready to be sent over the boards to play forward.
When the Senators got booed off the ice following the 5-0 pasting on Monday, it marked a new low on an already difficult season. At 8-9 despite having 13 home games, Ottawa fell to dead last in the Eastern Conference, with 16 points in 17 games.
Senators head coach D.J. Smith fell on his sword after the game, but that wasn’t enough to appease fans pleading for a change on the post-game radio show in Ottawa.
“We weren’t ready to play at the start, and that’s on me,” Smith said. “They come out and outshoot us 9-1 on the first shift. … It took us to the nine-minute mark of the first before we got real competitive. And then five-on-five we were fine, obviously.”
Well, not really. The Panthers outshot the Sens 25-15 at even-strength and scored two even-strength goals to go with three power-play goals. The total shots were 38-20 in favour of Florida.
If this was supposed to be a bounce-back game after Friday’s loss to the Islanders, it was an abject failure.
Smith had said beforehand this was a good time to face Florida as a test for his team. The results are in. Ottawa didn’t measure up in any category, other than penalties committed.
Talk about a nightmarish start — the Senators took two icing calls and then a penalty before the game was a minute and five seconds old. Just 23 seconds into that man advantage, Florida had a one-goal lead off a shot by Sam Reinhart at 1:28 of the first.
Smith blamed himself for putting out the wrong five to start the game. Indeed, defencemen Jacob Bernard Docker and Jakob Chychrun with the Josh Norris line were caught running around and icing the puck at the outset.
The Senators did not look crisp throughout, despite four power plays of their own.
Perhaps the most egregious example — with Reinhart off for a double minor on a high-sticking infraction that left Tim Stützle bleeding, the Senators managed just a single shot on that four-minute power play. If not for the help of a crossbar in the first period and a save by Joonas Korpisalo on Carter Verhaeghe, the score could have been a lot worse than 1-0 after the first.
With the Senators’ help, Florida took care of that in the second period, holding Ottawa without a shot for the first 11 minutes of the period. After the Sens waltzed through another power play, Korpisalo made the save of the game, stretching across to rob Aaron Ekblad eyeing an open net. Ottawa’s goalie robbed Sam Bennett as well, before Florida finally broke through again on a power-play goal by Reinhart, catching Korpisalo out of his net.
The Senators challenged the play for offside, lost the challenge and then gave up another goal on the ensuing power play for delay of game. This time Bennett didn’t miss, driving easily into a scoring zone before lifting a backhand past Korpisalo.
The third period was an utter embarrassment for the organization — and yes, new owner Michael Andlauer was in the house for a Hockey Fights Cancer Night. He was part of a ceremonial puck drop with young cancer patient Parker McDonald.
The third-period fights, including an unlikely one between Ottawa’s Jake Sanderson and Matthew Tkachuk, did little to improve the mood in the rink. But the MacEwen attack on Matthew Tkachuk was the low point in a brutal game.
Asked if his team showed a lack of maturity, Smith answered: “Yeah, that’s fair.
“At 3-0, we came out with some really good shifts. We were aggressive, we were in the game. Lots of game left. And then you take a five-minute major and you’re completely out of sorts.”
Senators captain Brady Tkachuk did like the support he received from his teammates, even if he criticized himself for taking a roughing-the-goalie penalty in the third period.
“There’s times where we stick up for one another and that’s something to be proud of,” said Brady Tkachuk, with red welts around his left eye.
Both Tkachuks were marked up after this one.
“It speaks a lot about the guys in this room that we’ve got each other’s backs, no matter what the situation. We care about winning, we care about doing things the right way,” Brady Tkachuk said. “I don’t think it’s bad to play with emotion. When this group plays with emotion, we’re a tough team to beat.”
On too many nights, this group has been easy to beat.
Veteran winger Claude Giroux has seen a lot in his long career. We’re betting he’s never been in a game where 10 players on the ice were handed misconducts.
“The whole game was kind of a bizarre game,” Giroux said. “A lot of emotions. And it’s not a good taste right now. We’ve just got to be better.
“I want to win hockey games,” Giroux said, pausing for words. “It’s really tough to say right now because a lot of things happened tonight and it’s frustrating — we know we can be better. We definitely need to figure this out. Cool down and figure it out.”
Figure it out before the season wastes away.
With no games until Friday in Columbus, the Senators just posted another losing month of November (4-5), a familiar refrain in Ottawa.