3 Takeaways From the Senators’ Controversial Loss to Sabres – 1/18/22

After stringing together a couple of impressive wins against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, the Ottawa Senators returned to Canadian Tire Centre to host the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. In front of an empty house, the Sabres pulled off the win and capitalized on some of the chances they were given. Although the game will be remembered for what wasn’t called, the Senators had their chances to win the game but couldn’t make it happen.

Forseberg, Houser Put On a Show

Outside of a goal from Dylan Cozens that Anton Forsberg would want to have back, the goaltending in this game was stellar. Forsberg made a couple of saves that kept the Senators in the game, but 29-year-old Michael Houser was even more impressive in the Sabres goal on the other end of the rink. Forsberg stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced, and on nearly any other night, he would have done enough to earn his team the win.

Anton Forsberg Ottawa Senators
Anton Forsberg, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The reason he didn’t get that win was unquestionably Houser, who was peppered with 44 shots, stopping 43 of them. The one goal that he did allow came on a play that left him little chance. For anyone who is a fan of good goaltending, this was the game to watch. What made it even more impressive was that it came from two guys who no one would suggest are among the league’s best or even starting goaltenders in the NHL. Forsberg has bounced around from team to team before landing in Ottawa, and Houser has just five games of NHL experience and has spent most of the season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans.

“We had probably the most chances that I can remember, their goalie was really good,” said Sens head coach D.J. Smith. “Part of getting chances is you gotta score too, you can’t just score one goal. We had the puck a ton, I just don’t know if we got in front of the goalie enough.”

Sabres Score Controversial Goal

In the third period, Sabres’ forward Mark Jankowski scored a goal that would eventually be the game-winner, but the conversation wasn’t about the goal itself but rather the chaos that sparked it. Erik Brannstrom delivered a clean hit at the redline, and it drew a crowd, including four members of each team. While the linesman tried to separate them, Josh Brown turned the puck over instead of dumping it down the ice, and Jankowski went down the ice and gave the Sabres the lead.

It’s obvious that there should have been a whistle in this scenario. Under no circumstance should the play be allowed to continue while eight players are pushing and shoving between the benches, but the reality is that there was no whistle. Minor hockey coaches always preach that you play until you hear the whistle, but the Senators didn’t do that. No one will argue that play should have continued, but it did, and the Sabres took advantage.

“I think everyone thought the whistle was going,” said Smith. “You had guys piling on top of one another in front of the bench, and it was a real fluke play.”

Related: D.J. Smith’s Future as Senators’ Coach Depends on Second-Half Results

Brown’s play to turn the puck over can’t be overlooked in this scenario. In hindsight, it’s easy to say, but the smart play would have been to just dump the puck down the ice. Fans have questioned him being on the blue line this season, but he did own up to his mistakes after the game.

“I looked up ice and saw that there was a scrum going on and kinda assumed that the whistle maybe was blown, and I didn’t hear it, or it was going to be blown,” Brown said. “I had the puck. I should have got the [red line] and just got it in. Obviously, the whistle wasn’t blown, and we learn as kids to play until you hear the whistle, so it’s my fault for sure. I just (got to) get rid of that puck, ice it, dump it, something.”

“I feel like normally those things do get blown down. I play a little bit more on the edge, so I like to stick up for my teammates, and I’m kinda looking to see if I need to get in there and maybe separate people or whatever. As I said, I didn’t hear a whistle, so I just need to keep playing.”

“Hopefully, we can just forget about this one,” Brown continued. “I know I need to.”

Erik Brannstrom Earning His Keep

One of the major bright spots on the night for the Senators was defenceman Brannstorm. After being denied a roster spot to open the season in favor of players who had more of a focus on their own zone, he has finally been allowed to make an impact on the NHL club, and Tuesday night was one of the best games he has played in his time in Ottawa. As usual, he made his presence felt in the offensive end of the ice, but he stepped things up defensively and earned himself some additional ice time with Thomas Chabot.

Ottawa Senators Erik Brannstrom St. Louis Blues Patrick Maroon
Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Brannstrom checks St. Louis Blues left wing Patrick Maroon (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

“He was really good, especially on the offensive blue line,” Smith said. “Any kind of icings with the Norris line, those guys [Chabot and Brannstrom] went out there. They created probably our most zome time of the year, but give Buffalo credit. They just stayed with it, their goalie made the saves he had to, and they stayed in the game long enough to find themselves a victory.”

Even with the loss, the addition of Brannstrom has been a welcome one. A defense that was once talked about as being two, maybe three players deep suddenly has a little bit more life. He was good enough to be on the roster when the season started, and he’s good enough to be on the roster for the rest of the season. That is becoming increasingly clear with every game he plays in a Senators uniform.

Hard Pill to Swallow

Losing the way the Senators did in this game isn’t easy. They were the better team on the night and deserved to walk home with at least a single point, but unfortunately for them, that wasn’t in the cards. There will be conversations around the game-winning goal and the debacle it was, but it’s important that the Senators learn a lesson from it. You never take your foot off the gas until it’s over. Be it a playoff series, a single game, or even a single play. You play until it’s over, or else you can get burned. The task at hand is to forget about it and move forward. You can get payback in a week’s time.

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