A lacklustre effort is not the best way to wrap up a losing season in front of your fans, but that’s exactly what the Ottawa Senators gave the home crowd Thursday night.
Ottawa took a 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers in their final home game of the season.
The Senators (32-42-7) wrap up the season in Philadelphia Friday after missing the post-season for the fifth straight year.
“Certainly, you want to finish better than that,” said Senators coach D.J. Smith. “Tomorrow we’ve got to play a lot harder than that. We didn’t play by any of the structure that we play with that’s allowed us a chance to win every night.
“No many how many guys are out you play with a structure and you stay in it. We had a lot of people on their own page and, you know, long shifts. We’ve played a lot better hockey.”
With the top seed in the Eastern Conference already locked up, the Panthers rested a few of their starters including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Claude Giroux, MacKenzie Weegar and Gustav Forsling.
Despite missing some big names, the gap between the Senators and Panthers remains evident.
Spencer Knight was solid making 27 saves for his second career shutout. Carter Verhaeghe led the Panthers (58-17-6) with a pair of goals, while Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett also scored.
“I think it was big,” said Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette of Knight’s performance. “It was big for the group and I think it was big for him. He was solid the whole game. I’m proud of our group that we kind of buckled down and kind of had a bit of a checking mentality where we didn’t give up a whole lot in the third period, to make sure we got him the shutout.”
Filip Gustavsson stopped 26 shots for the Senators.
Despite their shortcomings the Senators were still in the game to start the third when Florida held a slim 1-0 lead, but a pair of goals scored 21 seconds apart proved to be the difference.
Bennett was able to jump on an Anthony Duclair rebound out front to make it 2-0 and moments later Eetu Luostarinen found Verhaeghe who roofed it over a sprawled Gustavsson.
“I think it kind of deflated them a little bit,” said Verhaeghe. “They thought they were still in the game, but getting two quick ones like that and making it 3-0 kind of puts it out of reach. I mean, they do play a hard game. Give them credit – it was good.”
Verhaeghe took Maxim Mamin’s pass on the doorstep and snapped it in for his second of the night to make it 4-0.
Ottawa came into the game riding a four-game winning streak, but just couldn’t generate any momentum.
“I just thought we played really slow,” added Smith. “We held on to (the puck) and brought it back and really didn’t put their “D” under any kind of pressure and then we got beat. Bunch of turnovers, two-on-ones and we didn’t play them very well and they end up in the net and then you start trailing.”
It’s been a long, draining season for the Senators as they dealt with COVID on a regular basis, in addition to some significant injuries to key players, but losing the last home game is hardly what players want fans to remember as they head into the off-season.
“Obviously, we wanted to get that win and finish the season on a high note in front of our fans,” said Thomas Chabot. “But at the end of the day just seeing them at the end of the game stick around and still supporting us. We’ve said it multiple times they’re such a big difference for us and it’s fun to play in front of them.”
Chabot just recently returned from injury and admits the weight of the season has been heavy at times, but knows the team played far from its best on this night.
“At the end of the day, guys played 82 games this year and a lot of guys are tired and playing injured, playing through some stuff and at the end of the day we wanted to play the game we always play, but it doesn’t always go the way you want.
“Obviously we gave everything we had and tried our best, but it was one of those nights.”
Leading 1-0, the Panthers had a great opportunity to extend their lead early in the second with a two-man advantage for 51 seconds, but were unable to capitalize.
Bennett grabbed the puck from Drake Batherson at the goal-line and passed it to Reinhart, who scored his 33rd of the season from the hashmarks to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first.
Ottawa wraps up its season Friday against Philadelphia, while the Panthers close out the season in Montreal.
Eugene Melnyk’s daughters Anna and Olivia were on hand to drop the puck for the home finale ... Florida’s Aleksi Heponiemi, Matt Kiersted, and Cole Schwindt were all in the lineup ... Anton Lundell (upper body) and Radko Gudas (lower body) missed the game as they’re nursing minor ailments.