Outstanding goaltending and strong defense was enough for the Ottawa Senators to spoil the St. Louis Blues goal of obtaining an easy two points. After 60 minutes of play, the Blues were blanked 2-0 by Anders Nilsson and the young Senators. The playoff contenders left Canadian Tire Centre scoreless and pointless against the team sitting last in the NHL.
The Swedish net minder earned the game’s first star for his spectacular efforts in the crease. Meanwhile, recently acquired Erik Brannstrom and newly signed Max Veronneau both made positive first impressions in their successful NHL debuts.
Ottawa opened the scoring mid-way through the game, when defenseman Christian Wolanin buried the puck into a wide-open net. The cage was vacated by Jake Allen when Mikkel Boedker and Anthony Duclair tricked the Blues goalie out of position with some nifty passing. The only other goal scored in this match came courtesy of Chris Tierney. The centreman launched the puck into an empty net in the final minute after the visitors opted for an extra attacker.
With the upset victory, the Senators improve their record to 24-41-6 and 54 points. They are ranked 31st in the NHL and sit four points behind the Detroit Red Wings.
Meanwhile, the Blues regulation loss keeps them at 79 points, as they watch their record fall to 36-27-7. The loss is significant for St. Louis, who is battling for their playoff lives in the West. They currently hold the first Wild Card position but are just five points ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who are on the outside looking in.
Nilsson put on an incredible performance in this match, arguably his best as a Senator. The 28-year-old stopped all 35 shots he faced, looming large and confident between the pipes. He saw everything that was fired his way. Perhaps Nilsson’s biggest save came with less than four minutes remaining in the game as the Senators killed a penalty. He managed to deny a dangerous Blues one-timer from in close, after stretching across his crease and deflecting the shot off the cross-bar.
Nilsson’s consistency throughout this game was clearly frustrating for the Blues. After one shift where St. Louis possessed the puck for much time in Ottawa’s end, the goalie stymied them repeatedly. After finally freezing the puck, some Blues were hunched over, gassed and in clear disbelief that they could not find the net behind the 6-6, 232-pound goalie.
Following the game, Senators head coach Marc Crawford had much praise for his goaltender.
“I thought our goalie was our best player…that was a spectacular game for Anders Nilsson…. you could tell early on that he had it“.
Wolanin also credited his goalie for the win. Speaking about Nilsson’s performance, the game-winning goal scorer said, “It was unreal. Obviously, it’s been a tough year and we’re not getting a lot of wins. A win like that where he dominated the game, without him we wouldn’t have won that game. It was great for him, everyone was happy for him. Shutouts don’t come easy in this league. Well deserved“.
In addition to Nilsson’s strong performance, the Senators defense deserves a lot of credit as well.
Although 35 shots made their way on net, 18 others were blocked. Cody Ceci had five shot blocks, the most on the Senators. The defense also did an effective job keeping the Blues to the perimeter and limiting dangerous scoring opportunities. In addition, they cleared the shooting lanes to give Nilsson vision on many incoming shots.
The defensive performance by the Senators under Crawford has improved. It was even more impressive considering: the team was without both Thomas Chabot, their All-Star defenseman, and Mark Borowiecki, their hard nose veteran; that Brannstrom, a 19-year-old rookie, was making his NHL debut; the average age on the blue line was just 24-years; and the combined games of NHL experience amongst their six defenders was 892. Of those games, Ceci had approximately half (432 games played) under his skates.
The Senators welcomed two new faces to their line-up on Thursday.
Brannstrom was recently acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights as a key piece in the Mark Stone blockbuster. The young Swedish defenseman is a standout prospect, and instantly becomes one of the strongest in the Senators organization. On the other hand, Veronneau was the top NCAA unrestricted free agent prospect in 2019. He was just signed on Tuesday by the Senators to a two-year deal. The 23-year-old Ottawa native previously played for Princeton University.
From the opening face-off, Crawford demonstrated a lot of confidence in both players. In the end, Brannstrom skated an impressive 17:20 in his first NHL game, while Veronneau was not far behind with 14:20 ice time. Both players were also entrusted with time on the Sens power play.
It was a successful and memorable debut for Brannstrom and Veronneau. Not only did they perform well individually, but they also kept pace with NHL speed and appeared to gel quickly with their new teammates. This is important because both prospects are key parts to the Senators plan to rebuild for a successful future.
Brannstrom’s most memorable moments were his execution of two Erik Karlsson-esque stretch passes. Both connected with their intended recipients and generated decent scoring chances against St. Louis. Meanwhile, Veronneau led the Senators with a team-high five shots on goal and came close to scoring his first NHL goal.
- Earlier this week, it was announced that Chabot suffered a broken toe in the game against the Philadelphia Flyers. He is listed as week-to-week and there is a strong possibility he could miss the remainder of the Senators 2018-19 season.
- Colin White (upper body), Christian Jaros (day-to-day), and Borowiecki (illness) were also missing from the line-up against the Blues.
- Vladimir Tarasenko (upper body), Joel Edmundson (lower body), Sammy Blais (undisclosed), and Jordan Kyrou (minors) were scratched from the Blues roster.
Official 3 Stars of the Game
- Anders Nilsson, Ottawa
- Christian Wolanin, Ottawa
- Max Veronneau, Ottawa
The Senators welcome their provincial rivals to Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been dominant this season, despite struggling against Ottawa in two previous games. The Senators are 1-1-0 versus the Leafs this year and have outscored them 9-8. Toronto owns a strong record of 42-23-5 for 89 points. They sit sixth in the NHL.
Cover Photo Credit: Justin Tang / The Canadian Press
Billy Morrison lives in Ottawa and covers the Ottawa Senators for Full Press Coverage. Follow Billy on Twitter, @BillyMorrison01.