TORONTO – The Ottawa Senators knew they had some kinks to work out after their season-opening victory.
After blowing a two-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, it’s clear they aren’t close to being done with that process. The kind of loose play in all zones coupled with turnovers that didn’t kill them a day earlier against the Sabres because of goaltender Craig Anderson’s stellar performance doomed the Senators this time.
“Still the same issues we had last night in Buffalo, we had similar ones tonight and we can’t keep playing that way and expect to have success,” coach Paul MacLean said.
MacLean wondered aloud Friday night about several of his players “playing for both teams” because of how many times they gave the puck away. He wasn’t as pointed in that criticism following Ottawa’s loss to the Leafs, but this time the mistakes showed up on the scoreboard, so the reigning coach of the year didn’t need to emphasize them.
It was all too clear what went wrong.
“We just have breakdowns,” captain Jason Spezza said. “Our game’s got to be tighter, I think. There’s no excuse to not be a tighter game. We pride ourselves on defence, we have for the last little bit, and we were too loose tonight for sure, gave them too many chances.”
Penalties were at the root of the Senators’ downfall. They had a 2-1 lead late in the first period when Erik Karlsson was called for tripping and then Zack Smith for slashing, leading to Nazem Kadri’s power-play goal to tie the score.
Ottawa turned up the offence in the second on goals by defenceman Jared Cowen and Spezza. But Spezza’s hooking penalty paved the way for Joffrey Lupul’s goal with 17 seconds left before intermission.
“We were undisciplined, we took a couple penalties and they scored on them,” said centre Kyle Turris, who had a goal and two assists. “It changes the momentum of the game and allows them to get back in it.”
MacLean also lamented “casual plays with the puck and casual plays without the puck,” which were not characteristic of this Senators group last season. But it’s not like the Leafs were much better, as they were marked with 33 giveaways Saturday night.
That’s very much the norm early in the regular season.
“Mistakes are going to be made, said Anderson, who allowed four goals on 42 shots. “That’s the nature of this game, and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is the team that usually wins the hockey game. As our season goes on, less and less mistakes are made, and that just comes with experience and time playing with each other.”
Experience might need to come quickly for the Senators. They leave Ottawa Tuesday for a four-game, West Coast trip and don’t play their home opener until Oct. 17.
MacLean figures the mistakes made in the first two games are easily correctable with a little bit of practice time.
“They’re easy if we stick to it and do it,” Spezza said. “We’ve got to buy in and we’ve got to make sure that we’re playing better defence all through the game, but especially when we get that two-goal lead. I’m sure it’s going to be talked about.”
The Senators don’t play again until Wednesday at Los Angeles, so there’s plenty of time for talking. But not everything has to be negative.
The line of Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher created three of Ottawa’s four goals Saturday.
“It’s a building block,” Turris said. “As a line we have some chemistry and we’re coming together. We feel pretty good together. There’s lots of stuff we still got to work on, be a bit smarter at times and get pucks deep. But we’re moving in the right direction.”
MacLean was impressed. But he’d like to see the rest of the team move in that direction.
“The Turris line has been very consistent all through training camp and through the game tonight and they were a big part of the game,” he said. “It was good to see that and we need to see more of that, that consistent play, from the rest of our group.”
NOTES—Bobby Ryan picked up his first point with the Senators, a secondary assist on Spezza’s second-period goal. … Through two games, Anderson has a 1.92 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage.