For only the second time since Dec. 18, the Ottawa Senators had a game to play, this time in Calgary against the Flames. With the team having so much time between games, their expectations were relatively low, with some even expecting a repeat performance of their New Year’s Day game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, the Senators played one of their better games of the season and convincingly beat the Flames 4-1, controlling the contest from puck drop to final buzzer.
Nick Paul’s Big Night
For a player who doesn’t have a great history of creating offense, he certainly found a way to be involved in just about everything that the Senators did on the night. Coming into this game, Nick Paul had just four goals on the season, but in the first period alone, he would add another two, but there was more to his game than just the goals. Of course, his goals will steal the headlines, and justifiably so, they are, after all, the stat that wins games. His first of the night was a result of him being in the right place at the right time and getting a quick shot off, while his second of the game was a nifty goal that showed off some of what made him so successful in the Ontario Hockey League with the North Bay Battalion.
That second goal was set up with a great pass for Connor Brown before Paul did a quick toe drag to beat Jacob Markstrom and tuck the puck into the open net. For as impressive as the goals were, he did just as much away from the puck. He has earned his keep by being a player that no one wants to go into the corner with, and he was effective at winning offensive possessions time and time again in Calgary.
Paul and Brown again proved to be an excellent pair for the Senators, and on a line with Alex Formenton (and Tyler Ennis at times), they were Ottawa’s best line in this game. When Paul was on the ice, the play seemed to be primarily in Calgary’s zone, which was especially helpful for keeping the puck out of the Senators’ net.
“He was really good,” said head coach D.J. Smith. “Asking him to come to center after kinda hanging him out to play center at the start of the year all the time, and he did a heck of a job. He shot pucks, he was big, he was strong, he did everything you would want a guy to come back and do, and he was arguably our best player tonight.”
Matt Murray Finally in the Win Collum
The Senators have already sent Matt Murray to play in the American Hockey League with the Belleville Senators, and when he was named the starter for Thursday night’s game, some fans groaned and expected the same old player. What they got was anything but, they got the Murray that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups. To say that he was outstanding on the night might actually be an understatement as he put on a clinic and completely outplayed his counterpart at the other end of the rink, earning himself his first win of the season.
One of the biggest complaints about Murray has been his inability to make that one key save when his team really needs it this season, but he made a couple that would fit into this category in this game. There was one on a backdoor pass in the first period that was a near-certain goal, there was a big save in the second period where his defensemen left a man wide open, and on top of all of that, he didn’t give up a back-breaking weak goal. He was good all night long and gave his team a real chance to win. It was exactly what the Senators are paying him over six million to get.
“Matt Murray was really good, saw the puck well all night, and just looked really confident,” said Smith. “I think the last little bit he’s really looked good in practice, as good as he’s looked since he’s been here, he’s put a lot of time in. It’s good to see a guy get rewarded. He’s obviously had a tough time, and it’s really good to see him get rewarded tonight.”
Senators Still Have Improvements to Make
You don’t want to be too critical of a team that has only played two games in nearly a month, but there were only small holes in the Senators’ game to pick apart, to begin with. There were times, especially in the first period, when they got a little loose in the defensive zone and allowed the Flames to have some great chances. On other nights this season, those chances probably end with goals against, but thankfully for Murray, they didn’t come around to bite them in the backside.
Play in their own zone continues to be an issue for the Senators, however, with as many young players in the lineup defensively as they had, it’s somewhat more acceptable than when they consisted of mostly older players. There were also some mistakes by forwards in the defensive zone that resulted in great chances, but overall, there wasn’t too much to be upset about from a Sens standpoint.
The Sign of Normal?
The Senators have only played two games after their Dec. 18 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. With a game scheduled against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, there’s hope that the big breaks between games are a thing of the past, and the schedule will return to normal. It’s going to be busy for the Senators as they have a near-impossible amount of games to make up, but they would probably rather be on the ice playing than sitting at home waiting two weeks for their next game. Hopefully, we will see more games in the coming weeks and days.
Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!