4 Takeaways From Senators’ 3-1 Win Over Sabres

The Ottawa Senators, led by a pair of goals by Tim Stutzle, rang in the new year with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres to close the gap a bit more in the wild card race. On the second half of the back-to-back, the Senators were eager for two points, and pulled away with them.

With the two points earned, the Senators have passed the Florida Panthers in the standings, and currently sit one point behind the Sabres, and two behind the Detroit Red Wings.

It is crunch time for the Senators, and every game is becoming important in their hunt for the playoffs. With their next four games being against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Seattle Kraken, Nashville Predators, and Arizona Coyotes, now could be a great time for the team to string together some wins and close the gap even more on the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Don’t Forget About Forsberg

Anton Forsberg led the Senators onto the ice as the starter, as Cam Talbot had played the night before. He had only played one game in the last 10 before Sunday’s game, and some were rightfully concerned that he may be a bit rusty headed into the game, but he showed that he is ready to go on any given night.

Anton Forsberg Ottawa Senators
Anton Forsberg, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Talbot playing some great hockey of late, it can be easy to forget how good Forsberg has been for the Senators. Stopping all but one of the Sabres’ 34 shots, he earned himself the first star of the game. He made every save the team could expect out of him, and more. His only goal against was on a horrid line change by the Senators, with three players headed to the bench on the long change, and that allowed Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons to break through and beat Forsberg on a slick deke.

Forsberg ended the game with a 2.44 GSAx (goals saved above expected), per MoneyPuck. He bailed the Senators out, as he has done plenty of times before. Forsberg currently sits 11th in league-wide GSAx, and has given the Senators a chance to win with almost every start.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Jake Lucchini, who was playing in his fifth NHL game, has been quite the story so far. For those who are unfamiliar, Lucchini is 27 years old, turning 28 in May, and has been in the American Hockey League for five seasons. With 23 points in 25 games for Belleville this season, he earned a call-up and has been a breath of fresh air since joining the bottom-six.

He finished the game against Buffalo with the fourth-highest expected goals on the Senators and scored his first career goal, which ended up being the game-winner.

Lucchini, who is in the lineup due to injuries to Tyler Motte and Mathieu Joseph, has brought a much-needed energy burst into the bottom six. Lined up with Parker Kelly and Dylan Gambrell, things have been working very well for him in the big leagues. Every time Lucchini steps on the ice, you can tell that he is trying to convince management that he deserves a spot in the everyday lineup, and he is doing a great job making that case.

Top Line Continues to Thrive

The trio of Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux has been one of the best things going for Ottawa, as along with Stutzle’s pair of goals, Giroux added two assists, earning him the Senators’ post-game sun-tanning goggles for player of the game. Tkachuk had plenty of chances too, including two opportunities where he hit the post in the first period.

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Stutzle has been playing some his best hockey as of late. Whether it be 5-on-5 and keeping possession and developing high-danger opportunities, or being the number one option to kill off a 5-on-3 situation, he clearly has the trust of DJ Smith in all facets of the game.

Claude Giroux Ottawa Senators
Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Giroux is also cementing himself as the greatest free agent signing in Senators history, as he jumps up to 34 points in 37 games. He has been a great asset both production-wise, and as a leader and mentor for the young group.

Too Many Stick Infractions

The only big issue I saw in the game was the Senators continuing their undisciplined stick usage. Their defensive group, as a whole, don’t have the speed to keep up with some of the top players, and resort to using their stick, and taking a penalty. This is a common trend among this Senators group, and it can be costly. There were two hooks and a trip called against the Senators, and while their penalty kill looked great, they can’t be giving away these unnecessary powerplay opportunities.

Thomas Chabot, Travis Hamonic, and Nick Holden all got these stick infractions in the defensive zone, after losing their man coverage. Erik Brannstrom was activated off of injured reserve after the game, and I expect he will replace Nick Holden in the lineup, adding more speed.

Next Important Stretch

The next two weeks are vital to the Senators’ hopes of making the playoffs. As we flip the calendar into 2023, the Senators will use this stretch to identify if the team can truly push for a playoff spot, and play meaningful games in March, as they wished for in the summer. If they struggle, the March 3 trade deadline is approaching fast, and they will have to set their eyes on what course of action they are going to take.

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