On paper, it looked like a stalemate.
On ice, it turned out to be anything but – the Vancouver Canucks taking a much-needed victory by a 5-2 score over the Ottawa Senators.
Here was a team, Ottawa, that has trouble in its own end up against a team, Vancouver, that has trouble scoring. There would be opportunities to gain, opportunities to squander.
It was impossible to know what might happen once the puck dropped between the Sens, losers of five of their past seven games, up against the visiting Canucks, losers of seven of their past eight – a blight only slightly appeased by three of the losses coming in overtime and, therefore, adding three points to the team total.
Even so, here were two teams of high September expectations lingering, at the end of November, just below the cutoff line for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Two teams that, coming into this Thursday night match, had given up more goals than they had scored (81-74 for Ottawa, 68-67 for Vancouver). One team with a reputation for giving up early leads (Ottawa) up against a team with a growing reputation for being unable to hold leads (Vancouver).
Given all that, the lead in this game held some promise, going to Ottawa at the 8 minute 50 second mark of the opening period, when Clarke MacArthur streaked down left wing and fired a 1970s-era wrist shot high into the near side of Roberto Luongo’s net.
It was MacArthur’s seventh goal of the season, 100th of his career and marked a rare first-period lead for Ottawa.
Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin had earlier said the solution to the Canucks’ recent woes was obvious: “We need more goals.”
Sedin provided the first step, scoring 31 seconds into the second period when a combination of bad defence led to a bad shot that got past bad goaltending.
A mere 45 seconds later, the Canucks went ahead 2-1 when forward David Booth – who earlier in the day told reporters he hoped to get “dynamic” again – scored his second of the year on a screened shot that slipped past goaltender Craig Anderson.
Less than three minutes later, it was 3-1 when, on a Vancouver power play, defenceman Jason Garrison scored from the point. And five more minutes on, the Canucks went up 4-1, when low-scoring forward Dale Weise tapped a rebound past a fallen Anderson for his second goal of the year.
Four goals on 15 shots and Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean called it a night for Anderson, replacing him with backup Robin Lehner.
From that point on, it appeared the Canucks could just coast to a much-needed victory, but the Canucks have become a team that too often coasts into the rocks.
Sure enough, with barely a minute left in the middle period, the Senators were able to score when Mika Zibanejad got his stick on a rebound and the puck somehow bounced into the Vancouver net off Luongo’s skate.
That, of course, gave some hope to the Senators.
But it was not to be. Another defensive faux pas by the Senators in their own end led to centre Mike Santorelli getting two swipes at the puck before it slipped behind Lehner and moved the score to 5-2 Canucks.
The Senators troubles in their own end have been considerable. MacLean finally decided to act on the team’s most glaring defensive spot, that held by much-prized 22-year-old Jared Cowen, a 6-foot-5 giant who was supposed to be a blueline mainstay but has played increasingly poorly.
“I think Jared has struggled at times this year,” MacLean said. “I think it’s time for him to watch a game. His play has been inconsistent. Frankly, we need him to be a better player.”
After this outing, that need can be applied to several Ottawa players.
The Senators have been awful this year in the second of back-to-back games, having now gone 0-4-2, following the team’s impressive come-from-behind 6-4 road win last Wednesday over the Washington Capitals.
Their other difficulty has proved to be Western Conference teams, the loss to Vancouver now moving them to a lowly 1-8-2 record against the West.
The 17,931 fans who turned out Thursday are expecting better.
Not just on ice. But on paper – where the standings are causing as much shivering in Ottawa as the weather.
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