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Smith's Zaitsev Prophecy Backfires Immediately as Senators Fall to Leafs

February 15, 2020, 11:04 PM ET [31 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Ottawa Senators probably deserved better than a 4-2 loss on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In front of a hometown road crowd, Ottawa played the Leafs to a relative draw at even strength and looked reasonably competitive while doing so. Some iffy goaltending and bad defensive play to start the night got things off on the wrong foot, and the team simply never recovered from there.

Here are tonight’s thumbs:

Thumbs Down: D.J. Smith’s Prophecy

There’s a scene in Revenge of the Sith when Yoda tells Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu: “A prophecy that misread, could have been.” I imagine that quote whenever I think about D.J. Smith reviewing game notes or stat sheets on Nikita Zaitsev. The disconnect between what's on the page and what he seems to be reading from it couldn't be clearer. Today, he took things to a whole new level of praise:

Of course, Hall was a lot more effective against the Senators than Smith’s quote would suggest. And that plan to match Zaitsev with Matthews all night? It backfired almost immediately.

Despite dominating the first frame, the Senators found themselves behind 1-0 early thanks to Zaitsev providing Matthews with a gargantuan amount of real estate in the offensive zone. He wasn’t moving his feet. He didn’t play the body or the puck. Marcus Hogberg didn’t do Zaitsev any favours on the play, but the fact remains that a player like Matthews should never have that much time and space to work with on his way to the net.

For an offensively challenged team like Ottawa, recovering from an undeserved deficit like that is often difficult. That proved to be the case on Saturday night. The saddest part of it all is that Zaitsev actually had a good night in the fancy stats department.

Thumbs Down: Marcus Hogberg’s Goaltending
He was off tonight, and was pulled midway through the game. His incredible run in 2020 has earned him the benefit of the doubt after the odd weak performance.

Thumbs Up: Craig Anderson’s Relief Appearance

After relieving Hogberg midway through the game, Anderson went on to stop all 14 Leafs shots he faced, including this Grade-A chance:

It was a textbook relief appearance from a backup goaltender, and has apparently earned Anderson the start tomorrow against the Dallas Stars.

Thumbs Up: Connor Brown
It was another stellar night for Connor Brown, this time against his former team. He finished off a nice passing play with Vlad Namestnikov and Chris Tierney for Ottawa’s first goal of the game and his 11th of the season. The tangible output was well deserved, as Natural Stat Trick tracked Brown helping the Senators control 63% of the five-on-five shot attempt share and 76% of the five-on-five expected goal share when he was on the ice.

Now on pace for more than 50 points this season, Brown is quickly working his way into must re-sign territory for this Senators club. He has gone about his business incredibly quietly, and is often better than his counting stats would suggest. That’s the perfect kind of player for a budget-conscious team.

Thumbs Down: Anthony Duclair’s Streak Continues
Make it 20 games without a goal for Anthony Duclair, and six straight without a single point. The expected value on his next contract has probably been cut in half compared to where it was in December.

Thumbs Up: Cody Goloubef’s First NHL Goal in… a while

Cody Goloubef hadn’t scored an NHL goal since 2015-16 when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He got his first of the season tonight, with help from Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. The goal was a testament to the old adage that simply getting the puck on net is often the best play.

Thumbs Up: The Atlantic Division Playoff Race
The Senators aren’t competitive in the Atlantic Division race, but that doesn’t make it any less fun or interesting. It’s incredible to see the Leafs put up points at the pace they have since Sheldon Keefe took over, and yet struggle to make up ground on teams like the Lightning and Bruins. What a battle the first two rounds of the playoffs will be if these three teams stay where they are in the standings.

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As mentioned, the Senators are set to take on the Dallas Stars tomorrow. Like the Lightning and Bruins, the Stars are on a nice run right now and have worked their way into second place in the Central Division. The task will be a tall one for Smith’s Senators.

As always, thanks for reading.
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