The Ottawa Senators knew they’d need 60 minutes of outstanding hockey to take out the NHL’s apex predator at Canadian Tire Centre Sunday evening.
Another lousy start left them dead in the water.
The San Jose Sharks scored twice in the opening 6:35 en route to a 5-2 mauling that left the Senators fuming — and searching for answers — afterwards.
It was the third time in their last four games they’ve given up 2-0 leads in the first period. Unsurprisingly, each of those slow starts produced a loss.
Goaltender Craig Anderson said the Senators need to “come out and be hard to play against” early in games.
“I thought we came out of the gate pretty good, we had the puck in their zone for a little bit, and they come down and on their first chance, we have a breakdown, and it’s in our net,” Anderson said.
“That’s just kind of the way things are going for us right now,” he continued. “We make a mistake and it ends up in our net, and I’m not sure … I don’t know how you change that. You need a little bit of luck, but at the same time, you’ve got to limit the amount of mistakes you make.”
Said defenceman Jared Cowen: “I think it’s just about being patient. I think sometimes we get focused on scoring goals instead of what it takes to score a goal and how to get there. I think we get too excited and try to make something out of nothing, really.
Whatever the cause, the Senators don’t have long to figure it out. Next up on Tuesday: A date with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
For all the mistakes in this one, all was not lost initially. Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s decision to sit No. 1 goalie Antti Niemi for the first time this season gave the Senators hope for a comeback.
Backup Alex Stalock’s first NHL start was an adventure for stretches as he struggled with rebounds, puck control and just plain staying in his net.
But as the Senators learned, spotting the league’s top team a two-goal lead is like granting Usain Bolt 10 metres off the starting gun: Even if he trips and rolls his ankle, he’s still going to win.
Tomas Hertl, Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels, James Sheppard and Joe Pavelski all scored for the Sharks, who improved to 10-1-1.
The defence duo of Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot responded for the Senators.
Anderson took the loss after allowing all five goals on 29 shots. The stat line didn’t look great, but he didn’t get much help either.
MacLean suggested the Senators just aren’t arriving at the rink prepared.
“I think it’s all about everybody being ready to play,” he said. “That starts with myself and the leadership group to make sure that we’re ready to play the game.”
Hertl, who hadn’t scored in six games after bursting out of the gate with six goals in his first three contests, was more than happy to take advantage of the Senators’ inability to protect the front of their net in the first.
He grabbed a puck that went straight through Ottawa defenceman Joe Corvo’s legs and deposited it behind Anderson at the 1:16 mark.
Desjardins made it 2-0 shortly thereafter with another freebie in front.
Had the Sharks decided to march Niemi (1.53 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) out for his 12th straight start, that might have been the deathblow.
Instead, the Senators did what they should against a guy with little NHL experience: Put everything on net and look for big rebounds.
Karlsson led the way with six shots in the first (of nine overall), scoring on a screened slapper from the point at 11:07.
MacLean is fond of saying the Senators like when Karlsson is “playing for us, not the other team,” and he says it for a reason.
Seven minutes later, No. 65 gave it right back, turning the puck over at the blue line on the power play to Wingels, who pushed it up to former Ottawa 67’s star Logan Couture for a breakaway.
Karlsson appeared to concede the goal, coasting back while Couture put a nice deke on Anderson. Except Anderson made the initial save and was left to watch helplessly as the puck sat in the blue paint, just out of his reach.
Wingels, who hadn’t stopped skating, had an easy tap-in to make it 3-1.
Methot made it 3-2 at 9:09 of the second period, but Sheppard’s tally 1:29 into the third ended all hope of a comeback.
Tommy Wingels, Sharks
His shorthanded goal was the turning point of the game. An assist on San Jose’s fifth gave him eight points on the year. Not bad for kid who scored all of 13 in 42 games last season.
The Senators’ lackadaisical effort in their own zone was a total team effort. They were officially dinged for 11 turnovers in the game, but that was probably a conservative count.
WHY THEY LOST
The Sharks are now 7-0-1 when scoring first (and when leading after one period) and 8-0-0 when leading after two. It’s hard enough to come back against the Edmontons and Floridas of the league, let alone this group.
MacLean tinkered with his lineup prior to the game, inserting Jean-Gabriel Pageau for injured winger Clarke MacArthur and flipping Patrick Wiercioch in for Eric Gryba on defence. MacArthur also missed practice Saturday.